Sir Walter Scott & the Honours of Scotland

Walter Scott was fanatical about history. He researched it and heard it first-hand from people who had lived through turbulent events like the Battle of Culloden and the ’45 rebellion. He borrowed frequently from the lending library – a useful innovation that had begun in Edinburgh fifty or so years before – reading up on the various accounts of events in Scotland’s past.

Scott was also very much the Establishment man who believed strongly in the united fortunes of Scotland and England. He was well enough connected in Scotland. He was a lawyer whose father held the most senior legal office in Scotland; he was also a Tory, and a familiar face in the literary salons of Edinburgh. With his growing success in the legal profession and national fame from his writing Scott gradually brought himself into the acquaintance of the London Establishment. There he became friends with, among others, the future King George IV.

Scott went about synthesising these two central facets of his life. On one hand a passion for history, on the other a desire to see Scotland and England not just politically united, but joined in their hearts and minds.

From his reading, Scott knew that Scotland’s Crown Jewels had been lost and forgotten. The Crown Jewels (a crown, a sword and a sceptre; known as the Honours of Scotland) are the oldest sovereign regalia in the British Isles. They date from the late 15th – early 16th centuries and were commonly used in State ceremonies as symbols for conferring power and to represent the authority of the monarch. They were last used to crown a new monarch in 1651 for Charles II’s coronation; thereafter they were used in sittings of the Scottish Parliament. After the Union in 1707, state power was transferred to London and the Honours, now redundant, were stored in the vaults of Edinburgh Castle.

Scott recognised the symbolic power of the Crown Jewels and he saw their restoration as part of a patriotic plan to bring the two nations together. There was a great deal of resentment against the English at large in Scotland, but Scott believed if the Prince was seen to restore these important symbols, along with peerages forfeited in the Jacobite rebellions, and the return of the mighty cannon Mons Meg which had been confiscated and taken to the Tower of London, then this would go a long way to healing the divide.

Scott obtained permission from Prince George – the future King – to go into the Castle to look for the Honours. Previous searches in the Castle had yielded nothing, but such was Scott’s knowledge, conviction, and enthusiasm that a long and breathless search through sealed storerooms and dusty vaults eventually resulted in success.

The Honours of Scotland were put on display in Edinburgh Castle, and the triumph of the find paved the way for George IV’s famous visit to Scotland four years later and the beginning of a new identity for Scotland. Most recently the Honours were also used to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.