Walter Scott’s predilection for squirrelling ‘out of the way things’ away appears to have started young. In Lockhart’s Life, an undisclosed female relation of Scott’s detailed a number of treasures displayed within the teenager’s ‘den’ in his father’s house at 25 George Square, Edinburgh:
“Walter had soon begin to collect out-of-the-way things of all sorts. He had more books than shelves; a small painted cabinet with Scotch and Roman coins in it, and so forth. A claymore and Lochaber axe, given him by old Invernahyle, mounted guard on a little print of Prince Charlie; and Broughton’s Saucer was hooked up on the wall below it.” (Lockhart I: 106)
Incongruous as it may seem, Scott’s passion for all things Jacobite stemmed from his straight-laced upbringing in urban Edinburgh and had a direct connection to his father. As a solicitor, Walter Scott senior had various clients of this political persuasion, including Alexander Stewart of Invernahyle, mentioned above, who had apparently once had the honour of kissing Bonnie Prince Charlie’s hand.. As a boy Scott adored Invernahyle’s stories. He would write to Robert Surtees* in 1806:
“His tales were the absolute delight of my childhood. I believe there never was a man who united the ardour of a soldier and tale-teller – a man of ‘talk’ as they call it in Gaelic – in such an excellent degree, and as he was as fond of telling as I was of learning; I became a valiant Jacobite at the age of ten years.” (Grierson, Letters I: 343)
‘Broughton’s saucer’, however, belonged to a less favoured character altogether. This item was a china tea saucer from a set which belonged to Scott’s mother, Anne Rutherford. The tea cup which had originally rested upon it had come to a violent end upon being unceremoniously hurled out of the window by Scott’s father.
But this was no ordinary domestic altercation. The tea cup’s crime was to have touched the lips of John Murray of Broughton. Also known as ‘Mr Evidence Murray’ and one-time secretary to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Murray’s provision of incriminating evidence in the aftermath of Culloden is alleged to have enabled a host of executions including that of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, in 1747. Murray saved his own skin at the price of adopting the ignominious labels of traitor and turn-coat; he took up residence in England shortly afterwards and returned infrequently (and well bundled up) to his native Scotland. The following tale, detailing the downfall of an innocent cup of tea, unfolds thus…
“Mrs Scott’s curiosity was strongly excited one autumn by the regular appearance, at a certain hour every evening, of a sedan chair, to deposit a person carefully muffled up in a mantle, who was immediately ushered into her husband’s private room, and commonly remained with him there until long after the usual bed-time of this orderly family. Mr Scott answered her repeated enquiries with a vagueness which irritated the lady’s feelings more and more; until, at last, she could bear the thing no longer, but one evening, just as she heard the bell ring as for the stranger’s chair to carry him off, she made her appearance within the forbidden parlour with a salver in her hand, observing, that she thought the genteman had sat for so long they would be the better of a dish of tea, and had ventured accordingly to bring some for their acceptance. The stranger, a person of distinguished appearance, and richly dressed,bowed to the lady, and accepted a cup, but her husband knit his brows and refused very coldly to partake the refreshment. A moment afterwards the visitor withdrew – and Mr Scott, listing up the window-sash, took the cup, which he had left empty on the table, and tossed it out upon the pavement. The lady exclaimed for her china, but was put to silence by her husband’s saying, ‘I can forgive your little curiosity, madam, but you must pay the penalty. I may admit into my house, on a piece of business, persons wholly unworthy to be treated as guests by my wife. Neither lip of me nor of mine comes after Mr Murray of Broughton.’ ” (Lockhart I: 107)
Enlightened Edinburgh of the 1770s and ’80s would have harboured many characters with first-hand memories of Jacobite unrest. After all, the Battle of Culloden was more recent than the Second World War is today. Just as William Burnes, Robert Burns’s father, could relate his memories of the battle of Culloden to his son of the previous generation, so too did Scott’s childhood abound with recollections and objects of special significance which passed into family lore and anecdote. The influence of Scott’s novels on the Highlands and Jacobitism need little rehearsal. In going on to produce Waverley, Scott hit upon a winning formula which combined the romance of Jacobitism with a judiciously firm endorsement of the Hanoverian government. This was to catch the imagination of a reading public more than ready to re-remember the Jacobite past and in 1822, Edinburgh would throw open its gates to a tubby George IV in tartan and pink tights (to safeguard the royal knees against prying eyes) in a show of Highland pageantry famously stage-managed by Scott himself. June, 1824 saw George IV issuing an offical pardon and restoring lands to several well-known Jacobite families including John Murray Nairne, the husband of Jacobite poetess and song collector Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne.
As restoration work on Scott’s Abbotsford nears completion, who knows what may turn up in its attics? Perhaps ‘Broughton’s saucer’ may be restored to its place beneath Bonnie Prince Charlie. Or perhaps in the 220-odd years since it hung on the teenage Scott’s ‘den’, it has met the same fate as its one-time partner, the tea cup.
ODNB entry, ‘John Murray of Broughton’
John Gibson Lockhart, Life of Sir Walter Scott’ Vol. 1 (1837)
Herbert Grierson (Editor), The Letters of Sir Walter Scott (1932-37)
*More on the dastardly Surtees to come…