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Plays by Alan Richardson


The Wizard of the North

(Note: NAR = Narrator. M1 - 3 are Male readers. F1 - 3 are Female readers)

F1        In 1822, Scott wrote one of his most consequential works. It wasn't a poem; it wasn’t a novel; it was;

M3      Hints addressed to the inhabitants of Edinburgh and others in prospect of his Majesty's visit, by an old citizen.

F1       By 1822, his friend, the Prince Regent, was now King George IV. Aged sixty, George was grossly overweight and very unpopular. He wanted to go to the Congress of Nations in Vienna but the government didn't want him there. A royal visit to Scotland was the answer. Scott was asked to organise what became known as the "King's Jaunt", the first visit of a British monarch to Scotland for over 170 years.

M3      When his Majesty comes amongst us, he comes to his ancient kingdom of Scotland, and must be received according to ancient usages.

F1        But what exactly were "ancient usages"? Nobody was quite sure. Scott cheerfully mixed truth and invention, and few could tell the difference. For example, he arranged that his Majesty be escorted by the Royal Company of Archers, the ancient bodyguard of Scottish Kings.

One of the male readers (M4) mimes drawing a longbow

Not quite. The Royal Company of Archers was, in fact, a gentleman's sporting and social club, founded less than two hundred years before.

M4 lowers his bow and skulks back to his seat  

But the members readily accepted the honour and looked splendid in their new uniforms of Lincoln green. Scottish archers in Lincoln green? Anyway, Scott's book was full of words of advice. Even some helpful hints on how to survive the ordeal of presentation.

M3      The lady (F3) drops her train, when she enters the circle of the King. (This sequence is mimed) She curtsies. The King raises her and salutes her on the cheek. She then retires, always facing the Sovereign till she is beyond the circle. Most painful must be the situation of a lady who is unfortunate as to make a faux pas on such an occasion.  

F1        For the men, he was quite specific:  

M3      No Gentleman is allowed to appear in anything but the ancient Highland costume.

F1        But what exactly was the "ancient highland costume"? Highland dress as we know it today simply did not, and never did, exist. At that time, the dress of many Highlanders was the plaid - effectively one large rectangular piece of cloth that was wrapped around the waist and secured at the shoulder. That simply would not do for the lowland gentlemen. But they didn't want to miss out on the Royal occasion for want of a bit of tartan. Weaving firms weren't going to miss out either. Taking their leaf out of Scott's book, if a tartan didn't exist, they quickly invented one. Scenes like this possibly happened in wealthy houses throughout Scotland.

M1      What colour had your lordship in mind?

M2 (miming searching amongst garments) How about these trews? I've always liked the green and red. Or there's this waistcoat. The blue goes well with the dark green.

M1      A trifle dull, if I may be so bold. Your lordship will be wanting to stand out amongst the crowds.

M2      Or how about this jacket? A grand purple, with deep red and fine yellow stripes. Yes. I rather fancy this.

M1     A fine choice, if I may say, with perhaps a touch of green to compliment the purple. Now, how many yards of your ancient clan tartan did your lordship require?  

F1        One company built forty new looms to cope with the sudden demand. For those not familiar with the new "ancient" dress, helpful lists were available. 

M2 stands forward while F2 & F3 mime being his "dressers"

F1        A pair of hose. A pair of Highland garters. A pair of Highland brogues. A 'skian dubh'. A tartan kilt. A scarlet vest with true Highlander buttons. A tartan jacket with true Highlander buttons. A cocked bonnet with clan badge and cockade. A purse and belt. A cross shoulder belt. A powder horn with chain. A brace of Highland pistols. A broadsword. And a gun. Thus equipped, Scotland was ready to receive the King and Edinburgh gave him a traditional welcome - a very wet day. George played the gracious sovereign, even to the point of wearing highland dress himself, complete with flesh-coloured tights. Many commented that his kilt was a little too revealing for modesty, but Lady Hamilton thought;

F2       “Since he is to be among us for so short a time, the more we see of him the better.”

M1      Not everybody embraced the new tartan image. Scott's son-in-law, John Lockhart, described the whole event as a "plaided panorama". However, the visit was a great success. The Scottish people found a new sense of national identity and a new national dress. The fashionable tartans of 1822 were refined by the Victorians to become the formal Highland dress we know today, and it was all largely due to the imagination of one man. Next time you're at a kilted wedding - think of Sir Walter Scott.