Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Edinburgh Castle, A History

When planning activities around Edinburgh, I asked Greg if he wanted to go to St. Andrews, adding that it was only 30 miles outside the city.  Emma heard this and asked very seriously, "Do we have to walk there?"  Bless her heart!  I guess we have walked a lot this trip and Emma's little legs must take two strides to our one.  Unfortunately for her, touring Edinburgh Castle was no exception.

Walking up the Royal Mile which runs from the Queen's Palace at Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle, we passed kilt makers, bagpipers, and gothic cathedrals along with many tourists on this last day of the Jubilee holiday.  Entering the Castle gates, we continued to climb the cobblestones, forgoing the guided tours, and headed to the Great Hall for a special audience with Mary, Queen of Scots.

In August, I was shocked to learn that my kids did not like social studies. They actually found history boring!  In home school, I set out to change their minds with as many hands-on, reenactments, and bringing-history-to-life activities, as possible.  We traveled the eastern United States while we studied colonialism and the Revolutionary War.  We toured the west while studying expansionism and pioneer life.  We visited local forts, battlefields and cities to bring to life the Civil War and the Reconstruction.  As a history buff, it has always bothered me when teachers treated history as a throw-away subject; something to squeeze in when they had extra time.  I loved teaching history and tried to "make it real" in the classroom with simulations, role-playing and festivals.

So when I saw a sign about meeting Queen Mary, I made the family sprint up the hill to the Great Hall.  Huffing and puffing as we entered, we gratefully collapsed on a spot on the floor near the front.  A Scottish Lord came out to greet us and explained that we must stand and bow or curtsey when the Queen entered the room.  Upon her entrance, we pushed off the floor and did as told, holding the pose until she told us to be seated.  Then, using her power as queen, she asked us to rise again.  Up, off the floor, we went.  Curtsey.  Bow.  Down.  Repeat.  She had fun with us for about four rounds.  The kids loved it, but my forty-something body was pooped.  I was not cut out for the life of courtier, and silently thanked our forefathers for doing away with this nonsense.  But I loved their show...

The "Queen" shared many engaging stories about her 16th century castle life.  She had been Queen of Scots since she was only 5 days old, but spoke with a French accent due to living most of her life in France for her own protection.  When she returned to Scotland, she tried to start new customs; such as, bathing five times a year, allowing freedom of religion and encouraging women to play golf.  She was equally disliked for all three.  Most of her difficulties in life were due to bad choices in men: she married a weakling in France and was their queen for only one year, she married a Scottish drunk and had him murdered after four years, and then, had her only child and her throne taken from her by her trusted half-brother.  Hitting par for the course in decision-making, she turned to her cousin, Elizabeth I (the Queen of England) for help who imprisoned her for 19 years, and finally, had her beheaded.  Oh, to have the relaxing life of royalty!

By the end of the program, Mary, Queen of Scots was a flesh and bone person to us; not just a name in a book.  (And I got a date...the Scottish Lord asked if he could visit me later as he pointed out that I must be a "floozie"-his word, not mine- by my claiming to be married, but wearing no headdress.  Sometimes role-players go a little too far in bringing history to life.)

We toured the rest of the castle with new eyes.  The crown jewels and royal apartments, especially the room where Mary gave birth to King James I of England, were fascinating.  The oldest building, St. Margaret's Chapel, was tiny and serene.  The military museums' timelines told an almost 600 year old story of the Royal Scots in battle, but the Scottish War Memorial told the saddest story of all with its many books filled with the names of the war dead.

As we wound our way up and up to the top outer wall of the castle, the view took our breaths away!  All of Edinburgh and the sea lay below!  We were speechless for a moment, then Greg pointed out, "We're looking at the Firth of Forth on the Fifth," and the kids burst out laughing.  In their personal histories, maybe they'll remember where they were on June 5th, 2012.

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