There are many famous Scottish kings who reigned during the Middle Ages but what of people from other walks of life? Here we take a look at some of the Scots who made their mark in Medieval times.
Galgacus the First Scot to be Recorded in Writing
Galgacus who lived around 85 AD was the leader of a tribe located in the far North of Scotland. The Romans referred to the tribe as the Caledonii and Galgacus was so prominent a figure that he was the first Scot to mentioned in historical writings. Galgacus fought against the Roman invaders, led by Agricola, as they pushed further north into Scotland, while he attacked their supply routes and their communications. In 83 AD the Caledonii, some thirty thousand to be exact, were said to have gathered on a hillside in Northern Scotland and Agricola who had been proffered with this information attacked them with great success. Unfortunately, The Caledonii equipment was inferior to their aggressors and they were unable to repel the forces of the Roman cavalry. The end result was that thousands of Caledonii were slaughtered.
Thomas the Rhymer
Thomas the Rhymer was a poet who lived in thirteenth century Scotland. Thomas believed in fairies and wrote in one of his poems about meeting and speaking to the Queen of the Fairies in the Eildon Hills. Not only did Thomas claim to speak to the Queen but he also claimed to accompany her to her kingdom under the hills. Thomas wrote that he appeared to stay there for three days but when he resurfaced he found that he had in fact been away for three years. In today’s modern world this may all sound ridiculous but in the Middle Ages people believed in all kinds of fanciful things, (including fairies), we would dismiss out of hand today. The fairy queen made it impossible for Thomas to tell a lie and bequeathed the gift of prophecy on Thomas, while he did indeed make some accurate predictions including
- The death in 1286 of Alexander III
- King James IV defeat at the Battle of Flodden
- Joining of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603
Thomas the Rhymers predictions were much sought after with even the Jacobites consulting his former predictions prior to the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745.
St Columba Abbey Iona
St Columba was actually born in Ireland and was of royal decent but due to his influence on the Scots for hundreds of years he became an honorary Scot who is still revered today. Columba left Ireland in 563 AD and settled on the Scottish Island of Iona where he founded his monastery in order to spread the word of Christianity. Columba was a close confidante of the king and became tutor to the king’s children. Columba was not only a devout monk but was also a great diplomat and his advice was valued by the king, while in return Columba received protection of his land and abbey from the crown. Even though Columba died in 597 AD his influence lived on with many more abbeys being built in his name. Columba was so revered that kings wanted to be buried close to him, while once the Viking Invasion occurred in 794 AD Columba’s remains were removed from Iona and were divided equally between Ireland and Alba.
John Napier was a Scottish mathematician, inventor and theological writer who was born in the late middle ages in Merchiston Castle Edinburgh. Napier is credited with originating the notion of logarithms in order to assist in mathematical calculations. Napier went to the University of St Andrews at thirteen but left without a degree, while after travelling abroad for some time he returned to Scotland where he lived for the remainder of his life. Napier was a prominent activist in the General Assembly of the Scottish Church and was known to be actively against Scotland’s Catholic community.
Inventions that are credited to Napier include two types of burning mirror, a metal chariot and an item of artillery. Most of Napier’s free time was dedicated to his mathematics research and indeed this was how he came upon the use of logarithms in mathematical formulation in order to make calculation simpler. Calculations such as multiplication used in astronomy especially benefitted. Napier may be credited with the discovery of logarithms but he also made further mathematical contributions such as the predecessor to the slide rule and spherical trigonometry.
Andrew Wood of Largo
Andrew Wood of Largo was born in 1455 and died in 1515. He was “Scotland’s Nelson” and was admiral of the Royal Scots Navy. Wood started out as a trader who owned two ships and traded from Leith his birthplace with the Netherlands and the Baltic areas. Wood was not known formerly as a pirate but he did prey on English ships with his own vessels that were well equipped with ammunition to ensure his success. Wood became sea captain to James III of Scotland and was rewarded with lands in Fife.
Following the king’s death Wood turned his allegiance to James IV who knighted Wood when he attacked and defeated English privateers who had been attacking Scottish shipping. Wood subsequently had a price put on his head by Henry VII of England who offered a whopping £1000 a year for life reward to anyone who could capture Wood. Sir Steven Bull of England embarked with three ships to fulfil the challenge but was beaten by Wood who then was awarded the rank of Admiral in the Scottish Navy.
In 1511 Wood commanded the Scots Navy flagship the Great Michael which was the largest ship in Europe at the time. Wood commanded the fleet along with the French and sailed against the English navy. Following the Battle of Flodden in 1513 the ship was sold to the French. Wood then became ambassador to the French for a time. He spent his final days in Upper Largo where he built a castle surrounded by a moat that connected to the Medieval church.