1822 - George IV's visit to Edinburgh

George IV's Visit

George IV's exceptional trip to Scotland was the first by a reigning monarch since the days of Charles II. A royal visit was a splendid novelty of the first order. Heralds, uniforms, banquets, a 'Gathering of the Clans' for the King's benefit, with acres and acres of tartan - this was an outbreak of what modern historians have labelled 'Highlandism'. At the very point at which actual Gaelic culture was being destroyed by market pressures, clearances and emigration, dressing up in tartan and wearing the kilt had become all the rage with the middle and upper classes. The phenomenon had its roots in the late 18th century with the suppression of Jacobitism, the recruitment of Highland regiments and a change in taste which classified Highland landscapes as sublime and picturesque. Adopting Highland dress gave Lowland Scots a way of distinguishing themselves from their neighbours in England at a time when the country had never been more anglicised. Ironically it also led to the increasingly urbanised Lowlands adopting the dress and trappings of a rural people whom they had formerly despised. Walter Scott's novels and the royal visit played an important part in cultivating this image. The King was thrilled by all the colourful pageantry and Scotland was, at last, fashionable!

At an early hour on Thursday the 22d of August, the city presented a scene of extraordinary bustle, in consequence of the arrangements which had been agreed upon for his Majesty's procession to the Castle. The weather was peculiarly unpropitious. The sky was overcast with heavy clouds, which, descending in drizzling and unintermitting showers, threatened the postponement of the royal pageant. Notwithstanding the state of the weather, immense crowds flocked in from the surrounding country to witness a spectacle so interesting to the feelings of Scotsmen; and, in addition to the hum of the constantly accumulating multitude who occupied its streets, the city was enlivened by the appearance of the different trades, marching in array, and with their banners displayed, to the sound of martial music. The view of the High Street, towards mid-day, was animated in the extreme, as the different public bodies, headed by their officers, with their insignia of office, proceeded, in seemingly interminable lines, to occupy the stations assigned to them. The windows of the High Street, as far as the eye could reach, and the different balconies, all covered with green, red or scarlet cloth, were thronged to excess; and the motionless anxiety of those who occupied them, contrasted with the lively bustle that prevailed on the streets, had a most imposing effect.

About one o'clock the different public bodies, incorporations, and trades, had taken up the ground assigned to them, reaching from the precincts of the Abbey to the Castle-hill: they were in lines two deep, and in many places three. To a man they were well dressed; and had crosses on their breasts, with heather or thistles in their hats, and most of them white rods in their hands. We cannot pass over the society of gardeners without remark: it was numerous beyond all former precedent, and exhibited an unusual display of appropriate emblems, garlands, and fruits. Among these a plume, composed of the flowers of the brightest varieties of the hollyhock, and tastefully arranged so as to form the triple feather, so long the crest of his Majesty while prince of Wales, attracted much attention. In the Canongate, the society of glass-blowers was particularly conspicuous. The officer at their head wore a glass hat, with a glass sword and target; and each member carried a long glass rod . . .

We also observed Sir Walter Scott, dressed in the Windsor uniform, walking up the centre of the street along with two other gentlemen, and, as he advanced, casting a glance of lofty enthusiasm upon the marshalled bands of hardy burghers, whose military appearance must have been associated, in his mind, with awful but proud recollections. A number of those assembled did homage to the genius of the worthy Baronet, by loudly cheering him . . .

The Knight Marischal was mounted on a black Arabian horse, richly caparisoned. His dress was a white satin cloak, over a richly embroidered doublet of white and gold, with a white plume in his hat. On each side of him walked a Henchman, habited in rose-coloured satin, slashed with white; their under-clothes white, with white silk stockings, and white roses in their shoes.

The Lord Lyon was superbly mounted on an Arabian horse. He wore a long and superb mantle of crimson velvet, lined throughout with white silk; a green velvet surcoat, edged with a broad band of gold; white pantaloons, with a gold stripe; on his head a crown of gold, with a cap of crimson velvet, and a border of ermine; and in his hand he held his baton of office of green enamel, flowered with golden thistles; he wore also his collar and badge. His splendid appearance attracted general attention. He was attended by two grooms, one on each side, who wore white surtouts, with red collar and cuffs, and red caps . . .

When the King arrived at the barrier-gate, he alighted from his carriage on a raised platform, covered with crimson cloth, where the Lord High Constable and Lord Cathcart were stationed to receive him. The keys of the Castle were then tendered to his Majesty, by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hope, the Lieutenant-Governor, accompanied by Major-General Sir Thomas Bradford, Commander of the Forces, besides a numerous body of officers belonging to the garrison. His Majesty having returned the keys, walked with a firm step along the drawbridge, till coming to the inner-gate, he stepped into another carriage, which stood waiting, the grenadier company of the 66th regiment forming his guard of honour. The carriage was surrounded by the principal nobility and gentry, the Lord High Constable walking alone by the King's right hand. The procession moved slowly through the winding passages of the Castle, till it came to the half-moon battery, where were erected two platforms, raised one upon the other, with a stair leading up to them. The under platform and stair were covered with grey cloth; the handrail of the stair and upper platform with scarlet cloth. The King ascended the upper platform, and presented himself to the view of his admiring subjects. At this moment a royal salute was fired from the guns on the ramparts, the bands played 'God save the King', and the soldiers on the different batteries presented arms. The King remained on this elevated situation a considerable time, cheered by the amazing multitude who occupied the Castle-hill. One of his attendants expressed an apprehension, that the King would get wet. 'O, never mind,' replied his Majesty, with great animation, 'I must cheer the people;' and taking off his hat, he waved it repeatedly, and gave three cheers, which were heard at some distance. The people, whose enthusiasm was now wound up to the highest pitch, again made the air resound with their loudest acclamations. The thick fog that brooded over the landscape deprived his Majesty of the full enjoyment of a prospect unequalled, perhaps, in variety and magnificence. But the same circumstances cast an air of sublimity over the wide expanse; and the broken outlines of crags, and cliffs, and stupendous buildings, peered out from amidst the incumbent gloom with a wild and most romantic effect. The King surveyed this singular prospect with the most marked interest; and, turning to his attendants, exclaimed, 'This is wonderful! - what a sight!'

Robert Mudie, Historical Account of His Majesty's Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh, 1822.

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