On this day in history Charles II was declared King of Scotland in 1649. I’m not really sure why.
I mean, I do realize the Stuarts were a Scottish dynasty and that the Scots had supported his father Charles I. No. Wait. They had opposed him fiercely, going to war against him over his attempt to force Archbishop Laud’s crypto-Catholicism on the Church of Scotland, creating the fiscal crisis that forced Charles I to summon a Parliament that soon was also at war with him.
I also realize that eventually the English too wanted Charles II as king, after suffering through the unstable repression of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. But the English wanted him as a reasonable monarch and after exhausting the alternatives. And while Charles did live up to his commitments, albeit deviously, his brother James II reverted to inept tyrannical Stuart type and the English gave him the royal boot in the Glorious Revolution.
So why were the Scots in such a hurry on Charles II? And why did they cling to the idea that James II had been a gude and legitimate king (and that he’d been James VII) and support first his son James, the “Old Pretender” and alleged James III/VIII for whom they rose up in “the ’15” and then his son “Bonnie Prince Charlie” on whose behalf they rose up again in “the ‘45” that ended so bloodily at Culloden Moor?
I generalize here because clearly many Scots did not support the exiled Stuarts, certainly not to the point of taking up arms for them. But those who did not were generally obliged either to break with family and friends or pretend it was merely a matter of prudence. Somehow this political foolishness became a matter of national pride and national identity.
Yes, I see the romance of lost causes. And yes, I realize Scotland did not have the heritage of liberty under law that England did. Yes, they prized their liberty. But their parliament was a pale shadow of England’s, unable to defy the monarch, and they had no Magna Carta. Still, it all seems so silly and also sad.
They are not the first or last of whom this can be said. But when I look at the Scots’ support for the exiled Stuarts, I am convinced that such men and women deserved a better cause than that which they inexplicably embraced.