The Queen Honors an Author

July 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments 

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IMG_0519We’d heard the rumors. On June 17th, when we had an “advance peek” of Sir Walter Scott‘s fantastical creation, Abbotsford, in the Scottish Borders south of Edinburgh, word was that “a member of the Royal Family” would be honoring the reopening of the castle built in the early 19th century and which was inhabited by members of his family until 2004._68532656_hi018537072

And sure enough, the rumors were correct. None other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II appeared today, July 4th, at the celebration of an 11.5 million pound renovation that took hundreds of skilled workers and is the culmination of seven years of planning, fundraising and restoration, along with the opening last year of a modern visitor center and an excellent museum about Scott’s life and literary works.

501px-Sir_Walter_Scott_-_RaeburnConsidered a key figure in the development of the modern historical novel, Scott and his life were of particular interest to me, thanks to the connection of the heroine of my first historical novel Island of the Swans –Jane Maxwell (1749-1812) who eventually became the 4th Duchess of Gordon–and her link to Scott’s family, whose last member to live in the house was Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott.IMG_0365

Now that I am embarked on a contemporary sequel, That Autumn in Edinburgh, that will reveal, 250 years after the fact, what eventually happened to Jane Maxwell and the great love of her life (not the Duke of Gordon!) known as the “Lost Lieutenant,” I needed to interview Jason Dyer, Managing Director of Abbotsford, who headed up this major renovation of Scott’s home and gardens and is an expert in all aspects of Sir Walter’s amazing life.

IMG_0522Despite his crushing schedule, Dyer spent a morning providing me with a personal tour of both the house and the extraordinarly beautiful grounds (Scott had acquired nearly a thousand acres over the years), to say nothing of glimpses of knights in shining armor and magnificent examples of heraldry throughout the house.IMG_0524

It was a great privilege to be given a private tour of Scott’s inner sanctum two weeks prior to the Queen’s visit when workers were still madly painting, positioning artifacts in their rightful places after having been cleaned and restored, and generally racing to meet the deadline of today’s grand opening July 4th.

IMG_0523On June 17th, we were shown Scott’s library/office containing some nine thousand volumes and where he wrote poetry, short story collections, and some two dozen novels. Scott’s best known works are Ivanhoe, Waverly, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, The Bride of Lammermore, and The Heart of Midlothian. The icing on the cake, however, was our rare opportunity to see his private living quarters (on that day still in mid-restoration) where a fire protection safety meeting was in progress among the staff! Ab-Weddings309

Abbotsford, which has been called a fairy palace (one can even get married there, now), is definitely worth a detour as it says in the Guide Michelin. A great architectural marvel that started life as a humble farmhouse called “Cartleyhole” in 1811, the name was changed to commemorate the monks of nearby Melrose Abbey who once owned the land and use to cross (“ford”) the river adjacent to the property. It was Sir Walter Scott who spearheaded the search for the Scottish crown jewels, hidden by Cromwell and eventually found by Scott’s team of sleuths in the bowels of Edinburgh Castle. A grateful Prince Regent (later George IV) bestowed on Scott a baronetcy and invited him to “stage-manage” his visit to Scotland with only three weeks’ notice!

_67965788_george_kilt_royal_collScott even managed to get his patron into a kilt–an object of clothing that had been banned as seditious by George IV’s forebears after the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Stuart) to regain the throne in 1745. All was forgiven after the Royal Visit, and the wearing of one’s family tartan has since been adopted by the Scottish diaspora wherever they might live around the globe._68531957_hi018537081

Today’s visit by Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly pleased Her Royal Highness, given her fondness for lovely landscapes and Scotland itself where the family spends a portion of each year at Balmoral. Queen Elizabeth’s ancestress, Queen Victoria, reputedly used Abbotsford as inspiration for the romantic castle she built there.

imgresPerhaps the opening of Abbotsford in its refurbished grandeur will remind the world just why Sir Walter Scott deserves such a lasting legacy. The Scots themselves have continued to revere this literary giant. After all, he’s the only writer I know of who is memorialized on paper money. His image is on every single bill of Scottish currency…