By Lewis Younie (@Lewis_Younie)
The Honours of Scotland, better known as Britain’s oldest surviving crown jewels, were crafted in the late 15th and early 16th century. Comprised of a crown, a sceptre, and a sword, the regalia’s history has intertwined with that of the Scottish nation for centuries. The Honours’ physical appearance does not demand attention, however. Rather, it is their journey through Scottish history which deserves study. The Honours were smuggled out from under the nose of Cromwell’s New Model Army and hidden at Kinneff Parish Church until the Restoration and coronation of Charles II. After that, they were used in the Scottish Parliament until the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, then sealed away in Edinburgh Castle, becoming lost and gathering dust.
111 years later Sir Walter Scott appeared, armed with a warrant from the Prince Regent to track down the Honours. The image of this poet, novelist and historian – an architect of much of ‘traditional’ Scottish identity – tramping through the forgotten spaces of Edinburgh Castle is certainly vivid. Scott’s eventual finding of the Honours, and his triumphal announcement to the world, seems ripped straight from one of his novels and intentionally mirrored his ‘re-discovery’ of Scottish identity.
The rediscovery of the Honours poses an interesting question of narratives and how we interact with history through objects. It was no accident Scott, with his personal investment in shaping the story of Scottish history, sought the Honours. The question remains, however, of how much we should simply accept this story of loss and discovery, loaded as it is with historical narrative. It is the creation and awareness of such narratives which is the demonstration of a historically aware society. Objects tell many stories, however bedecked they are with jewels and auric splendour.
Cover Image: An reproduction of the Honours of Scotland on a pew in Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh (link). Photograph of Stefan Schäfer, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.