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Tartan and Pure Laine
By Louisa Blair


Robbie Burns Night in Quebec City, 2004. A stalwart remnant of Quebec Scots brave the minus-thirty-degree weather to make their way across town, including Quebec City’s Fraser Highlanders regiment, sporting their kilts and hairy- and by the time they get there, hoary- bare knees.

A descendant of the first captain of the cold-kneed Fraser Highlanders, whose legendary fierceness won Quebec for the British in 1759, is toasting the haggis alongside descendants of a pure laine Quebecer, whose Scottish ancestor fled to France in the sixteenth century. The setting is the basement not of a Presbyterian but of a Catholic church, the stabbing of the haggis is fittingly bloodcurdling, and the litany of toasts is riotously bilingual.

What were Highland Scots doing fighting in the British army? What were the Scots doing in Quebec before the Conquest? And what impact did Scots have on the way the British treated their new subjects?

We tend to think of the Battle on the Plains of Abraham in 1759 resulting in the replacement of a French Catholic regime with an English Protestant one. But Quebec was conquered not by England but by Britain, an entity that had come into being only fifty-two years earlier, when the Act of Union brought Scotland into the fold.

The first three British governors of Quebec were not in fact the least bit representative of the rather homogenous English public at all. The first was Scottish, the second was Irish, and the third was Swiss. They all understood the realities of ethnic diversity only too well, and how quickly and disastrously things can go wrong.

Throughout August of 1759, Wolfe’s troops burned crops and houses all the way up and down the St. Lawrence River from Murray Bay to Kamouraska. When the city fell to the British in September, the first commander was one of Wolfe’s brigadiers, Robert Monckton, who only four years previously had carried out orders to expel more than a thousand French Canadians, the Acadians, from their homelands downriver. The Canadiens dreaded what would happen next.

In 1760 the post of governor switched to another of Wolfe's brigadiers, James Murray. To the growing surprise of the Canadiens, they found themselves living under the command of a man who stood up for them against the repressive laws of imperial Great Britain.

He seemed personally to favour the local French-speaking population, whom he called “the best and bravest race on the globe,” over his fellow British colonists, whom he described to a friend as "the most cruel, ignorant, rapacious fanatics who ever existed.”

Murray's orders were to establish a British-style legal system and an elected assembly along the lines of the British Parliament. He did neither. He refused to establish an assembly because under British law, Catholics could not vote, so most of the population would be unrepresented.

Under his rule, French Canadian citizens sat on juries, lawyers pled in the lower courts, and property owners continued their French system of land tenure. And perhaps most consoling to the Canadiens, against express orders to do everything possible to Anglicize and Anglicanize the colony, Murray ended up recommending his friend Jean-Olivier Briand for election as the Catholic bishop. This meant that priests could be ordained, and to the outrage of the Protestants who wanted to convert everybody, the Catholic religion would not die out in the land.

The “rapacious fanatics" did manage to remove Murray from office in 1766, but his tolerant rule of Quebec laid the foundation for the 1774 Quebec Act, guaranteeing religious freedom to the Roman Catholic majority. Murray’s disobedient practice of cultural continuation, rather than Anglicization, set a precedent that changed Britain’s future policy towards its colonies, and ensured that the unique character of Quebec survived to this day.

The traditional explanation for Murray’s behaviour is that he feared the French would join the American Revolution and therefore treated them kindly. But the seeds of the Quebec Act were sown long before winds of the Revolution reached London. And in any case, there were plenty of other reasons to do with Murray himself, who was not an Englishman but a Scot and, moreover, a Jacobite Scot.

The Jacobites - those loyal to the deposed Catholic king, James II - were the most subversive political element in the British Isles, and they had a particularly dangerous liaison with France.

One of the many differences between England and Scotland was their relationship with France and with Catholicism.

The English and the French had been at war with each other since 1689, and at the time of the Conquest, English Protestants saw Catholics as enemy aliens, almost the devil incarnate.

Catholics in England were not allowed to vote and were excluded from all state offices, forbidden to possess weapons, taxed punitively, and treated in law as potential traitors. In 1714, the Crown had passed over fifty rightful heirs because they had the misfortune to be Catholic, landing^ finally on an uncharismatic middle-aged German from Hanover, George Lewis, the first of the King Georges. (Catholics cannot become kings or queens of England to this day.) Anti-Catholic sentiment was so strong in 1778 that when Britain proposed a Catholic Relief Act (that allowed Catholics to sign up for the fighting in America), it took 10,000 soldiers to put down the Protestant rioters. The Gordon Riots were the longest, most widespread, and the deadliest ever seen in British history.

A tiny Protestant island within the sea of a militantly Catholic Europe, England saw the French as superstitious, decadent, democratically backward, and profoundly threatening. While the Protestants considered themselves as the elect of God, they considered the French the biblical equivalent of the heathens: a sermon preached at the Peace of Paris in 1763 was entitled “The triumph of Israelites over Moabites, or Protestants over Papists.”

Murray’s strongest competitor for the post of first civil governor of Quebec was a man who embodied many of these English sentiments, John Wilkes. He was a passionate Scots-hater, so much so that Scottish children burned effigies of him on the king’s birthday. As for the French, he liked them even less. As a member of the Laudable Association of Anti-Gallicans, founded in England in 1745, he believed that French contamination had been an evil since the Norman Conquest. One of the association’s mandates was to rouse the English public to boycott French imports, and another was to fight gallicisms in the English language. To his fury, the job went to a grasping Scots nobleman with suspicious French connections. Wilkes’s consolation prize was being appointed the Lord Mayor of London.

Claret in the oyster house: The Auld Alliance
The Scots had quite a different relationship with both Catholicism and with France. The Scots and the French had formed their first formal alliance (known as the Auld Alliance) in 1295 to fight their common enemy, the English. Throughout most of the sixteenth century, reciprocity treaties made Scottish and French nationalities interchangeable. Plenty of Scottish lairds settled in France, blending comfortably into French seigneurial society, and it was de rigueur for the sons of Scots nobility to undertake part of their education in France.

The Highlands of Scotland were largely Catholic, as were its kings and queens. The College ecossais in Paris (founded 1313 by Robert the Bruce), attached to the Sorbonne, turned out Jansenist Scottish priests during the Counter Reformation as theologically rigid in their own way as their Calvinist enemies back home.

Scots bodyguards, the Garde de la Manche, protected the person of the French monarch from 1419 until 1844. When Mary Queen of Scots married the French Dauphin in 1560, a regiment of Scots soldiers became a fulltime component of the French army.

Although the political alliance was over by the mid-eighteenth century, the French connection still played an important role in the Scottish Enlightenment, which was in full swing. The books of Voltaire, Montesqueiu, and Rousseau were smuggled across the Channel and reprinted in Edinburgh and Glasgow. So many Scottish philosophers visited Voltaire’s house in England, where he was in exile, that he called himself “l’aubergiste de l’Europe.” He in turn declared himself a devotee of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, whom he called “Saint David."

Many details of Scottish daily life were still full of French influence. The Scottish intellectuals who debated politics, philosophy, theology, and literature in Edinburgh’s oyster houses did not oil their discussions with beer or wine, contrary to legend, but on claret, the favoured Scots table wine dating back to an ancient link with Bordeaux.

The Lowland Scot spoke Scots, which was almost unintelligible in England (and full of French), and the Highland Scot spoke Gaelic, which had common roots with the Celtic languages still spoken in France. The Scottish legal system, based on reason more than on precedent, was far closer to the French legal system than to the English, and Scottish lawyers were routinely sent to study in France or Holland for two years.

While there was plenty of marine traffic and marriage between France and Scotland, the latter was still cut off from England, physically and culturally. The English finally did get around to building a road, just in time for Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) and the Scots Jacobites to use it to invade England in 1746.

Catholics, kilts, and Culloden: The fight for the House of Stuart
The Jacobites began agitating when James II fled England after the Glorious Revolution (1688), and the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary took the throne. The Jacobites tried for nearly a century to restore the Stuart Catholic monarchy to the British throne, with the backing of the French army. Among the Jacobites were English and Irish Catholics, Scots Highlanders, and Scottish Lowland Episcopalians, including the Murray family.

Just fourteen years before the British took Quebec, in 1746, Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his Jacobite supporters made it to within 175 kilometres of London. A 7,000-strong French army were held back by a storm in the English Channel, and without its support the Jacobites were badly beaten at Culloden Moor. Brutal reprisals by British troops were legendary, although one young officer, Major James Wolfe, offered to give up his commission rather than obey his commander’s orders to kill a survivor, the twenty-year-old Charles Fraser of Inverlochy.

Charles Stuart escaped back to France. Highland clansmen who had fought for the Prince disappeared back into the glens. But now the British government was determined to rid itself of the Jacobites. Thousands were jailed. Highland clansmen were no longer allowed to carry weapons, play bagpipes or, worst of all, wear tartans or kilts.

Protestant England was triumphant. Handel wrote his oratorio Judas Maccabaeus to celebrate the victory at Culloden, once again depicting the Jacobites as the heathen Moabites and the Protestant Hanoverians as the Chosen People.

Culloden was a turning point for the Jacobites. Most of the surviving Highland chieftains now saw restoring their king as a lost cause and blamed their failure on the French.

The 78th Fraser Highlanders, Quebec, in 1759. Watercolour by John H. McNaughton, 1896. Raised by the British to fight in North America, some of the Highlanders had fought against the British at Culloden. But following their defeat, many Scots fighters, feeling betrayed by the French who had failed to come to their aid in the battle, shifted their loyalties to their conquerors. Under the command of their former enemy James Wolfe, the Highlanders played a major role in the siege of Quebec in 1759. After the regiment disbanded in 1763, many soldiers of Jacobite background remained in Canada, and with their Catholic religion and knowledge of French, assimilated easily into Quebec society.

They were persecuted and desperate, and to get back into British good books they used their ancient prerogative to call up their men for battle, this time on behalf of the House of Hanover.

Thus Simon Fraser, who called up the Seventy-eighth Fraser Highlanders to go and fight in Quebec, had seen his own father hanged for treason after Culloden. Many of his troops had fought on the other side at Culloden, including the brother of Charles Fraser of Inverlochy, whose life Wolfe had spared twelve years previously. Some say it was at Quebec that the Highlanders took their revenge on the French failure to support them then.

The last attempt to restore the Catholic Stuart monarchy was an unsuccessful plot to kidnap King George and put Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie, or the Young Pretender) in his place. It was organized by the notorious Jacobite Lord Elibank, or Alexander Murray, just five years before his younger brother James Murray arrived in Quebec.

Bare Betty and the Jacobites: Murray’s unfortunate connections
Murray’s family were Scottish lowland nobility. Once impoverished by their association with the ill-fated Stuart kings, they were struck low a second time by the eighteenth-century equivalent of the dot-com bubble, known as the South Sea Bubble. Murray was the fourteenth child, and his mother Bare Betty was possibly none too happy to have another bairn to deal with just when their fortunes were in mid-plummet.

Bare Betty, or Elizabeth Stirling, was so called because of an incident at school. When an examiner addressed her as Betty, she drew herself up to her full height and retorted, in colourful language, that she might be addressed as Mistress Betty, or as Miss Betty, but “not bare Betty.” As if to prove that the Scottish sense of humour has never changed, she has come down to us through history as Bare Betty.

After the loss of their fortune, her husband Lord Elibank promised his wife, as so many husbands have promised so many wives since, that “nor you may depend on it will I venture a groat more that way.” Realizing that the only asset he had left was a parcel of rather neglected and unprofitable land around Ballencrieff, their ancestral home, he turned his energies from the stock market to agriculture and founded The Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland, and then sat back to watch his unruly children make their way in the world on their own.

Scots settlers were quite happy to fall into the seigneurial system, both as seigneurs and as tenants, in Canada. Scottish tenants were used to swearing fealty to a laird, and the lairds were used to ruling over private dynasties of vast tracts of wilderness.

One of their sons, Patrick, became an Edinburgh intellectual and was known for his savage wit and his “inexhaustible fund of Jacobite humour and argument." He founded the Select Society, a group of men who were at the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment, and who included philosopher David Hume, the great Lord Kames (whose last words to his legal colleagues were “Fare ye weel, ye bitches!"), and Adam Smith. Although Samuel Johnson called Patrick Murray “one of the few Scotchmen whom he met with pleasure and parted from with regret,” he and his brother had been fingered as fanatical Jacobites by none other than Horace Walpole, the British writer, aristocrat, and devotee of George II.

Another son, Alexander, had been jailed for insulting the King’s ministers at the Westminster election in 1751. When invited to accept an admonition on his knees before the House of Commons, he refused, saying he only ever knelt before God, and back he went to jail. When he was released in 1751, the London mobs hailed his release with cries of “Murray and Liberty!” He immediately began plotting to restore the Young Pretender once again.

James had entered the British army as a young man with the help of a relative, but he wasn’t getting promoted very fast. Although Scots aristocrats generally made a point of refusing to socially ostracize those on the other side of the Stuart-Hanoverian divide, the same was not true of the English. Neither Patrick nor Alexander, twice in Newgate jail and now in exile in France, were good for James’s reputation with the Hanoverian authorities. After twenty-three years of military service, he was still only a captain, while many of his peers were already generals.

True to ancient aristocratic tradition, James Murray used a strategic marriage to rescue himself from obscurity. When stationed in Hastings to catch smugglers, Murray fell in love with the daughter of a staunch Whig Englishman, John Collier, with excellent connections in the British establishment. Collier conquered his misgivings about this impecunious soldier from a notorious Jacobite family, allowed him to marry his daughter, and promoted his cause tirelessly.

Murray knew only too well that Collier had saved him from the stigma of his brothers’ reputation. "I’m sure time and opportunity,” he wrote to him, “if fortune favours me with any, will convince all the world that I have no share in their guilt, tho’ I am likely to have the whole punishment of it unless protected by your influence. Hitherto I am very sensible it has been that alone that has procured my rank and good fortune.”

With his new patron’s help, James Murray set sail for Canada.

The best and the bravest: Murray in Canada
Professionally speaking, Quebec was the making of Murray. But with the baggage that he carried, we should not be surprised that he understood and empathized more with the Canadiens than with the English merchants, who were already making predations in the new colony.

Jacobites tended to be nostalgic for rural life and the authority of traditional hierarchies, and according to historian Arthur Herman, “detested the new rising competitive capitalist society, with its getting and spending, its greedy merchants and vulgar upstarts ... as much as any Marxist.” Murray would have found many people who shared these attitudes amongst the Canadian clergy and seigneurs.

He had grown up in a culture with more sympathies towards the French Catholic mindset than towards a Protestant English Hanoverian mindset. No wonder he refused to obey his orders when it came to establishing a Protestant assembly.

The indignity of the Act of Union still rankled with many Scots. But out of their own subjugation at the hands of the English, they had managed to preserve their own legal system, which was closer to the French than to the English, and their traditional system of land tenure, which was more like the seigneurial system than the British system. These two distinctly Scottish institutions were precisely the elements that Murray excised from his orders about how to treat the new French subjects of the British Empire.

This also explains why Scots settlers were quite happy to fall into the seigneurial system, both as seigneurs and as tenants, in Canada. Scottish tenants were used to swearing fealty to a laird, and the lairds were used to ruling over private dynasties of vast tracts of wilderness. They quickly intermarried with the Canadiens, and many Gaelic-speaking families moved directly to French. They were also used to the weather: Orkneymen who came over to work as Hudson’s Bay Company factors used to add that thev came to Canada “to warm up."

His cultural history also explains Murray’s attitude toward the Catholic Church, which was far from the kneejerk middle-class English attitude. In Scotland, Catholics were a minority, but he had also served in Ireland, and he knew what a violent mess Catholic repression could result in if applied to a majority.

Murray himself had also had firsthand experience of religious exclusion. Scots Episcopalians and Catholics were shut out under Presbyterian, and then English Protestant rule.

Now the English merchants of Quebec and settlers from New England wanted to impose a similar kind of exclusion on the French. “If... the Popish [anti-Catholic] laws must be exerted with rigour in Canada, for God’s sake procure my retreat,” he wrote to his friend Archibald Montgomery, "as I cannot be witness to the misery of a people that I love and admire."

John Wilkes, his rival back in England, wasn't the least surprised that Murray was behaving in the colonies in a way that was so "fatal and hostile to England.” He was, after all, a Scot, so no wonder he was batting for the enemy.

The Franco-Scots in Canada
Murray must have known that there were fellow Scots in Quebec long before the British conquered it. There were bound to be, as France was crawling with Scots refugees. Cartier’s navigator, John Rotz, was a Franco-Scot, as was the first pilote du roi on the St. Lawrence River, Abraham Martin dit lecossais. The field where he kept his herd of cows was known as the Plains of Abraham. Scots settlers thrived among the Acadians in Nova Scotia.

Early on the morning of September 13,1759, General James Wolfe landed his men at Anse-Aux-Foulons below Quebec. The French troops above were not expecting the British to land there, and Highland Scots members of the advance party replied to their sentries in fluent French. Thinking the landing craft were actually French supply boats from downstream, the sentries let down their guard, allowing the soldiers to scale the cliff. Later that day, Quebec fell to the English in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

In 1759 there were Scots on the French side as well as the British side who had fought together against the English at Culloden only a few years before.

Chevalier de Johnstone, for example, Major-General Lavis’ aide-de-camp and the son of an Edinburgh merchant, had also been Bonnie Prince Charlie's aide-de-camp, and had escaped with him to France after Culloden. He was justifiably nervous at the thought of falling prisoner to English soldiers whom he had helped to capture at Prestonpans. But after his side lost at Quebec, he stayed on with a cousin who was in the British artillery, and no doubt shared a good bottle of claret in celebration of their reunion.

The man who relinquished the keys of Quebec, the Lieutenant du Roi, was another Franco-Scot, Jean-Baptiste-Nicholas-Roch de Ramezay, whose ancestor, Sir John Ramsay, had been exiled to France in the early seventeenth century. One of his sisters was a seigneur who ran a successful sawmill, and the other sister, Louise, was a powerful six-foot tall nun who paid her convent dowry in boards and planks. Louise was so passionately patriotic, and so tall, that Murray threatened to conscript her into a grenadier company.


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