3rd December


after Hector Boece

While his mother, the Queen Annabella, was alive, David, Duke of Rothesay, was said to have led a virtuous and honest life, or at least he was in some measure restrained by her influence. After her death, he began to ‘rage in all manner of insolence’, visiting his lust on virgins, matrons and nuns alike. At last the ageing and feeble King Robert III, no longer able to ignore the stories of his son and heir’s excesses, wrote to his brother, the Duke of Albany, asking him to take the young man in hand and teach him better behaviour. Albany, who saw Rothesay as a rival to his already extensive power, was delighted to oblige, and had him apprehended on the road between St Andrews and Dundee by men who had personal or familial grudges against him. They blindfolded Rothesay and mounted him backwards on a mule, and thus he was taken to Albany’s castle at Falkland. There he was imprisoned, and apparently denied all food and drink.

A woman, some say, was so moved by the prisoner’s circumstances that she managed to pass some scraps of meat to him through the bars of his cell, but when this was discovered she was put to death. Another woman gave him milk from her breast, through a long reed, and she too was killed when her mercy was detected.

Then was the Duke of Rothesay ‘destitute of all mortal supply’, and was brought, finally, to such miserable and desperate hunger that he ate not only the filth of the tower where he was being kept, but also his own fingers.

Rothesay’s body was buried at nearby Lindores, where for some years miracles associated with him were reputed to take place.

An inquiry into the circumstances of his death exonerated the Duke of Albany from any suggestion of wrongdoing.

These events took place six hundred years ago. I had written as far as this point, and was wondering where I was being taken, when a friend emailed with the news that he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He has been given a sentence – of life, of death – of between six and twelve months.

That is all.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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