Monday, June 4, 2012

Birthday: George III of Great Britain


George III was the reigning monarch of Great Britain during most of Walter Scott’s lifetime,
ruling from 1760 until his death in 1820.  George has been mentioned in more than one
previous post.  In remembrance of his birthday (June 4, 1738), today's posting includes the
following description of the annual birthday celebration in Edinburgh from Henry Cockburn’s
“Memorials of his Time".
 
Another [test of loyalty] was keeping the King's birth-day. This day 
was the 4th of June, which, for the 60 years that the 
reign of George the III lasted, gave an annual holiday 
to the British people, and was so associated in their 
habits with the idea of its being a free day, that they 
thought they had a right to it even after his Majesty 
was dead. And the established way of keeping it in 
Edinburgh was, by the lower orders and the boys 
having a long day of idleness and fireworks, and by the 
upper classes going to the Parliament House, and drink- 
ing the royal health in the evening, at the expense of 
the city funds. The magistrates who conducted the 
banquet, which began about seven, invited about 1500 
people. Tables, but no seats except one at each end, 
were set along the Outer House. These tables, and the 
doors and walls, were adorned by flowers and branches, 
the trampling and bruising of which increased the gen- 
eral filth. There was no silence, no order, no decency. 
The loyal toasts were let off, in all quarters, according 
to the pleasure of the Town Councillor who presided 
over the section, without any orations by the Provost, 
who, seated in his robes, on a high chair, was supposed 
to control the chaos. Respectable people, considering 
it all as an odious penance, and going merely in order 
to show that they were not Jacobins, came away after 
having pretended to drink one necessary cup to the 
health of the reigning monarch. But all sorts, who 
were worthy of the occasion and enjoyed it, persevered 
to a late hour, roaring, drinking, toasting, and quarrel- 
ling. They made the Court stink for a week with the 
wreck and the fumes of that hot and scandalous night. 
It was not unusual at old Scotch feasts for the guests, 
after drinking a toast, to toss their glasses over their 
heads, in order that they might never be debased by 
any other sentiment. The very loyal on this occasion 
availed themselves of this privilege freely, so that frag- 
ments of glass crunched beneath the feel of the walk. 
The infernal din was aggravated by volleys of musketry, 
fired very awkwardly by the Town Guard, amidst the 
shouts of the mob, in the Parliament Close.  The rabble, 
smitten by the enthusiasm of the day, were accustomed, 
and permitted, to think license their right, and exercised 
their brutality without stint. Those who were aware of 
what might take place on the street, retired from the 
banquet before the spirit of mischief was fully up. 
Those who came out so late as ten or even nine of the 
evening, if observed and unprotected, were fortunate if 
they escaped rough usage, especially if they escaped 
being … made to "Hide the Stang" a 
painful and dangerous operation, and therefore a great 
favorite with the mob. I forget when this abominable 
festival was given up. Not, I believe, till the poverty, 
rather than the will, of the Town Council was obliged 
to consent. 

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