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March 16th - Windy Saturday

( Originally Published 1884 )

Windy Saturday is one of the popular epochs which is frequently mentioned by natives of Scotland, and yet it is remarkable how very few of them have the least idea when that notable day occurred, or of any of the circumstances attending it. I made inquiry of at least fifty persons, before I got the slightest information, except occasionally something about unroofing houses, which seemed to be rather the result of imagination than of any precise tradition on the subject. At last an old woman informed me, that "it was a dreadful day of wind lang syne, which blew down one of the Kings of Scotland and killed him." This was all she had ever heard, and it pointed immediately to the circumstances of the death of King Alexander III., who was killed by falling over the cliff between Burnt Island and Kinghorn on the north side of the Firth of Forth.

By referring to the annals of that period, it will be seen that this unfortunate event occurred on the 16th day of March, 1286, or (to embrace both the ecclesiastical and civil year) 1285-6, which day will be found to have been a Saturday.

It does not appear, however, that there was any unusual storm of wind on that day, and the King, is said by some to have lost his way during a fall of snow in the dusk of the evening, and to have fallen down ; and not to have been blown down the cliff by violence.

The popular belief of its having been a Windy Saturday, probably arises from the following story of a prophecy of the celebrated Thomas the Rhymer, whose fame remains undiminished to the present day, and which story is thus related in the ancient translation of Hector Boethius, by Bellenden :

" It is said, the day afore the Kingis deith the Erie of Marche demandit ane prophet namit Thomas Rymour, other way is namit Ersiltoun, quhat weder suld be on the morow ? To quhome answerit this thomas, that on the morow afore noon sail blow the gretist wynd that evir was hard afore in Scotland. On the morow quhen it was neir noon, the lift (sky) appering loune (cloudy) bot any din or tempest the Erle send for this prophet, and reprovit him, that he prognosticat sic wynd to be, and nane appearance thairof. This Thomas maid litel answer, bot said, noon is not gane. And incontenent ane man came to the yet (gate), schawing the King was slane. Than said the prophet, yone is the wynd that shall blan to the gret calamity and truble of al Scotland."

Critics who are sceptical in regard to the prophetic powers so liberally ascribed to the Rhymer to this day by the vulgar, remark, respecting this story, that he had probably foretold that there would be a windy day, and as no wind actually occurred, he afterwards availed himself of the circumstance of the King's death to save his credit as a prophet. The above story also represents the fatal event to have taken place about mid-day ; whereas other annalists state it to have been in the dusk of the evening.

The circumstances of the death of King Alexander were in themselves sufficient to make a strong popular impression, and the more so, as it was believed by some to be a divine judgment, because he was going to visit his wife in the season of Lent, in opposition to the rules prescribed by the Church. And as the death of his infant daughter occurred soon after, and gave occasion to the contest for the Crown between the factions of Bruce and Baliol, and the desperate struggle for the independence of the country against the invasion of the English, the death of Alexander might very justly be said, in a metaphorical sense, to be a wind that blew great calamity and trouble to all Scotland.

Here, then, we have Windy Saturday explained in a metaphorical sense, as connected with one of the most unfortunate events in the history of the country, but without any physical commotion of the air.

Perhaps some of your Correspondents will be so good as to inform you, if he knows of any other Saturday which can lay claim to the celebrity of the day in question.

I should also feel obliged if any of your Correspondents would explain when Black Monday, or Mirk Monday, as it is called, took place; and whether the designation took its rise from a total eclipse of the Sun, or any actual physical darkness ; or whether it was so called on account of any national calamity. The epoch of Mirk Monday is very often heard, and not unfrequently occurs in writings ; but after numerous inquiries, I have been unable to get the slightest idea when it occurred, either from learned antiquaries or old women. Was it the day on which the Earl of Moray, popularly known by the appellation of the Good Regent, was assassinated ? That event took place on Monday, 23 January, 1570.

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