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Tartan Day

Tomorrow is Tartan Day, and I want to honour that “holiday” by talking about my Scottish protagonist John Dean and explaining why the Scots were a reviled minority in England in the 18th century.

At that time, Scots were better educated than their English neighbours, largely due to the influence of the Presbyterian church founded by John Knox. As a Calvanist, he believed that people ought to be able to read the Bible for themselves so that their personal salvation might be assured. The Scottish Schools Act of 1696 set up a parish school system that taught “almost the whole common people to read, and a very great proportion of them to write and account.” [Adam Smith, quoted in How the Scots Invented the Modern World.] This led to a well-educated population that was poised to “invade” England after the Act of Union in 17o7.

The book English Society in the Eighteenth Century says that “‘Macs’ not ‘Micks’ were the most resented immigrants in Hanoverian England– because of their success: they were the top educators, engineers, surgeons and philandering biographers.” I suppose we might add ‘gardeners’ to that list.

At the age of 20, John Dean was the head gardener on a 12-acre  estate garden with a staff of  twelve under him. Such a level of success led to resentment rather than admiration. It certainly did nothing to win the approval of Susan’s parents. She was a member of the gentry, and he was a servant, no matter how educated, not to mention a Presbyterian and a miserable Scot.

But his stature must have been impressive to Susan since she ran off and married him. I imagine he was an attractive man. I also imagine that she fell head over heels for his accent, especially the way he rolled his ‘r’s when he said her name. “Miss Kirke.”

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