The Restoration of the Chimney Map

Restoration of the Chimney Map

Written by Emma Marriott.

In the heart of Edinburgh, our University and the National Library of Scotland (NLS) have been working in collaboration to research the mystery that is known as the restoration on the ‘Chimney Map’. Fifteen years ago a rare antique map was deposited into the NLS after having been found in a rural country house in Aberdeenshire. The map is now dated as a seventeenth-century map of the world, and there are only two other known copies in existence. It had been rolled up in a shambolic ball and stuffed up a chimney, and now lies out, restored to a condition that little believed possible, thanks to the time and careful attention of Claire Thomson, Conservator at the NLS.

Now that the map has been restored and can be studied, Dr Esther Mijers of the History Department sought four student researchers, Amy Hollander, Sarah Thew, Julia Weingaertner, and Emily Hall (from the University’s The Student), to embark on a ‘fact-finding’ research project during the Festival of Creative Learning in February to provide some insight into the origins of the map. It was a fascinating discussion to have been privy to as these four girls demonstrated very extensive and concise research, and they each embarked on their own avenues of interest such as the genealogy of the potential owners of the map, the map makers themselves and the smaller maps that bordered the main centre piece. Sarah considered the ownership of the map, and it proved more difficult to her than she originally thought. Most owners all seemed to be called Robert Gordon. She then studied parish records to find the dates for the Gordon family’s ownership of the Cluny Estate, to whom it is believed that the map was owned by. She pegged joint ownership of the estate in 1687 when a Robert Gordon married Katherine Arbuthnot, who outlived Robert, and was written down in a parish record as ‘Lady Dowager of Cluny. She looked into the Arbuthnot name and found that a church on their land was home to one of the first ministers of the Protestant faith after the Scottish Reformation. Sarah concluded that she believed that by the third branch of the Gordon family, they were steadfastly Protestant.

Julia found that the small inscriptions and drawings around the border of the map were illustrations of European cities, which were either capitals and well-established trading centres. For example, one illustration was of Batavia, which was the capital city of the Dutch East Indies. Batavia now corresponds to the present-day city of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Her research into the etchings of the map has spurred her interest with a possible connection to Rembrandt, as there may have been a specialized market pool of specialized professionals there. A significant feature of the Chimney Map which sets it apart from other maps of its era and its kind is the frequency of illustrated churches surrounding it. Emily embarked on a research path that looked into the significance of these churches. There are six labelled churches on the map in total, and Emily looked to identify the Church labelled Ulster, and considered the copper plates, etchings, and focused on the typology in Dutch art. She suggested that the copied maps in the British Museum did not have the same focus on churches. The group highlighted that this may be due to the religious uncertainties that were experienced in Scotland in the later years of the seventeenth century. Scotland’s monarchy was politically and religiously problematic in this period, as King James VII and his wife, Anne Hyde both converted to Roman Catholicism in 1667 and, following her death in 1671, King James married the Catholic Mary of Modena, who many viewed as an agent of the Pope. Emily highlighted that that the religious paintings in the map focused more heavily on the Old Testament, such as David’s fight with Goliath, which she suspected was a demonstration to Scotland’s underdog, but persistent presence in global movements.

Amy Hollander’s research delved into the social aspects of the map and what it reveals and about society of the time. On the map are featured the images of King William III and Queen Mary of Orange in the middle of the map, the new Protestant monarchs of Britain in 1689. The images of William and Mary may highlight the religious tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism in Scotland at the time. Amy considered the migration of Scots and Scottish Kirks to Rotterdam, which

had become a port at the centre of a trading empire, as the Dutch were one of the first nations in Europe to value trade more than just religion. The Dutch took in many religious refugees from across Europe, including Scots, whose Calvinistic views were tolerated by the Dutch state. The Scottish religious refugees in the Netherlands saw William as their future Protestant hero, with great expectations. However, their hopes were dashed, as William seemed less interested in Scotland and, as a further insult to injury, the massacre at Glencoe in 1692 further deepened negative Scottish public opinion of William. Maps of this size and statute symbolized power and prestige, designed to demonstrated knowledge and were considered to exhibit colonial importance, that which William and Mary were a part of. Furthermore, the inclusion of the celestial designs was modern for the late-seventeenth century.

The evident excitement in this project was undeniable and the motivation from seeing the physical map stimulated the students’ research on these varied topics of colonialism, religious and political tensions, and the genealogy of ownership. The map demonstrates the shift from divine wisdom to human wisdom, and thus brings cartography into modern history. This map helps connect the dots of Scottish and Dutch history and challenges traditional assertions of such history. Emily stated that ‘the map was an interesting example of humanity’s attempt to map their knowledge of the natural and human world’. The girls’ enthusiasm was infectious, and Dr Mijers’ organisation of the project definitely suggests that research leads to practical understanding and greater learning.

The Illusive Window: Insights into an Irish Tale

Written by Deana Davis.

The extent to which written sources can be relied upon has constantly plagued historians in their attempt to recreate and “see” the past. In Ireland’s case, its unique plethora of cycles, or tales, contain pseudo-historical stories that have been fertile ground for such recreation. One such collection of tales, the Ulster Cycle, has famously been called a ‘window on the Iron Age’ by scholar K. Jackson. The world depicted here is full of cattle raiding, head-trophies, and pagan duels. The tales were passed down orally until they were put in writing beginning at the very least in the 7th century c.e. Nativist scholars have believed that scribes preserved the tales in their original form, were ‘mindless conduits,’ (as D. Ó Corráin quipped) and that life in the 1st-4th centuries was easy enough to recreate in the 7th and 8th. However, the introduction of Christianity, literacy, and Latinate culture in the 5th century cannot be so easily ignored. In fact, the very environment that made the transferring of oral tales to paper possible left an indelible influence. Evidence from an episode in the Táin bó Cuailnge will highlight recent scholarship’s argument that Latinate culture and the decline of Ulster in the intervening centuries did not lead to a careful transfer from speech to print, but a contemporary, intelligent reinterpretation with a view of a distant past.

The textual history of the Táin bó Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), part of the Ulster tales, is typical in its fragmentary nature. The manuscripts that contain all or parts of the Táin are of late dates: the late eleventh or early twelfth century manuscript Lebor na hUidre (The Book of the Dun Cow) with Recension I, the later twelfth century Book of Leinster with a Recension II extensive version of the Táin, and the fourteenth century Yellow Book of Lecan containing elements of Recension I. Scholars have shown that the manuscripts work off of a text originating in the 8th century. Nevertheless, the core story of the Tain is believed to originate in the period between the first and the fourth century AD, or in other words, before the coming of Christianity to Ireland, and represent Iron age life. Considering the Táin’s survival in manuscripts written centuries after its origination, I will analyse how the Latinate culture of the scriptorium may have altered the Táin from its oral origins.

First, a brief introduction: the Táin begins when Ailill and Medb, king and queen of Connaught, lead an army into neighbouring Ulster, with the help of the exiled king of Ulster Fergus mac Roich, to capture a prized bull. Along the way, Ailill and Medb suspect Fergus of sympathising with his countrymen. Medb decides to use her feminine wiles to distract Fergus, and the uninformed Ailill sends his charioteer to spy on the lovers, and steal Fergus’ sword as proof. Upon receiving the sword, however, he charitably deduces that Medb’s sole intention is to ‘keep [Fergus’] help on the Táin.’ In the following episode, a concerned Fergus enters Ailill’s tent with Medb to ask about his sword, only to have the king confront him with the affair in a game of fidchell (a type of chess). What could the scribes have changed? The prime evidence of contemporary influence is in the details of how story is presented.

The Latinate culture that arrived with Christianity introduced not only writing, but also knowledge of the Classical authors. Thus, the Táin was written down amidst two cultures; the first, a Christian one, which made use of the Old Testament and drew upon Classical tradition when confronted with the pre-Christian culture, the second, a pagan one. The manuscripts were likely all produced in monastic scriptoria, but the scribes writing them were either Irish filid, a learned class, now sharing training in monasteries with monks, or literati influenced by the filid background and interested in combining pre-Christian Irish tales with the Latinate culture they were already acquainted with.

Though the outline of the Táin likely remained the same upon the innovation of written manuscripts to accompany oral heritage, the presentation of scenes likely developed in writing. An example of such development is the elaborate rhetoric, mostly in the form of dialogues. These dialogues, enhanced with deliberately archaic language, are meant to give a sense of realism set in the past. When Fergus enters Ailill’s tent, a lengthy dialogue takes place, with Medb chiming in, which is used to create an intricate understanding of their relationships. This rhetoric, to would counter J. Carney’s proposition, actually shows influence of Homer rather than Virgil in this instance, since Homer writes conversations between two or more characters, in contrast to Virgil’s soliloquys. The narrative makes use of flowery archaisms, such as ‘có clos ni.’ Though it is usually translated as ‘said,’ it literally means ‘somewhat was heard.’ This phrase is also encountered in a roughly contemporary ninth century In Tenga Bithnua (The Ever-new Tongue). There is also a wide range of metaphors, such as Fergus calling armies ‘spear flock sword flock,’ and Ailill claiming Fergus attempts to act ‘in kingly form/ with fire of dragon/ hiss of snake/ blow of lion.’ The elaborate conversations and metaphors show a ‘literary veneer’ that suggest monastic influence; the ‘lion’ is a case in point. It would hardly be referenced in pre-Christian times before it came to Ireland as the symbol of St. Mark.

In addition, this scene takes place in a tent, or a pavilion, and it has been observed that this imaginative retelling is ‘regarded as an exotic feature.’ This assembly of characters shows similarities with the gathering of the Apostles, Mary and the Virgins around the Lord in Fis Adomnán (The Vision of Adomnán), which appears in Lebor na hUidre alongside the Táin. It is hard to believe that the Táin keeps ‘allusions and traditions preserved with fidelity’ after coming ‘through centuries of oral transmission,’ as Nativist scholars M. Dillon and N. Chadwick have asserted. In addition, hints of scribal ignorance in details of pre-Christian Ireland pervade, as the main characters say variants of ‘I swear the oath of my people,’ rather than naming pagan deities, indicating a Christianised society attempting to recreate a vague idea of the past. This is not surprising, given that the ‘monastic setting’ was ‘nearly unique to Ireland,’ as D. Cróinín stated, and Irish scholarship existed almost exclusively in this setting.

Though it is clear literati compiled the Tain, and in the process influenced its telling, there is doubt as to where they were located. The main conflict in the Táin is between the historical cóiceda of Ulster and Connacht, yet while scholars have indicated a bias towards the mighty Ulster, neither side is shown as particularly heroic. The satirical element in the above episode is the stealing of Fergus’ sword at the expense of sleeping with a woman. When Ailill sees Fergus, he ‘started laughing at him,’ and as Fergus is still seen as an outsider, an Ulsterman, at the same moment Ailill is ‘laughing’ at a shamed Ulster. With regard to Connaught, Medb, the initiator of the cattle raid, is constantly disregarded as simply a woman, Ailill even ‘lay[s] first fault/ straight at women’s/ own sweet swellings.’ This is contrary to previous opinion that the Táin had strong Ulster bias. Perhaps the reason for neither side being shown in the best of light, especially with a sinning queen and a shamed exile, is that, due to political changes, the scribes seem to be situated outside either cóiced and the use of the archaic ‘somewhat was heard’ implies a distancing from the story. Considering the contemporary political decline of Ulster, a proposition can be made that the scribes belonged to the Uí Néill, a túath that conquered Ulaid lands, a people who populated Ulster up to the fifth century. Therefore, we see Ulster, or Ulaid, as historian J. Gantz has stated, ‘for all its splendour…a society in decline.’ The argument for Uí Néill scribes would also explain the knowledge of the region, such as in an episode where Fergus carves a sword from a tree, thus giving ‘Fid Mórthruaille, the Wood of the Great Scabbard’ its name. Apparently, not only did the literati want to copy down an old tale, but they saw an opportunity for propaganda as well.

The Táin bó Cuailnge, in the form of the later manuscripts it has been preserved in, does not accurately or objectively portray prehistoric Irish society as an Iron Age living fossil, as per the traditional view. Instead, the Táin does provide an example of how Irish oral tradition underwent changes under the influence of Latinate culture, with the arrival of Christianity, and changing political realities. The literati of the Táin shone a vague light on some aspects of early Irish culture, but opened a window on their contemporary, early Irish history. It would be a disservice to the scribes to assume otherwise, since the Tain, and the other cycles, rather, reveal the flourishing of a dynamic Irish culture.