On November 1st 1285, the King of Scotland, Alexander III, remarried. He had lost his first wife, two sons and a daughter, and the heir to the kingdom was now his young grand-daughter. It was a delicate situation and so he decided to try to have a male heir.
He himself had been 8 years old when his father’s death had made him king. His rule was marked by wars, but had been successful, and the question of succession was vital as a weakened Scotland would be easy prey for the eternal enemy, England.
I had wanted to visit Jedburgh for some time. The remains of the abbey are among the finest in Scotland, an almost intact example of the best Norman and early-English architecture. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the castle where Alexander III got married.
On the evening of the wedding, the whole town was celebrating. Numerous guests gathered in the main hall of the castle. The King had decided to organise a masked ball and everyone had sought to create the most imaginative costume. Wine flowed freely, thousands of candles lit up the scene, and couples danced happily to the never-ending music. Suddenly, an apparition made everyone stand stock still…
At the doorway to the great hall stood a guest, obviously a late-comer, who was dressed as a skeleton. White bones had been painted with terrifying realism on a black background. The figure stepped forward. The guests were all surprisingly scared and stepped back in horror. The King was furious. Who dared to insult his young wife in this way ? He gave an order. Guards rushed forward with their spears and stabbed the skeleton. But there was nothing there… just a sinister black painted veil.
No-one wished to continue the party and everyone left hastily. The King and his new queen remained alone in the vast empty hall.
Seven centuries later, this story inspired Edgar Allen Poe to write the unforgettable and terrifying tale of « The Mask of the Red Death ».
Meanwhile, the Scots had been profoundly affected by the incident. Everyone saw the ghostly apparition of the skeleton as the darkest of omens. But an omen of what ? One year went by before a decisive event enabled them to interpret its significance : King Alexander III died in an accident, and the result was that the English invaded Scotland.