Redcoats, Ridicule and Rage

An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745, an oil on canvas, painting by David Morier depicting the 1746 Battle of Culloden

If you are an independence supporter more concerned by the name of a cafe than the state of grotesque social inequality, the cost of living, or issues of poverty and housing in Scotland, then you are not, to quote Logan Roy, ‘Serious people’.

But it’s also too easy to be dismissive of recognising that to have bodies like Historic Environment Scotland being so distant, so ahistorical and so estranged from their own culture as to name a restaurant in Scotland’s top tourist attraction the ‘Redcoat Restaurant’ is bizarre. It is difficult to conceive of another country being so crass.

It is also possible to traverse between several positions and understand a hierarchy of social needs and issues.

It is not the great argument they think it is that ‘its been named that for twenty years’. Scotland being the same – and stuck culturally – in institutional self-hatred – is the issue here.

But some have suggested a missed marketing opportunity for Historic Environment Scotland who could create pop-up ‘Red Coat’ cafes at historic sites of atrocities and war-crimes by the British army across the highlands.


Comments (51)

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  1. Carolyn Yates says:

    The pop idea is brilliant – and I can say that as an emigre from England who chose Scotland because it wasn’t ‘redcoat’ . Bit as a serious person I’m seriously concerned that outwith the iconic Historic Scotland sites all across rural Scotland truly significant sites are still inaccessible, closed during the pandemic and now deemed too unsafe to reopen. Dumfries and Galloway Threave Castle is only one such site. And no sign that they will reopen anytime soon. What does that say to local people about cultural
    legacy and sense of place?

    1. Bill says:

      What is not being revealed is that on many sites, eg Melrose Abbey there is a need to make the fabric safe. Sadly the size of the task is such that it would take years and the cost is prohibitive. There is no money to start on the task. However this fact has been kept from the public. So many historic sites are in such condition. Perhaps they are following the Glasgow model, where for example Springburn Public halls were left to deteriorate to such a condition that the only safe answer was demolition. Mosesfield House is going the same route as did the WinterGardens in Springburn Park.

      We have been very poor at caring for our heritage.

      1. Graeme McCormick says:

        if both the public and private sector were liable to pay Annual ground floor and Roof Rent on their properties they’d soon start to make them safe to generate the income to meet the tax.

        1. 240214 says:

          I’m with you, Graeme. All land (together with labour and capital) should be returned to the commons and its wealth used to meet the needs of the common good. Communism 101.

  2. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Interesting- this does raise the question of how we present our history and ourselves. I personally avoid military castles and religious buildings from personal choice. But this controversy refers deeper questions about who controls the narratives about the society in which we live.

    1. Carolyn Yates says:

      To take Threave Castle as one example among many, it’s not a military icon – it’s built by Archibald the grim in the debatable lands where the independence of Scotland has been debated, and then we have the Covenanters and before that the suppression of Gaelic and later lowland scots…. Here the question of who owns the historical narrative is still a living, breathing issue and public access to castle ruins should be a right. Never mind cafes and the like.

      1. 240213 says:

        Threave Castle is nowhere near the Debatable Lands.

        The Debatable Lands are a small area of ground around ten miles long and four miles, bounded by the rivers Liddel, Esk, and Sark. Threave Castle is much further west, on the river Dee.

        And what was ‘debatable’ about the ground (from the Old English ‘battable’, meaning land suitable for fattening livestock) wasn’t the independence of Scotland. The land was subject to litigation between a number of surnames, like the Armstrongs, who successfully resisted any attempt by the Scottish or English governments to impose their authority until 1530, when it came into the possession of James Stuart, the king of Scots, after he captured and hanged Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie and thirty-one others at Caerlanrig Chapel.

        In 1552, Commissioners from Scotland and England met and divided the Debatable Lands between the kingdoms of England and Scotland with a line, known as the Scots’ Dike, drawn from Esk to Sark, thus abolishing the Debatable Lands’ de facto independence from either crown. Since then, the Anglo-Scottish border has remained essentially unchanged.

        Sir Walter Scott and his Tory nationalist mythologising has a lot to answer for.

  3. Andrew Wilson says:

    It is quite possible to be scandalised by homelessness and food banks, AND be incensed by the name Redcoats cafe. Should any citizen of Scotland not know or care about the barbarity of Redcoats in Highland Scotland following the 45 rebellion that itself identifies them as shallow ignorant Philistines

    1. 240213 says:

      Yep, the English, Irish, and Scottish, Hanoverians were ruthless in their suppression of the English, Irish, and Scottish Jacobite counter-revolutionaries; not least in parts of the Scottish Highlands, from where the counter-revolutionaries drew much of their military capability after the French invasion failed to materialise.

      1. BSA says:

        ‘Yep’… so some Scots favoured the Hanoverians and a few were even present, (though mostly passive) at Culloden.. So far so good – the oldest Smart Alex cliche about the rebellion. If you want to reduce the rebellions to that ‘yep’ level you could also just take a head count of the numbers of Scots mobilised on each side but you might find the balance favoured the ‘counter revolutionaries’. There is also a fair bit of evidence now that their main motivation was to end the Union.

        1. 240214 says:

          And what evidence is that, BSA? The whole raison d’etre of the Jacobites was to restore James Stuart and his successors to the United Kingdom and overthrow the 1688 revolution.

    2. Indeed it is Andrew, that’s why I said: It is also possible to traverse between several positions and understand a hierarchy of social needs and issues.

  4. Mark Howitt says:

    Historic Environment Scotland has recorded a loss of c. £4.5 million in each of the last two years. Why not generate some sponsorship income by selling the naming rights to the cafe?

  5. SteveH says:

    That’s the problem with the West’s intellectual elites today. Is that they hate their own history, heritage and culture. Something I’ve never encountered in the rest of the world.

    Self-loathing (personal or societal) is a particularly unhealthy trait, with nothing good coming from it.

    Without a realistic view of where you come from and what progress your society has made, you’re doomed to create new injustices, but all in the name of social justice.

    Thomas Paine warned us that:

    “The greatest tyrannies are always perpetrated in the name of noble causes.”

    This denigration of current society is nothing more than a ploy to affect dubious change and new ideology. Be careful what you wish for.

    1. John says:

      Read your first paragraph then reread how you rubbished the Welsh language in a recent post!

    2. 240213 says:

      The fact that Western intellectuals are ahead of the game when it comes to cultural criticism is hardly a problem. Subjecting one’s own inherited values and beliefs to immanent critique is eminently healthy; it prevents our culture from becoming ossified and decaying and promotes diversification. Cultural diversification is crucial to the evolution of our species.

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Sometimes things like this can be ‘hidden in plain sight’, until someone actually draws attention to it and opens a debate.

    Personally, I have been unaware of the existence of a cafe/restaurant of that name in Edinburgh Castle, even though I have visited the castle. Now that I am aware, I am not going to explode into performative rage, but, perhaps it could be rebranded as “Edinburgh Castle Cafe and Restaurant”.

    1. 240213 says:

      I used to always take a flask when I went sightseeing. I’m more offended by the cafe prices in these places than by whatever moniker the cafe chooses to go by.

      1. BSA says:

        Why am I not surprised ?

  7. 240213 says:

    The ‘redcoats’, who garrisoned Edinburgh Castle during the 1745 Jacobite rising and after whom the cafe was named, were the Cameronian Guard, a Lowland regiment that was raised by the Lords of Convention to join the revolutionary forces that toppled the ancien regime in Scotland and was placed by the Scottish parliament under the service of William III. The regiment played a role in subsequently supressing the counter-revolution in Ireland, Northern England, and Scotland during the successive Jacobite rebellions that sought to restore the reactionary Stuart dynasty to the UK.

    I can’t understand why nationalists should wish to make an anti-English grievance of the cafe’s name. The besieged ‘redcoats’ weren’t English.

    1. I never said they were English.

      1. 240213 says:

        I never said you did!

    2. BSA says:

      Everybody knows that if you argue ‘anti English grievance’ you lose !

      1. 240214 says:

        Why’s that?

  8. Andy Milne says:

    You were right the first time Mike.
    This is not at all serious. But you are wrong about HES being ahistorical in this case. There were plenty of sensible Scots who chose to be Redcoats because they thought even the most marginally democratic British Parliament was better than the despotic Divine Right of Kings idea insisted on by Bonnie but not very bright Charlie. That’s why they defended that slim civic advantage from inside Edinburgh Castle when Charlie et al swaned into the city. So there’s nothing historically wrong about the name of the cafe. And as you rightly say, there are much more important things to get angry about anyway.

    1. John says:

      Andy don’t particularly disagree with you over your historical interpretation of events. I also agree that there are far more important issues to address in Scotland today than naming a cafe.
      However whoever decided to name a cafe after soldiers who caused death and suffering to many within Scotland and further afield shows a level of insensitivity and crassness that defies belief.

      1. 240209 says:

        And yet the nationalists who are seeking to make a grievance of the cafe’s name are not complaining about the naming of the adjoining Jacobite Room ‘after soldiers who [also] caused death and suffering to many within Scotland and further afield’.

        1. John says:

          Two wrongs etc etc

  9. SleepingDog says:

    I’m sure a Brownshirt Bistro would also be popular among a certain clientèle. There are shades of The Man in the High Castle here; well, if the masthead of this website was replaced by one representing Cumberland the Liberator, anyway. Maybe every April Fools’ Day?,_Duke_of_Cumberland#%22Butcher_Cumberland%22
    Suggested alternate name: CacoBritannia (not to be confused with a blackfaced Lancastrian clog-dance troupe).

  10. Gercon says:

    Remembering a sketch by an American comedian involving British soldiers in the war of Independence wearing bright red uniforms, blowing trumpets, banging drums and marching in a straight line while the natives rubbed dirt on their face hid behind bushes and shot at them.

  11. Sandy Watson says:

    The glorification of cruel and disgusting events. It’s all around us. And we are all complicit in one way or another.
    Never mind the café…the castle itself.
    Perhaps we need the symbolic deconstruction of all these symbols, but aye, that itself would be a symbol to be sick of.

    1. 240214 says:

      I’ve long advocated the demolition of Edinburgh Castle. It lours over the city like a metaphor for the ‘heritage’ that oppresses Scotland and hauds it back. We need not traditions, but precedents!

    2. Yes there is a sense that a lot of this is celebrated by Scots when it is really a set of symbols to reflect on our own subjugation.

      1. 240209 says:


      2. John says:

        There is only one thing worse than glorifying history and that is eradicating it.
        Understanding history is the key.
        Flattening Edinburgh castle is equivalent to eradicating Scotland’s history.
        On a lighter note my pal used to tell me the story of US tourist who upon seeing castle on a train drawing into Waverley exclaimed – ‘gee wasn’t it smart to build castle next to the station!’

        1. Sandy Watson says:

          Um, there are other things worse than glorifying history…not learning anything good from it, repeating it over and over.
          History and experience are worth nothing if nothing is learned and we keep committing the same atrocities, indeed learning how to commit these atrocities even better.

          1. John says:

            Agreed – I say understanding, you say learning. I think we both mean same thing.

        2. 240214 says:

          Making history is the key. An interpretation board could be placed beside the rubble, explaining to future generations why the Castle was demolished. I’d do the same with the Melville Monument in St Andrew’s Square.

          1. John says:

            I have no problem removing statues but demolishing the most famous building in Scotland sounds a bit Year Zero to me!

          2. Sandy Watson says:

            In my post above somewhere, I used the term deconstruct, relating to these symbols.It’s not just about physical structures.
            Of course, an edifice such as Edinburgh Castle could be re-purposed as something socially useful. No need to demolish it.
            In using ‘deconstruct’ I’m including – which is arguably more important and relevant – how we think about and relate to such things and the people and events they memorialise.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @Sandy Watson, maybe it really isn’t up to us Scots, given that Edinburgh Castle forms part of one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Scotland?
            Perhaps there is a problem in nationalising heritage anyway?

          4. Sandy Watson says:

            Oh, it IS up to us to make our interests and feelings known.
            Even more so where ‘ownership’ of what might better be in public domain, and has public impact, is concerned.

          5. SleepingDog says:

            @Sandy Watson, I mean, as custodians of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the authorities have legal obligations to preserve it, since the UK government ratified the World Heritage Convention in, I think, 1984:
            Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

            Therefore demolishing Edinburgh Castle would be, I think clearly, a crime. While it is no surprise that Lord Parakeet the Cacophonist goes full ISIS on this matter, and after waffling about ‘the Commons’ immediately shoots foot, I would have thought that some respect should be given to the views and interests of people beyond Scotland (I don’t mean tourists) and future generations.

          6. Sandy Watson says:

            Hey, I’m not suggesting we demolish anything that’s worth keeping.
            The term I use is deconstructing symbols.
            See the other bits I posted.

          7. SleepingDog says:

            @Sandy Watson, sure, although I am not sure repurposing Edinburgh Castle would be allowed under UNESCO rules either. I recently read Prisoners of History, where Keith Lowe argues that a public can project an array of divergent symbolism onto monuments without necessarily changing anything physical, which is perhaps in keeping with your comments. Although I’m fine with knocking down Henry Dundas’.

            I have just been reading SNP constitutional proposals and got the strong impression (from their repeating certain terms ad nauseam) that they expect adhering to international treaties post-Independence would be electorally popular, and that largely seems reasonable. But maybe Scots are not as aware of, or invested in, their current international obligations as might be assumed? Despite recent talk on Intangible Cultural Heritage.

            I understand that not everyone has been keen on retaining the status:

          8. 240214 says:

            The problem is that Edinburgh Castle is ‘the most famous building in Scotland’. Culturally, we’d be much better off without it.

            Until comparatively recently, it was customary to spit on the Heart of Midlothian mosaic, outside St Giles’ Cathedral, as a sign of disdain for the executions which took place within the Old Tolbooth that once stood on the spot and which was demolished in 1817. The Castle deserves equal disdain.

          9. 240214 says:


            And calling for its demolition is a playful deconstruction of the underlying and unspoken and implicit assumptions, ideas, and frameworks by which the contemporary cultural significance of the Castle (and our ‘white’ heritage in general) is informed.

  12. Michael Docherty says:

    Does Dublin Castle have a ” Black and Tans” tea-bar?

    1. 240215 says:

      No; the cafe at Dublin Castle is called the ‘Dubh Linn Tea Rooms’. But it does serve a ‘Black and Tan’ coffee (dark roasted coffee over ice, topped with draft latte). Irish nationalists seem cool with it.

      Anyway: Dublin Castle is a Georgian palace rather than a medieval bastion. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, no military or paramilitary force has ever been garrisoned there.

  13. John Wood says:

    When I took up the post of Regional Archaeologist for the Highlands at the start of 1994, I was told by the then Chief Inspector of Monuments (Historic Scotland) that there was no need for regional archaeologists because he was ‘Scotland’s County Archaeologist’ (sic). I did wonder how he ended up here – he was a Romanist who appeared to regard anything outside the Empire as of little interest, But that’s history.

    1. 240215 says:

      Was that auld John Hume? If so, I didn’t know he was a ‘Romanist’.

      I knew him back in the 1970s and ’80s as an industrial archaeologist, who also led extensive excavations at Whithorn Priory, Dundonald Castle and Machrie Moor stone circles on Arran, as well as a number of west highland charcoal iron-smelting works. He surveyed industrial buildings, processes, and plant throughout Scotland, and published three books based on his survey work. He also published a number of books on engineering and shipbuilding based on his conservation of the industries’ archives, and a comprehensive listing of railway buildings and lighthouses. He also prepared the ground for the creation of the ‘Millennium Link’ restoration of the lowland canals, which produced both the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies.

      John’s work at Strathclyde University and (from 1994) the Historic Buildings part of what became Historic Scotland helped him ensure that Scotland’s industrial heritage received the attention it deserved. He was particularly anxious that industrial archaeology should be recognised as an area of academic study that’s considered on a par with more ‘traditional’ areas of interest within archaeology (i.e. ancient and premodern monuments). When he first became involved, industrial archaeology was largely seen as the study of the industrial revolution period. In the same manner, history of science was seen as the study of the ‘Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th Centuries’. Throughout his career, he’s done his best to open up these two areas of study.

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