Just Capital, as the Queen Turns Inverness into a City

Daily Mail (London), December 19, 2000 | Go to article overview

Just Capital, as the Queen Turns Inverness into a City


Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

INVERNESS, capital of the Highlands, was granted city status yesterday in a special Millennium award from the Queen. Now the most northerly city in Britain, Inverness was one of three British towns to be granted the honour to commemorate the year 2000.Wolverhampton and Brighton and Hove were the other winners of the yearlong competition which attracted nearly 40 applications from around the United Kingdom.With a population of 70,000 Inverness is the administrative centre for an area the size of Belgium. It headed off fierce competition from Paisley, Ayr and Stirling, but they can apply again in 2002 when another city will be created in Scotland to mark the Queen's golden jubilee. Here ALLAN MASSIE pays tribute to the town which has played an important role in Britain's history.

SO Inverness is, by Government decree, to be designated a city.

Many of us probably thought it was already, and refer to it as such, though it has neither an ancient university nor an old cathedral, these being the traditional hallmarks of a city.

It has been a Royal Burgh since the reign of David I (1124-53) and had long been known, informally, as the Capital of the Highlands.

It was always of strategic importance. Lying on the south side of the Kessock Narrows, which link the sheltered inner Moray Firth to the Beauly Firth, it commands the passage to the far north of Scotland and also stands at the head of the Great Glen.

This importance was recognised by David's grandson William the Lion (1165-1214), who fortified the place.

But its history goes further back than that. Inverness was a Pictish stronghold, and it was here that St Columba came to convert the Pictish king Bridei.

But St Columba faced a tough contest with pagan priests, recounted by the saint's biographer St Adamnan whose account may owe something to fact but probably more to the story of the Prophet Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal as told in the first Book of Kings.

Later Macbeth, too, had a castle in Inverness, and it was there that, in Shakespeare's unreliable version of events, he murdered Duncan.

THIS was probably to the east of the present Castle Hill and today's castle, built in Scottish Baronial style and which now serves as the courthouse. It dates only from the 1830s and was designed principally by William Burn, who held the rather grand title of Consultant Architect to the Government in Scotland.

The previous castle was sacked several times by various Lords of the Isles. Mary Queen of Scots was refused entry in 1562 but later hanged Alexander Gordon who had held the castle against her.

It later fell into decay and was repaired and extended by General Wade (the road-builder), but in 1746, before Culloden, was blown up by the Jaco-bites (the French officer in charge of the demolition blew himself up in the process, and his dog, though the dog survived with the loss of its tail).

To prevent a repeat of the '45 Rising the Government built Fort George (1747-70) on 42 acres, nine miles east of the city. This was the largest 18th century fortification in Britain and is still an Army base today.

One peculiarity of Inverness was the claim that the best and purest English to be heard anywhere was spoken there.

This claim goes back at least to the second half of the 18th century. Dr Johnson, who visited Inverness with James Boswell at the beginning of his tour of the Highlands, heard it and indeed judged the English to be very pure. …

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