Flower of Scotland

In our quest for the truly unsung heroes of Scotland, we must look beyond those flowers which are in full, admirable bloom to those fading flowers which have been neglected.

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[Editor’s Note: This is the fourteenth in a multi-part series on the unsung heroes of Christendom.]
O flower of Scotland
When will we see
Your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen….

The patriotic song “Flower of Scotland” has become so popular that it is considered by many to be Scotland’s unofficial national anthem. Although it was written as recently as the 1960s, the song was inspired by the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, at which a Scottish army under Robert the Bruce defeated an English army led by King Edward II. The “flower of Scotland” were the warriors who fought and died to defend the “wee bit” hills and glens of their homeland. 

As much as we might admire these courageous men who died for their country, they are not heroes of Christendom, per se, but heroes of their particular nation; nor, in the case of these particular heroes, are they unsung. On the contrary!

A greater claim for specifically Christian heroism could be made for those who joined the Scottish army which invaded England in 1745. These were known as Jacobites, followers of James, the true king of both England and Scotland, whose father had been illegally deposed in the treacherous anti-Catholic revolution of 1688. Those who fought for the return of the king and the restoration of the legitimate Catholic monarchy were laying down their lives for a good and noble cause. If they had succeeded, England and Scotland would have been brought back into communion with Christendom. 

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And yet, although they are indubitably heroes of Christendom, they are hardly unsung. Numerous songs have been written lauding the warriors of the Jacobite rising and praising their heroic self-sacrifice. These, collected together in a volume entitled Jacobite Songs and Ballads, have remained enduringly popular and are widely sung by the people of Scotland to this very day.

In our quest for the truly unsung heroes of Scotland, we must look beyond those flowers which are in full, admirable bloom to those fading flowers which have been neglected. One such flower is a priest who ministered to the Jacobites.

Fr. Alexander Cameron was a convert to the Faith who served the exiled Stuart king of England and Wales at his court in Rome. Cameron later became a Jesuit priest and returned to Scotland to minister to the illegal and underground Catholic Church in his native land. For four years he served as a “heather priest” in the Scottish Highlands, risking arrest and the harshest of weather conditions to provide spiritual succor and the sacraments to his outlawed flock. 

In 1745, after Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) arrived in Scotland, raising his father’s standard as the true king, Fr. Cameron volunteered to serve as a chaplain to the Jacobite Army, which was under the command of his elder brother, Donald Cameron of Lochiel. As for the justice of the Jacobite cause, apart from its support for the legitimate king and its opposition to the usurper on the throne in England, the rising of 1745 was, according to Scottish historian and convert John Lorne Campbell (as quoted in Ray Perman, The Man Who Gave Away His Island: A Life of John Lorne Campbell),

the natural reaction of the Jacobite clans and their sympathisers in the Highlands against what had been, since the coming of William of Orange in 1690, a calculated genocidal campaign against the religion of many and the language of all Highlanders. (26)

On the eve of the Battle of Culloden, as on the eve of earlier battles, Fr. Cameron offered the Tridentine Mass for the Catholics of his regiment. The following day’s battle resulted in the final defeat and destruction of the Jacobite Army and the cause for which it fought. Fr. Cameron was hunted down and imprisoned with hundreds of other Jacobites in the cramped hold of the aptly named ship HMS Furnace

The infernally inhumane conditions in which the prisoners were kept had a fatal impact on Fr. Cameron’s health. He was too ill to suffer the fate of many of the other prisoners who would be sold as slaves to plantation owners in the British West Indies. He died in the bowels of the Furnace on October 19, 1746, and his body was subsequently buried in the nearest cemetery, which was in the equally aptly named town of Gravesend in Kent, the same graveyard, coincidentally, in which Pocahontas is buried.     

When news of Fr. Cameron’s death reached his fellow Jesuit Fr. Crookshank, the latter wrote to the General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Franz Retz, that 

we have lost that fine missionary and religious, Fr. Alex. Cameron, who was captured in June last and put in chains in a man-of-war where he bore all kinds of insults and cruelty with unconquerable patience and Christian fortitude and where he contracted a deadly disease.

A fragment of the tartan chasuble worn by Fr. Cameron as he offered Mass on the night before the Battle of Culloden is preserved as a relic by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. It is displayed and can be venerated at the Clan Cameron Museum at Achnacarry Castle in Lochaber. The natural cup stone used by Fr. Cameron and two other fellow Jesuit outlaws in secret baptisms in a cave at Glen Cannich is preserved as a relic at St. Mary and St. Bean’s Catholic Church at Marydale, near the site of the cave itself. 

An image of Fr. Cameron can be seen in a tapestry—The Prayer for Victory, Battle of Prestonpans, 1745 by William Skeoch Cumming—which depicts the Cameron Regiment of the Jacobite Army kneeling in prayer before the Battle of Prestonpans, which ended in a Jacobite victory. Fr. Cameron is shown genuflecting and armed with a flintlock pistol, the latter detail being historically inaccurate because the chaplains did not wield weapons in battle.

The first book-length biography of this unsung hero of Christendom was not published until 2011 and was titled, aptly, The Forgotten Cameron of the ’45: The Life and Times of Alexander Cameron S.J. This belated praise was echoed in 2020 by the Knights of Columba at the University of Glasgow, who have called for the martyred Jesuit’s canonization “with the hope that he will become a great saint for Scotland and that our nation will merit from his intercession.”

Perhaps, after centuries of neglect, this faded and forgotten flower of Scotland is finally blooming with the heavenly hue that his heroism merits. As for a final song of praise to this unsung hero, we’ll conclude with some words of verse from “Seek Flowers of Heaven,” by another Jesuit martyr, the Englishman St. Robert Southwell, who had laid down his own life for his friends, family, faith, and country fifty years before Fr. Cameron would do the same:  

These flowers do spring from fertile soil,
Though from unmanured field;
Most glittering gold in lieu of glebe,
These fragrant flowers, doth yield.

Whose sovereign scent surpassing sense
So ravisheth the mind,
That worldly weeds needs must he loath
That can these flowers find.

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