THE Honours of Scotland. The very name seems intended to bewitch the unwary. For those of us uninitiated in the punctilios of ancient royal patronage the national honours will always be the Scottish Cup, the Scottish Premier League title and the League Cup.

This being the week, though, when a new British king makes his full Scotland debut, we should know that the Honours of Scotland are of a slightly older vintage than Hampden Park’s crown jewels. And that they have come to us bearing the thrusts and parries of several centuries of bloody history.

When King Charles III is presented with the Honours of Scotland at St Giles Cathedral today he’ll be paying homage to a distinctively Scottish lineage that stretches back well beyond the chronicles of the upstart arrivistes of the House of Windsor.

The ceremony is the centrepiece of what Edinburgh types call ‘Holyrood Week’ and which the rest of us call The Windsors’ Scottish fancy-dress party. Yesterday, Charles took part in the Ceremony of the Keys on the forecourt of Holyroodhouse.

This was when he was handed the keys to the city of Edinburgh. Presumably, these permit him to a free pint of porter in every tavern furth of the Old Town and the right to dry his tasselled long johns on the washing lines of the Cowgate.

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During the Ceremony of the Keys, Charles inspected a guard of honour of the Royal Company of Archers, a sort of Club 78-90 for the more dressed up among Edinburgh’s elite codgerati.

This annual Holyrood Week seems designed to scatter honest republican souls. Yet, Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s foremost historian and one who’s inclined towards self-determination suggests there is much in today’s ceremony of which Scottish patriots can be justly proud.

For starters, the ceremonials pre-date any of the folderols witnessed during Charles’ coronation at Westminster on May 6 this year. They also carry echoes of the first King of Scotland, Cinaed Mac Alpin (Kenneth MacAlpin) whose reign lasted from 810 until 858.

Cinaed established a recognised Scottish kingdom well before anything similar was known in England and at a time when most of Europe was parcelled up among bishops, dukes and warring princes.

Sir Tom said: “The Honours of Scotland are very significant symbols of Scotland as a distinctive nation, even within the Union of Crowns and the Union of Parliament. They represent a very real tradition and lineage that pre-dates almost anything similar in Europe.

“They date from the 16th century when Pope Julius gifted the Scottish state sword and sceptre to James IV. The one being used today is the later Elizabethan sword as the original is in a very fragile condition.

The Herald: Sir Tom DevineSir Tom Devine (Image: free)

"Completing the Honours is, of course, the Crown which was fashioned in Scotland in 1540. They do not include an orb, as in England’s royal regalia. By the end of the medieval period they were used in all coronations alongside the Stone of Destiny.”

The Honours of Scotland would then become sacred fugitives following the victory of Oliver Cromwell and his murderous Parliamentarian army in the English Civil War (1642-1652). Cromwell was a virulent anti-monarchist and when he occupied Scotland after defeating David Leslie’s Scottish army at Dunbar in 1650 he sought to locate the Honours of Scotland and bear them south of the Border.

“The Honours have a rich and vibrant history that recalls one of Scotland’s most turbulent periods,” said Sir Tom. “To conceal them from Cromwell, they were first sent to Dunnottar Castle on the Aberdeenshire coast and when Cromwell’s forces tried to assail this fortress they were sent to a nearby parish before being recovered for the reign of Charles II in 1660 and the restoration of the monarchy.

“Following the Act of Union in 1707, the Honours were locked up in a store-room in Edinburgh Castle, only to be discovered in 1818 by Walter Scott and some Scottish ministers at behest of the then Prince Regent who later became George IV. They have such an intriguing history: first being hidden from Cromwell and then forgotten about for more than a century.

“As such, they are authentic symbols of Scottish nationhood going back to the medieval period. They’re not a ceremonial invention and carry a profound significance in Scotland’s unique story and identity.

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“Some modern Tories have tried to negate that sense of our distinctiveness but the British monarchy has never been guilty of that. The late Queen Elizabeth was always aware of our distinctive Scottish nationhood and respected it greatly.”

Today’s ceremony at St Giles will be of a more austere and stripped-back solemnity than Westminster’s High Church pageantry in May. This is entirely appropriate for a place where Jenny Geddes yelled: “De'il gie you colic, the wame o' ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?” (Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?”

Sir Tom’s advice to Charles is to be guided by the wisdom of his late mother in his attitude to Scotland. “If he desires to maintain whatever popularity his family still has in Scotland then he must demonstrate publicly an awareness of Scotland as a distinctive nation, as his late mother did.”

Nor does he think that today’s presentation of the Honours should be problematical for Scottish nationalists.

“After all,” he observed, “It’s all based on the 1603 Union of Crowns, which the SNP said would be maintained after independence, thus it shouldn’t be regarded as something that will inflame anti-monarchical fury, or stoke republican sentiment.

“Nations need symbols. And besides, it will have little of the pomp and circumstance and the frankly comical ceremonials of the Westminster coronation. It will very much be a Scottish affair: much more modest and restrained conducted under the spiritual authority of the Church of Scotland.

“Our communities; the Scottish parliament and the ancient Scottish regiments will all be represented. Unlike Westminster’s, it will have resonance for all of the estates of Scotland.”