March riders to raise city’s ‘fighting flag’

Tracy McNaughton with her horse Talulla
Tracy McNaughton with her horse Talulla
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It is the fighting flag of Edinburgh, rescued from the blooded fields of the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

And now, a replica of the historic banner ‘the Blue Blanket’ is to make an appearance as hundreds of participants on horseback gallop through Edinburgh for the Riding of the Marches.

The event was revived three years ago after a 63-year break – with the first record of a Riding Of The Marches on Halloween, 1579.

On Sunday, the 250-strong procession will head from Todshill to the Mercat Cross – led by this year’s Captain Elect, Councillor Iain Whyte and the first ever Edinburgh Lass, Tracy McNaughton – where the City Standard will be handed back to the Lord Provost.

The event commemorates the return of the Captain of the City Band, Randolph Murray, clasping the ancient Blue Blanket Banner in 1513 with news of the defeat of the Scottish Army at the Battle of Flodden.

The Edinburgh March Riding Association’s Steve McGill said many city residents would associate the name ‘Blue Blanket’ with a pub in the Cannongait, but few know the history behind the name.

“The Blue Blanket was in fact gifted to the Deacon Convenor of Trades back in the reign of King James the third.

“The King had been incarcerated by his uncles in Edinburgh Castle and it was the trades in Edinburgh that got together and negotiated the King’s freedom.

“As a reward to the Deacon Convenor of Trades and the Tradesmen of Scotland, the King presented them with a banner called the Blue Blanket, which was reportedly hand embroidered by the Queen with the saltire, thistle and the crown.

“The conditions that came with the banner were twofold – the Deacon Convenor could unfurl the Banner and be granted an audience with the Monarch anytime, but if the King required to raise an army, the Blue Blanket could be unfurled and the Tradesmen of Scotland would be expected to rise up and fight for the Monarch.

“The most infamous time this happened was when the King raised his army on the Burgh Muir in Edinburgh prior to the fateful march to Flodden in 1513.”

As the original Banner is too fragile to be used, a modern representation of the Blue Blanket is to make its first outing at the Kirking of the Deacon of Candlemakers at Greyfriars Kirk on Friday, attended by the Lord Provost George Grubb.

The banner will make its second appearance at the Mercat Cross at the conclusion of the Riding Of The Marches, with the ceremony taking place just before 4pm on Sunday.

The route will see riders head along Old Dalkeith Road, Lasswade Road, Craigmillar Castle, Duddingston, Holyrood Park and the Royal Mile.

Edinburgh Lass Miss McNaughton, 25, works for the Edinburgh and Lasswade Riding Centre. She has been a member of the Edinburgh March Riding Association since its was set up and has assisted in the planning of the 2009 and 2010 rides.

“I have been taking part in common ridings since I could walk,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to it. Up until now it has not really seemed that real, but with the kirking service coming up it has really hit home.”

dawn.morrison@edinburghnews.com