1657: The rough guide to Europe
HIS was an epic traveller's tale, 1,000 handwritten pages recounting a journey that took him from Scotland to England and onwards across Europe.
An early budget traveller, James Fraser was an Episcopalian minister who set off from Scotland in the mid-17th century. His three-year journey from Inverness through Scotland, England, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Holland, led to him compiling an extensive travel diary, written with a crow quill, and stretching over three volumes.
Now, almost 350 years since the Rev Fraser first put quill to paper, his diaries have been rediscovered and are set to be published for the first time.
During his expedition, Fraser witnessed the early days of Cromwell's London, was suspected of being a Protestant spy in a Catholic college and even took a job with the Swiss Guard in Rome and guarded the Queen of Sweden's residence.
He was keen to learn about other religions and wanted to see England and Rome: "ones the seat of the Roman Empire, & who suddenly invaded the world and fixt it selfe such firm foundations as [none] other ever did. Also held to be the fountain of all Science, policy and arts civil and Ecclesiastick. Hopeing to find some sparks of these Cinders not yet put out among the modern Romains."
Fraser set off from Inverness just nine years after the death of Charles I at the end of the second Civil War.
As he left he wrote: "Brittain is now hushed in a deep Silence or rather a Sleep or lethargy having run i[tse]lfe out of breath wtt an intestin Civil uncivil warr of a long continuance since 1637, now all end and terminats in a Commonwalthe for the Kings Army being defeate at Worcestier Sept 3, 1651."
Fraser travelled to Aberdeen and down the east coast to Edinburgh. He describes a street called Leith Wind, inhabited by smiths, hat makers and sword dressers, the Canongate and a steeple with iron spikes ("for malefactors heads").
He writes about landmarks such as the Tron Kirk, the castle and the canons, including one of a "hudge monstruous bigness" (Mons Meg).
In June 1657 he was given a permit to travel to England which allowed him to "passe to Cambridguer, Oxford, or any other part in England; without Molestation". He rode to Newcastle but, after meeting a group of fellow travellers who were attacked by highwaymen, decided to sail to London from Tynemouth.
He visited Whitehall - "here was K[ing] Charles the I of ever blissed & bleeding memory Murthered or rather Martyred" - and recounts seeing a statue of the king defaced and broken.
The diary says at the time every street in London had a prison to help keep the peace and describes the various brandings and penalties for crimes.
He adds: "But there was never more treason in England and about London than now; though not against a King, butt against a parlement, a Commonwalth, a Cromuell. Some one or other every day impeacht for high treason against the State (so tearmed) Lords, souldioures, Churchmen, Phisitians, some hangd, others have their heads cut off, some shot to death, which is the Military execution; for after King Charles his death, the Scaffold runs still wt bloud."
Fraser describes Cromwell as "tall & statly" but "was no friend to fashons". The English, he says, are "great meat eaters", adding: "They feast at noone, contrare to our way in Scotland. The Gentry of England are so noble spend so liberally at home and abroad are so much given to prodigality, and slothfullnesse that estates are lavisht away spent and sold than in any other Country."
They are also great readers, but adds: "They are cso much addicted to writing especially in their own language & wt so much licence and connivance, that as one observes there have been of late more good & more bad bookes printed and published in the English tongue than in all the vulgar laguages of Europ."
By December 1657, Fraser had crossed to France for a pilgrimage through the country and into Spain. In May 1658 he got free passage to Italy.
On the way to Pisa he hurt his ankle and was treated by a Scots physician, Dr Thomas Forbes, who gave him a free lunch and tour of the city.
He saw the famous leaning tower: "It leanes and bends east done so wt such art yt it seemes to be falling and yet stands most firme. It is said yt it was built so, or that it sunk; however; it is one of the wonders of Italie."
In Pistoria he was fed by the local Franciscan monks and then gatecrashed the funeral of a local nun.
In Florence he ate in a monastery and lodged with an Englishwoman for two nights "where neither bed, board, washing or mending cost us nothing".
Fraser arrived in Rome in June, 1658 and, after being advised against travelling in the summer, decided to stay until the following spring, so needed a job.
"My onlie Course was to enter into the Regiment of guard; vulgarly called the Papal foot-guard." He joined the ranks on 7 July, 1658, noting: "A new pallace which while I was at Rome was the Queen of Sweden's lodging, who had the honour of the Pope's guard still at her gate, where I often stood Centrie."
He recounts his meeting with the Jewish community at Rome, with whom he was able to read aloud in Hebrew. "If you offer to read upon their bookes they wach - them tow wth a Conge and a Smile and if they find yow can read but a word in Hebrew the clap your shoulder."
From Italy in 1659 he travelled to Germany, Austria, Hungary and into Holland before returning across the Channel, arriving back in Scotland in 1660.
He visited a Scots monastery in Ratisbone (Regensburg) in Germany where he ended up staying and worked as a domestic to earn his keep and later got food and accommodation at another monastery in Bavaria supported by the parents of English students.
Born in 1634, Fraser was educated at King's College, Aberdeen, before becoming the Episcopal minister at Wardlaw (now Kirkhill) near Inverness.
The diary is one of the few surviving manuscripts from Fraser, a respected scholar and author and poet in both Gaelic and English who also knew Latin and Hebrew.
The gem was rediscovered recently by academics at Aberdeen University who were carrying out an assessment of historic material ahead of the creation of a new 55.5 million library and special collections centre. It is now being transcribed with a view to publishing part or all of the remarkable journal.
Prof Peter Davidson, professor in renaissance studies at the university, said: "This is beyond doubt one of the most exciting items we have found. It was in private hands until the 19th century and has been at the university for up to 100 years. I had seen a brief article about a very good 17th century diary here and it has turned out to be one of the great treasures.
"It's unusual to have a Scottish travel journal of this length from this date."
Prof Davidson said many religious establishments offered free meals to visitors on certain days which allowed Fraser to live with modest means: "He was not well off and was going around Europe very much on minimum expenditure. He gives a budget traveller's version of 17th century Europe which is fascinating and much more informative about antiquities, collections, buildings, churches and architecture than wealthier travellers."
WORLD IN TURMOIL OF NEW AGE
WHEN Fraser left Scotland in 1657, Britain was in the dying days of Cromwell's protectorate.
The Post Office was created in the same year by Act of Parliament and during Fraser's travels, what would become Britain's national drink - tea - arrived for the first time.
Cromwell, right, died in 1668, but his son Richard, dubbed "Tumbledown Dick" was a failure and Charles II was invited back from exile.
The man who would be known as the "Merry Monarch" landed in Dover in 1660, just before Fraser returned home from his travels.
Charles restored the Scottish Parliament after he was crowned and Samuel Pepys began his famous diary.
In France, Louis XIV, the Sun King, underlined his view that the monarch must be absolute with dazzling displays of his authority including the Palace of Versailles. Ironically, his view of kingship lays the foundations for the terror of the French Revolution in the following century.
Travelling through Europe in those days - without antibiotics or inoculations - was a potentially fatal business. During Fraser's trip, starvation, pestilence and war swept through France and in Italy shortly before his arrival, plague killed an estimated 400,000 people in the southern port of Naples.
In 1657, France and Britain signed the treaty of Paris, declaring war on Spain, ended by the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.
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