Her name was Christian Brydie. She died in 1655. She was married to a man called James Carstairs. A bloke with a bob or two, given the beautifully carved gravestone he commissioned for himself and his wife.
It’s not like the great tombs you see in cathedrals, those marble lords and ladies, side by side in fancy robes. They're always slightly apart, hands clasped in prayer, but never touching. Christian and James are carved lying together, holding hands.
Look a little closer at Christian’s upper sleeve. You can see James’ fingers on her dress. He has her arm around her. She has her arm around him. It's a tribute to a love more than 350 years old.
Sometimes we forget that people in the past had real and deep emotions. We see them as stiff creatures in formal portraits, or remember the Sunday teatime telly period dramas that tended to show them as mildly posh people because the BBC thought everyone in a Dickens novel should sound like they had trained in Rada.
The way history used to be taught at school didn’t help. Kings and queens became two-dimensional cutouts. The real people got lost behind crowns and titles, completely obliterating the fact that a king could spend just as much time on the toilet as on the throne. Henry VIII was a terrible one for the constipation. Well, so would you be if you ate that much dead deer.
Of course, the rich and powerful drive the narratives. They left behind their words and deeds. The poor folk such as thee and me just got up in the morning, got the food on the table, and went about their business, just hoping to get their heads onto their own pillows that night, probably breathing a sigh of relief at an uneventful day with the kids in bed, fed and not dead.
But if you look hard enough, you can find clues about the lives of those everyday folk. Next time you're in a kirkyard, take a close look at the gravestones. They carved not just their names with pride, but often their occupations. Those stones can tell you a lot about the world around that plot of land.
People tended to be buried in their local place of worship, even if it was a bit of a distance. Getting to kirk wasn’t a problem for the living, but it took a bit more effort when the congregation had to lug you a couple of miles. A rest was certainly required. Some rural lanes still have a suitable-sized boulder that the coffin could be rested on whilst the lads took a breather, and, it has to be said, a bit of a drink. Must have made carrying that load a bit lighter, if a bit wobblier.
Those rural kirkyards will be full of farmers, dairymen, and fisher folk. And there are always surprises. Check out the Kirk O’ Shotts next time you’re stuck in traffic on the M8. You know you will be. Up there is the grave of covenanter William Smith, and his tombstone tells you he was murdered on his way home. Dr Mark Jardine’s blog can give you the full gory details of ‘The Headless Covenanter’.
Down here in South Leith and North Leith kirkyards, you’ll find a tea merchant here, a shipowner over there and a Royal Navy captain at your feet. There's a dynasty of ship masters by the fence. The families of carters and carriers that no port could do without along one wall.
Up in Greyfriars, you are tripping over lawyers, bankers, booksellers and, of course, Harry Potter fans, who never give a second glance to the lonely stone that reads "John Porteous, a Captain of the Edinburgh City Guard murdered 7th September 1736, All passions spent 1973”. It's a little inscription that tells a terrible tale.
In the very place where Christian and James are buried, St Andrews Cathedral, it’s ministers of the kirk and lecturers at the university, some of them in Latin because they liked to show off.
Small clues even exist about the world as they saw it. Check out the carvings of shovels on maltmen’s graves and the books on the publishers’ tombs. Sorry, a skull and crossbones do not mean a pirate lies beneath. They just really liked carving them. And few pirates would be buried with God-fearing folk.
The women, like Christian, will have their own names. Scottish women didn’t take the surnames of the men they married until well into the 20th century. In fact, there are still folk around, my mum being one of them, who regularly called older ladies of her acquaintance by their birth name, not his name.
It was very much a south-of-the-Border thing, because under English law when a couple married, they entered a thing known as coverture. Everything from lands, money and houses was brought under the control of one person, and I think we can all guess which one that was. Clearly, Scottish women were having none of that and kept their names – as I did, back in the 80s.
Take the time to look at their gravestones and tombs to find these details of their lives. You can even take a gentle guess at their personalities.
Someone, perhaps her husband James, inscribed Christian’s side of the carving with a pun about her name: “Though in this tombe/ my bones doe rotting ly/ yet read my name/ for Christ ane/ bryde am I.” Admittedly, it's not going to have them splitting their sides at the Stand, but it speaks of a pride in her name. So take your time in the kirkyard and say hello to the ancestors.