Wednesday 2 December 2009

A Scot and the Devils

I’m not long back from the college library and am simply dying to share this story with someone. When I read the details I had to go outside because I could not control my urge to laugh!

Anyway, my research, my period of special interest, led me to a book on the career of John Maitland, the 1st Duke of Lauderdale, and a Scot, one of the most powerful figures in the cabinet of Charles II. Lauderdale was one of the most learned public figures in British political history, being fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew as well as the modern languages of French, Spanish and Italian. In his youth he went on a tour of Europe, which, amongst other places, took him to Loudon in France, where he had heard of the possession of the nuns, an historical event detailed in Ken Russell’s move, The Devils.

Lauderdale maintained a sense of rational detachment, suspecting that the whole thing was little better than a hoax. He wrote of his experience:

Into the chapel I came in the morning of a holy day, and with as little prejudice as any could have, for I believed verily to have seen strange signs; but when I had seen exorcising of three or four of them in the chapel, and could hear nothing but wonton wenches singing bawdy songs in French, I began to suspect a trick.

He at once conveyed his suspicion to a Jesuit priest, who tried to convince him of the truth of the possession. To test this Lauderdale asked if he could speak to the devils himself, saying that he would use a strange language, possibly the Hebrew he had mastered. When the priest asked what language all Lauderdale would say was that Neither he nor all those devils should understand me. Unsettled the priest replied These devils have not travelled.

Lauderdale records that he laughed. Well, that laugh carried down the centuries and took hold of me. I had to go for some coffee!

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