Now, before any of us gets sidetracked by humming along to an ABBA song, I want to dive right into the fascinating story of Ensign Charles Ewart, a Scottish soldier of the Royal North British Dragoons.
When you visit Edinburgh, you will most likely make your way up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. But, when you do, make sure to take your time to learn about some of the fascinating stories along the way! Of course, the easiest way to do that is to join us on a historical walking tour of Edinburgh on one of our Wee Golden Walks.
But, for now, let’s continue our walk up the Royal Mile…
As you make your way up Castlehill and approach the Hub, (the former High Kirk of Scotland), you will walk by an old pub that dates to the 17th Century. It now bears a name famous from the early 19th Century – Ensign Ewart. You might even notice the beautiful hanging flower baskets, but in your excitement to get to the Castle – you will probably dismiss the pub. For now, so will I, but I will get back to it later…
You now have made it to the top of Castlehill and are most likely in awe of the Castle in front of you. As you scurry across the Esplanade, perhaps you notice some of the monuments along both sides of it. If you are a keen observer of your surroundings, you might even spot the tomb of Ensign Ewart near the top of the Esplanade.
Now that you have spotted it, your curiosity is piqued – a pub and a tomb? Who was this guy? The tomb reads:
Royal North British Dragoons
At Waterloo as Sergeant in the Royal North British Dragoons
He captures the Standard of the French 45th Regiment from which
The Eagle badge now worn by the Royal Scots Greys is derived.
Erected to his memory in April 1938 by the Officers, Warrant Officers,
Non Commissioned Officers, and men past and present of the Royal Scots Greys.
Waterloo? Eagle? Well, now you must learn more! But before you rush away – circle behind the tomb for an intriguing surprise…
There you will find Ensign Charles Ewart’s original headstone, which reads: “In Memory of Ensign Charles Ewart, who departed March 23, 1846, aged 77 years".
Now, I do need to sidetrack for a moment in order to quickly provide an account of his story after death. As you have now learned- he died in 1846. He was buried in Salford, but the New Jerusalem graveyard was later paved over. And, with that, the grave of a Scottish hero became forgotten. Fortunately, his grave was rediscovered in the 1930’s. After which, his body was reburied in its current location on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Now that we have acknowledged that Ensign Ewart found his final resting place in a worthy location, it is time for us to move on into the Castle!
Keep in mind that Edinburgh Castle has a lot of fascinating things to see and stories to learn about- some of which you can learn about from our previous posts (on Lorimer, the Tattoo, Macabre Tales, or Castle of Light)and many more from future ones. But today we are here to learn about Ensign Ewart. Therefore, our next stop inside the Castle walls is The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum. Once you enter the museum, you are immediately immersed into the rich and proud history of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which has served as Scotland’s Cavalry for over 300 hundred years. In the future we will cover the museum in its own stand-alone post, but, for now, we will focus on Ensign Ewart. Thankfully his story and legacy can be quickly spotted in the museum.
As you walk a bit into the museum, you will find yourself facing a very prominent showcase. It features a painting of a Scots Grey dressed in his red uniform riding his regal horse, surrounded by an old and faded, but still glamorous looking tassel and a glimmering golden eagle. Wait a second, you might now recall reading something about an eagle on the tomb of Ensign Ewart…could this have something to do with it? Well, it’s time to learn more.
As you start studying the information surrounding the beautifully arranged showcases, you learn how Napoleon’s escape from Elba led the British expeditionary forces to rush into Flanders. The Royal Scots Greys, who were part of the Union Brigade, charged the French forces. The Royal Scots Greys were specifically entangled into a battle with the 45th French Regiment. Here, I will let Corporal Dickson recount the charge:
“The General gave a signal and immediately our Colonel, Inglis-Hamilton, shouted ‘charge!’ and, waving his sword in the air he rode straight at the hedges in front. A cry went up from our ranks and we too waved our swords and followed him. We could make out the feather bonnets of the Highlanders… Some of them had not time to get clear and were knocked down. They were all Gordons and as we passed through, they shouted ‘Scotland for Ever!’.
It was a grand sight to see the long line of giant grey horses dashing along with flowing manes, heads down, tearing up the turf as they went, the men in red coats and tall bearskins were cheering loudly and the trumpets were sounding the charge.”
One of the brave Scots involved in the charge was Sergeant Charles Ewart. During the close combat fighting, Ewart, a skilled swordsman, found himself in the proximity to the enemy’s standard-bearer, who was brandishing the Golden Eagle- the symbol of the French 45th Regiment. In a split-second decision, Ewart decided to make a brazen attack for the enemy standard. His heroics of the capture of the Eagle have been accounted by many others as well, some of them describing how this dashing 6-foot 4-inch-tall Scotsman took on about half a dozen French soldiers in order to secure the eagle. However, this is how Ewart himself recalled the moment:
“I took the eagle from the enemy. He and I had a hard contest for it; he made a thrust for my groin; I parried it off and cut him down through the head. After this, a lancer came at me; I threw off the lance by my right side and cut him through the chin and upwards through the teeth. Next, a foot soldier came at me and charged me with his bayonet; I also had the good luck to parry and then I cut him down through the head: this ended the contest.”
After Ewart secured the Golden Eagle as a trophy, he brought it to the rear of the action. His successful actions lifted him to heroic standing. After his return to Scotland, he even rubbed elbows with local celebrities like Sir Walter Scott in social gatherings. However, Ewart was not keen on the limelight and always preferred to be marching into battles with his fellow Greys.
Nonetheless, his legacy lives on with Royal Scots Greys to this day, as their badge on their caps is an eagle – a reminder of the heroic actions of Ensign Ewart. However, I am obliged to also point out that his heroics came at a cost. The battle of Waterloo in June of 1815 might have secured the Royal Scots Greys with the eagle, but the battle also decimated nearly half of the brigade, with around 200 hundred casualties.
Now that you have learned the fascinating story of Ensign Ewart, is time to go and explore the rest of the Museum, and the Castle. After all this history, it might also be a nice time to take a break. Maybe even head down from the Castle to go and find a nice Scottish pub that serves great food and also has live Scottish music daily.
If that sounds like a good plan, you already know a great place to go– the Ensign Ewart Pub!
Thank you for joining us on this historical journey!
Until next time- Explore & Discover!