October 4, 2022 - 1:15pm


When it was announced last week that King Charles III would be visiting my hometown of Dunfermline (population: a mystery, thanks to Scotland’s census shambles), I was quite surprised. I was in Texas when the Queen died and had watched the extraordinary scenes of mourning from afar. Now I was home visiting my parents, and all of a sudden I was presented with an opportunity to witness a small bit of history up close; or at least, close enough to see the back of HRH’s head from a distance.

Given that it would be the King’s first public visit since the end of the official mourning period for the Queen, Dunfermline might have seemed like a strange choice. When I was growing up, it was hardly a hotbed of monarchist sentiment: the general attitude towards the Royal Family was one of indifference or derision. The last royal I remember coming anywhere near the town was Prince Edward, who turned up in 1992 to open a water-skiing centre in the nearby village of Townhill. It did not feel like a grand occasion. Prior to that the Queen had paid a visit in 1975, a fact I discovered when I visited the City Chambers on an open day and spotted her royal signature in a ledger.

Yet, as Scotland’s ancient capital, Dunfermline was once flush with royals. Indeed, what makes Dunfermline distinctive, and what is almost certainly the primary argument for its city status, is its illustrious past. Malcom Canmore — the Malcolm in Shakespeare’s Macbeth — ruled here between 1058 and 1093. His wife Margaret founded the priory that became Dunfermline Abbey (the 950th anniversary of which was the King’s other reason for visiting). Dunfermline is also the burial place of Robert the Bruce, who defeated Edward II’s army at Bannockburn in 1314. And besides the Bruce, a further six kings are interred here, although the townsfolk lost track of them centuries ago.

For these reasons, it seemed that the King’s visit to Dunfermline amounted to a strong declaration that he considered himself to be a Scottish king as much as he was an English or British one. He could, after all, have visited any one of the other seven towns reclassified as cities by his mother during her jubilee.

Nonetheless, Dunfermline has unfortunate associations for monarchs named Charles. The last king to be born in the royal palace (only a wall remains) was Charles I, perhaps the least successful king in British history given that he is the only one so far to have been tried and executed for treason. I was also struck by the fact that, as King Charles III arrived, the pipers were playing “The Skye Boat Song”, a ballad about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after failing to have himself crowned as… King Charles III.

In the end, some of that tide of good will that had ushered the Queen into eternity rushed back over the son as well. Charles and Camilla were greeted with cheers and a one thousand-smartphone salute. Suddenly I realised that this was the closest I had been to a very famous person since I had encountered the Russian ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Moscow and got him to sign my copy of The Penguin Book of Scottish Ballads. I extended my hand and said: “Hello, Your Majesty”. He reached over the barrier, shook it, then moved swiftly down the row, before disappearing into the City Chambers to attend to the business of being King.

Daniel Kalder is an author based in Texas. Previously, he spent ten years living in the former Soviet bloc. His latest book, Dictator Literature, is published by Oneworld. He also writes on Substack: Thus Spake Daniel Kalder.