Flagstone unveiled commemorating Scotland’s first published woman

As part of history festival Previously… this past weekend, Professor Germaine Greer unveiled a flagstone in Edinburgh commemorating the life and work of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, the first woman to be published in Scotland. The memorial is inscribed with suitably recalcitrant lines from Melville’s Ane Godlie Dream, her groundbreaking debut work, a narrative poem first printed in 1603: ‘Though tyrants threat, though Lyons rage and rore / Defy them all, and feare not to win out.’ The flagstone lies, appropriately, in the city’s Makars’ Court in the Lawnmarket (‘makar’ being a Scots word meaning poet). Greer previously included Melville in her Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th-Century Women’s Verse.

The unveiling of the flagstone was the centrepiece of a series of events aimed at reviving interest in Melville as part of this year’s Previously… festival, which has also included an exhibition of manuscript and printed works by Melville, discussions of Melville’s songs and her place alongside John Davidson as a poetic opponent of King James VI of Scotland (I of England), a symposium looking at Melville, Scottish women writers and female spirituality and a choral concert featuring settings of Melville’s songs and readings of her work from Greer and Meg Bateman.

Saying he hoped the flagstone would draw attention to women whose contributions to Scottish culture had previously gone underappreciated, Dr Jamie Reid-Baxter – Melville’s editor and an honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow – told BBC News: ‘Under Reformation thinking women were allowed to have thoughts but were encouraged to keep them to themselves. And they weren’t supposed to have controversial thoughts as she did as to how a country should be governed and what the role of the Kirk should be inside a country. But Melville went ahead and published a long poem analysing that situation in 1603 and it was reprinted over and over again.’