What does the phrase ‘Monarch of the Glen’ mean to you? The iconic oil painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, painted in 1851? The book by Compton Mackenzie written in 1941? The TV series with Richard Briers and Susan Hampshire, first shown in 2000? The picture on the front of many a biscuit tin? The many, many variations of a red Highland stag that appear on so many tea towels, going back over decades? To me, it means Scotland and everything Scottish, simple as that. That is the reason I bought this tea towel, back in 1998, in Gairloch. I’d like to say that it is a copy of Landseer’s painting but it clearly isn’t because the stag’s head is facing in the opposite direction.
Back to the beginning: Sir Edwin Landseer was commissioned to paint three large panels for the Refreshment Rooms of the House of Lords, one of which was to be the stag. When it was completed, the MPs refused to pay him so he sold it privately. It’s strange that this painting, familiar to so many, recognised and reproduced on countless occasions, has been through many hands and is now owned by the drink manufacturer, Diageo, and on loan to the National Museum of Scotland. In November 2016 it was up for sale again. Fancy the Monarch of the Glen on your wall? Then it could be yours for £8 million or is a tea towel better value? The term ‘Monarch’ sounds masterful, proud and stately but, in relation to stags, it actually refers to the number of points on a stag’s antlers. A Monarch has 16 points; you will note that Landseer’s stag only has 12 which technically makes it a ‘Royal’; the thirteen points on my tea towel also doesn’t make it a Monarch. ‘Royal’ doesn’t have the same ring about it though.
After Landseer and my tea towel, I have great memories of reading ‘Monarch of the Glen’ as a teenager; it is witty, somewhat political, well-written and a joy to read. The TV series, on which it was based, was good fun to watch but never the same, definitely two different works, not to be compared.
The stag’s head, per se, has become very fashionable on china, handbags, tablecloths, tea towels, wallpaper, upholstery, duvet sets, biscuit tins, Stilton pots (I know, I have one), aprons and much more. Sometimes head on, sometimes with the stag facing either left or right. When I see it, in whatever form, I get a feeling, deep inside me, that makes me want to go back to Scotland, to return to places I have been or see places I have never been near. I love wiping up with this tea towel because it brings back such generic memories and is a template for future plans. It also adds a bit of class to the kitchen, even though it isn’t a Monarch!
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