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The Great Historic Families of Scotland.

[From ' The Times.']

Considerable space in Dr Taylor's new volume, ' The Great Historic Families of Scotland,' is naturally given to the Douglases, the most powerful family that ever flourished in Scotland. The last of the Black Douglases, who were by the Second James in a struggle to which the King must have succumbed had the rebellion had a more able leader, died a monk in the Abbey of Lindores, to which Rothesay in the 'Fair Maid of Perth' recommends that Ramorny should retire. The Red Douglases of the House of Angus, like the Hamiltons who are now the heirs-male of both families, roee on the ruins of the elder branch, thanks to a timely shifting of sides. At one time they were nearly its equals in power; they had intermarried with the royal families of Scotland and England; they had governed the kingdom as Regents, and repeatedly they had the custody and the .sovereignty of the sovereigu. They could call every man in the southern counties to their banners between the Solway Firth and the German Ocean. It shows the sudden decline of feudalism in the Lowlands, although the Highland chiefs for long after were as powerful as ever, that when the Earl of Augu3 joined Montrose in 1645 he was only followed by his personal attendants. On the death of the first and last Duke of Douglas in 1761 the inferior titles passed to the Duke of Hamilton, and the contested succession of the great landed estates gave rise to the memorable Douglas caus«. James Boswell's concern with it, anil the snubs he consequently received from the stately Duchess of Argyll and her sister at Inverary Cistle, will be remembered by the readers of his 'Tourin the Hebrides.'

The story of the Keit!i3 is singularly romantic and eventful. Chroniclers declared that a curse huug over the family owing to their "sacrilegious meddling with the Abbacy of Deer." For a time " the fatal punishment" was held in suspense, and they became more wealthy and more powerful than ever. "The estates were so extensive that it was commonly said the Earl Mariscbnl could enter Scotland at Berwick and travel through the country to its northern extremity without requiring ever to take a meal or a night's rest off his own lands." They are said in the sixteenth century to have enjoyed the enormous revenue of 270,000 marks. The Earl who appropriated the church property might have hoped to avert the fatality by his enlightened munificence, for ho was the founder of the Marinchal College of Aberdeen, at which Dugald Dalgetty picked up his habit of fast eating. Yet " within seventy years the whole of the Marisohal estates were confiscated, and an additional half-century witnessed the extinction of the family." The Keiths, who had heen time-servers like moat of their fellow - nobles, seem to have changed parties unseasonably, and suffered in consequence. Their lands were ravaged by Montrose, they were heavily fined by Cromwell, and the last of the family put the finishing touch to their misfortuues by his unshaken loyalty to the lost cause of the Stuarts. That last lord, who was the friend of Frederick the Great, died at Madrid as Prussian Ambassador. The Empress of Russia, daughter of Peter the Great, is said to have offered to marry his younger brother, the future Field-mtrshal; but General Keith (as he was then), with Scottish caution, not only declined the proffered honor, but promptly exchanged the Russian service for that of Prussia. He died full of honors before hia elder brother, and was buried in the garrison church at Berlin. "My brother leaves me a noble legacy," said the old Lord Marischal. "Last year ho had Bohemia under ransom, and his personal estate is seventy ducats." A Keith peerage remains with the younger branch of the Kintores. It was originally conferred on a misrepresentation and under a misconception for the saving ot the Scottish regalia during Cromwell's invasion. The man who ought really to have been ennobled was the worthy minister of the parish of Kinneff. He had hidden the regalia beneath his pulpit, and refused to reveal the hidingplace when imprisoned under threats of torture.

The Setons suffered like the Keiths for their loyalty. The Lord Seton of "The Abbot" was exiled by the Regent Murray as an act of grace, in place of being ordered for execution. He was reduced to such extreme poverty that at one time he wis driving a waggon in Flanders, but he lived to retrieve in a measure the misfortuues of the family, and his portrait in waggoner's dress with his team was hung in the great gallery of Seton Castle. The last earl went through somewhat similar experiences, though in his case they were voluntary. He had gone abroad in his youth, after a family quarrel, and he got his living in France as assistant to a blacksmith. On the death of his father in 1704 the heir-presumptive had assumed the title and estates, when the blacksmith, unexpectedly turning up, established his claims to the succession.

The memory of the Ruthvens of Gowrie is historically associated with murders and mysteries. Dr Taylor reminds us that the bloodthirsty assassin of Rizzio, who, as Scott says, came into the Queen's cabinet " pale and ghastly, as one recovered from long sickness," was a man of accomplishments and literary tastes, and as ready with the pen as the sword. Yet no one of the fierce conspirators behaved more brutally, so that Mary appealed to Heaven to avenge her, and root out Ruthven and his treacherous posterity. "The denunciation was strikingly fulfilled in the total ruin of the house of Ruthven in the reign of Mary's son." The son of the murderer was created Earl of Gowrie, but getting involved in treasonable plots owing to his jealousy of the favorite Arran, he was tried and executed for treason. His titles and forfeited lands were restored to his heir, the hero of the "Gowrie Conspiracy." It is probable that that mysterious business will never be absolutely cleared up, for there are conflicting facts that clash with any satisfactory solution. But as the hottempered young carl, although taken into favor, had headed a parliamentary opposition to the King's projects, it seems probable that he had devised the plot in revenge for the injuries inflicted on his father, if confessions elicitad under torture are to be believed, and if documents preserved in the Edinburgh register office are genuine, James was to have been carried off to Fast Castle, the Wolf's Craig of • The Bride of 'Lammermoor'—a lonely and impregnable stronghold, Overhanging the ocean, on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. The fall of the Ruthvens was the making of the Murrays, the Athole family and the ancestor of the Earls of Mansfield receiving the greater part of their forfeited estates.

Another crime almost equally shrouded in mystery was the burning of the Crichton's Castle of Frendraught. It happened in 1630, and the heir of the great Marquis of Huntly, known popularly as " the Cock of the North," perished in the flames under the roof of a feudal enemy, where he had been received with all honor and hospitality, having come on an errand of peace. What gave Dathos to the startling tragedy was that Lord Aboyne, who had been lately married, lost his life in attempting to save a friend. It seems evident that Viscount Frendraught was most unjustly suspected of a deed which ruined his family by the enmity it inevitably provoked. He cleared himself before the Privy Council, but popular feeling was not to be persuaded or conciliated. The county of Banff was made too hot for the Crichtons, and it is a stgnificamt proof of the turbulence of the times that they were brought to poverty by the pillaging of their lands, where "all men took their prey." "This terrible tragedy has been handed down in the traditions of the north country from generation to generation, evtn to our own times." In the story of the Mackenzies of Seaforth we have another striking example of the strength of that clanship which civilised government had to break. The fifth earl had been twice guilty of rebellion. He had " risen " with the Earl of Mar in 1715, and four year aftewards, with the Earl Marisshal and a detachment of Spanish soldiers, he had ventured another and a more desperate attempt. He was attainted, and his estates were confiscated. The Government, with all the troops at their disposal, found it impossible to collect the rents, which, nevertheless, were punctually remitted to the exiled chieftain in France. A similar incident suggested that in which Allen Stewart is run down in Mr Lonis Steven-

son's admirable romance of 'Kidnapped. Lockhart, in his 'Life of Scott,'relates circumstantially the very remarkable prophecy which predicted the extinction, under certain circumstances, of a family which at the time was as prolific as it appeared to be flourishing. Assuredly the story was as well authenticated as anything of the kind could be. A seer of the clan had foreto d the fall of the Seaforths when there should be a deaf Cabufae. and whan three of the great Highland chiefs should have certain physical deformities, and a fourth should be half-witted. The coincidences bad actually occurred when the line of Seaforth became extinct; and " the story was firmly believed not only by Scott but by Sir Humphry Daw, who mentions it in one of his J 0 "™ 8 "* and "by Mr Morritt, who testifies that he heard the prophecy quoted in the Highlands at a time when Lord Seaforth had two sons alive and in good health," The Campbells were always famed for their worldly wisdom; they were said to have been as fortunate in their marriages as the Hapsburgs; and, with the single exception of the unsuccessful effort to overthrow the tyranny of James 11., they had invariably trimmed their pails to catch the favoring breezes. Set it was a considerable time before they succeeded ill asserting their supremacy over their fierce and warlike insular neighbors. A daughter of the third earl, whose father had fallen at Flodden, was the heroine of Campbell's 'Glenara and of Joanna Baillie's ' Family Legend. Married to a Maclean of Duart, who tired of his wife, she was exposed on the " Ladys Rock," off the island of Lismore, and accidentally rescued by a boatful of the Campbells. The marquis who perished on the scaffold wis tempted to his fate by the feudal power, which was as great as it had ever been. Dr Taylor says:—"From the days of Robert Bruce downwards they (the Campbells) allied themselves by marriage to the great Lowland families, and held the highest offices of State. The personal character of the successive heads oi thw aspiring family—combining unwearied and indomitable energy with a peculiar dexterity and plausibility of address—had step by step raised them to such a height of power that the number of fighting men who bore the name of Campbell was sufficient to meet in the field the combined forces of all the other western clans." . The Maules, who could boast as long a descent as any of the other families, are a good example of Dr Taylor's gift of enlivening his narratives by clever sketches of modern men. The last Lord Panmure but one lived to a great age, and was one of the best known and most eccentric characters in the North. He bad talents which he never turned to account. Overbearing and irritable, he was thoroughly good natured,and he was the model of an excellent landlord so long as his tenants bowed to his will. His hospitality was not only proverbial but tyrannical; he was one of the hardest and deepest drinkers on record; and his convivial bouts and the contents of his cellars have been commemorated in the memoirs of Constable, the great Edinburgh publisher. As a matter of course he quarrelled with his equallv strong-willed son, who was at the War Office during the Crimean campaign, and, by denying him a reasonable allowance, drove'him deep into debt. The old lord, like Louis XL, was fond of adopting disguises that he might go about among his tenants and workpeople incognito ; and we are assured that the disguises he assumed were so effectual that he could generally elude detection.

In the account of the Grahams we bave a, portrait of "the great Marquis," more flattering to his military genius than to his moral qualities, although even as soldier and strategist he was more successful in attack than in defence. His manner of waging war was merciless ; his ruthless devastation of the territories of his feudal enemy Argyll is notorious ; but he dealt almost as severely with the estates of his old friend the Earl Maiischal and with the unfortunate citizens of Aberdeen, whether be was commanding for the King or the Covenant. It should be remembered in extenuation, however, that he was the victim of circumstances. The Highlanders he could not pay had to be indulged freely with pillage; and although their onset in battle was almost irresistible when in high heart and spirits, with their slovenly discipline and excitable temperaments they were eminently ill-fitted for defensive war. The Maxwells and Johnstones of Annandale and Scotts of Bucclencb. suggest picturesque sketches of the wild life on the borders, where nothing was safe beyond the immediate surroundings of the monasteries, and even these were not always respected. There is no more thrilling narrative than that of the Hepburns, and Dr Taylor gives what are probably authentic details by Danish writers of the closing scenes in the chequered career of the husband of Quei;. Mary, when he was expiating his crimes in a Scandinavian dungeon. Scarcely less exciting were the atrocities and exploits of the fox-like Lord Fraser of Lovat, brought at last to the block he had labored to deserve. Simon Fraser was a wonderful anachronism, blending the vices of the old world with those of the new under a smooth and plausible exterior. His proceedings in the affair of his wedding were more atrocious and more shameless than those attributed to Bothwell by Bothwell's bitterest enemies. Yet for long he was the frequent correspondent and a confidential friend of the accomplished Duncan Forbes of Culloden, Lord President of the Courts of Justice.

Altogether these volumes are most entertaining reading, and they are aspecially to be recommended to the innumerable Scotchmen who can claim relationship with the historical families. We are glad to know that Dr Taylor proposes to continue his work, for we are sure that the field is far from exhausted.

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18891026.2.33.7

Bibliographic details

The Great Historic Families of Scotland., Issue 8048, 26 October 1889, Supplement

Word Count
2,447

The Great Historic Families of Scotland. Issue 8048, 26 October 1889, Supplement

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