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Book of Scottish Story
Bruntfield: a Tale of the Sixteenth Century


The war carried on in Scotland, by the friends and enemies of Queen Mary, after her departure into England, was productive of an almost complete dissolution of order, and laid the foundation of many feuds, which were kept up by private families and individuals long after all political cause of hostility had ceased. Among the most remarkable quarrels which history or tradition has recorded as arising out of that civil broil, I know of none so deeply cherished or accompanied by so many romantic and peculiar circumstances, as one which took place between two old families of gentry in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Stephen Bruntfield, laird of Craighouse, had been a zealous and disinterested partisan of the queen. Robert Moubray of Barnbougle was the friend successively of Murray and Morton, and distinguished himself very highly in their cause. During the year 1572, when Edinburgh Castle was maintained by Kirkaldy of Grange in behalf of the queen, Stephen Bruntfield held out Craighouse in the same interest, and suffered a siege from a detachment of the forces of the Regent, commanded by the laird of Barnbougle. The latter baron, a man of fierce and brutal nature, entered life as a younger brother, and at an early period chose to cast his fate among the Protestant leaders, with a view of improving his fortunes. The death of his elder brother in rebellion at Langside enabled the Regent Murray to reward his services with a grant of the patrimonial estate, of which he did not scruple to take possession by the strong hand, to the exclusion of his infant niece, the daughter of the late proprietor. Some incidents which occurred in the course of the war had inspired a mutual hatred of the most intense character into the breasts of Bruntfield and Moubray; and it was therefore with a feeling of strong personal animosity, as well as of political rancour, that the latter undertook the task of watching the motions of Bruntfield at Craighouse. Bruntfield, after holding out for many months, was obliged, along with his friends in Edinburgh Castle, to yield to the party of the Regent. Like Kirkaldy and Maitland of Lethington, he surrendered upon a promise of life and estate; but while his two friends perished, one by the hand of the executioner, the other by his own hand, he fell a victim to the sateless spite of his personal enemy, who, in conducting him to Edinburgh as a prisoner, took fire at some bitter expression on the part of the captive, and smote him dead upon the spot.

Bruntfield left a widow and three infant sons. The lady of Craighouse had been an intimate of the unfortunate Mary from her early years; was educated with her in France, in the Catholic faith ; and had left her court to become the wife of Bruntfield. It was a time calculated to change the natures of women, as well as of men. The severity with which her religion was treated in Scotland, the wrongs of her royal mistress, and finally the sufferings and death of her husband, acting upon a mind naturally enthusiastic, all conspired to alter the character of Marie Carmichael, and substitute for the rosy hues of her early years the gloom of the sepulchre and the penitentiary. She continued, after the restoration of peace, to reside in the house of her late husband ; but though it was within two miles of the city, she did not for many years re-appear in public. With no society but that of her children, and the persons necessary to attend upon them, she mourned in secret over past events, seldom stirring from a particular apartment, which, in accordance with a fashion by no means uncommon, she had caused to be hung with black, and which was solely illuminated by a lamp. In the most rigorous observances of her faith she was assisted by a priest, whose occasional visits formed almost the only intercourse which she maintained with the external world. One strong passion gradually acquired a complete sway over her mind,—Revenge,—a passion which the practice of the age had invested with a conventional respectability, and which no kind of religious feeling then known was able either to check or soften. So entirely was she absorbed by this fatal passion, that her very children at length ceased to have interest or merit in her eyes, except in so far as they appeared likely to be the means of gratifying it. One after another, as they reached the age of fourteen, she sent them to France, in order to be educated; but the accomplishment to which they were enjoined to direct their principal attention was that of martial exercise. The eldest, Stephen, returned at eighteen, a strong and active youth, with a mind of little polish or literary information, but considered a perfect adept at sword-play. As his mother surveyed his noble form, a smile stole into the desert of her wan and widowed face, as a winter sunbeam wanders over a waste of snows. But it was a smile of more than motherly pride; she was estimating the power which that frame would have in contending with the murderous Moubray. She was not alone pleased with the handsome figure of her firstborn child; but she thought with a fiercer and faster joy upon the appearance which it would make in the single combat against the slayer of his father. Young Bruntfield, who, having been from his earliest years trained to the purpose now contemplated by his mother, rejoiced in the prospect, now lost no time in preferring before the king a charge of murder against the laird of Barnbougle, whom he at the same time challenged, according to a custom then not altogether abrogated, to prove his innocence in single combat. The king having granted the necessary licence, the fight took place in the royal park, near the palace ; and to the surprise of all assembled, young Brunt-field fell under the powerful sword of his adversary. The intelligence was communicated to his mother at Craig house, where she was found in her darkened chamber, prostrate before an image of the Virgin. The priest who had been commissioned to break the news opened his discourse in a lone intended to prepare her for the worst; but she cut him short at the very beginning with a frantic exclamation,—"I know what you would tell—the murderer's sword has prevailed; and there are now but two, instead of three, to redress their father's wrongs!" The melancholy incident, after the first burst of feeling, seemed only to have concentrated and increased that passion by which she had been engrossed for so many years. She appeared to feel that the death of her eldest son only formed an addition to that debt which it was the sole object of her existence to see discharged. "Roger." she said, "will have the death of his brother, as well as that of his father, to avenge. Animated by such a double object, his arm can hardly fail to be successful."

Roger returned about two years after, a still handsomer, more athletic, and more accomplished youth than his brother. Instead of being daunted by the fate of Stephen, he burned but the more eagerly to wipe out the injuries of his house with the blood of Moubray. On his application for a licence being presented to the court, it was objected by the crown lawyers that the case had been already closed by mat fortune of the former challenger. But, while this was the subject of their deliberation, the applicant caused so much annoyance and fear in the court circle by the threats which he gave out against the enemy of his house, that the king, whose inability to procure respect either for himself or for the law is well-known, thought it best to decide in favour of his claim. Roger Bruntfield, therefore, was permitted to fight in barras with Moubray; but the same fortune attended him as that which had already deprived the widow of her first child. Slipping his foot in the midst of the combat, he reeled to the ground embarrassed by his cumbrous armour. Moubray, according to the barbarous practice of the age, immediately sprang upon and despatched him. "Heaven's will be done!" said the widow, when she heard of the fatal incident; "but gratias Deo! there still remains another chance."

Henry Bruntfield, the third and last surviving son, had all along been the favourite of his mother. Though apparently cast in a softer mould than his two elder brothers, and bearing all the marks of a gentler and more amiable disposition, he in reality cherished the hope of avenging his father's death more deeply in the recesses of his heart, and longed more ardently to accomplish that deed than any of his brothers. His mind, naturally susceptible of the softest and tenderest impressions, had contracted the enthusiasm of his mother's wish in its strongest shape; as the fairest garments are capable of the deepest stain. The intelligence, which reached him in France, of the death of his brothers, instead of bringing to his heart the alarm and horror which might have been expected, only braced him to the adventure which he now knew to be before him. From this period he forsook the elegant learning which he had heretofore delighted to cultivate. His evenings were spent in poring over the memoirs of distinguished knights; his days were consumed in the tilt-yard of the sword-player. In due time he entered the French army, in order to add to mere science that practical hardihood, the want of which he conceived to be the cause of the death of his brothers. Though the sun of chivalry was now declining far in the Occident, it was not yet altogether set. Montmorency was but just dead; Bayard was still alive,— Bayard, the knight of all others who has merited the motto, "Sans peur et sans reproche." Of the lives and actions of such men, Henry Bruntfield was a devout admirer and imitator. No young knight kept a firmer seat upon his horse,—none complained less of the severities of campaigning,—none cherished lady's love with a fonder, purer, or more devout sensation. On first being introduced at the court of Henry III., he had signalised, as a matter of course, Catherine Monbray, the disinherited niece of his father's murderer, who had been educated in a French convent by her other relatives, and was now provided for in the household of the queen. The connection of this young lady with the tale of his own family, and the circumstance of her being a sufferer in common with himself by the wickedness of one individual, would have been enough to create a deep interest respecting her in his breast. But when, in addition to these circumstances. we consider that she was beautiful, was highly accomplished, and in many other respects qualified to engage his affections, we can scarcely be surprised that such was the result of their acquaintance. Upon one point alone did these two interesting persons ever think differently. Catherine, though inspired by her friends from infancy with an entire hatred of her cruel relative, contemplated with fear and aversion the prospect of her lover being placed against him in deadly combat, and did all in her power to dissuade him from his purpose. Love, however, was of little avail against the still more deeply-rooted passion winch had previously occupied his breast. Flowers thrown upon a river might have been as effectual in staying its course towards the cataract, as the gentle entreaties of Catherine Moubray in withholding Henry Bruntfield from the enterprise for which his mother had reared him— for which his brothers had died—for which he had all along moved and breathed.

At length, accomplished with all the skill which could then be acquired in arms, glowing with all the earnest feelings of youth, Henry returned to Scotland. On reaching his mother's dwelling, she clasped him, in a transport of varied feeling, to her breast, and for a long time could only gaze upon his elegant person. "My last and dearest," she at length said, "and thou too art to be adventured upon this perilous course! Much have I bethought me of the purpose which now remains to be accomplished. I have not been without a sense of dread lest I be only doing that which is to sink my soul in flames at the day of reckoning; but yet there has been that which comforts me also. Only yesternight I dreamed that your father appeared before me. In his hand he held a bow and three goodly shafts ; at a distance appeared the fierce and sanguinary Moubray. He desired me to shoot the arrows at that arch traitor, and I gladly obeyed. A first and a second he caught in his hand, broke, and trampled on with contempt. But the third shaft, which was the fairest and goodliest of all, pierced his guilty bosom, and he immediately expired. The revered shade at this gave me an encouraging smile, and withdrew. My Henry, thou art that third arrow, which is at length to avail against the shedder of our blood. The dream seems a revelation, given especially that I may have comfort in this enterprise, otherwise so revolting to a mother's feelings." Young Bruntfield saw that his mother's wishes had only imposed upon her reason. but he made no attempt to break the charm by which she was actuated, being glad, upon any terms, to obtain her sanction for that adventure to which he was himself impelled by feelings considerably different. He therefore began, in the most deliberate manner, to take measures for bringing on the combat with Moubray. The same legal objections which had stood against the second duel were maintained against the third; but public feeling was too favourable to the object to be easily withstood. The laird of Barnbougle, though somewhat past the bloom of life, was still a powerful and active man, and instead of expressing any fear to meet this third and more redoubted warrior, rather longed for a combat which promised, if successful, to make him one of the most renowned swordsmen of his time. He had also heard of the attachment which subsisted between Bruntfield and his niece ; and in the contemplation of an alliance which might give some force to the claims of that lady upon his estate, found a deeper and more selfish reason for accepting the challenge of his youthful enemy. King James himself protested against stretching the law of the per duellum so far; but, sensible that there would be no peace between either the parties or their adherents till it should be decided in a fair combat, he was fain to grant the required licence.

The fight was appointed to take place on Cramond Inch, a low grassy island in the Frith of Forth, near the Castle of Barnbougle. All the preparations were made in the most approved manner by the young Duke of Lennox, who had been the friend of Bruntfield in France. On a level spot, close to the northern beach of the islet, a space was marked off, and strongly secured by a paling. The spectators, who were almost exclusively gentlemen (the rabble not being permitted to approach), sat upon a rising ground beside the enclosure, while the space towards the sea was quite clear. At one end, surrounded by his friends, stood the laird of Barnbougle, a huge and ungainly figure, whose features displayed a mixture of ferocity and hypocrisy, in the highest degree unpleasing. At the other, also attended by a host of family allies and friends, stood the gallant Harry Brunt-field, who, if divested of his armour, might have realised the idea of a winged Mercury. A seal was erected close beside the barras for the Duke of Lennox and other courtiers, who were to act as judges; and at a little distance upon the sea lay a small decked vessel, with a single female figure on board. After all the proper ceremonies which attended this strange legal custom had been gone through, the combatants advanced into the centre, and planting foot to foot, each with his heavy sword in his hand, waited the command which should let them loose against each other, in a combat which both knew would only be closed with the death of one or other. The word being given, the fight commenced. Moubray almost at the first pass gave his adversary a cut in the right limb, from which the blood was seen to flow profusely. But Bruntfield was enabled by this mishap to perceive the trick upon which his adversary chiefly depended, and, by taking care to avoid it put Moubray nearly hors de combat. The fight then proceeded for a few minutes, without either gaining the least advantage over the other. Moubray was able to defend himself pretty successfully from the cuts and thrusts of his antagonist, but he could make no impression in return. The question then became one of time. It was evident that, if no lucky stroke should take effect beforehand, he who first became fatigued with the exertion would be the victim. Moubray fell his disadvantage as the elder and bulkier man. and began to fight desperately and with less caution. One tremendous blow, for which he seemed to have gathered his last strength, took effect upon Brunt-field, and brought him upon his knee, in a half-stupified state, but the elder combatant had no strength to follow up the effort. He reeled towards his youthful and sinking enemy, and stood for a few moments over him, vainly endeavouring to raise his weapon for another and final blow. Ere he could accomplish his wish, Bruntfield recovered sufficient strength to draw his dagger, and thrust it up to the hilt beneath the breastplate of his exhausted foe. The murderer of his race instantly lay dead beside him, and a shout of joy from the spectators hailed him as the victor. At the same instant a scream of more than earthly note arose from the vessel anchored near the island; a lady descended from its side into a boat, and, rowing to the land, rushed up to the bloody scene, where she fell upon the neck of the conqueror, and pressed him with the most frantic eagerness to her bosom. The widow of Stephen Bruntfield at length found the yearnings of twenty years fulfilled,—she saw the murderer of her husband, the slayer of her two sons, dead on the sward before her, while there still survived to her as noble a child as ever blessed a mother's arms. But the revulsion of feeling produced by the event was too much for her strength; or, rather, Providence, in its righteous judgement, had resolved that so unholy a feeling as that of revenge should not be too signally gratified. She expired in the arms of her son, murmuring Nunc dimillis, Domine, with her latest breath.

The remainder of the tale of Bruntfield may be easily told. After a decent interval, the young laird of Craighouse married Catherine Moubray; and as the king saw it right to restore that young lady to a property originally forfeited for service to his mother, the happiness of the parties might be considered as complete. A long life of prosperity and peace was granted to them by the kindness of Heaven; and at their death they had the satisfaction of enjoying that greatest of all earthly blessings, the love and respect of a numerous and virtuous family.—Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, 1832.*

* The tale of Bruntfield is founded upon facts alluded to in "Birrel's Diary," "Anderson's History of Scotland" (MS., Advocates' Library), &c.


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