The Breaking up of the Forest of
The breaking up of the old forests of Scotland was,
perhaps, the first important step that was made towards its civilization.
Prior to the reign of David II.and, indeed, long after that periodthe
whole face of the country presented an appearance not much different from
that, at this day, exhibited by the wooded parts of America. The number of
extensive forests then existing has been given by historians; and, though
many of them extended over whole counties, their names are not now to be
traced in the local designations which point out the praedial divisions of
the space they once occupied
Amongst the most extensive of these forests, and,
perhaps, the first that was broken up, was the forest of Plater, in the
county of Angus. Its extent was so great that a very large proportion of
that county was covered by it; and, bordering as it did upon the lower end
of the Grampians, it was much infested by the wolves of those heights,
which came down to commit ravages on its inhabitants, whether wild or
domestic. As the first of the forests that resounded to the sound of the
axe, and, by its destruction leading the way to others, opened up Scotland
to the ameliorating and civilizing effects of the plough, its limits have
been attempted to be traced by antiquaries; but with no great success. The
circumstances, however, which led to the first grant of its cleared soil
are known, and, being curious, deserve notice, as well from their own
nature as the fact of their signalizing the dawn of Scottish civilization.
David II. was, for a
considerable period, a captive in Englanda circumstance adequately
impressed on the memories of the already oppressed inhabitants, by the
immense sum of ransom they had to pay for the liberation of a king who
rewarded his faithful country by afterwards endeavouring to betray itby
attempting to alter the order of succession of its kings in favour of an
English prince. He also resided for a time in France, where he, in all
likelihood, acquired that effeminacy of character and love of unlawful
pleasures which unfitted him both in a physical and moral point of view,
for being the king of a barbarous, though true-hearted people.
After the death of his
Queen Joanna, David began his intercourse with the famous beauty, Margaret
Logy, supposed to be the daughter of Sir John de Logy, who resided, at
that period, in Angus, and close by the Forest of Plater. In addition to
the other circumstances which render this forest memorable, its umbrageous
retreat was selected by the royal lover as the place of his interviews
with his fair mistress. Coming from Scone or Falkland, by short journeys,
he continued to feed his passion by frequent interviews with the fair
Margaret, at a part of the forest called, as many other wild places were
then denominated, the Wolfs Glen. Having met her first when he wore, as
he often did, the dress of a French knight, he, for a long time, kept up
that character in the estimation of his mistress, whose vanity was fed by
the fulsome style of gallantry which her lover had imported from that
country, and applied to her in its most inflated form. The Kings
imitation of French customs and dress was, indeed, carried much farther
than suited the national prejudices of his people, however much it may
have been relished by Margaret Logy. The broad silk sash which occupied
the place of the leather belt, and white kid gloves superseding, with
strange contrast, the buckram glaives of the hardy warriors of Scotland,
had peculiar charms for the eye of a female, which a kilted katheran might
not have been able to discover.
Not far distant from the
glen where David was in the habit of meeting and wooing his mistress,
there was a small forest hut, occupied by a hind, of the name of Murdoch
Rhind, who had a wife and a large family of children. Rhind, in
consequence of having previously seen King David on some public occasion,
knew who the French knight was, that so often met Sir John Logys daughter
in the forest, and was not without an expectation that he might in some
way benefit himself and his family, by the knowledge he had thus, by mere
chance, come to be possessed of. After revolving in his mind various
schemes, comprehending a projected discovery to the damsels father, a
secret intimation to the King, accompanied by a hint to be paid for his
secresy, and others equally feasible and equally fruitless, he resolved
upon trusting to chance, to present to him an occasion for making his
knowledge available, which he would not fail to take advantage of, and
turn to the best account. This occasion was afforded him sooner than he
One night, when Rhind was
passing the Wolfs Glen, with the view of bringing home some wood, which
he had, for the use of his cottage, cut in the fore part of the day, he
heard the sound of voices in the lovers favourite retreat, and did not
doubt that they were those of the King and his mistress. Curiosity to hear
a royal courtship was stronger than the wish to obey the command of his
wife, who wanted the faggots for the purpose of preparing their supper;
and, stealing behind a bracken bush, which concealed him from the lovers,
he sat down very much at his ease, though in the presence of royalty, to
hear a courtship which he shrewdly suspected must differ considerably from
the mode of wooing he had adopted, in winning the heart and hand of Peggy
Hamilton, who was now waiting for the faggots, unconscious that her
husband, Murdoch, was in the presence of King David of Scotland.
"And is France so very
different," said the fair damsel, in continuation, no doubt, of the prior
discourse, "from our own country? Such is the effect of habit, that I
could not form an idea of a country, the greater part of which is without
trees. Neither hunting nor wooing can thrive in a bare land; and what is
any country without these? I love the French gallantry and their exquisite
fabricstheir taffeta, and brocades, and soft gloves, which last, of all
the parts of a knights apparel, indicate, with greatest certainty, the
gentleman. But where does gallantry shew so well, and where do these
articles of dress so nobly embellish beauty and grace, as in the still
umbrageous wood, with the green leaves as your canopy, and the tuneful
inhabitants your companions? Believe me, Sir Knight, I would have the men,
and the manners, and the fabrics of France imported into Scotland."
"Thou hast said nothing of
the ladies of France," said David, with his accustomed gallantry. "Wouldst
thou leave them in the mateless condition of the ancient Amazons, without
a single lover to console them for the loss of their silks?"
"The exception, good Sir
Knight," replied Margaret, blushing, "is a womans who could not bear
competition for the heart of her lover. Thou knowest that, among French
beauties, poor Margaret Logy would have small chance of retaining thy
"Humble wood-nymph," said
David, clasping her hand, "I would not exchange thee, in thy dress of
linsey-woolsey, for all the fair damsels of Paris, dressed in silk and sey.
But, in thy sweet prattle, thou hast approached a subject which our King,
who loves the French and their subtle inventions, would do well to
consider. We can enjoy none of the envied productions of the useful arts
which thou hast been so much applauding, at the same time that we retain
these mighty drawing-rooms of nemoral gallantry thou wert now describing
with the fervour which our presence in one of them at this moment has
produced. The one might be made the cause of the production of the other.
Were I King David, as I am only Sir Philip Nemours of Lorraine, I would
portion out a great part of the forests of Scotland, beginning with Plater,
to feuars taking them bound to deliver to me yearly, as the condition of
their grant, a piece of silk, or a pair of gloves, or some other article
of manufacture, which might be introduce into Scotland; and thus at once
bribe and oblige the inhabitants to become manufacturers, at the same time
that they were learning the art of husbandry."
"Thy gloves would be better
covering thy mouth, Sir Knight, than thy hand,"said Margaret
"if thou art to fill a maidens ears with a discourse on manufactures, in
place of the soft accents of love. What careth a damsel for the loom or
the loom-weaver that produces her silks, or the skin of the goat that
furnishes her with soft hand-shoes, as they call gloves in the Pictish
counties of Scotland? What hath become of my knights gallantry, now that
he is, in imagination, a manufacturing king?"
"The mercy of a beautiful
woman comes quick upon the repentance of her lover," said David,
smiling"especially when his error is a mere continuation of one committed
by the lady herself. Thou forgettest, fair Margaret, that thou didst
originate this discussion, by expressing a wish to get the French
gentlemen, manners, and fabrics, imported into Scotland, while I only
suggested a mode of doing without them; and, upon my honour, were I King
David, I would put it into execution."
The lovers were surprised
by the sudden appearance of Murdoch Rhind, who stood before them.
said he, stepping up and whispering
these two words, which contained the whole secret, into the Kings ear,
and then continuing the rest of his speech in an audible tone"the
King" (pausing and eyeing David with a sly Scotch eye) "couldna do
better than begin with the Forest o Plater; and wha has a better right to
the first grant than Murdoch Rhind, wha has wrought his bairns mittens
an his wifes Sabbath glaives sin the Eve o St. John, fifteen years
back. I cam to warn ye that theres a wolf at the back o yon bracken
"Thanks to thee, sir,"
replied David, eyeing Murdoch. carefully, and seeing at once where the
game lay. "Thou art a very discreet fellow; and the discretion of the
tongue, which is of more service than that of the hand, deserves its
reward. Where is thy cottage?"
"In the mud there," replied
Murdoch"twa casts east frae the Glen. I will be at hame the morn frae
matins to vespers, waitin for a visit frae"(a pause)"Sir Philip
"I will call for thee,
Murdoch," said David, "and reward thee for thy timeous intimationLet us
go, dear Margaret! I hope that next time we meet, there may be no wolves
in the Glen."
"Murdoch Rhind will tak
guid care o that, your Honour," cried Murdoch after the lovers, as they
Murdoch went leisurely and
tied up his faggots. When he got home, the poor husband received for his
pains the customary tribute due to disobedient consorts, who choose,
foolishly and rebelliously, to act upon the verdicts of their own wittol
judgments, when they should quietly follow the course pointed out by their
wives. The time necessary for going, and tying up the faggots, and
returning, was calculated to a minute; and all that was beyond that was to
be accounted for with the fidelity of a treasurer. It did not, however, at
that time, suit the husbands notions of marital obedience, to render this
strict accounting. Unwilling to tell a liefor, though poor, he was honest
and truehe contented himself with evasive answers, adroitly turning the
tables on his wife, and alleging that the last time she went tothe
fair of Forfar she staid three hours beyond her time, a period which had
not been accounted for to that day, The effect of carrying the war into
the enemys country was soon apparent. Peggy became silent: but managed,
according to the tact of her sex, to cover her retreat, by keeping her
mouth in such continual occupation with the affair of the supper, that she
had, apparently, neither time nor room for farther words of objurgation.
Next morning Murdoch told
Peggy that a gentleman was to call upon him during the day, requesting her
not to be alarmed at his silken sash, or his other insignia of knighthood.
The good woman inquired the object of the visit, and was surprised that
her husband observed the same silence on that subject as he had so
unaccountably exhibited on the previous night. Fear took possession of
her, and she pictured to herself an officer of the law coming to apprehend
her husband for some misdemeanor committed in the forest. This feeling was
not much assuaged by the appearance of the stranger himself, who called
faithfully about the hour of twelve, and had an interview with Murdoch.
"How many ox-gangs wouldst
thou require of the Forest of Plater?" inquired David.
"Four, an please your
Majesty," replied Murdoch.
"And wilt thou undertake,"
added the King, "to render to me yearly, in name of feu-duty, a pair of
white kid gloves of thy own manufacture?"
"I will work my way to
France," replied Murdoch, "for the very purpose o learning the secret o
this trade, and will undertake to perform the service yearly, on pain o
losing my grant, wi a meliorations."
"Thou shalt have thy
grant," said David; "but upon this other conditionwhich, however," (he
added, smiling,) "doth not enter the writthat thou keepest the secret of
my personality. Thou understandest me?
"Brawly, your Majesty,"
answered Murdoch. "There will be nae mair wolves i the Wolfs Glen; whilk,
indeed, craving your Majestys pardon, is mair fitted, fra its great
beauty, for makin a pairt o my four ox-gangsthat is, after your Majesty
nae mair requires it for wooingthan for a lair to wild beasts."
"The place shall be added
to thy ox-gangs," said the Monarch, laughing; "but always with my right of
servitude of making love among its birken bushes."
The grant was afterwards
made out, of four ox-gangs of Plater Forest, in favour of Murdoch Rhind,
for the strange reddendo of a pair of white kid gloves yearly. This was
the first breaking up of the ancient forests of Scotland, and the fact,
which is historical, of the yearly rendering of the gloves, forms a
curious contrast with the act of which it was made a condition. David, as
is well known, afterwards married Margaret Logy. Her subsequent divorce,
and application to the Pope, are matters of history.
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