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The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra
Chapter VII. — The Forfeiture of the Blackhalls of Barra


VIII. Alexander Rlackiiall of that Ilk.

IN 1591, Alexander Blackhall, cousin and nearest legitimate male heir of William Blackhall of that Ilk, Coroner and Forester of the Garioch, who died on the 5th of August, 1589, was retoured heir to the latter in his estate and offices. The document setting forth the special retour (Record of Retours, Vol. C. (Supplemental), fol. 65), of which I have an official copy, is illegible in portions, but the main facts fortunately are preserved. The year of his retour is given, but not the exact date. It must, however, have been early in the year, for Alexander Blackhall of Barra lost no time in making good the bargain to which John Leslie of Balquhain had assented. At the Mar trial a document, dated March 24th, 1591, was produced, which set forth the grant of the lands of Blackhall by Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk to Alexander Blackhall of Barra, and also an instrument of seising following thereupon, and dated the 25th of March, 159L The King's confirmation of this charter, under the Great Seal, did not take place until August the 2nd, 1610, by which date the storm which had swept over the family was abating, leaving most of the wreckage, where most had existed for wrecking, namely on the Barra side of the account. Blackhall itself was not forfeited at this time, but appears to have nominally passed into the possession of Alexander Blackhall of Barra, who thus became Blackhall of that Ilk. In all these earlier charters about this date, the rights of Janet Strachan, the widow of a previous laird of Blackhall, are conserved, and the desire to do this may in a measure account for the fact that when all the Barra properties were confiscated, Blackhall was not.

In 1548 there is a charter (Reg. Mag. Sig.) in which property passes from William King, purtioner of Barra, to his son James. Among the witnesses to this transaction are his neighbours, William Seton of Meldrurn and William Blackhall, his co-portioner of Barra, together with his son, Mr. Alexander Blackhall. I referred before (p. 20) to another occasion on which Blackhall of that Ilk sat peacefully beside a King and Blackhall of Bourtie at an inquest.

This amity between these families no longer existed in 1590-91, when Alexander Burnet of Leys becomes cautioner for his cousin Alexander Blackhall, portioner of Barra, and for the brother of the latter James Blackhall, that they should not injure William King of Barrauch and other members of that family. (Reg. Sec. Sig., 1590-91.) Again a bond is registered about the same time by Alexander King, in which Sir Walter Ogilvy of Findletter becomes cautioner for Alexander King and other members of that Barra family, that Alexander Seton of Meldrum, William Strachan, apparent of Tippertie, and Alexander Blackhall of Barra, should be harmless of them. Lastly, there was a bond signed on Feb. 8th, 1590-1 (Reg. Sec. Sig., 1590-91, p. 581-582), for Alexander Seton of Meldrum and others, including William Strachan, apparent of Tippertie, and for many other Setons, that William King of Barrauch, James King, burgess of Aberdeen; Alexander King, Advocate in Edinburgh, and Elizabeth Gray, relict of James King, portioner of Barra, should not be molested by the persons named. Not only had the fuse been lighted at this time, but the bomb before referred to had burst, and we shall learn that, although property left buth Blackhalls and Kings and gravitated towards the Setons, one of the splinters of this metaphorical bomb in the persons of dispossessed Kings of Barra and their friends, some time later slew Alexander Seton, the heir apparent to Meldrum.

What was the cause of all this enmity? Although the correspondence, litigation and documents preceding yet affecting the forfeiture of the K:ngs and of the Blackhalls of Barra are lost, or hidden in forgotten archives, the fact of the forfeiture is abundantly proved after the event, by documentary evidence, and the earliest indication of it to hand, concerns the Kings of Barra. On the 24th of March, 1590, and in the 24th year of his reign (that is, a few months before Alexander Blackhall of Barra completed his negotiation with the Aberdonian Alexander

Blackhall of that Ilk), James VI. granted for good service to Sir James Sandilands of Slamannan and his heirs and assigns half the lands of Barroch, Westerhous, Phillas, Aschenheid, Fuyrdailhous, sixth part of Petgovny, half the Mill of Bourty, with the superiority of Muretoun, &c., the inheritance of which (quarum hereditatem) James King, the fiar of Barra, resigned, as did William King, his father, his life rent. Whatever destiny awaited the Blackhalls, whose case might require closer investigation, it was apparently evident to the advisers of James VI. that the Kings had forfeited their right to Barra. Hence they appear to have been the first sufferers, in this example of the feudal short-sightedness of those whom fate had marked out for a more historic forfeiture a little later. A King of Barra then endeavoured to ward off the sword of fate which was about to, and did ultimately, descend upon the king of England, but Fate then took the unlovely form of a headsman, and her sword was transformed to the headsman’s axe. James King, the son of the disinherited, still proudly styling himself King of Barra, though a younger son (as a representative of those who had. rendered services to the State from that spot for so long had a just right to do) entered the service of Gustavus Adolphus, and rose to the rank of “ General-major.” When the Civil War broke out in England, and the king faced the people, the son of the man disinherited by James VI., stood sword in hand beside the son of the disinheritor. General Sir James King, as he became, commanded for King Charles in the North of England, and died Lord Eythan, taking as his designation the name of the river Ythan in Buchan, which gathers into itself the tributaries from the neighbourhood of his old home, as he had into himself the memory of the services of his fathers to the kings of Scotland. It must be admitted, however, that James King had acquired a little Dalgettian pawkiness in Sweden, and came to know Charles as well as his father had had occasion to know James, for he stipulated, before joining in the melee of the Civil War, that he should have recognised rank in the Royal Army, and be paid a pension which the king had promised him. But, in his last service in the Royal Cause, he had the honour of having his name associated as Lieutenant-General with that of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, whose memory must ever be cherished by those who can appreciate the noble, the outspoken, the gifted and the true in human nature.

Montrose at least was of that generous type so frequently associated with the championship of lost causes, which is usually vanquished, but is sometimes immortal. It is the antithesis of the type, to vary his own brave words, hallowed by his yet braver deeds,

Which either fears its fate too much,
Or whose deserts are small,
And dares not put it to the touch,
To gain or lose it all.

Lord Eythan died in Sweden about 1651-2 without male issue, and the title died with him. (Davidson’s Inverurie, p. 256. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXX., p. 135.)

It will have been noted that the forfeiture of the Kings took place in 1590, for their “resignation” without evident compensation implies forfeiture, and from the deed chronicling the forfeiture of the Blackhalls of Barra, we shall learn that the Kings were coupled with them in this

process. This forfeiture of the Kings, to be precise as to date, was registered at Dalkeith on March 24th, 1590. That is, it occurred after the death of William Blackhall of that Ilk, and before the retour of his successor, the Aberdonian Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk. Sir James Sandiland’s possession of Barra was not of long duration. On the 26th of January, 1598-99, in the 32nd year of his reign, King James VI. granted to George Seton, the tutor of Meldrum, all the properties already named, which were comprised in the sunny half of Barra, and which, together with the “Knaifschip,” are stated to have belonged to Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk, the Blackhalls of Barra as such not being mentioned, their representative at that date having acquired Blackhall and the offices from his very distant Aberdonian kinsman, and being at the moment “ of that Ilk.” These lands are stated to have reverted to the Crown in consequence of an alienation of the same by Blackhall of that Ilk, or his predecessors, without the royal consent (ob alienationem per eum aut ejus predecessores factam absque licentia regis). (Reg. Mag. Sig.) At the same time, the King granted to the same George Seton, the shadow half of the same lands once owned by William King of Barra and his son James King, and which are stated to have reverted to the Crown for a similar reason. George Seton was also given power to make public the consequences of the “recognitions” named (cumpotestate dicto Geo. pro deciaratione dictarum recognitionum prosequendi). The italics are mine, and intended to draw attention to the fact stated in the deed, that the King possessed both portions of Barra for granting, in consequence of the forfeiture of Blackhall of that Ilk and Barra, and of King of Barra, on account of unsanctioned alienation by them of their properties. In the original document (Reg. Mag. Sig.) the name of Sir James Sandilands, who got the shadow half of Barra (King’s) in 1590 (Reg. Mag. Sig.), is not so much as mentioned, and it cannot be gathered what special alienation of the properties is referred to. The family transfers of property in the immediately preceding generations were confirmed by the reigning sovereign of the time, in the case both of the Blackhalls and the Kings. We can only conclude, under these circumstances, that the alienations in question were of a more remote period. Whether a Blackhall or a King took the initiative in alienation cannot be determined by this deed, but, as 1 have already stated, the early history of Barra, and the manoeuvres of Alexander Blackhall of Barra to acquire Blackhall on the death of William Blackhall of that Ilk, indicate the probability of the possession of Barra by the Blackhalls before the Kings acquired their portion. [In the Records, of the Sh^ritt Court of Aberdeenshire (Nezu Spalding Club, Vol. I.) the names of Blackhall of Barra and of King of Barra occur in relation to various transactions on several occasions. At times they act in the same capacity and in the same matter; at others they act separately. Prior to 1575 Blackhall is distinguished from “King of Bourty” as ‘‘Blakhall of Barrauche” or of “ Barrauche of Bourty.” On one occasion (in 1510) Blackhall of Barra is designated simply “ Wilzeame of Barroche,” while on the same occasion King appears as Wilzeamc King uf Bourty. In 1575 Blackhall is called Blackhall of Barrauche, and King “portioner of Barrauche.” In 1575-76 Blackhall is Blackhall of Barraucht, and in 1576 King is also of Barraucht. Finally, in 1595, that is after the confiscation, both King and Blackhall arc brackutted together among the barons absent from a SederunUof Head Court as “I), de Barrauche King et Blakhall.” There is thus a preponderance in the identification of the Blackhalls with Barra, which appears to me to argue prior possession of Barra proper by that family. If this conclusion be correct, the initiative in the feudal irregularity which cost both families so dearly probably lay with iht: Blackhalls, and was, as has been suggested, the cause of the quarrel which ultimately divided them.] Finally, on June 15th, 1615, James VI. granted and gave anew to George Seton, Chancellor of Aberdeen, all the lands of Barra, which Seton had resigned into the King’s hands, for incorporation as the free barony of Barra when Barra Castle was ordained to be its chief seat. (Reg. Mag. Sig.) Triumphs of a certain kind, great and small, differ in size but not in nature. Was gibt’s? Das ist das Kaiserliche Siegel—Dem Fun ten Piccolomini.

The newly made baron of Barra was not so important a personage as the newly made Prince, Piccolomini, although he might have questioned the correctness of this statement, for the laird of that day, who was transformed into a baron, was not disposed to undervalue himself, nor was he in fear of being undervalued by others. The historian of the Roses of Kilravock, a clerical cadet of the family, views all contemporary history from the dates at which the. heads of that family succeeded one another! The gratification of the Setons on the general results of the forfeiture of the Blackhalls and Kings was, therefore, in all probability considerable. This consummation was not, however, reached without at least one very regrettable incident.

During the family animosities originated by these changes, there appears to have been a rapprochement between the Blackhalls of Barra, with whom Strachan of Tippertie (at one time the warder of Blackhall) was associated, and the Setons, as against the Kings. Among the very large number of Setons and their adherents, for whom caution was taken, to secure immunity from the animosity of the K.ngs, the names of Alexander Blackhall, portioner of Barra, and of his brother, James Blackhall, are found. These are the persons for whom, as we have seen, Alexander Burnet of Leys became cautioner that they should not molest the Kings. The Blackhalls of Barra, then, seem to have made common cause with the Setons against the Kings. It may be that :.n the examination of some ancient charter now lost or hidden, it was found that the lands alienated to the Blackhalls of Barra by the head of the family of that Ilk (if, as I believe, we are justified in assuming such a transaction took place) had again been divided by the former and part sold to the ancestor of the Kings. In this case the Kings might regard themselves as injured by the Blackhalls of Barra, and' the latter would find something in common with the encroaching Setons. In any case, all these precautions do not, unfortunately, seem to have been sufficient to protect Alexander Seton, the heir apparent to Meldrum, from the animosity of the ousted Kings, for, in 1596, William K;ng, still called of Barra, his brother David, and their accomplices, slew him. (Davidson’s Inverurie, p. 103.) “The slaughter may have arisen,” remarks Dr. Davidson, “in some dispute about the transfer of land,” and from what has now been stated, this seems extremely probable. It is pleasant to remember that the good name of an old family thus tarnished in a private feud, under circumstances provocative of wrath, and in an age when the rapier quickly left its scabbard, was redeemed by the distinguished soldier already mentioned, who was the brother of the perpetrators of this “slaughter,” to call it by no harsher name.

The forfeiture of the Blackhalls of Barra, if not contemporaneous with, must have soon followed that of the Kings, for, on the 31st of May, 1592, we find Alexander Burnet of Leys became cautioner for a number of persons in 300 merks each, among whom there appear “Alexander Blakhall in Leyis,” “William Blakhall in Leyis” and “Adam Blakhall in Leyis,” “that the provost, bailies, council and inhabitants of Aberdene, heritors of the salmon fishing in the waters of the Done and Dee between Kincardine Oneill and Abirdene, and Johnne Irwing of Kingcoussy, keeper of the said fishing, shall be harmless of the said persons.” (Reg. Sec. Sig., Vol. IV., pp. 747-48.) As William Blakhall in Leyis some time later had a grant of Finnersie, it may be assumed that these three Blackhalls, dispossessed of their interest in Barra, found a refuge on the home farm of their cousin, the laird of Leys, and that the eldest of them, Alexander Blackhall, late of Barra, was not yet generally recogniscd as Blackhall of that Ilk, although he had already acquired the property from his Aberdonian kinsman. To that worthy man Alexander Burnet of Leys, reference will again be made.

One can only surmise what the object of Alexander Blackhall of Barra could have been, in casting eyes on the comparatively small property and the offices of the head of the Blackhall family, while he himself was possessed of a considerable estate. It is probable that, in the examination of documents in the interest of the only daughter or sister of William Blackhall of that Ilk, some fear of the consequences of the ancient alienation of Barra by Blackhall of that Ilk, or by one of his own more immediate ancestors, may have seized him and John Leslie, with whose consent as interdictor the negotiations with the heir of William Blackhall were carried on. It may have been hoped that the transfer of all the properties to one Blackhall might obviate the consequcnces of some former act of feudal irregularity. It very naturally never seems to have occurred to the laird of Barra and John Leslie, that the situation might have been met by selling Barra to Alexander Blackhall. Had they contemplated any such action, however, it is not at all probable that the Aberdonian heir to the Blackhalls of that Ilk would have been in a position to act upon their suggestion, for the junior branch at Barra appears at this period to have been much wealthier than the chief’s family. But such a manoeuvre, no doubt, would have been of little avail in saving the properties from the clutches of the lawyers of the needy King, who had already, as we have learned, laid hands on that portion of Barra owned by the Kings. James VI. could only have risen to the magnanimity of the victim of Flodden after he had entered into possession of the inheritance of the Plantagenets and Tudors. As a matter of fact, he did later confirm the charter by which the Aberdonian Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk, alienated Blackhall and the offices to Alexander Blackhall of Barra. This took place on August the 2nd, 1610. (Reg. Mag. Sig.)

Janet Strachan, the widow of William Blackhall of that Ilk, was now dead, and her interest extinguished. Her daughter or grand-daughter, Margaret, was retoured heir-general to her father or brother, William Blackhall, on July nth in that year. The propinquity of dates of the charter of confirmation and of this retour is interesting, and from the terms of the latter rather suggestive of a knowledge by both parties of the impending confirmation. The confirmation of the charter of Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk, therefore, seems purposeless, unless it was intended to make some tardy recompense to Blackhall of Barra for his forfeiture, by thus recognising the transaction by which the latter became Blackhall of that Ilk.

In view of the Mar trial still in the future, it need only be mentioned further, that in this document of 1610, the lands and offices are declared to be held of the Crown.


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