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Braemar Highlands
Part the Second - Chapter III


Durward—Lumsden—Mulloch—Coutts—M‘Hardy—Stewart, etc.

'THE origin and derivation of surnames' says one, ‘is always a curious subject ; and while replete with philological interest, is sure to produce something to excite amusement. The study of surnames, moreover, often supplies some curious contributions to moral philosophy. It does at least exhibit frail humanity in curious aspects, by making known the shifts whereby possessors of plebeian-sounding names endeavour to escape the literal and grammatical sense of their patronymics.’

The origin and derivation of the surnames peculiar to Braemar well exemplify the first of these remarks : they are curious and amusing. The second is not at all applicable, either to the Braemarians or to Highlanders in general: their tendencies are all in the opposite direction. So much so, that not only do they pride themselves in their distinctive patronymics, whatever their sound may be, but also in any phrase, or as it is called, ‘tee-name' which from any peculiar circumstance may attach itself to them, and by which they are distinguished. Several legends, therefore, bearing on this curious and interesting subject, Braemar surnames, will form the subject of this chapter.

One of the most ancient in Braemar was that of Durward. According to tradition, it originated thus. During the first stay of Malcolm Canmore in Braemar after he ascended the throne, some of his great men conspired against him, and, but for the faithfulness of one of his body-guard, would have succeeded in their purpose of assassination. When the turbulent thanes came in a body to Malcolm’s chamber, the faithful man shut the door, and kept it closed against the united strength of them all, until Malcolm had time to give the alarm from a window, after which he was speedily rescued from his perilous position.

He was rewarded with the lands of Coull and Migvie, and was henceforth known as Allen Door-ward, contracted afterwards to Durward; and from him sprang the Durward family, once possessed of considerable property in the Braes of Mar.

The ancient village of Kincardine O'Neil is said to have been built by him, a bridge also over the Dee, and a spittal in its close vicinity—both very important things in those days ; but no trace now remains of either. Allen seems to have been an amiable character, as all traces remaining of him are in connection with some kindly or noble deed.

Another legend gives the origin of a trio of names —Lumsden, Mulloch, and Coutts. It runs thus : On one occasion the Danes were terribly incensed against Malcolm Canmore, and came against him with an army of 30,000 men, under the command of General Mulloch. The Scottish king could only raise 7000 men, whom he marched through Athole, Glen Tilt, and Braemar to Culblean, where the Danes were encamped. Twelve men were sent to him from the Thane of Argyle ; but Malcolm was so enraged at the smallness of the number, that he ordered them home. Anxious, however, to see the fight, the men hid themselves among those in the rear.

The Scots Occupied the moor stretching from Loch Dawin eastward ; the Danes, the heights sloping from these hills to Mill of Dinnet. On a Monday morning the battle began. The Argyle men, anxious to get a good view of the fight, went up to a hill overlooking the plain. It happened to be the one from which the Danish general superintended the fight; and all his men being off with orders, they killed him at once. A cairn was afterwards raised upon the spot, and the hill is still called by his name.

Up to this time the Danes had been driving everything before them; but as they were receiving no orders, they stood still a breathing space. Just at that time the Argyle men showed themselves on the top of the hill, cheering loudly. The Danes began to waver; the Scots pushed on, led by Allen Durward. Malcolm also left his station, and pushed forward with his nobles. The heights were taken, and the Danes fled.

At the Hill of Mortlach they made a stand, but were so cut down that a brook running past it is still called the ‘Bleedy Burn' The pursuit continued almost to the seaside, and by that time the Danes were all but exterminated.

One of them, however, managed to get unobserved into one of the old Piets’ houses, and hid himself in the opening in the roof for the egress of smoke, called the ‘Lum'. Here he continued until the fury of the people had passed away. Then he ventured to creep out, and meeting with a kindly reception he settled in the country, and was known always as the ‘Lutris Dane,’—a name which, in the contracted form of ‘Lumsden,’ has been perpetuated in his descendants.

After the battle was over, Malcolm, much fatigued, retired to his castle on Loch Kinoirdand, so the legend goes, on lying down to sleep was sadly annoyed with a continued howling which assailed his ears. Calling the captain of his guard, Allen Durward, he instructed him to go and ‘coutts' i.e. still, these dogs, as he could get no sleep for them.

The captain and some of his men proceeded forthwith to still the dogs, but found, to their great amusement, that the howling did not proceed from dogs, but from some babies which had recently made their appearance. As they knew his Majesty would fully appreciate the joke, they returned to tell him of their non-success, and to suggest that the only way. they could carry his orders into effect was by naming them Coutts.

To this comical mode of couttsing Malcolm gave his sanction, and the children were afterwards taken under the royal patronage. On growing up, they were put into possession of a great part of Cromar, and kept themselves a distinct clan. This Clan Coutts, during one of its feuds with the Clan Allen of Corgarff, were cut off to one man near the Vannich Hill.

While residing for a short time near the place in Corgarjf, I found that the local tradition of the battle ran thus :—

Near a hill in Cor garjf called Diedhsoider a smart battle took place between the Clan Coutts and Clan Allen of that place, about the year 1508 ; and some miles farther up Corgarill where the Vannich Hill rises, near a hunting-shiel belonging to Sir Charles Forbes, is a large stone known as the Clach C'outtsich’ where the captain of the party was killed, the rest having all been cut off save one. This one surviving

Coutts had three sons, from whom sprang three distinct families of Couttses, whose distinctive appellations, or tee-names, being none of the most refined, I may as well leave them unrecorded.

Another and still more curious origin of a name very common in Braemar, is found in the following legend. Before giving it, I may remark that Malcolm Canmore’s forest-laws seem to have resembled those made by the Norman conqueror. in severity, which made it death for any one to kill a stag, and a felony punishable with loss of limb to be found trespassing in a forest.

A young man named M‘Leod had been hunting one day in the .Royal Forest. A favourite hound of the king’s having attacked M‘Leod, was killed by him. The king soon heard of the slaughter of his favourite, and was exceedingly angry—so much so, that M‘Leod was condemned to death.

The gibbet was erected on Craig Choinnich, i.e. Kenneth’s Craig. As there was less of justice than revenge in the sentence, little time was permitted ere it was carried into execution. The prisoner was led out by the north gate of the castle. The king, in great state, surrounded by a crowd of his nobles, followed in procession. Sorrowing crowds of the people came after, in wondering amazement. As they moved slowly on, an incident occurred which arrested universal attention. A young woman with a child in her arms came rushing through the crowd, and, throwing herself before the king, pleaded with him to spare her husband’s life, though it should be at the expense of all they possessed.

Her impassioned entreaties were met with silence. Malcolm was not to be moved from his purpose of death. Seeing that her efforts to move the king were useless, she made her way to her husband, and throwing her arms round him, declared that she would not leave him—she would go and die with him.

Malcolm was somewhat moved by the touching scene. Allen Durward noticing the favourable moment, ventured to put in the suggestion that it was a pity to hang such a splendid archer.

‘A splendid archer, is he?’ replied the king; ‘then he shall have his skill tried.’

So he ordered that M‘Leod’s wife and child should be placed on the opposite side of the river; something to serve as a mark was to be placed on the child’s head. If M‘Leod succeeded in hitting the mark, without injuring his wife or child, his life was to be spared, otherwise the sentence was to be carried into immediate execution. Accordingly (so the legend goes) the young wife and her child were put across the river, and placed on Tom-ghainmheine; according to some, a little farther down the river, near where a boat-house once stood. The width of the Deewas to be the distance separating M‘Leod from his mark.

He asked for a bow and two arrows; and having examined each with the greatest care, he took his position. The eventful moment come, the people gathered round him, and stood in profound silence. On the opposite side of the river his wife stood, the central figure of a crowd of eager bystanders, tears glistening on her cheeks as she gazed alternately at her husband and child in dumb emotion.

M'Leod took aim; but his body shook like an aspen leaf in the evening breeze. This was a trial for him far harder than death. Again he placed himself in position; but he trembled to such a degree that he could not shoot, and, turning to the king, who stood near, he said in a voice scarcely articulate in its suppressed agony, This is hard.’

But the king relented not: so the third time he fell into the attitude; and as he did so, almost roared, ‘This is hard!’ Then, as if all his nervousness and unsteadiness had escaped through the cry, he let the arrow fly. It struck the mark. The mother seized her child, and in a transport of joy seemed to devour it with kisses; while the pent-up emotion of the crowd found vent through a loud cry of wonder and triumph, which repeated itself again and again as the echoes rolled slowly away among the neighbouring hills.

The king now approached M‘Leod, and, after confirming his pardon, inquired why he, so sure of hand and keen of sight, had asked two arrows?

'Because' replied M'Leod, ‘had I missed the mark, or hurt my wife or child, I was determined not to miss you./

The king grew pale, and turned away as if undecided what to do. His better nature prevailed; so he again approached M'Leod, and with kindly voice and manner told him that he would receive him into his body-ghard, and that he would be well provided for.

‘Never!’ answered the undaunted Celt. 'After the painful proof to which you have just put my heart, I could never love you enough to serve you faithfully.'.

The king in amazement cried out, ‘Thou art a Hardy! and as Hardy thou art, so Hardy thou shalt be.' From that time M'Leod went under the appellation of Hardy, while his descendants were termed the M'Hardys, Mac being the Gaelic word for son.

‘Why, that is a corruption of the story of William Tell.' I rather uncourteously remarked, on hearing for the first time this M'Hardy legend.

The old lady who Had just related it, retorted with considerable warmth, and ended by asking when the story of William Tell took place.

‘About the year 1307' I replied.

‘There,’ she said, with such an air of triumph,  I thought that: the William Tell story happened in 1307, and ours in 1060 or thereabouts, more than 200 years before. Na, na! our story is nae a corruption of William Tell, though William Tell’s may weel be a corruption of ours.’

I ought to state, in regard to this story, that there is a different rendering as to M‘Leod’s offence. The various reading is this: Malcolm Canmore had some monstrous animal which he kept on a small island on the Dee, near Braemar Castle, known to some of the Qld people as he lie na Taddi.e. Island of the Monster; it is now called Ue na Meannl Island of the Young Roe.

The inhabitants of Braemar were taxed for its support. They had to give in turn a cow, etc., to satisfy its rather voracious appetite; for it was of the crocodile order.

When it came to the turn of M‘Leod’s mother to supply the wants of the Tadd’ she felt the imposition to be very hard indeed, as she had only one cow; and in her bitterness she fully roused the spirit of her son, by saying tauntingly in his presence, that it was a pity there was none of the race of the M'Leod left, or they would have had spirit enough to rid the country of such a nuisance.

In the course of the following night young M'Leod managed to despatch the monster; and as his crime was soon discovered, he was sentenced to death for his temerity. His house stood on the bank of the Dee, near where the boat crosses to Allen More, Craig Choinnich behind it, or; which the king in his rage immediately ordered the gibbet to be erected. In all the rest of the details the stories are coincident.

There is, however, a more likely origin for the name, which goes thus :—

In the fourteenth century the lands of Corgarff were held by the ‘valiant Hardie/ who was of French origin, and obtained the name of Hardie or Hardy, while in attendance upon John King of France, who was a prisoner in England at the same time as David King of Scotland.

The two kings were confined together; and during a visit which Edward of England made his prisoners one day, he ordered his cup-bearer to fill up a glass of wine and give it to the most worthy. The cupbearer filled up the wine and handed it to the Scotch monarch, on which the Frenchman gave him a hearty box on the ear.

‘Tout, Hardy' was King David’s laconic reproof.

The exactness with which this appellation (which had the force of hardy or fearless one) answered to his character, fixed it from that moment on the French gentleman, who was ever afterwards known as ‘Hardy.’ He came over to Scotland with King David, who gave him the lands of Corgarff by charter and letters patent under the Royal seal in 1388; and his descendants, who still reside there, call themselves the M‘Hardys, i.e. Sons of Hardy, the motto on their coat of arms being ‘Tout, Hardie.’

Stuart is another name very common in Braemar. From an old record belonging to one of the residents, I noted down the following account of its origin:— Duncan King of the Scots had two principal men whom he employed on all matters of importance— Macbeth and Banquho. They, travelling together in a wood one day, met three fairies : the first, after making her obeisance, saluted Mabeth as Thane of Glamis; the second, Thane of Cawdor; the third, King of Scotland.

When Banquho complained loudly of their unequal dealing in giving all the honours to Macbeth, one of them thus addressed him: ‘Be content, Banquho; for though you will never be King of Scotland, a race of kings will proceed from you that will rule it for ever.’ Macbeth was scarce warm in his seat as king ere he thought of the prediction given to Banquho ; and to prevent its fulfilment, caused him to be killed, and all his posterity. But by some means Fleance, one of his sons, escaped, and fled to Wales, where he prospered greatly, and was married to the prince’s daughter of that court.

Fleance had a son named Walter, who returned to Scotland in the time of Edgar, Malcolm Canmore’s son. And Edgar not only restored Walter to all Banquho’s estates and honours, but made him steward over all his house,—the name and office of Stewart becoming hereditary in his posterity.

‘From this Walter the steward descended Robert Stuart, who succeeded David Bruce in the kingdom of Scotland. For this Robert II., surnamed Stuart, became King of Scotland by descent from the eldest sister of David Bruce, and was also extracted from the ancient princes of Wales, by Fleance, as before said ; thus restoring British blood to the throne of Scotland!

Thus the name of Stuart originated ; and in early times it was one of the predominant names. Two other surnames are the noble ones of Mar and Duff. The following account of their origin, which also I have picked up in the district, have more of a matter-of-fact appearance than some of the others. To that of Mar, as being earliest connected with Braemar history, I give the precedence.

Many years before the Christian era, a great warrior named Martach settled on the lands afterwards known as Mar. His descendants continued to hold possession until about the year 982, when Graeme, the Scots king, raised one of them to the dignity of Thane. At the time when Malcolm Canmore ascended the throne, Marticus, son of Gilchrist the first Thane, held the honour, and rendered Malcolm great assistance in quelling the intestine discords of his kingdom; and, in particular, by bribing the captains of a strong body of men, who had encamped at Kildrummy on their way to join the rebels’ camp at Monymusk, to leave the country quietly, etc.

After Malcolm’s campaign on the banks of the Spey had terminated successfully, he repaired to Forfar, where in 1057 he convoked a great meeting of all the estates in his kingdom ; at which meeting a great many of the thanes were raised to the dignity of Earl. Among them were the Thanes of Mar, Fife, Angus, etc.

Another act which Malcolm passed, with consent of this Parliament, was that the peers were, for more distinction, to take surnames, which should descend to their families in succession. Mar was adopted by the newly appointed Earl Marticus. His lands had for a long time, from his great ancestor Martach, been called Mar ; but independently of the title he derived from them, his descendants from henceforth, in all their branches, were to bear the name of Mar.

In like manner, Duff, or M‘Duff, was confirmed to the family of the newly appointed Earl of Fife, from their great ancestor Prince Fifus, who had also the additional one of Duffus, or Duff. As the family of Mar is intimately connected with Braemar history down to the year 1715, a brief sketch of it will be given at the conclusion of the earlier legends; while the Duffs’ connection with it, which only begins at that period, comes in more appropriately after.


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