Finla, the first Chief of the Farquharsons
THE origin of the Farquharson family is thus given in Buchanan’s Rise
of the Clans: The
Farquharsons, a numerous clan on the banks of the Dee,
trace their origin from the German Catti,
or Clan Chattan. Macduff Thane of Fife, their Phylarch, had an
ancestor named Sheagh or Shaw Macduff, second son to Constantine
third Earl of Fife, and great-grandchild to Duncan Macduff, last
Thane and first Earl of Fife.
This Sheagh was captain under Malcolm IV., in
the expeditions against the Murrays of the province of Murray, in A.D. 1163.
For his valour Malcolm made him governor of Inverness
gave him the lands of Peaty,
the forest of Stratherin, which
belonged to the rebels. The country people gave him the name of
McIntosh, or Thane’s son, which continued to his progeny; yet some
of them claimed the name of Shaw.
‘One of them was Shaw of Rothiemurchits, whose
offspring settled in Strathdee,
and were named Farquharson. From Ferquard Shaw, the eldest son of
this family, are the Farquharsons of
Invercauld', Inverey, Monaltrie,
With this aristocratic mode of tracing the Farquharson descent, the Braemar legends,
though somewhat plebeian, tally strangely, and are not a little
About the beginning of the fourteenth century, a poor man came from Spey
side to Braemar. His
name was Fearchar Shaw, alias a
Gaelic phrase, signifying gleyed,
or one-eyed Fearchar. He was a basket-maker, or rather
wicker-worker,—a trade of no small importance in those days, as
reins, currachs, harness, and even houses, were made of wicker-work.
While cutting twigs near the Linn
of Dee one
day, he unfortunately lost his footing, fell in, and was swept away
by the relentless torrent Search was made for his body, but it was
unavailing, until his wife bethought herself of soliciting the aid
of Mary. So she repaired to the Virgin!s
Well at Glen
and spent the night there, praying Mary to intercede with her Son to
discover the body of her husband.
Her importunity (so the legend goes) was not unrewarded ; for, as
she passed along the side of the river on her way home in the
morning, she saw the body of her husband, rolled in his plaid, lying
on a sandy. flat near the Dee,
which was henceforth called Sliabh
Flier chair, i.e. Fearchar’s
Plain. The body was soon after buried in the churchyard of
The widow, with her son Donald, continued to live at Cnoc
Mucan in Glen
when the boy grew up he entered the service of Stuart, who was then
laird of the estate now called
The laird, Stuart, had only one child, a daughter, and very
beautiful. One can scarcely admire the young lady’s taste in
fancying Donald, Fearchar’s son, yet she did so ; and the
clandestine attachment ended in an elopement. And as Donald had
taken the precaution to build a shieling beforehand in Glen
they took up their residence there, Donald supporting his young wife
by hunting. A stone of that shieling is still to be seen, and is
that mentioned by Her Majesty the Queen.
One furious winter evening, a considerable time after the elopement,
Mrs. Farquharson requiring medical aid, Donald set out to procure it
for her. At no great distance from the shieling he met a woman
dressed in green. I forget what passed between them, but Donald held
on his way; and shortly after the woman entered the hut, and
'rendered Mrs. Farquharson all necessary aid. The woman, after
having dressed the child, handed him to his mother, told her it was
a son, and that if she would take care not to touch or look at him
until her return, she would give him a weird which would make him
the greatest man in the kingdom.
After the woman’s departure, the young mother, naturally desirous to
see her son, gratified her curiosity to the full, and had scarcely
put the child back into the same position when the woman returned,
looking much displeased, and said:
'Now, I know you have been looking at him, though I have not been
here to see, so I can do little for him now to what I would have
done; but he and his posterity will prosper, and be great to the
tenth generation.' This child was Fhionladh Mor, i.e. Finla
the Great, founder of the Clan Farquharson.
Shortly after the birth of Finla, the Laird Stuart was reconciled to
the young couple, and they returned to his house. When the old
gentleman died, Donald, his son-in-law, succeeded as laird; and as
from his father he was called Mac Ferquhair, i.e. in
English, Farquhar’s son, the name was continued to his descendants.
Donald, the new laird, was not permitted to take possession quietly;
but finally he succeeded in putting down all who opposed his claims,
and held for a time undisturbed possession. After his death Finla
was duly installed laird in his stead, and his brother Fearchar got
the little lairdship of the Coldrach in Glen
the laird of Rothiemnrchiis being
related to the old laird Stuart, again laid claim to his estate,
believing that he had a better right to it than the Farquharsons.
Might was right in those days; So the two rival parties met on the
banks of a small stream north from Invercauld. After
a severe conflict, victory declared for Finla Mor. The stream was
henceforth named The
Burn of the Defeat; hence
originated the name Inverchalla, i.e. The
Mouth of the Burn of the Defeat; in English it is Invercauld. The Rothiemurchus men
were pursued up the Dee; and
the laird, poor Seumas-na-Gruaig, i.e. James
of the Flowing Locks, fell at the Craggins, and
the feud ended.
Finla’s troubles were not yet over, however. The Glen
of Aberairder was
full of small lairdships. Most of these proprietors being related to
the laird Stuart, looked upon the Farquharsons as usurpers, and so
were very envious of their prosperity. From this source arose
innumerable strifes and battles, until the country was becoming
desolated. But on Finla being appointed Bailie for Strathdee by
the Earl of Mar, he resolved to bring this state of matters to a
summary close—all the more readily when he had found out that these
lairds had much to do with raising the Rothiemurchus feud.
Finla Mor accordingly summoned them to meet him in Aberairder. A
large barn served for courthouse; nineteen of them promptly attended
at the appointed time. The Farquharsons came in great strength to
enforce obedience to their mandates.
The trial commenced, and the guilt of all as implicated
in some foul deed, being clearly proven, sentence was passed
accordingly. The mode of administering justice was summary: they
were called in singly; and no sooner was sentence passed than it was
carried into execution, by hanging them up on the rafters of a part
of the barn partitioned off from the rest, and that to the number of
eighteen. The i last and nineteenth, seeing none of his companions
reappear, began to suspect something was wrong, and succeeded in
making his escape.
These executions made a tremendous stir among the relations of the
culprit, and the Farquharsons were cited to appear before a court
sitting in Aberdeen. As
those executed really deserved their doom, they could not make out a
charge of assassination against them ; so a charge of private
administration of justice and secret execution Was agreed upon. But
the force of this charge, equal in guilt to that of murder, was
evaded by the defenders stating that the place in which the
execution took place had more windows, in it than there were days in
the year. This statement in a sense was actually correct, as the
barn, like many of the houses in Aberdeenshire at
the time, was made of wicker-work, and of course had openings
This cunning defence procured the Farquharsons’ discharge; and the
Earl of Mar was so pleased with his deputy’s vigorous measures, that
he gave him all the vacant lairdships. The good did not end there ;
for the rest of his turbulent neighbours were so overawed, that the
internal peace of Braemar was
not again infringed during the life of Finla Mor.
Though Finla had thus made peace at home, his prowess was yet
sufficiently tried from another quarter. The wealth of the
Highlanders in those days consisted principally in flocks and herds;
so predatory expeditions into their neighbours’ lands were but too
common, as then
‘The good old rule, the simple plan
Obtained, that they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can.’
It was generally, however, the cattle of hostile clans and rival
tribes that these ancient heroes plundered. Only when at feud with
each other did they plunder, or ‘harry,’ as they phrased it, those
of their own race. On the other hand, the cattle of the lowland
farmers were considered lawful property, and the Saxons themselves
usurpers, by whom they had been unlawfully dispossessed.
Finla Mor, therefore, had still work enough, and that sometimes of a
dark enough nature, to prevent the Rannoch, Spey
side, or Lochaber
enriching themselves at the expense of the Braemarians.
One or two incidents, displaying the best side of his, Katrin
surveillance, may be noticed.
One evening some of his shepherds brought the information that they
had observed a party of Katrin I skulking among the hills. The laird
went out alone to reconnoitre, and soon discovered five young men.
With his usual good fortune, he succeeded in coming upon them
unawares, and, snatching their arms from them ere they had time to
use them, drove them home before him prisoners.
Having reached home, he observed to them that he saw no reason why
they should not at once be justiced, i.e. hanged.
They pleaded in self-defence that they had done no harm.
‘Only for want of opportunity' retorted Finla.
‘Armed men do not prowl about my place for nothing.’
‘That is quite true, chief' said one of them: ‘it was our design to
carry off some cattle, as we were in great straits at home; but as
we have taken nothing, have pity upon us. Let us go, and we will
On that condition he allowed them to depart.
To this system of cattle-lifting no idea of moral turpitude was
attached ; so far from it, that they were scarcely considered men until
they had successfully accomplished something of that nature: hence
‘To toom a fauld, and sweep a glen,
Are just the deeds of pretty men.’
A curious incident, illustrative of this, happened to Finla after
his successful rencounter with the five men in the Balloch-bhuie forest.
While out hunting one day, he went down into a hollow to quench his
thirst at a spring. As he stooped down to drink, a man of gigantic
proportions leaped upon him from among the heather. Finla jerked
himself round and seized the man, who muttered, ‘ Grip hard, for you
will find now that you have a man.’
‘Not a man, but a cowardly dog,’ replied Finla, ‘who steals behind
to attack his foe.’
‘An advantage that Finla Mor did not despise when he attacked boys/
retorted the stranger.
‘I understand' said Finla, ‘and one of these boys wishes now to
repay me.’ So the two tightened their grasp of each other, the Kern
above and Finla below. Thus they struggled and twisted, until,
entirely exhausted, it .seemed as if the duel must end through sheer
fatigue. But the wondrous power of endurance and activity of Finla
prevailed against the almost gigantic strength of his antagonist ;
and he held him pinned to the ground, exhausted and breathless.
‘Do your pleasure' at length cried the stranger, ‘I am at your
‘Do you yield yourself my prisoner?’ demanded Finla.
‘Yes, since I can do no better.’ So the two bent their steps to Invercauld. Finla,
curious to know the cause of the surprise at the fountain, made
inquiry. So the stranger, by way of explanation, told him that he
was the eldest son of a chief, and was also about to marry the
daughter of another chief, but had never done anything to prove
himself a man.
‘When,’ continued he, ‘the five young men returned whom you made
prisoners, I was surprised at the account they gave : one to five
was no ordinary feat. Here is a chance now, I thought, as hitherto I
had not met my equal. And I imagined that if I could only contrive a
private meeting with Finla Mor, take him prisoner, and exact a
ransom, I would then have done something to prove myself worthy of
my bride. So, after announcing my purpose to my future
father-in-law, I set out for Braemar; and
you know the rest.’
‘Your failure will be punishment enough then,’ said Finla, ‘but I’ll
not promise any more adventurers the same lenity.’
‘You need not' replied the stranger; ‘for when people hear that I
have lost with you, there are not many more in the Highlands likely
to seek the same trial.’ So the young chief was hospitably
entertained, and allowed to go on his way in the morning.
Before relating the sequel to this affair, I may notice another
piece of good fortune which tradition says happened to Finla. One
evening, in the gloaming, a stranger came to claim the hospitality
of Invercanid. A
very suspicious-lookirig character he was, being wrapped in a great
cloak, with a slouched kind of hat over his face, and seemed
altogether very desirous of concealing his person as much as
Notwithstanding all these drawbacks, a claim of the kind could not
be refused in the Highlands. So
the lady, with no very good grace, went about the preparation
of supper. Soon after, Finla returned home, and hearing of the
suspicious-looking stranger, went in to make his personal
observations. After a brief inspection of his guest’s physiognomy,
he gave his wife to understand that she must mend her manners. So
the best cheer that Invercauld could
produce was set before the hungry stranger, who did ample justice to
all, and then retired to rest, apparently much pleased with his
Next morning Finla accompanied him a considerable distance, showing
him how to get to Strathavon by
Dearg&nA. Inch Rory route,
discoursing as they went on of Finla’s present standing and future
prospects, of the Rothiemurchus clams to the estate, etc.; and at
length they parted with mutual expressions of good-will.
Not long after, a letter was forwarded to Invercauld bearing
the Royal seal. On opening it, Finla, my informant stated, found
himself promoted to some great honour—‘she wasna richt sure what it
was, but she thoucht it was to be Royal Standard-bearer of Scotland; then
confirmed in the possession of all his property; and lastly, that
all that remained of Crown rights in
made over to him, in consideration of the hospitality shown to His
Majesty, for no less a personage had been the suspicious-looking
It was not, however, until after the death of the king, when the
Regent called out the Scots to resist the English king, and thwart
his purpose of marrying his son to the Princess Mary, that Finla,
with the flower of Strathdee,
joined the army as Royal Standard-bearer of Scotland; and
while Finla and his men lay in Edinburgh,
waiting for the assembling of the troops, an incident occurred which
forms a fitting sequel to the rencounter at the fountain.
He was one evening promenading the streets at a pretty late hour.
Some one, coming in an opposite direction, wished to ‘crop the
causey.’ To this Finla
would not yield, unless the aggressor could prove his right to it by
superior prowess; so the two drew their swords. Finla was alone, but
this unknown had a suite. Nothing daunted, Finla planted himself
firmly on the contested spot, and, drawing his claymore, he made it
describe a circle round him, within which no one had the temerity to
venture, while every weapon put forth to parry was either splintered
to pieces or sent whirling into the air.
A private signal, however, was increasing the number of assailants
to an alarming extent, while Finla’s shout of 'Braemar!’
brought no response. About thirty or forty men were now assembled,
and there seemed nothing for him but to succumb. But as he once more
raised his cry, ‘ Braemar!
’ the door of a neighbouring hostelry opened, and a tall, strong
man, after a moment’s reconnoitre, rushed forward and placed himself
by the side of the chivalrous Farquhar-son, raising, as he did so,
his own war-cry.
It brought a whole swarm of Highlanders to the rescue, and the enemy
at once retired, when his unknown friends en
him to his lodgings. When he wished to know to whom he had been so
greatly indebted, one of them said jocularly, ‘Oh, we have seen
Finla Mor before this.’ In that voice he recognised the young chief
passengers, while horses bearing their loads on
panniers plod along the muddy strand on either side. A
broad-bonneted burgher steps along the cantle; but, meeting a monk
in the robes of his order, he yields it with an abject air, and
steps off into the dirt. The armed retainer of some neighbouring
laird swaggers along the cantle; but he, too, humbly yields to his
at the fountain; and among the others were the five men whom he had
once made prisoners in the Balloch-bhuie forest.
A few days after, the gallant Finla was slain at the battle of Pinkie,
and was buried at Musselburgh.