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Braemar Highlands
Part the Third - Chapter III


Donald Oig.

IF the second Donald of Castleton little is known, except that he exchanged Castleton with the Earl of Mar for Monaltrie about the end of the reign of Queen Mary. His son, however, Donald Oig, was much more celebrated ; and round his quaint name not a few vague and mysterious legends still linger. These cannot be received as true, yet probably there existed some foundation for them. Others of them, being more historical in their nature, afford almost an epitome of his life and times. In the following chapter I give a specimen of both.

The first public appearance of Donald after being appointed bailie for the lands of Strathaven was in 1630, in connection with the burning of the Tower of Frendraughf. The history of that ‘ dolorous tower ’ is as follows:—

James Crichton of Frendraught and George Gordon of Rothiemay were near neighbours, part of their lands marching with each other. A dispute occurred about a very trifling matter, which led to an irreconcilable difference. They had recourse- to law. Crichton prevailed, and succeeded in getting Gordon pronounced outlaw. Gordon, feeling that he had been very harshly treated, resolved to set the law at defiance, and, gathering a number of restless spirits, he exceedingly annoyed Frendraught. He in turn collecting men, a fierce onslaught took place, in which Rothiemay and another Gordon of some importance were killed.

Young Gordon of Rothiemay collected in turn a number of men to revenge his father’s death. With this collection Donald Oig had something to do. An arrangement at length took place ; but in a short time the quarrel broke out anew, when one of the parties who assisted Frendraught, not thinking himself sufficiently rewarded, wished a new arrangement for himself, instead of which they came to blows, and one of his party was shot. Frendraught, afraid of the consequences of this fresh quarrel, went to the Marquis of Huntly to beg of him to try and get matters settled. The Marquis undertook the mediation, but did not succeed. He procured a meeting, but Leslie would listen to no terms: he would be revenged, and rode off in great wrath. Huntly, afraid that they might waylay Frendraught, kept him some days, and then sent his son John Viscount of Aboyne, and the laird of Rothiemay, home with him to protect and defend him if necessary.

Frendraught- persuaded the gentlemen to remain with him all night in his castle. The sleeping apartments of the Viscount and three other gentlemen, with their servants, were in the old tower. About midnight the whole of it instantaneously took fire, and the Viscount, with five others, perished in the flames. The Marquis' suspected Frendraught to be the author of the fire; but though a special commission was appointed to search out the cause, it completely failed, as torture, and even the death of some of the suspected parties, failed to extort any confession.

From this circumstance Frendraught’s property was considered fair game. The Gordons and their friends were particularly active in annoying him. At length they were cited to appear in Edinburgh to answer for their conduct, Donald Farquharson among the rest. ‘But having set caution for a thousand pounds, Donald fled, and left his brother James, a writer in Edijiburgh, to be warded until he paid the fine, which he did, and was set at liberty.’

Donald Oig acted thus by Huntly’s request, whose interests in the north would have suffered too much by the bailie’s absence to permit a few pounds to stand in the way. ‘The Marquis and Mr. James Farquharson, it is said, settled that matter quietly between themselves, the wadset of Whitehouse of Cromar being his recompense.’

When ‘the troubles’ broke out, Huntly furnished his trusty servants with arms, provided by the king; and about that time, the early part of March 1639, it is stated:—

‘Donald Farquharson of Tilliegarmouth, bailie of the Marquis’ lands of Strathaven, having got some muskets, pikes, and other armour fra him while he was dwelling in Aberdeen, and his servants bringing home their armour to him out of Aberdeen at his direction, Alexander Strachan of Glenkindie, a great covenanter, masterfully took them by the way, whereat the said Donald took great offence/ And about the end of April, it is again stated, ‘ Donald Farquharson and some Highlandmen of the Braes of Mar came down to the Mearns and plundered the Earl of Marischal’s bounds of Strathauchen, whereat the Earl was highly offended.’ This by way of reprisals, as Donald believed the Earl had much to do with the Glenkindie affair.

After the ‘trott of Turriff! where the first blood was shed in the civil war, on the 16th of May 1639, he and the laird of A bergeldie joined the barons in the Mearns with ‘a thousand footmen, all fyrelockes and archers, brought from the neirest of the Marquiesse his Highlanderes of the country of Straithaven, Strathdye, Glen Muick, and Glen Taner! He accompanied his friends the barons in their visits to Durris, Echt, Skene, and Monymusk; and he made it a special point not to forget Alexander Strachan of Glenkindie, and, as it is humorously stated, ‘lessened wonderfully his cares for the mamon of iniquity by taking all the valuables of the place under his own especial charge.'

‘After the pacification between the king and Covenanters, Donald Farquharson of Tilliegarmouth, the Lord Ogilvie,’ and a number of their friends, took ship for England on Monday, 19th October 1640. After arriving in England, Donald, according to traditional accounts, must have performed wonderful exploits. One or two of them I subjoin, though credulity itself would have some difficulty in receiving them.

Shortly after reaching London, Lord Ogilvie entered a gambling-house, and in a short time not only lost his money, but had to make over a bond on his lands to cover this debt of honour. Seeking out his friends, Ogilvie acquainted them with his misfortune.

‘Show me the house!’ cried the indignant Monal-trie. Soon after entering it he agreed to a game of piquet, and they retired to a room which Donald had previously had prepared. There were three gamblers, and it was agreed the winner was to play successively with the remaining two, and double the stakes at every game. Of course Donald was made to gain the first two.

‘You have such luck, Farquharson,’ said the third, dealing out the last card, ‘I suppose you won’t object to match this.' And he threw down Lord Ogilvie’s bond.

Donald glanced over his cards without affording the vanquished players, who stood behind him, an opportunity of affording intelligence to his antagonist.

The jette and reprise ended, Monaltrie rang the bell, the signal for Gilbert Menzies and Lord Ogilvie to appear. ‘The game’s mine; cards tabled!' cried he.‘Impossible!’ murmured his opponent.

Donald’s friends entered, and pushing away the gamblers, took their place behind them.

‘Look here, then: eight cards, and all following each other, count twenty-six ; four aces make a hundred; playing adds thirteen; and forty for capio, Le. all the tricks—in all, one hundred and fifty-three: the game at one hundred and fifty. Take your bond, Ogilvie.’ Then Donald’s own gold, and what he had gained from the blacklegs, showered into his sporran; and the ‘bonnie Scots laddies’ marched away, none daring to meddle with them. He had contrived, as the story says, to have a mirror placed behind the chair which the blacklegs had in turn occupied : to the intelligence it had afforded him he was obliged for his success.

The next exploit suited Donald Oig’s tastes better. An Italian champion came to London. A wonderful man he was, combining in himself the extraordinary qualities of wizard, magician, and necromancer. Though a stranger, he cropped the causey,” and none dared to impede, as he had not only challenged the bravest cavalier in the kingdom to combat, but-slain also all that came to meet him.

‘And what was still worse, this stranger lived magnificently, like a prince, and that at the expense of the city. This grieved them greatly, as the laws of chivalry were such that he might so live until vanquished by a champion of the challenged city. So the citizens offered a measure of gold to the man who would successfully do its battle ; but none such could be found.

‘The king also was annoyed exceedingly, not only for the burden falling upon his good subjects, but also by the proud stranger passing before his palace daily, preceded by a drummer, challenging gallant knight to the combat, while the poor fellows could only “hang their heads, and the ladies, clothed in black, shudder at the dolorous sound.”

One day, while this stranger knight was the subject of conversation, the queen lifted up her proud head, and looking round on the assemblage of goodly knights before her, said, “And is there none in all our realms, for love of king and country, for love of lady fair, or yet for love of me, would draw his sword against this stranger knight of Italy?”

There is none,” replied an eldren lord, “but a certain Scot, newly come up to London, Donald Oig of Monaltrie.” So immediately a messenger was despatched to summon Donald to the Royal presence.

‘As the king’s messenger was returning, accompanied by a tall Highlander, they met the procession. The challenge was given, and the drummer about to beat again before repeating it, when Donald, drawing his sword, thrust it through and through the drum. “There,” said he, “hae deen wi’ yer din.”

The Italian, stepping up before his drummer, demanded who he was who had dared to offer such an insult.

“Sir stranger, I am Donald Farquharson of Monaltrie and Tilliegarmont, the chief of the Clan Fearchair, and ready and willing to meet thee in such wise and when and where it listeth thee.” So the engagement was set for an early hour next day. Meanwhile Donald went on with the king’s messenger, and was not a little surprised and pleased to hear that he had anticipated the wish of the queen and the king’s request.

That evening Donald made the acquaintance of the Italian champion’s servant, and from him obtained the secret that his master’s life was a charmed one, as he was in compact with his dark majesty: the compact being, that no man bearing iron on his person could hurt him, nor man walking in leather shoes prevail against him; no sword that iron ever touched or leather ever received pierce him ; and if by any means he was pierced, when the sword was withdrawn from the wound he was to revive again; and finally, while fighting, he was to have a shade on each side, which would lead his opponent to suppose that he had three to contend with.

Donald having possessed himself of all this information, turned it to his own advantage ; and he with several others had a busy night of it. And in the morning, when many people came to accompany him to the place of meeting, the peculiarity of his costume struck them not a little.

When they reached the rendezvous the Italian was waiting; and if Donald’s friends had been surprised at the strangeness of his garb, he seemed still more so. They at once engaged, and three opponents, as he had been led to expect, appeared before Monaltrie; but he, profiting by the servant’s information, heeded only the middle one.

It was a desperate fight. The Italian with his two shadows made dreadful downward plunges, while the Celt kept parrying and thrusting undauntedly; and so the combat went on. The spectators, fascinated by the terrible struggle, gazed in breathless silence. Again and again came the dread downward thrust, met by the quick, sure parry. At last the Scot’s sword glittered through the Italian’s side.

“Withdraw thy sword, Scot,” roared the Italian.

“Let the spit go with the roast,” replied Donald, still mindful of the servant’s information. So the champion, groaning out, “The devil has kept ill faith with me!” fell back and expired.

‘While the air was yet ringing with shouts of applause, the gold was brought forward and presented to Donald; and while he was taking possession, some one in the crowd shouted, “See how the Scots beggar pockets our English gold!” Donald, on hearing this, immediately sent it whirling among the crowd. There was a regular scramble, while Donald in turn shouted, “See how the English dogs gather up the gold which they could not win themselves, but a Scot won for them!” From this brilliant exploit the chief of the Clan Farquharson was styled “Domhnull Og na k-Alba” i.e. Young Donald of Albion.’

According to tradition, Donald’s adventures at Court did not end with this affair. He is said to be the hero of the tale in the Legend of Montrose, relative to the superiority of Scotch to English candlesticks. The story at least is said to have been current in Braemar before the novel was written; and that it took place in London, some recruits from A berdeenshire to the * Garde Ecossaise ’ officiating as the candlesticks,—Donald having both made the bet and fallen on the scheme to win it.

The only other notice of Donald during the pacification is in 1643, when he, with Gordon of Craigie, and Gordon younger of Arradoul, brought into Aberdeen a party of soldiers, who were shipped for France to recruit the ‘ Garde Ecossaise,’ in which his eldest son held a command, and who died in France.

After the renewal of the war he joined Huntly, who was then storming Dundee, 20th of April 1644. On the 16th of September, it is again stated, that when Montrose was about to leaveAberdeen, there came to him Gordon of Abergeldie and Donald Farquharson of Tulligarmouth, with divers other friends and followers: all gentlemen distressed for the favouring of the House of Huntly. The next notice of him is given by Patrick Gordon, relating to the part he took in the battle of Fyvie. After several other notices of his doings, Donald’s death is thus recorded:—

‘To reconnoitre and watch the motions of the enemy, Montrose had on the 12th of March sent Sir Nathaniel Gordon, along with Donald Farquharson, Captain Mortimer, and other well-mounted cavaliers, to the number of eighty, to Aberdeen. This party, perceiving no enemy in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen, utterly neglected to place any sentinels at the gates of the town, and spent their time at their lodgings in entertainments and amusements. This carelessness did not pass unobserved by some of the Covenanters in Aberdeen, who, it is said, sent notice to General Baillie, who was lying at the North Water Bridge with Lord Balcarras’ and other foot regiments. Hurry put himself at the head of an hundred and fifty horse and foot, and rode off to Aberdeen in great haste, where he arrived on the 15th March, at eight o’clock in the evening.’

Hurry posted sentinels at the gates to prevent any of Montrose’s party escaping, and entered the town at an hour when they were all dispersed through it, carelessly enjoying themselves without apprehension. The noise in the streets occasioned by the tramping of horses was the first indication they had of the presence of the enemy; but it was too late for them to defend themselves. Donald Farquharson was killed on the street opposite the Guardhouse. ‘ A brave gentleman/ says Spalding, ‘ and one of the noblest captains among all the Highlanders of Scotland, and the king’s man for life and death.’ I give Spalding’s account of his death :—

‘Hurry having done this exploit in Aberdeen, the gentlemen were sorry, but could not mend it. They returned back to Montrose, some on horse and some on foot, ashamed of this accident. Montrose was highly offended for the loss of Donald Farquharson more than the rest, through too great carelessness. Upon the morn, being Saturday, the said Donald Farquharson’s corps was found in the street, stripped naked, for they tirred from off his body a rich stand of apparel put on the samen day. His corps was taken up and put in a close chest, and carried to the chapel, there to ly in the Castle Hill. The other dead corps were put into their chests, and carried to the samen chapel on the Castle Hill, while they should all be buried. . . .

‘Upon the morn, being Sunday, this gentleman, with the three other corps, was lifted out of the castle aforesaid, and conveyed to their burial. Donald was buried in the Laird of Drum's aisle, with many woe hearts and doleful shots.’

The following eulogistic account of Donald’s death and character is something of a curiosity, being given in a peculiar old Scotch dialect :—

‘Some of the cawalyres, while they stayed there, went to Aberdeene with Collonell Gordonne and Collonell Farquharson, who out of Strathawin (where he was balzie to Huntly), A boyne, and Diesyd, had always a standeing regiment. This mane’s affable, naturall, and weel-composed condition had so much oblidged all men .that ever he was acquainted with, as gene-rallie he was beloved of all sortes of people, and could not be otherwayes, for he was of such a harmlesse and innocent carriage, as there was non alyve whom he could hate: he was never seen to be angrie, nor knew he what that unrulie passion meaned, and yet he gawe proofe of alse much true curraige as any man could hawe : he was so farre from pryd and waineglorie as he was all men’s companion, not out of a sillie simplicity; but out of a gentle and myld freedome, in a nature which did alvise dispose him to a jowial alacritee ; for his conwersation, even in the saddest and most desperat tyme, was ever jocund and cheireful.....All his actions were obledgements. He spent his patrimony, not laushly, for he was no prodigall, but with such freedome, and such a kynd of naturall bountie, as one that knew that money was coyned for men, and not men for money. . . .

He was upon a sax monthes’ stay at Court, so became so weel lyked of his Soueraine Lord as he ever after called him “his man.” And at the Parliament in Edinburgh, His Majestie heareing of a fray, and how he by some malitious Covenanters was threatened in it, became suddenly inflamed, and cried out, “Who dars be so bold as to touch my man Donald Farquharson?”. In fine, neither is my judgment nor my experience able to give a true charectore to the lyfe of this gentleman’s singular and most commendable parts; only this I can say, that as he never procured ane enemy through his owne procurement. . . . Sir John Hurry, who was sent for, leiving the Covenanting armie, conveyes himselfe with a chosen troope of horse to Aberdein under night. Collonelle Gordone, and som that feared the worst, conveyed themselves away; som keipt their lodgings, ,and wer not sein upon the streats. Only Collonelle Farquharson stayed : wherefore, upon the allarum in the streat, he comes boldly forth, with som of his freinds and servands; and seeing a band of armed men, who at his approach inquyres his name, lest they should mistake, he who hatted no man, and therefore looked for hattred of no man, teles them plainly, becaus he had not yet learned to lie; upon which they incompasse him and his small train on all syds. They wer wnarmed, and had no weapones but swords, which when they drew, this neuer-enough-praised gentleman is shot dead with a pistole, a neir cussing of his greviously wounded and taken prisoner: the rest they let go, having gotten him whom they sought. . . .

When this newes cam to the camp, their was non that was not struck with sadness, sorrow, and extreim greif for the losse of so brave a caveleire, so reall a freind, and so solatious a commreade. The Generali himselfe and my Lord Gordone wer both very sensible of this loss. The Majore Collquitto procured order for himselfe to tak a strong partie and goe for Aberdein, wher iff he could not overtake the murderers, he might sie him honourably interred. Hurrie, forseing the danger, made no stay in the towne, but reteired back, who was followed, but could not be overtaken. The majore gave to this weell-deserving gentleman the interment of a soldger, with the trailing of pickes and thundering vollie of muskets.’ ‘Montrose mourned for him the same length of time as he did for his son Lord Grahame, a youth of sixteen, who died at Gordon Castle a very short time before.’

Donald Oig was succeeded by his second son Charles, as his eldest son Donald died in France. From the sacrifices made by his father in the Royal cause, Charles was obliged to sellMonaltrie in 1702 to Alexander Farquharson, younger brother of Invercauld ; and so the first chiefs of the ‘Clan Fear-chair’ became extinct.

The Farquharsons of Inverey then assumed the chieftainship; consequently their history comes next under notice. But it may be well to give, ere entering upon it, some of the traditions collateral with those of Donald Oig. As the Legend of the Cam-ruadh, i.e. one-eyed, red-haired man (contemporary of Donald, and fellow-soldier also, though principally employed in battles-at home), will give a pretty good idea of the employments of the people while their bailie was from home, his history will furnish matter for the next chapter.


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