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The History of Burntisland
 Chapter III. Burntisland Castle


The late Mr W. A. Laurie, W.S., Keeper of H.M. Gazette for Scotland, proprietor of Burntisland Castle for many years previous to 1872, had ample opportunity and an ardent desire to clear up its early history. Mrs Laurie has told me that the entrance gate was built by him, and is a replica of one in York which he pointed out to her. In inscribing 1119 (similar to that in the Castle) on one of the shields above the gate 'lie had satisfied himself that a tower (I have 110 doubt the present square tower portion of the Castle) existed at that date. The tower portion is stated by various writers as being mentioned in the time of Robert, the first of the Stuarts (Blear Eye), 1382, when it was called the tower of Kingorne Wester, and was occupied by the Duries of Durie. Mackie, author of “Castles, Prisons, and Palaces of Mary of Scotland,” visited the Castle about 1840, and originated the statement that the Duries built the north and west wings. He says, “Over the principal entrance the arms of the Duries are inserted under a Gothic canopy supported by two savages girded with laurels.” The arms of the Duries consisted of a shield bearing a chevron between three crescents, and may be seen on the Abbot’s seal of George Durie in Chalmers’ “History of Dunfermline.” Neither this design nor the savages can be found at the Castle. In the vestibule, which might be described as Gothic, are three Coats of Arms—one bearing the date 1119, another 1382, while the third has the initials M.R., and the date 1563, the year of Queen Mary’s visit. The execution of these might be early 17th century".

Mackie also states that the Castle had been anciently known as “The Abbot’s Hall.” Considering the history of the Castle one would think this an appropriate name and one very likely to be used. But a recent writer questions this, and has tried to show that this name was a monopoly of Abbotshall, Kirkcaldy, where the monks had another residence. In Aroluine III. of the Memoirs of the Melvilles, by Sir "William Fraser, K.C.B., LL.D., I find a grant (1586) to Sir Robert Melville from Patrick, Master of Gray, commendator of Dunfermline, of which the following is an extract: —“The porte and lievin callit the lievin of Brintiland lyand contigue with the landis of Wester Kingorne . m . . all and haill the stane hous, toure, and fortalice, sum tyme callit the Abbotis Hall.” So that settles that.

The first proprietor of the Castle of whom much is known was George Durye, Abbot and Commendator of Dunfermline. He was Abbot from 1539 to 1564, though he had acted as Abbot 1530—1538 in room of the Abbot of these years, .Tames Beton. He was the last of the Abbots, the so-called Abbots succeeding* him—Robert Pitcairn; Patrick, Master of Gray; and George Gordon, Earl of Huntly—being Commendators only. The last-mentioned was the instigator of the murder of the Earl of Moray at Donibristle. It was this George Durie who in 1538 gave to Peter Dune “our lands of Nether Grange called le mains,” probably foreseeing the dangerous character of the reform movement. From this time till the Reformation the lands of the monasteries all over Scotland were in this way being handed over to friends. We may conclude, however, from the history of Queen Margaret’s relics that the Abbot retained some right of access to the Castle. This Abbot was very zealous against the reformers, having voted for the death of Patrick Hamilton and Walter Mill. He is credited by Knox with the death of Sir John Melville of Raith, who, in the minority of Mary (1549), is said to have obtained a grant of the Castle. This alone would account for Durie’s enmity. Knox writes in his “Historie of the Reformation” :—“But however it was, the cruel beast, the Bishop of St Andrews, and the Abbot of Dunfermline (Durie) ceased not until the head of that noble man (Sir John Melville) was stricken from him.” For such services it may be, but more probably for his preservation of St Margaret’s remains, this Abbot’s name two years after his death was added to the roll of saints of the Roman Church. The Rev. Peter Chalmers, in his “History of Dunfermline,” writes:—“It does not appear tliat purity of morals was one of liis claims to saintship, as he had two natural children legitimated on 30th September, 1543.” This account has been accepted as correct by the Rev. Mr Campbell of Kirkcaldy and others. However, Chalmers himself shows, in his second volume, page 399, that Durie’s house of Craigluscar was built by him in 1520, and that he may have been married before he became a priest, which was not till 1530, as a memorial stone has been found in the ruins with the date 1520, the arms of the Duries, and the conjoined initials G.D.—M.B. The latter may have been his wife, and the children mentioned above hers. This legitimating may have been a matter of church law rather than morality. “ But however it was,” as -John Knox would say, we are indebted to George Dury that the story of the Castle affording sanctuary to the remains of the sainted Margaret cannot be dismissed as a mere tradition.

“There’s Rossend’s venerable keep,
Sheltered awhile Saint Margaret’s bier,
Five hundred spjyngs have bitten deep,
Her grisly fort and dungeons drear.

In ancient feuds a sentinel,
In later years a snug retreat,
For Abbot fat, whose bead and bell
Madie penance glum for wine and meat.”

The following account of the part played by Durie in the preservation of St Margaret’s relics is condensed from Chalmers’ version of “ -T.R.’s” translation of the “ Life of St Margaret,” printed at Douaj, 16G0:—“It is told that Alexander III., after the death of his own Queen Margaret, took pains to collect and preserve the remains of St Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore, by enclosing the bones in a silver chest enriched with precious stones, which during the tumults of the Reformation was taken for safety from the noblest part of the Abbey of Dunfermline, where it rested, to Edinburgh Castle. When the heretics had trampled under foot all humane and divine laws and seized the sacred moveables of the church . . . some things of greater veneration were saved from their sacriligious hands and transported into the Castle of Edinburgh.” But “ some more provident fearing these mad men might assault the Castle transported the coffre, wherein was the bend and hair of St Margaret, and some other moveables of great value, into the Castle of the Baron of Dury. This lord of Durie was a reverend father, priest, and monk of Dunfermline, who, after his monastery was pillaged and the religious forced to fly, dwelt in the Castle.” Dunfermline Abbey was almost destroyed by the mob, instigated by the landless nobles, on 28th March, 1560. Father Durie had a house on Craigluscar Hill, Dunfermline, as well as Burntisland Castle, but it is unlikely the relics would be taken back again to Dunfermline, at least at that troublous time. A seaport was safer both for the relics and the Abbot. Chalmers, Vol. II., page 117, agrees with this view. How long- the silver chest remained hiddeu in the Abbot’s Castle cannot be known, but in 1597 (33 years after Durie’s death) ‘‘the relics were delivered into the hands of the Society of Jesus, missioners in Scotland,” who took them to Antwerp. lastly, our holy Father Pope Innocent the Tenth, in the first year of his Pontificate gave plenary indulgence to the faithful who prayed before the relics in the Chapel of the Scotch Collets of Douay, 011 the 10th of June, festival of this holy Princess.” The relics were removed from the College at the French Revolution to Venice, whence they were brought to the Escurial, where they still were in 1854, according to reports submitted to the Rev. C. Holahan, at that time sub-Prior of Douay.

The Rev. Father Durie was still Abbot of Dunfermline on the visit of Queen Mary to the Castle, and though grants of the Castle are said to have ben made by the reformers to their friends, 1 question if Durie had been ejected. In the absence of proof to the contrary, I believe it was he who entertained the Queen when she passed the night of the 14tli or 15th February, 1563, at the Castle. If so, we may be sure the vigilantly guarded relics of Saint Margaret would be shown to Queen Mary. It was 011 this night that the romantic and love-sick Chastellard, according to Sheriff Maclvay, “committed the fault or (-rime for which he paid the forfeit of his life.” Chastellard was one of the brilliant suite of Mary on her return from France, and came of a good French family, being- “a grandnephew of Bayard the Chevalier, sans pour et sans repruche. He spoke and wrote both prose and verse and was skilled in arms and dancing. He returned to France, but could not rest, and came back to Edinburgh in 1562. Mary was, according- to Knox, over-gracious to the young Cavalier— danced with him in preference to the nobles and exchanged sonnets with him. On the 12th of February, 1563, Chastellard hid himself in the Queen’s Room at Holyrood. He was pardoned, but followed the Queen on her journey to St Andrews. She slept one night at Dunfermline and tlie next at Burntisland, when Chastellard was again found in her room.” This second offence could not be overlooked, and he was tried and executed at St Andrews, 22nd February. “His last words were the passionate cry, Adieu! most beautiful and cruel princess of the world.”*

As we have seen, Sir John Melville, of liaith, is said to have received a grant of the Castle in 1549. As that is the year of his execution he could barely have entered into possession. I came across an interesting fact in reading Fraser’s, memoirs of the Melvilles. Sir John, when arrested, was riding 011 “ Clayness sands, uear Burntisland.” This was the ancient name of these sands, the Lammerlaws being known then as the Clayness. As is to be shown in another chapter, there are grounds for the statement that Sir AVilliam Kirkcaldy, of Grange, was given a grant of the Castle, for some short period, possibly between 1564 and 1571. After his execution it appears to revert to the Melvilles. These grants from Sir John’s time were promised 01* made, but in those days possession was nine points of the law. The influence of Mary of Guise, and the continued efforts to resuscitate Roman Catholicism in Mary’s reign, makes one doubt if any of the Melvilles until about 1580 were ever in occupancy. A. II. Millar, in his book on Fife, says, “After the forfeiture of Sir Robert Melville in 1571 the King granted the property to David Durie.” If this is correct—and it is likely, as Melville’s behaviour at this time did not please the reformers— then he must have claimed the castle previous to 1571. The King’s object in granting the Castle to David Durie may be conjectured. It would be easier to deal with the unpopular monk or his relatives than with a noble taking the popular side. James had an eye on the lands belonging to the Abbey for himself, and on the annexation to the crown in 1587 of properties which had belonged to the Homan Catholic Church, those belonging to the Dunfermline Abbey were exempted. These extensive lands were given as a marriage dowry to his Queen, Anne of Denmark, except the Baronies of Newburn and Burntisland. That the commendator of Dunfermline, Lord Pitcairn, re-erected the burgh into one of Eegalitv in 1574, and that his successor, Patrick, Master of Gray, granted the castle to Sir Robert Melville in 158G, showed the church had still to be reckoned with. “Sir Robert Melville of Murdocarnie,” however, appears as proprietor the previous year (1585) when he objects to the new Royal Charter of that year as interfering with the hounds of the Castle. It was this gentleman, then plain Robert Melville, who, according to Tytler, “went to the Capital to get for the reformers 3000 men and some war vessels for the Firth,” and who, though thus recognised as a leading reformer, on one of his visits to Queen Mary imprisoned at Loch Leven, dropped from liis scabbard a letter for Mary from Letliington. He is said to have advised Mary to .sign her resignation in favour of her son, arguing that being forced from her it would not hold good if she were free. He was with the Queen at the battle of Lang-side, and in Edinburgh Castle with Kirkcaldy of Grange during its siege oil her behalf. He had been ambassador to England in 1562, and in 1586 (now as Sir Robert Melville) he is again ambassador, along with Patrick, Master of Gray, to intercede with Queen Elizabeth for the life of Mary. On King James refusing to receive Elizabeth’s apologetic letter on the execution of his mother, Sir Robert was sent to stop her ambassador at Berwick. When in England, he had been sounded by Elizabeth as to the possibility of obtaining the person of King James, and had, on his return, communicated this design to the King. In the absence of the King in Denmark, when he went to bring home his Queen, Sir Robert acted as Chancellor of Scotland. It was on account of his many services that the King erected part of the church land retained for himself into the “ Barony of Burntisland for Sir Robert Melville” (Privy Council Records.) Eraser describes the Barony as consisting of Balbie, Over Kinghorn, Welton, Orrock, and Burntisland Castle, the superiority of the same, and advowson (patronage) of the Kirk of Kinghorn Wester.” The King could not give Sir Robert the Royal Burgh, but he gave him the office of Customs.

Though thrice married, Lord Melville had only one son, “Sir Robert Melville, Youngare.” Fraser cannot say when, or on what account he was knighted, hut when in 1587 the Barony was erected for his father, the father resigned it, and with the consent of the King it was ratified in the son's name. He got into trouble in 1590 for refusing to apprehend a prominent jesuit, Janies Gordon, who had taken refuge in Burntisland. In the earliest existing Council Records of Burntisland lie appears as Provost. He was one of those who cunningly devised the Octarian tumult of December 1596, and he gave refuge in the Castle to Francis Moubray, of Barnbougle, until he left the country. In 1601 he was constituted an Extraordinary Lord of Session, using the law title, Lord Burntisland. (He is styled “Bruntyland” in the Privy Council Records.)

The King had been in Burntisland Castle after the Falkland raid; lie visited Sir Robert at the Castle in I59m, remaining several days, and doubtless slept at the Castle on the occasion of the General Assembly in 1001. On the death of Elizabeth, Sir Robert followed the King to London, and remained with him for some years. (Fraser’s Memoirs.) It is natural, therefore, that when, in King James made his first visit to Scotland as King of Great Britain, a “missive” should be dispatched to “Sir Robert Melville to mak his house of Bruntyland patent for His Majestie’s resset.” (Privy Council Records.) The route >is given as “Leith and Bruntyland,” and a list of the farmers is given, with the number of their horses, and directions for the renovations of roads.

One would have thought the frequent visits of Janies would have had an influence on the character of his liegemen in Burntisland. They dissembled their love. The special bete noir of James was tobacco. He hated it so that he must needs publish his “Counterblaste to Tobacco,” in which he describes it as “a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, etc.”, yet in 1637, for selling tobacco without a license, 14 inhabitants of Burntisland were summoned to appear at the Court at Edinburgh, and in their absence (most wicked persons all) were fined 100 merks each. Xo wonder Providence, as well as King James, occasionally visited Burntisland. Speed says Sir Robert (Lord Melville after 1621) remained Provost till his death in 1635. (The minutes applicable to Speed—1613 to 1636—are now absent.)

The following year (1636) Sir Janies Melville, of llalhill, “was retoured heir of line to his cousin Robert, second Lord Melville, in the lands of Xether-Grange, or Mains of Wester Kinghorne, the Castle of Burntisland, and the Mills called the "Seamills,” etc. In 1638 lie received a Crown confirm at ion of these ratified by Parliament. There was opposition from the bailies of Burntisland, but he denied that he wanted any of the Port privileges. Speed refers to this gentleman as Sir William Melville, of Halhill and Burntisland Castle, and says he succeeded his father in Provostship. Must be a slip of the pen. Fraser does not say when Sir James died, but he was succeeded by his son, also Sir Janies Melville, of Halhill, wiio may not, however, have had all the lands of the Barony. This Sir Janies would probably be proprietor of the Castle during its occupation as the headquarters of Cromwell’s troops. At this time, in 1654, a curious thing happened in one of their raids. The young Lord Melville, of Monimail, cousin of Sir James, was seized while riding near St Andrews and brought prisoner to the Castle. On Sir James’ death in 1664, Fraser says the Barony was sold to “General James Wemyss.” The Countess of Wemyss appears, from the Council Records, to have had some interest in the Castle as early as 1655, previous to the death of Sir James Melville. M. F. Conally states that Sir James Wemyss, of Caskieberry, became proprietor of the Castle in 166G. He married Lady Margaret, Countess of Wemyss in her own right, and was in 1672 created a peer for life, with the title, Lord Burntisland. His patent appears in the Privy Council Records. lie is referred to in the Council Records, in 1673, as the Earl of Wemyss, I suppose on account of his being-married to the Countess, and speaks then of an agreement with Sir James Melville—apparently a third Sir James. The Countess’s name occurs for a good many years. In 1712 it is the Earl of Wemyss, but lie appears to have made over the Castle without the Mills, perhaps only on lease, to Colin Mackenzie from 1705.

The writer of an article in the Fifeshiro Advertiser of 1873 gives the Earl of Elgin as a former proprietor, and Mr Laurie believes it was in his time the Castle seat in the Church was exchanged to the town for the present Castle seat. About 1765 the Castle came into the hands of Murdoch Campbell, Esq., who, hailing from Skye, changed the name to Rossend. In 1790, Robert Beatson, of Ivilrie, married Mr Campbell’s only daughter, and the Castle remained in the hands of the Beatsons for some time. Colonel Broughton, who was Governor of St Helena before .Napoleon's time, married a Miss Beatson, and was proprietor of the Castle. A later proprietor of the Castle, Mr W. A. Laurie, as already mentioned, took a great interest in preserving the antique character of the Castle, and added many “curious and appropriate specimens of armour, heraldry, paintings, and furniture.” When in 1873 the late Mr James Shepherd, purchased the Castle, he omitted nothing possible to maintain this venerable pile. It is a grand old building, with its curious stairs, passages, and windows; its oak lined drawing-room and Queen Anne’s room, but it now belongs to the Town Council, and one never can be sure what such a body may do.

In reading Mrs Somerville’s memoirs it surprised me that she never once mentions the Castle, although she was related to the Beatsons, and for some time, visited the Castle. Mary Somerville (Miss Fairfax) had a brother who paid court to Miss Beatson, but another came on the scene and “put out young Fairfax’s eye.” Hence the dryness. Mary and her brother were fond of skipping the afternoon sermon, though their uncle, the Rev. Mr Wemyss, on these occasions sent anxious enquiries after their health. Mary, as the old Fife saying has it, “didna aye gang to the Kirk when she gaed up the Kirkgate,” but adjourned to the beach below the Kirk with her brother, to recover the headache induced by her esteemed relative’s forenoon sermon, and to “see the whales spouting in the Firth.” Happy whales! "We have read of schools, but never of congregations of whales. Was this sad ending of “love’s young dream” not a condign punishment for Sabbath-breaking. This Rev. Mr Wemyss was the heir to the baronetcy given to Sir James Wemyss (1704), but did not assume the title. The arms of the A\ emyss family (the Swan), may be seen on his tombstone in the Kirkyard. His son, Sir Janies Wemyss, was served heir to the baronetcy on his father’s death. The house of the marvellous Mary Somerville, 26-28 Somerville Street, though now tenanted by a number of families, has been little changed since she, then little Mary Fairfax, made nightly acquaintance with the distant constellations or studied Euclid secretly long after the household wandered in the land of nod. The house adjoining, at the corner of Kirkgate, was also her father’s, and was used as a dairy. The garden, now belonging to Leven Villa, lia-s still the grassy bank and stair, with the old wall and two hoary survivors of the row of elms. On her beloved Sunday adjournments to the rocky beach, to ponder on the microscopic or giant dehizeus of the deep, she passed through the door near the centre of the wall to another on the opposite side of Leven Street, which opened into a second garden, also owned by the Fairfaxes, and then intersected by a little street on which stood the Burgh School and the School house. The arched entrance to this street may yet be seen at the North Station steps.


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