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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XX


THE “COMMON GOOD” OF THE BURGH – THE DIFFERENT CLASSES OF ITS POPULATION – NOTICES OF ITS LEADING FAMILIES AT THE ERA OF THE REFORMATION: THE M’BRAIRS, THE CORSANES, THE IRVINGS, THE LAURIES, THE ROMES, THE CUNNINGHAMS, THE SHARPES, THE HALLIDAYS, THE DINWOODIES, THE FLEMINGS, THE BELLS, THE GRAHAMS, AND THE KENNEDYS – THE POSITION TAKEN UP TOWARDS THE REFORMATION BY THE CHIEF BARONS OF THE COUNTY – FREQUENT INTERMARRIAGE OF COUNTY FAMILIES.

UP till this period, Dumfries retained possession of all, or nearly all, its ancient landed patrimony, extending over a large portion of the Parish. The income arising from it, and the tolls and customs levied by the Council, must have been quite sufficient to keep the Burghal machinery in operation, without resorting, except on rare occasions, to a person impost on the lieges. There is too much reason to suppose, that before the death of James IV., practices were introduced which destroyed this happy equilibrium between income and outlay, and eventually left to the Burgh only a small portion of its territorial inheritance. The lands granted at various periods by the Crown were to be held for all time coming; they were, in point of low, strictly inalienable; and it was only, at all events, when the King, as overlord, sanctioned the sale or perpetual lease of any of the lands, that such proceedings were allowable. So wisely jealous was the Government lest the “res universitatis” (the “common good” arising to Royal Burghs from rents and customs), should be tampered with, that the Great Chamberlain of the nation was required to make periodical inquests into their management. Once a year at least that official, or his deputy, held a sort of exchequer court at Dumfries, at which the magistrates made “count and reckoning” with him of their “intromissions.”

A salutary check to maladministration was thus supplied; but in the reign of James I. the office of the Great Chamberlain was superseded by that of the High Treasurer, who seems never to have exercised any efficient supervision over the revenue of Burghs-Royal. Even before this change, Parliament deemed it necessary to “statute and ordaine that the commoun gud of all our Soverane Lordis burrowis be observit and kepit to the common gude of the toun, and to be spendit in commoun and necessare thingis of the burgh, be the avise of the Consale of the toun for the tyme, and dekkynis of crafts quare thai ar – and attour that the rentis of burrowis, as landis, fishingis, fermes, myllis, and utheris yerely revenuis be nocht set bot for thrie yeris allenerly.” [Acts of Scottish Parliament, 1491, vol. ii., p. 227.] Freed from a strict Government inspection, the magistrates of burghs became, in some instances, careless or culpable stewards of the trusts committed to them; and when, in 1503, Parliament passed an Act permitting the King to give permanent tenures of Crown property in lieu of short leases, and barons and freeholders to do the same thing, a vicious precedent was introduced, which the rulers of towns were eager to follow; and they were soon allowed to do so – Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and several other Royal Burghs, obtaining, in the first instance, special licenses from the sovereign for converting their common property into heritable estates, given in feu-farm, in return for what ere long “may be dated the commencement of that system of maladministration which, with greater or less rapidity, ultimately tended to the destruction of the far greater portion of the common good of Burghs-Royal. [Report of Municipal Commissioners, p. 23.]

When James IV. was in Dumfries, however, the deteriorating process had scarcely, if at all, begun; and this circumstance, in conjunction with others of a favourable kind, leads us to the inference that, during his reign, the Burgh reached its feudal meridian. In after times it acquired increased municipal privileges, more trade, more population; but it never was so richly endowed with territorial wealth. Under the same sovereign, also, the Trades, who had hitherto been subordinated to the merchants, took high social rank in the town; and it may be safely inferred, acquired a direct representation in the Council, though the precise period at which the deacons became members of that body cannot be ascertained.

When the reign of James V. is reached, we can speak in more precise terms that hitherto regarding the constituents of society in Dumfries. Seven different grades are distinctly visible: - 1. The patrician class, possessing land in the neighbourhood, obtaining for payment, or by favour, the freedom of the Burgh, in order that they may share the honour and patronage that arise from the direction of its affairs. 2. The merchant burgesses, consisting of men actually engaged in business, who may, or may not, be also landed proprietors. 3. The master craftsmen, trying, not without success, to hold their heads as high, and wear their furred gowns as jauntily, as the merchants. 4. The ecclesiastics, consisting of the dean and his clergy, the vicar, the parish priest, the Minorite Frairs, and other churchmen, regular or secular, making altogether a numerous body. 5. The artizans and mechanics, who work for wages. 6. The yeomen, or free farmers. And, 7. The cotters – “hewers of wood and drawers of water” – rapidly casting away their serfdom, though some of them are still in a state of absolute slavery.

The earliest provosts of the Burgh were, in all likelihood, cadets of the Douglasses, Maxwells, Kirkpatricks, Carlyles, Johnstones, and other families who owned land and held rule in the district. In the early half of the sixteenth century, when the Burgh was becoming increasingly independent, some of its own sons – merchants as well as lairds – took a leading part in the management of its affairs. Among the first of these were the M’Brairs. Of Celtic origin, we find them at an early period settled in Dalton, Mid-Annadale; and it is as the M’Brairs of Almagill, in that parish, that they first appear in the records of the Burgh. A retour, dated 19th December, 1573, warrants the supposition that they occupied Almagill at least a hundred years before that date [We find the following minute in Pitcairn (vol. i., p. 39.), of a case tried at Dumfries, August 15th, 1504: - “Robert Grersoune, in Dumfreis, produced a precept of remission for art and part of the cruel slaughter of Sir John M’Brair, chaplain, in the town of Drumfreis. – William Douglas of Drumlanrig became surety to satisfy parties.” (See ante, p. 184.)], as in it Archibald M’Brair, Provost of Dumfries, is entered as heir “to his great grandfather, William M’Brair of Almagill, in the 100s. land of Almagill, in Meikle Dalton, and the three husbandlands in the town of Little Dalton called Hallidayhall.” [The parish of Dalton, prior to the Reformation, was divided into Meikle Dalton and Little Dalton; but, since their union in 1633, the Church of Meikle Dalton is used by the parishioners of the untied parishes as their place of worship. – Statistical Account of Dumfriesshire, p. 371.] When the Convention of Royal Burghs met at Edinburgh, on the 4th of April, 1552, John M’Brair, Provost of Dumfries (probably the father of Archibald), appeared as Commissioner for the town. Provost Archibald M’Brair and Bailie James Rig were its representatives in the Convention of October, 1570. On the 5th of January, 1561, John M’Brair, by obtaining a charter of The Mains, which constituted part of the church lands of Dumfries, acquired a still stronger footing for his family in the town; though they do not appear to have given to it any chief magistrates after 1577. How, before the lapse of another hundred years, this family had increased in opulence, may be inferred from the following list of the lands belonging to Robert M’Brair on the 10th of January, 1666: - The five-pound land Over and Nether Almagill, with the two husbandland of Hallidayhill; the one-merk land of Cluserd; the five-merk land of Little and Meikle Cloaks; two merks of the four-merk land of Corsenloch (parishes of Urr and Colvend); the five-pound land of Nether Rickhorne; the half-merk land of Glenshalloch; the twenty-shilling land of Auchrinnies; the two-merk land of Little Rickhorse; the forty-pound land of Over and Nether Wood, and Longholm, holding of the Crown; part of the twenty-pound land of Rigside, with mill and salmon fishing; the lands of Spitalfield, with the salmon fishing formerly belonging to the Friars Minors of Dumfries, holding of the Crown; the lands of Castledykes, holding of the Crown; four acres of land lying between the Doocot (or Dovecot) of Castledykes, on the south of the Burgh of Dumfries, Sinclair’s tenement on the north, King’s High Street on the east, and the river Nith on the west; and two merks of the fifteen merks of the Kirkland of Drumfries, feu of the King.

We find Herbert Raining Commissioner for Dumfries in the Convention of 1578, Mathew Dickson and John Marschell its Commissioners in 1582, and Symon Johnnestown its Commissioner in 1584 – all these being familiar household names at this early period. [At this season of the Convention of Burghs, four of the members (one of whom was the Commissioner for Dumfries), were unable to write, and had to sign the minutes “with our handis at the pen led be the notaris underwritten at our commandis, because we can nocht wryte ourselves.” – Records of the Convention.] In the Convention of 1585, Dumfries was represented by no fewer that four members, “Alexander Maxwell of Newlaw, Provost, Maister Homer Maxwell and Herbert Ranying, tua of the Bailies – James Rig, thair Conburges.” Bailie Homer Maxwell was also Commissary of Dumfries, and held the lands of Speddoch, which originally belonged to the Monastery of Holywood.

The Corsanes, or Corsons, a more ancient family than the M’Brairs, emulated them as municipal rulers. They claim to be descended from the patrician Corsini, and say their first ancestor in Scotland came from Italy to superintend the erection of Sweetheart Abbey and Devorgilla’s bridge over the Nith. Some time before 1400, Sir Alexander Corsane was witness to a charter granted by Archibald the Grim, Earl of Douglas, to Sir John Stewart, of the lands of Collie. In 1408, Dominus Thomas Corsanus, perpetual Vicar of Dumfries, granted a charter for certain church lands within the royalty. The Corsanes took the designation of Glen, till, in the reign of James IV., the barony so called passed with Marion, sole child of Sir Robert Corsane, to her husband Sir Robert Gordon, who thereupon styled himself of Glen, but afterwards of Lochinvar, on the death of his elder brother at the battle of Flodden. From Gordon of Lochinvar and his wife Marion sprung the barons of that ilk, and the Viscounts of Kenmure.

Sir John Corsane, next heir male of Glen, settled at Dumfries, the head of a far-descending line, which for eighteen generations presented an unbroken array of heirs male, all bearing the name of John – Pedigree occurrences that are perhaps without a parallel. John Corsane, the twelfth in descent from Sir John, was Provost of Dumfries, and its Parliamentary representative in the critical year 1621. He married Janet, daughter of the seventh Lord Maxwell (slain at Dryfe-Sands), by whom he had several children, one of whom was wedded to Stephen Laurie of Maxwelton. This Provost Corsane was one of the richest commoners in Scotland. Besides his country estates, the chief of which was Meikleknox, he is said to have owned a third part of his native town; and at one time, not very far back, many of its old houses bore the family arms: the head of a pagan pierced by three darts, with warriors as supporters, and the motto – “Prĉmium virtutis Gloria.” His life seems to have been inspired by that noble sentiment. He died in 1629, in his seventy-sixth year, and was buried near the entrance-gate of St. Michael’s Cemetery, at a place where eleven of his ancestors had been laid before him. His eldest son, John Corsane of Meikleknox, by whom he was succeeded, married Margaret, daughter and co-heiress of Robert Maxwell of Dinwoody, obtaining with her the lands of Barndennoch. He was also Provost of the Burgh, and, as we shall see, took an active part in the popular struggle against the aggressions of Charles I. The ruins of a once magnificent monument erected by him over his father’s dust, remain to attest his filial love, and the lines upon it were meant to inform the meditative stranger that an honoured Dumfries worthy sleeps below; but time has so defaced the inscription that it is quite illegible.

A somewhat faulty copy of the epitaph, however, is preserved in the late Mr. W. F. H. Arundell’s Manuscripts, and which, as conjecturally restored, runs thus: -

Ter tria fatales et bis tria lustra sorores,

Dimidiumque ĉvo contribuere tuo,
Ter tia civiles humeros circumdari fasces
Lustra dedit Sophia gratia digno tua.
Ter tribus ac binis tandem prognatus eodem,
Et cum Corsanis contumularis Avis.

These lines may be thus translated: -

The fateful sisters assigned thrice three and twice three lustres and a half [year] to thy lifetime [i.e., seventy-five and a half years]. Regard due to thy wisdom, caused thy shoulders to wear the badges of civic authority for thrice three lustres [forty-five years]. Sprung at length from thrice three and two [eleven] progenitors of [the] Corsane [family], thou also art buried with them in the same place. [We submitted the inscription to several good Latinists, among others to Rector Cairns of the Dumfries Academy, whose emendations are embodied in the text, and given in italics. To his kindness we are also indebted for the English version of the epitaph.]

John Corsane of Meikleknox, who died in 1777, was the last of the male line. Agnes, a daughter, was married to Mr. Peter Rae, minister of Kirkconnel, in Upper Nithsdale. They had twelve children; the eldest of whom, Robert, was, at his mother’s request, to assume the name and arms of Corsane of Meikleknox when he came of age, but all the children died minors. In this way the stem of this ancient house was unexpectedly broken. The Corsanes of Dalwhat, parish of Glencairn, were a branch of the family. The name Corson, often written Carson, is still common in Dumfries; and about a hundred and sixty years after the death of Provost Corsane of Meikleknox (in 1671), James Corson, a probable descendant, was Provost of the Burgh.

The genealogical tree of Coel Godhebog, already noticed, gives, as one of its goodly branches in the fifth century, the prolifie Annandale family of Irving. Another account transplants them from Orkney to Eskdale, in the middle in Bruce’s royal household, with whom he had become acquainted, probably, when ruling his hereditary lordship on the banks of the Annan. One of them, William de Irwyn, who acted as the King’s secretary; and the other, Roger de Irwyn, who seems to have officiated as his chamberlain. [The Accounts of the Chamberlain of Scotland, for 1329-1331, include several entries in which their names occur: e. g.: - “Et clerico Rotulorum pro feodo suo, viz., Willielmo de Irwyn, quamdin fuerit in dicto officio capienti per annum viginti libras de terminis Pentecostes et Sancta Martini hujus compoti £20.” “Idem onerat se de 348 ulnis tele linel et 3 quarteriis recept. superuis per emptionem. De quibus Rogero de Irwyn, 311 ulnis de quibus respondebit.”] An Irving, possibly the former of these two, in Aberdeenshire. [Dr. C. Irving, in a MS. account of the family, says, that Bruce, flying one stormy night from English, came to Bonshaw Tower, where he was hospitably entertained. He took a younger son of the family, Sir William, of Woodhouse, to be his secretary and companion. As a reward for his services, the King, when settled on the throne, conferred upon him the lands and the forest of Drum, and the pricking bay-tree or holly, for his amorial bearings, with the motto, “Sub sola, suo umbra virescens.” (See a valuable little work, Walks in Annandale, originally published in the Annan Observer.)] His descendant, Sir Alexander Iruinge, of Drum, received from the same gracious monarch the lands of Drum, was among the slain warriors for whom

“The coronach was cried on Benachie,
And doun the Don an’ a’,
When Hieland and Lawland mournfu’ were
For the sair field o’ Harlaw.”

[Balfour’s Annals, vol. i., p. 147. The battle was fought on the 25th of July, 1411. Irving was buried on the field; and a heap of stones raised over the spot was long known by the name of Drum’s Cairn. – Kennedy’s Annals of Aberdeen, vol. i., p. 51.]

The representative of the family in the reign of Charles I. espoused the cause of that sovereign, and when lying under sentence of death by the Covenanters, was opportunely rescued by Montrose. [This cavalier is the hero of the favourite old ballad, “The Laird of Drum,” written on his marrying, as his second wife, a damsel of humble birth, named Margaret Coutts, an alliance which gave sore offence to some of his kindred. The taunt of one of them, and the Laird’s rejoinder, are well worth quoting from the ballad: -

“Then up bespak his brother John,
Says, ‘Ye’ve done us meikls wrang, O;
Ye’ve married ane far below our degree,
A mock to a’ our kin, O!’

“ ‘Now hand your tongue, my brother John,
What needs it thee offend, O?
I’ve married a wife to work and win,
And ye’ve married ane to spend, O!’”]

In Bonshaw Tower, on the classic banks of the Kirtle, resided the acknowledged head of this great Border clan. Other off-shoots of the family having as their domiciles, Cove, Robgill, Woodhouse, and Stapleton – the ruins of which give a romantic interest to a district that is dowered with rich natural beauty, and ever vernal in the minstrel’s magic verse – Kirkconnel Lee. [The reference here, it need scarcely by explained, is to the old ballad of “Fair Helen of Kirkconnel,” supposed to have been an Irving, and who, in attempting to save her lover, Adam Fleming, was inadvertently shot dead by her envious rival. The entire ballad is exquisite; and poetry has produced scarcely anything more pathetic than the closing verses in which Fleming wails forth his sorrow: -

“Oh Helen fair! O Helen chaste!
If I were with thee, I were blest,
Where thou lies low, and takes thy rest,
On fair Kirkconnel Lee.

“I wish I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries;
And I am weary of the skies,
For her sake that died for me.”]

The Irvings of Bonshaw signalized themselves on many occasions by their valour and patriotism. Like most Scottish families, they suffered at Flodden – Christopher, their chief, with her son, falling on that dismal field; while his grandson “Black Christie,” of Robgill and Annan, perished in the pitiful catastrophe – for battle it cannot be called – of Solway Moss. A grandson of the latter, also named Christopher, became closely connected with two other distinguished Border houses, by marrying, in 1566, Margaret, sister of Sir James Johnstone, the victor of Dryfe-Sands, and whose mother was one of the Scotts of Buccleuch.

Soon after that period the Irvings begin to be noticeable in Nithsdale; and we must now somewhat abruptly leave the chief stem, to see how one of the branches fared in Dumfries. It flourished exceedingly. Francis Irving, on returning to the Burgh from France, where he was educated, married the heiress of Provost Herbert Raining, already mentioned as Commissioner for Dumfries in the Convention of 1578, acquiring with her a rich fortune of lands and houses. We find him sitting as Member for the Burgh in the Parliament of 1617, and high in favour at Court, receiving from King James VI. bailiary jurisdiction over some Crown property in the County; still, however, carrying on his business, that of a merchant, in which capacity he was the first to form a trade connection with Bordeaux for the purpose of importing French wines into the Burgh. [Family Tree of the Irvings, complied by Mr. J. C. Gracie.] This merchant prince of the olden time frequently occupied the chief magistrate’s chair; and when, in the early autumn of an honoured life, he breathed his last, his remains were laid close by the mouldering dust of the Corsanes – an imposing monument, like theirs, being raised in due time to commemorate his worth. [Like the Corsane monument, it is built into the churchyard wall, and forms the fifth monument from the entrance-gate.] The tomb, which was renovated about thirty years ago, has several Latin inscriptions, the chief of which may be freely rendered as follows: - “A grateful spouse and pious children have dedicated to Francis Irving, Consul [or Provost], a very dear husband and a prudent father, this monument, which is far inferior to his worth. He died, 6th November, 1633, aged 69.” “Ane epitaphe,” in the vernacular tongue, on the lower part of the structure, is in these terms: -

“King James at first me balive named,
Dumfreis oft since me provest clamed,
God hast for me ane crowne reserved;
For king and countrie have I served.”

For more than a century afterwards, municipal honours flowed upon the Dumfries branch of the Irvings, some of them being also called, like their founder, to represent the Burgh in Parliament. John, his eldest son, did so in 1630 and 1639, and was repeatedly elected Provost. He left two sons, John and Thomas, both of whom filled the latter office; and Thomas also sat in Parliament for the Burgh.

According to the same doubtful pedigree which traces the descent of the Irving family from a Cumbrian prince, Lywarch-Hen, another of the race was the progenitor of the Lauries, one of whom, Stephen, was a flourishing Dumfries merchant before James VI. became king. Prior to 1611 he espoused Marior, daughter of the Provost Corsane, proprietor of Meikleknox, getting with her a handsome marriage portion. About the same time he obtained a charter from John, Lord Herries, of the ten-merk land and barony of Redcastle, parish of Urr. His wealth enabled him afterwards to purchase, from Sir Robert Gordon of Lochinvar, Bithbought, Shancastle, and Maxwelton, for which estates he received a royal charter, dated 3rd November, 1611. Stephen Laurie, now a man of many acres, took the designation of Maxwelton, leaving at his death the lands and title to his eldest son, John, married in 1630 to Agnes, daughter of Sir Robert Grierson of lag. The next head of the house, Robert, was created a baronet on the 27th of March, 1685. He was twice married, and had, by his second wife, three sons and four daughters. The birth of one of the latter is thus entered in the family register by her father: - “At the pleasure of the Almighty God, my daughter, Anna Laurie, was borne upon the 16th day of December, 1682 years, about six o’clock in the morning; and was baptized by Mr. Geo.” [Hunter, minister of Glencairn]. [Barjarg Manuscripts.] The minute is worth quoting here, seeing that the little stranger, whose entry into life it announces, grew up to be the most beautiful Dumfriesian lady of the day, and the heroine of a song which has rendered her charms immortal: -

“Her brow is like the snaw-drift,
Her neck is like the swan,
Her face it is the fairest
That e’er the sun shone on –
That e’er the sun shone on;
And dark blue is her e’e!
And for bonnie Annie Laurie
I’d lay me down and die.”

The well-known lyric of which these lines form a part, was composed by Mr. Douglas of Fingland, an ardent admirer of “Bonnie Annie;” she did not reciprocate his affection, however, but preferred his rival, Alexander Ferguson of Craigdarroch, to whom she was eventually united in marriage. [One of the Fergusons of Isle married a sister of Annie Laurie. He was buried in the family vault in Dunscore Churchyard; - “Here lyes entombit ane honest and verteus mane, Alexander Fergusone,” was placed above his remains His wife would doubtless be laid in the same grave. We have not been able to ascertain where Bonnie Annie was buried.] While the Irvings held rule on Kirtle Water and the western fringe of the Debatable land, they were neighboured in Gretna by the small clan of the Romes, some of whom settled in the County town during Archibald M’Brair’s burghal reign, if not before, acquiring a good position in it, as it proved by the frequent appearance of their names in the sederunts of the Council. We find traces of them soon afterwards as landed proprietors. A retour of 1638, represents John, son of John Rome, of Dalswinton-holm, as enjoying the multures of the thirty-six pound land of Dalgonar, including the lands of Milligantown. In a general inquest in 1674, Robert appears as heir to his father, John Rome of Dalswinton; so that the estate which the Red Comyn owned had, after the lapse of four hundred years, fallen into the hands of this Annandale family. The lands of Cluden were acquired by them at a later period; and the first Provost of Dumfries chosen after the Revolution, belonged to the family.

Long before Flodden was fought, the Cunninghams (of whose origin something was said in a preceding chapter) ranked among the Corinthian pillars of the Burgh. The lucrative office of town-clerk was frequently held by members of the family; and the returns of property, in 1506 and 1510, show that one of them, William, must have been in the receipt of considerable house rents. The family mansion, situated on part of what is now Queensberry Square, was a wonder of the town, on account of its “Painted Hall:” a capacious chamber which seems to have been lent by them for public purposes, and which acquired a historical interest, as in it Protestantism was first preached to a Dumfries audience, and James VI. gave to it the prestige of the royal presence on a memorable occasion; while there is good ground for supposing that that King’s grandfather, the fourth James, lodged in it during his memorable visit to the Burgh in 1504.

A few more prominent names require still to be mentioned. Among the merchant Burgesses of Dumfries, at the opening of the seventeenth century, were Ebenezer Gilchrist, of Celtic origin, the name signifying, in that language, “a servant of Christ;” John Coupland, belonging to a family who claim descent from the Yorkshire warrior by whom David II. was captured at Neville’s Cross; George Grierson and Bailie William Carlyle, both members of old local houses – the latter, by marrying Isabella Kirkpatrict, about 1630, adding another nuptial alliance to the many ties of that nature by which their “forbears” were made one. Other marriage contracts, of which a record lies before us, furnish forth both old names and new: - Thomas M’Burnie, merchant, on wedding Isabel, eldest daughter of Bailie Edward Edgar and Agnew Carlyle, his spouse, got with her a tocher of 1000 merks. This was on the 2nd of January, 1663; and, on the 24th of August, 1697, Agnes, the first fruit of the union, gave her hand to James Grierson of Dalgonar, the tocher given with her being simply the remission of 2000 merks out of 5500 owing by the bridegroom to the father of the bride. On the 21st of September, 1667, John, son of George Sharpe, also a merchant in the Burgh, espoused Elizabeth, eldest daughter of John Hairstens of Craigs. The happy swain in this instance was Commissary Clerk of Dumfries, which office was held a short time before by James, son of John Halliday, advocate, cadets of an Annandale clan, who gloried in recognizing as their founder the chief of whom Wallace spoke so fondly: “Tom Halliday, my sister’s son so dear!”

At least four other families, from the same district, had at this time representatives among the lairds and merchants of Dumfries: the Dinwoodies, long settled in the parish of Applegarth, descended, it is supposed, from Alleyn Dinwithie, whose name appears in the Ragman Roll; the Corries, who took their name from the old parish of Corrie (a Celtic compound, meaning “a narrow glen”), where they first appeared as vassals of Robert Bruce; the Flemings, sons of enterprising traders from Flanders, who gave their name to a Dumfriesshire parish, Kirkpatrick-Fleming – where, on the left bank of the Kirtle, rose Redhall, their ancient baronial hold; and the Bells, whose chief occupied Blacket House, on the right bank of the same stream, and who at one time mustered so strongly in the neighbouring parish, that “the Bells of Middlebie” became a proverbial expression in the County. [These two last named families are both intimately associated with the tragical story of Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lee, already referred to. Two neighbours, one named Adam Fleming, and the other supposed to have been a Bell of Blacket House, sought her hand, and she gave the preference to Fleming. The disappointed suitor, meditating vengeance on his favoured rival, traced the lovers to their usual nocturnal tryst on the banks of the Kirtle, and, by the light of the moon, aimed his carabine at Fleming, and fired. Fair Helen threw herself before her lover in order to save him, received in her breast the fatal bullet, and died in his arms. A desperate combat followed between the two men, in which Bell was “hacked in pieces sma’.” Poor Fleming fled to foreign lands, seeking in vain for the peace of mind he had lost for ever; and then, following the impulse of his heart –

“O that I were where Helen lies!
Night and day on me she cries” –

returned home and died upon her tomb; and now the ashes of the lovers mingle together in the churchyard of Kirkconnel.]

A few Grahams from the east bank of the Esk, descendants, it is thought, of a brave knight, Sir John Graham, named Bright Sword, were to be found in Dumfries at this period; also some members of a celebrated Celtic family, the Kennedys, who look upon Roland de Carrick as their founder, and whose great grandson, Sir John Kennedy of Dunure, was the first to assume that name instead of Carrick. [Nisbet (System of Heraldry, vol. i., p. 161) considers that the old Celtic thanes of Carrick, which was originally a part of Galloway, were ancestors of the Kennedys. So far back as the eighth century, Kennedy, father of Brian Born, was Prince of Connaught; and, in 850, Kennethe was Thane of Carrick. The earldom of Cassillis (now Ailsa), in Ayrshire, is held by this family. The Rev. Alexander Kennedy, minister of Straiton, Ayrshire, born in 1663, acquired the estate of Knockgray, in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright. His great great granddaughter, Anne, married, 10th September, 1781, John Clark, Esq., of Nunland, also in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright; and their eldest son, Colonel Alexander Clark Kennedy, succeeded in 1835 to the estate of Knockgray. An honourable augmentation was granted to his arms, in commemoration of his having, when in command of the centre squadron of the Royal Dragoons at Waterloo, captured the eagle and colours of the 105th Regimen of French infantry with his own hand. (Scottish Nation, vol. ii., p. 609.) His son, Colonel John Clark Kennedy of Knockgray, born in Dumfries, also a disguished officer, unsuccessfully contested the representation of the Dumfries Burghs with Mr. William Ewart, in 1865.]

It appears from these details that Annandale and the Western Border contributed much more to the population of Dumfries that Nithsdale; and it is interesting to observe, that all the household names we have enumerated, except M’Brair [The name Robert M’Brair appears in the list of burgesses for 1708, after which we lose trace of the family] and Rome, are still more or less common in the Burgh – a remark which also applies to those of Turner, Lawson, Stewart, Mundell, Blacklock, Carruthers, Waugh, Clark, Paterson, Nicholson, Scott, Beck, Welsh, Thompson, Henrison or Henderson, Menzies, Dickson, Anderson, Lindsay, Gordon, Affleck, Ramsay, Forsyth, Goldie, Moffat, Simpson, Farish, Gibson, Crosbie, Pagan, Tait, Muirhead, Dalyell, Neilson, Gass, Weir, Glover, Coltart, Black, Reid, Wilson, Craik, Lorimer, Shortridge, Newall, Rigg, Barbour, Spence, Martin, Milligan, M’Kie, M’George, and M’Kinnell, which names, like the other, frequently appear in the ancient burgess rolls, showing that most of their owner have had “a local habitation” in the capital of Nithsdale for at least three hundred years. [Most of the local names mentioned in this chapter occur in the Retours, or Town Council Minutes, at dates extending from 1506, downwards till the middle of the following century. The reader will recognise modern localities in the old names of places in the second of the two extracts that we sobjoin: - “1506. Wm. Cunyngham, 9 merk land 20 s., et 12 do.; 3 tenements in burgo de Dumfries, val 4s., de terr de Lordburn, ac itiam 4s.; di orto infra territorium dicti burgi.” To this valuation return the following are witnesses: - “Dom. Fergusis Barbour, vic de Trawere [Troqueer], Hug Rig, Gul. Maxwell, David Welsche, John Lorymare, John Rig, Thos. Cunyngham, Thos. Stewart, Herb. Patrickson, burgos de Drumf.” Also, “Dom. Tho. Makbraire, Gilbert Bek, et John Turnour, capillanis apud Drumf. 1510. William Cunyngham and his wyfe, de terementi diet burg [in the said burgh of Dumfries], 12 s.; de tenementi in dict burg. in le Sewtergait, 10 s.; de tenementi in capiti dict burg., 6s. 8d.; de tenementi in Lochmabingait, 8s.; de alio tenementi, 4s.; de orrio et orto prope le Mildram, et le Clerkhill, 10s.” Testified to, among others, by “Dom. John Walker.”]

These statements will enable the reader to see by whom the town was ruled, and its public opinion guided, during the Reformation period, and for a century afterwards. Let us now explain what part the old leading County families took in the conflict of creeds which had long been raging. Many of them remained neutral, or kept the Romanist side; yet a considerable number cast in their lot with the Reforming party. Lord Maxwell’s two sons, as well as himself, the Earls of Angus and Glencairn, the Laird of Johnstone, the Laird of Closeburn, the Laird of Amisfield (son of the knight whose memorable visit from the “Gudeman of Ballengeich” is narrated in a previous chapter), and James, chief of the Drumlanrig Douglasses, promoted the Protestant movement from motives of policy or religion, or a mixture of both – the last-named nobleman manifesting special zeal on its behalf. He was descended from William, son of the hero of Otterburn, who, by receiving the barony of Drumlanrig, in the parish of Durisdeer, from his father, acquired the designation of Dominus de Drumlanrig. In 1470 his direct descendant, James, married the eldest daughter of Sir David Scott of Branxholm, ancestor of the Dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry. William, the son of James, fell at Flodden, leaving two sons, the younger of whom, Robert, was Provost of Lincluden College – the last who held that lucrative appointment; the elder, James, being the nobleman under notice, and who signalized himself in endeavouring, with Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch, to rescue King James V. from the grasp of Angus in 1526. James Douglas of Drumlanrig was knighted by the Regent Arran, and subscribed the Presbyterian Book of Discipline in 1561, remaining ever afterwards true to his profession. Sir Cuthbert Murray of Cockpool was also a decided Reformer; his mother’s family, the Jardines of Applegarth, adopted the Reformed doctrines; so did the Griersons of Lag; and all these houses were matrimonially united to the Protestant Douglasses – the eldest surviving son of Cockpool having wedded one of Drumlanrig’s daughters, and their daughter having been married to the heir of Lag. [Many of the leading families of the County were allied by intermarriage in this and succeeding centuries; and it not unfrequently happened that those families who were thus united took opposite sides in the wars that sprang up. The mother of Stewart of Garlies, who, as is afterwards shown, initiated the Reformation in Dumfries, belonged to the Catholic house of Herries. The marriage contract, dated 12th February, 1550, sets forth that “James Hamilton, Duke of Chatelherault, taking burden on him for John, his second son, as his tutor and administrator, on the one part, and Katherine Herries, with consent of James Kennedy of Blairquhan, her guidsire, on the other, hath contracted her to be married to Alexander Stewart, son and heir apparent of Alexander Stewart of Garlies, and is bound to pay 2300 merks of tocher with her; and grants to her, in conjunct fee with the said spouses, the £20 land of Dalswinton, and the £30 land of Bishoptown and Ballaghuyre.” After the lapse of another generation, Barbara Stewart, the fruit of the marriage, was wedded by a Kirkpatrick, John, heir apparent to Thomas Kirkpatrict of Alisland, and Barbara Stewart, wherein Alexander Stewart of Garlies [the Reformer], her brother, and Dame Katherine Herries, her mother, burden themselves with her tocher, 7000 merks from Alexander, and 400 from her mother on the one part; and on the other part, Thomas, the bridegroom’s father, engages to maintain them in his house, and to give them 100 merks yearly to buy clothes.” Dated at Kirkcudbright, 3rd May, 1581; and attested by William Maxwell, Master of Herries, Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, Roger Grierson of Lag, Robert Herries of Mabie, Gavin Dunbar of Baldoon, and others. The bride’s mother and the bridegroom’s father were both unable to write.

Illustration of the general statement could readily be multiplied. Michael, fourth Lord Carlyle, married Janet, daughter of Francis Charteris of Amisfield; their eldest son, William, married Janet, daughter of Johnstone of Johnstone; their second son, Michael, married Grisel, daughter of John, fourth Lord Maxwell; John Laurie of Maxwelton married Agnes, daughter of Sir Robert Grierson of Lag; a second daughter became the wife of Alexander Ferguson of Isle; while a third was wedded to James Grierson of Capenoch.]


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