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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter IV.—History prior to 994 A.D


IT may be premised that in the olden time the Howe of the Mearns, like other parts of Scotland, was the scene of many stirring events not recorded in history. But it is a fact supported by eminent authorities, and amongst these by the late Bishop Forbes of Brechin, that few districts in Scotland have been to a greater degree in times of yore the scenes of battle and bloodshed than the neighbourhood of Fettercairn. If it be said that from Stirling Castle one can view twelve battlefields, it is not too much to say that from the loopholes of Fettercairn Church spire the half at least of that number can be viewed ; though of course it is not claimed that the battles referred to rank in importance with those of Stirlingshire. The locality was on the direct route, from south to north, followed by the early invaders, and the Palace of Kincardine was doubtless a resting-place for royal excursions and military expeditions. The earliest invasions of which we have any record were those of the Roman armies in the first three centuries of the Christian era, during which our rude ancestors had many conflicts with the Roman soldiers. Of the twenty-one tribes which peopled Scotland at the time of Agricola's invasion (84 a.d.), the Venricones inhabited the parts now called Angus and Mearns.

The Roman armies forced their way northwards along the vale of Strathmore, the Howe of the Mearns, and through Aberdeenshire to the Moray Firth. On their route from the Tay to the Dee, we have at intervals of every twelve miles, or a day's march, the remains of their camps, at Coupar-Angus, Cardean near Meigle, Forfar, Battledykes or Finhaven, Blackdykes or Keithock, Fordoun, Raedykes or Fetteresso, and Normandykes or Peterculter. The late Professor Stewart of Aberdeen, and some other antiquarians, contended that the great battle of Mons Grampius (84 a.d.) was fought at Raedykes.

The native Britons had their defensive encampments on Caterthun, on the heights of Greencairn, the Hunter's hill, and at the Green Castle camp above Mill of Kincardine. There can be no doubt as to the serious nature of their engagements with the Roman troops, since we read that the Emperor Severus, in 209 A.D., lost 50,000 soldiers in the north-east of Scotland. We may safely assume that a certain proportion of this host must have fallen within the bounds of the Mearns; because no doubt every inch of their progress would be disputed by the natives, who were probably as much " men " as the inhabitants of the present day.

The Castle of Greencairn is supposed to have been the seat and stronghold of the Maormor or Earl of the Mearns, it being one of the ten districts into which, in the tenth century, the part of Scotland lying north of the Forth was divided. The Earldom of the Mearns comprehended the territory lying between the North Esk and the Dee, or what now forms the County of Kincardine. The term Maormor, literally Great Officer, was the Celtic title of honour conferred upon the chief or civil ruler of a district. His power was such that he could not be deposed by the Icing, and he governed very much by the laws which he himself enacted. This led to frequent broils and open hostility; and in the Mearns alone led to the death of three kings of Scotland. Malcolm I. was defeated and slain, in 953, at Fetteresso, by Moray men; Kenneth III. was assassinated in 994, at Fettercairn, by the Lady Finella, wife of the Maormor; and Duncan II., in 1094, at Duncan's Shade, Mondynes, Fordoun, by Maolpeder, Maormor of the Mearns.

From the fourth century when the Romans withdrew from North Britain, up to the end of the tenth century, when, in 994, Fenella appears on the scene, very little is known of current events. The Picts inhabited the north and east of Scotland, and engaged in a battle at Dunnichen in 685 A.D., in which they, probably men of Angus and Mearns led by Nechtan their chief, defeated the Northumbrians, and slew Egbrid their king. With this exception no other event worthy of notice is recorded in history.

Underground caves, however, artifically constructed, are said to have been discovered in a few places within the county, and these may have been Picts7 houses. One or two of these were believed to be of interminable length, into which persons in later times entered, but, sad to relate, never returned. The old people of Fettercairn had a tradition that a subterranean passage extended from Balbegno Castle to the House of Balmain, but the boggy nature of the ground between the two places precludes the possibility. If passage or cave existed at all, it could only be a Pict's house on the higher and drier slopes of Balbegno.

The first authentic event connected with Fettercairn is the assassination of Kenneth III. in 994. If, according to the old chroniclers, the place was then a "towne," its beginning must have been at a date ever so much earlier. By way of introduction to the story of Kenneth's tragic death, a short account of his previous history and of relative incidents may be given. He was the son of Malcolm I., king of Scotland. He did not succeed his father, his right being usurped by Indulph the son of a former king. Strict succession in those days was not always maintained, and other two kings followed in order before Kenneth ascended the throne in a.d. 970. As a king he cherished a deep sense of his duties, and undertook with a high hand to tame his rebellious subjects and reform their manners. These reforms involved the death of not a few of his nobles; but he persevered and so far succeeded in accomplishing his purpose. In 980 a.d. a host of Danish invaders landed at Montrose and wrecked the town. In his defeat of the Danes at Luncarty, the legend bears that he was assisted by a ploughman and his sons, the reputed ancestors of the Hays of Errol. With their help, having driven off these invaders, Kenneth and his people enjoyed peace and prosperity. But after a time trouble and disorder arose in the Mearns, which led in the end to the death of Kenneth. Hollinshead, the English chronicler, relates that Cruthlint, "One of the chiefest lords of the Mearns, was son unto a certain ladie named Fenella, the daughter of one named Cruthneth, that was governor of the part of Angus which lieth betwixt the two rivers, the Southeske and the North-eske. Cruthlint chanced to come unto the Castell of Delbogin to see his grandfather, the said Cruthneth, where, upon light occasion, a fraie (quarrel) was begun among the serving men, in the which two of Cruthlint's servants fortuned to be slaine." The chronicler details at great length that Cruthlint complained to his grandfather, who took the part of his own servants and answered him reproachfully. Whereupon his grandfather's men fell upon him and beat him so much that his life was in danger. He however escaped, and at the instigation of his mother, Fenella, "in the Castell of Fethrrcarne," he gathered together secretly a band of Mearns men and made a night attack upon the Castle of Dalbog, slew the inmates, carried off the spoil, and divided the same among his followers. Next day he forayed the district and returned with great booty. The men of Angus assembled themselves and invaded the Mearns. After a series of skirmishes, involving much slaughter and destruction of property on both sides, the king was informed of the mischief, and forthwith, by proclamation, ordered the culpable leaders, upon pain of death, to appear within fifteen days at Scone to answer for their conduct. Few appeared, and Cruthlint and other leaders fled to the fastnesses of the Highlands. Kenneth was sorely moved, and resolved to pursue and punish these rebellious subjects. They were captured in Lochaber and brought to the Castle of Dunsinane, where Cruthlint and the chief rebels were executed. Their common followers were pardoned, and for this the king was greatly praised; but, for her son's death, Fenella cherished towards him a deadly hatred. To secure the succession to the crown in his own family, he conceived the idea of getting rid by poison of his nephew Malcolm, whom the nobles preferred. He secretly accomplished his wicked purpose; but remorse of conscience and the constant terror of detection troubled him so much that he could not rest, and to ease his mind he humbly confessed to his bishop, who counselled him to do penance at the shrine of St. Palladius at Fordoun; and it was when on his way thither that he is supposed to have met his death at the hands of Fenella. He lodged at the "Castell of Fethercarne, where there was a forest full of all manner of wild beasts that were to be had in anie part of Albion." Fenella, concealing her deadly intention, gave him a hearty reception. Within her castle she had a tower constructed, "covered with copper" and fitted inside with rich furnishings; "Behind the same were crossbowes set ready bent, with sharp querrels in them,'randin the middle a brazen iraa^e resembling the figure of the king, holding in one hand a golden apple, so artfully devised that, if any one took hold of it, the crossbaws would discharge their querrela upon him with great force. Fenella, then, after meat, invited Kenneth into the chamber. He admired its rich hangings and furniture, and asked what the image signified. Fenella answered that it represented his person, and that she intended the golden apple set with precious stones to be a gift for him; at the same time courteously and smilingly requesting him to accept the present and take it in his hand. To avoid danger to herself, she artfully drew aside, but the king no sooner took hold of the apple than the crossbows discharged their querrels into his body, and he fell mortally wounded, and when after a short time his-servants forced their way, they found him lying dead on the floor. Hollinshead farther relates that Fenella took horse and fled from her pursuers, and that by the help of Constantine, Kenneth's successor, she escaped and landed in Ireland. The tradition still current in the Mearns bears that she fled across the Howe and over the hill of Garvock, concealing herself in the tree tops, and when overtaken by her pursuers at the deep rocky gorge of Lauriston, St. Cyrus, called after her "Den Fenella," where the stream forms a picturesque waterfall a hundred feet high,

"She leapt from the rocks to a wild boiling pool,
Where her body was torn and toss'd."

Buchanan and other historians deem all this story a fable, though asserted by John Major and Hector Boece, and think it more probable that the king, when engaged in hunting the deer, the wolf, the badger and the boar in the pleasant and shady groves near Fettercairn, was slain in an ambush prepared by Fenella. Local tradition asserts that the freestone slab in St Palladius Chapel, curiously sculptured with the figures of armed horsemen and animals of the chase, commemorates the death of Kenneth. Referring to this event, Skene, in his Celtic Alban, quotes from a Pictish Chronicle that Kenneth was slain at the foot of the Grampians, or Monedh so called; the event being thus described:—

"He will bend his steps, no neighbourly act
To Magsliabh at the great Monedh;
The Gael will shout around his head;
His death was the end of it."

The story as related by Wyntoun in book vi. of his Rhyming Chronicle is, in his original style, as follows:—

"To this Kyng Culen dede,
Malcolmys sowne the Kyng Kynede
Wes oure the Scottis in Scotland
Twenty yhere and foure regnand.
The Erie of Angus in hys dayis
Conquhare calld, the story sayis,
Had a dochtyre Fynbella calld,
The quhilk had a sone yhong and bold;
At Dwnsynane this Kyned
The Kyng put this man to dede.
Fra thine hys modyr had ay in thowcht
To ger this kyng to dede be browcht;
And for scho cowth noucht do, that be mycht,
Scho made thame traytowyrs by hyr slycht,
That, the kyng befor them wend
For his lele legis hade bene kend.
As throw the Mernys on a day
The kyng was rydand his hey way,
Off hys awyne curt al suddanly
Agayne hym ras a cumpany
In to the towne off Fethyrkerne;
To fecht wyth hym thai ware sa yherne,
And he agayne thame faucht sa fast;
But he thare slayne was at the last,
And off this mak and rehers
Owth hym wryttyn ar thire wers;
Post quern rex/ertur Scotis regriasse Kynedun
Malcomi natus quajbnw et d-eca but.
Iste Fethyrlceme telisfit et arte peremptu
Nate Cuncari Fimbel fraude cadem."

Of this verse the following is a literal translation: And after him (Culene) Kenneth, the son of Malcolm, is said to have reigned over the Scots four and twenty (years). He, by artfulness and deadly weapons, was slain at Fettercairn, falling by the guile of Fenella, the daughter of Cunquhar.

Some historians maintain that Kincardine Castle and not Greencairn was the residence of Fenella, and that she was captured, taken back to her castle and burned together with the building. Kenneth's body was carried to Iona, "a far cry" in those days, and buried with other kings and nobles. His subjects deeply lamented his untimely death, and in Perthshire, where he defeated and drove off the Danish invaders, the very name of Fettercairn became a byword and a reproach.


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