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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter VI.—History from 1600 to 1698


DURING the troublous times of the Covenant in the first half of the seventeenth century, Fettercairn did not escape the evils that overtook the country. Being on the highway and direct line of route from south to north, the contending armies and parties left traces of themselves and their movements. From Memorials of the time written by John Spalding, Commissary Clerk and Diarist of Aberdeen, the following statements and extracts may be -quoted. "In January, 1635, Mr John Spottiswood, Archbishop of St. Andrews, was made Chancellor of Scotland, and his son President. Whereupon the Marquis of Huntly being rejected, moved South by short stages. Satterday, he got to Fettercarne where he was storms ted Sonday, Mounonday, and Tuysday. Left for Brechine, sex myllis on Wedensday. In March, 1639, a meeting was proposed anent covenanting trubles between the earl of Argyle and his good-brother, the Marquis of Huntly at Brechine or Fettercarne, but said to be not held. August 22nd, 1639: the body of John Menzies, son of the late Provost of Aberdeen, drowned riding throw the North water, was conveyed with mournful procession to Aberdeen." The Marquis of Montrose, whose erratic marches, sudden victories and strange coursing over Scotland, read like a romance of history, made his presence felt in no place more than in Fettercairn. As an ardent covenanter, the Committee of the Tables gave him the command of their forces. On the 12th of February, 1639, he rode with a chosen company of two hundred men through Fettercairn and over the Cairn o' Mount to support a meeting of covenanters at Turriff. And along with the Earl Marisehal of Dunnottar and Captain John Middleton (afterwards Earl Middleton of Fettercairn) at the head of the Mearns men, they fought on the 19th June, 1639, at the Bridge of Dee, and compelled the people of Aberdeen to sign the Covenant. Oh the 11th July, 1640, Captain Middleton, with eighty soldiers, marched from Fettercairn, or from Caldhame (his father's house and lands) to Aberdeen, "to compel the band to subscribe for the Earl Marisehal." In 1644, after Montrose had turned royalist, he marched his troops up and down over Scotland, and in the autumn of that year passed twice through Fettercairn. His forces, made up of Highland clans and Irish auxiliaries, [In this connection it is interesting to note that Alexander, the son of Coll M'Donnell, "Colkitto " (Coll-the-left-handed) of the noble house of Antrim, was the brave leader of this Irish band, because the Lady Jane Grey Trefusis, now of Fettercairn, is a daughter of the late Mark M'Donnell, fifth Earl of Antrim.] put to flight the Covenanting army at Aberdeen, pillaged the city and slew the people. Many of the covenanters who fled took refuge in the Mearns. The Earl of Argyle raised a regiment to oppose Montrose, and, according to Spalding, they landed with their wives at Old Aberdeen. And to make up for small pay, or no pay, they plundered the country. At Drum, some 800 of them were paid 4000 merks to get them off, and they took the heich (high) road south. Their wives were sent by the citizens to overtake their husbands at Fettercarne, and they, in Aberdeen, thought themselves well quite (quit) of this rascal regiment. But what an amount of suffering all this entailed upon the helpless inhabitants of Fettercairn, subjected to the pillage and plundering invasion of a wild, lawless, and hungry army of 800 men with wives and followers.

After the defeat of the Earl of Argyle, at Inverlochy, on 2nd February, 1645, the Marquis of Montrose, with an additional number of Highland chiefs and their followers, reached Aberdeen, and marching southward, pillaged and burnt Stonehaven, Cowie, the estates and lands of the Earl Marischal, who took refuge in the Castle of Dunnottar, the lands of Drumlithie and Arbuthnott, as well as the Howe of the Mearns which was left "black with fire and red with blood," amidst the tears and lamentations of the wretched inhabitants. As described by Spalding:

"Montrose cumis to Fettercairn upon Frydday, the 22nd day of Marche, quarteris his foot army, and sendis out quarter-mesteris to quarter sum trooperis in the countrie and about the broughe of Montroiss. But General-Major Hurry, lying in ambush within the planting of Halkertoun by (without) their knowledge, issues out suddantlie with ane gryte crye and ane schout upone thir trouperis, who returnit back to Montroiss' camp shortlie. But how soon Hurry sees thame, he takes intill ane uther buss hard besyd, but he is rousit out and routit throw the North Watter, who fled gryter skaith than he gave to Livetenant-Major Baillie lying nar hand, with his army. Montroiss  trooperis returnis back to the camp, quhair Mr James-Strathauchin's [Although not stated by Spalding, James Strathauchin or Strachan was the proprietor, and not the minister of Fettercairn, as supposed by Jervise, Fraser, and others. The minister was a David Strachan, also-connected with the Strachans of Thornton, who from time to time had grants, the last of these in 1637, of the lands of Fettercairn and Kincardine.] houss in Fettercarne was brynt."

"Montrois stayit at Fettercane Frydday, Satterday, Sonday, and marchis therefra upon Monnonday, the 25th of Marche (1645), to Brechine with his foot army. . . . Marche was very windie, heiche and outrageous, whereof \the lyke was never seen heir." During the stay of Montrose and his troops, they laid waste the neighbouring lands, and killed the aged father of General Middleton as he sat in his chair in the Castle of Caldhame.

It would appear from Spalding's account that, soon after the departure of Montrose and his troops, General Baillie and the covenanting army returned from some counter-marchings beyond Brechin, and on the 11th of April passed through Fettercairn on the route to Aberdeen. Accompanied by several nobles and barons, and marching round by Strathbogie, they plundered the cattle and goods of all loyal to the king; and turning south through Atholl, " he syne merchis throw the heids (hillsides) to Kirriemure, Fettercarne, and upon Setterday, 10th May, cums and campis in the Birss, plunderin the countrie wherer he goes, eiting the grein growin cornes, scairss cum to the bleid, with their horsis. He had above 2000 foot and sax score trouperis." Five years later, in 1650, the people of Fettercairn saw the great and high-handed Montrose sadly humbled, after his betrayal by Macleod of Assynt, being led along, as we read, bound hand and foot with straw ropes, on horseback, to his execution in Edinburgh.

In the end of the same year another procession, but of a different character, passed through Fettercairn. The Earl of Errol journeyed from Slains Castle to Scone, where he had to officiate as Lord High Constable of Scotland at the coronation of Charles II., on the 1st of January, 1651. They arrived at Fettercairn on the 26th of December, and lodged there for the night. In a Household Book of the Errol family, the following record of discharge occurs:

"For supper and breakfast at Fettercarne in

Harie Balfour's, ......... 7 0 0 (11/8 stg.)
For corn and stra for 7 horse, one night there, 5 4 0 (8/8).
To the servants in drink money, ... 0 8 0 (8d)."

The whole amount of the bill being 21/ stg. The earl and his train (an Express of the period) took four days to do the journey, about 110 miles. The stages were Muchalls, Fettercairn, Forfar, and Scone. A modern Express would cover the distance in less than three hours.

In 1651 the Castle of Edzell was occupied by Cromwell's troops, and the parish register records that for two months, October and November, "there was no sermon in the church, the English army having scattered the people of God to gather corn and forage for their horses." The lands of Fettercairn had, no doubt, to bear their share of this forage. But here it may be noted that Cromwell confirmed by a precept, dated at Edinburgh in 1657, to Andrew Wood, the lands of Balbegno and the thanedom of Fettercairn.

Towards the end of the month of May, 1685, a company of wretched prisoners, barefooted and with hands bound behind their backs, were driven like sheep along the highway which has been already referred to as traversing the lower parts of the parish from west to east. The unhappy company of covenanters, numbering altogether about 167 men and women, were in charge of a band of rude soldiers, who were under orders of the Privy Council to convey them from the prisons of the south and west of Scotland to the Castle of Dunnottar. Throughout the long and wearisome journey no shelter by day or by night was provided for the prisoners, and during the last night there raged a pitiless storm of wind and rain. A halt was called at the North Water Bridge, built in a previous age by the famous reformer, John Erskine of Dun, and within the parapet walls of the bridge the unhappy company were huddled together, whilst a few of the soldiers kept guard at either end.

Another event, worthy of being narrated, took place in the following year at Fettercairn. On Sunday, 29th July, 1686, a Mr William Burnett, who by purchase had acquired the lands of Balfour, collected all his tenants, thirty-three in number, and took forcible possession of the whole seats in the church, which belonged to the estate of Balfour, including a "laigh dask," sold in 1632 by Alexander Straton of Lauriston and Balfour to the first Earl of Southesk. The contest took place between Burnett and Robert the third Earl, to whom, in 1673, the Stratons sold the patronage of the church. For his intrusive act, Burnett was fined by the Privy Council.

Still another Sunday morning event, and also at the church, falls in the order of time to be noticed. Mr Hercules Skinner, minister of Fettercairn, died in January, 1698. His assistant, Mr David Clark, son of William Clark in Nethermill, eagerly desired to be appointed successor. His friends and relations, however, proceeded in a very questionable way to secure the desired object. On Sunday, 13th February, Mr Francis Melville, minister of Arbuthnott, came by order of the Presbytery to preach the church vacant. He was grievously assailed by Mr Clark and some sixteen persons, whose names and doings, as detailed in a report of their trial at the Sheriff Court, are given in another chapter. "They beat Mr Francis and blooded him with stones, rent his clothes, kept up the keys of the kirk door in proud and manifest contempt of the laws of the kingdom."


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