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Forfarshire
Chapter 17. - History of the County


Numerous Roman remains, more conspicuous indeed a century ago than they are now, prove that the Romans visited various parts of Angus. Camps at Meikleour and Lintrose in Perthshire seem to have been directly connected with others at Coupar Angus, Cardean, Battle Dykes near Forfar, and War Dykes north of Brechin; while former traces of a camp at Cater Milley [quatuor milia\ beside Invergowrie, and an entire entrenchment at Haerfaulds near Kirkbuddo, point to the possible existence of another Roman military route between the Sidlaws and the Tay.

Within a couple of centuries after the Romans left, Christianity was introduced into Scotland. Tradition has it that as early as 431 the first church north of the Tay was founded at Invergowrie. Boniface, a missionary from Rome, seems to have been there in the seventh century, while in the eighth, St Drostan, abandoning his bishopric in Donegal, settled as the apostle of the faith in the wilds of Glenesk. At a still later period the Culdees established themselves at Brechin.

Forfarshire was one of the main theatres of the long-continued conflict of the Picts with the Scots on the one hand and with the Angles of Northumbria on the other. Historians are agreed in identifying the site of the battle of Nechtan’s Mere with Dunnichen in Forfarshire. For long the Angles had assumed possession of Pictland, but on that battlefield their king, Egfrith, was decisively repulsed, and the limits of Northumbria were pushed south to the Tweed.

But the Picts were destined to find a more formidable enemy in the Scots. On the conflict with them as well as on the civil wars amongst the Picts themselves, history sheds an uncertain light. That the Scots were the ultimate victors in their struggle with the Picts is certified by the fact that in 844 both accepted Kenneth MacAlpin as their king; but it is clear from the records of such engagements as the battle of Liff, that their victory was by no means assured from the first. On that occasion, Alpin, a Scottish king, whose headquarters had been at Dundee, was defeated and slain by the Picts at Pitalpin (i.e. grave of Alpin) near Camperdown.

Angus suffered with other districts from the raids of the Vikings. In 980 they are said to have taken the town and castle of Montrose. In 1012 they appear to have landed in three bands at Montrose, Lunan Bay, and near Carnoustie. They succeeded in burning Brechin, but met with signal defeat at Barry and Aberlemno. Near the former place, in what is sometimes known as the Battle of Panbride, Malcolm II won a great victory over Camus, general of King Sweno of Norway. This leader is said to have been buried at Camuston, where an abnormally large skeleton with part of the skull cut away was reported to have been found. A rude clay urn and a bracelet of gold preserved at Brechin Castle are regarded as relics of this incursion. It is at least certain that in no part of Angus have so many traces of ancient sepulture been found as near Aberlemno and Carnoustie. Numerous traces of the Vikings exist near Lunan and Inverkeillor.

The eleventh, twelfth, and early thirteenth centuries, though comparatively obscure, were a momentous era for all Scotland and are especially noteworthy in the history of Forfarshire. The county was then often favoured by the presence of royalty, and the county-town attained an eminence it was not destined to hold permanently. The names of Malcolm II, Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret, David I, William the Lion, and Alexander II, are often closely associated with Angus in such matters as the building of fortalices, the holding of royal councils, the founding of ecclesiastical institutions, and die granting of charters and trading privileges to towns. These also are the centuries during which manly aristocratic families settled in this part of the country.

Angus figures prominently in the War of Independence. In the years 1295—7 Dundee changed hands no fewer than three times, Wallace and Scrimgeour, who acted fori him in his absence, taking it from the English, and Morton and Edward himself recapturing it from the Scots. At Stracathro in 1296 John Baliol appeared, stripped of his kingly ornaments, before Edward, and formally surrendered all claims to the kingdom of Scotland. In 1306 the National Council met in Dundee and declared Bruce rightful king. Six years later his brother took Dundee from the English. Five times between 1320 and 1328 Bruce took up his quarters at the Abbot’s house in Arbroath; while parliament met in the abbey and issued the Declaration of the Independence of Scotland, and their remonstrance against the excommunication of Kina; Robert by Pope John XXII. During the minority of David II, his regent, Sir Andrew Murray, gained a notable victory at Panmure over Lord Montfort commanding an army for Edward III.

The Grampians formed the natural boundary line between Celtic and anglicised Scotland, and Angus, lying as it did just within the borders of the latter, had to bear the brunt of many an invasion from the north. About 11392 the son of the Wolf of Badenocb made his appearance amongst the Braes of Angus at the head of a band of Highland caterans, and wasted the country. Walter Ogilvy, the sheriff of the county, defeated him with great slaughter.

In those days family feuds were common. Ogilvy of Inverquharity had superseded the Master of Crawford as justiciar in the regality of the Abbey of Arbroath. This caused a fierce feud between the Lindsays and the Ogilvys; and in the battle of Arbroath, in which both sides suffered severely, the latter were defeated. Inverquharity is said to have been smothered in the Castle of Finhaven.

A mysterious affair in the reign of James V was the execution of Lady Glamis, sister of the Earl of Angus. Having “conspired and imagined the destruction of the most noble person of our most serene lord the king by poison,” so ran the charge against her, she was burned to death upon the Castle Hill, Edinburgh, “with great commiseration of the people in regard of her noble blood, being in the prime of her life, of a singular beauty, and suffering, although a woman, with a manlike courage.”

In the Reformation Forfarshire played an important part. Indeed, Dundee was the first Scottish burgh to declare for the reformed faith, and the inhabitants signalised the new departure in 1543 by destroying the houses of the Black and the Grey Friars.

With the rest of the county, Forfarshire suffered alike from English and French attempts at domination during Queen Mary’s minority. Dundee was taken and fired by the English soon after the battle of Pinkie. Broughty Castle, which the English seized about the same time, was recaptured by the^Scots and the French in 1549.

The next decade is marked by the ascendency of the Lords of the Congregation and their struggle with the queen-regent, Mary of Guise. Dundee was for some time their headquarters. They seized and fortified Broughty Castle.

When James VI left the kingdom to succeed Queen Elizabeth, deadly feuds raged amongst the nobles. In Forfarshire Ogilvys and Lindsays carried on their ancient family animosities. These feuds were not always confined to neighbouring families. The burning of the “Bonnie Hoose o’ Airlie” was an act of vengeance on the Ogilvys carried out in 1640 by the far-stretched arm of Argyle.

During the campaign of 1644-1645, the Marquis of Montrose did not spare his native shire. Covenanters and Royalists fought in the town of Montrose; and next year the Marquis stormed and pillaged Dundee, which supported the Covenanters.

Between 1645 and 1648 Forfarshire suffered along with the rest of the country during a visitation of the plague which is said to have carried off nearly half of the inhabitants. The attempt made by Charles II, in 1650, to escape from the Covenanters, which is known in history as the “Start,” had its scene mainly in Angus. Taking flight from Perth, he rode by way of Dudhope, Auchter-house, and Cortachy to Clova, where he was overtaken by his pursuers “in a nasty room above a mat of sedges and rushes, overwearied and very fearful.”

Next year General Monk captured and sacked Dundee. In 1689 Forfarshire was the scene of several of Claverhouse’s movements and operations; and in 1715 it was strongly Jacobite. The magistrates of Dundee being for James, the Old Pretender, although most of the citizens were Hanoverian, Graham of Duntrune proclaimed him king there. On January 16, 1716, James, accompanied by his lieutenant, the Earl of Mar, entered Dundee; and, on the collapse of the rebellion, he sailed from Montrose. In 1745 there was strife at Montrose between the Jacobites and the Royalists. Dundee was seized and held for five months for Prince Charles. After Culloden many of the Jacobites found refuge in Glenesk; and Dundee being recovered for the Royalists, Cumberland entered the city and received in a golden casket a free burgess ticket.

Towards the close of the eighteenth century the bread riots of “the Meal Mob” occurred in Dundee ; and a celebrated local incident was the planting in the High Street of the “Tree of Liberty,” a piece of work so distasteful to the provost that he had the tree uprooted and thrown into a cellar, whence it was afterwards removed to a garden in the west end of the city. As might be expected the French Revolution was not without its effects in a district so radical. Political discussion was rife and the authorities put it down with a high hand. George Mealmaker’s address to the people of Scotland on the subject of reform was edited by a Dundee clergyman, Thomas Fysche Palmer, who paid for his fearless efforts in the cause of liberty by seven years’ transportation to Australia, in which he was accompanied voluntarily by James Ellis, an ardent admirer of his action. In 1816 Parliamentary reform was actively taken up by Dundonians, and is associated with the names of Rintoul, Mudie, and Kinloch. Local interest in the subject is memorialised in street names, like Reform Street.


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