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The Lairds of Glenlyon: Historical Sketches
Chapter 10


THE estate of Glenlyon did not long remain in possession of the Athole family. The Marquess during the short time he had it, projected, and partly completed, several improvements. He repaired the roads, built bridges, and commenced working the lead mine called "Meall-htaidhe" on the hill of Kerrumore, an undertaking that would probably be now highly remunerative, but which failed then on account of the difficulty of carriage. He, moreover, gets credit traditionally for having been the first to introduce the larch tree to Glenlyon; but in this matter tradition errs. It was Crowner Menzies' grandson who first brought larches from the Tyrol. The larches behind the garden of Meggernie, were the first planted in Scotland.

After being held by the Marquess for seven years, he sold the estate to Colonel James Menzies of Culdares, better known by the name of "Crunnair Ruadh nan cearc" i.e. "Crowner Roy of the Hens." The history of this man is very curious, but the hearsay version may not be very accurate. The dramatic cast given it by tradition may be an embellishment of the truth; but, unluckily, having no means of testing the matter, I can merely give as I find.

About the year 1620, a boy, known by the name of James Roy of the Hens, was to be found among the hangers-on of the Knight of Weem, the chief of the Menzieses, He was an orphan, and claimed some distant cousinship with the family of Menzies. The chief, pitying the poor orphan, extended to him his patronage and protection, and made free to him the hospitality of his kitchen. The boy's ostensible duty was, to look after the poultry, from which he acquired his cognomen "of the Hens." But everybody was the boy's master, and for each little delinquency the butler deprived him of his dinner. In such a straight, the lad usually made his moan to a comfortable childless couple who kept the neighbouring "tigh-osda," or public. There he was always welcome, his wants supplied, and his hardship sympathised with. Meantime he was growing up such a sharp, intelligent, comely lad, as to give occasion to his kind protectress, the hostess of the inn, to remark, "Many a pretty man would like to have James Roy for his son."

The era of which we are speaking was fraught with great events which immediately concerned the welfare of Germany but prospectively the universal freedom of mind. From the day that Luther ended his memorable defence before the Emperor Charles and his nobles at Worms with the words, "Unless I shall be convinced by the words of the Bible, or by open, clear, and convincing reasoning, I neither can nor will recant; for it is neither safe nor advisable to do anything against one's conscience. Here I stand: I cannot act otherwise; may God help me, Amen," the two parties of Catholic and Protestant stood out openly and professedly each other's foes. The defensive alliance entered into by the Protestant Princes at Schmalkalden in 1531, as long as the confederates remained true to their religion and one another, stemmed the combined attack of the Pope and the Emperor.

The chronic struggle, calmed for the time by the pacification of Passau (1552), which secured to the Protestants liberty of conscience, broke out anew with double fierceness, when, fifty years afterwards, the Catholics, with the unworthy help, it must be owned, of the Lutherans, attempted to shut out the Calvinists from the benefits of the Concordat. Matters reached their height at the death of Mathias, 1619. The Bohemians, who had in vain protested against the election of Ferdinand, broke into open revolt, and chose Frederick, Elector Palatine, for their King. He was a Protestant and a Calvinist. James I. of England, his father-in-law, did not give the expected aid, but the British people burned to rush to the rescue, and were ready to risk every hazard for their German brethren in the faith, and their leader, the husband of the Princess Elizabeth. The banner of Protestantism, struck from the hand of Frederick on the battle field of Prague, and reared anew by Christian IV. of Denmark, was grasped at length by the heroic Gustavus Adolphus, and borne in unintermitted triumph, until it finally fluttered above his body on the plain of Leutzen. Gustavus fell amidst his triumphs, but his spirit survived in his Swedish Generals, and the peace of Munster confirmed to the Protestants of the Lutheran and Reformed churches an equality of civil and religious rights and privileges with their Catholic fellow-subjects of the empire.

While the recovery of the Palatinate formed for James the subject of endless intrigues and negotiations, at the same time anxiously evading the necessity of war with Austria or Spain, his subjects, both English and Scotch— the latter especially—sent numberless volunteers into the ranks of the Protestant League of Germany. Many were induced to go from motives of religious duty and predilections, and their love of civil liberty; but the great majority were young men allured by the love of fame and adventure, for which Britain afforded no field since the union of the crowns. Of the latter class of adventurous restless spirits was our hero, James Roy. When or how he found his way to Germany nobody knows, and what were his fortunes there are almost equally obscure. Some years of absence, during which nothing was heard of him, made his name forgotten by all who formerly knew him, except the innkeeper of Weem and his wife. When war with King Charles broke out in 1639, the Scottish officers serving abroad were invited home by the Tables. Among the rest James Roy returned. His gallantry and talents had, it appeared, raised him from the ranks in the service of Sweden; and Leslie, his old commander, was now his general also.

After the pacification of that year the Scottish forces were for a short time disbanded. During this period, a gentleman on horseback arrived late in the day at the small inn of Weem. His dress and arms were strange to the inhabitants, who seldom saw anything but Highland lairds riding about in those days, and they, when they came had always their "tail on," and left no one in doubt as to name, station, and business. The stranger, without satisfying inquiries, saw his horse stabled and entered the house. He seemed struck at the appearance of his host, and asked what had become of such a person, naming his predecessor in the public. His host, astonished to find the seeming foreigner acquainted with the inhabitants of Weem, told him reverses had come upon the old couple, and that they had been obliged to give up the inn some years before, and were now living in a hut, which he pointed out, very poor and helpless. The stranger muttered an exclamation, and without saying more walked to the hut in question. The old couple were making ready their supper, which consisted of "cauld kail made hot again," and a piece of bread, when they were suddenly disturbed by a loud rap at the door. The wife opened it, and the strange gentleman entering without farther ado, asked in good Gaelic, could they give him bed and supper for the night? Much wondering who he was, both replied in a breath they were sorry they could not, they were too poor to have anything suitable for a gentleman like him. "Never mind appearance," says he, striking imperiously with his riding whip the table on which their poor supper was placed: "I have supped off that ere now, and I shall do so to-night. You fed me in my need, and let it be my care to feed, support and honour you in poverty and age. I am James Roy of the Hens—bid we welcome." He was as good as his word, and treated them like father and mother as long as they lived.

Roy fought with great gallantry throughout the whole civil war. While serving in Ireland, he had a romantic intrigue with an Irish lady endowed with the second sight, and a knowledge of magic, arts in which she is said to have also indoctrinated her lover. James Roy, however, for all her gifts, abandoned his Irish lady-love, and when she followed him afterwards to Scotland with their infant son, he refused to see her, and she and the child returned to Ireland. This was about 1646, and the cause of his treachery may be found in his being at the time matrimonially contracted to Sophia, daughter of the Baronet of Glen-orchy and an aunt of "Pale John." The Irish lady's curse followed their nuptials. When the bridal feasting and rejoicings were going on at Finlarig, a hasty messenger announced to the Campbells that four hundred of the Lochaber men had broken in upon Glendochart, and were now driving the creach over Stronchlachane, the hill above Killin. Flushed with wine, the Campbells insisted upon being led against the foe. The bridegroom, who saw the Catherans' advantages of position, as having sun, wind, and ground in their favour, remonstrated against an immediate attack, and proposed a plan by which the robbers could be taken at unawares, and the creach safely recovered. One of the Campbells, for this prudent advice, retorted upon Menzies with the charge of cowardice, calling him the "Meinarach Bog," i.e. soft Menzies. The soldier of Gustavus, who owed all to his sword, was not the man—in presence of his highborn bride and new kinsmen, who were ready to find every fault with him on account of plebeian birth—for a moment to bear patiently such an affront. "Each man's blood be on his own head," says he; "charge the foe in God's name ; we shall see before night who is soft and who is not." In the murderous affray which followed, Menzies attacked hand-to-hand the leader of the Lochaber men, and slew him, while taunting him with his nickname of the "Hens." The head of the Lochaber man was cut off with such quickness and dexterity, that it is said, as it rolled down the hillside separated from the body, the tongue for some seconds continued to articulate "Cearc, Cearc." As foreseen by Menzies, the day went against the Campbells, great numbers were slain, and no fewer than eighteen youths of gentle blood, in the nearest degrees of kindred to the house of Breadalbane, were buried at Finlarig next day. Menzies, who performed that day feats of the greatest personal prowess, when matters became desperate rallied the discomfited and broken Campbells, and retreated in firm order. The Lochaber men pursued them to the very gates of Finlarig Castle. Menzies, who was in armour of proof, received nine arrows in his back during the retreat, one when entering the gate.

On the return of the Covenanting army from England, January, 1647, the Marquess of Huntly and Sir Alexander M'Donald were at the head of some Highland and Irish forces for King Charles in the north. General David Leslie took the castles belonging to the Marquess, ravaged his estates, and pursued himself into Lochaber, but failed to capture him. The Marquess was finally taken by our hero, now a Lieutenant-Colonel, in Strathdon, December, 1647. History says he was taken in the house at Dalnabo when going to bed, but this is the version of tradition. After several vain attempts both by Leslie and Middleton, Menzies was sent in pursuit. His men searched the house at Dalnabo, and discovered no trace of the Marquess. Col. Menzies, without troubling himself about the search, stood with his horse against a peat stack, near the house. When his men gave up the search, "It is cold," says he; "set the peat stack on fire; we shall have a Christmas blaze." On this, the Marquess, who was hidden in the stack, came out and was made prisoner. The wizard lore Menzies learned in Ireland was supposed to have helped the discovery. A reward of ,£1,000 sterling had been promised to any one capturing Huntly, and Lieutenant-Colonel James Menzies had an order to that amount on the Scotch exchequer, granted by the Committee of Estates. The spoil of the Gordons falling to his share was also very considerable. After the battle of Dunbar, Charles II.—the King of the Scots, as he was then called—endeavoured to shake himself free of Argyle and the Covenanters, and to form a royal party—a party devoted blindly to hereditary right, and passive obedience—a party hating, as he himself hated, the Solemn League and Covenant. For this purpose he entered into negotiations with the Highland chiefs, Huntly, Moray, and Athole being the foremost. These noblemen were to assemble their men, and the King was to escape from Perth when he heard they were ready, and join them in the mountains. By the information, it is said, of Buckingham, Argyle was put on his guard, and the Athole men, much to their surprise, found the Fords of Lyon strongly guarded by the Campbells under the command of our hero Menzies and his brother-in-law, John Campbell, younger of Glenorchy. By some cast of clever diplomacy, of which Campbell and Menzies were both masters the Earl of Athole and his brother were lured across the Lyon, and then snugly shut up in durance vile in Menzies's castle of Comrie. The Athole men, attacked in Glengowlandie without their leaders, dispersed. The King had simultaneously escaped from Perth, but was taken at Clova, and brought back by Montgomery. The incident is known by the name of "The Start." An act of indemnity was passed in favour of the Athole men for their share in the matter on the 12th of October, 1650, and the word rebellion, at the request of the Earl, was expunged from the pardon, and a more favourable term substituted, Colonel Menzies had an eye always to the main chance, but was generous to his friends and relatives. About 1650 he is found possessing the property of Culdares, called also "Moncrieff's Land," in the dale of Fortingall. Bold and enterprising, he matched in prudence, if not in duplicity, his brother-in-law, Breadalbane. When the King "came to his own again," the covenanting officer quietly made the best of affairs, set himself to acquire property, increased his capital by lending money out at an exorbitant rate of interest, and never afterwards took any active part in the politics of the period. He wished to buy the property of Glenlyon when Robert Campbell got so entangled in debt as to be unable to keep it longer. Robert's jealousy of Breadalbane precipitated matters; and the Earl, who wished Glenlyon to fall to the Crowner, was for the time fairly baffled. From the following letter it would appear Menzies himself was one of Robert's debtors :—

Edr. 13th Febby, 1680.

Sir—I wrote laitlie wt Jon M'Nab showing you how I stood wt Sir Patrick Thriepland, who is pntly in town waiting for that moey that I am cautione for you to him ; and seeing that I am upon penaltie to pay him before I leave the town, therefore I again entreat you to send it heir wt all speed; and I shall see it delyvered and get up your bond and a discharge of that soume. S.o expecting to hear from you, imdatly that this comes to your hand, I refer the news to the E. of Caithnes' letters, who has written to you I understand.—Yor very humble srt.

Ja. Menzas.

After a few years' possession of it by the Athole family, the estate of Glenlyon was again in the market. Duncan Campbell of Duneaves, a near relative of the late Glenlyon, wished to obtain it, and entered into terms with Athole for that purpose. Colonel Menzies was his next neighbour and when Duneaves told him the sum offered by him to Athole, "Ah," said he, "he is cheating you. Let me go to Blair in your place, and I will finish the bargain on easier terms." Menzies did go, and bought the property for himself. Duneaves, suspecting treachery when too late, went to Blair after Menzies. The Marquess was so enraged at the treachery displayed in the transaction, that he compelled Menzies, under threats of corporal punishment, to dispose to Duneaves on the spot his original estate of Culdares. How much of this is true, how much is false, I cannot say—there is no authority but tradition.

From the same respectable authority—tradition, namely —it would appear the Crowner had his full revenge. Menzies' eldest daughter was married to the Laird of Balleid; the second daughter, Agnes, to Stewart of Cardney. —He had no sons. The eldest daughter had only one child a daughter, who was brought up by the Crowner, her grandfather, and declared heiress to all his property. This lady was sought in marriage by Lord James Murray of Garth, son of the Marquess of Athole. The Crowner offered no opposition, and the day of betrothal was fixed. As for the girl, her feelings were not in the first instance consulted; but when her grandfather found, to his great surprise, she had already given her maiden heart to a squire of low degree, he gave up his own plans for the sake of making her happy. The happy man was Captain Archibald Menzies, the Crowner's own nephew, a brave and generous youth, but quite penniless, and dependent for everything on his uncle's kindness. The astute and rather unscrupulous Crowner had strange corners for soft feelings in his soldier heart, and unknown to the noble wooer, unknown even to the girl's father, he readily gave in to the love romance of the youthful pair, and abetted and directed their schemes. Without any suspicion, the Marquess and his son came to the betrothal on the destined day. The hospitable board was spread, and the Crowner's welcome was worthy of his guests. But at the end of the repast, when the destined bride was expected, in her place enters a servant bearing a letter addressed to the Crowner. The latter reads, starts up, and exclaims to the astonishment of the company, "The bird has fled! We are all cheated, my lord! Here's my grand-daughter's letter, begging to announce she loved my nephew better than your noble son and has fled with him—fled with him, she says, for he sits on a pillion behind her. Well, the girl is self-willed, and has always had her own way. Lord James you are happy in having escaped riding behind her." Lord James was not disposed to swallow his mortification, and would have had recourse to violent measures, but he saw there was no use. His father on the other hand, who had before matched his wit against the Crowner's and had been befooled more than once, treated the matter as a practical joke, and quaffed a cup to the happiness of the runaways, and the continued success of his host's intriguing schemes.

The Crowner died, when very old, at Comrie, about the year 1695. Captain Archibald and his grand-daughter succeeded to the property belonging to him.


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