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Glimpses of Church and Social Life in the Highlands in Olden Times and Other Papers
Chapter III. The last Marquesses of Huntly—The Dukes of Gordon—Ratification to first Duke of lordship of Badenoch


GEORGE, the second Marquis of Huntly, before he succeeded to the marquisate, was captain of the Scots Gens-d’Armes to Lewis XIII. of France, was a staunch adherent of Charles I., and was beheaded by the Covenanters on that account on the 30th March 1649. Lewis, the third Marquis, was restored to his honours and estates by Charles II.; and his successor, George, the fourth Marquis, was elevated to a dukedom, as Duke of Gordon, on 1st November 1684. The Duchess, who was a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, retired to a convent in Flanders, and in 1711 excited no small attention by sending to the Dean and Faculty of Advocates a silver medal with a head of the Chevalier de St George on one side, with the British Isles and the- word Reddite on the other. This medal they accepted, and a deputation who waited on her Grace to return their thanks, expressed a hope that she would soon have an opportunity to compliment the Faculty with another medal on the Restoration. Of Alexander, the second Duke, who was a zealous adherent of the Stuart cause in 1715, the following anecdote is related: A Protestant tenant, having fallen in arrears, had his stock seized by the steward and advertised for sale. The farmer, having waited on his Grace and told his sorrowful tale, had the satisfaction of receiving an acquittance of the debt. As he was withdrawing, he expressed a wish to know what the pictures and statues were that adorned the ducal hall. “These,” said the Duke, “are the saints that intercede with the Saviour for me.” “My Lord Duke,” replied the tenant, “I went to little Sawney Gordon and muckle Sawney Gordon, but had I not come to your Grace’s self, I and my bairns would have been turned out o’ house an’ ha’; would it not, then, be better for your Grace to go directly to the one Mediator Himself? ” It has been asserted that this was the means of converting his Grace to the Protestant faith; but whilst it is probable that such a conversation may have had its effect, yet it is more likely that this important change was brought about by his Duchess, who was a daughter of the Earl of Peterborough, and who brought up her numerous family in the Protestant religion.

But to return to Ruthven Castle. By an Act of 1685, “the Castle and Burgh of Barony” were appointed “to be called St George’s Castle and Burgh, with a weekly market and six yearly fairs and a fair at Bellamore” (Biallidmore). The proposed change of name appears never to have been adopted, and in reference to this Dr Anderson of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland writes me as follows:—

“The entry you refer to occurs in a Ratification of the Marquisat, Earldom, and Lordship of Huntly in favour of George, Duke of Gordon. It occurs first as ‘Kingussie-beg, with the Burgh of Barony of Ruthven and weekly mercat there on Friday.’ It again occurs further on in the document as ‘The said lands and Lordship of Lochaber and Badenoch—upon the resignation of Robert, Earle of Southesque, . . . together with the clause of novodamus of the said haill lands, &c., . . . and the clause ordaining the Castle of Ruthven to be called now and in all time coming St George’s Castle, and the Burgh of Barony of Ruthven to be called now and in all time coming St George’s Burgh, and the new erection of ane weekly mercat there upon Friday—and six free faires yearly to be holden there . . . [the names by which they were to be called are not filled in the blanks], each standing for the space of three dayes, and, moreover, two free faires yearly to be holden on the lands of Bellamore.’ It seems to me to be merely reciting from a previous deed. At all events, it is not an Act of Parliament, and the probability is that the proposal to change the name was never carried out. There are two of the proposed changes just before it—viz., the Bogue to be called Gordon Castle, and the Burgh of Barony of Inverlochie to be called now and in all time coming Gordon’s Burgh.”

In the same year (1685) a ratification was granted to the Duke of Gordon of the lordship of Badenoch, specifying the lands comprehended therein; of the patronage of the kirk of Kingussie; and of the burgh of barony of Ruthven, with a weekly market in the burgh on Friday. In 1689, General Mackay of Scourie, who had that year been appointed by William and Mary “Major-General of all forces whatever within our ancient kingdom of Scotland,” placed a garrison of the royal troops in the castle under the command of John Forbes, brother of Culloden. Soon afterwards a detachment of the army of Graham of Claverhouse laid siege to the castle, and the garrison being in want of provisions, capitulated on the condition that their lives should be spared, and that they should be allowed to return to their homes on parole.

“In the end of May or beginning of June about sixty of the Clan Grant, under their Captain, John Forbes of Culloden, marched into Mackay’s camp, bringing the intelligence that the Castle of Ruthven in Badenoch, which they had lately garrisoned, was now a smoking ruin. On the 29th May, Dundee had summoned the Castle to surrender; and a few days later, after a sharp encounter, the defenders, weakened by want of provisions and succours, yielded to Keppoch. The garrison were allowed to march out with the honours of war, but the Castle was given to the flames.”

In an Act of that year it is mentioned that “the house of Ruthven was burnt in the second week of June 1689, by Viscount Dundee.”

The following letter, addressed by “Lieutenant Mackay of the garrison of Badenoch to the Dutches of Gordone,” is, says Dr John Stuart, “very characteristic, as evincing the amount of regard paid by the Highlanders of Badenoch to a Royal Order as compared with that which they were ready to accord to one from their feudal superior ”:—

“Ruthven Castle, the id day of Januarie, 1691.

“May it please your Grace,—

“The king my master haveing wrytten to severall cheifes of clans, and among the rest to the laird of Clunie, to raise a companie for reduceing of the rebels (as your grace may perceive by the inclosed copie of his letter), I cannot but own that Clunie has showen himself very forward; only his kinsmen out of respect and reference to your grace, and the family of Huntly, to whom they are vassalls, refuse obedience without your grace’s order; and seeing the McPhersons are a considerable family, and that ther carrage heerin may be leading and exemplar to others, I wer much wanting to the dutie I ow your grace, and the family your grace represents, as a friend and a wel wisher, and to my master as a subject, especiallie in the statione I now hold, if I did not by ane expresse, aquaint your grace wher the matter strikes at. Give me leave then, with that submisione suits my mean qualitie and statione, to suggest to your grace that it seemes convenient for his majestie’s service, your grace send forthwith your positive order to your bailies in this country to raise a companie of wel-armed men, in termes and for the ends expressed in his majestie’s letter. Your grace sees the matter requires hast, and the sooner the bearer is dispatched with your grace’s order, the mor you show your affection to ther majestie’s government. In all things that may concerne the welfare of your illustrious family [I shall be ready] to aquit myself as becomes, Madam, Your Grace’s most humble and affectionatt servant, Alexander Macky.”

The following “vindication” by the Macphersons to the Duke of Gordon in 1699, with reference to what is described as “one of the most wicked, malicious, and notorious lyes” which could be invented by the “serpentine witt ”of M'Intosh of Borlum, the Duke’s bailie in Badenoch at the time, is certainly remarkable for its pungency and force of language:—

“Whereas we are informed that William M'Intosh of Borlum, Baillie of Badenoch, hath reported one of the most wicked, malicious, and notorious lyes that his serpentine witt could invent, or the devell could indyte to him, to witt, that the country men of Badenoch, of the name of M'Phersone, and particularly the fewers, hade sent message to him with John M'Pherson, younger of Dalrady, declairing that thair only ground of quarrell with him, and accuseing him of malversationes, wes be reason of his close noticeing his grace the Duke of Gordone’s interest against them, and in particular his marches with the saids fewers; and if he did forbear so to doe, that he would be as acceptable to them as any baillie that ever they hade, and now seing such a pernicious and malicious lye (which certainly wes never hatcht or contrived without the concourse and inspiration of the father and author of lyes) might tend to the raiseing sedition twixt the superior and his wassells, and to the utter and quite depriving of the wassells of there superior’s countinance and favor, and might incite him to enmitie against them (which certainly wes their malicious enemie’s designe), theirfoir, and in confutation of the said hellish intension, we have thought fite to declair, lykas we underscribers do hereby declair, upoun our soul and conscience, and as we hop to be saved at the great day of judgment, that we never sent any such message to him, nor so much as talked of any such matter to the said John M'Pherson or any else. Lykeas, I, the said John M'Pherson, hereby solemnly swear upon my soul, and as I expect to be saved, that I never receaved any such message from the country, or any one of them, nor did deliver the samen to the said baillie, nor hade the least ground to doe it from them, neither did I it of my own accord.

Wm. M'Phersone of Noid.
R. M'Phersone of Crathiecroy.
Malcome M'Phersone of Breakachie.
J. M'Pherson of Balchron.
Alex. M'Phersone of Phones.
J. M'Pherson of Cullinlind.
J. M'Phersone of Ardbrylache.
J. M'Pherson of Weaster Glenbenchor.
J. M'Pherson, younger of Dalraddie.
E. M'Phersone in Dellifour.
J. M'Pherson of Pitmean.
J. M'Phersone of Pitterhirne.
A. M'Phersone of Kyllihuntly.
A. M'Pherson, Stramasie.
Johne M'Phersone of Dalradie.
Alex. M'Pherson of Etterishe.”

Shaw, who had when a youth attended the school of Ruthven, and had seen the last castle entire, thus describes it:—

“It stood on a green mount, jutting into a marshy plain. The mount is steep on three sides, and tapering to the top, as if it were artificial; the area on the top, about an hundred yards long and thirty broad; the south wall was nine feet thick, through which the arched entry was guarded by a double iron grate, and a portcullis ; the other walls were sixteen feet high, and four thick, and in the north end of the court were two towers in the corners, and some low buildings, and a draw-well within the court.”

Such was the old castle to which it is said Queen Mary frequently resorted to enjoy the pleasures of the chase. Spottiswood mentions in his history that the Queen “took the sport of hunting the deer in the forest of Mar and Atholl in the year 1563.” Barclay in his ‘Defence of Monarchial Government’ gives the following interesting particulars :—

“The Earl of Atholl prepared for her Majesty’s reception by sending out about two thousand Highlanders to gather the deer from Mar, Badenoch, Murray, and Atholl, to the district he had previously appointed. It occupied the Highlanders for several weeks in driving the deer to the amount of two thousand, besides roes, does, and other game. The Queen, with her numerous attendants, and a great concourse of the nobility, gentry, and people, were assembled at the appointed glen, and the spectacle much delighted her Majesty, particularly as she observed that such a numerous herd of deer seemed to be directed in all their motions by one stately animal among them; they all walked, stopped, or turned as he did— they all followed him. The Queen was delighted to see all the deer so attentive to their leader, and upon her pointing it out to the Earl of Atholl, who knew the nature of the animal well, having been accustomed to it from his youth, he told her that they might all come to be frightened enough by that beautiful beast.

‘For,’ said he, ‘should that stag in the front, which your Majesty justly admires so much, be seized with any fit of fury or of fear, and rush down from the side of the hill, where you see him stand, to this plain, then would it be necessary for every one of us to provide for the safety of your Majesty, and for our own; all the rest of those deer would infallibly come with him as thick as possibly they could, and make their way over our bodies to the mountain that is behind us.’ This information occasioned the Queen some alarm, and what happened afterwards proved it not to be altogether without cause; for her Majesty having ordered a large fierce dog to be let loose on a wolf that appeared, the leading deer, as we may call him, was terrified at the sight of the dog, turned his back, and began to fly thither whence they had come; all the other deer instantly followed. They were surrounded on that side by a line of Highlanders, but well did they know the power of this close phalanx of deer, and at speed; and therefore they yielded, and opposed no resistance; and the only means left of saving their lives was to fall flat on the heath in the best posture they could, and allow the deer to run over them. This method they followed, but it did not save them from being wounded; and it was announced to the Queen that two or three men had been trampled to death. In this manner the deer would have all escaped, had not the huntsmen, accustomed to such events, gone after them, and with great dexterity headed and turned a detachment in the rear ; against these the Queen’s stag-hounds and those of the nobility were loosed, and a successful chase ensued. Three hundred and sixty deer were killed, five wolves, and some roes ; and the Queen and her party returned to Blair delighted with the sport.”

Ruthven Barracks, of which the ruins now exist, were built in 1718 by the government of the day on the site of the old castle for the purpose of overawing the people of Badenoch after the Rising of “ Mar’s Year.” With regard to its garrison and their intercourse with the inhabitants of Badenoch, various legends survive. Indeed certain families are still pointed out as bearing names that connect them with the English soldiers. A singular league between one of its officers and Macpherson of Banchor forms an amusing story. Even in its degradation the mound of Ruthven long continued to be regarded as a rendezvous for the surrounding country, and it was to its summit that the people of the district flocked to hold high jubilee when the news arrived of the victory of Waterloo.

In MacGibbon and Ross’s able and interesting work, ‘ Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland,’ the existing ruins are thus described:—

“The building as it stands is entirely of the eighteenth century. Not a vestige of any earlier work can now be traced. . . . The approach is by a steep slope up the south-east side of the hill. There are here traces which may perhaps have been formed in connection with older works. A separate entrance led to the central court, between the main building and the out-buildings to the west. The whole platform was surrounded with a wall, of which only some portions now remain. It is not over two feet thick, and in this respect, as well as its want of durability, it presents a striking contrast to the walls of enceinte of the early castles. The main building consists of a courtyard, seventy-five feet long by forty wide, surrounded with buildings, those on the north and south sides being barracks, three storeys in height, for the troops, and those on the east and west sides being enclosing walls with a series of open arched recesses on the inner sides. These were intended to support a wide platform (in the position of the old parapet-walk) on which guns might be worked. The principal entrance is in the centre of the east wall, and the access to the platform of the wall was by outside stairs at the north and south ends. Access to the platform of the west wall was obtained by a wide open staircase facing the principal entrance. The portion to the stable-court was under this staircase. The barracks contained two rooms on each floor with a central staircase. The windows are all towards the courtyard—the opening in the outer walls on each floor being loop-holes for musketry-fire. The enclosing walls are all similarly loop-holed. The outside faces of the walls are enfiladed from two towers at the north-east and south-west angles of the quadrangle, exactly on the same principle as in the old Z plans. The north-east tower appears to have contained the guard-rooms, and the south-west tower the kitchen. The latrines were at the north-west and south-east angles. Between the quadrangle and the detached building to the north there is a large level grass-grown court suitable for drill. The northern building has walls one storey high, with wide doorways, above which there seems to have been a great loft in the roof approached by an open staircase in the centre. These out-buildings were probably the stables, with hay-loft above. The walls are loop-holed on the ground-floor like those of the barracks, and have large windows in the gables. The small rooms adjoining the stables were probably guard-rooms and harness-rooms. In this eighteenth-century barrack we find a complete departure from almost all the ideas which prevailed in earlier times. We also see here the more complete carrying out of some of the ideas of which we have met with some partial examples, as at Mar Castle and Corgarff.”

When the Rising of the ’45 broke out, the company of the royal forces stationed in the barracks of Ruthven at the time joined Cope on his march to Inverness, the barracks being left in charge of Sergeant Molloy and fourteen men of the 6th Regiment of foot. So well adapted was the place for purposes of defence that the sergeant’s party, small as it was, successfully resisted the first attempt to oust them made by 200 of Prince Charlie’s followers. Early in the following year, however, a more determined attack to obtain possession of the barracks was made by 300 of the Prince’s adherents on their way to Culloden, under the command of Gordon of Glenbucket; and although the small band of Royalists were obliged to yield, yet for three days they made so gallant a defence that they obtained an honourable capitulation, and the dauntless sergeant was soon preferred to the rank of a lieutenant.

The account of the defence of the barracks on the occasion given by the gallant sergeant in a communication to his general is worth quoting:—

“Honoured General,—This goes to acquaint you that yesterday there appeared in the little town of Ruthven above 300 men of the enemy, and sent proposals to me to surrender this redoubt, upon condition that I should have liberty to carry off bag and baggage. My answer was, ‘ That I was too old a soldier to surrender a garrison of such strength without bloody noses.’ They threatened hanging me and my men for refusal; I told them I would take my chance. This morning they attacked me about twelve o’clock (by my information) with about 150 men. They attacked ‘fore-gate’ and ‘sally-port,’ and attempted to set ‘ sally-port ’ on fire with some old barrels and other combustibles, which took place immediately ; but the attempter lost his life by it. They drew off about half an hour after three. About two hours after, they sent to me that two of their chiefs wanted to talk to me. I admitted, and spoke to them from the parapet. They offered conditions—I refused; they desired liberty to carry off their dead men—I granted. There are two men since dead of their wounds in town, and three more they took with them, as I am informed. They went off westward about eight o’clock this morning; they did the like march yesterday, in the afternoon, but came back at nightfall. They took all the provisions the poor inhabitants had in the town, and Mrs Macpherson, the barrack-wife, and a merchant of the town, who spoke to me at this moment, and who advised me to write to your honour, and told me that there were 3000 men all lodged in the corn-fields west of the town last night, and their grand camp is at Dalahinny. They have Cluny Macpherson with them prisoner, as I have it by the said information. I lost one man, shot through the head, by foolishly holding his head too high over the parapet. I expect another visit this night, I am informed, with their peteraroes; but I shall give them the warmest reception my weak party can afford. I shall hold out as long as possible.

“I conclude, honourable General, with great respect, your most humble servant, Molloy, Sergeant.'”

The last historical incident in connection with Ruthven Castle, as the building continued to be called, was the meeting of the remnant of Prince Charlie’s followers after the battle of Culloden. In the expectation that the Prince would still make a stand, Lord George Murray and the other chiefs who remained with the army retired to Ruthven Castle, where, including Cluny’s men, there assembled a force of from 2000 to 3000 men. The Chevalier Johnston, who was an eyewitness of what occurred at the time, writes in his ‘ Memoirs ’ of the ’45 as follows :—

“I arrived on the 18th at Ruthven, which happened, by chance, to become the rallying-point of our army, without having been previously fixed on. There I found the Duke of Athol, Lord George Murray, the Duke of Perth, Lord John Drummond, Lord Ogilvie, and many other chiefs of clans, with about four or five thousand Highlanders, all in the best possible disposition for renewing hostilities, and for taking their revenge. The little town of Ruthven is about eight leagues from Inverness, by a road through the mountains, very narrow, full of tremendously high precipices, where there are several passes which a hundred men could defend against ten thousand, by merely rolling down rocks from the summit of the mountains. Lord George Murray immediately despatched people to guard the passes, and at the same time sent off an aide-de-camp to inform the Prince that a great part of his army was assembled at Ruthven; that the Highlanders were full of animation and ardour, and eager to be led against the enemy; that the Grants and other Highland clans, who had till then remained neutral, were disposed to declare themselves in his favour, seeing the inevitable destruction of their country from the proximity of the victorious army of the Duke of Cumberland; that all the clans who had received leave of absence would assemble there in a few days; and that instead of five or six thousand men, the whole of the number present at the battle of Culloden,—from the absence of those who had returned to their homes, and of those who had left the army on reaching Culloden on the morning of the 16th, to go to sleep,—he might now count upon eight or nine thousand men at least, a greater number than he had at any time in his army. Everybody earnestly entreated the Prince to come immediately, and put himself at the head of this force. We passed the 19th at Ruthven without any answer to our message, and in the interim all the Highlanders were cheerful and full of spirits, to a degree perhaps never before witnessed in an army so recently beaten, expecting, with impatience, every moment the arrival of the Prince; but on the 20th Mr M'Leod, Lord George’s aide-de-camp, who had been sent to him, returned with the laconic message, ‘ Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can.’ This answer, under existing circumstances, was as inconsiderate in Charles as it was heart-breaking to the brave men, who had sacrificed themselves in his cause. However critical our situation, the Prince ought not to have despaired. On occasions when everything is to be feared, we ought to lay aside fear; when we are surrounded with dangers, no danger ought to alarm us. With the best plans we may fail in our enterprises; but the firmness we display in misfortune is the noblest ornament of virtue. This is the manner in which a Prince ought to have conducted himself, who, with a rashness unexampled, had landed in Scotland with only seven men.”

It has been supposed that the inconsiderate orders to disperse given by Prince Charlie were due to bad advice. After receiving his despairing and heart-breaking message, the officers assembled at Ruthven, held a brief council of war, and resolved to set fire to the building to prevent its falling into the hands of the Royalists. They then, we are told, “took a melancholy leave of each other,” apparently realising that the “day of dool ” on dire Culloden had rendered all their sacrifices and enthusiastic devotion to the cause of him whom they had regarded as their rightful king altogether in vain, and that nothing awaited them but absolute ruin and lifelong exile from their native hills, or perhaps even death on the scaffold.

1. .

“The moorland wide, and waste, and brown,
Heaves far and near, and up and down—
Few trenches green the desert crown,
And these are the graves of Culloden!

2.

What mournful thoughts to me they yield,
Gazing with sorrow yet unhealed
On Scotland’s last and saddest field—
O, the desolate Moor of Culloden!

3-

Ah me! what carnage vain was there!
What reckless fury, mad despair! .
On this wide moor such odds to dare—
O, the wasted lives of Culloden!

4-

For them laid there, the brave and young,
How many a mother’s heart was wrung!
How many a coronach sad was sung !
O, the green, green graves of Culloden!

5-

What boots it now to point and tell,
Here the Clan Chattan bore them well,
Shame-maddened, yonder Keppoch fell—
Lavish of life on Culloden.

6.

Here Camerons clove the red line through
There Stuarts dared what men could do,
Charged lads of Athole, staunch and true,
To the cannon-mouths on Culloden.

7.

7In vain the wild onset—in vain
Claymores cleft English skulls in twain—
The cannon fire poured in like rain,
Mowing down the clans on Culloden.

8.

Through all the glens, from shore to shore,
What wailing went! but that is o’er—
Hearts now are cold, that once were sore
For the loved ones lost on Culloden.

9-

The Highlands all one hunting-ground,
Where men are few, and deer abound,
And desolation broods profound
O’er the homes of the men of Culloden.

10.

That, too, will pass—the hunter’s deer,
The drover’s sheep, will disappear;
But when another race will you rear,
Like the men that died at Culloden?”


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