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History of Loch Kinnord
Chapter VII. Historic Period, to 1630 A.D.


To return now to our account of Loch Kinnord. The lordship of Aboyne, with the lands pertaining thereto, including the Castle of Kinnord, came, as above shown, into possession of Alexander Gordon, 1st Earl of Huntly, through his marriage with Lady Jane Keith; but there being no issue of this marriage, they would naturally have reverted to the family of the Earls Marischal, had the charter, or, as we should say the marriage contract, by which they were conveyed, not settled the succession in the family of Gordon. A charter, in confirmation of the above, is written in Latin, the literal translation of which is as follows :—"To Alexander, Earl of Huntly, and the descendants and heirs between said Alexander and Elizabeth (Crichton), Countess of Huntly (his second wife), born, or to be born; whom failing, to the true, legitimate, and nearest heirs whomsoever of the said Alexander, All and whole the lands of Cluny, Tulch (Tullich), Abyn, Glentanyr, and Glenmuck."

It was about this time (1448) that the Earl of Huntly transferred the principal seat of the family from Gordon in Berwickshire to Strathbogie in Aberdeenshire ; but it was many years before the family ceased to reside occasionally on their Border estates. Soon after taking up his residence at the Castle of Strathbogie, the Earl directed his attention to the improvement of his recently acquired Deeside property, which, having been long in the hands of non-resident owners, had fallen into considerable decay. The fortalice of Aboyne, in especial, which had remained untenanted since the last of the Bissets was there, had become uninhabitable; and the fortress of Loch Kinnord, though less decayed, stood much in need of repairs. The latter he rebuilt, not so much as a stronghold as a hunting-seat; and here he generally took up his residence when he visited Deeside. In this condition, serving the purposes of pleasure and the chase, the Castle of Loch Kinnord remained for the rest of the 15th century. [About the close of the 15th century, Elizabeth Sutherland married Adam Gordon, second son of the second Earl of Huntly, who then assigned to them the barony of Aboyne for their maintenance; but the fortalice was in so bad a state of repair, that instead of living there they took up their residence at "Ferrack" (Ferrar), where they had a house fitted up for their accommodation. Here they lived and brought up their family, and here was born to them Alexander, 1st Earl of Sutherland, of the name of Gordon. So great was their attachment to their Deeside residence at Ferrar, that even after the Countess was "infeoffed " (30th June 1515) in the Earldom of Sutherland—one of the richest in the north— she and her husband with their two surviving children, Alexander, Master of Sutherland, and John of "Tillichowdie" (their youngest son, Adam, on whom the barony of Aboyne had been settled, having fallen in the Battle of Pinkie without legitimate offspring) continued to reside there till their death. Of this worthy couple, the ancestors of a noble and illustrious line, their great-great-grandson, Sir Robert Gordon, the historian of the house of Sutherland, has left the following record :—"Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, a lady of great judgment, and great modesty, died September 1535, in Aboyne and was buried there. Her husband Adam, Earl of Sutherland (by courtesy), a very provident, valiant, and wise man, died at Ferrack, in Aboyne, 17th March, 1537, and was buried beside the Countess." All this while the Earl of Huntly, brother of the Countess of Sutherland, had his summer residence in the neighbouring Castle of JJoch Kinnord.]

The family papers show that several important transactions took place here during this period. Some vassals attended the Earl to receive renewal of their feudal charters. Among others, Lauchlan Mackintosh, of Galowne, chief of the clan, sought an interview with his Lordship at "Lochteanmor," in the summer of 1497, to grant his bond of manrent, and take the oath of feudal vassalage.

Seven years after this, in the lifetime of Alexander, third Earl of Huntly, the Castle of Loch Kinnord was destined to receive a royal visit under peculiar and rather romantic circumstances. James IV., one of the bravest and best beloved of the kings of the Stuart dynasty, was the soul of chivalry—a disposition which sometimes led him into rather Quixotic adventures, and at last proved his ruin. On one occasion, in the year 1504, some conversation having arisen between the King and his courtiers regarding his frequent visits to the shrine of Saint Duthoc in Tain, James undertook, whether as a bet or not is not quite evident, to accomplish the journey, attended only by a chamberlain and squire, for what seemed to them an incredibly small sum of money. It is strange that this freak should have furnished us with one of the clearest glimpses we have of Scottish life and manners at that period; but so it is. Strict accounts had to be kept of every item of expenditure, that it might be seen whether the King had really accomplished what he had undertaken; and these accounts have been preserved. On his journey north he lodged in the Castle of Kinnord on the night of the 4th October, 1504, and paid for everything he received. To Jacob Edmanistown he paid next morning for "tursing (setting in order) the kingis doggis there, the sum of 14s.;" and to a man for "prefing the Don (wading before the king through the river to show that it was fordable), 5s." It seems his Majesty was well satisfied with the entertainment he had received at the Castle of Loch Kinnord, for on his return from the north in the following month, he again took up his quarters there; and paid to the boatman, for his trouble with him, 14s., and to Peter Crechtoun the sum of 5s., which "he gaifbe the kingis command to ane blind man." We thus see the King did not scrimp either his munificence or his charity on the occasions of his visiting Loch Kinnord.

Little more than a year after this visit, the lands of Aboyn, Glenmuick, and Glentanner, with the "Pele" of Loch Kinnord, were by royal charter united, and incorporated into a free barony and earldom, to be called the "barony and Earldom of Huntly in all time to come." This charter is dated 12th January, 1505-6; and the object it had in view was to prevent these lands from following their present owners, and becoming attached to the earldom of Sutherland, should the wife of Adam Gordon succeed to that dignity, of which there was now a fair prospect.

In the year 1519, one of the vassals of Earl Alexander appeared at "the pier of Lochtcanmor" to have presence of his lordship, and ask him for a renewal of his lands of Kincraigie, which, it would seem, the Earl, on account of same offence he had received, was not disposed to grant, and very haughtily refused him an audience. Thereupon the vassal took legal advice, and procuring the services of a notary public, repaired to the end of the drawbridge, and there read his petition and claim. After some time Kincraigie came under the required bondage, and received a renewal of his leasehold.

The Earl of Huntly having married, in his old age, Lady Elizabeth Gray, the widow of Lord Glammis, a designing woman, she took care to secure for herself an ample jointure in case she should survive her lord. This jointure consisted of the Deeside estates, whereof she received a charter from her husband, dated 27th July, 1511, confirmed afterwards by Eoyal charter— 19th July, 1515. She did survive him ; but having no relish for the state of widowhood, she again found connubial bliss with the Earl of Kothes, on whose youth she practised with success the same arts as she had employed on the age of Huntly. Loch Kinnord, with its castle, thus passed in life-rent to an avaricious and nonresident proprietrix, who cared for nothing but the rents. At her death these lands reverted to George, 4th Earl of Huntly, "the proudest, most powerful, and most ambitious of his race." In the early part of his career he was altogether too great a potentate to look after the improvement of this outlying portion of his vast property. He lived at Court and controlled the affairs of the nation till the rising power of the Regent Murray, the head of the reforming party, compelled him to retire to the north.

Here he set himself to repair all the old and decayed fortresses, and to build others, with the intention, as his enemies said, of setting up a Highland Principality to overawe the Government. Among others, the Castle of Loch Kinnord was restored to more than its former strength, and garrisoned with a body of the Earl's soldiers. For their spiritual welfare a chapel was built on the southern shore, near the place where the farmhouse of Mickle Kinnord now stands, and where the baptismal font may still be seen. In the chapel they worshipped, and in the consecrated ground around they buried their dead. Although the greater part of the site has now been converted into amble land, the older natives still remember the ruined walls and the green mounds.

It was a stirring time then at Loch Kinnord. Though we have no direct proof, this was in all probability the ago when the great drawbridge and the prison on the smaller island were built; and the castle on the larger, and other decayed buildings renovated and made fit for the reception of military. All this came to a sudden end when the plot—whatever it was—was nearly ripe for execution. The great Earl, as is well known, fell in the battle of Corrichie, 28th October, 1562; and an indictment of high treason was exhibited against him, his estates and honours being therein declared forfeited to the Crown. This decree did not much trouble his son and successor, who inherited not a little of his father's talents and ambition; because it depended on the issue of the struggle in which he was engaged, as a leader of the party called Queen's Men, whether it should have any effect at all. During the time he held the earldom (1562-76), the fort of Loch Kinnord falls quite out of view. It probably still maintained a small garrison to keep Highland cattle lifters somewhat in check.

George, 6th Earl and 1st Marquis of Huntly, having succeeded to the estates and honours of the earldom when a minor, the management of the property and the leadership of the clan devolved on his uncle, Sir Adam Gordon—the terror of his enemies, and the hero of many a ballad, as the famous " Edom o' Gordon." It is not likely that under his regency any strength of the family would have been allowed to fall into decay. We may therefore be very sure that the "Pele" of Loch Kinnord was handed over at his death (1580) to his nephew, in as defensible a condition as it had been for the previous century.

The youthful Earl who now succeeded, deprived of the wise counsels of his experienced uncle, displayed at first not a little rashness, extravagance, and pride. He even negotiated with foreign Governments, as if he were an independent sovereign, and affected to despise the Government of his own country. This bearing and action led to the battle of Glenlivet (3rd Oct., 1594), the result of which was to convince him that, though he had signally defeated a far superior force under Argyle, sent against him by the Government, he had placed himself by his victory in a position of most imminent danger—in fact an untenable position. He therefore submitted to a voluntary exile until the animosity raised against him should subside. On his return to his native land, two years thereafter (13th August, 1596), he was received by the King with great honour; and on 17th April, 1599, created by letters patent, First Marquis of Huntly. Whether this favour and these honours had slightly turned his head, or roused the jealousy of the Parliament, certain it is that he very soon after fell under the suspicion of engaging again in treasonable practices against the Government; and from this date, till 1616, he was subjected to various periods of imprisonment, and frequently to sentences of excommunication by the Church authorities.

All this persecution—if so we may call it—he bore with a spirit very unlike that which he had displayed in his early youth—a spirit which shows that he was ripening into a great and good man, however mistaken his opinions in politics or his creed in religion may have been. He now eschewed politics and devoted himself with the utmost intelligence to the improvement of his property. He was the first man in the north of Scotland who discovered the advantage of covering its barren moors with plantations of thriving timber; and he led the way for more peaceful times by building mansions, not so much for warlike purposes as for the comforts and conveniences of a more civilized life. In pursuance of this policy, instead of taking up his residence in the fortified "Pele" of Loch Kinnord, he built a new family residence at Kandychyle, combining, as was still necessary, the means of defence with the conveniences of more peaceful avocations. From this time Kandychyle (the end of the wood), now called Dee Castle, became the principal residence of the Marquis and his family when they visited their Dee-side estates.

The chapel, as a matter of course, followed the Marquis's residence; and while the one at Loch Kinnord, gradually fell into decay, its successor continued, with occasional interruptions and varying fortunes, to hold some ground from 1616 to 1873, when a new Roman Catholic chapel was built at Aboyne, rendering a place of worship at Kandychyle unnecessary, and it has not since been used for that purpose.

The Marquis, we have reason to believe, resided very frequently at Kandychyle. When Spalding, the local historian of the time, has occasion to notice a visit of his Lordship, he does so as if it were a thing of common occurrence—for example, "The 10th of July, 1633, the Marquis of Huntly, intending to keep this parliament, came to Kandychyle, where he fell sick; but he sent his lady and Lady Aboyne (his daughter-in-law) to complain to his majesty anent the fire of Frendraught, who took their own time as commodiously as they could, and accompanied with some ether ladies in mourning weed, pitifully told the king of the murder done by the fire at Frendraught, humbly craving justice at his hands. The king with great patience heard this complaint, whilk he bewailed, comforted the ladies the best he could, and promised justice; they could get no more at present, but humbly took their leave of the king and returned to their lodgings."

It would seem also, from the traditions that still circulate in the district regarding Kandychyle, that it was used mainly, if not entirely, as a hunting seat, and that it was seldom occupied for military purposes. "On the hill of Little Tullich" says the writer of the New Stat. Account, "overlooking the site of the old Castle of Cean-na-coil, are the remains of what is called 'My Lord's House' consisting of five courses of a square stone building, the wall at the base course 12 feet thick, and diminishing about a foot each course, so that the five courses present, on the outside, the appearance of a stair of so many steps on each side. The entry is from the west, and the apartment within is 7½ feet each side. The use of this building is reported to have been for obtaining a view during a deer-hunt."

It may be allowable so far to digress from the direct narrative as to say that the skilled workmen employed in the building of the new castle at Cean-na-coil were brought by the Marquis from the town of Huntly. After the completion of the work several of these settled on the Deeside estates, and afterwards became industrious and respected tenants. The Robertsons, the Milnes, and the Calders trace their origin as tenants and followers of the Huntly family on Deeside to the above circumstance. Their "forebears" were artificers in stone, iron, and timber, and settled ultimately in Ballaterich, Glentanar, and Greystone.

It was in the family of the first named that the youthful Lord Byron resided for some time, when recovering from an attack of fever; and the name of one member has been immortalized by obtaining a place in his poetry. Mary, the second daughter, had won the boyish affection of the young poet; and, though he might say,

"It could not be love, for I knew not the name," certain it is that her image was not effaced from his memory even in the later years of his life. Mary was not generally esteemed such a beauty as her elder sister, Jane; but the writer has it from one that knew her in her bloom, that "she was a bonnie lassie for a* thai" It may interest the reader to know something of the after life of "Byron's Mary," as (after the publication of his " Hours of Idleness ") she was generally called. Her parents were not wealthy, but her mother was well connected. Helen Bland Watson Macdonald, afterwards Mrs. Robertson of Ballaterich, was the lawful daughter of Captain Macdonald of Rinetan, whose descent can, it is said, be traced from a Lord of the Isles. Mr. Robertson had a large family ; one of the younger sons, named Lewis, was playfully styled " Lewis XIII.," to mark his place among the other members; and hence arose a saying that one of the kings of France was born at Ballaterich. Through Captain Macdonald's influence three of the sons obtained commissions in the H.E.I.C.S., and all rose to the rank of Colonel. Other two members of the family were educated for the Roman Catholic priesthood, but, it is believed, they never entered into orders, owing, it is said, to some difficulties in regard to their taking the oath of celibacy. Mary, Lord Byron's first flame, married Kenneth Stewart, an Excise officer, then stationed in the parish of Crathie. At his death, which occurred not many years after their marriage, she removed to Aberdeen, where she died; but her remains were conveyed to the old Churchyard of Glentanar, where there is a handsome tombstone over her grave, bearing the following inscription:—

"Sacred to the memory of James Robertson, who departed this life on 4th day of April, 1814, aged 71 years; and of Helen Macdonald, his spouse, who died on 11th day of August, 1813, aged 60 years; Also of Mart Robertson, their daughter, widow of Kenneth Stewart, who died at Aberdeen on 2nd March, 1867, aged 85 years."

It thus appears that Mary Robertson—"My Sweet Mary"—was the poet's senior by six years.

Even at that early age (eleven) the wilful, intractable disposition, which in riper years too much distinguished the character of the noble bard, had begun to display itself The following is the account the author has received from one who well remembers the young poet during his residence on Deeside:—"He was a very takin' laddie, but no easily managed. He was very fond of coming up to see my father's shop (a carpenter's workshop), and particularly fond o' the turning lathe ; but he widna haud his hands frae ony o' the tools, and he spoiled them completely before he would let them go. My father couldna lay hands on him, and he wid tak' nae telling; so at last he always set some o' us to watch when we wid see him coming up the brae frae Ballaterich; and when he got word that he was coming ho would lock the door an' gang awa' out about. There was nae ither way o' deein' wi' him."


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