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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XLIV. - Civil History Notes


THE history of Balquhidder has yet to be written. An obscure mist hangs over it until the marriage of James IV., who settled Balquhidder on his bride, Margaret Tudor, as part of her dowry. Sir Walter Stewart was Queen Margaret's bailie of Balquhidder. It is clear that when King James married his Tudor princess Balquhidder was, like the forest lands in its neighbourhood, Crown property. It may have been so from ancient days, yet it is not unlikely that when Albany was regent it had become detached for a period during which Stewarts began to be placed as principal men in it. I only jot down hints and facts which may give help to the future historian of this beautiful and romantic part of the Highlands. About 1600 the Church patronage and superiority of Balquhidder, along with possessions of a large portion of the land of the parish, belonged to David Murray, Lord Scone. It was he who built the post-Reformation church which now exists as a picturesque ruin. The narrow chancel of the old Roman Catholic building was left out of that edifice, and it was within its precincts that Rob Roy was buried. How and when and why the Atholl family took the place of the Mansfield family in Balquhidder I do not know, but the event must have taken place before the Athollman, Mr Ferguson, was appointed minister of the parish. He was the gentleman into whose glebe Rob Roy used to place a gift cow or two by night each year at Martinmas. It was the long-continued habit of the Atholl family to extend their influence by buying properties held of the Crown, and then of selling them to feudal vassals, while they retained the superiority and the Church patronage. The estates of several small single owners in Balquhidder sprung out of this Atholl custom. The most curious of the small estates was Muirlaggan, which belonged to "portioners" of the Macintyre clan. At, or shortly before, the beginning of last century the Church patronage and what remained of Atholl lands in Balquhidder passed to Sir John Macgregor of Lanrick, who is better known under the name of Murray in Indian history. Sir John also bought the adjoining small estate of two unmarried co-heiresses. They were the last representatives of Patrick Beag, an illegitimate son of Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy. Black Duncan, besides giving Edinchip to his son, Patrick, about 1600, took possession of a stretch of land at the loch end and along the side of it. He also purchased from the Earl of Argyll Edinample and Glenample on the south side of the Loch, and there he built Edinample Castle. For a long time the Edinample estate belonged to the Earls of Argyll, and when they sold it they made the purchaser promise to protect the Maclarens, or Clan Laurin of Balquhidder, as they themselves had been wont to do. Local tradition tells of a time when that protection failed against the Buchanans who took possession of Strathyre in the fifteenth century. "Cailean Uaine" Green Colin, so called from the colour of his armour a younger son of the first Earl of Argyll, came to the help of the Clan Laurin, but was defeated and slain. His cairn is yet pointed out at the top of the Kirkton Glen. Lord Moray, I think, possessed the Braes before either branch of the Murrays had any rights in Balquhidder. The Moray lands, Buchanan lands, and Campbell lands, barring Edinchip, still belong to the representatives of their old owners, while all the little properties have disappeared.

In 1860 the inhabitants of Balquhidder, under many surnames, were, with the fewest possible exceptions, of undoubted Celtic descent. They spoke the excellent Gaelic of the days of Robert Kirke and Dugald Buchanan, but there were not many of them who could not well speak English also. It was a singular thing that the people bearing the names of the oldest proprietors Stewarts, Buchanans, and Campbells made such a small numerical show in the nominal muster. Fergusons came in with the Atholl minister of the first half of the eighteenth century. The Macdonalds of Monochyle and Blarcriche came from Glenlyon in the preceding generation. It is probable that when Colin, Earl of Argyll, held a Justiciary Court in Balquhidder in 1526, he brought in Macintyres to strengthen his clients, the Clan Laurin, against the Clan Gregor, who were even then becoming more dangerous to the peace of the district than the Buchanans had been in the former century. By the end of that century, Balquhidder, out-lying place as it was, without any strong-handed local magnate invested with official authority, became a convenient resort for the unruly Clan Gregor. It was in the kirk of Balquhidder that they went through their "ethnic" ceremony of swearing over the head of murdered Drummond - Ernoch. Fearfully were they punished for that murder and that heathenish ceremony. In 1860 the number of people bearing the Stewart surname was surprisingly small, considering that they had had a footing in the parish as early as 1400, and that being of the King's clan they were favoured above others, especially when Sir Walter Stewart ruled in Queen Margaret's name, and that they got legal titles to the Braes, Glenbuckie, Gartnafuaran, and other places. The Earl of Moray has still kept the Braes, but the other Stewart properties were all gone before my time. The bigger one of them, Glenbuckie, was sold in 1846 to Mr David Carnegie of Stronvar, who added to it by other purchases until he left his son the far-largest and best estate in the parish. In 1860 the people of the Clan Gregor surname were numerous. I had great-great-grand-children of Rob Roy in my school, although the most of his male descendants went to the West Indies soon after the execution of Robin Og. Rob Roy's youngest son, Ranald, who was not mixed up with the evil doings of the others, remained behind, and died as tenant of the Kirkton farm in good old age. In 1860 there were at least two old men, Hugh Macgregor and the old bellman, who remembered him perfectly. He was still living when the lame boy, Walter Scott, was gathering strength and stories at Cambusrnore, ten miles away, and lived a good many years more. We have not in "Rob Roy" and the introduction thereto, all the information Sir Walter had about Rob's descendants, good and bad. If the negative records of public records can be trusted there were no Clan Gregor people, at least none who could give trouble in Balquhidder, when the helm of the ship of State was in the firm hands of James the Fourth. The trouble began after Flodden. As a kindred the Clan Gregor existed and were certainly widely spread, although not very numerous before 1400, but it was later than that before their clan name appeared in public records. Its first appearance, as far as I know, occurred about 1429, when notice is taken of a disturbance caused by some Clan Gregor men in Strathearn. About the same time, or a little later, the Maor of Crieff was a Macgregor. Duncan Beag, who, about 1456, obtained a seven year's lease of the toiseachd or thanage of Roro in Glenlyon, as successor of Allan Stewart, who failed to pay the King the stipulated rent, is not called Macgregor but Duncan Beag. He was, however, the founder of the important Roro branch of the Clan Gregor, an off-shoot of which was the Dunan Clan-house on the moor of Ranrioch, although the lease by the knight of Weem was given to their chief of Glenstrae. On his lands of Roro and the Braes of Rannoch Sir Robert Menzies kept, or allowed the descendants of Little Duncan to remain in Roro as middlemen, and in Dunan as kindly tenants. Sir Robert's successors had to put up with Clan Gregor middlemen and tenants whom they could not get rid of for a hundred and fifty years. A Clan Gregor tenant was placed or placed himself on the lands of Bealach or Taymouth belonging to the Abbey of Scone, or more properly to that Abbey's Priory of Loch Tay, and it took a vigorous and lengthy effort to turn out his descendants. The Clan Gregor undoubtedly had a grievance which impelled its members to launch out into the excesses of the sixteenth century under such ferocious leaders as Duncan Ladosach, Gregor, the Clan Chief who was hunted down and tried before the Earl of Atholl, Justice-General, and beheaded at Bealach in 1570, and the next chief, his son, Alexander, who presided at the "ethnic" swearing on the murdered man's head in the kirk of Balquhidder. But what was the grievance which worked up the most energetic and the most romantic of our clans to such a pitch of ferocious madness that they defied all law and order, and perpetrated atrocities which were in themselves wholly inhuman, and yet beyond themselves were curiouslv contrasted with chivalrous fidelity, heroism, and instances of redeeming love and tenderness? This question is one which I cannot answer. I hope, however, that others will search for an answer and find it. The fact that there was a grievance which deeply affected the whole clan can hardly be doubted. I, for my part, have a suspicion that the answer is to be found in the feudalising of what had been King's lands. That feudalising process, which had been slowly going on since Bannockburn, progressed by leaps and bounds in the reign of James the Fourth, who not only set old Crown thanages to individual owners on feu-ferme tenure, but placed sheep in Ettrick forest, and brood mares in the Inchcallan forest, with which the Glenstrae Chiefs were so closely connected. He also cut out farms from that great forest which formerly stretched 'along the watershed from the head of Glenlochay to the hills of Lochaber. Dunan was one of the farms so cut out of forest land. Formerly Crown thauages were let on leases of seven or more years to middlemen like Little Duncan Roro, and the leases were often renewed to the same people until they thought they had a "duchas" or hereditary right. If we may suppose that the leading men of the Clan Gregor had for ages been the Kings' foresters, thanage undertakers, and officials, it is easy to see how the feudalising process would throw them out of living and employment; and, with them, the clansmen who depended on them. The secularisation and the feudalisation of Church lands at the Reformation would aggravate the hardship, for Bealach was not the only place on which members of the clan had a hold by fair bargain or without-your-leave squatting. From the feudal law point of view, the Clan Gregor were as landless a tribe in the reign of James IV. as they were when persecuted by James VI. They had not then a stable permanent charter to any scrap of land, and yet for all that they were in profitable occupation of much land and very widely dispersed. The supposition that they had been for ages the foresters, and often acted as officials and thanage undertakers, would, if proved, explain the wide dispersion and the resentful grievance when the old order changed, and to their horror arid surprise left them stranded.

Before Sir John of Lanrick's purchases of land in Balquhidder, his father, and perhaps his grandfather, possessed one of the small Balquidder properties created during the Atholl overlordship. This was Glencarnaig, a small Brae farm which has long formed part of the large sheep farm of Monachyle. It was the one of the race who married the daughter of Campbell of Lix who acquired Glencarnaig. Glencarnaig and Glengyle were rival claimants for the chiefship of the Clan Gregor, the right of which had been in dispute since the death of Patrick, brother of John of Glenstrae, about 1750. John died leaving only daughters. Patrick his brother raised the Clan to fight for King Charles. He married Jean Campbell, daughter of Sir Robert Campbell of Glenorchy, and they had children. I think that he had a wife before this Jean, who was the young and well-dowered widow of Archibald, Younger of Glenlyon, and who, after Patrick's death, married Duncan Stewart of Appin, by whom she also had children. The Glenlyon genealogists told me that Jean had two sons by each marriage. Patrick's sons must have died young, or else there could not have been the long dispute about the Chiefship. Glengyle, in 1745, joined Prince Charles, and Glencarnaig took the Government side. They divided the clan between them. It was long after the '45 when Sir John came home from India that the great majority of the Macgregors, by a formally signed document, recognised him as their Chief. But Glengyle and his adherents declined to accept that recognition, and continued to contend that it was contrary to justice and genealogical facts. Glenlyon opinion was, I think, wholly against Glengyle and in favour of Sir John.

But it is time to leave the entangled Clan Macgregor story, and to turn to the Balquhidder people who have the oldest surnames. These are the Maclarens or Clan Laurin, who derive their designation, and presumably their lineage, from a Culdee Abbot of Cuil who lived in the later times when the Culdees married. A married Abbot of Glendochart was the founder of the Clan Macnab, and Laurence Abbot of Cuil founded the Clan Laurin of the adjoining district. Cuil is on the Edinchip estate. Not the smallest vestige of its monastic structures remains; probably they were wooden buildings, as was usual in Columban and Culdee days. But the memory of it and the names of its Abbots have been preserved in ancient ecclesiastical documents. So faint grew the local tradition about the Cuil monastery, and so much was Abbot Laurence forgotten, that in my time fanciful members of the Clan Laurin began to claim tribal origin from a Scoto-Dalriadic prince of Argyll. It is not unlikely that the protection of the clan by Earls of Argyll long afterwards suggested this fancy. Had Abbot Laurence belonged to the early era of Columban missionaries, he might well have been a Dalriadic-Scot or Irishman. But as he belonged to a very much later time, he was much more likely to be of the Pictish race.


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