The Family at Arbuthnott
When the lands of Arbuthnott were granted by William the
Lion he did not have the power to include the 'Kirklands' (the few acres round the Kirk).
These, along with the jurisdiction over its incumbent tenants, belonged to the Church.
This was a source of contention between Duncan, son of Hugh of Swinton and the powerful
Bishop of St.Andrews, and in 1206 a settlement of this dispute was made in favour of the
There is little other detailed factual knowledge of those
first two hundred years. There was, however, the legendary figure of Hugh le Blond,
great-grandson of the founder, said to have slain a dragon and saved the Queen from death,
the latter story being used in a ballad by Sir Walter Scott. The 'dragon' may have been a
group of marauding pirates or outlaws who, in Mediaeval times pillaged the coastal
villages and must occasionally have penetrated up the river as far as Arbuthnott.
Initially the family dwelling-place would have been
constructed mostly of wood, with a protective pallisade surrounding it. In 1420 Hugh
Arbuthnott started to build a two-storey stone fortification. He was implicated in the
murder of Sheriff Melville of the Mearns and must have felt the need for a strong castle.
He was however, granted immunity from prosecution owing to his kinship with the MacDuffs.
His grandson, Robert, was laird from 1470-1506, - 'a man of
great discernment marked out by God', (this tribute is in the famous Arbuthnott Missal,
which he commissioned). He completed the building of the castle and also restored and
improved the Kirk by adding the Belfry Tower and building the family aisle, in the upper
chamber of which the priest James Sibbald wrote the Missal. The contribution made by this
great laird was chronicled by his illustrious nephew, Principal Alexander Arbuthnott,
poet, scholar, twice Moderator and first protestant Principal of King's College, Aberdeen
The family weathered the storms of the Reformations.
Doubtless the influence of Principal Arbuthnott was beneficial; it is likely that he was
responsible for saving the Missal from destruction during those violent times.
The equally eventful seventeenth century found the lairds
in royal favour. Two received knighthoods, and then, in 1641, the young incumbment was
created the Viscount of Arbuthnott and Baron Inverbervie. In spite of this favour from
Charles I, the sympatheties of Lord Arbuthnott were with the Covenanters and in 1645 the
Royalist troops, under the Marquis of Montrose, laid waste the estate. But this dramatic
event was uncharacteristic.
Gradually, as times grew more peaceful, the castle evolved
into the present house. Successive generations made such changes and improvements as the
family fortunes would allow. This was always dictated by the current state of prosperity
Firstly Sir Robert, father of the 1st Viscount, began the
building of the south wing; later, his grandson and great-grandson added the plaster
ceilings and laid out the gardens.
The next major change came in 1754 when the Georgian front
was built. Finally, in 1820, the 8th Viscount added the present front door, the main
staircase, the cupola and the stone bridge. It was during the construction of these last
improvements that the estate was landscaped, many trees being planted, including the beech
avenue to the west of the house. To celebrate these achievements the 8th Viscount was
painted by Sir David Wilkie with the house and bridge in the background.
By this time the house was the focal poin of a spacious
tenanted estate. However, with the decline of agriculture in the latter half of the
nineteenth, came the need to reduce the estate to a size which could then take advantage
of the twentieth century resurgence in agriculture and the amount of land farmed directly
by the owner was greatly increased. Thus the house is now the centre of a large family