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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The MacLellans of Kirkcudbright


THE Maclellans are supposed to have come from Ireland at a very early period. They certainly possessed lands in Galloway in the reign of Alexander II., 1217, and were hereditary sheriffs of that province. Maclellan of Bombie, an ancestor of Lord Kirkcudbright, accompanied the Scottish patriot, Wallace, when, after his defeat at Falkirk, in 1298, he sailed from Kirkcudbright for France, in order to entreat the help of Philip, the French king, in his struggle against Edward I., their common enemy. The Maclellans became so numerous and prosperous about the beginning of the fifteenth century, that there were no fewer than fourteen knights of the name at that period living in Galloway. About the middle of the century they unfortunately, through no fault of theirs, came into collision with the formidable house of Douglas. SIR PATRICK MACLELLAN OF BOMBIE, head of the family and Sheriff of Galloway, refused to join the confederacy of the eighth Earl of Douglas with the Earls of Ross and Crawford, against the King. The imperious Earl, enraged at this opposition to his will, besieged and captured Sir Patrick in his stronghold of Raeberry Castle, and carried him a prisoner to his fortress of Thrieve. Sir Patrick Gray, Maclellan’s uncle, who held a high office at Court, obtained a letter from the King (James II.) entreating, rather than ordering, Douglas to set his prisoner at liberty, which Gray carried himself. The Earl professed to receive him with all courtesy, but requested that he should partake of some refreshment before entering upon the business which had brought him so long a journey. ‘It’s ill talking,’ he said, ‘between a fou man and a fasting.’ In the meantime, however, having a shrewd guess as to Gray’s errand, he ordered Maclellan to be immediately put to death. When Sir Patrick had finished his repast he presented the royal letter to the Earl, who, after perusing it, expressed his deep regret that it was not in his power to comply fully with his Majesty’s request, and, conducting Gray to the courtyard where Maclellan’s body lay, he jeeringly said, ‘Yonder, Sir Patrick, lies your sister’s son. Unfortunately he wants the head, but you are welcome to do with the body what you please.’ ‘My lord,’ said Gray, suppressing his indignation, ‘since you have taken his head, you may dispose of his body as you will.’ He then instantly called for his horse. But, after crossing the drawbridge, his indignation could no longer be restrained, and, turning round, he exclaimed to the Earl, who was standing at the gate, ‘If I live, you shall bitterly pay for this day’s work,’ and immediately galloped off. ‘To horse! to horse!’ exclaimed Douglas, ‘and chase him.’ Gray was closely pursued till near Edinburgh, and if he had not been well mounted, would, without doubt, have shared the fate of his nephew. [See D0UGLASES, vol. 1. 63, 64.]

The Maclellans were from the earliest times staunch Royalists, and zealously supported the successive kings of Scotland in their contests with their turbulent and too powerful nobles. SIR ROBERT MACLELLAN, a direct descendant of the Laird of Bombie whom the Earl of Douglas murdered, was one of the Gentlemen of the Bed-chamber, and was raised to the peerage by Charles I., in 1633, by the title of Lord Kirkcudbright. The newly created peer fought gallantly on the royal side in the Great Civil War. JOHN, the third lord, was very eccentric and hotheaded, and in his impetuous zeal on behalf of the royal cause, he compelled his vassals in a body to take up arms in behalf of the King, and incurred such enormous expense in raising and arming them as completely ruined his estates, which were seized and sold by his creditors. As nothing was left to support the dignity, the title was not claimed for nearly sixty years after the death of this luckless Royalist, and even then it was assumed only for the purpose of voting in a keen contest, for the position of representative peer, between the Earls of Eglintoun and Aberdeen.

The sixth Baron Kirkcudbright, de jure, was so reduced in his circumstances that he was obliged to support himself and his family by keeping a glover’s shop in Edinburgh. Once a year, however, on the night of the Peers’ Ball, he took his place in full dress, with his sword by his side, among his brother nobles, and by this act asserted his equality of rank with those who on other occasions were his customers. It was to this peer that Goldsmith alluded somewhat flippantly in one of his letters written while studying medicine at the Edinburgh University, in 1753. ‘Some days ago I walked into my Lord Kilcowbry’s; don’t be surprised, his lordship is but a glover.’ There can be little doubt that Sir Walter Scott had this worthy and noble tradesman in his eye when he put into the mouth of King James VI., in the ‘Fortunes of Nigel,’ his memorable description of the course adopted by poor Scottish peers. ‘Ye see that a man of right gentle blood may for a season lay by his gentry and yet ken where to find it when he has occasion for it. It would be as unseemly for a packman or pedlar, as ye call a travelling merchant, whilk is a trade to which our native subjects of Scotland are specially addicted, to be blazing his genealogy in the faces of those to whom he sells a bawbee’s worth of ribbon, as it would be for him to have a beaver on his head and a rapier by his side when the pack was on his shouthers. Na, na; he hings his sword on the cleek, lays his beaver on the shelf, puts his pedigree into his pocket, and gangs as doucely and cannily about his peddling craft as if his blood was nae better than ditch-water. But let our pedlar be transformed, as I have ken’d it happen mair than ance, into a fair thriving merchant, then ye shall have a transformation, my lords. Out he pulls his pedigree, on he buckles his sword, gives his beaver a brush, and cocks it in the face of all creation.’

The custom which the British Solomon describes in such graphic terms doubtless originated, like many other Scottish customs, in the intercourse with France. Down to the time of the first French Revolution, there existed in Brittany a law of great antiquity, which authorised a nobleman whose income was insufficient for the maintenance of his dignity, to descend for a season to the condition of a commoner. In token that he had temporarily laid aside his rank and its accompanying privileges, he deposited his sword in the archives of the Duchy, where it remained until he was in circumstances to redeem it, and to resume his original position. A very striking and affecting description is given by Sterne of a scene which he witnessed at Rennes, when a marquis, the representative of an ancient and illustrious family, accompanied by his wife and daughter and two sons, claimed from the Court the formal restoration of the sword which, twenty years before, he had deposited with the state authorities when about to embark for Martinico, to engage in commercial pursuits, with the view of repairing the dilapidated fortunes of his house.

The Edinburgh citizen who inherited, but did not assume, the titles of his family, had three sons. The eldest predeceased him; the third entered the Royal Navy, and was killed in 1782, in an engagement with the French, while in command of the Superb, the flagship of Sir Edward Hughes, and was highly commended in the Admiral’s despatches, ‘as an excellent officer in every department of the service.’ The second son, JOHN, seventh Lord Kirkcudbright, on petition to the King, had his claim to the title allowed by the House of Lords in 1773. He entered the army and attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He died in1801, leaving two sons. The elder, SHOLTO HENRY, became eighth Lord Kirkcudbright, and died without issue. The younger, CAMDEN GREY, ninth lord, had an only child—a daughter—and on his death, in 1832, the title became dormant or extinct.


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