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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Fowlis Castle - Carse of Gowrie

Fowlis Castle

EACH of the great rivers of Scotland—Clyde, Tweed, Forth, Tay, Dee and Spey—has special characteristics and attractions. The Clyde takes its rise in an agricultural district, but completes its course by passing through a dense population. The Tweed is a placid river, flowing gently amid a pastoral country, and past castles full of historical associations. It seems ever to be murmuring :—

"With many a curve my banks I fret,
By many
a field and fallow,
many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow."

The Forth, with numerous curves and windings, though never a turbulent stream, is replete with fragments of Scottish history, from Stirling even to Edinburgh and Leith. The Dee, rising in the distant Grampians, may thus be appropriately described :—

"I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden
And sparkle
out among the fern
To bicker down a valley

By thirty hills I hurry down
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges."

It begins near the Royal Castle of Balmoral, and terminates in the Royal City of Aberdeen. The Spey is reckoned the most rapid river in Scotland, and passes through typical Highland scenery :—

"I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the peebles."

The valley of the Tay, from the source of that river in the west to its debouchment at Dundee, is peculiarly rich in historic memoirs. Taking its rise in the remote borderland between Perthshire and Argyllshire, the Tay flows through a country which exhibits many of the varieties of Scottish river-scenery, from the wild and wooded glen to the fair and fertile Carse, and displays within its course the mountain torrent, the silent tarn, the rugged cascade, and the broad-bosomed, silvery loch. As its pathway lies through the very heart of Scotland, and amid some of its grandest scenes, the multitudinous contrasts which it thus shows are not inexplicable.

The rising hill-lands of Perthshire rapidly encroach upon the magnitude of the Grampians; and though the country is so broken up by plateaus that it does not seem extremely elevated, still the peaks which are thrown up here and there to a respectable altitude indicate with sufficient clearness that the locality is in the immediate vicinity of a vast mountain range. The volcanic forces whose energy formed the Grampians years ago are visible here also; and the scattered bens of Perthshire, thus heaved up by Titanic skill, have exercised a powerful influence in the development of Scottish landscape.

The hills have drawn towards them the thunderous clouds, whose intercepted showers have become the sources of countless mountain-streams. The valleys have collected these into vast lochs, themselves the reservoirs of mighty rivers, which dash impetuously through their rocky beds to join the fathomless sea. And thus, by Strath and Carse, by Clachan and City, the Tay pursues its majestic course towards the ocean. Stretching over half the breadth of Scotland, the stream leaves the uplands and moors of Western Perthshire, and, winding its devious way through gloomy shades and by sunny leas, finally becomes a navigable river, flowing through a pastoral country on its way to the North Sea. The lower reaches of the Tay being not only richer but also more accessible than the remoter portions of the valley, are therefore intimately connected with the history of the country, and even now exhibit traces of the fierce contests which took place in the locality betwixt the myriad invaders of the soil and the aborigines. Betwixt the City of Perth and the sea-coast the whole stretch of country on each side of the Tay is dotted with Towers and Keeps, with ancient fortresses and modern mansions, which show unmistakably the progress of civilization in Scotland.

No Tayside family has been longer or more honourably connected with the Gowrie district than that of the Grays of Gray. The lands they possessed were in themselves fertile, and by their proximity to the town of Dundee a ready market was found for their agricultural produce. Hence their importance to the locality may be understood. Three seats are now associated with their name—Fowlis Castle, Gray House, and Kinfauns Castle, the first of these being the most ancient.

The Castle of Fowlis occupies a commanding position upon an elevated table-land at some distance to the north of the river bank, and is skilfully placed so as to resist an attack. The approach from the roadway near which it is situated might easily be defended, and the steep ascents of the Den of Fowlis on the one side, and the brae on the other, would render assault from these quarters extremely difficult. With such recommendations in times of war, it was not without its attractions in "piping times of peace." The view from the upper windows is very lovely. Looking southward the spectator has presented to his vision a succession of fertile fields, which descend from the altitude on which the Castle is erected by easy gradations until they reach the brink of the river. Far beyond the silvery stream, which extends its broad expanse at this point to the greatest width (nearly three miles) of all its course, the dim outline of the Fifeshire coast may be seen, from the ancient spires of St Andrews to the still more ancient Tower of Abernethy, with all the intermediate monuments of progress, the ruins of Lindores Abbey, and the palatial mansions of Newport-on-Tay.

Westward on the north side of the river lies the famous Carse of Gowrie, extending its green and fruitful glade far as the eye can reach, and dotted with innumerable points of historic interest—Invergowrie, Errol, Kinfauns, and many others—which awaken recollections of Scotland’s days of chivalry. And through the verdant slopes which line each bank the path of the Tay may be traced by the gleaming streak of reflected light which glistens in the sunshine and marks its meanderings. Eastward the towers and spires of the ancient City of Dundee may be seen, now pleasantly situated upon the eminences that in former days shut her in from the world, but which the irresistible tide of progress has brought within her boundaries. The towering mount which overhangs the burgh, and which Dundonians proudly denominate "the Law," stands forth in stern majesty, closing the view in that direction. Further northward the Sidlaw Hills show their summits above the rising ground, and around towards the margin of the Carse the sharply defined range of mountains, of which King’s Seat and Dunsinnan are the most noticeable peaks, serve to limit the view.

It will be seen that from the spot occupied by Fowlis Castle the deep valley lying between the spur of the Sidlaw Hills on which it is built, and the "blue Lomonds" in Fife, which show their faint outlines in the hazy distance, is quite commanded, and lies like a panorama at the feet of the beholder. And there are not many spots in Scotland which exhibit so much richly varied landscape at one glance of the eye. The woods of Camperdown and the orchards of Errol, the green waving fields of Gowrie, and the cultivated mounds of Newburgh and Balmerino, the glistening river, and the mystic and far-distant ocean—

"All form a scene
musing Solitude might love to lift
Her soul above the sphere of earthliness,
Where Silence undisturbed might watch alone."

Nor need the glamour of the scene be limited only to those portions of it which are at one view perceptible. By ascending the beautiful acclivity to the north of the Castle the lovely vale of Strathmartine may be seen stretching to the very base of the Sidlaws. Beyond the Lomonds on the south lies the peaceful Loch Leven, the lake of Romance and Chivalry; and hidden by the range which terminates with the Hill of Kinuoul, on the western side, the ancient City of Perth sits queen-like by the rapid-flowing Tay.

Here, in the centre of this scene of surpassing loveliness, fraught with the memory of noble deeds of daring, the ancient Castle of Fowlis once reared its turrets. The portion of the Castle still remaining gives but a very imperfect notion of its former extent. Probably this only formed one wing, and in an old plan, made in 1696, "the Lady’s Tower" encloses an internal staircase which runs from basement to top-rafters, and was on one side of a quadrangular building, the other erections being designed for the accommodation of the servants. A carved stone from the Castle was found built into a modern house, and bearing the date "1640," which suggests that this portion, at least, was erected by Andrew, eighth Lord Gray, who succeeded to the title and estate in 1612, and 1663 was the date of his death. The earlier Castle, of which nothing now remains, belonged to a much earlier period.

The origin of the name of Fowlis is much disputed. One theory is that it is derived from the title of a Norman-French knight who had settled in Kent some time previous to the Conquest in 1066, and who stoutly resisted the invasion of England by William of Normandy. Having aroused the vengeance of the Conqueror, he was compelled to flee to the north; and throwing himself upon the generosity of Malcolm Ceanmòr, he found his confidence in that monarch was not misplaced. The Knight of Feuilles (leaves) was welcomed by the King in his Palace of Hurley-Hawkin, near Fowlis Castle, and Malcolm bestowed upon him the lands adjoining his own dwelling, which have since borne the name of the stranger knight. It is more probable that the name is a corruption of the Gaelic Foil-es, signifying a deep valley, such as the Den of Fowlis.

The fanciful tradition as to King Malcolm’s generosity is directly contradicted by the genealogy of the Gray family prepared by Sir Bernard Burke, Ulster King of Arms. He claims that the family is descended from a common progenitor of the ducal houses of Suffolk and Kent, the baronial houses of Gray and Warwick, and the houses of Dorset, Tankerville, and Stamford. This ancestor, Anschetit de Croy, one of the companions-in-arms of William the Conqueror, who gave him large grants of land in the County of Oxford and elsewhere. From this person there descended Sir Andrew Gray of Chillingham, Northumberland County, and who had so faithfully aided Robert the Bruce in his claim for the Crown of Scotland that in 1306 the King conferred upon him the Manor of Longforgan, Perth County, other lands in Forfarshire, and the lands of Browfield and Broxmouth, Haddingtonshire. The lands of Fowlis did not come into the Gray family till the end of the fifteenth century.

The following statements are founded upon veritable documents. In 1180 the church and lands of Fowlis belonged to William of Maule, who is said to have received them from King David I. as a reward for his bravery at the Battle of the Standard in 1138. He purposed founding a family of Maules of Fowlis, but he had no son, and as one of his daughters married Roger of Mortimer, Sheriff of Perthshire, the estate and Castle fell to their share. Though so intimately connected with the history of Gowrie, there are few records found of the family, save that they were known as Lords of Aberdour, and that the possession of the Castle of Fowlis descended in direct line for several generations. It seems probable that the Mortimers were descended from Roger, second Baron of Wigmore, who aided Edward II. in his flight after Bannockburn, and received from Edward III. the empty title of Earl of March, which became extinct with the fifth earl in 1424. The Mortimers of Fowlis continued till the death of another Roger, who left only one daughter, Janet, who married Sir Andrew Gray of Broxmouth in 1397, thus bringing the Grays of Fowlis into existence.

The first of the new race was directly descended from the companion-in-arms of Robert Bruce already mentioned. He was created a Lord of Parliament, with the title of Lord Gray of Gray and Fowlis, 1437; by his wife, Janet Mortimer, he had one son and six daughters; and by his second wife, Elizabeth Buchanan, he had four sons and one daughter. At his death in 1449-50 he was succeeded by his eldest son, Andrew, second Lord Gray. This nobleman became a man of mark in history, as Scotland was then in a perturbed state through the death of Robert III. in 1406, and the capture of his son James I. in that year, and his long imprisonment for 18 years in England. While still Master of Gray during his father’s life-time the second Lord Gray was chosen as one of the noblemen who were sent as pledges for the ransom of King James. ‘For three years—1424--1427----he was kept a prisoner in England. After his return he rose rapidly in the favour of James I.

When Charles VII. of France, whose kingdom had been ravaged by the English army, sought to form a matrimonial alliance with Scotland for defensive purposes, he suggested the marriage of the Dauphin with the Princess Margaret, eldest daughter of James I., the Master of Gray was sent as one of the Commissioners to effect this union, which took place in June 1436; and after the death of Charles VII. in 1461 he was succeeded by the son of this marriage as Louis XI. After his father’s death in 1449—50 the Master of Gray became Lord Gray, was appointed Ambassador to England, and in 1452 made a pilgrimage to Canterbury. After his return to Scotland he was received into the Royal Household, and obtained a license from James II. on any part of the estate which he might select. The Castle of Fowlis by this time had become too small for the accommodation of the numerous Gray family; and Lord Gray selected a site on the plateau near the river, a little south-west of the Foulis Castle. The second Lord Gray died in 1469, and it is likely that he had begun the new Castle before that, but it was not completed in his time. The successor was his grandson, Alexander, third Lord Gray, who increased his influence by two judicious marriages, connecting him with the Keiths, Earls Marischal, and the Earl of Atholl, and was appointed Justice-General of Scotland. At his death in 1514 he left a numerous family. His eldest son, Patrick, became fourth Lord Gray, after he had reached the age of manhood.

It was the lot of this Lord Gray to see the completion of the Castle, probably during his father’s life-time. He had been married to Lady Jane Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntly; and as the Castle had not then been named, he devised the designation of "Castle Huntly," which it still bears. This Castle was sold in 1614 by Andrew Gray, eighth Lord Gray, to the first Earl of Kinghorne, when the name was changed to "Castle-Lyon" after that Earl’s family. It remained in the possession of the. Lyons, Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne until 1776, when it was sold to Mr George Paterson. He was married to the Hon. Anne Gray, and he resumed the old name of Castle Huntly, bestowed on it by her ancestors. This splendid baronial pile still (1927) belongs to the Patersons.

The new Castle Huntly became, of course, the principal residence of the Lords Gray for a long period, and it is not necessary to deal with each of them. It is interesting, however, that the desertion of Fowlis Castle, according to a local current superstition, was followed by a total change in the policy of successive Lords Gray. It has been pointed out that loyalty to the reigning monarchy had been habitual with them, but that was changed shortly before they left the ancestral Castle. The Lord Gray of the time introduced a system of double-dealing in public affairs. Though an intimate friend of James III., he conspired to remove him from the throne; and he took part with the Prince (afterwards James IV.) at Sauchie Burn, where the King was assassinated. One of his successors, though a Reformer, sought to promote the appointment of Cardinal Beaton as Regent after the death of James V.; but he was not even true to him, for he signed a bond, which was found in St Andrews Castle, by which Lord Gray bound himself to hand over certain Scottish Castles to the English invaders under the Protector Somerset.

The acme of treachery was reached by the Master of Gray, who was known by that designation till 1609, when he became sixth Baron Gray. His early years were spent in France during the young Queen Mary’s residence there, and he was in close touch with the Guises and other French friends of the Queen. He betrayed Mary’s secrets to the Scottish Privy Council and the Governor Arran; concluded an agreement with Elizabeth and James to the exclusion of Mary from the throne, while acting as Ambassador to England; and formally protested against the condemnation of Mary, but secretly advised her assassination. He was exiled from Scotland for impeding the marriage of the King with Anne of Denmark in 1587, but returned shortly after, and joined with the traitor Francis Stewart Hepburn, who attempted in 1592 to capture the King at Falkland. Gray ultimately escaped the punishment of death for treason, but was exiled to France, where in 1612 he died.

Through the marriage in 1763 of the Hon. Jane Gray to Francis, Earl of Moray, the proprietorship of Fowlis Castle would have passed to that family; but after Cromwell’s invasion the fines he levied on the Royalists told so heavily upon the Gray family that the Castle and grounds had to be sold in 1669 to Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre, Baronet. The family of the Murrays of Ochtertyre could claim a very respectable antiquity. The first of the name died in 1476, and the third holder of the title is enumerated amongst the slain on Flodden Field. It will thus be seen that the new inhabitants of Fowlis were not mere "new rich" people, elevated to unwonted dignity by successful speculation, but had been connected with Perthshire for a considerable period. Originally the family name had been "Moray," and they claimed descent from Sir David Moray of Tullibardine, one of the ancestors of the Atholl family; but that Sir William who purchased Fowlis Castle changed the spelling of the surname to "Murray." He was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia, and was succeeded by his son, Sir Patrick, who largely added to the family possessions. By prudence and economy he had amassed a considerable fortune, which he expended in acquiring land. There were not wanting those who whispered that his employment by King William III. to subsidise the Highand Chieftains had been one of his most profitable speculations. Though in possession of several seats, he selected Fowlis Castle as his residence, and beneath its roof-tree his eleven children were born. He reached the patriarchal age of 80 years, and was succeeded in 1735 by his eldest son, William.

This nobleman had made an unfortunate matrimonial alliance with a daughter of Hugh, eleventh Lord Lovat, which involved him in the troubles of the 1715 Jacobite Rising; and though he escaped immediate punishment, his prospects of success under the Hanoverian Government were completely blighted. The parsimony of his father, who had at least the sense to choose the successful party, had plunged Sir William into debt; and though he only survived his parent four years, that could not be a happy period. His widow died at Fowlis Castle in 1771, having reached the age of 81 years, during which she had been intimately connected with the two great Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745, and had buried her husband and her son, had witnessed the marriage of her grandson, and the birth of her great-grandson, each of whom held the title of "Murray of Ochtertyre." She had herself borne nineteen children, several of whom now sleep with her in the old Kirk of Fowlis beside the Castle.

With her death a considerable alteration took place in the dignity of Fowlis Castle. Her grandson, Sir William, had married one of the daughters of the unfortunate Earl of Cromartie, who endured sentence of death for his concern in the Jacobite Risings. The matrimonial alliances which the family had lately made had developed an increase of the thirsted-for position which often accompanies wealth; and Sir William, no longer content with Fowlis Castle, set about building the House of Ochtertyre, which soon eclipsed by its magnificence the older structure. The Castle was thus abandoned, and the seat of the family was transferred to its territorial locality near Crieff. His son, Sir Patrick, afterwards sixth Baronet, was born at Ochtertyre, and the Murrays have resided there since about 1770. The present (1927) holder of the title is Captain Sir William Keith Murray of Ochtertyre, who, on the death of his father in 1921, became ninth Baronet.

And so the Castle of Fowlis, with all its honour-able memories and dishonourable recollections, falls out of the regard of existing dilletantism.

"‘Tis thus the mighty falls.
There is the moral of all human tales;
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,
First freedom, and then glory—when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarism at last,
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page."

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