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Traditions and Stories of Scottish Castles
Mains Castle

Mains Castle

THOUGH the great events in Scottish history have usually occurred in connection with the principal rivers, because, as a rule, the largest cities were constructed upon the chief water-ways, yet many memorable incidents took place upon inconsiderable streams. Bannockburn is a mere rivulet; Sauchie Burn, where James III. was assassinated, is even less important; and the Till near Flodden Field is an unimportant tributary of the Tweed. There were, nevertheless, historical characters and events connected with all these streamlets; and that is particularly striking with reference to Mains Castle, Forfarshire, which is near Dundee, and was recently acquired, with the lands, by a wealthy citizen, and presented to the city as the site of a public park.

Fintry, or (as it is more generally called) Mains Castle occupies a pleasant situation upon the south side of the tributary stream known as Gelly Burn, which flows into the Dichty River through the Den of Mains. The Dichty rises in the Sidlaw Hills, and flows through the Howe of Strathmartine to join the sea at Monifieth. Its course is more fantastic than imposing, and nowhere does it attain dimensions entitling it to a higher dignity than that of a rivulet. Though it receives the drainage of the Strath, the burns which are its tributaries are so much the creation of the rainy season that frequently its rugged bed is nearly dry, and Dichty, like

"Kedron at our feet its scanty waters
Distils from stone to stone with gentle

The many reservoirs which the commercial enterprise of the locality has formed upon its banks assist greatly in bringing about this result; and the stream which in remote times may have run red with the gore of our heroic forefathers, now combines with chloride of lime and soda-ash to aid the progress of civilization by peacefully bleaching yams upon its verdant banks.

Yet though thus in itself so inconsiderable, this little Dichty river flows through a historic country. The Lairds of Auchterhouse, of Strathmartine, of Claverhouse, and of Fintry have figured prominently in general as well as county history. And if the Dichty cannot boast of any of the glorious battle-fields of Scotland, it has not boen without its influence in the development of the varied fortunes of the Scottish nation. The land through which it meanders is now highly cultivated; the people who inhabit its valley study the arts which "make for peace"; and only those who examine the occult causes at work to produce history can have any idea of the power exercised upon the outer world by the quiescent attractions of its streamlet. The Castles which have been built near its course have been erected rather as rural retreats than as strongholds, and thus exhibit the home-life of those who have passed their time amid busier scenes. But this aspect of existence is not without instruction to the student of humanity.

The Gelly Burn, which flows past the Castle, is never of any great volume, and is unworthy of attention until it reaches the site of that building; but here the ground suddenly alters. The level banks rise upon each side of the stream with precipitate abruptness to a height of about 50 feet above the water, and the pastoral verdure which to this point had fringed its surface is intermingled with oak, beech, and elm trees for the remainder of its course. This marked topographical contrast is chiefly noticeable from the bridge which leads across Gelly Burn to the Castle. Westward the scene presents little to attract the eye of the beholder, showing merely an uninteresting burn wandering between its grassy banks; but eastward the sudden declivity, the darksome foliage, and the half-concealed thread of rippling water far below, give to the spot the salient characteristics of a miniature glen or deep defile. The left bank is crowned by the ancient graveyard of Mains, and was formerly the site of the old kirk of the district; whilst immediately opposite to it stand the picturesque ruins of Mains or Fintry Castle.

Originally this building has been of considerable extent, and the style of the masonry and the elegance of the design show that it has been erected in a civilized period, and by a wealthy proprietor. The large square tower, with dressed corner-stones, which forms the distinctive feature in castle-architecture of the sixteenth century, is of unusually spacious dimensions, and is still (1927) in good preservation. The outer west wall, enclosing the courtyard, and having the main entrance gateway, has suffered severely by the hand of Time, and gives evidence by the misplaced lintels of some of the window embrasures of an injudicious attempt at restoration. A very elegant ornamented window may be seen near the door. Above the gateway a circular turret has risen, the lower portion of which is visible, and in the projecting base may be seen the orifice through which the keepers of the Castle could defend the doorway without exposing themselves to attack. Turrets have probably been erected also at the corners of the north wall; and it is likely that the courtyard had an entry from the south as well as from the west side.

It is not now possible to tell with accuracy how high this outer wall rose, for the finished mason-work of the tower does not afford any absolute indication of this. Doubtless the northern and eastern portions of the Castle were reserved for the apartments of the residents, whilst the southern part of the building was devoted to the accommodation of the menials and retainers, and the western served for purposes of defence. The most striking view of the Castle is to be obtained from the western side, although the height of the tower and the low elevation of the remains of the outer wall give the building rather "a lean and hungry look."

Strange tales are told by the credulous natives as to the age of these ruins, and even some grave historians have been sufficiently deceived by their pertinacity to assert that the Castle was built in 1311. It is almost needless to say that the style of the architecture conclusively proves that the Castle belongs to a much later date; and though there may have been a Fort of some kind on the site at that time, it certainly was not that one whose ruins now remain. And even the indirect evidence thus afforded is supplemented by the dates still to be found on the building. The keystone of the western gateway bears the date "1562," and the lintel of a door in the east portion which opens into the courtyard has a carved Latin motto with the further date of "1582," so that it may be concluded that the Castle was begun and finished between these years. With this clue it is easy to trace the history of the building. Before examining details it might be advisable to narrate the earlier history of the locality.

It is supposed that the Earls of Angus in olden times had a residence somewhere in the Strath of Dichty, although its exact site has never been determined. This notion is founded upon the fact that in all ancient documents which refer to the lands these are described in Latin as "Strath-Dichty Comitis," and in Scottish as "Earl’s Stradichty." It is well to remember that the County of Angus, or Forfarshire, formed one of the ancient kingdoms into which Pictish Scotland—north of Forth and Clyde—and extended from the Tay on the south, the Isla on the west, the North Esk on the north, and the North Sea on the east. When the kingdom was consolidated under the Celtic Kings, about 1005 A.D., in the time of Malcolm II., the various divisions were ruled by Mormaers, and that name was maintained till the reign of Alexander I., 1106 till 1124 being the date of his occupancy of the throne. The Mormaers, however, began to be superseded by Earls, a dignity borrowed from England.

The first Earl of Angus recorded was Gillebride or Gilchrist, whose father, of the same name and title, fought under David I. in 1138 at the Battle of the Standard. The fifth Earl in succession was Malcolm, who died in 1242, leaving no son, but an only daughter, who was Matilda, Countess of Angus in her own right. Her first husband was John Comyn, titular Earl of Angus, who died in 1242 in France; in the following year the Countess married Sir Gilbert Umfraville, a powerful Northumberland Baron, who became a prominent figure in Scotland as Earl of Angus until his death in 1245, while the Countess died in the succeeding year. The Earls that bore the name Umfraville may be briefly noticed, especially as they were anti-patriotic to Scotland, one of them being appointed Governor of Dundee during the War of Independence. The third Earl of that line died in 1325, and was a marked man because of his support of Edward II. after Bannockburn.

In 1329 Robert the Bruce conferred the Earldom upon Sir John Stewart of Boncle, who was descended from his own original — the High Steward of Scotland. This was the first Stewart, Earl of Angus, and these continued in succession from 1329 until 1402, the date of the death of the second Earl. His widow, the Countess Margaret, had a son by William, Earl of Douglas, while she stayed with him (her brother-in-law) at Tantalon Castle, about 1376, and this son, George Douglas, became the first Douglas, Earl of Angus. From this line the titles of "Earl of Angus and Marquess of Angus," as well as Duke of Douglas, were continued till the death in 1761 of the first Duke of Douglas.

During all this long period the Earls of Angus seem to have controlled the whole district of Strath-Dichty; and occasionally there are records of donations from the property to the Monastery of Arbroath, and other numerous philanthropic objects, from the lands of Strath-Dichty. Whether there was a Keep or Castle for the successive Earls at or near the site of Mains Castle cannot be absolutely asserted, though it is extremely probable. In any case, these researches show that Strath-Dichty as a title stretches far back into remote times. Even the present (1927) Earl of Strathmore is described in his Patent of Nobility as "Baron Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw, and Stradichtie," and that was when the new mills were opened. Besides it is extremely likely that Earls of Douglas should have a castle near "Lumbtithen, which was a jointure house of the Scottish Queens at the place near Dundee, now known as Linlathen, of which one part belonged to the, Earl of Angus." No trace of a very early Castle has been found in the vicinity. Fortunately the history of the existing ruins can be settled historically.

In proof of the proprietary interest of the Earl of Angus in Strathdichty, the following documents are authentic and valuable. By a Sasine dated "14 April 1425, proceeding upon a Precept of William Douglas, Earl of Angus, the lands of Kirktoun of Strathdighty, in the Regality of Kirrymuir," are apportioned to "Thomas Clerk, Burgess of Dundee." A Bond by the Earl of Angus, signed 20th January 1444, obliges that nobleman to receive "James Scrimzeour, his cousin, to be the tenant in the said lands." On the 6th of March 1450, "Thomas Clerk executed an assignation to John Scrimzeour, son of James Scrimzeour of Dudhope, of the foresaid lands," and they remained in the family for a considerable time. Matilda, the sister of this John Scrimzeour, was married to John Graham of Balargus, and thus indirectly brought the latter family to the locality.

The son of this marriage obtained a Charter under the Great Seal of an Annual Rent out of the lands of Kirktoun of Strathdichty, dated 14th March 1529-30.

[Note: Got in from Jack Blair... Certainly not true as that marriage was in the forbidden degree and a physical impossibility. Matilda or Maud Scrymgeour was his mother! She was wife to Robert Graham of Fintry, provost of Dundee.]

He purchased the estate of Claverhouse in the immediate neighbourhood, which afterwards gave his heirs their territorial title, one of them being the famous John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee. The marriage of John Graham of Balargus with a daughter of the house of Beaton of Balfour, and his connection with the family of Graham, afterwards Dukes of Montrose, gave him some importance in the county. He derived his descent from that branch of the Grahams which had settled at Fintry in Stirlingshire; and when Sir David Graham, the head of that sept, had converted the "Annual Rent" of Kirktoun and the lands of Lumlethan (now Linlathen) into a safe proprietary, it is probable that he began to build the edifice, the ruins of which remain, and called it by the name of "Fintry Castle" in remembrance of the estate from which his family had come.

The acquisition of the lands of Claverhouse had the effect of bringing two families of the name of Graham into Strathdichty—the branch which retained the designation of Graham of Fintry and resided in the Castle of Mains, and the heirs of John Graham of Balargus, who adopted the title of Claverhouse from their new estate. It is likely that the first John Graham of Claverhouse built a residential Castle upon his estate, which lies a little to the west of Mains Castle, on the other side of the Dichty, although there is now no trace of it remaining; and nothing marks the supposed site which it may have occupied save a quasi-Gothic structure in form of a dove-cot, erected from the ruins of the original Castle in 1850, near the ancient village of Trottick, and visible from the main road to Baldovan. But the inhabitants of the Castle of Mains or Fintry still retained their territorial title, and thus the latter erection became associated with the elder portion of the family. The double connection of this branch of the Grahams is not generally known. Genealogical writing is not always attractive to the reader, though this will serve to show how closely the Grahams have been associated with Forfarshire for a very long period.

William, Lord Graham of Kincardine, had as his second wife the Lady Mary Stewart, second daughter of Robert III., who was a much married lady. In 1397 she married George Douglas, first Earl of Angus of that family. Her second husband was Sir James Kennedy of Dunure, in Ayrshire. Sir William Graham was her third husband, and after his decease she wedded Sir William Edmonston of Duntreath. There were several things to attract her to Strathdichty. The jointure-house of her mother, Queen Annabella Drummond, was there. Her first husband, Earl of Angus, was the suprior of all the property, and so she persuaded her third husband, William, Lord Graham, to take up a residence in that district. Lady Mary’s eldest son was Sir Robert Graham of Strathcarron and Fintry. Sir Robert’s second wife was a daughter of the Earl of Angus, thus forming another tie with Strathdichty. By her he became ancestor of the Grahams of Claverhouse. His great-grandson first assumed the latter territorial title, and was contemporary with that Sir David Graham who built Mains Castle.

Although there are no very notable acts recorded of Sir David Graham, there is ample evidence that his interests had been largely transferred from Stirlingshire and Dumbartonshire to the district of Angus. The fate of Sir David Graham, the builder of Mains Castle, was a strange one. Throughout the alternations of the religious professions of the Scottish nobility during the reign of Mary, the Grahams of Fintry remained steadfastly attached to the Romish Church. They thus retained the friendship of many of the northern nobles who still adhered to the old religion, and were frequently engaged in the conspiracies which foreign ecclesiastics encouraged for its establishment in Scotland. But after the Reformation faith had gained a footing in Scotland—largely because of bribes of the confiscated Church lands—this tampering with superior forces brought retribution upon them. The story of the conspiracy known to history as "the Spanish Blanks" gives a melancholy interest to Mains Castle.

Had King James VI. been suffered to decide for himself in religious matters his conduct makes it probable that he would have chosen rather the Romish than the Protestant form of worship. But his early years were directed by those who had risen into power entirely because of their opposition to Romanism, and whilst his mother Queen Mary, lived, he dared not disobey them. During her long confinement in England, however, his support of the new religion had rendered it almost impossible for him to retract; and as the great body of the people had by this time been incited to oppose the old Church, he found it impossible to withstand them. Some of the more powerful nobles in the north had still maintained their respect for the Church of their fathers, and nursed a spirit of discontent amongst themselves secretly.

In 1592 these secret communings had at last developed into a definite plot. The Earls of Huntly, Errol, and Angus, with the Lairds of Auchindoun and Fintry, had organized a distinct plan of procedure, and a prominent Roman Catholic, Dr. George Kerr, brother of the Abbot of Newbattle, was employed as their agent. It was their intention to summon His Most Catholic Majesty of Spain to aid them in reconverting Scotland; and these nobles had signed a number of blank sheets of paper, which Kerr was to carry with him to Spain, and to have completed by writing the terms of their treaty over the signatures. From this peculiarity in the method adopted the plot was afterwards known as "the Spanish Blanks." The vigilance of one of the Protestant clergymen, however, defeated this project, and Kerr was apprehended on board the vessel that was to convey him to Spain, with the Spanish Blanks in his possession. Having been put to the torture, Kerr confessed the whole conspiracy, implicating some of the most powerful noblemen in Scotland. The plan was a very bold one. The King of Spain was to land an army of thirty thousand men upon the west coast of Scotland, and, when joined by the insurgent Lords, purposed to divide his army, sending fifteen thousand of his soldiers over the Border, and subjugating Scotland with the remainder,

The action taken by King James makes it probable that he sympathised with this project. It was with extreme unwillingness that he proceeded against the nobles; and though the Council had imprisoned the Earl of Angus, who had fallen into their hands, he contrived to escape from Edinburgh Castle—a feat which would have been impossible but for the connivance of his custodians. Compelled to take measures against the rebels, James led his army victoriously to the north, and skilfully succeeded in evading an engagement. Before setting out on this expedition, however, he deemed it necessary to vindicate himself from the charge of sympathy with the rebels, and he did so by apprehending Graham of Fintry, bringing him to trial, and procuring his execution at the Cross of Edinburgh. The Lord of Mains Castle was beheaded in 1593, and thus made the scapegoat for the sins of nobler traitors whom the King could not dismiss from his Court.

From this period the Grahams of Fintry seldom appear in history, and the minor branch of the family which had settled at Claverhouse soon overtopped them. John Graham of Fintry married a daughter of James Scrymgeoure, second Viscount of Dudhope, and probably took part in the Parliamentarian Wars with Charles I. But the fame of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, in the following reign has quite overshadowed any distinction which he may have gained.

The family of the Grahams of Fintry retained the lands until early in the nineteenth century. The last holder of them was that Robert Graham of Fintry who was the friend of Robert Bums, and to whom the poet addressed two of his poetical epistles. Having fallen upon evil days, Robert Graham sold the lands of Fintry to David Erskine, W.S., Edinburgh, indirectly the ancestor of the last recently deceased Erskine of Linlathen. But Graham made the curious stipulation that his descendants should retain the territorial title of "Graham of Fintry," and that the older name of Lumlathen (now Linlathen) should be resumed for the estate. That condition has since been faithfully followed. The Grahams went to the Cape of Good Hope in a military capacity during the Kaffir Wars, and they founded the settlement of "Grahamstown," near Port Alfred, in South Africa, and married into some of the wealthy Boer families, and the name is thus preserved.

The estate of Linlathen, at least that part including the ruins of Mains Castle, were sold by the last Erskine of Linlathen to a wealthy Dundee citizen, Sir James Caird, Bart., LL.D., in 1913, and the whole of the purchase was handed over by Sir James to the Town Council, to be used as a public recreation ground to be called "Caird Park." The grounds have been laid out as a golf course, an artificial pond with cascades, and other appropriate purposes. It was opened to the public when completed in November 1923 by Mrs Marryat, half-sister of the late Sir James Caird, Bart, the generous donor.


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