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The Historical Families of Dunfriesshire and the Border Wars

The misfortunes of the house of Stewart have become a proverb, but it must be admitted that in some measure their early Princes brought them on the dynasty by their own misdeeds. In the dispensation for his marriage to Elizabeth More within the prohibited degrees, obtained by Robert II. in 1347 from the Pope, both sons and daughters are mentioned who were probably legitimised by the matrimonial rite, but owing to his irregular life, both before and after the ceremony, it was commonly rumoured that though Robert III. was his eldest son, he was not one of the sons whose birth had been legalized by subsequent wedlock. The Duke of Albany was considered to have a better right to the throne, and his appointment as Regent in the life-time of his father, instead of his elder brother, seemed to confirm this report. The Wolf of Badenoch, another son of Robert II., was a ferocious savage; a destroyer of churches and monasteries for the sake of the silver they contained, and whose barbarities to women and children shocked even the rude clansman of his day. In spite of literary talent his nephew, James I., seemed to inherit a little of his cold cruelty, rather than the noble disposition of Robert Bruce. Great as had been his wrongs, and that of his elder brother, the treacherous seizure and execution of his cousin Murdoch—who had at one time shared his captivity in the Tower, obtained his release, and placed his crown on his head—and of Murdoch’s sons and aged father-in-law after a mock trial, simply because the real sinner was dead, was regarded as an act of jealousy rather than of justice The horrible tortures to which he subjected some of their adherents, the insults heaped on his victims, and the confiscation of their possessions, chiefly for his own benefit, raised against him the faction of his and their relatives, who at last assassinated him, and his supplication for mercy when in the hands of his murderers contrasted with the stoical fortitude of the Albany family in their sufferings. By this revenge on descendants of the first wife of Robert II., James excited the indignation of the descendants of the second wife, Euphemia, [Holinshead, writing in 1574, calls Euphemia Robert’s first wife, and says he married Elizabeth Mure after her death, but he may have confused two rather similar names. Elizabeth’s children legitimised after wedlock would have been junior in Scottish law to Euphemia’s, though older in age.] who also imagined that their right to reign, owing to their unquestioned legitimacy, was stronger than his own. These were the Earl of Atholl, Robert’s son; his grandson, Stewart; and Sir Robert Grahame, a great grandson of Robert Bruce. But though ambition has been attributed to them, they asserted, amidst the excruciating torments to which they were subjected for their part in the King’s death, by the order of his widow, the English Princess Joan, that they were simply avenging the blood of their relations by destroying the murderer according to the recognised Scottish law. While the Royal house was divided against itself, and the English Kings showed, by their detention of James I. in his boyhood (1399) in a time of peace and the ransom afterwards required for his release (1424), their continued ill-will to the Scots, the nobles on the borders and in the Highlands ruled independently of the Sovereigns, who when they visited Annandale came with an army as if entering foreign country.

A king of six years old, the heir of James I., was not likely to attract the allegiance of the powerful Douglas, whose predecessor had even claimed the throne, at the accession of the first Stewart. No mention can be found of the Douglases earlier than the last half of the 12th century, when William of Douglas witnessed a charter by Joscelin, Bishop of Glasgow, to the monks of Kelso, between 1170 and 1190. While the Maxwells devoted themselves to their relative Baliol, the Douglases adhered to Bruce. As lords of Galloway, Annandale, and Dumfries, they assumed an attitude very galling to the youthful sovereigns who inherited the Scottish throne. An inactive life soon wearied them, and when a truce was concluded with England, William, called the Black Douglas, who had married Egidia, or Gyles, the daughter of Robert II., left Scotland for a crusade against the pagans and fire-worshippers of Vilna in Russia, and enrolled himself under the flag of the Teutonic knights who had established themselves in Livonia and the north of modern Prussia. The Earl of Derby, afterwards Henry IV. of England, joined in the same expedition, and Douglas was made Admiral of the Teutonic fleet at Dantzic, Duke of Prussia, and Prince of Dantzic. He did not long enjoy these honours, for in 1400 he was murdered on the bridge of Dantzic by some assassins hired by Lord Clifford, one of the Earl of Derby’s followers, with whom he had had a dispute. William, the nephew of this Douglas, when only seventeen years of age, kept a larger guard of armed followers than the young King, and excited the fears and jealousy of both the Regent and Sir William Crichton, the Chancellor of Scotland, who invited him and his young brother David to a banquet in the Royal Palace. In the middle of the feast they were seized and put to death by some of the Regent’s servants, in the very sight of the Royal boy, "who grat very sore," writes the historian, and pleaded for their lives in vain. Yet a few years later their cousin and the head of their house was stabbed by this young King James II. in a fit of passion—an act which was the immediate cause of the great Douglas rebellion, that stirred up not only Dumfriesshire, but all Scotland, before it was finally suppressed.

The rebellion of the Earl of March in 1400, and of the Douglases fifty years later, made or ruined the fortunes of many families in Dumfriesshire. The Earl of March had been Warden of the Borders, and in that capacity had defeated the English and wrested the town of Roxburgh and the castle of Lochmaben from their hands; but he was incensed by the King’s conduct to his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Dunbar, who after her betrothal to David, Prince of Scotland (the eldest son of Robert III.), with the Prince’s full consent, and after her father had actually paid a large part of her promised dowry, was rejected for Lady Marjory, the daughter of the powerful Earl of Douglas, and Lady Marjory was married to David in spite of the previous contract. The Prince showed his preference for Lady Elizabeth by neglect of his bride, and a wild, vicious career cut short by his murder in Falkland Castle; and the Earl of March formed an affiance with the Percys of Northumberland, and under their banner became a bitter enemy to his native country. He eventually obtained a pardon, and the restoration of his estates, when the King’s brother, the Duke of Albany, who was supposed to have been accessory to the murder of Prince David, acted as Regent during the detention in England of his nephew, the young King James I. But in 1440 the son of the Earl of March was deprived by an Act of the Scottish Parliament of all the lands he held in Dumfriesshire as a tenant of the Crown, although his brother John was created Earl of Murray, having married Lady Marjory Stewart, eldest daughter of King Robert II., and therefore aunt to James I. Her two grandsons, Thomas and James, went as hostages to England for the King’s ransom in 1424.

This James Dunbar, who became Earl of Murray, and married Lady Janet Gordon, obtained the reversion of some of his great uncle’s confiscated estates on the borders of Dumfriesshire, and, leaving only two daughters, his lands in Kirkpatrick went to the eldest, Lady Janet, married to James, second Lord Crichton, while his title and other estates went to his second daughter Mary, who married Archibald Douglas. She lost both the title and estates by her husband’s participation in his brother’s rebellion, which James, Earl of Douglas, inaugurated to revenge the assassination already mentioned of another brother by the King, James II., after supper in Stirling Castle. The Earl was joined by his relatives, as well as by the Earls of Murray and Ormond, and Lord Hamilton, and other chiefs; and, first proclaiming the cause of his disloyalty in the market place at Stirling, supported by 600 armed men, he proceeded to sack the town and burn it. The King was at Perth, but returned nearer to the scene of action, where in spite of a defeat they had sustained at Brechin Muir in 1452 the rebels still increased in power; and when the Parliament was sitting at Edinburgh to deprive them of their titles and estates, a letter was fastened in the night, to the door of the Parliament House, sealed by Douglas, Ormond, and Hamilton, renouncing all allegiance to the King. The chronicler of Auchinleck rites—"This Parliament was continued for fifteen days, and charged all manner of men to be at Edinburgh both foot and horse, each man for himself, both in burgh and land, under pain of death, and loss of their lands. The King himself passed on southwards with the host to Peebles, Selkirk, Dumfries, and other parts, and did no good, but destroyed the country right felonly, both of men, money, and victuals."

The Douglas rebellion was crushed at last by the battle of Langholm or Arkenholm, in Eskdale, on May 1, 1455, in which the insurgent lords were defeated by Maxwell, Johnstone, Scot, and Carlile. The Earl of Murray was killed, Ormond taken prisoner, and the lordship of Annandale and March, which Douglas had possessed, was conferred on the King’s second son, Alexander Duke of Albany (brother to James III.), a child of three years old. Before he was seven his father was killed by the bursting of a gun at the siege of Roxburgh, and twenty-four years afterwards he recalled Douglas from a long and weary exile in England to assist him in driving James III. from the throne. Henry VII. of England lent his aid to the unnatural brother, and an English army, accompanied by Douglas and Albany, entered Dumfriesshire, but they were defeated near Lochmaben by the combined forces of Maxwell, Johnstone, Cuthbert Murray of Cockpool, Crichton of Sanquhar, Carruthers of Holmains, and Charteris of Amisfield. Douglas was captured by an old vassal, Kirkpatrick of Ros. The King, in consideration of his age, spared his life, but consigned him to a monastery, and Albany’s estates (the confiscated domains of the Earls of Murray and March on the borders) were appropriated to the Crown and redistributed, their late owner ending his days as an exile in France.

This Duke of Albany and his son, who bore the same title in the next century, carried to Paris several Scottish charters and other documents, which have never been restored. They are still preserved in the Hotel des Archives amongst those relating to Scotland, but also connected with France. In 1423 a letter from "Archambault, Earl of Douglas, Lord of Galloway, of Anaterdalle (Annandale), and Warden of the frontier of Scotland," engages that he will observe faithfully the old treaties existing between France and Scotland, and that he will come the following December, with several lords and men-at-arms and archers, to serve the King of France. In 1499 letters of naturalisation were given to Robert Jonston, a Scotsman in the service of the Queen of France, and in September, 1513, Louis XII., "considering the great service rendered to France by Scotland, principally against England, exempts for the future the Scots residing in France from the obligation to ask particularly letters of naturalisation," granting them en masse the right to make wills, to succeed as heirs, and to hold benefices as if they were Frenchmen.

The Scottish Archers, like the ancient Varangian Guard at Constantinople, were the defence on which the French kings most relied, and they seem from the names preserved to have been chiefly recruited from Dumfriesshire. The Archer Guard even stood round the choir when the French King was in church. In their credentials they were reminded of Abner and the various heroes of the Old Testament. In the reign of Louis XII., Count d’Irvin was their commander, and the force comprised 200 men. After the Union of England and Scotland, Scotsmen were no longer desired for this special duty, and the Swiss Guard, which was so much distinguished in the time of Louis XVI., supplied their place.

The Crichtons, who had promoted the disaffection of the Douglases, [Douglas pointed out to a French ally how little advantage the English could obtain by a march into Scotland. "The houses of the gentlemen are small towers, with thick walls, which even fire will not destroy. As for the common people, they dwell in mere huts, and if the English choose to burn them, a few trees from the wood is only required to rebuild them."] were enriched for their zeal on the side of the King’s troops. According to Holinshed, the first Crichton came over from Hungary with Agatha, the widow of the Saxon Prince Edward, when her daughter married Malcolm III. in 1067. Thurstanus de Crichton was a witness to the foundation charter of the Abbey of Holyrood House in 1128, and Thomas de Crichton swore fealty to Edward I. for lands in Midlothian in 1296. His two sons founded the families of Sanquhar (now represented in the female line by the Marquis of Bute, who is also Earl of Dumfries) and of Frendraught. The eldest son became possessed of half the barony of Sanquhar through his wife, Isabelle de Ros, and subsequently purchased the whole, and his descendants married with the Murrays of Cockpool, and were mixed up in Annandale affairs. Sir Robert, afterwards Lord Crichton of Sanquhar, was made Coroner of Nithsdale in 1468, and he received from James III. a grant of the confiscated Douglas lands. His cousin, Sir William Crichton, the Chancellor, was also created Lord Crichton, and by the marriage of his eldest son, James, with Lady Janet Dunbar, the family succeeded to the barony of Frendraught-Gawin, the second son of Lord Crichton and Lady Janet, seems to have married a daughter or granddaughter of Johnstone of Elphinstone, as he received with his wife in 1479 the lands of Drumgrey, viz., Moling, Monyge, Rahills, &c., in the barony of Kirkmichael, which had been conferred by David II. on a former Adam Johnstone, and were afterwards confirmed to Sir Gilbert Johnstone of Elphinstone by Crown Charter in 1471. Margaret, the daughter of the second Lord Crichton of Sanquhar and his wife, Elizabeth Murray, married William Johnstone of Graitney, and was the ancestress of the Johnstones of Galabank and Fulford Hall. The Crichtons possessed lands in Dryfesdale, in Kirkpatrick, in the barony of Kirkmichael, and in the barony of Crawsfordtoun, now known as the parish of Crawford in Lanarkshire; but estates were increased or diminished with every generation at that period, from the custom of portioning off daughters and younger sons with land, for entails were not restricted to the senior male heir, but to heirs male generally, or to both heirs, male and female; and this led to frequent exchanges between the head of a family and his cadets for the sake of concentrating his property. Hence, land that was brought by an heiress to a younger son is sometimes found a few years later in the hands of his elder brother’s children, though he may himself have left heirs. An arrangement of this nature was made by the two families of Crichton.

Sanquhar Castle

Before the Reformation the Rectory of Sanquhar was leased from the Abbey of Holywood for £20 a year by the Crichtons. In 1494 Ninian Crichton, a layman, was parson of Sanquhar. He was tutor or guardian to his nephews and niece, the children of the second Baron Crichton, as appears by various decrees of the Lords in Council, in which a young Robert Lord Crichton is mentioned in 1525, who does not appear in any of the published pedigrees of the Crichton family, so he probably died before he came of age. His brother William, who succeeded him, married a daughter of Malcolm, Lord Fleming. Their grandson, Robert Crichton, was outlawed for having caused a fencing master to be murdered, and a description of his appearance was sent to Carlisle and Dumfries for his arrest. He is described as wearing a glass eye. He had lost his eye by accident when fencing some years before, and at the Court of France was asked by the King, Henry II., how it had happened. On being informed, Henry said—"And does the fellow live?" which Crichton interpreted as a reproach to himself, and forthwith gave orders to have the fencing-master killed. His heir [This William Lord Crichton is described in his retour as a natural son, one of the instances in which that term is used in Scottish records for a legitimate son. "Willielmus Crichton fillus naturalis Roberti Dominus Crichtoun de Sanquhar, haeres talliae dieti Roberti Dominus Crichtoun de Sanguhar patris in terries, &c."] ruined himself in 1617 by the splendid entertainment which he gave to James VI., who owed him a large sum of money, the proof of which he rolled up into a torch and lighted the King to bed with it. His estates had to be sold about thirteen years afterwards. The Crichtons and Douglases of Drumlanrig were prominent in promoting the second Reformation; but Crichton, the first Earl of Dumfries and Stair, was a supporter of the scheme for restoring the tithes to the church in the reign of Charles I.

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