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History of Loch Kinnord
Chapter V. Early Historic Period, to 1335 A.D.

Ere this period opens on Kinnord, many important political changes had taken place in the history of the country. The different provinces, long petty independent kingdoms, had, one after another, been incorporated into a united nation. The invasions of the Danes, though mostly confined to the coast, had been heard of far inland, and the reports of their deeds of arms, their savage cruelties and sacrileges, had filled the native mind with fear and horror, and given rise to fables that attributed every ruin and trace of devastation to these pirates; and hence arose, as far as I can conjecture, the elements of the tradition that, in quite recent times, referred to the Danish wars the great cairns and ruins to be found on the bleak moors and hill tops around Loch Kinnord. But the times of the Danes had also passed away, and other disturbers of the country's peace had put them almost out of people's memories.

When these events had come and gone, a great revolution, with which I think Kinnord was associated, swept over the land. In the year 1039, King Duncan, "the Generous," was murdered by one of his great lords, or thanes, of the name of Macbeth. When this Macbeth, who was a descendant of the ancient Pictish kings, got full possession of the kingdom, he resorted to the old Pictish practice of having round forts on the hill tops, and inaccessible strengths in the marshes and lakes. He built a great round fortress on the top of the hill of Dunsinane, and restored others in different parts of his dominions, such as at Lumphanan, Strathbogie, and I think it very likely at Kinnord also, because he was fond of such strengths, and resided much in this part of his territories. Macbeth was a sort of Oliver Cromwell in his day, and was a good king for the country, though very cruel to the late king's family and followers, all of whom he killed that he could lay his hands on. However, Malcolm, the eldest son, managed to escape into England, whence he returned after seventeen years, accompanied with a great army, gave battle to Macbeth at his great fort of Dunsinane, beat him, and chased him north over the hills to the Feel-Bog in Lumphanan. Here the fugitive made another stand; but Macduff, Malcolm's chief general, overcame him, slew him with his own hand, and carried his head in triumph to the King, who was staving at Kincardine O'Neil. This was that Malcolm who was nicknamed Ceanmore, or the Big Headed because, as I suppose, he had a large head, perhaps, also, because he was a very shrewd and wise king. Malcolm Ceanmore, being now crowned king, took possession of all the strongholds which Macbeth had built or fortified, Kinnord among the others, and likely enough garrisoned them with his own soldiers. Notwithstanding all the legends that have got into circulation regarding this King's residence at Kinnord, the above is the only account, consistent with history, that I can give of any supposed connection he had with it. If there was a habitable castle or fort on the island at this time (1067-93), it was more likely to have been built, or rebuilt, by Macbeth, in whose veins there was a great deal of both Pictish and Danish blood, than by Malcolm, whose big head had got filled with English notions and new fashions, among which round towers on hill tops and crannogs in lakes had no place. I shall, therefore, not detain the reader with any traditions about Malcolm Ceanmore's residence and doings at Kinnord, because I believe most, if not all, of them to be purely fabulous inventions of comparatively modern times, and ignorant people. I may just remark that the reign of Malcolm introduced a new era into our history; and it became customary, a hundred years ago or so, for people to refer all relics and legends of unknown antiquity to the period of his reign.

As a flash of lightning in a dark night enables the belated wanderer to behold for an instant the position he occupies, so in the midst of the uncertainties of these researches, an actual date cut upon a beam, brought up from the ruins of the old drawbridge, about the year 1782, fixes for us the year in which this ancient fortress was presumably restored after its long desolation. The beam, according to the writer of the Old Statistical Account of the parish, was long preserved by a gentleman in the neighbourhood, but has now ceased to exist The date it bore was 1113. This was just twenty years after the death of Malcolm Ceanmore. The date is important, as being the earliest written or inscribed item of information we possess regarding the fortress on Loch Kinnord. If we inquire into the state of the country at that time, we find that Alexander I., surnamed "The Fierce," son of Malcolm Ceanmore, was then engaged in restoring the forts and strongholds in the northern parts of his kingdom to overawe the turbulent inhabitants of Moray and the Mearns; and it is not improbable that, among others, he may have rebuilt the castle in Loch Kinnord. At any rate we are now at the year 1113 a.d.

Another dark age of nearly two hundred years' duration has to be passed over before we reach the next feet of history having reference to Kinnord. When it again emerges to view, it is as the scene of a night encampment of a great English army, towards the fall of the year 1296. Noise and bustle there were enough then—pitching of tents, picketing of horses, hurrying to and fro on the moor of Dinnet of servants and attendants, for the great English king, Edward I., contemptuously nicknamed by the Scots, Longshanks, was there at the head of his army, probably passing the night on the Castle Island. Why he and his army were there was thus:—He was engaged in subduing poor Scotland, and for this purpose had made a progress through the country as far north as Kinloss in Morayshire. On his return journey he came by Lochindorb, Strathspey, and Kildrummy, then by far the greatest strength in the province of Mar. From Kildrummy he led his army southward, encamping the first night at Kinnord, [While here Edward caused the Peel or Castle of Aboyne to be taken in, and its charter-chest to be rifled, carrying with him into England every document that would seem to imply the independence of the Scottish king or kingdom.— Robertson's Index to Mining Charters, p. xxv.] and early next morning crossing the Dee at Boat of Dinnet, whence long files of his soldiers wended their way through Glentanar, and over the Fir Munth, and so on by Brechin to Dundee.

This was not the last time that the great King Long-shanks was at Kinnord. In 1303, after Wallace's brave effort to secure the independence of his country had failed, Edward made another progress through the country, selecting almost the same route and encampments as on the previous occasion; but, being this time in very bad humour with what he called the rebellious spirit of the Scots, the people about Kinnord were very glad he did not stay longer amongst them.

At the present day we can hardly realise the fact of a great English army, with their king at their head, being twice encamped, within the space of seven years, around the shores and on the island of Loch Kinnord— the spot seems to us so very unlikely to be selected for such a purpose; but time works wondrous changes; then it was the most likely, the most commodious and convenient between Kildrummy and Brechin.

To make clear to the reader the circumstances out of which arose the next event in which the Castle of Kinnord figures, it will be necessary to sketch, however briefly, some portion of the national history following closely on the period at which we have now arrived.

John Strathbogie, Lord of that Ilk, had married Adda, daughter and sole heiress of Henry Hastings, Earl of Athole, in whose right, on her father's death, he became eighth Earl of Athole. Taking part with Wallace, he was made prisoner by the English, and put to death with horrible cruelty. His son, David, ninth Earl of Athole, and Lord of Strathbogie, wavered in his allegiance between Bruce and Edward ; but at last marrying Joan Comyn, daughter and co-heiress of the Red Comyn, whom Bruce had slain at Dumfries, he went over altogether to the English cause. In consequence of this he was disinherited by King Robert; and his lordship of Strathbogie was bestowed upon his former friend, Sir Adam Gordon. David Strathbogie, who had immense estates in England as well as in Scotland, made no serious effort to recover the latter, and died in England, leaving a son of his own name, a bold, fickle, and inordinately ambitious young man.

He and some other Scottish exiles had influence enough with the English king to obtain from him a fleet and army with which they invaded Scotland, with the design of regaining by force their forfeited estates and honours, and of dispossessing the present owners. The great Bruce was now dead, and they proposed expelling his son, as yet a young boy, from the throne, and setting up in his room David Baliol, the son of a former king. They thought that if they could do this they would not only repossess themselves of their forfeited properties, but be secured in the possession of them in all time coming. They were very nearly successful; and for two or three years they kept the country in a state of civil war.

David Strathbogie had, through his mother, Joan Comyn, inherited the greater part of the fortunes and territorial influence of her once powerful family, and thinking that the former vassals of her house would more readily join his standard if he came among them as the representative of their former lords, he dropped the surname of Strathbogie, and, assuming that of his mother when in Scotland, called himself David Comyn, though his real name, that which he always took when in England, was David Strathbogie.

Perceiving after a short time, that the Scots would never have Baliol for their king, Comyn, as we shall call him, suddenly changed sides in the contest, and made his peace with the followers of Bruce, receiving hack the earldom of Athole with the lands belonging to it, and many others besides. He appears to have adopted this line of conduct in pursuance of a deep laid plan to make himself King of Scotland; and, indeed, if the family of Bruce could have been dispossessed and the family of Baliol rejected, he had the next best claim to the crown. He won over a great many of the Scottish nobility, rode through the country with a train almost royal, appointing his own friends to the command of the castles and forts within his wide domains, but all the while pretending that he was doing so in the interests of King David Bruce. The Castle, or Peel of Kinnord he gave to one of his most staunch supporters, Sir Robert Menzies, who had considerable estates in Athole and also at Pitfodels, near Aberdeen. He was careful to keep on good terms with the Regent, the brave and loyal Sir Andrew Moray, though there was no man in Scotland he in his heart hated or dreaded more.

When he thought his plans ripe for execution, he threw off his disguise, mustered his followers in Athole, numbering 3000 foot with some horse, and seizing the opportunity when the Regent was engaged on some business on the eastern border, he hastily marched northward with this force to capture the Castle of Kildrummy, where the Regent's wife, a sister of the late King Robert Bruce, and other royal and noble ladies were then residing. The garrison was brave, but few in numbers ; and it is almost a wonder that it was able to resist Athole's unexpected attack If it had surrendered he would have got into his hands almost every member of the Royal Family then resident within the kingdom; for the young king was in France, and the youthful Stewart, the heir apparent, he had already secured.

Christian Bruce, however, found means to despatch a messenger to her husband, who, as has been said, was on the Borders, to inform him of the danger that threatened his family. We may fancy with what consternation and anger the brave Sir Andrew received the intelligence of Athole's perfidy. But there was not a moment to be lost in unavailing grief and indignation. Hastily collecting 800 brave Border horsemen, among whom was Sir Alexander Gordon, the son and successor of Sir Adam, to whom Bruce had given Athole's patrimony of Strathbogie, he hurried northward with all possible speed. Comyn, hearing of his approach, and fearing a surprise, raised the seige of the Castle, intending either to give the regent battle at a distance from Kildrummy, where he could not receive succour from the garrison, or where, if he found it necessary, he might make good his retreat into Athole.

The subsequent events cannot be better told than by paraphrasing, for the sake of the modern reader, the narrative of the ancient chronicler, Wynton, whose account is so exact and minute that he must have had his information from an eye-witness.

When Sir Andrew Moray heard how rudely Earl Davy (Athole) and his men conducted themselves he was very angry, and prepared to raise the seige forthwith. He therefore collected all the armed men he could obtain to the south of the Scottish Sea (Firth of Forth). The Earl Patrick (Dunbar) joined him, and with him came Ramsay and Preston, and other gentlemen of great renown. William Douglass was also there with his good men and worthy, besides other gentlemen, making in all 800 fighting men; for the flower of that portion of Scotland were then at his Court. So quick were their movements that they passed the Mounth (Grampians) without stopping.

The Earl Davy (Athole) now received full information of their approach, and so took his departure from the Castle (of Kildrummy). He made straight for Culblean, and there lodged his great array, right in the highway at the east end; and right opposite to where they lay, at the Ha' of Logie-Ruthvan, Sir Andrew had taken up his quarters. That evening there came to him from Kildrummy 300 " wicht" and hardy men, and this raised the spirits of his own men greatly, and he himself was very glad of their coming.

Well, there was in his army one John of the Craig (John Craig), who had been taken prisoner by Earl Davy, and who would have to pay his ransom next day. This man said privately to the (Scottish) Lords, that, if they would take his advice, he would lead them by a short cut through the wood in which their foes lay, and bring them close up to them behind before they would be aware of their approach; and he fulfilled all that he undertook; for between midnight and daybreak he led them where they found the short cut which they followed for more than a mile. Skirting the wood there were two paths; the Earl Davy lay in the lower of these, while the Scots took the higher way, and then struck across to the other. Here every man left his horse, and marched against the foe on foot. These had no knowledge of their approach till well on in the dawn, when they caught sight of them. And then with all the haste they could they warned Earl Davy.

He immediately caused the trumpet to be sounded lo warn his soldiers, who in a very short time assembled round him in a small path that was there. Eight in the centre of this path stood Earl Davy, and to a great stone that stood beside it,

"He sayd, 'Be Goddies face we twa,
The flight on us sail samen ta.'"
(By thee I stand, and take my oath
The flight together we take both.)


("Come one, come all, this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.")


William Douglas, who then led the vanguard with the stoutest men that were in the company, when he saw Earl Davy stand so arrayed with his men, took his spear in both hands, and, holding it across, said—"Stay, my Lords, a moment." They that were in his company secretly grumbled at this.

When Earl Davy saw that they hesitated, he stepped forward, and cried—"They are already nearly discomfited; upon them with might and main."

After this they withdrew a little bit to a ford, which when Douglas saw, he cried—"Now is our time."

Soon after, they couched their spears and charged in the ford. Robert Brady, a hardy knight, was there slain. A hand-to-hand encounter then took place; and just at that moment Sir Andrew Moray with his company came in stoutly on the flank—so stoutly that they say the bushes bent before them. The moment he appeared the enemy fled ; not a single soldier remained to combat.

There by an oak was Earl Davy slain, and several of his followers; Sir William Comyn was also slain ; and Sir Thomas Brown was taken prisoner, and afterwards heavily ironed ; for it seems they bore him no good will. Sir Robert Menzies went to his Castle of Kinnord, where he had never been till then; but he escaped there and in the great fort, or Peel, he found good protection for himself and his men, and then on the following day he capitulated, and pledged his fidelity to the Scottish cause.

There were not many slain in battle; for the wood covered them from their pursuers, and they fled so quickly that the greater part got safely away. The battle took place on St. Andrews day (30th November, 1335), or as I reckon on the previous night (and morning).

Wynton gives us to understand that the battle of Culblean had been the subject of poetry or prophecy, for he adds:—"Of this battle spake Thomas of Erclydown (Thomas the Rhymer), when he truly said—'In Culblean they'll meet, stalwart, stark, and stern.'"

"He said it in his prophecy, But how he knew it was a fairly."

"Thus perished," says a very exact historian, "in the 28th year of his age, David de Strathbogie, of royal descent, nobly allied, and possessing estates above the rank of a subject. He died, seized of the manors of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, Bullindon in Buckinghamshire, Posewyke, West Lexham, Styvely, and Holkham in Norfolk, Mitford Castle, and other lands in Northumberland. He married Catherine, daughter of Henry Beaumont, styled Earl of Buchan; she survived him and was blockaded in the Castle of Lochindorb, by Sir Andrew Moray, from November 1335 (immediately after the battle of Culblean), to August 1336, when the siege was raised by Edward III. of England."

Another version of the battle of Culblean represents that David Comyn, or Strathbogie, fell by the hand of Sir Alexander Gordon, -who had a heavy account of injury to revenge; and that when Sir Robert Menzies escaped to the Peel of Loch Kinnord, he was pursued thither by Sir Alexander, and besieged in the island fortress. Sir Robert having previously taken care to have all the boats on the lake secured, in order that if he were obliged to seek safety in the island, his pursuers might not have the means of assaulting the Castle, Sir Alexander Gordon quickly set his men to cut down timber and construct rafts, on which they transported themselves to the island, stormed the Castle, and put the whole garrison to the sword.

This may be an exaggerated account of what took place; but there is probably some truth in it, though Wynton's narrative is the only one to which entire historical credibility must be accorded. Where the other is supplementary, it also may be true; but where contradictory, it must be rejected; and it is certain that Sir Robert Menzies was not put to death, whatever was the fate of his followers.

The consequences of the battle of Culblean were of the most important kind. David, Earl of Athole, was supposed to be more than a match for the whole Scottish party. In close alliance with the English king, who aided and abetted him in his attempt to secure the crown of Scotland, he seemed to want but the victory at Culblean to secure his object. His slaughter there quenched for ever the hopes of his followers, and did more to strengthen the cause of David Bruce than any other action in the long and disastrous war that arose on the death of the great Bruce. Had David Comyn been successful, and Sir Andrew Moray defeated and slain, the House of Stuart would never have ascended the throne; for Comyn had already made sure of the submission of the young Stuart, the heir apparent of the line of Bruce ; and we should have had a Royal House of Comyn, or Strathbogie, with such destiny as Providence might have allotted to it. The battle of Culblean turned the apparently unequal contest, and gave us the fortunes which history records.

What befell the "Peel" or Castle of Loch Kinnord subsequent to the battle of Culblean can only be conjectured. It is about 150 years before its name again appears in any written document that has survived to our day. There is reason, however, to believe, that the fort was neither demolished nor disused; and the silence of the chroniclers regarding it may in great part be accounted for by the fact that for the rest of the 14th century the scene of the events which almost exclusively claimed their attention was laid on the distant Borders.

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