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A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter XI.—Feuds

During the fourteenth and two following centuries, but especially during the fifteenth and sixteenth, Scotland was seldom free from internecine strife. There was scarcely a family of note which had not one or more private feuds upon its hands, or which was not more or less mixed up with the feuds of others. Neither property nor life was secure. The damage done to property was enormous, and the misery occasioned incalculable. The lord or laird might lie down to rest in fancied security, and awake to find his cattle driven away or his house in flames about him. Sometimes the sleeper never awoke again, but was cruelly murdered as he lay—the victim of a brutal and insatiable desire for revenge or blood.

Much of the blame for this state of lawlessness has been laid at the door of the Douglases, but there were others who, in proportion to their power, were quite as blameable as they were. Acts of Parliament were passed and remedies were applied, but from the imperfect manner in which they were used, they usually failed to restore order.

On August 2, 1440, Parliament assembled at Stirling for the purpose of taking into consideration the disordered state of the country. “ Many and innumerable complaints,” writes Lindsay of Pitscottie, “ were given in, whereof the like was never seen before. There were so many widows, bairns, and infants seeking redress for their husbands, kindred, and friends, that were cruelly slain by wicked and cruel murderers, sicklike many for heirship, theft, and rief that there was no man but he would have ruth and pity to hear the same. Shortly, murder and slaughter were come in such dalliance among the people, and the King’s Acts had come into such contempt, that no man wist where to seek refuge, unless he had sworn himself a servant to some common murderer or bloody tyrant, to maintain him against the invasion of others, or else had given largely of his gear to save his life and to obtain some peace and rest.”

Parliament determined to have recourse once more to the remedies which had so often failed. It was ordained, as usual, that Holy Church should be maintained in freedom, and that the persons and property of ecclesiastics should be universally protected. It was also ordained that, according to ancient usage, the justiciars on the southern and northern sides of the Firth of Forth, or “ Scottis See,” as it was called, should hold their courts twice in the year, that the same duties should be faithfully performed by lords of regalities within their jurisdiction and by the judges and officers of the King upon royal lands. It was ordained, further, that when a feud broke out the King should at once ride to the spot, summon the Sheriff of the county before him, and see immediate justice done upon the offenders, for the more speedy execution of which the barons were directed to assist with their persons, vassals, and property on the outbreak of rebellion, slaughter, or robbery.

The bitterest and most inveterate of the feuds in Renfrewshire was that between the Montgomeries and the Cunninghams. It was introduced into the county by the Cunninghams, and most of the families in the county were gradually drawn into it. The subject of contention was the office of bailie of the barony of Cunningham. On January 15, 1366, Sir Hugh Eglinton was appointed to the office by Robert, Steward of Scotland and Earl of Strathearn, who commanded all the inhabitants of the barony to obey him and his heirs. He also appointed him chamberlain of the barony and of the burgh of Irvine, and gave him as his fee one-third of the fines and issues of the chamberlain and burgh courts. Sir Hugh, it would appear, had no sooner entered upon the office of bailie than his right to it was contested, and in 1370 he had either been forcibly extruded from it or was compelled to stand by and see the office administered, and its stipend drawn by another; for on May 30, in that year, a letter was issued by the Steward authorising him or any of his heirs to re-enter the office, “ notwithstanding another then ministered it through Sir Hugh’s sufferance and consent.”

The office appears to have descended to his grandson, Sir John Montgomery, since, in a marriage contract between Sir John’s eldest daughter and Sir Robert Cunningham of Kilmaurs, in 1425, it was agreed that Sir Robert should hold the bailiary during his life, but on condition that he should not attempt or cause any attempt to be made to make the “ said bailiary more secure to himself or to his heirs in the meantime than it was at his entry upon it.”

In 1448 the office was formally bestowed by the Crown on Alexander, eldest son of the first Lord Montgomery, whose son, the second lord, succeeded him in the office, and, in 1482, procured a transumpt of the chief documents relating to it. In 1498 the Montgomeries had another charter of the office from the King, who also issued letters to enforce obedience.

Meantime both parties appear to have appealed to the sword, for in 1488 Kerrielaw, one of the strongholds of the Cunninghams, had been pulled down and destroyed by the Montgomeries, probably as a retaliation. The Cunninghams appealed to the King; but on October 14, 1488, King James IV. remitted all actions against Hugh Lord Montgomery for the destruction of Kerrielaw, and for all other offences committed by him prior to August 29 then last, in consideration of “ the good and grateful service done to him by Lord Montgomery, especially in the field near Stirling, on June 11, when the royal forces under James III. were defeated, and among others who were fighting for the King against his disloyal son, Lord Kilmaurs, the head of the Cunninghams, who had recently been created Earl of Glencairn, was slain.”

The two parties next sought to come to terms with each other, and, on January 12, 1509, a Decree Arbitral was pronounced with their common consent, which declared that the Earl of Eglinton had full right to the disputed office. The quarrel, however, still went on. A second Decree Arbitral was pronounced in 1517, and a third in 1523. The last of these contains a list of no fewer than twenty-two “ spulzeis ” or raids made by the Cunninghams on the Montgomeries, for which the Earl of Glencairn and his son were condemned to pay to the Earl of Eglinton and his friends the sum of 1,218 14s. 2d., less certain sums for spulzeis done by the Montgomeries, which reduced the amount to be actually paid to 481 Scots. By the terms of this Decree Arbitral the parties were bound to observe it under a penalty of 3000 Scots.

The feud, however, in spite of the decree, was continued with increased animosity. Early in the year 1528, or more probably late in the preceding year, the Cunninghams attacked the manor house of Eglinton, where all the muniments of the family were kept. The house was burnt to the ground, and the muniments were consumed in the flames. The King gave the Eglintons a charter confirming them in the possession of their lands and offices, but the •earlier records of the ancient families of Montgomery, Ardrossan, and Eglinton were irrecoverably lost.

The feud, to use Sir William Fraser’s words, may be said to have culminated in the murder of Hugh, fourth Earl of Eglinton, on April 18, 1586. The murder was deliberately planned by the Earl of Glencairn and certain conspirators, and perpetrated by David Cunningham of Robertland.

The murderer was forgiven, and the feud continued. In 1606 the King made an attempt to arrange matters. Both the Earls and Lord Semple were summoned before the Privy Council for having caused a “broyle” in the streets of Perth before the meeting of the Red Parliament. When required to give in their submission conform to the Act of Parliament, the two Earls distinctly refused ; the Earl of Glencairn alleging that there was a quarrel between him and his brother Earl, and that a submission was unnecessary. Eglinton asked for time to consider, and was given to November 20. Semple offered to submit.

The reconciliation between Glencairn and Semple took place in a formal and public manner at the command of the Privy Council, nearly three years afterwards, May 22, 1609, on Glasgow Green, when, “ for the eschewing of all inconvenients of trouble whilk may happen (whilk God forbid!),” the Town Council arranged that the provost, with one of the bailies and the whole Council, should go to the place, attended by forty citizens in arms, and that the two other bailies, each attended by sixty citizens armed with “ lang weapons and swords,” should “ accompany and convoy the said noblemen with their friends, in and out, in making their reconciliation.”

On May 13, 1439, Alexander Montgomery, Lord of Ardrossan, and Alan Stewart, Lord of Darnley, met in the manor house of Houston and executed the curious marriage contract, the principal provisions of which are given on a previous page. The document which was in the form of an indenture, was witnessed by John Semple Lord of Eliotston, Sir Robert Semple, Sheriff of Renfrew, John of Colquhoun, Lord of Luss, William of Cunningham, laird of Glengarnock, Patrick Houstoun of that ilk, John of Lindsay, laird of Dunrod, Thom of Park of that ilk, John Locart of the Bar, John Semple of Fulwood, and many others. In the month of August following, probably before the marriage took place, Sir Alan Stewart, who had held the high office of Constable of the Scottish army in France, was treacherously slain by Sir Thomas Boyd of Kilmarnock, at the thorn of Polmaise, three miles from Glasgow, for “ auld feid ” that was betwixt them. In revenge, Sir Alexander Stewart, brother of Sir Alan, collected his vassals and, in “ plain battle,” set upon Sir Thomas Boyd, “ who was cruelly slain,” as the old historian puts it, “ with many valiant men on every side.” The ground where the conflict took place was at Craignaucht Hill, a romantic spot near Neilston. “ It was fought that day,” says Pitscottie, “ so manfully that both the parties by mutual consent retired and rested at sundry times, and then recommenced to fight at the sound of the trumpet, till the victory at last declared for the Stewarts.” Along with Sir Thomas Boyd, some twenty of his men were slain, which, according to Sir James Balfour, “ kindled such a flame of civil discord in Kyle, Barronfrew (Renfrew), Carrick, and Cunningham, that had not the death of the Earl of Douglas quenched it, it had consumed a great part of the west of Scotland.”

The Semples wTere mixed up in most of the feuds of the county, and had enough of their own upon their hands. The first of the latter of which there is any mention was with the Lennox family. Its origin is obscure. But whether it originated in the slaughter of Robert de Semple, Captain of Dumbarton Castle, on the night of July 15, 1443, by Galbraith of Culcreuch, or was of less ancient standing, a serious feud existed between the two families during the second half of the fifteenth century. There appears to have been nothing in particular at stake between them, and the damage they had inflicted upon each other seems to have been about equal; for when they submitted their case to Robert Lord Lyle and others as arbiters, their finding was, that John Earl of Lennox and Mathew, his son, and Sir John Lord Semple should “ mutually remit and forgive all unkindnesses and injuries done to each other in times past, and that the retainers of both parties should satisfy each other for mutual injuries done by themselves to one another.”  The advice appears to have been taken, for nothing more is heard of the feud.

The other private wars of the Semple family were not so quietly or so easily settled. There is nothing romantic to relate about them. For the most part they are stories of theft, pillage, burning, wounding, and slaughter. Sometimes they are stories of the oppression of the weak by the strong ; and sometimes of resistance to the officials of the Crown. The only value of the narratives is in the light, usually, if not always, lurid, which they throw upon the lawlessness, barbarity, and ferocity of the times.

About the beginning of the year 1526 some of the tenants of the lands of Bar were put to the horn and declared rebels, and Archibald Hodge, a Crown messenger, was sent to poind certain of their goods and chattels. Soon after he had arrived on the ground, Hodge was surrounded by William Lord Semple, William Semple, his son, John Semple of Fulwood, and some two hundred others, “ bodin in feir of wer with bowis, speiris, culveringis, and uther waponis.” They took the goods he had poinded and violently deforced him in the execution of his office. Lord William was Sheriff of the county, and l’esponsible for its peace, but here he was making war upon the Crown. He was summoned before the Privy Council, but both he and his accomplices failed to appear, and they were condemned to remain a year and a day in prison, and letters were issued against them.

Three months later, the John Semple of Fulwood above mentioned, John his son, Robert Maxwell brother to the laird of Stanely, John Semple of Kirkinhead, William Semple of Blackburn, Walter Cochran in the Hag, and others, were summoned before the Lords for ejecting John Knox and James Erskine, tenants of the Abbey of Paisley in the lands of Auchinche, and stealing their cattle.

On June 12, 1527, Parliament assembled in Edinburgh. Lord Semple had already been concerned with the Earl of Eglinton, Sir Neil Montgomery, and Stirling of Keir, in the death of the laird of Lochleven, and on the 21st of the month the Lords Temporal thought it expedient that Semple and his associates should be indicted for treason. While Parliament was sitting, Semple, whether aAvare of this resolution or not, entered Edinburgh at the head of a strong force. With his men he set upon one Cornelius de Mathetema, a Dutchman, near the Tolbooth, and put him to death. The affair created a  reat stir, but on the 17th of the following month the King issued a letter of respite, protecting Semple and his followers against all that might follow from this “ treasonable slaughter ” for nineteen years. The letter gives the names of Semple’s accomplices. In all they number 586.

At the same time William Lord Semple had other feuds on hand. Towards the close of the year 1526. he and his son, Robert Master of Semple, and their friends, invaded and besieged John Mure of Caldwell in “ feire of weire with bowis, speiris, gunnys and uthir waponis ” at the Place of Caldwell. For this he was summoned before the Privy Council, in the beginning of the following year; but though often called, he failed to appear. An action was at the same time running against him, which had been raised by Craufurd of Auchinames. Craufurd was not altogether in the right, but he had the powerful support of William Master of Glencairn, and a compromise was arranged. The feud, however, was by no means staunched. In 1537 Sir John Walker, chaplain, was indicted for lying in wait for Thomas Craufurd of Auchinames “ at his fishing of Cart, and invading for his slaughter in company with William Lord Semple and his accomplices.”

Another affair in which William Lord Semple was engaged, had more serious results. In the month of July or early in the month of August, 1533, along with his son, the Master of Semple, and many of their friends, he had waylaid and murdered William Cunningham of Craigends and his servant, John Alanson. At the time the young King was doing his best to put down these private feuds, and on hearing of the slaughter of Craigends and his servants, he gave orders for the most resolute measures to be taken against the murderers. The consequence was that Lord Semple, his son, and many others, were summoned before the Court.

Sir John Semple, vicar of Erskine, was accused of being art and part in the slaughter, and on August 19, appeared before the Court, but was repledged by the Archbishop of Glasgow to the Church Courts, John Brisbane of Bishopton, his parishioner, becoming surety for the due performance of justice. The following day, Lord Semple, the Master of Semple, Semple of Ladymure, Stewart of Barscube, Semple of Fulwood, Mathew Semple and a number of others, appeared and found surety to appear before the Justiciar on November 17. The caution money for Lord Semple and his two sons and grandson was a thousand merks each. Semple of Fulwood and his son had to find surety to the amount of five hundred pounds each, and Mathew Semple to the amount of a thousand merks. A number who were implicated failed to appear and were put to the horn.

For the trial of the case in November, the Justice-General, Archibald Earl of Argyll, appointed Robert Lord Maxwell, and Thomas Scott of Pitgorno, to be his deputies.

The Semples were now fairly alarmed, and on the day after their appearance in Court, entered upon a bond of mutual assurance with the Cunninghams, by which the two parties undertook not to molest each other till November 25, five days after the case was to come up for trial.

The trial of the accused began on November 12, when Alexander Pinkerton and John Bruntscheils were found guilty of being art and part in the slaughter of the Laird of Craigends and his servants, and were beheaded.

On November 20, the Cunninghams were summoned before the Court— Alexander, son and heir of the Master of Glencairn, and over thirty others, among whom was Craufurd of Auchinames. They were charged with “ un-besetting the highway, by way of murder, to William Lord Semple, lying in wait for his slaughter, with a great company, between his Castle of Semple and his Place of Lovell, on the fifth and seventh days of August last.” Cunningham of Glengarnock, and D. Cunningham of Robertland, both of whom had entered into the bond of mutual assurance only a few days before, were accused of being “ art and part of the forethought felony and oppression done to Robert Snodgrass, Mark Semple and Patrick Young, coming with convocation of the lieges to the number of one hundred persons, in warlike manner on the (3rd) day of September last, within the lands of Robert Snodgrass, and forcibly seizing and imprisoning him,” etc. Alexander Cunningham and his accomplices had to find sureties for their appearance at the next Justice Ayre at Renfrew ; while in the second case both the Cunninghams and the Semples were bound over to keep the peace under the pain of 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000 merks each, according to their respective ranks.

The trial of Lord Semple was fixed for February 26. Meantime, it became known that it was to be held not before the Deputies previously appointed, but before the Justice-General himself, Archibald Earl of Argyll. The relatives of Craigends now began to fear a miscarriage of justice, and presented a petition against the Justice-General presiding at the trial, alleging in their petition that he was not a competent judge, because he “stood in tenderness of blood ” to Lord Semple, and “ was taking plain part in thair contrar.” The King issued a letter directing justice to be done and all suspected officials for the time being to be removed. The Master of Glencairn petitioned further that the Justice-General “ was suspect to sitt,” inasmuch as he had received David Semple and others of the accused within the Place and town of Dunoon. The Lords Auditors therefore counselled the Earl “ to remufe him self to sitt as Judge in the said mater and to appoint a deputy against whom there was no suspicion.”

The result of the trial appears to have been a foregone conclusion. William Lord Semple and nine others who stood their trial with him were acquitted. On the other hand, John Stewart cousin of the Laird of Barscube, Matthew Semple servant of the Laird of Stanely, and James Kirkwood, residing in Kilbarchan, were beheaded. Robert Master of Semple failed to appear and was put to the horn, and his father, Lord Semple, was fined a thousand merks for not producing him. His Lordship was also fined in a similar sum for the non-appearance of Gabriel Semple, who, like the Master of Semple, was put to the horn. The plaintiffs in the case were by no means satisfied with the verdict, and demanded a new trial, but beyond having to pay a number of fines or the caution money for those for whom he had given himself as surety, William Lord Semple escaped. There can be little doubt that so far as the principal actors in the slaughter were concerned there was a great miscarriage of justice. But to obtain justice in those, days was not easy.

William Lord Semple appears to have been thoroughly well supported by his wife, Marion Montgomery. Some time after his death, on November 8, 1555, she was charged with a number of serious offences, and having no defence, she “ came in the Queen’s will for consenting to the slaughter of Gilbert Rankin in Lecheland, committed by the servants of the said Lady, March 17, 1553, under silence of night: and for approving the cruel hurting and wounding of John Fynne and mutilation of his arm, and the hurting and wounding of John Roger in sundry parts of his body, to the effusion of his blood, committed at the same time —by resetting of her servants, who had committed the said crimes, red-hand, that same night, within the Castle of Laven, immediately after the perpetration thereof: and also for approving of the taking and apprehending of Humphrey Malcolmson and Archibald Scherare, they being conducted by her servants in the same night to the Castle of Laven, seeing she received them into her said Castle : also, for the incarceration and subjection of the said persons in the foresaid Castle by the space of twenty-four hours, without food or drink ; thereby usurping the Queen’s authority.”

The Semples had feuds also with the Lyles of Duchal, with Houstoun of that ilk, with the Polloks, and with the Mures of Caldwell. Like the Glencairns and Cunninghams, they had their private wars also beyond the bounds of the county, and on one or more occasions they were in arms against the Government.

William, fourth Earl of Glencairn, was taken prisoner at Solway Mossr and ever after was in the pay of the English. Semple remained true to his country for some time longer, but he also, as we shall see, finally deserted his Queen and found salvation in the ranks of the Protestant party—for a while.

The Mures of Caldwell had fewer private wars than the Cunninghams or the Semples, but they had enough of them, all of which help to illustrate still further, if any further illustrations are needed, the utter lawlessness and anarchy of the times.

As early as October 29, 1409, a remission was granted to John Mure of Caldwell, Archibald Mure of Polkelly, and Thomas Boyd of Kilmarnock, for the slaughter of Mark Neilson of Dalrymple. Sir Adam Mure, the son of John Mure, probably of Cowdams, who succeeded the John Mure just mentioned, is described as “ a gallant stout man, having many feuds with his neighbours, which were managed with great fierceness and much bloodshed.” His sons took after him. Hector, his second son, was killed in a feud at Renfrew, in 1499, by John and Hugh Maxwell, eldest son and brother of the Laird of Nether Pollok, with which family the Mures had a longstanding quarrel. They had another with the Ralstons. On January 24, 1500, a remission under the Privy Seal was granted to Robert, son of Adam Mure of Caldwell, for the slaughter of the late Patrick Boure and for “forthocht felony ” done upon the Laird of Ralston.

John, the second son and successor of Sir Adam, joined forces with the Earls of Lennox, Arran and Glencairn, and on February 20, 1515, battered with “ artalzerie,” took and sacked the “ Castle and Palace ” of Glasgow, then in the possession of James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, Chancellor of Scotland. The act was directed against the government of the Duke of Albany, but in that age it was not always easy to distinguish between private and public wars. Neither the Regent nor the Chancellor was of a temper to forgive, and the sacking of the Chancellor’s palace and castle brought the Mures into considerable trouble. In order to meet his share of the heavy expenses of the proceedings raised against them, Caldwell was under the necessity of mortgaging his estates of Camses-kane. Hugh, first Earl of Eglinton, to whose daughter his eldest son was married, relieved him from the incumbrance, but at the expense of a Bond of Manrent by which the Laird bound himself to be the Earl’s man and to render him military service as long as the sum lent remained unpaid, a condition which simply involved him still more deeply in the Montgomery-Cunningham feud.

On March 27, 1549, this same Sir John was indicted for having “with his fyve brothers and twenty-six others, armed in warlike manner, invaded Robert Master of Sempill and his servants for their slauchter near the place and tour of Cauldwell, and put them to flight.” Six years before this he had taken part with the Earl of Glencairn in the bloody battle called the Field of the Muir of Glasgow, fought by the Earls of Lennox and Glencairn and headed by the latter against the Regent Arran. For his share in this adventure he was held responsible till the year 1553, when he and his brothers, Archibald Mure in Hill of Beith and James Mure of Boldair, were granted a remission for it.

Three years before this, on April 11, 1550, Robert Mure, one of the Laird’s sons, was killed by Sir Patrick Houstoun of that ilk and others. The records of the Justiciary Court4 describe the act as “ a crewall slauchter, committed under silence of night, on ancient feud and forthocht felony.” Two months later, Archibald Houstoun, the actual perpetrator of the crime, was tried and beheaded. This, however, was not considered a sufficient atonement for the deed, and the feud between the two families was not settled for thirty years. By a written agreement, dated December 7, 1580, between Sir Robert Muir, then of Caldwell, and the same Sir Patrick Houstoun, the amount of compensation due by Sir Patrick for his share in the matter was referred to the arbitration of eight of the leading men in the counties of Ayr and Renfrew. For Sir Patrick, John Shaw of Greenock, Alexander Fleming of Barrochan, William Wallace of Johnstone, and John Fullarton of Dreghorne were named; and for Sir Robert, John Blair of that ilk, John Mure of Rowallan, Thomas Spreull of Cowdon, and Hugh Ralston of that ilk. The next in succession at Caldwell, Sir John Mure, whom James V. knighted, was killed, September 20, 1570, by the Cunninghams of Aitkett and the Ryeburns of that ilk,6 who were also amongst those who slew his kinsman, Hugh, third of Eglinton, April 18, 1586.

There were other and lesser feuds in the county, such as those between Stewart of Barscube and Hamilton of Ferguslie, Pollok of that ilk and White-ford of that ilk, Bruntscheils and Montgomery of Scotstown, Porterfield of that ilk and Brisbane of Middle Walkinshaw, the Stewarts of Ochiltree and the Mowats of Busby, the Whitefords of that ilk and the Maxwells of Stanely, and between Fleming of Barrochan and the Porterfields. Many of these families were mixed up in the Eglinton and Cunningham feud, which seems to have fairly well divided the county. But enough has been said to show how utterly lawless the county was during the centuries immediately preceding the Reformation. Things were no better when the Reformation movement began. If they grew worse—and it is impossible to prove they did not—it was only what might naturally be expected.

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