Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Ramble Round Kilmarnock
Chapter X

The origin and descent of the Mures of Rowallan--A letter from Queen Mary to Sir John Mure--Sir William Mure: his writings and version of Psalm xxiii: events in his life--The last of the Mures--The late Countess of Loudoun’s attachment to the Castle--The Grounds the resort of pleasure parties--An address to Rowallan--A ride into the town.

I will now as briefly as possible glance at the history of the Rowallan family, and bring this ramble to a close. The source from which I principally derive my information is a curious volume entitled "The Historie and Descent of the House of Rowallane, by Sir William Mure, knight of Rowallan. Written in or prior to 1657." The manuscript of the above work, together with a number of poetical pieces from the pen of the same author, was found among some old family papers in one of the rooms in Rowallan Castle some fifty years ago. The book is both interesting and curious, and throws considerable light upon the manners and customs of our forefathers in bygone ages, when might was right, and when a strong arm and a bright blade were often the only title to broad acres. The style of the book is simple, and the editor has retained all the peculiarities of the manuscript, which greatly enhance the value of the book. Rowallan, according to this authority, had been in the possession of the Mures "from unknawne antiquity," but this is questionable; for it is the opinion of various writers that Polkelly was the first inheritance of the family, and that Rowallan was acquired by the marriage of Isabella, daughter of Sir Gilchrist Mure, during the reign of Alexander III. The Mures of Rowallan (the writer of "The Historie" states) were descended from the ancient trive of O’More in Ireland. The surname of Mure in Scotland, Moore in England, and More in Ireland, are synonymous, all having sprung from the same source. The earliest member of the family spoken of is the Sir Gilchrist Mure already referred to. He was dispossessed of the house and living at Rowallan by the strong hand of Sir Walter Cuming, and compelled to keep close in his castle of Polkelly until the King (Alexander III.) raised sufficient forces to subdue Cuming and his adherents. In 1262 Sir Gilchrist fought at the Battle of Largs. His friends and retainers, led on by himself, behaved with such bravery that the King conferred upon him the honour of knighthood, and "reponed to him his whole inheritance." For the sake of peace, and for his whole inheritance." For the sake of peace, and for his own security, Sir Gilchrist married his daughter Isabella to Sir Walter Cuming. At the death of Cuming Sir Gilchrist "secured not only title and full possession of his old inheritance, but also in his border lands quherin he succeeded to Sir Walter foresaid within the Sherefdome of Roxburgh, being sensible and mindful of the deserving of his friends and followers in time of his troubles, deals with all of them as became a man of honour, bestowing freelie vpon each some parcell of land, according to his respect, interest or (happly) promise to the persone," etc. Sir Gilchrist seemingly greatly increased the possessions of the Mures. He died about the year 1280, nearly eighty years of age, and was interred in the Mures’ Isle, Kilmarnock. Sir Gilchrist was succeeded by his son Archibald, who was slain in battle near Berwick in 1289. He is described as being a man "wt much discreation & judgment," and capable of holding his own "in the turbulent times qurin he lived." Sir Archibald was succeeded by his son and heir, William, who, according to the "Historie" died about the time King David, after his return from France, was taken prisoner at the Battle of Durham. This battle was fought upon the 17th October, 1346. During the early part of the knight’s lifetime in Scotland was brought "to a verie lo ebb, being deserted by the nobilitie, till by the valour of William Wallace it was set againe upon the feet, and after his death established by Robert Bruce, who, having out-wrestled many sad calamities, did (after) successfully sway the cepter." Sir William was succeeded by his son Adame--a shrewd man of business, who greatly improved and enlarged the family inheritance. His eldest son was named after himself, and his daughter Elizabeth was "made choyce of (for her excellent beautie and rare virtues) by King Robert to be Queen of Scotland." Sir Adame died in the year 1332, and was succeeded by his son Adame, who seemingly was a hanger-on about court, and an expectant of its favours. This Sir Adam died in 1399, and was succeeded by his son Archibald, who "died in battell against Ingland, 1426." Robert succeeded his father, Sir Archibald, and was Sheriff-Depute of Ayrshire in 1430. Archibald succeeded his father, Sir Robert, and is supposed to have been slain at the Battle  of Sark in 1448. Robert succeeded his father, Sir Archibald. He was called "the Rud of Rowallane," being of large stature, great strength, and not declined to a fray. The author of the "Historie" mentioned that "the King in his bearne head proponed to round wt him, and as he offered swa to doe dang out his eye wt the pang of ane cocle-shell. He was a man reguarded not the weil of his house, but in following court, and being unfit for it waisted, sold and wodset all his proper lands of Rowallane, qlk may be ane example to all his posteritie. he married Margerie Newtoune daughter to the laird of Michael hill in the Merse. and drucken woman & ane waistor man, qt made then his house to stand but the grace of God." "The Rud" resigned in favour of his son John. During his lifetime a protracted feud existed between the houses of Rowallan and Ardoch (the ancient name of Craufurdland) which was the cause of a great deal of bloodshed. It is recorded that the evidents of both families were destroyed, and that John Mure and others were summoned before the Chief Justice of Scotland for breaking the King’s peace against Archibald Craufurd. John, son of the above, succeeded to the title and estates. He was married to a mistress of James IV. The author of the "Historie" says--"This Johne was ane very worthie man and died at flow done field wt King James the fourth….the year of our Lord 1513." Mungo succeeded his father, Sir John. The historian says--"He bigged the hall from the ground and completed it in his awne time. He was a man of singulare valour and verie worthie of his hands, grof he gave good proofe in divers conflicts. He died in battell at the Black Satterday In the yeare of our Lord 1547." The editor of  the "Historie" adds a note to the notice of Sir Mungo Mure; it is a quotation from the Rowallan family tree, and is as follows:--

"This moungov muire raisit ye hall vpone four vouttis [vaukts] and laich trance and compleitit the samen in his awne tyme; he deceissit in battell fechtan agains Ingland in pinki feilde: 1547." John succeed his father, Sir Mungo. He seems to have passed his life in peace,  having further improved the castle and estate. The following is another quotation from the Rowallan family tree:--"This John Muire 3 of yat name delytit in policye of plainteing and bigging, he plaitit ye oirchzarde an gairdein, sett ye vppir banck and nether banck ye birk zaird befoir ye zett, he bigit ye foir bark frome ye gounde ye bakuall and voman-hous, he leuit graciouslie and deit in peice anno 1591: of aige 66."

This Sir John Mure had a seat in Parliament, and early embraced the reformed doctrines. In the appendix to the "Historie" there are copies of three letters addressed to him. One is from Mary Queen of Scots, soliciting aid after her escape from prison. As it will doubtless interest the reader, I beg to submit this. It is as follows:

"Traist Friend, We greit zou weil. We believe it is not unknawin to zou the greti Mercie and Kyndness that almythie God of his infinit gudness hes furthschevin towart us at this Tyme in the Deliverance of us fra the maist straitless Preson in qubilk we ware Captive of quhilk Mercy and Kyndness we cannot enough thank & therefore we will desire zou as ze will do us acceptable Service to be at us with all possible [speed] on Settirday the aught of this month be aught hours afernone or sooner gif ze may well accompanyt with zour honouable Friends and Servantis bodin infeir of weir to do us Service as ze sall be appointit because we knaw zour Constance at all Tymes. We neid not mak longeir letters for the present bot will bit zour feir weil--Off Hamilton the 6 of May 1568 and that ze with the folks bait on fute and horse be heir on yis next Sunday at the fordest.
"Marie, R."

It does not appear that Sir John responded to this summons. William succeeded his father, Sir John. He is spoken of by the historian of the house as being "of a meik & gentle spirit, & delyted much in the studie of physick, which he practised among the poor people wt very good successe. he was ane religious man and died gratiouslie in the yeare of his age 69, the yeare of our lord 1616." William succeeded his father, Sir William. He is described as being "ane strang man of bodie & delyted much in hounting and halking. He died in the year of his age 63, and of our lord 1639. William succeeded his father Sir William. In my opinion he was the most illustrious member of the family. He was the author of the "Historie," from which I have gleaned the above interesting notices. At the close of the work he modestly speaks of himself thus--"This Sir William was pious and learned, and had ane excellent vaine in poyesie; he delyted much in building and planting, he builded the new wark in the north side of the close, and the battlement of the back wall, and reformed the whole house exceedingly. He lived religiouslie and died Christianlie in the year of (his) age 63, and in the year of (our) Lord 1657," How Sir William came to record the exact date of his death is somewhat curious. It could not have been inserted by the editor of the work; for he says he has retained the exact orthography, contractions, and punctuation of the MC., making no alteration whatever. "Sir William Mure, knight," as he styles himself, deserves a somewhat fuller notice than space has permitted me to give of his ancestors. He seems to have received (for the period in which he lived) an excellent education. He early acquired a taste for literature, which he assiduously prosecuted throughout the whole course of his life, and from which he derived peculiar pleasure. When a youth he wrote some Latin verses on the death of his grandfather. "His manuscript poetry," says the editor of ‘The Historie,’ "is considerable. Among the larger pieces is a translation of Virgil; a religious poem which he calls ‘The joy of tears,’ and another ‘The Challenge and Reply.’" Several of his pieces have been published. In the "Muses’ Welcome," a collection of poems and addresses made to King James on his visiting Scotland in 1617, there is a poetical address to the king at Hamilton written by Sir Wm. Mure of Rowallan. In 1628 he published a poetical translation of the celebrated "Hecatombe Christiana," of Boyd of Trochrig, together with a small original piece called "Doomsday." In 1629 he published "The true Crucifixe for true Catholikes," and wrote a version of the Psalms of David, which, had it been submitted to the Assembly, would doubtless have been adopted, its merits being highly spoken of by competent judges. A specimen of his skill in verse may not be out of place here. Therefore I submit the following version of

"PSALM 23.

1. The Lord my sheepherd is, of want
I never shal complaine.

2. for mee to rest on hee doth grant
green pastures of the plaine.

3. Hee leads me stillest streams beside,
and doth my soul reclame,
in righteous paths hee me doth guide
for glorie of his name.

4. The valey dark of death’s aboad
to passe, I’l fear no ill,
for thou art with me Lord; they rod
and staffe me comfort still.

5. For me a Table thou dost spread
in presence of my foes
with oyle thou dost anoint my head,
by thee my cup overflows.

6. Mercie and goodness all my dayes
with me sall surelie stay,
and in thy hous, thy name to praise,
Lord I will duell for ay."

Although devoted to literature, he took part in active public life, was a "member of the Parliament held at Edinburgh in June, 1643, and of the committee of Warre, for the sheriffdom of Air, 1644." He was present at the seige of Newcastle, and fought in several engagements between the Royal and Parliamentary forces. In a postscript to a letter addressed to his "loving sone," and dated from Tyneside, before Newcastel, he says:--"I bless the Lord I am in good health and sound every way. I got a sore blow at the battle upon my back wt the butt of a musket, which hath vexed me very much, but specially in the night, being deprived thereby of sleep, but I hope it shall peece and peece weare away, for I am already nearly sound. I thank God for it." Being a man of piety, Sir William befriended the Covenanters, and as much as possible protected his tenantry from the tyranny of the troopers who scoured the countryside at the period. He was intimate with the Rev. William Guthrie of Fenwick, who, as already stated, preached upon several occasions in the "auld kirk" of the castle. Sir William was succeeded by his son William, who walked in the footsteps of his pious parent, and suffered much for his religious opinions. Conventicles were held by him in the castle, and permitted to take place upon  the estate. For this, he fell under the suspicion of the Government, and on several occasions suffered imprisonment. He died about 1686, and was succeeded by his eldest son, who shared in the persecution directed against his father. He was the last male representative, and died in 1700, leaving one daughter. Dame Jean Mure succeded her father and married William Fairlie of Brunsfield. This is the lady who was married under the "marriage tree." The fruit of the romantic union were three daughters, one of whom (Lady Jean Mure) succeeded to the estate, and married Sir James Campbell, youngest son of James, second Earl of Loudoun. At this stage of the history of the Mures, the estate passed into the hands of the Loudoun family, and is still retained by them. The late Countess of Loudoun was greatly attached to Rowallan. She often visited the castle, carefully inspected the rooms, and expended considerable sums on repairs to prevent the old place from falling to pieces. But she has gone the way of all the earth, and left the old fabric to battle with the elements and fall a victim to the ravages of time and decay, a fate to which it is bound to succumb, for it now totters beneath a crushing weight of years. I need not dwell further upon the beautiful scenery in the neighbourhood of Rowallan Castle. Numbers visit the place, and many pic-nic parties of lads and lasses, during the months of summer, enjoy them- selves beneath the spreading trees in front of the castle, and merrily foot it upon the green sward. I spent some hours about the old place so pleasantly that I was loath to leave the scene, and turned around again and again to have a look at the relic of feudalism in the valley below when departing. While retracing my steps to the highway I composed the following verses, which find a place here not on account of any merit they may contain, but because they describe the old building as it is, and the state of my on the occasion of my visit:--


Farewell unto thy rocky steep,
Thy crumbling walls and ruined keep;
In thy decay I read a page
That tells me of a bygone age.
No more does mirth or laughter sound,
Or footsteps through thy halls resound:
Now all is still, all’s bleak decay,
And Ruin wrecks thy fabric grey.

Thy knights and vassals sleep in dust,
Their blades are now consumed by rust;
Vacant thy rooms, upon their walls
The spider weaves its web; for all’s
Now wreck within, without, around.
And solemn silence reigns profound.
Time moulders wall and winding stair
Once trod by knight and lady fair.

Farewell, Rowallan! fare thee well!
Adieu unto thy bosky dell,
Thy ruined keep and shattered tower,
Thy winding stream and leafy bower,
For each memento seems to say
That all on earth must pass away--
That all must change and parted be,
And crumble and decay like thee.

Entering Kilmaurs road my reverie was interrupted by the rumbling of wheels. Looking in the direction I observed a medical gentleman with whom I am intimate driving at a brisk pace. Observing me, he drew up, and offered to convey me to Kilmarnock. Availing myself the speedy mode of reaching home, I was soon seated beside him, and arrived in town as the clocks tolled forth the hour of four, after to me a short but pleasant drive. Jostling through the throng I directed my steps homeward, where I met with a gleeful reception from my little folks, and a scolding from my wife for stopping until dinner was "entirely spoiled." Somehow or other I never ate a better than I did that Saturday afternoon. Country air sharpens the appetite, and makes one relish anything savory.

Return to Book Index