William Kirkaldy, reputed
the bravest soldier, the most accomplished cavalier of his time, and one
of the jy earliest converts made by the Scottish Reformers, was the
eldest son of Sir James Kirkaldy, Baron of Kirkaldy-Grange, (Lord High
Treasurer to King James V.,) and of Janet Melville his wife, daughter of
Sir John Melville of Raith, progenitor of the Earls of Leven and
Melville, and chief of an ancient house in Fifeshire, which deduced
descent from a famous Hungarian warrior of the days of Malcolm III.
No family displayed greater wisdom in the cabinet, or heroism in the
field, than that of Grange, during the regency of Mary of Guise, and the
troubled reign of her unhappy daughter. It is greatly to be regretted
that, from the disjointed and imperfect state of some of our public
records, few notices can be gleaned from them of the descent and
succession of the Kirkaldys; yet these few are sufficient to prove their
claim to considerable antiquity.
Their surname was no doubt derived from the town, which was bordered by
their estates, and the name of which signifies a cell of the Culdees,
the seeular priests of ancient Caledonia, who existed prior to the
establishment of the Roman Church on its monastic footing. In Gaelic,
Culdee signifies a monk or hermit; hence Kirkculdei.
In Prynne’s History, it appears that a Sir William de Kirkcaldy was one
of the Scottish barons who submitted to Edward in. of England, during
one of his wanton and rapid invasions. A Simeon Kyrcaldie appears in a
eharter of David II. dated apud Edynburgch; and the same monarch granted
a pension to an Andrew de Kirkaldye, capellano, marcarum sterlingorum
annuatim de custuma civitatis Sancti Andreas, quosque per Domi-num Regem
ad aliquod beneficium eeclesiasticum fuerit promotus,” &c.
There was an ancient branch of the surname of Kirk-aldy who were Barons
of Inchture in the shire of Perth. At an early period this line became
merged in the house of Kinnaird, by the marriage of Lady Marjorie,
daughter and sole heiress of Sir John de Kirkaldy, to Sir Rain old de
Kinnaird, Knight, to whom her lands were confirmed 1 Roll of Charters.
Registrum Magni Sigilli, &c.
by a charter from King Robert III. on the 28th January 1399. Of this
marriage come the Lords of Kinnaird, who bear in their coat-of-arms a
fess wavy between three stars gules, for Kirkaldy. Of the family of
Inchture, it is supposed from a younger son, came the line of Grange,
and another of much less note and importance, the Kirkaldys of Wester
Abden, who appear to have become extinct, or to have lost their lands,
about the hegimiing of the seventeenth century.
In 1440, Sir John de Kirkaldy obtained a charter of the half of the
lands of Seafield and Tyrie, that part of the Grange estate which lies
along the steep shores of the Forth to the westward of Kirkaldy Links.
On these lands, and close to the castle of Grange, stood an aneient
chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which is supposed to have been,
from a very early period, the hereditary burial place of the family.
In the Rolls of King James II. appears another charter to George, son
and heir of John de Kirkaldy, of the half of the lands of Seafield in
his own resignation.3 John de Kirkaldy, a younger son of the family,
appears to have been vicar of Newbum in Fifeshire, and his name is
mentioned in Archbishop Shevez’s confirmation of privileges to the
University of St Andrews, dated at Edinburgh, 2d June 1479. George
Kirkaldy appears to have married Egidia Berelay of the house of Touche.
William Kirkaldy de Grange appears as one of a quorum serving Patrick
Crichtoun of Cranstoun Riddel heir to his father, at Edinburgh, 7th
He is mentioned, in the third MS. charter quoted in the Appendix, as
being alive in 1528.
His son, Sir James Kirkaldy, was at an early age introduced to the court
and service of King James V. by his father-in-law, Sir John Melville of
Raith, one of the first Reformers, and who suffered much from the
animosity of Cardinal Beatoun. Shortly afterwards he was made a
gentleman of the bedchamber, and on the 24th March 1537, as appears from
the Records of the Scottish Exchequer, was appointed Lord High
Treasurer, on the removal of the Abbot of Holyrood from that office.
He carried the treasurer’s golden mace until the year 1543 inclusive.
His signature is still to be seen appended to the charters of James V.
to Alexander Forrester, Baron of Corstorphine, and many other public
documents. The number of charters in existence connected with his
extensive possessions, prove the family to have been at one time perhaps
the most important in Fifeshire. (Note A.)
In right of Lady Janet Melville, Sir James Kirkaldy acquired the lands
of Banchrie, and afterwards crown charters granting to him the
properties of Rathuleit, Bal-bairdie, Pitcany, Nether Pitteadie, the
fishings of part of the river Tay, the baronies of Grange and
Auchtertool; and those possessions with which he gifted his brothers
George, John, and Patrick, and portioned his daughters, are striking
proofs of the high favour he enjoyed at court in those unruly times,
when proscriptions of families and confiscations of estates were daily
occurring among the turbulent nobles and baronage of Scotland. His
family possessed, from, an early period, the valuable lands and fine old
manor-house of Halyards, which will be mentioned in succeeding chapters.
His brother Sir George obtained the lands of Craigcrook in Lothian, and
others in the shire of Stirling.
Five sons and several daughters were bom to the treasurer: William, (the
subject of these Memoirs;) Sir James, who died by his brother’s side in
the High Street of Edinburgh; Sir David, also a good knight, who carried
his pennon bravely in the Scottish wars; Thomas, who served with the
garrison of St Andrews ; and George, of whom little is known. Marjorie,
the eldest sister of these four warriors, was married to Sir Henry
Ramsay of Coluthie; Agnes, to Sir Robert Drummond of Car-nock; and
Marion, to William Semple, second Baron of Catkcart. Elizabeth Kirkaldy
became the wife of Sir John Moubray of Barnebougal, chief of an ancient
and honourable family, which passed away about the year 1620, but the
ruins of whose castle yet remain near the mouth of the Almond in
The armorial achievements of the long-descended but now extinct race of
Grange, were gules a chevron, the badge of fidelity, between three stars
in chief, and a crescent in base or; their crest a man’s head, with the
face looking upward proper; their motto,
By the promptitude of the Laird of Grange and Sir James Learmonth,
master of the royal household, in arresting Sir James Hamilton of
Finnart—which they did on no other warrant than a well-known signet
ring-sent them by James Y.—they prevented the treason meditated by that
ambitious and unscrupulous knight against the royal person.
The treasurer enjoyed, in a very high degree, the favour and confidence
of King James; and though innumerable efforts were made by his mortal
foe Cardinal Beatoun, and others, to bring him into disgrace as a
promoter of the Reformation, they all proved ineffectual, and the wary
old baron maintained his influence to the last.
On a considerable eminence in the eastern part of the parish of Kinghorn,
stood the old baronial castle of Kirkaldy-grange. But little now remains
to show what it was in former times, save a strong flanking tower or
staircase, and a massive fragment of wall, on which a modem house is
engrafted, but which, from their size and solidity, evince that it must
have been a fortalice of some importance, and probably consisted of a
donjon tower and barbican wall, with gate and moat, such as usually
formed the residence of a Scottish baron in those stormy days, when the
sword was seldom sheathed. Loftily situated among undulating scenery, it
commanded an extensive prospect in every direction: to the north lay the
sombre town of Kirkaldy, straggling far along the yellow sands,
terminated by the formidable cliffs and magnificent castle of
Ravenscraig; beyond stretched a long expanse of winding coast, studded
with towns on sandy bays, and towers on rocky promontories—indented by
the blue ocean, and terminating in the dim and distant point of
Elie-ness, which seems to rest on an azure horizon.
To the westward lay the fertile valley overlooked by the ancient castle
of Pitteadie, the high turrets and steep gables of which, now ruined and
roofless, peep above a grove which in summer shrouds them amid the
richest foliage; while the green hills of Raith, now clothed with the
most luxuriant wood,—the noble oak, the shadowy sycamore, and the
melancholy pine,—with the gray Lomonds beyond, terminate the background.
To the southward and east lay whin-tufted knolls and heathy hollows,
(all now rapidly changing under the hand of improvement,) interspersed
with clumps of the dark, old Scottish fir, affording between their
gnarled trunks bright glimpses of the river Forth, with the pale blue
peak of Berwick Law and the Lammermuirs rising upward from its southern
shore; and, shaded by those sombre thickets of fir—which probably, in
dark and unknown ages, as a vast forest spread over all those bluff and
rocky headlands that frown towards more fertile Lothian—near the castle
of Grange, stood the venerable fane of Eglise de Marise, mentioned a few
On the face of the eminence ascending to the mansion there was once a
hamlet of thatched cottages, where the hardy and industrious vassals of
the family dwelt within sound of the warder’s horn. Like those of their
lord, the hearths of those humble dwellings have long since grown cold:
in the wars of the Congregation they were swept away by the soldiers of
d’Oisel, and now all traces of the village of Grange, and of its chapel
of the Virgin, have entirely disappeared.
In the castle which overlooked it, Sir William Kirkaldy was horn ; hut
neither the exact period of his birth, nor the mode of his education,
can now be discovered. The former probably took place about the year
1530; and in the course of the latter he appears to have visited the
University of Paris, then presided over by the Cardinal of Lorraine.
There, when a student, he enjoyed the friendship of Randolph, afterwards
the able and intriguing minister of the false and subtle Elizabeth. The
celebrated Buchanan was at that time in Paris, a teacher in the college
of the Cardinal Le Moine.
All our historians outvie each other in the noble character for bravery
and generosity they give to William Kirkaldy, whose name is familiar as
that of his friend Knox to every Scotsman. His literary attainments
appear to have been considerable, for the time in which he lived; his
letters are written with force and fluency, and with all the
characteristic bluntness, brevity, and candour of a soldier. This is the
more remarkable, when the tiresome, obscure, and prolix style of the age
is considered. Save the use of the sword and bridle, all knowledge and
learning were held so little in repute by the Scots of those days, that
an act of James IV. became necessary, by which all barons and
freeholders were compelled, under a penalty, to put their eldest sons to
school to learn Latin.
Like the majority of our gallant barons of those stirring times,
Kirkaldy appears to have been devoted by his parents to the noble
profession of arms, or to have chosen it himself, as the only occupation
in which—according to ideas of the age and country—he could engage
without dishonour. Hunting, hosting, feuds, quarrels, blood and blows at
home, with wars and invasions of England, were then almost the sole
employment of the Scottish people, and fully prevented their progressing
in any other art save that of war. Business was almost unknown; the
College of Justice had been recently instituted, but the number of
advocates was restricted to ten; traffic of any kind was accounted base,
and no gentleman of coat-armour could engage in it without a blot upon
his name. Such were the ideas of our ancestors.
The sword was usually the only inheritance of the younger branches of
Scottish families. While the head of the house remained at his mountain
castle, exercising the hospitality of the olden time—defending his
kinsmen, his clan, and his heritage from southern invasion and feudal
aggression—those cadets of the family who disdained dependence had to
become the architects of their own fortunes, and carried into other
lands their adventurous spirit, their merit, and their valour. As
soldiers of fortune, they found a wide field for glory in the endless
wars of France, Italy, and Germany, where many of them attained the
highest honours that can accrue to a subject, added fresh lustre to the
hereditary rank of their ancestors, or became the founders of great and
powerful families, whose best boast is, that they are descended from
"the brave and fierce Scots.”
The Scottish barons were then mirrors of chivalry and honour, as well as
men of a fierce and proud spirit—ever surrounded by brave and warlike
vassals, most of them inheritors of the same blood and surname, all
devoted to their chieftain, intensely jealous of his honour, and linked
to him by common ties and old patriarchal impressions, which bound
indissolubly the upper and the lower classes together. No law was then
acknowledged, save the simple but forcible one of the sword; and every
man avenged his wrongs by his own right hand, or by that of his nearest
kinsman, instead of awaiting the dubious decision of a despised court of
justice. Consequently, inspired by such a spirit, no nation in Europe
was rent by quarrels more dangerous, more deadly, more bitter, or more
romantic, than the transmitted feuds of our Scottish clans.
Numerous and brilliant as have been the achievements of Scotsmen in
France, the young knight of Grange appears to have outshone them all, as
the unusual honours paid him in that country sufficiently evince; and
few among our stubborn lairds at home behaved more gallantly in the
feuds and wars incident to the era of the Reformation. In comparison
with those of others, the extent of his estates, and the number of his
vassals, were not great; but dashing and reckless bravery, lavish
generosity, military talents of the first order, a strict morality and
steady adherence to religion and to truth, all combined, justly gave him
the prominent place he occupied in the wars and tumults which shed a
gloom over the joyless reign of the erring, the beautiful, and unhappy