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The Scottish Nation

BRECHIN, a surname derived from a lordship comprising the ancient town of that name in Forfarshire. The word has been supposed to have been derived from the Scottish brachen or breckan, which signifies ‘female fern,’ but this seems not very probable, as that plant is by no means abundant in the neighbourhood. Its similarity to the British name Breckeinoc or Brycheinog, Anglicised into Brecknock, or Brecon, (anciently Aberbodni) the chief town of Brecknockshire, which Giraldus Cambrensis (1188) and even earlier authorities derive from Brackan, a regulus or prince of that country, who died about the year 450, renders it probable that it is likewise called after some individual of British or Cumbrian origin of that name. Nor is it impossible that, being a town of great ecclesiastical antiquity, its round tower being one of the only two extant in Scotland, and not of later date than the sixth or seventh century, it may have originated in a church dedicated to the family of the Brackan, who, according to Giraldus, William de Worcester, and Leland, (as quoted by Sir Richard C. Hoare in his annotations to the Itinerary of Arch-bishop Baldwin, by Giraldus, vol. i. p. 61. London, 1806,) had twenty-four sons and as many daughters, who all embraced a religious life, and were the founders of numerous churches, and on that account the family of Brackan are stated in the Welsh Triads (idem. p. 60) to have received the appellation of the holy family, and the highest of the three holy families of Britain, on account of his (Brackan’s) “bringing up his children and grandchildren in learning, so as to be able to show the faith in Christ to the Cumbrae or Cymri, where they were without faith.” The names of his children are given by the authors in the quotations above referred to, and two of them, viz., Saint Almeyda, Aled, or Elyned, a female saint who suffered martyrdom, not included in these lists, and Saint Canoe, who appears in one of them, have found places in the Roman calendar of saints. It is singular, and may lend some probability to this conjecture, that the name of Iona appears in two of the lists referred to, as well as Elie or Helie, Maben, and other names still preserved in localities in Scotland connected with ecclesiastical sites. 

BRECHIN, lord of, a title possessed by a powerful family in the thirteenth century. Henry de Brechin, natural son of David, earl of Huntingdon in England, earl of Garioch and Lord Brechin in Scotland, and brother of King William the Lion, obtained from his father the lordship of Brechin, whence he took his surname. He is witness to a charter of William the Lion to Malcolm, earl of Fife, in which he is designed, ‘Henricus filius comitis David, patris mei.’ In a donation of his brother John, earl of Chester, to the canons of St. Andrews, he is designed, ‘Henricus de Brechin, filius comitis David,’ and a mortification by the same earl to the abbey of Aberbrothwick, is witnessed by ‘Henrico de Brechin, fratri mei.’ By his wife, Julian, he had a son, Sir William de Brechin, who founded the Maison Dieu, or St. Mary’s Hospital, at Brechin, in 1256, and confirmed by James the Third in 1477, for the welfare of the souls of William and Alexander, kings of Scotland, John, earl of Chester and Huntingdon, his uncle, Henry his father, and Julian his mother, and of his own soul. To the foundation charter, in which he designates himself ‘Willielmus de Brechin, filius Henrici de Brechin, filius comitis David,’ Albinus bishop of Brechin, Robert de Monte Alto, and several other persons of note, are witnesses. With Alexander Stewart of Scotland and David de Graham, he is witness to a charter of David, bishop of St. Andrews, to the monks of Paisley in 1247, in which he is styled ‘Willielmo de Brechin, barone et milite.’ In 1254 he was arbitrator in a dispute between Peter de Maule, lord of Panmure, and Christina de Valoniis, his wife, with the abbot of Aberbrothwick, about the marches of Aberbrothwick and Panmure, which Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, justiciary of Scotland, had perambulated by the king’s special command. During the minority of Alexander the Third, he was one of the heads of the English party in Scotland, in opposition to the Comyns. In 1255 he was one of the Magnates Scotia, with whose counsel that monarch gave commission to the earls of Menteith, Buchan, and Mar, to treat with the English. On the 20th September of that year, he was appointed one of the regents of Scotland and guardians of the king and queen, during the king’s minority. At the parliament held at Scone 5th February 1283-4, he was among the nobles who became bound to acknowledge Margaret of Norway as the heir to the crown, in the event of the death of Alexander the Third without issue. He appears to have died soon afterwards. He married the fourth daughter of the above-named Alexander Comyn, earl of Buchan, constable and justiciary of Scotland, by whom he had a son, named David, who succeeded him.

      Sir David de Brechin was one of the Scottish barons who swore fealty to Edward the First in 1296, and with others he was summoned to attend that monarch into France, but the same year was allowed to come to Scotland, upon giving his obligation to return to the service of King Edward. In the struggle for independence under Bruce he fought on the English side, and took Sir Alexander Fraser prisoner at the battle of Methven in 1306. [Fadera.] In 1308 he was one of King Edward the Second’s council, and received the circular letter which he addressed to the nobles in his interest, thanking them for past services and encouraging them to remain faithful to him. He continued on the English side, with his relations the Comyns, till after the battle of Inverury, 22d May of that year, in which, with John Comyn, earl of Buchan, and Sir John Mowbray, he commanded the army opposed to Bruce, who gained a complete victory. He then retired to his castle of Brechin, which he garrisoned, but being besieged, is said to have soon after made his peace with King Robert. Before the close of the thirteenth century he appears to have married the sister of Robert Bruce, who was then in private life, by whom he had two sons, Sir David de Brechin, and Sir Thomas de Brechin, the latter of whom obtained from his father the lands of Lumquhat in Fife [Nisbet’s Heraldry, vol. i. p. 77.], also a daughter, Margaret, married in 1315 to Sir David de Barclay, who afterwards became possessed of the lordship of Brechin.

      The elder son, Sir David de Brechin, was called ‘The Flower of Chivalry,’ from his prowess in arms. He distinguished himself against the Saracens in the Holy Land, whither he went when very young, He was one of the barons who signed the bold letter to the Pope, 6th April 1320, in behalf of Robert Bruce and the independence of Scotland. But the same year he was made privy to the conspiracy of William de Soulis, the countess of Strathern, and others, against the king his uncle, and for not discovering it, he was tried in a parliament held at Scone, in August 1320, called ‘the Black Parliament,’ and sentenced to the death of a traitor. He was accordingly executed, with three others. His fate was much deplored, being, says Buchanan, ‘omnium etatis suae juvenam et belli et pacis artibus longè primus.’ Historians generally have spoken of him as being unjustly put to death, as, although aware of the plot against the life of the king, he entirely disapproved of it, and notwithstanding the plausible reasons to the contrary given by Tytler – who suffers nothing to the discredit of his hero Bruce to pass uncontested – such will probably continue to be the verdict of posterity. “There is evidence in the records of the Tower,” says Tytler, “that both Soulis and Brechin had long tampered with England, and been rewarded for their services. In the case of Brechin, we find him enjoying special letters of protection from Edward. In addition to these he was pensioned in 1312, was appointed English warden of the town and castle of Dundee, and employed in secret and confidential communications, having for their object the destruction of his uncle’s power in Scotland, and the triumph of the English arms over his native country. It is certain that he was a prisoner of war in Scotland in the year 1315, having probably been taken in arms at the battle of Bannockburn. In the five years of glory and success which followed, and in the repeated expeditions of Randolph and Douglas, we do not once meet with his name, and now, after having been received into favour, he became connected with, or at least connived at, a conspiracy which involved the death of the king. Such a delinquent is little entitled to our sympathy. There was not a single favourable circumstance in his case, but he was young and brave, he had fought against the infidels, and the people could not see him suffer without pity and regret.” [History of Scotland, v. i. p. 371.] It is true, as he says, that the name of Sir David de Brechin appears in connection with the English interest during many previous years, but besides that the same occurs with many of the highest of the Scottish nobility, including Randolph the nephew and afterwards the best commander of Bruce, there is no evidence that this individual was not Sir David the father rather than Sir David the son. There is no evidence that the father made his peace with Robert previous to 1312, when a Sir David de Brechin was appointed joint warden with William de Montifichet, in the English interest, of the town and castle of Dundee, nor even in 1315, when a person of that name was a prisoner of war in Scotland. If the unfortunate sufferer was, as Buchanan states and Tytler confirms, young and brave when he died in 1320, and had passed many years of his life in fighting against the Saracens, his absence from the expeditions of Randolph and Douglas may be easily accounted for. A reason for his death, which was not likely to occur to Tytler, however, was the fact that, both by the male and female line, he was nearer to the throne than Bruce himself; and as the object of the conspiracy was to place Soulis on the throne, instead of Bruce, the latter was not likely to allow any ordinary scruple to interfere with the opportunity of relieving himself of an accomplished gentleman and popular warrior, who might himself prove a dangerous rival. Sir David’s lands were all given by the king to David de Barclay, the husband of Sir David’s daughter, Margaret de Brechin, and to Maria, wife of Malise de Strathern. His brother, Thomas de Brechin, was involved in his forfeiture, he also having been privy to the conspiracy, and his lands of Lumquhat in Fife were bestowed on John Ramsay.

      Of the BARCLAYS, lords of Brechin, an account has already been given, under the head BARCLAY, see ante. The lordship of Brechin was annexed to the crown by act of parliament in 1437. It now belongs to Lord Panmure.

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