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A Group of Scottish Women
Chapter 3 - Jane, Countess of Sutherland (1545 - 1629)

In the month of April of the year 1567, the fortress of Dunbar was again the scene of an event memorable in Scottish history. James, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was at that time Keeper of the castle, a post to which he had been appointed by Queen Mary soon after the murder of Rizzio. It is not necessary to do more than recapitulate as briefly as possible the well-known chain of circumstances which led to the marriage of the Queen and her favourite.

On April 19th, the famous bond had been signed in an Edinburgh tavern by a number of Bothwell’s friends, wherein special stress was laid upon the earl’s innocence of Darnley’s death, and the subscribers stoutly pledged themselves to further his matrimonial ambitions with regard to the Queen. Scarcely a week later, as Mary was returning to Edinburgh from Stirling, after a visit to her son, she was met by Bothwell and an armed force, and borne away captive to Dunbar. Whether she submitted willingly to such an outrage is a matter of doubt. Sir James Melville, who, together with Lethington and Huntly, was also taken to Dunbar on this occasion, declares that the abduction met with Mary’s full approval. “Captain Blakester that was my taker,” he says, “allegit that it was with the Quenis owen consent” [Memoirs of His Own Life, by Sir James Melville of Halhill. (Edinburgh, Bannatyne Club, 1827).] – which is more than probable. As they entered the town, Bothwell dismounted, and, commanding his followers to throw away their weapons – so as to secure himself against a possible future charge of treason – led the Queen’s horse into the castle by the bridle.

His project to gain the heart and hand of his sovereign, however ambitious it may have seemed, was admirably planned, and executed under the most favourable conditions possible. Mary was notoriously impressionable. She was still young and very large-hearted. Her love had been lavished upon an unworthy object who requited her affection with gross ingratitude, and met her advances with neglect and violence. Bothwell, whatever else he may have been, was essentially a strong man. By securing the custody of the Queen’s person he held the key of the position, and nothing was left to Mary but to submit as gracefully as possible to a course for which she probably felt little disinclination. She afterwards complained feelingly and very justly that while she remained under Bothwell’s thraldom in the castle of Dunbar, not a sword was drawn for her relief; but that after her marriage with him – the direct result of this apathy on the part of her friends – a thousand swords were drawn to drive him from the country and to dethrone her. [Life of Mary Queen of Scots, by George Chalmers, p.217. (London 1818.)]

It was during the five days following this dramatic abduction – days spent by Mary at the castle of Dunbar – that she consented to marry her captor. There was, however, a slight obstacle in the way of the proposed union between the Queen and Bothwell. This lay in the fact that the latter was already married to Lady Jane Gordon, daughter of George, 4th Earl of Huntly.

In the year 1565-66, when this previous marriage took place, Lady Jane was only a girl of twenty, endowed with more than average intelligence, and of a grave and peaceful disposition. She was also a devout Roman Catholic. Anyone less suited to be the wife of so turbulent, ill-favoured, evil-minded a man as James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – who was moreover a bigoted Protestant – it would be difficult to imagine. But it was an age when the wishes of a daughter were not as a rule consulted upon such a minor matter as her own marriage, and the match was in all probability arranged by Lady Jane’s family without much reference to the feelings of the prospective bride.

This was not the first occasion upon which the houses of Gordon and Hepburn had been allied. Patrick, 1st Earl of Bothwell, had married Margaret, daughter of George, 2nd Earl of Huntly, as far back as 1491. One of the consequences of this previous connection was to constitute a blood-relationship between Bothwell and Lady Jane, which rendered it necessary under the canon law to obtain a dispensation before they could be united. This dispensation was duly granted by the Archbishop of St. Andrews on February 17, 1566, and, a week later, the marriage was celebrated in the Church of the Canongate, Edinburgh, with all the customary ceremonial and rejoicings. [“Vpoun the 22 day of Februar, the earle of Bothwell was married vpoun the earle of Huntlie’s sister. The king and queine maid the banqueitt the first day, quhilk continewed five dayes with justing and tournamentis, and thair was maid six knyghtis of Fyfe at that tyme.”- The Chronicles of Scotland, by Robert Lindsay of Pitscottis, p.570. (Edinburgh, 1814.)]  The Queen gave a material expression of her approval of this match by presenting the bride with a wedding dress of cloth of silver: “Plus xij aulnes de toylle dargent plainne pour faire vne robbe a la fille de Madamme de Hontelles pour le jour quell fut marriee a Monsieur de Bodouel,” is the entry in her inventory. [Inventaires de la Royne Descosse Douairiere de France. (Bannatyne Club, 1863).

Of Lady Jane’s married life with Bothwell there is no record. That the union was a happy one is unlikely, as can be gathered from the fact that, two years later, when her husband had made up his mind to win a royal bride, she showed no unwillingness to conspire in the dissolution of her own marriage. In order to accomplish this, it was of course necessary for one or both of the parties concerned to obtain a divorce – a comparatively easy matter in days when marriage ties were not regarded as particularly indissoluble. “Ilz on tune coustume estrange en Angleterre, mais plus prattiquée en Écosse,” says a French historian, “de pouvoir se repudier l’un l’aultre quant ilz ne se trouvent bien ensamble.” [Papiers d’État relatif à l’Histoire de l’Écosse (Teulet, ii. 157).] For Roman Catholics, however, the affair was not quite so simple. By the Acts of 1560 the papal supremacy had been abolished; the Romish hierarchy had consequently no power in such matters. But a court of four commissaries was appointed by royal authority in 1563, and before this tribunal Lady Jane was induced to sue for a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s misconduct with one of her servants, Bessie Crawford by name. [Bishop Leslie, in his Narrative of the Progress of Events in Scotland, 1562-1571, declares that Bothwell presented his wife with a cup of poisoned wine, commanding her either to drink it or else to sign a paper approving the divorce. It is, however, unlikely that Lady Jane would require such intimidation to induce her to regain her liberty.] But, though a divorce was easy enough to obtain, this was not sufficient for Bothwell’s purpose. According to the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, persons separated for such an offence as his were not permitted to remarry. It was therefore necessary for Bothwell, not only to be divorced, but also to obtain an annulment of his former marriage before he could hope to make the Queen his wife. Luckily for the two lovers, Mary had restored the Consistorial authority, with the Archbishop of St. Andrews at its head, and in his court Bothwell instituted a suit praying that his marriage with Lady Jane might be annulled on the ground of consanguinity.

The history of Bothwell’s divorce shows it to have been effected with the least possible delay. On Sunday, April 27, the archbishop issued a commission; on the following Saturday this was presented to the judges; on the Monday the evidence was heard by the only judge who put in an appearance; and two days afterwards the marriage was annulled. [In his History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and King James VI. (Appendix, vol. iii. p.326), Dr. Robertson quotes the following account of these proceedings from a manuscript in the possession of “Mr. David Falconer, advocate”:-

“Upoun the 29 of Apryle 1567, before the rich thon. Mr. Robert Maitland dean of Aberdene, Mr. Edward Henryson doctor in the laws, two of the senators of the college of justice, Mr. Clement Little, and Mr. Alexander Syme advocattis, commissars of Ednr.; compeered Mr Henry Kinrosse, procurator for Jean Gourdoune countes of Bothwell, constitute be her, for pursewing of ane proces of divorcement intendit by her contra James erle Bothwel her husband for adultry, committed be him with Bessie Crawfurde the pursuers servant for the time…

“At the same time there was another proces intendit be the erl of Bothwell contr his lady, for to have their marriage declared nul, as being contracted against the canons, without a dispensation, and he and his lady being within degrees defendand, viz. ferdis a kin, and that wife for expeding this process, there was a commissione grantit to the archbishop of St. Androis to cognosee and determine it…

“Conform whereunto, on Wednasday the 7th of May, the said judge [John Manderston] gave out his sentence in favour of the erle, declaring the marriage to be, and to have been null from the beginning, in respect of their contingence of blood, which hindered their lawful marriage without a dispensation obtained of befoir.”]

It is curious that the Archbishop of St. Andrews should have been so ready to dissolve the very alliance for which he had granted a dispensation but two years before. It is still more curious that at the time of the divorce no mention should have been made of this dispensation, though there must have been a number of people aware of its existence. Had Lady Jane, in whose possession this vital piece of evidence remained, produced it before the archbishop’s court, the proceedings for annulling her marriage would have fallen to the ground. But either from motives of loyalty to the queen, or because she was as anxious to escape from her husband as he was to get rid of her, she maintained a discreet silence on the subject, and allowed a declaration of nullity of marriage to be pronounced without a word of protest of explanation. [The vernacular version of Buchanan states that “all this while they kept close the Pope’s bull, by whilk the same offence was dispensed with.” For many years it was thought that this important document must have been destroyed. That such was not the case was proved by Dr. john Stuart, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who unearthed the dispensation from among the Sutherland family papers at Dunrobin about the year 1870. (See A Lost Chapter in the History of Mary Queen of Scots Recovered.)]

Within a week of this affair Bothwell and Mary were married at Holyrood, much to the annoyance of the General Assembly, who showed their displeasure by unanimously depriving for a time the Bishop of Orkney, who officiated at the ceremony. [Anderson’s Collection on History of Queen Mary, vol. ii. p.283.]

Buchanan [Book xviii. Chapter 30.] declares that when Bothwell married the Queen he already had three other wives living. Of these the first was Lady Jane Gordon; the second, Dame Anna Rostung, a wealthy Norwegian, who subsequently claimed him as her husband when he was carried captive to Bergen; and the third, Janet Beton, widow of Sir Walter Scott of Branksome, and heroine of the Lay of the Last Minstrel. [The name of Dame Janet Beton, Lady Buccleugh, had already been associated at an earlier date with that of Bothwell. In 1559 exception was taken to the earl as Sheriff-Principal of Edinburghshire because he had been “quietly marreit or handfast” to Jane Beton, and the Session upheld this objection and substituted another official in his place. (See the Inquiry into the Law and Practice of Scottish Peerages before and after the Union, by John Riddell, 1842,vol. i. p.427.) Again, six days after Darnley’s assassination, a placard was affixed to the door of the Tolbooth accusing Bothwell and Lady Buccleugh of causing Mary, “by persuasion and witchcraft,” to assent to the crime of her husband’s murder. And Bothwell’s mistress is elsewhere charged with administering love philtres to the queen with the intention of riveting her affections the more closely to him.]

How many wives Bothwell actually possessed is a matter which cannot easily be determined. Marriage, like divorce, was a simple enough affair in the Scotland of those days and even later, for the habit of “handfasting” obtained till comparatively recent times. [Even a century ago the blessed state of matrimony does not seem to have been treated with the seriousness that it deserves. In the Journal of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (preserved among the family papers at Welbeck Abbey), the diarist describes how he met, in 1725, not far from Haddington, the procession of a Scotch wedding coming along the road. The bridegroom went first, and then came the bride, led by two men and accompanied by a train of women. Before the man went a “curious concert of music,” consisting of a bagpipe and a fiddle; but before the woman was a single solemn bagpipe. The only ceremony performed on this occasion was the breaking of a cake over the bride’s head as she entered her husband’s house. In the Narrative of the Last Sickness and Death of Dame Forbes (p.29 n.), we read of an old widow lady who, wishing to marry her gardener, casually announced the fact to her maids by bidding them “mak doon the bed for Saunders and me!” (It is amusing to note that when her plebeian husband, to whom she had conveyed all her property, lay on his deathbed, she suddenly bethought her of her son by a former marriage, and stood over the dying gardener with a deed in her hand, saying: “Sign! Sign ower to the lad! Ye ken it’s his ain!” “Ay, ay,” replied the canny Saunders, turning over with his face to the wall, “I’ll sign when I wauken.” “But he waukent in Hell,” adds the narrator of this story without further comment.)]

Being mercifully released from the clutches of so eminently undesirable a husband, Lady Jane went, after a time, to live at Strathbogie on the river Deveron, the Aberdeenshire residence of her brother, Lord Huntly. She still continued in possession of her conjugal rights of property, in accordance with the terms of her marriage settlement, and her relations with Bothwell seem to have been of an amicable nature. Of the state of her late husband’s feelings towards her, it is not easy to judge. It has been suggested, however, that he regarded her with sufficient affection to render the Queen extremely jealous and add considerably to her Majesty’s other troubles. [“He was so beastly that he suffered her (Mary) not to pass a day without shedding tears.” – Melville’s Memoirs, p.153.] After Carberry Hill, Secretary Maitland fanned the spark of this jealousy into flame by telling Mary that Bothwell and Lady Jane were still corresponding, and that the letters of the former contained disparaging allusions to her Majesty. In one of the much-disputed “Casket Letters” [Love Letters of Mary Queen of Scots to James, Earl of Bothwell, ed. By Hugh Campbell, p.45 (1827)] Mary is alleged to have written imploring Bothwell not to see Lady Jane, “whose faint tears should not be so much praised nor esteemed, as the true and faithful travels which I sustain for to merit her place.” Du Croc, the French Ambassador, wrote to Catherine de Médicis, in June 1567, on the subject of Bothwell’s constancy: “Mais nous ne doubtons point en ce royaulme qu’il n’aime mieux sa première femme que la Royne.” [Papiers d’Etat relatifs à l’Histoire de l’Ecosse, vol. ii. p170]  And in a sonnet which the Queen is supposed to have addressed to Bothwell she refers jealously to his former countess, and even accuses them of carrying on a guilty correspondence.

            [“Brief je ferray de ma foy telle prevue
Qu’il cognoistra, sans fainte, ma constance.
Non par mes pleurs, ou fainte obeyssance,
Comme autres on fait, mais par divers espreuve.
Elle pour son honneur vous doibt obeyssance,
Moy, vous obeyssant j’en puis recevoir blasme,
N’estant, à mon regret, comme elle votre femme.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Et toutes fois ses paroles fardez
…Ont tant gaigné qui par vous sont gardez,
Ses letters escriptes ausquels vous donnez foi,
Et si l’aymez, et croyez plus que moi.”

A Sonnet supposed to have been written by Mary Queen of Scots to the Earl of Bothwell. (1790)]

One cannot help feeling that Mary’s fears on this score were groundless. Lady Jane had been only too ready to accelerate Bothwell’s departure from her side, and it seems improbable that she would entertain any idea of a serious love affair with her divorced husband. Her modest and virtuous disposition does not suggest the possibility of such a theory, and she was certainly far too serious-minded to be accused of any inclination to flirt. Indeed, while Mary and Bothwell were quarrelling, Lady Jane was living peacefully and contentedly at Strathbogie, far from the stress and tumult of court life. If Bothwell had ever occupied a place in her heart, the vacant corner was shortly destined to be filled by a worthier man.

Alexander, 13th Earl of Sutherland, a lad of seventeen, and ward of the cruel Earl of Caithness, having been driven from his own country by his unscrupulous guardian, had taken refuge beneath Lord Huntly’s hospitable roof. Here he remained for three years, until, upon his coming of age, he was able to regain his hereditary rights and possessions. Sir Robert Gordon, his son, in the family history which he wrote in the year 1630, [Sir Robert Gordon’s History of Sutherland dates 1630, but was continued to 1651 by Gilbert Gordon of Sallagh.]  has described the virtues of the earl in glowing terms. Alexander was, we read, “ane honorable and hyemynded man, one that loved much to be weill followed, verie liberall…. A most assured performer of his word, when he had once ingadged himselff, which he hath left as ane hereditary qualitie to his children. He was verie constant and resolute in the prosecution of his purposes. He was by nature framed to wind and insinuat himselff so into everie man’s affection, that not onlie from thenceforth they did alwise remayn constentlie faithful unto him, bot also they did easily hazard their lyves and ther fortuns in any extremetie of danger for his sake. He was verie vpright in all his actions, vnfitt for these our dayes, wherein integritie lyeth speechles and vpright dealling is readie to give up the ghost.” [A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, from its Origin to the Year 1630, by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, Bart., pp.232-233 (Edinburgh, 1813)]

Earl Alexander was evidently an exceptionally charming man, albeit very delicate and suffering much from ill health. During his prolonged visit to Strathbogie he spent much of his time in the society of Lady Jane. The affection which thus developed between the two refugees eventually ripened into something stronger, and as soon as the earl’s property was restored to him, he seized the opportunity of asking Lord Huntly for the honour of his sister’s hand. To this Huntly readily consented, and as Lady Jane was of the same opinion, the wedding took place on December 13, 1573. For the next twenty years the earl and his countess lived happily together at Dunrobin Castle.

The family of Sutherland can trace its origin to very early days. The charter-evidence [At Dunrobin.] for the descent of the Sutherlands in a direct line begins with Freskin de Moravia, who died in 1171. Freskyn’s grandson William was surnamed de Sutherland, and this remained the family name until 1515. In that year the heiress of this house married one Adam Gordon, whose surname she adopted, but in 1688 the descendants of thus pair resumed the name of Sutherland. The house of Sutherland gradually managed to possess itself of practically the whole province, either by means of seizure of purchase, and to this day the head of the Sutherland family remains the most important landowner in Scotland.

Dunrobin Castle – founded in 1097 by Robert of Sutherland, after whom it was named – is one of the oldest secular Scottish buildings still inhabited. Standing as it does on a unique site, perched high above the cliffs that overlook the waters of the Dornoch Firth, it has witnessed many stirring scenes in the past. Here during the famous “’45” another Countess of Sutherland distinguished herself by a display of courage worthy of the name she bore. William, 18th Earl of Sutherland, had remained loyal to the House of Hanover. But during his absence in 1746 the Earl of Cromartie, a staunch Jacobite, captured Dunrobin. After Culloden, the castle was relieved by the Sutherlands, but Lord Cromartie successfully appealed to the countess [Lady Elizabeth Wemyss] to provide him with a safe hiding-place. The soldiers who were in close pursuit searched the house for a long time in vain, and though one of them went so far as to hold his dirk at the countess’s throat, she stoutly declined to divulge any information as to the fugitive’s whereabouts. At length, however, Cromartie was captured, and narrowly escaped accompanying Belmerino and Kilmarnock to the scaffold. [This is but one of the many instances in Scottish history of women who have hidden fugitive lovers and friends of helped them to escape. Margaret Vinstar, Twinelace, or Twinstoun, one of Queen Anne’s gentlewomen and a younger contemporary of Lady Jane Gordon, is a notable example. Wemyss of Logie had devised an abortive plan of bringing Bothwell into the royal presence at Dalkeith Castle. By so doing he fell into disgrace and was thrown into prison. His release, graphically described in the Historie of James the Sext, was entirely due to Margaret Twinstoun, “to whom this gentleman bure great affection, tending to the godly band of marriage; the whilk was honestly requited by the said gentlewoman.” She was privileged to sleep in the room occupied by the King and Queen. On the night of her lover’s arrest she stole out of her room, came to that in which Wemyss was lying in charge of certain of the guard, and bade them bring their prisoner to the King’s chamber. When they reached the door, she desired the guards to stay outside while she escorted Wemyss into the royal presence. “And so she closed the door, and convoyed the gentleman to a window, where she minisrat a lang cord unto him to convoy himself down; and sae by her guid charitable help he happily escaped by the subtlety of love.” It is satisfactory to know that Logie was afterwards pardoned, and married his faithful Margaret. In the same way the Lady of Grange nearly accomplished the escape of Montrose, a prisoner in her husband’s house in Fifeshire, by dressing him up in her own clothes and drugging the guard. And Miss Balmain assisted that fair rebel, Lady Ogilvy, to make her escape from the State prison of Edinburgh Castle by smuggling a washerwoman’s dress into her cell. But the case which is practically analogous to that of the Countess of Sutherland is the famous adventure of the beautiful Miss Lumsden, who afterwards became Lady Strange. This young lady was sitting at her needlework in her father’s house when Robert Strange, a soldier in the Jacobite rebel army, whom she had never even set eyes on, rushed into her room, hotly pursued by his enemies, and implored her for protection. Without rising of showing signs of being in the least disconcerted, Miss Lumsden bade the fugitive creep underneath the hoop of her voluminous crinoline. Shortly after, when the house was searched, the soldiers on entering her room found a young lady apparently alone, and retired. Strange, of course, as was only right and proper, fell in love with his protectress and married her. (See Nollekens and His Times, vol. ii. p.245.)]

The condition of the north of Scotland in the Middle Ages was extremely primitive. Sir Walter Scott declares that the Highlanders were to be regarded as “ignorant and irreclaimable barbarians,” so late perhaps as the sixteenth century. [Tales of a Grandfather, p.376.] If the poorer inhabitants were not permanently on the verge of starvation, famines were events of almost biennial occurrence. That universal poverty which was so deplorably prevalent throughout the whole country – and indeed throughout all Europe – in early days was particularly noticeable in the Highlands. Even in Edinburgh, it will be remembered, the French knights and ambassadors complained bitterly of the wretched accommodation provided for them, and could hardly be restrained from leaving so miserable a country. And in the far north it may be readily assumed that things were no better. As late as 1772 John Lightfoot, [Chaplain and librarian to Margaret, Duchess of Portland.] who accompanied the naturalist Pennant on his tour to Skye and the Highlands, wrote as follows to the Duchess of Portland: “The Wretchedness and Poverty of the People is such as I shall astonish your Grace in the account of it. ….Their Bread is made thus. Their Barley or Oats, (for Wheat they have none) is burnt to get the grain out. It is then put into a Tub or Vessel, and Women tread it with their Feet to separate the clotted Grains…. Their drink is Milk, Water, or a most nauseous Spirit call’d Whisky distilled from Barley….” [MS at Welbeck Abbey.]  Perhaps the universal addiction to this “most nauseous spirit” may have had something to say to the miserable state of the Scottish peasant in the far north. But though the Highlander was poor – and in the days of Lady Jane he certainly was so – he seems to have been extraordinarily honest. This is shown by the story told of Lord Hugh Fraser, who, in 1573, when a temporary wave of prosperity swept over the country, successfully tested the integrity of his clansmen by hanging a gold chain to an oaken beam at the stock-ford of Ross, to see if any man would be so base as to steal it. [The Highland Notebook, by R. Carruthers. (Edin., 1843)] According to the views long prevalent in England, Highlanders were the most arrant barbarians. Swift in his Journal to Stella mentions dining with two Highland gentlemen and being excessively surprised to find that they possessed ordinary good manners and civility. Among the peasantry of the north life was still indeed very crude in Swift’s time, and a century earlier it was still more so. The “good old rule” sufficed these hardy Northerners, “that they shall take who have the power, and they shall keep who can.” It was not until very late in the Middle Ages that Highlanders realised that there were laws to obey, though even these were but weakly enforced. And we read of one old chieftain writing to a friend in the north, “Take care of yourself in Sutherland; the law is come as far as Tain!” [Quarterly Review, vol. xiv. P.302]

A traveller in the Highlands, who was a contemporary of Lady Jane and visited Sutherland and Caithness, has left an amusing if a somewhat imaginative account of the conditions prevailing in these countries in the seventeenth century. “Here,” he says, “a rude sort of inhabitants dwell (almost as barbarous as Canibals), who when they kill a beast, boil him in his hide, make a caldron of his skin, brewis of his bowels, drink of his blood, and bread and meat of his carcase. Since few or none amongst them hitherto have as yet understood any better rules or methods of eating.” [Northern Memoirs Calculated for the Meridian of Scotland, writ in the year 1658, by Richard Franck, Philanthropus. P.209. (Edin., 1821.) (Hector Boece, the historian, also tells this barnacle story.)] A little further on the writer gives a still freer rein to his imagination. He is describing a most peculiar animal, known to Natural History manuals as the Lepas anatifera, which, he declares, formed one of the staple articles of diet among the Highlanders of this district: “Now that barnicles (he says) which are a certain sort of wooden geese, breed hereabouts, it’s past dispute; and that they fall off from the limbs and members of the firtree, is questionless; and those so fortunate to espouse the ocean (or any other river, or humictative soil) by virtue of solar heat are destinated to live; but to all others so unfortunate to fall upon dry land, are denied their nativity.” In case there should be any doubt upon this subject, the traveller goes on to assure his readers that not only has he seen these rare and curious creatures, but has actually held a “barnicle” in his hand, while it was still unfledged and “hanging from it beak to a tree,” before it had made up its mind whether to espouse the ocean (or other humictative soil) or to fall upon dry land and be “denied its nativity.” “Like the leaves in October that leisurely drop off,” continues our authority, with that picturesque touch of metaphor which proves him to have missed his vocation – he should undoubtedly have been a fisherman – “even so the barnicle drops off.” “But though some are destined to live,” he adds, “how difficult is it to preserve life when hourly sought after by the luxurious devourer!!” How difficult indeed!

The natural history of Scotland, and indeed of England as well, [See the Itinerary of Fynes Morison [1610], recently republished.] stood on a rather unsound basis as late as the seventeenth century. Many superstitions, no less curious than that of the anatifer, or goose-bringer, were, and still are, popular in some parts of Scotland. [Cf. the Modern Geologist’s Belemnite, reminiscent of the thunderbolts of Jove.] It is, for instance, rare to find a dead eagle, even in the Highlands, a fact which has given rise to the belief that the eagle casts its bill during life, thereby acquiring a renewal of its youth. [A Scottish authority of 1633 prints the following in the Psalter of that date:-

“That fill’d with goodness thy desire,
And did prolong thy youth:
Like as the Eagle casts her bill,
Wherby her age renew’th.”

Psalm ciii. Verse 5. (In Aberdene. Imprinted by Edward Raban, for David Melvill, 1633, with priviledge.)]

Mr Francks may therefore be pardoned for his credibility, even though we cannot join him in believing that the conditions of the inhabitants of Sutherlandshire – uncivilised though they were, and long remained [The last instance of execution for witchcraft in Scotland took place in Sutherland as late as 1722. The witch was executed at Dornoch, and, as the day was cold, she warmed herself at the fire which was built for her burning. Statutes against witchcraft were not repealed until 1735.] – was so deplorable that they were reduced to the luxury of devouring mythological animals. It may certainly be doubted whether the peasants who lived within a wide radius of Dunrobin were ever brought to such straits. The heads of the house of Sutherland have always been proverbially good landlords, and in this respect Countess Jane fully upheld the family traditions. Owing to her husband’s continued ill health, the management of the estates devolved to a great extent upon her; nor could it have been in more capable hands. A former Earl of Sutherland had made borings and discovered coal in the neighbourhood of Brora, a little village on the sea coast about five miles from Dunrobin, and this was first worked by Countess Jane. In the days of her youth she had doubtless been familiar with the system of obtaining salt from sea water, as practised in the Lothians, and by building a number of salt-pans at Brora she soon made that little hamlet the centre of a flourishing industry.

Lady Jane, in spite of her questionable conduct with regard to her first marriage, remained loyal to her Roman Catholic principles until the day of her death. It was natural, therefore, that at the time of the Reformation she should be called upon to suffer from the religious intolerance of that bigoted age. Often was she accused of sheltering priests, and suspected of furthering their “popish plots.” Indeed, it was only owing to the exertions of her son Robert, who was a staunch Protestant, that the countess was not more severely punished for her so-called heresies. [None of her sons espoused the Roman Catholic faith; and it is curious to consider that it was a descendant of hers, John, Earl of Sutherland, who was the first person to affix his name to the Solemn League and Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard of March 1, 1630.] In 1594 a warrant was issued by King James VI. granting her a remission for “intercommoning with George, sumtyme erll of Huntlie, and vtheris rebellious and vnnaturall subiectis, at diuers tymes, aganis sindry his Hienes actis, lawis, and proclamationis maid in the contrar.” And in the following year she had to find surety “under the pain of 2000 merks” [Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, vol. i. p.348 (A merk was valued at 13s.4d Scots money, or 13½d. English).] that she would not conspire with any of his Majesty’s “declared traitors,” and was finally given a licence permitting her to leave Edinburgh. [“Decimo quinto Martij, 1614…The Lady Bothwell gaif in a petitioun this day to the Counsall schoweing that scho had some landis plenneist with hir owne goodis lyand within England within xxx myles to the Bordouris, and scho craived licence to go thair for taking ordour with her tennentis. Her petitione is granted conditionallie that scho find cautione under the pane of Vm. Merkis that scho sall not repair any farrer within that cuntrey and sall not [not] pas the boundis of hir owne landis, and hir licence to be null yf scho do in the contrair” – Extracted from “State Business for the yeir 1614” (Denmiln MS., vol. v. fol. 17) in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh.]

Earl Alexander died at Dunrobin in 1594, and his widow shortly afterwards married Alexander Ogilvie of Boyne, the former husband of Mary Beaton, one of the Queen’s famous Maries. This she did, as her son tells us, “for the utilitie and profite of her children,” of whom she now had seven, four sons (besides the historian) and two daughters, the eldest of whom afterwards became the mother of Donald, 1st Lord Reay.

Alexander Ogilvie did not long survive his marriage, and, after his death, Lady Jane remained a widow to the end of her days.

Even in her old age she continued to be persecuted for her adherence to the principles of the Roman Church. Sentence of excommunication was on one occasion passed upon her, and she was confined in Inverness as a suspect of popery. Seven years later we find her being granted permission to proceed to England to visit her property, on condition that she finds surety not to go any further. And in 1607 an unfortunate priest named William Murdoche was found guilty of saying Mass at her house, and sentenced to be chained to the Market Cross of Edinburgh for two hours, exposed to public gaze and insult, attired in his “mess-clothes,” These garments were then to be stripped from his back and burnt on a fire, together with all his other “Popische baggadge”; after which he himself was to be banished from the country. [Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, ii. 530.]

No better description of Lady Jane is to be found than that which her son gives in his Genealogie, of which the original, a folio of 228 pages, is still carefully preserved at Dunrobin. From him we learn that she was “a vertuous and comlie lady, judicious, of excellent memorie, and of great understanding above the capacitie of her sex.” In this she is to be particularly commended, say Sir Robert, that during the continual changes, and amid the rival factions of the court, in the reign of Mary and in the minority of James VI., she managed her affairs so prudently that the enemies of her family were never able to hurt her. It was a time “both dangerous and deceatfull,” but the Countess of Sutherland passed through it without fear or harm. She continued to possess the jointure which had been assigned to her from the property of the Earl of Bothwell till her death, though the earldom was twice forfeited during her lifetime.

With foresight and diligence she successfully undertook the whole management of the Sutherland estates, both while her husband was alive and during the minority of her eldest son. She proved herself, indeed, not only a most capable woman of business, but also a devoted wife and mother. And deep was the sorrow of her whole family when she died on May 14, 1629, at the age of eighty-four.

Among the family relics at Dunrobin is an interesting copy of the Legenda Aurea, a book of devotional exercises in the Latin tongue, which was bequeathed to Sir Robert by his mother. [The following was written on the first fly-leaf by the 2nd Duke of Sutherland: “This book originally belonged to Lady Jane Gordon, Countess of Bothwell, and afterwards married to Alexr. Earl of Sutherland. It was left by her to Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, her second son, and was purchased at the sale of the Gordonstoun Library, 1816.” The following seems to have been inscribed by her eldest son before his nineteenth year, in Legenda Aurea:-

A piece of handwriting inserted here, footnote pg 56.

(This buik perteins To my ladie Sutherland, etc.)]

Here and there throughout the pages of this work, written in a hand which was probably that of the countess, are annotations and remarks, such as “Blessed is he who hath not bent to evil rede his ear;” [First psalm (Sternhold & Hopkins, 1549). “In my defence god me defend And bring my sawle to ane good end;” “ane vertuous lyf procureth ane happie death,” and other texts which, through the fading of the ink, are scarcely legible.

There is also at Dunrobin a portrait of Lady Jane by Jameson, in which she appears as an elderly woman of a melancholy cast of countenance, wearing an expression at once grave, thoughtful, and dignified, becoming to one who is tersely described in Wood’s Peerage as a “lady of great prudence.”

Her character is aptly summed up in the loving words of her favourite son. “She wes vertuous, religious, and wyse, evin beyond her sex; and as shoe lived with great credit and reputation, so shoe dyed happelie, and wes (according to the own command) bureid by her sones Sir Robert and Sir Alexr/ (now onlie alive of all her children) in the catherdrall church of Dornogh, in the sepulchre of the earles of Southerland.” [A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, p.409]  There she sleeps quietly today.

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