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

The Haigs of Bemersyde: a Family History
By John Russell (1881)

This is a review of this book by the Edinburgh Review. A link at the foot of this page will let you download the book.

In the autumn of 1831 the painter Turner, who had come to Scotland to make a set of drawings in illustration of the scenery of Scott’s poems, spent some days with Sir Walter himself at Abbotsford. Though Scott was then a broken-down invalid, preparing for that last continental journey from which he returned only to die, he paid every attention to the celebrated artist, and arranged several excursions for him in the neighbourhood. Lockhart, who was then at Abbotsford, tells of one expedition in particular, in which he and a friend of his accompanied Scott and Turner. They drove from Abbotsford some miles down the Tweed to Smailholm, that Turner might sketch Smailholm Crags and Tower; thence they went to Dryburgh Abbey, of which also Turner made a sketch; and after these two spots had been visited Scott insisted that, on their drive home, they should stop at yet a third place, which he thought worthy of Turner’s pencil. This was Bemersyde House, an old family mansion on the high Berwickshire bank of the Tweed, about a mile north from Dryburgh and three miles east from Melrose. The then Laird of Bemersyde, a certain elderly Mr. James Zerubabel Haig, who had been an army officer in his youth, was one of Scott’s most esteemed neighbours; there were some far-back links of connexion between Scott’s own ancestry and that of the Haigs; and Scott could assure Turner that the Haigs were the most ancient family still subsisting on Tweedside with their original name and on their original property. On these grounds alone Bemersyde House, the oldest part of which was believed to bp as old as the family itself, would have been worth a visit from the artist; but there was more. Mingled with the records which proved the antiquity of the Haig family and their mansion, there had come down a legend investing their antiquity with a supernatural charm. Not a child in the Tweed-side district but carried in his memory that mysterious scrap of verse by which, as it was believed, Thomas the Bhymer, the famous bard and seer of the thirteenth century, whose dwelling had been at ‘Ercildoune or Earlstoun, a few miles north from Bemersyde, had guaranteed the eternity of the Haigs in their local possession—

Tyde what may betyde,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.

Painting by Turner

This scrap of rhyme, familiar in Tweedside for generations, Scott had been in the habit of repeating to himself, or quoting to his companions, every time he passed Bemersyde House. He had quoted it to Washington Irving in 1817; and there can be little doubt that he quoted it now to Turner, and that it inspired the sketch of Bemersyde House which Turner made while they stopped there, and which was shown while they lunched with the good laird and lady, and others of the family, before driving back to Abbotsford. For of all Turner’s drawings illustrative of Scott’s poems none is more fascinating than this. It represents a tall, gabled, extremely antique-looking square building, with turrets at the four corners and small windows in the massive walls, flanked on each side by a modern addition of much less height A carriage is waiting at the main door; on the lawn, close to the house, is a very old, gnarled, and umbrageous Spanish chestnut; and in the nearer foreground, close to the spectator, is a kind of sunk and balustraded level space, like a disused bowling-green, on which a lady and two gentlemen, in modern costume, are sauntering in the vicinity of a row of flower-pots and an old stone sundial. On the flat pedestal of this sundial are one or two such articles of modern accomplishment as a guitar and a music-book ; and resting against it is a family portrait, attached by a thong to a parchment volume labelled 'Thomas the Rhymer.’ Turner’s idea in the sketch was evidently that of the connexion of the present with a very remote past in the duration of a single family. The castellated old house itself, and the great old tree, suggest the remote past; the sundial and other circumstantials are antique, but less antique; the portrait is that of the Laird of Bemersyde then receiving his distinguished visitors; the three sauntering figures are Miss Haig, Scott, and Lockhart—Scott’s limp distinctly discernible by his gait, his walking-stick, and the fact that he is leaning on Lockhart; and the carriage is Scott’s, waiting to take the party back to Abbotsford. All these details are conveyed most exactly, and yet with a singular dreaminess and glamour in the general effect. In looking at the sketch you feel as if you were in some enchanted scene; and, if you know the legend, you start on observing the thong attaching the portrait to the mystic volume, and mutter to yourself—

‘Tyde what may betyde,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.’

What Turner did, so successfully, by half an hour’s use of his magical pencil, Mr. Russell has accomplished, in a much more laborious fashion, in the handsome volume now before us. It is a history of the Haigs of Bemersyde from their hazy beginnings on through the twenty-eight generations or descents of known succession which connect the reigns of the Scottish kings David I., Malcolm IV., and William the Lion, with the present reign of Queen Victoria. Mr. Bussell has taken all pains, and has produced an excellent book. He has written in a genuine spirit of historical research, basing all his statements on the evidence of charters his narrative is hardly anywhere in the main interesting, full-bodied, and racy. For this he is indebted partly to his materials. Among these have been the family papers preserved at Bemersyde, the entire mass of which, he informs us, was placed at his discretion ‘without reserve or restriction.’ Much of the credit, however, belongs to Mr. Bussell himself. He is very clear and orderly in his arrangement; his acquaintance with the Border counties is evidently direct and intimate; his knowledge of Scottish history, if at fault here and there on a special point, is such that he can effectively attach the incidents of family life to the chain of national events; and, while he is properly faithful to record and document, he has a due feeling for the romantic and picturesque, and is not too hard-hearted in dealing with a legend. It may be a question whether once or twice his tenderness in this respect does not betray him into credulity; but he never intends that it should, and is careful, when he does indulge in a fancy, not to mix it with his facts.

After a few pages of groping in the old Scottish mists for those imaginary Haigs of Pictish origin, Danish origin, or what not, that figure in the now discarded genealogies, we come upon the first veritable man who can be recognised as a Haig of Bemersyde. He was a Petrus de Haga, whose name, in that form, or varied into del Hage de la Hage, de la Haghe, de la Haga, is found inserted, as that of a witness, in eleven extant charters of different dates between 1162 and 1200. Who^Peter was, or whence he came, no living creature knows for certain, unless it be the great Spanish chestnut tree still standing in front of Bemersyde House, and which, as it can hardly be less than a thousand years old, must have seen the building of the first block of the house, and Peter going in and out during the process. Mr. Bussell’s conclusion is that he was one of those Norman immigrants who came into Scotland in such considerable numbers, whether through England or direct from Normandy, in the reign of David I. Etymo-logically, the Teutonic haga, in French hague or "tat*, and in old English hay, means a fence or fortified enclosure; and why may not the first Haig in Scotland have come from that extreme northern jut of Normandy into the English Channel, just above Cherbourg, which is still called Cape de la Hague, and is said to have derived its name from an earthwork or hague-dike formed by Hollo and his Scandinavians there when they were seizing that part of France? Why not? is all that can be conceded; for no one knows. It is in favour, at least, of Mr. Bussell’s theory of some immediate Norman origin for the Haigs, that the dieven charters which the first De Haga is found witnessing all connect him with contemporary Scottish families who were indisputably Norman. The oldest is a charter by which Bichard de Moreville, Constable of Scotland, sells to Henry St. Clair two serfs—one with a Saxon name and the other with a Celtic, though they are described as ‘brothers;’ the rest relate to gifts by the same family, or by others, to various religious houses in the south of Scotland. To have been one of the witnesses to such charters implies that Petrus de Haga, wherever he came from, was in settled residence on his Scottish property in the southernmost nook of Berwickshire, and a man of some consideration there, between 1150 and 1200. Though he seems to have held his lands directly from the king, he was not one of the great barons, but only one of those ‘ lesser barons,’ as they were styled, whom the Scotch now call ‘lairds,’ and whom the English would call 4 squires.’ What he did during his fifty years of Tweedside life, besides marrying a wife called Goda and witnessing charters for his neighbours, one asks in vain. We can but imagine him walking to and fro on the Tweed, between the recently founded Abbey of New Melrose and the still more recently founded Abbey of Dryburgh, and chiefly among his tenants and cottars in the vicinity of the latter, probably swearing at them a good deal in broken French.

To Petrus de Haga the first succeeded Petrus de Haga the second. He was laird for twenty-eight years, or from 1200 to 1228, and in that time witnessed three charters, and was principal in a fourth. In this last, for the benefit of his soul, and the soul of his late wife Ada, and the souls of all his ancestors and kin, he grants two oxgates of land, equal to twenty-eix acres, in his lordship of Bemersyde, to the Abbey of Dryburgh, to be held of him and his heirs in perpetuity, and also to the same abbey the messuage in Bemersyde village which had been occupied by his mother Goda in her widowhood, with pasture for three cows and twenty sheep for the family that the monks may place in that messuage. The tradition is that it was by way of quid pro quo for this gift and others that the monks of Dryburgh granted to this second Petrus de Haga the privilege of burial for all the Haigs of Bemersyde within the precincts of the abbey. Of this burial-place of the Haigs in Dryburgh Abbey there is an interesting description in Mr. Bussell’s volume, with an engraving showing its close contiguity to that other burying-place, once the property of the Haliburtons of Newmains, which is now illustrious as the tomb of their descendant, Sir Walter Scott There Peter the second was buried, if not Peter the first before him. We make haste to bury there also the third of the dynasty, Henry de la Hage, who was laird from 1228 to 1240, when Alexander II. was King of Scotland. Save that he witnessed a charter and continued the race, he is a blank in the record.

A more important man was Petrus de Haga, the fourth of the line, and the third with the name of Peter. His lairdship extended from 1240 to 1280, or through the last nine years of the reign of Alexander II., and nearly the whole of that of Alexander III. He is memorable for two charters. One is a conveyance of a certain piece of forest-land on his estate to the Abbot and Convent of Dryburgh; the other describes a transaction of his with the Abbot and Convent of Melrose. This second charter is the most famous document by far in the history of the Haigs; and Mr. Russell has, very properly, given not only the Latin original and a translation, but also a photographic facsimile of the fine old parchment itself, now in the possession of the Duke of Buccleuch. The charter, in translation, runs thus:—

To all who this writing shall see or hear, Petrus de Haga, lord of Bemersyde, sends greeting in the Lord. Know all men that, forasmuch as I had agreed with the religious men, the Abbot and Convent of Melros, that, for certain transgressions committed against them by me and mine, I and my heirs would pay to the same every year ten salmon, to wit, five fresh and five old, for ever, [and] at length the said religious men, moved by piety, considered this to tend to the disinheritance of me and my heirs, [therefore] on the mediation of good men, my son and heir John consenting and conceding thereunto, 1 have agreed with the said Abbot and Convent on this wise :—To wit, that I and my heirs are held, and by the present writing for ever bound to the said Abbot and Convent, to pay every year half a stone of wax, good and saleable, to the chapel of St. Cuthbert of Old Melros, on the day of blessed St. Cuthbert, in Lent, or thirty pennies, under pain of paying to the lamp of the said chapel thirty pennies for every month during which any cessation shall have occurred in the payment of the said wax. or. of the thirty pennies aforesaid, after the day and teem mentioned: subjecting myself and my heirs to the jurisdiction and authority of the Lord Bishop of St. Andrews for the time being, that he may be able to compel me and my heirs, by any ecclesiastical censure whatever, to the payment of the said wax, or of the thirty pennies aforesaid, together with the penalty if it be incurred: renouncing for me and my heirs, in this cause, all action, defence, and exception, and all help of canon and of civil law, benefit of restitution ad integrum, and all other things which may or shall benefit me and my hsirs in this cause, and prejudice the said Abbot and Convent, by invalidating the payment of the said wax or of the thirty pennies aforesaid, along with the penalty if it be incurred. In witness whereof to the present ’writing my seal, together with the Beal of Lord Oliver, the Abbot of Driburg, has been appended. Witnesses: Lord Oliver, Abbot of Driburg; Sir William de Burudun, knight; Hugo de Perisbi, then Sheriff of Bokisburg; William de Hatteleye; Thomas Rimor of Ercildun; and others.

On the puzzling question, suggested by the matter of this document, why the trumpery payment of five fresh and five preserved salmon every year should have been so ruinous to the Lairds of Bemersyde as the document purports it would have been, Mr. Russell's conclusion is perhaps the most feasible. It cannot, he thinks, have been, as previous commentators have supposed, that the Tweed about Bemersyde was then so very deficient in salmon; but it may have been that there were disputed rights of fishing between the Haigs and some of the great overlords of the district, rendering the commutation of the ten salmon into a half-stone of wax convenient. If any other hypothesis than this of Mr. Russell should seem necessary, may it not be found in the fact that the wax, though due to the Abbot and Convent of Melrose, was to go specifically to the shrine of St. Cuthbert at Old Melrose—i.e. to the small remaining relic of that very old Abbey of Melrose, quite dose to Bemersyde, and separated from it only by the Tweed, which had been founded by St. Aidan in the seventh century, but had been superseded and eclipsed by King David's new and grander Melrose Abbey, founded in 1136, two miles further up the river? May there not have been something in the relations of the new foundation to the moribund remains of the old making it legally safer for the Haigs to retain a registered connexion with the old ? This whole question of the purport and reason of the charter, however, sinks into insignificance in comparison with the interest attaching to the last sentence, where the witnesses to the charter are enumerated. For the witness whose name we have put in italics was no other than that extraordinary Thomas the Rhymer who figures so mysteriously in Scottish history, and this Haig charter is, with one exception, the only unquestionable contemporary document in which we have a glimpse of him as a real mau, living in the Tweedside district, and performing an ordinary human action. Hence a great deal of study of the charter by antiquaries and scholars before Mr. Russell, especially by Sir Walter Scott, for publications of his in 1803 and 1804, relating to the Rhymer, and by Dr. J. A. H. Murray in his learned edition of "The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune," published for the Early English Text Society in 1875. Mr. Russell has done good service by clearing away a difficulty by which these previous writers were perplexed in their construction of the document. Knowing but of one Petrus de Haga, the first of the Haig lineage, they had been obliged to stretch out his life enormously in order to make it overlap that of the Rhymer. Mr. Russell has shown that the difficulty is wholly imaginary, the Petrus de Haga of the charter being the fourth laird of Bemersyde, the third Peter of the genealogy, and the great-grandson of the first Peter. It was some time between 1260 and 1270, he shows, when the Rhymer may have been between forty and fifty years of age, that he walked or rode from his place of Ercildoune, either to Bemersyde House or to the Abbey of Melrose, to oblige this Petrus de Haga by witnessing the charter which changed the annual ten salmon into the annual half-stone of wax. His recognised cognomen, it appears, was Rimor or Rymour, whether by personal compliment to his already acquired poetical celebrity, or by mere happy coincidence of his craft with his inherited surname; and the surname Learmont or Learmonth, subsequently applied to him for some reason or another, is not yet heard of. His position and character in the district may be best defined by saying that he was the poet-laird of Ercildoune, on the banks of the Leader.

The fourth laird of Bemersyde had been succeeded by his son, John de Haga, and this fifth laird had confirmed, by a new charter, his father’s gift of so much woodland to Dryburgh Abbey, when the poet-laird of Ercildoune distinguished himself, as legend will have it, by the most memorable of all his prophetic feats. It was a clear, calm day in 1286, and the Rhymer was on a visit to the Earl of March in Dunbar Castle, and the earl was jesting with him on the non-fulfilment of his confident weather prediction of the previous day, to the effect that ‘on the morrow, before noon, there should blow over ‘ Scotland the greatest blast of tempest that had ever been ‘ known.’ Noon was at hand, and there was still no sign of blast or tempest, when there arrived post-haste at the castle a messenger with the news of the death of King Alexander III. on the preceding night, by his fatal fall, with his horse, over a precipice between Burntisland and Kinghorn. *That is the 6 tempest I told you of,’ said the seer; and so it proved. For was not the good Alexander III. the last remaining representative of the native Gaelic dynasty of Scotland, save his infant maiden granddaughter away in Norway? What was to happen at such a juncture, with a king of such brain and energy close at hand as Edward I. of England, whose fixed idea was that of the subversion of Scottish independence, with a view to the incorporation of the whole of the British islands under one political rule ? What did happen is a long story in the annals both of Scotland and of England. There began those wars of independence, the first and greatest figures of which on the Scottish side were Wallace and Bruce, but which protracted themselves in settled international animosity, with occasional battles and mutual invasions, till the union of the crowns in 1603. Little wonder that, through the first and most agonising stage of this long struggle, when Scotland was in the possession of English garrisons and overrun by ravaging English armies, the Soots should have reverted with a sad and passionate fondness to the peaceful and prosperous days of their good King Alexander. This, indeed, is the wailing burden of what has come down to us as perhaps the very earliest specimen of the Scottish muse now recoverable:—

Quhen Alysandyr oure Kyng wes dede,
That Scotland led in luve and le,
Away wes sons off ale and brede,
Off wyne and wax, off gamyn and gle:
Oure gold wes changyd into lede.
Cryst, borne into Vyrgynyte,
Succoure Scotland and remede,
That stad [is in] perplexyte.

The Scottish metrical chronicler, Wyntoun, who wrote about 1420, quotes the verse as one immemorially old in his time, and believed to be nearly contemporary with the event it celebrates. It is quoted above in the form in which it appears in the last and best edition of Wyntoun (Edinburgh, 1872). Sons, in the third line, means plenty, the rest is quite intelligible. Mr. Russell, in quoting the staxum, takes an extraordinary liberty with the last two lines, and especially with the last line of all, which is imperfect in the old texts. He reads: 'Succour Scotland, and remede that stad in its perplexite,’ understanding stad as an old form of the noun state, whereas it is obviously the past participle sted, stayed, situated. This, however, is as nothing compared with the introduction of the pronominal possessive form.

It is one of the weak points in Mr. Bussell’s book that, not content with this simple and trustworthy tradition of great distress and confusion in Scotland consequent on the death of Alexander III., he adopts, and diffuses through a portion of his text, the larger hypothesis of a permanent paralysis of the prosperity of Scotland by that event. Following previous writers, he commits himself to the astounding statement that the death of Alexander and the subsequent war of independence 'put back the dial-hand of civilisation in Scotland at ‘ least 300 years.’ This is the sheerest recklessness in the use of historical verbiage. The ‘dial-hand of civilisation is not so easily ‘put back’ in any country; and it certainly was not thus put back in Scotland. Are the three centuries of Scottish history between the death of Alexander III. and the accession of James VI. to the throne of England to be voted worthless or worse? Was it not precisely in those centuries that there was transacted all that is now remembered as peculiarly and emphatically the history of Scotland, all that created and moulded the Scottish nationality and the Scottish national character? Were these not worth having; or can we be sure that it would have been so well for the world at this day, so well even for Great Britain and the British Empire, if these results had been baulked by a process of events greatly different from that into which Scotland was compelled by the death of the last of her native Gaelic sovereigns? In respect even of material prosperity the speculation may be challenged. Granted that the reign of Alexander III. was, as the records represent it, a time or remarkable prosperity for Scotland, had that state of things been normal through the period of Scottish histoiy which his reign closed? Had there been no distraction in Scotland, no strife with England, under his predecessors, and would not these have continued or recurred though he and his dynasty had lived for ever? Even were Mr. Bussell right in his estimate of the population of Scotland in those days at not less than a million—a calculation hardly reconcilable with the fact that it was not till 1801 that the population exceeded a million and a half—would the mere stationariness of the population at about the same figure, which would then seem to be established for the three centuries of his dismal retrospect, be the same thing as that arrest of prosperity, that reversal of the dial-hand of civilisation, which he assumes?

Into a piece of verse of the thirteenth or fourteenth century. That word is found in no English writer before 1598, and was an objectionable mongrel till Dry den’s time.

Not to mention that the same phenomenon of a stationary population, for a part of the time at least, might be predicated equally of England, the arrest of whose civilisation is not asserted, is not that political philosophy at fault which identifies civilisation or even prosperity with growth of population? On this subject it might be well if our historical writers would digest the doctrine propounded by Mr. John Stuart Mill, after Dr. Chalmers, in the paragraph of his 'Political‘ Economy9 entitled ‘Why countries recover rapidly from a state ‘of devastation.’ No great blame to Mr. Bussell at present He has but followed some previous writers; and, if he has been too hasty in his conception of the effects of the war of independence upon Scotland in general, he is probably not so far wrong in his account of the effects on the Border district, and the Bemersyde lairdship, in particular. He seems to make out that there was a serious disturbance, by the English ravagings, of the conditions of rude comfort and plenty which had previously distinguished the old village-communities of that district, and especially those of them that were protected by the great Abbeys of Melrose, Dryburgh, and Kelso, when those establishments were morally and spiritually at their best From certain data he calculates that the Bemersyde estate in its golden days, under the first Haigs, must have been inhabited by fifty families of husbandmen and ninety of cottagers, or about 700 souls in the aggregate; and he finds the Bemersyde of later times more and more a shrunken affair in comparison. Without accepting his precise figures, we may suppose him to be correct in the main.

It was John de Haga, the fifth of the Bemersyde lairds, as we have seen, that was in possession at the date of that tumble of the royal horse and his rider which brought such woe upon Scotland. He and his prophetic neighbour, Thomas of Ercildoune, had to face the crisis together; and the legend accordingly is that it was in those years of increasing gloom, between 1292 and 1296, when the English Edward I. was advancing his claims to the sovereignty of Scotland, that there was formed that wizardly link between the Bhymer and the fortunes of the Bemersyde family which the genius of Turner represented so well by the thong attaching the portrait of the head of the family to the volume of the Rhymer’s parchments. Going about in a moody frenzy over the miseries that had befallen Scotland, and foreseeing the worse miseries that were coming, the Rhymer, now an old man, would flash out his feelings and anticipations more vividly than ever, tradition and Mr. Russell would have us fancy, in those pithy snatches of prophetic verse in which he had always been an adept. Now, if ever, more particularly, it was that he might be supposed to have uttered those two of his prophecies which have lingered most remarkably, in connexion with each other, in the memory of Tweed-side. One predicted the speedy extinction of his own name and lairdship in Ercildoune—

The hare sail kittle [litter] on my hearth-stane,
And there will never be a laird Learmont again.'
Per contra, the Haigs should endure for ever :—

'Betyde what may betyde,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.'

As to the fulfilment of the first there can be no doubt. Not long after it had been uttered, we are told, True Thomas disappeared from his accustomed haunts. Whether he had been 'carried away, as the ballads bear, by the Queen of Elfland into her subterranean world somewhere about the Eildon Hills, or whether, as more prosaic authorities suggest, he had retired, as a voluntary recluse, to the Priory of Faile in Ayrshire, there to end his days, certain it is that from the year 1296, when he is last heard of, blessing and consecrating the rising star of the patriot Wallace, there was no proprietor of Ercildoune called either Rymour or Learmont. Meanwhile, thanks to his spell, John de Haga fared well enough. He outlived the Rhymer thirty years. Though mixed up with the troubles of his time, first swearing fealty to Edward at Berwick with so many other Scots, and then manfully breaking his oath and joining Wallace, he emerged unscathed in the glorious reign of the Bruce after Bannockburn, and is found witnessing a charter for a neighbour in 1316, and executing a charter for himself in 1326. By this last he gave the Abbot and Convent of Melrose two oxgates of his Bemersyde estate for the benefit of his soul. One is glad to find that, after forty years of the * putting back of the dial-hand of civilisation in Scotland,’ the Bemersyde estate could afford such a gift. He was then a very old man, and he died that same year.

The next eleven Haigs, bringing us from 1326 to 1602, or through the reigns of David II., Robert II., Robert III., the first five Jameses, Queen Mary, and James VI. till he became James I. of England, may be despatched collectively. There was Petrus de Haga, the sixth laird and fourth Peter, who is said to have fought at Bannockburn, and to have been killed at Halidon Hill in 1333. There was Henry de Haga, the seventh laird, who was thirty-five years in possession, never married, but witnessed one charter. His brother, John de Haga, the eighth laird, performed the same easy feat, and is thought to have been killed with the Douglas at the battle of Otterbourne in 1388. Then came Sir Andrew Haig, the ninth laird, the only one of the race that rose to knighthood, and the first that dropped the old ‘De Haga’ for the plain ‘ Haig.’ His son, John Haig, the tenth laird, must have been a man of some energy, for he had a long feud with the abbot and monks of Melrose as to the possession of a piece of ground, was excommunicated by them, but defied them and was none the worse. His son, Gilbert Haig, the eleventh laird, was laird for twenty-two years, and was present at the battle of Sark. The twelfth laird, James Haig, was an active partisan of James III. in that king’s war with his nobles, and was present at the battle of Sauchieburn in 1488, when that king fell. His son, William Haig, the thirteenth laird, lived through the reign of James IV., and fell with him at Flodden in 1513. Robert Haig, the fourteenth laird, experienced in full measure the troubles of the reign of James V. and those of Arran’s Regency for the infant Queen Mary, including Hertford’s three dreadful English invasions of the Borders. Then came Andrew Haig, the fifteenth laird, who restored the Tower of Bemersyde after Hertford’s army had left it in ruins, and in whose lairdship, extending from 1554 to 1583, Scotland passed from the Papacy into the Reformation, and from the unfortunate reign of Mary into that of James YI. in his minority. He was succeeded by his son, Robert Haig, the sixteenth laird, whose lairdship all but coincides with the rest of the reign of James YI. before his removal to England.

Respecting the eleven Haigs whose ashes we have here collected into a single paragraph, Mr. Russell’s details extend over thirty-two pages. He tells of their marriages, their genealogical offshoots, their appearances in documents, &c., and with such diligence that there can be but few scraps of information about any of them that have escaped his research.

One such scrap, however, he will permit us to supply. It concerns Andrew Haig, the fifteenth laird, and the contemporary of Knox and the Reformation. There are two mentions of this laird in the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, which Mr. Russell seems to have missed. On January 18, 1573-4, when the Council chanced to be sitting at Haddington, 'Andrew Hege of Bemersyde ’ (miswritten 'Adam’ in the beginning of the entry, but corrected into 'Andrew ’ in the sequel) appeared before the Council as surety for the good behaviour of4 Alexander Haitlie of Lambden,’ the said Haitlie appearing at the same time and giving his own obligation to the same effect. Again, two years and a half later, or on July 11, 1576, the same ‘Andrew Hege of Bemerside ’ appeared before the Council at Holyrood House, and became cosurety with two of his neighbours, Ramsay of Wyliedeuch and Hoppringle of Smailholmcraig, for the good behaviour of the same Haitlie of Lambden and five other Haitlies, all of whom were also present as principals. This would be hardly worth mentioning but for a circumstance proved by the entries as they stand in the register. The Laird of Bemersyde, important man though he was, could not write. In the first entry, while the principal, Haitlie of Lambden, appears as signing for himself, the Laird of Bemersyde appears as signing in this form: 4 With my hand at the pen led be Johne Andro becaus  I can not write; ’ and in the second entry, while four of the nine persons concerned as principals or sureties manage to sign for themselves, the Laird of Bemersyde is one of the five who sign with our handis at the pen led be Johne Andro at our 4 command becaus we can not wryte.’ The John Andro here mentioned was the Clerk of the Council, and the custom was that, when an illiterate laird or other person was before the Council and had to give his signature, he put his handover the knuckles of John Andro while that deft scribe did the necessary duty. We are the more sorry to find a Haig of Bemersyde in this undignified predicament because we are afraid the inference must be retrospective. If this fifteenth laird of Bemersyde, the contemporary of Knox, could not write his name, it will need positive evidence to prove that any one of his fourteen predecessors was more capable in that particular. Their witnessing of charters at such a rate must have been generally by mere presence; and Mr. Russell, we are afraid, has not sufficiently brought out that fact for his readers, if he has been aware of it himself—which certain words of his about Sir Andrew Haig, the ninth laird, lead U3 to doubt. But who knows all that Mr. Russell may suppose to have been involved in his awful conception of the putting back of the dial-hand of civilisation in Scotland three hundred years by the wars of independence ? May it not have involved a recess all that time of Scottish pedagogy ? May not the Haigs of the golden age have been educated and scholarly men, and may not the arts of reading and writing have gone out among their successors with the Alexandrian ‘ wyne and wax ’and‘ gamyn and glee? This is a little question which may be recommended to Mr. Russell for investigation at his leisure. The scarcity of reading and writing among the laity of Scotland in the preReformation ages has, we believe, been considerably exaggerated; but the Register of the privy Council does prove that, even for thirty years after the Reformation, the art of writing had not descended, except in towns, very far below the upper stratum of Scottish society, and that a considerable proportion of the country lairds, otherwise men of some pith and substance, had to avail themselves of the services of John Andro. That the fifteenth laird of Bemersyde was one of those backward gentlemen is hardly to his credit, and may have been a matter of some shame to him in his old age. At all events, he was the last of the lairds of Bemersyde that could not write. The movement for popular education, set agoing by John Knox, was in rapid progress; and Robert Haig, the sixteenth laird, could write well enough. This appears from an entry relating to him in the Privy Council Register under date February 11, 1584-5. Mr. Russell cites this entry, though he has missed the two relating to the preceding laird.

Henceforth reading and writing were to be only too abundant in the Bemersyde family. They were too abundant, at all events, in the history of James Haig and William Haig, the eldest sons of the last-mentioned Robert. The lives of these two brothers occupy nearly a fourth part of Mr. Russell's volume, and are rich in interest.

James Haig, who succeeded his father, as the seventeenth laird, in 1602, when he was about thirty-five years of age, and the husband of an Elizabeth McDougall, figures in Mr. Russell’s pages as the black sheep of the Haig lineage. By mismanagement, turbulence, and quarrels, he had, before the year 1610, when most of his ten children were born, so involved himself and his estate that, but for advances from his brother William and arrangements practically transferring his lands to this brother’s control, there would have been total bankruptcy. Fortunately, Mr. William Haig, educated as a lawyer in Edinburgh And abroad, and already for twelve years

in practice at the Edinburgh bar/ was in all respects the very opposite of James—shrewd, diligent, and eminently respectable. He was also of a literary turn, with a passion for active politics, and was favourably known for two pamphlets or discourses which had been circulated in manuscript, one of them on the advantages of following up the union of the crowns in King James by a consolidation of the two nations. Whether his ‘ intromissions ’ with the affairs of his turbulent brother had been altogether disinterested does not distinctly appear; but the fact that he was a bachelor and subsequent parts of his conduct give probability to the notion that he had, acted for the good of the whole family, his brother’s wife and children included. The humiliated laird, however, did not take that view. He had conceived the most deadly hatred of his lawyer-brother, and it became a Cain and Abel business between them. First, in 1611, James Haig is found the subject of a criminal prosecution, a 6 defamed ’ man by Scottish law, and a temporary prisoner in the Tolbooth of the Canon-gate in Edinburgh, for counterfeiting his Majesty’s signet and forging his brother’s signature to some documents. Not till 1616, however, does the feud attain its murderous enormity. Early in that year, William Haig having been in the meanwhile abroad for some time as secretary to Lord Hay of Yester, but having returned and received further legal hold of the Bemersyde property, the two brothers are found together in London—William going about among the political Scots there, and interesting himself much in behalf of the Scottish favourite, Carre, Earl of Somerset, then displaced by the new favourite Villiers, and about to be tried, with his notorious countess, for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury; while James had come up on an errand of his own, for which he had prepared the way by a private communication to the King sent from Scotland. Suddenly William Haig was arrested. A mine of cleverly concocted accusations had been sprung underneath him by his revengeful brother. He had been colleaguing four years ago, it was said, with astrologers abroad about the chances of Prince Henry’s life, the probable duration of the King’s life, and the like; he had in his possession a horoscope of Prince Henry, in which the premature death in 1612 of that young hope of the two nations had been precalculated ; he had other treasonable papers in his possession; nay, he had confided to the present informer, his own brother, that he was at that moment deep in the secrets of some of the ‘ best spirits in England,’ who were meditating the grievances of both kingdoms and had designs for ‘ punishing his Majesty ‘a little’ in the interests of political reform! The charges had impressed his Majesty the more because Mr. William Haig, with his propensity to scribble, had circulated a discourse on the subject of Somerset’s disgrace; and hence the order for his arrest. Influential Scots in London, however, who knew something of the accuser’s disreputable antecedents, had interfered; and the result was that James Haig was also arrested, and the two brothers were sent down to Edinburgh in custody, that the affair might be thoroughly investigated by the Scottish Privy Council. For an account of their several months of imprisonment in different wards in the Edinburgh Tolbooth, and their examinations and re-examinations before the Council, and for specimens of their paper pleadings there, including a manly letter of Mr. William Haig to the King, scouting with ironical contempt the accusations of this ‘ ill ( brother of mine,’ as he calls him, we must refer to Mr. Russell’s volume. Enough to say that, the charges having broken down, and the ferocious James having subsided from fury into sulks, and having horrified or amused the Council by appealing the decision of the case to mortal combat between him and his brother, the two were released, late in 1616, to go their several ways. James, after lingering a year or more in Scotland, is said, in the family tradition, to have discontentedly travelled 6 into Germany and there died.’ William remained in Edinburgh, a respected lawyer.

Though William was now the real head of the family, the arrangement was that his nephew, Andrew Haig, the eldest son of his fugitive ‘ill brother,’ but apparently a mild and inoffensive man, should step into the vacant lairdship. It is this Andrew, therefore, who ranks as the eighteenth laird of Bemersyde. With backing from his uncle, he held the lairdship from 1620 to 1627. As he died unmarried, and none of his brothers then of age seemed a satisfactory successor, Mr. William Haig, the lawyer and politician, did then, by what legal formality it might be difficult to explain, assume the lairdship in his own person. This lairdship extended from 1627 to 1636.

A most memorable lairdship it was. King James was dead when it began, and Charles I. had been on the throne for two years. Haig, though actual laird of Bemersyde, and residing there in vacation time, was at the height of his eminence as an Edinburgh citizen and lawyer. He had been appointed, even in James’s lifetime, to the post of King’s solicitor for Scotland; and he still held this post, in conjunction with another of some public emolument, when Charles, in 1633, came on his famous coronation visit to Scotland, with Bishop Laud in his train. Though the nominal purpose was the coronation in Holyrood Abbey, the real business was the extension to Scotland of the system of Thorough already in force in England, and especially an ecclesiastical renovation of Scotland by the substitution of Laud’s ideal Beauty of Holiness, in the form of a high Episcopacy and a florid ritual, for the very limited and superficial Episcopacy and the slight improvement on the plain Genevan worship which were all that James, by thirty years of effort, had been able to impose on the stubborn Presbyterian people. The great moment was on June 28, when King Charles, seated in the Scottish Parliament in the High Street of Edinburgh, dared the popular and Presbyterian oppositionists in that House, led by the Earl of Bothes, to resist the two chief Acts in which he and Laud had caused their anti-Presbyterian policy to be embodied. He had a list of all their names in his pocket, he told them, and he would remember how they voted. Bothes and a number more did vote manfully against the Acts, and maintained that they had the majority of votes; but, as they could not venture on the risk, then capital in Scottish law, of impeaching the official declaration of the poll by the Lord Clerk Begister, the Acts passed, and Charles was triumphant. After the Parliament was over, however, the defeated oppositionists drew up a remonstrance to Charles, to be presented to him with their signatures, under the title of * The humble Supplication of a great number of the Nobility and other Commissioners in the late Parliament. It was an extremely able and well-penned document, perfectly respectful and temperate in expression, and yet bold in substance. The draftsman was William Haig. Though not in the Parliament himself, he had been in the counsels of the opposition chiefs in the Parliament all along— the Scottish Whigs or Liberals of those days, as we should now call them, though the name Whigs had not yet been invented—and it was to his practised pen that they had committed the preparation of their Bemonstrance. But, though Bothes waited on his Majesty at Dalkeith, with a copy of the Bemonstrance in his pocket, it was found impossible or unadvisable to do more than intimate to the King that such a document was in existence. It was therefore suppressed; and the copy which Rothes had carried in his pocket went into the keeping of Lord Balmerino, a mere dead letter, as it seemed, which his lordship might either put in the fire or keep as a curiosity among his private papers. But it was to be heard of tremendously before long. Charles and Laud had been back in England ten months, and were enforcing the decreed ecclesiastical renovation of Scotland by orders thence, when in June 1634, by the imprudence of one busybody, who had access to Lord Balmerino’s library, and the knavery of another busybody, who transcribed what was shown him in confidence, a copy of the suppressed paper was in the hands of the authorities, and Lord Balmerino, by instructions from London, wras a prisoner in Edinburgh Castie, to await his trial for the kind of treason which the Scottish law called ‘ leasing-making.’ It is with amazement now that a reader of the paper finds that it could ever have been described as an * infamous libel,’ or that a young nobleman could have been in danger of the scaffold for merely possessing it and letting it be accidentally seen. So it was, however; and every reader of Scottish history knows how all Scotland was convulsed from June 1634 to July 1635 by the Balmerino business, how prayers for young Balmerino went up through that whole year from Scottish households, and what a relief it was when, after he had been found guilty by a casting vote in his jury, and so left at the King’s mercy, common sense prevailed at head-quarters and he was released on his good behaviour. Meanwhile, what of Mr. William Haig, the chief culprit? About his doom, had he been caught, there would have been little hesitation; but fortunately, on the eve of Balmerino’s arrest, and after an interview with Balmerino, he had escaped to Holland. One observes with pleasure that he did everything possible for Balmerino’s exculpation and benefit, both before his flight and by letters from his place of refuge, taking on himself the entire responsibility of the authorship of the so-called libel, and behaving altogether in the most manly and high-minded fashion. He never saw Scotland again. Had he lived a few years longer, he might have returned in safety and honour. For to the Balmerino business in Scotland there succeeded the Jenny Geddes insurrection of 1637 on account of the new Service Book, and to that the National Scottish Covenant of 1638, and to that the Glasgow General Assembly of the same year, sweeping Episcopacy out of Scotland root and branch; and then came those wars between Charles and the Scots which were to lead to the calling of the Long Parliament in 1640, and so to the great Revolution. Walking by the sides of the Dutch canals in Groningen, Amsterdam, and Leyden, the man who had done so much to fire this train of political changes did not live to see the consummation. He died in Holland some time in 1639. He is to be remembered as the ablest and most interesting of all the Haigs, and the only one of them that has left an authentic mark of any importance in Scottish political history. Although his name had always been mentioned by Scottish historians in connexion with the Balmerino business, it has been reserved for Mr. Russell to resuscitate him distinctly as an historical personage, and give a clear and full account of him. For no part of his book does Mr, Russell deserve more hearty thanks. We only regret that, while printing so many specimens of Mr. William Haig’s letters, he has not reprinted the once famous Balmerino document.

When William Haig sought refuge in Holland, several of his relatives were already settled there, in commercial employment or in the Dutch service. Among these was his nephew David Haig, one of the younger sons of the disreputable Laird James. By the exertion of great lawyerly skill, made necessary by the outlawry of the refugee and the escheat of his estates, the Bemersyde lairdship, or rather the right to redeem it, was transferred by the good bachelor uncle, three years before his death, to this nephew David. This David Haig, therefore, becomes the twentieth laird of the series. His lairdship extends from 1636 to 1654, or through the time of the Scottish Covenant, the Civil Wars, the annexation of Scotland to the English Commonwealth, and the first year of Cromwell’s Protectorate. Having married a Dutch widow, however, and so formed connexions of property with Holland, David Haig was in no hurry to leave Groningen for his native Berwickshire. When he did return in 1646, with his Dutch wife and three children that had been bora to them in Groningen, he took up his abode in a subordinate house on the Bemersyde estate called ‘The .Thrid,’ the manor-house having been leased out or alienated. Mr. Russell makes a great deal of a certain contract he made with the Bemersyde blacksmith immediately after his settlement at the Thrid, and cannot understand why a trifling agreement of the blacksmith to shoe two of the laird’s horses free every year should have been embodied in a document of such elaborate legal phraseology. We are afraid Mr. Russell has read it in the light of nature, and* can assure him that the form of contract was the commonest thing in the world in the Scotland of those days, and indeed that much of the language that puzzles him may be found in any Scottish letter of caption or arrest for debt issued since the accession of Queen Victoria. After this blacksmith contract, there is little to tell of Laird David, save that two more children were born to him and his stately Dutch lady, and that he had some experience of the English Commonwealth rule in Scotland, in the shape of the billeting upon him of some of Cromwell’s Ironsides and other little troubles of taxation. He was still a comparatively young man at his death in 1654, when he was succeeded by his eldest son, Anthony Haig.

This Anthony Haig, the twenty-first laird, only fifteen years of age at his accession, was laird for the long period of fifty-eight years, or from 1654 to 1712. In other words, after having been one of the Scottish subjects of Oliver’s Protectorate, and having indeed received his title to the Bemersyde estate by writ in Oliver’s name, he saw the Restoration and the re-severance of Scotland from England, lived through the reigns of Charles II., James II., and William and Mary, saw the Union in Queen Anne’s reign, and lived nearly through that reign too. Though a Dutchman born, and half Dutch by blood, he is one of the most intensely and characteristically Scotch of all the lairds of Bemersyde, the most ‘kenspeckle ’ man in the family history after his grand-uncle William, and well worth the pains Mr. Bussell has bestowed on his biography. His life divides itself most remarkably into two parts. In the first part we see him in the extraordinary character of a young, resolute, ecstatic, bull-necked Scottish Quaker. Since 1654, when George Fox himself had preached Quakerism in Scotland, there had been a leaven of Quakerism in the southern Scottish counties, more particularly in the East Border; the leaven had somehow reached the Haig family; and from 1657, when the young laird Anthony was only eighteen years of age, but already by precocious marriage the husband of a Jean Home, a young heiress in his neighbourhood, not only was he a Quaker himself, but others of the family, including his boy-brother William, were zealous for the Quaker tenets. An adequate account of the early Scottish Quakers, or indeed generally of the origin and beginnings of all the various non-Presbyterian or Independent sects that were imported into Scotland in the time of the Commonwealth and Cromwell, is one of the desiderata of Scottish history; and anyone who may take up that subject will find some good material to his hand in Mr. Russell’s information about Anthony Haig in his Quaker days. Till the Restoration, indeed, we hear but vaguely of some small trouble, about tithes and the like, into which his Quakerism brought him with the Presbyterian parish ministers of his vicinity; but after the Restoration he was one of that remarkable band of early Scottish Quakers, most of them ci-devant Cromwellians, of whom Swinton of Swinton, recently Cromwell’s right-hand man in Scotland, was the national chief, while Sir Gideon Scott of Highchester and Walter Scott of Raeburn were of most note in the Borders, and the Aberdeenshire Barclays and Jaffrays in the north. The great novelist Sir Walter, a direct descendant by paternal pedigree from one of those early Scottish Quakers, Scott of Raeburn, had Quaker blood in him also on the maternal side by honourable descent from Swinton of Swinton. Obnoxious to their orthodox Presbyterian countrymen as dangerous fanatics, the Scottish Quakers were objects of persecution also to the prelatic Scottish government of Charles II., and among the records of those rough days some of the most abominable are those which tell of the persecutions and imprisonments of the chief Quakers* Anthony Haig was one of those so singled out. For more than four years, or from the autumn of 1663 to December 1667, he is found, in Mr. Russell’s pages, a prisoner for his Quakerism in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, writing letters thence, in the strain of opaque and mystical piety used by all the early Quakers, to his young wife, who was meanwhile managing affairs for him outside, but had not seen fit to join him in his religious aberration. ‘ Arise, ‘ arise! ’ he writes in one of these letters,6 come forth out of Babylon, dwell no longer in her territories, for a consumption by the God of Heaven is determined against her and her inhabitants. Oh, my dear, come forth—do not tarry; delay no longer in Babylon, beauty ! ’ Though she could not oblige him in this, she contrived to be a good deal with him in his captivity, and to keep matters from going to wreck at Bemersyde. There was a correspondence also with his brother William, who had migrated to London to push his fortunes in business there, and, being still as resolute a Quaker as himself, sent him Quaker books and information about the sufferings of the London Quakers. This William Haig, who seems to have been a most upright man, and who ultimately emigrated to America, carrying his family with him, remained faithful in his Quakerism to the last, and had a son Obadiah who was as faithful; but the same hardly appears of Anthony. Released at last from the Edinburgh Tolbooth in December 1667, when he was only twenty-eight years of age, he appears from that date forward no longer as the religious eccentric and enthusiast, bat as a typical Scottish laird of the shrewdest and ‘ grippiest ’ order, conforming sufficiently to established Kirk usage, and, though evidently with a remnant of Quaker liberalism at bis heart, devoting himself absolutely and exclusively to the management of his family and his property. Veneration for the ancestral traditions of his name and lineage, anxiety to remove all the burdens accumulated on the estate by the misfortunes of the preceding lairdships, and to leave the Haigs of Bemersyde as flourishing as ever they had been—no longer confined to their subordinate dower-house of the Thrid, as they had been for a generation or two, but reinstated in their old manor-house, with added accommodations to suit them, and with the old Spanish chestnut waving in front of them in all its glory—this was his absorbing passion. For this, for forty years, he pinched, he scraped, he toiled, he snarled, he had lawsuits; so that, though we hear of one visit of his during that time to London and Holland, and also of continued correspondence with his Quaker brother, the monuments of his lairdship consist now chiefly in what he built and planted about Bemersyde, and in the masses of account books, business papers, inventories of household goods, and the like, which he has left for the curious. No man ever painted himself more to the life than did Anthony Haig when he penned, in his advanced years, the following memorandum for his posterity:—

I, Anthonie Haig of Bcmersyd, borne on the 9 of February in 1639, in the city of Groningue, besyd Wast Frizland, one of the United Provinces in Holland, procreat betwixt David Haig of Bemersyd and Hibernia Schols, whom he married in the forsaid city, and was a most virtuous lady. Be it known unto my successors, That it is I, the said Anthonie, that repared the Thrid, builded the bame at the’ thorn-tree, made the garden and fish-ponds, planted the planting about the Thrid, except the row at the upper east syd of the garden. These things I write that you may imitate my vertieus, hating my vices, and with me you may endeavour to perpetuate our ancient familie; which is, according to traditione left in our familie, either a familie left of the Pikes [Picts], or upon the subjectione of that kingdoms planted by a familie of the Scots, and ever since continued in our familie from father to sone,—which, pray unto God (for, may continue as long as son and mone endueres, that Thomas Rymores prophecie may hold treue of our familie, which was, Com what will comr tyde what may tyde, a Haig shall he Laird of Bemersyde. Or it was in these words, Whatever happen or hetide9 a Haig shall be Laird of Bemersyde. Moreover, I bought back the Place of Bemersyde, our head house, which for many years had been out of the hands of our fkmaly, which I advise you never to part with, as long as God will blesse you with the injoyment of a furre [furrow] of land: it is your mother-house, and head of your estat and famaly. It was I that reformed the walks of the garden at Bemersyd Place, and made the perks [parks], and planted ail the young planting you see about the place and parks. I also made the green [bowling-green] before the toure door, and removed the stables and barys [byres] that stode betwixt the toure and the garden, and built them new where they now stand at the head or north syde of the old barneyeard, which I made a backe close [court], and made this bameyeard which stands within the parke. I planted all the fruit trees in the garden, except the apple trees which is within the uppermost waster [western] quarter. All those things aforesaid I did betwixt the year 1680 and 1695 by peace-maill at Bemersyd Place; but what’s done at the Thrid* I did before the said time, as ye will find in some of my minifc-bookes. As also I made the volt [vault] a dyning roome, and the sellers below bedchambers; putting upe in the waster gavills [western gables], to the heads, chimlies [chimneys] for that end, two of them to serve two chambers above that wanted chimlies.’

One consequence of Anthony Haig's temporary lapse into Quakerism was that his eldest surviving son, the successor to his estate, bore the incommodious name of Zerubabel. This Zerubabel Haig, the twenty-second laird of the series, was in his fiftieth year at the time of his accession, and, having travelled a little in his youth and read and "thought a good deal, had given evidences of a will of his own in his father’s lifetime. He had rebelled against his father’s tight rule, penuriousness, and eternal harping on the one theme of the greatness of the Haigs; and once, when his father had lectured him in a letter on this ‘ adverse spirit ’ of his, and reminded him ‘ All the earthly honour ye or I can pretend to is that we are corned of the house of Bemersyde,’ he had replied,

As for the honour of being corned of the family, I acknowledge it; but, if I had not been born of it, perhaps God and 4 Nature would have bestowed me upon one as good.’ Evidently his notion was that everybody pre-existed in his own personal essence before being bestowed on any particular family, and that, for himself, if he had not been born a Haig, he might have been bom in a family where they would not have called him Zerubabel. From this piece of his philosophy in his youth we should have expected more originality in his lairdship of Bemersyde than the records exhibit. Though it extended from 1712 to 1732, or from the end of the reign of Queen Anne, through that of George I., and into a portion of that of George II., the substance of what is known of it lies in two facts. One is that he showed decided Jacobite sympathies. The other is that, the eight children born to him before his accession to the lairdship having been all daughters, his lady persisted in giving him still daughter after daughter, till he had twelve altogether. All Tweedside was in consternation over the apparent frustration of the Rhymer’s prophecy; for, though there had been instances before in the family genealogy of breaks in the direct descent from father to son, and though there can have been no lack of collateral Haigs in Scotland, shed off from the main stem in previous generations, the country-people had made up their minds that, if Zerubabel Haig had no son, the Rhymer’s credit would be gone. At last, in 1718, by a thirteenth and final chance, the Lady of Bemersyde did have a son, and the Rhymer’s credit was saved.

We sail now into more modern and commonplace waters. The miraculous thirteenth child of Zerubabel Haig was James Anthony Haig, the twenty-third laird. He was laird from 1732 to 1790, or through the reign of George IL and halfway into that of George III. He was a Jacobite, like his father, and was in some trouble on that account after the ’45, but settled, as Mr. Russell tells us, into an exact reproduction of his grandfather Anthony,’ showing the same carefulness in money matters and an equal punctiliousness in the entry of all his transactions in his note-books.’ One of his business correspondents was Walter Scott, W.S., of Edinburgh, the father of Sir Walter; and Mr. Russell prints a letter to him, of date 1763, from this interesting man. It relates to a lawsuit in which the Bemersyde laira was interested, and presents Scott’s father very much in the character in which Scott described him in the Alan Fairford senior of his Redgauntlet.’ Scott himself, the Alan Fairford junior of that novel, may afterwards have seen and known this twenty-third laird of Bemersyde, his father’s client. At all events, he knew well this laird’s son and successor, Mr. James Zerubabel Haig, who came to the property in 1790, in his thirty-third year, after having been captain in the 93rd Foot and having travelled abroad and visited the Court of Louis XVI. and Marie-Antoinette just before the French Revolution. He was the twenty-fourth laird of Bemersyde; and extracts from his notes of his travels, printed by Mr. Russell, prove him to have been an intelligent and amiable gentleman, of cultivated tastes and habits. It was during his lairdship that Scott settled in Tweedside, first at Ashestiel and then at Abbotsford; and he was in the forty-second year of his lairdship and the seventy-third of his age when Scott and Lockhart took Turner to call on him and make his sketch of Bemersyde House. He outlived Scott eight years, dying in 1840 at the age of eighty-two, and was succeeded by his son, James Haig, an Edinburgh Writer to the Signet. This James Haig, the twenty-fifth laird, continued to practise his profession in Edinburgh, and died in 1854, unmarried. Then, O then ! was the real peril to the Rhymer’s prophecy. For, the only adult brother of this laird having predeceased him, the property was left to his eldest sister, Barbara Haig, then fifty-six years of age and unmarried (the same Miss Haig who appears in Turner’s sketch as walking on Bemersyde lawn with Scott and Lockhart three-and-twenty years before), with descent to her sisters, Mary and Sophia, also elderly maiden ladies. What was to become of Bemersyde after their deaths was a serious matter for local gossip, and the subject now and then of paragraphs in Scottish newspapers. For, to add to the gloom of the outlook, the three ladies, as if sharing in the general regret that there was no male Haig to be laird of Bemersyde after them, had deserted the family mansion, and gone to spend their declining years in Rome, where they lived together in an ancient house known as the Villa Poniatowski, but which they rechristened the Villa Haig. They knew what they were about, however; and in 1878, when the last of them died in Rome, it was found that they had outwitted the popular expectation. Twelve years before that date, while all three were alive, they had executed a joint disposition in legal form by which the last survivor of them was to be succeeded by Arthur Balfour Haig, then a gallant young officer of the Royal Engineers, and equerry to his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. Since 1878, accordingly, this collateral Haig, now Lieutenant-Colonel Haig, C.M.G., has been proprietor of Bemersyde, ranking as the twenty-eighth laird, in consequence of the intervention of Miss Barbara Haig and Miss Sophia Haig between him and the twenty-fifth. By those ladies, and by their sister Mary, who predeceased both, he had been recognised as their ‘ cousin; ’-and Mr. Russell, in an appendix on what he calls the Clackmannanshire branch of the Haigs, which started from the main stem in 1627, traces his descent most elaborately from Robert Haig, the second son of the turbulent and disreputable seventeenth laird, and the brother of the Andrew Haig and the David Haig who were set up by their good lawyer uncle as respectively the eighteenth laird and the twentieth. The pedigree, we hear, is not satisfactory to high genealogical authorities; but this does not affect the fact that, by most valid title, an indubitable Haig, of military rank and independent social distinction, is now Laird of Bemersyde, or the likelihood that in the person of this distinguished laird, now only in the forty-second year of his age, and with a son and heir already born to him, the Rhymer’s prophecy has taken a new lease of life—

*Tyde what may betyde,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde."

It would be ungracious to leave this little metrical heirloom of the Haig family without a word or two as to its probable origin. That it was familiar in the family as long ago as 1695, and then cherished as Thomas the Rhymer’s gift to them, is proved by the proud quotation of it in the autobiographic memorandum of Laird Anthony. The manner of the quotation there implies, indeed, that it was then old, and may refer it to the early part of the seventeenth century, or even to the latter part of the sixteenth. The question is whether it can be referred three centuries farther back still, so as to be heard coming originally from the lips of that Thomas Rymour of Ercildoune who was certainly the friend of Petrus de Haga, the fourth laird, and of John de Haga, the fifth. Mr. Russell, as we have seen, is not inclined to disturb the legend which would accept that extreme antiquity for the couplet. One of the prettiest passages in his book is that where he imagines the circumstances in which the aged Rhymer, standing on a hillside over the Tweed, with John de Haga in his company, some time about 1296, when Scotland was in its thraldom to the English after King Alexander’s death, may have been moved to utter the prophecy. Hardly has Mr. Russell penned this fancy, however, when, as if half ashamed of it, he cancels it by adding that it does not matter in the least whether it is true or not. With Mr. Russell’s good leave, we cannot so rapidly dismiss the legend. The Haigs of Bemersyde are a very interesting family, but we care a thousand times more about Thomas the Rhymer.

Besides the real existence of such a man in the south of Scotland between 1220 and 1296, and the incidental fact of his acquaintance with the De Hagas, it seems certain that he had the reputation of a poet in his lifetime, and was known as the poet-laird of Ercildoune. If we venture on a still more modern form of speech, and call him the first Scottish man of letters and the father of Scottish literature, we shall probably not be far wrong. He is mentioned in this character of a Scottish minstrel or trouvere by the North English writer, Robert De Brunne, who was his junior contemporary; and, though it is uncertain whether De Brunne means to ascribe to him the metrical romance of6 Sir Tristrem,’ which is mentioned in the same passage as incomparably the best of the romances of that generation, and still more uncertain whether the romance of ‘ Sir Tristrem ’ there referred to is the same which Scott published in 1804 from a manuscript of the fourteenth century, ascribing it positively to the Rhymer, there can be no doubt that specimens of the Rhymer’s poetical handiwork were once extant. All the same, the evidence purports that Thomas of Ercildoune was not regarded in his own lifetime as only a poet or trouvere, but combined with this character, as was natural in his age and country, something of the character of a seer or prophet, learned in all previous prophetic lore, and especially Cymric and Arthurian lore, and practising the oracular form in his own utterances. At all events, this is the character in which he was chiefly remembered, not in Scotland only, but also throughout England, from the time of his death to the union of the crowns. Through those three centuries, his mere poetical reputation gradually waning, he was in all men’s minds and in all men’s mouths in both kingdoms a& the prophet of the international wars, and of the relations between Scotland and England. Nowhere is the chain of mentions of him and the continuity of the massive tradition about him in this character more clearly or impressively made out than in Dr. Murray’s introduction to his edition, from four English manuscripts of the early part of the fifteenth century, of * The f Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune.’ He shows that in that extraordinary book, which consists first of the fine story of the abduction of the Rhymer by the Queen of Elfland, and then of a rougher medley of those prophecies of Scottish events, from the Battle of Falkirk in 1298 to the Battle of Otterbourne in 1388, which the Queen of Elfland gave to the Rhymer as her parting gift on his restoration to the upper world, there is a compilation and reduction into form of all the floating legends about Thomas, and all the prophecies that had been fathered upon him, as far as to about the year 1400. Thence onward, Dr. Murray shows, as new international events happened, and new battles were fought, such as Flodden and Pinkie, they were still fitted to supposed prophecies by the Rhymer, until, in 1603, when there was put forth at Edinburgh the popular printed chap-book of ‘ The 4 whole Prophecie of Scotland, England, and some part of ‘ France and Denmark,’ by all the famous seers of the British Islands, the compendium there given of Thomas Rymour’s prophecies in particular brought down events to that very year, by including one that could be construed as predicting the union of the crowns in James VI. In that splendid hit, immensely talked of at the time both in England and in Scotland, the fame of the Rhymer in his character of the Scottish Merlin, or prophet of the international struggle, may be said to have expired in a final flash. From 1603, if not from some time beiore, his occupation in this character was gone. The international struggle was then over at last, and VOL. CLV. NO. CCCXVIII. N N either the ghost of the Rhymer must be laid to rest, or some other occupation must be found for it. Accordingly, though there is just a trace of its attempted reappearance in connexion with the Jacobite insurrections, and although, of course, the beautiful legend of Thomas of Ercildoune and the Queen of Elfland still survived for repetition in metrical ballads, the occupation found for the venerable ghost, so far as it was really operative at all after the beginning of the seventeenth century, was no longer that of the great international Merlin, but that of the putative father of all stray popular proverbs and petty prophet of local occurrences. As scattered steel filings leap to a magnet, so, through the seventeenth century and even into the eighteenth, all wise sayings of unknown parentage, and all unclaimed scraps of verse about Scottish places or Scottish families, were apt to fasten themselves upon the Rhymer. Perhaps the very best of all the waifs that thus became his is this anticipation of the essence of the Malthusian philosophy:—

‘The waters shall wax, the woods shall wane,
Hill and moss shall be torn in,
But the bannock will never be braider.’

It needs no very acute taste in antiquity to detect the flavour of the eighteenth century, or at earliest the seventeenth, in this aphorism. Hardly older can this be:—

‘York was; London is; but Edinburgh shall be The biggest o’ the three; ’

or even this:—

‘At Eildon tree if you shall be,
A brig owe Tweed you there may see.’

The conclusion, therefore, may be that the two prophecies of the Rhymer with which we have had most to do here—that about the desertion of his own hearthstone at Ercildoune and that about the eternity of the Haigs of Bemersyde—were among the waifs fathered upon him early in the seventeenth •century or late in the sixteenth. The motto of the Haig family, one observes, in use in the seventeenth century, was Come what will or Tyde what may. Was the motto taken from the prophecy, or did some clever fellow invent the prophecy out of the motto?

The Haigs of Bemersyde: a Family History
By John Russell (1881)



This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus