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THE ANNALS OF FORDOUN., J. Paton (Mar., 1895), pp.136-140.

“HERE we have, set forth in a most homely and unpretentious manner, a rich store of material for a picturesque parish history.1 The compilation is nothing more than a reprint from the columns of a provincial newspaper, to which a useful parish map has been added; and with only a brief allusion to prehistoric remains and Roman times, Dr. Cramond proceeds to cull his extracts in chronological sequence from the year when St. Palladius introduced Christianity to the Picts of Fordoun parish down to the jubilee of the Free Kirk minister in 1894. The materials for a history Dr. Cramond has collected with the patience, zeal, and discrimination of an accomplished antiquary, and it is a pity that, qualified as he is for the undertaking, he has not taken the trouble to edit his work and bring it out in a worthy form. Dr. Cramond indeed obtrudes himself far too little in the text, the significance of which would, in many instances, have been enhanced to the popular reader by an explanatory remark. 

Fordoun on Dr. Cramond’s showing is a remarkable parish with a history which, at several points, rises to national importance. Situated towards the eastern extremity of the great Howe of the Mearns, its north-west boundary is the water-shed of the spur of the Grampians which there divides the Lowland Howe from the Highland Deeside. That boundary runs to the top of the Mounth or Cairn-o-mounth, a historical hill over which an ancient road is carried which formed, in earlier days, an important and somewhat troublesome line of communication between Deeside and the Mearns. The parish name testifies to the road – Fordoun = Fother dun; the hill road; and similarly the name of the contiguous parish of Fettercairn, which also gives access to the Mounth or Cairn road, is based on the same connection – Fother Cairn, the Cairn road. At this pass Malcolm, King of Scots, is said to have been slain in battle. Near it also, “on the moorland plain at the foot of the Mounth,” his own son Kenneth III. was treacherously murdered to avenge the death of the son of Finella, daughter of the mormaer or lord of the Mearns, whose name and deed are commemorated in Strathfinella hill in the parish. The violent death of another monarch, Duncan II., within the parish is commemorated by a large upright monolith on the farm of Mondynes; and the claim to be the scene of the death of the earlier king Donald II. lies between Fordoun and Dunotter (Dun Fother). To be the scene of the death of four Pictish and Saxon monarchs is not given to every parish. 

Into this parish came, early in the fifth century, the papal missionary of Pope Celestine, St. Palladius, and, labouring among the Pictish natives, he was more successful than he had been in Ireland. In the kirkyard of Fordoun there still stands an erection known as the chapel of Sr. Palladius, over the humble doorway of which a recent incumbent of the parish inserted a slab, asserting, with more daring than prudence, that it was erected A.D. 432. To this day there is yearly held the Fair of St. Palladius, shortened to Paldy Fair, which was granted in 1554 by Queen Mary to her familiar friend Robert Beittoun of Creich in instituting the burgh of Fordoun, “which town lies at the foot of the Mounth,”… “where the Queen’s lieges coming over the said Mounth have received entertainment.” 

Within the parish stood the Castle or Palace of Kincardine, an important royal residence which existed in the time of William the Lion, and to which extensive hunting and sporting parks were attached. Outside its gates was the town of Kincardine, which gave to the county its name and for long was the seat of county jurisdiction; but now not a trace of that burgh is to be found, its only remaining memorial being a small portion of an ancient graveyard in which two or three gravestones may still be seen. Among the retainers of the royal castle of Kincardine was the King’s Falconer. We meet the name of Falconer in the parish records so early as the middle of the thirteenth century. The family received extensive grants of land, part of which they continued to hold down to the present generation, when the Earl of Kintore – the present representative of the line – sold his estate of Glenfarquhar. Of these Falconers one became a Lord of Session under the title of Lord Halkerton, and in 1647 he was raised to the Scottish peerage as Baron Falconer of Halkerton, a title still possessed by Lord Kintore. His nephew Sir David Falconer of Newton was Lord President, and a third Falconer, Sir James of Phesdo (1648-1705), an eminent lawyer, also became a Lord of Session under the title of Lord Phesdo. Of this gifted race came also David Hume, philosopher and historian, who was a grandson of Lord President Falconer. Still another Fordoun man adorned the judicial bench and attained a reputation which extended far beyond the walls of the Parliament House. James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, was the head of an ancient family within the parish, originally a scion of the Irvines of Drum; and at Monboddo House he was visited by Dr. Johnson in 1773.  

Among the men of mark produced by the parish a foremost place may be given to George Wishart, the first protestant martyr of Scotland. He was of the ancient family the Wisharts of Pitarrow, whose record in the parish goes back to the beginning of the thirteenth century. William, second son of John Wischard Vice Comes de Mernez, was Chancellor of the Kingdom in 1256, and in 1270 he was preferred to the Bishopric of Glasgow and simultaneously to the metropolitan see of St. Andrews. Robert* his nephew, the next Bishop of Glasgow, was the great patriot Bishop who bearded the Pope, defied Edward I., and at last was carried off into England, whence he was returned a blind broken-down man, a martyr to his country’s cause. Of this sturdy Pitarrow race was George Wishart, a man of piety, learning, and courage. Cardinal Beaton, who persecuted him to the death and saw his dying agonies, was also not unconnected with the parish. The Beatons of Creich held property contiguous to Pitarrow, and it is interesting to read that the Cardinal himself, as Abbot of Arbroath, was superior of the lands held by the Wisharts, and that, while he was pursuing George to the death, he was granting deeds of infeftment to other members of his family. The Wisharts held Pitarrow till 1631, when it passed into the hands of the Carnegies, now represented by the Earl of Southesk. And to leap forward to the great men of our own day, it is surely no small distinction that, among the many places which claim connection with that “pure Scotchman,” the Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone, Fordoun falls to be numbered. In 1829 his father Sir John Gladstone acquired Fasque, partly in the parish, and subsequently he added to it much Fordoun land. Dr. Cramond might also have noted that from that district, if separated from the parish by a burn, went forth the man who became the father of Robert Burns, and that still not a few members of the stately and handsome Burness or Burns family reside in the parish. In the “Roll of Fame” of the parish of Fordoun – a truly parochial list of men of the present generation who, natives of Fordoun, have enjoyed a University training – there are two at least who can claim to be of the Burness family. That list, which embraces forty names, contains two who have reached the dignity of LL.D. Four M.D., one D.D., and many clergymen, teachers, and others of professional rank. We admit, with Dr. Cramond, that it is “a record any parish may be proud of.” 

The points we have noted and many others which could be cited make it abundantly clear that the parish of Fordoun has a history well worthy of being written. It yet remains a comparatively homogeneous community, little affected by immigration, and having within its borders many representatives of its primitive inhabitants. Dr. Cramond has, with much labour and care, brought together the dry bones of a parochial history; if he could now work his material into form, and, with true historical instinct, picture the life of his parish, he would make a notable addition to the permanent records of the nation. Dr. Cramond’s comments, elucidatory or otherwise, we have already hinted, are but brief and rarely interposed. They exhibit, however, a pretty and caustic humour, but we grieve to say they are not always framed on elegant models; and it is to be hoped that some of the gramma may not come under the notice of the schoolboys of Cullen. His fourth sentence reads: “The circle on the Herscha was twenty-five yards in diameter, and consisted of six large boulders.” And, continuing, he remarks: “This has been absurdly called a ‘Druidical circle,’ for it was burial places that such in all likelihood were.” On page 18 there occurs the following smart and characteristic sentence: “On the authority of Mr. Jervise, Dr. Marshall and others, David II. visited Kincardine in 1375 and again in 1383 (but as he died in 1370, it can only have been as a shade [ghost]; details, therefore, need not be given.)” Now, if David II. really had the authority of Jervise and others to make these visits, they must have been paid at a much later period than any of the years quoted; and it is consequently a pity that details are withheld. Curiously, a few lines further on the same solecism again occurs: “On the authority of the New Statistical Account (1835-37), John of Fordoun was either a native of the parish or resided in it when he wrote his history of Scotland.”… “A recent writer on this parish (1893) gives what he calls a quotation from Bede as follows:- ‘Venerabilis vir Dominus Joannes Fordun, Presbyter.’ [The venerable John Fordun, Priest]” “It militates a little,” comments Dr. Cramond, “against the value of this evidence that Bede happened to live upwards of six centuries before John de Fordun.” The fact that the sanction to the parochial settlement of John of Fordun by the Statistical Account writer was, according to Dr. Cramond, given five centuries after the lifetime of the chronicler, also “militates a little against” its value. These circumstances notwithstanding, we are, as regards Fordun, unprepared to admit with Dr. Cramond that “no argument as to his birthplace can be founded on his name, any more than can be done from a person’s name at the present day.” Surnames were, undoubtedly, well established by Fordun’s time, but only in the case of great families, and they were not common among the general population. Dr. Cramond should know that an important and respectable portion of the community in his own country – the fisher folk – were practically without surnames till the present century. The strong presumption is that “John of Fordun” indicates either a natal or an ecclesiastical connection with the district. We might also direct Dr. Cramond’s attention to his genealogical statements, which surely could be made clearer. In some of them he would be a wise son who could recognise his own father.” 



1 THE ANNALS OF FORDOUN: being Extracts from Records relating to the affairs of the Parish of Fordoun from the earliest times to the year 1894. By W. Cramond, A.M., LL.D., F.S.A. Scot., Schoolmaster of Cullen. Montrose: Printed at the “Standard” office, 1894. 
* “The affectionate sympathy expressed by the king for the bishop would serve to give us some insight into his character, even if the history of Robert Wischart were not so well known. ‘We feel in our heart as we ought,’ says Bruce, ‘the imprisonments and chains, the persecutions and vexatious delays which the venerable father Robert, Bishop of Glasgow, has endured, and still endures with patience, for the rights of the church and of our kingdom of Scotland.’ Bruce, the mirror of chivalry, felt no horror of the churchman’s breaches of promise. It was a time when strong opposition on the one side, made the other almost forget the laws of good faith and humanity. Our bishop did homage to the Suzerain [feudal overlord], and transgressed it; he swore fidelity over and over again to the King of England, and as often broke his oath. He kept no faith with Edward. He preached against him; and, when the occasion offered, he buckled on his armour like a Scotch baron, and fought against him. But let it not be said he changed sides as fortune changed. When the weak Balliol renounced his allegiance to his over-lord, the Bishop, who knew both, must have divined to which side victory would incline; and yet he opposed Edward. When Wallace, almost single-handed, set up the standard of revolt against the all-powerful Edward, the Bishop of Glasgow immediately joined him. When Robert Bruce, friendless and a fugitive, raised the old war-cry of Scotland, the indomitable Bishop supported him.” – ‘Sketches of Early Scotch History‘, C. Innes (1861),  pp.49-50.
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