[Scotland Illustrated Contents]
THE lands of Dairsie, on the north bank of the Eden, in Fifeshire, were anciently held by the Dairseys of that Ilk, under the bishops of St. Andrews; the office of bailies and admirals of the regality of St. Andrews being also held by them. This family ended in an heiress, who marrying a younger son of Learmonth of Ercledon in Berwickshire, brought to him the lands of Dairsie, and the heritable offices attached to them. This family of Learmonth is understood to have been descended from Thomas the Rhymer, the earliest of our Scottish poets, who flourished during the reign of Alexander III., and who, according to Sir Walter Scott, was the author of the metrical romance of ‘Sir Tristrem.’ In a note to his introduction to that romance, Sir Walter says: “In removing and arranging some ancient papers, lodged in the offices of the clerks of session, the following genealogical memoir was discovered, among many writings belonging to the family of Learmonth of Balcomy, which is now extinct. It is in the handwriting of the 17th century. ‘The genealogy of the honourable and ancient Sirname of Leirmont. Leirmont beares Or, on a chevron, S, three mascles voided of the first; the name is from France. The chief of the name was the laird of Ersilmont in the Merse, whose predecessor, Thomas Leirmonth (lived) in the reigne of K. Alexander III. He foretold his death. One of whose sons married Janet de Darsie, and had the lands of Darsie in Fife, be that marriage; the contract is yet extant confirmed be the king. The house of Darsie bear a rose in base for difference. It is now extinct; only Leirmont of Balcomie in Fife is chief now; whose predecessor was master of howshold to King James IV. His predecessor was the eldest son of Darsie, and took to himselfe the estate of Balcomie, leaving Darsie to the second brother. Upon this account, Balcomie bears the simple coat without the rose in base, since the distinction of Dairsie.
They have been famous, learned, good and great;
Which Maronean style could never rate.’ “
In this younger branch of the family of Learmonth, the lands of Dairsie, with the heritable offices, continued till they were acquired by Lord Lindsay of the Byres in the reign of James VI. They were afterwards purchased, during the reign of Charles I., by John Spottiswoode, archbishop of St. Andrews; but the heritable offices remained with the family of Lindsay, after they became earls of Crawford, until the abolition of heritable jurisdictions in 1748. Archbishop Spottiswoode rendered himself very obnoxious to the Presbyterians, from the exertions he made for the introduction of Episcopacy into Scotland; but he was a great favourite with James VI. and Charles I. He was admitted an extraordinary lord-of-session in 1610; and was appointed lord-high-chancellor of Scotland in 1635. As archbishop of St. Andrews, he had the honour of crowning Charles I. at Holyrood in 1633. He retired to England in 1638, in consequence of his fears of personal violence, during the opposition made to the introduction of the liturgy, and died there in December 1639, having been excommunicated by the general assembly of the Scottish church a few days previously. He was a man of great genius, learning, and prudence; but he was thrown upon evil times, and suffered much affliction towards the close of his life. He was the author of ‘The History of the Reformation of the Church of Scotland,’ of which several editions have been published. The archbishop’s eldest son, Sir John Spottiswoode, succeeded to the estate of Dairsie, and was one of the gentlemen of the bed-chamber to James VI. His only son, John Spottiswoode, was a firm adherent of Charles I. He was a young man of great talent and bravery, and having joined Montrose was taken with him, tried, condemned, and executed for high treason in 1650. Sir Robert Spottiswoode, the archbishop’s second son, was appointed privy councillor, and, in 1622, an extraordinary lord-of-session, under the title of Lord Newabby. In 1626, he was appointed an ordinary lord-of-session; and, in 1633, lord-president of the court. As, like his father, he was obnoxious to the Covenanters, on their rising he fled into England, where he remained till the king’s second visit to Scotland. In 1643, he was appointed secretary-of-state, and as such, passed the commission appointing Montrose to be his majesty’s lieutenant in Scotland, with which he instantly proceeded himself to the north and delivered it to Montrose. He was taken prisoner shortly after the battle of Philiphaugh, and carried to St. Andrews, where he was tried for high treason, found guilty, and beheaded on the 16th January, 1646, at the market-cross of that city.
In consequence of these misfortunes, the estate of Dairsie was sold, and purchased by a family of the name of Morrison. the estate subsequently became the property of the earl of Elgin, by whom they were sold to the late General Scott of Balcomy. His daughter, then marchioness of Titchfield, sold the whole in 1801 to Sir James Gibson Craig, then Mr. Gibson, who in 1808 sold Dairsie to Henry Trail, Esq., in whose family it now remains.
The old castle of Dairsie was anciently a place of considerable consequence, and during the reign of David II. was, from its strength and retired situation, selected by the regents of the kingdom as the seat of a parliament, which met in 1335, from which much good to the country was expected; but which, from the mutual animosities among the nobles, ended in no beneficial result. In the year 1575, says Sir James Balfour in his annals, “Lord Thone Hamilton,” son of the Duke of Chatelherault, “ryding to Aberothocke, accompanied onlie with his ordinary traine, (for he held himselffe secured by the pacification,) was persewed by William Douglas of Lochlewin, quho did lay with a number in his way, of intention to kill him, as he was refreshing himselffe at Coupar; bot being adwertised of the danger, he escaped to the house of Darsey, quher he was receaved. Lochlewin belayed the housse all that night and to-morrow, untill a herauld of armes, from the counsell, sumond him to dissolve his forces; for which insolency, and refussing to keep the peace, he excepting still the murder of his brother, the earle of Murray, the regent; bot he was committed to the castle of Edinburgh, quher he remained till surety was given.”* The castle – which was considerably enlarged and improved, if not altogether rebuilt by Archbishop Spottiswoode – is beautifully situated upon the summit of a high bank above the river Eden. It is greatly dilapidated, but a portion is still nearly of the original height; and what remains is now carefully preserved by the proprietor. The bank is ornamented with wood, and the immediate neighbourhood of the old building planted with flowers and shrubbery. A short distance from the castle, the archbishop erected a church for the use of the parish. It is an elegant building, with beautiful pointed windows, and a handsome spire rising from the south-west corner; it is still in good preservation, has lately undergone considerable repairs, and forms the present parish-church. Both these buildings are seen in the accompanying engraving, the view being taken from the low ground to the south, on the opposite bank of the river Eden. Archbishop Spottiswoode also built a bridge across the Eden at this place, which though narrow is still a useful and handsome structure.