WHEN we first meet with written records connected with the district beyond Spey, it had recently been the scene of a notable revolution. Successive rebellions of the native population of the plain of Moray, in support, apparently, of a claim of their Maormors of hereditary chiefs to the throne, had been suppressed with much rigour; and our old historians tell us, the whole people had been driven out, and the land given to strangers. Putting a very limited confidence in those authors, and making due deduction from the improbable story of an entire transmigration, we yet find sufficient evidence of great changes of people and polity. The influx of southerns, which was so remarkable a feature of Scotch civilisation from the reign of Malcolm Canmore downward, set most strongly over the wheat-growing plain of Moray, and before the end of the thirteenth century Celtic tenures and customs had disappeared; all the great lords of the soil, all the Crown vassals, all the recorded benefactors of the Church, were unmistakably Normans or Saxons, holding their lands for military service.
It is in that century that we have first evidence of a general valuation of land, the property of subjects, evidently as the measure of public imposts; while the lands held by the Crown in property were also valued and entered at a fixed rent in the King’s Rental. Many of these Crown lands were held by tenants with no feudal or written title, yet not to be removed arbitrarily, whose rights and burdens were ascertained by the Rental. They seem to have been often of the native stock, and very likely continued to hold as Crown tenants what their forefathers had possessed under their native lords. Their leaders, or the more important of them, in time sought to imitate the southern fashion, and obtained permanent rights to their land, though different from the feudal or military holding, and without evading the payment or rent. The administrator of the Crown lands, the collector of rents, the magistrate and head man of a little district, known among his Celtic neighbours as the “Toshach,” took a charter of the whole district from the Sovereign, whereby he became, under the Saxon name of Thane, hereditary tenant, paying the sum at which the land stood in the King’s Rental, and preserving all his ancient authority now strengthened and legalized.1 In this manner it fell that the Saxon title of Thane became common, chiefly in the north, and in the least Saxon part of Scotland, but it does not follow that the title expressed exactly the same rank and dignity with the English title of Thane.
One of our ancient codes of customary law was specifically abrogated by the famous Ordinance of Edward I., A.D. 1305, had for its object that which was common to all the northern codes – to estimate the grades of society, and the penalties to be paid for injuring each. There, after the King’ comes the Earl. The Thane ranks equal with the Earl’s son. The Cro of an Earl of Scotland, or of a son of the King, is seven score and ten cows. The Cro of an Earls’ son, or of a Thane, is one hundred cows; and, passing some intermediate grades, the Cro of a Villeyn or Carl is sixteen ky. The same proportion is preserved in the penalties for the slaughter, committed in the peace of our lord the King, of an Earl, or of a Thane; and in like manner the Thane is ranked with the Earl’s son in estimating the galnes, enach, and gelchach – the Celtic shapes of the “rectitudines singularum personarum.”2
But whatever was their rank, the office or dignity of Thane was not uncommon. Rarely met with in the south, Thanedoms are found mostly in Angus and Mearns and the northern shires down to the Moray Firth. We must not expect to find them in the fertile plains of the Lowlands, which were speedily and entirely occupied by the southern settlers, become feudal Barons; nor yet in the inner fastnesses of the mountains, where the Celtic institutions unmodified, excluded the Saxon title or office. But along the borders that separated the races, along the southern foot of the Grampian hills, through the Braes of Angus and Mearns, in the hilly skirts of Aberdeen and Banff, where the Sovereign had established his dominion, imperfectly it may be, but had not driven out the native people, we find numerous Thanes and lands held in Thanage. In the narrow country between Findhorn and the Nairn we have four, some of them of very limited extent.3
In rank, the northern Thane held nearly the same place as that fixed in the customs of Strathclyde. We find him in these documents subordinate to the great Earls of Ross, and evidently at least equal with Barons holding of the Crown by feudal service.4
All we know of the early tenure of Cawdor is learnt from the charter of Robert I., 1310, which, in granting the Thanedom to William, Thane of Cawdor, in heritage, for twelve marks, to be paid in exchequer yearly, and the former services, sets forth that the lands were held in thanage of the Crown, on the same conditions (and evidently by the same family), in the time of King Alexander III., who finished his long reign in 1285.5
We may conjecture, with sufficient probability, that Donald, Thane of Cawdor, who was one of the inquest on the extent of Kilravock and Geddes in 1295, had died recently before the granting of King Robert’s charter to Thane William. We know that Thane William lived to have a son, also named William, in manhood and acting along with himself, about 1350.6
The latter William was succeeded by Andrew, at whose death we become somewhat acquainted with the state of the family and its possessions. As we cannot name the first Celtic chieftain who consented to change his style of Toshach and his patriarchal sway for the title and stability of King’s Thane of Cawdor, so it is impossible to fix the precise time when their other ancient property and offices were acquired. But on 11th July 1405, we find Donald, Thane of Cawdor, succeeding, by formal process of law, to his father, Thane Andrew, who died last vest and seised in the offices of hereditary sheriff of the shire, and constable of the royal castle of Nairn. The family had now also acquired, from an unknown source,7 one half of the lands of Dunmaglass, to which Thane Donald soon added the other half, purchased from the family of Menzies. Now, however, the tenure of the Thanedom, and of the other hereditary offices, held in the time of Robert Bruce immediately of the Sovereign, was changed. By one of those exertions of power, which the Scotch Parliament soon declared unconstitutional, the Earls of Ross had been interposed between the Crown and its vassals over a great district of the north; and when Thane Donald succeeded, his investiture flowed not from the King, but from his brother Robert Duke of Albany (afterwards Regent), who styles himself lord of the ward of Ross, which he held as grandfather of the young Countess Eufam, who became a nun. It was only on the forfeiture of John of the Isles and Earl of Ross in 1475, that the Thanage, much increased in territory, became again and permanently a Crown holding.
Thane Donald added to the family possessions the level fields of Moy, near Forres, the half lands of Dunmaglass already mentioned, the lands of Little Urchany, closely adjoining his hereditary Thanage, and some roods in the burgh of Nairn. We know nothing more of him except that he must have given his son an education unusual among laymen at that time, to qualify him for the offices he held under the Crown.8
When William the son of Donald succeeded to his father in 1442, King James II. was only eleven years old. The Douglases, already too powerful for the Crown, had set their desires upon the Earldom of Moray, and were not scrupulous as to the mode of acquiring it. The great territory, reaching from sea to sea, which Bruce had erected into an Earldom for his nephew, Thomas Randolph, had passed into less vigorous hands. The line of Dunbar had terminated in two daughters of Earl James, and the Douglases had secured the marriage of Elizabeth the younger. To have the younger daughter preferred in the succession, and to give her husband, Archibald Douglas, the estate and dignity of Earl of Moray, were steps that seemed ordinary administration where a Douglas was concerned, and hardly a voice was raised against them. During that factious and turbulent minority, Archibald Earl of Moray found time to attend to his northern territory. He restored and strengthened the old keep of Lochindorb, once the head castle of the Lordship of Badenoch, and rendered famous by the siege it sustained when the Countess of Athol held it out for a whole winter against the Regent Andrew Moray, till relieved by Edward III. in person. He rendered the forest castle or Darnaway defensible, but his great operations for restoring or building the castle and hall were still in progress at the time of his downfall. When he rushed with his brothers into open rebellion, and fell at Arkinholme in 1455, the special charge on which his lands were escheat to the Crown was, “pro munitione et fortificatione castrorum de Lochindorb et Tarnua contra Regem.”9
Before the downfall of the Douglases and the consequent revolution in Moray, William Thane of Cawdor seems to have enjoyed some office about the Court and the King’s person. In the Crown license for building and fortifying his castle of Cawdor, in 1454, the King, then twenty-three years old, designates him as his loved familiar squire (dilectus familiaris scutifer noster). That was the year of the great Douglas rebellion; and on its termination and the death of Archibald Earl of Moray, and Thane of Cawdor was employed in fixing the rental and managing the estates in the north which had fallen to the Crown by those events.
In 1457, the Thane of Cawdor and Mr. Thomas Carmichael, canon of Moray, held jointly the office of King’s chamberlains beyond Spey, and rendered their accounts of the whole income and expense connected with the Crown property of that district, at Linlithgow, on the 19th of July of that year. The ancient Crown Rentals of Scotland are all lost; and the local antiquary must look to these accounts for the earliest notices of the division and occupation of property and the condition of the country. He will know how to value fifteenth century lists of Crown and Earldom lands, with their rental stated, and often their produce in kind. In the expense side, he will find minute details of repairing the Royal Castle of Inverness; information regarding the property of the great Earldom; corrections for the pedigree of Lovat; particulars of many interesting families, as De Insulis, several Dunbars, the Lindsays – two Dowager-Countesses of Crawfurd drawing tierce of Strathnairn, and a Countess of Moray, re-married to Sir John Ogilvie of Luntrethin, allowed her widow’s third of the Earldom rents.
Church foundations are often our oldest memorials of historical events. Out of these Earldom rents, payments were due to several chaplains celebrating in the Cathedral at Elgin. Among them are five chaplains of St. Thomas the Martyr, founded by Earl Thomas Randolph, and confirmed by his uncle King Robert; and one endowed by King Alexander II. for the soul of King Duncan – “the gracious Duncan” – who, Fordun says, died at Elgin.
The same accounts bring us acquainted with the private life of James II., and fill up partially a gap of several years left entirely blank by our historians. As soon as the rout of Arkinholme and the fall of Abercorn Castle (1455) had marked the entire suppression of the Douglas rebellion, the King seems to have turned his attention to establishing order and authority in the north, and especially in the great earldom which Archibald Douglas had forfeited with his life.
It is evident that the King was himself active in the work of civilisation. He held courts of justice; directed a new rentalling of the earldom, which he bestowed upon his infant son David;10 took up his residence sometimes at Inverness, sometimes at Elgin. While at the latter rural city, he claimed the hospitality of the Bishop in his castle of Spynie, or found lodging for his little court in the College, in the manse of Mr. David Stewart, parson of Duffus, who was then employed, along with the Thane of Cawdor, in the administration of the earldom.11 While the King was residing there, and the parson of Duffus absent probably on some embassy,12 the manse was accidentally set on fire, with some of the homely fare provided for the royal larder;13 and either to remedy that disaster, or to give additional accommodation for the unusual guests of the little dwelling, a new kitchen was built at the king’s expense. It was not only for state business and holding of justice courts that the young king stayed in Moray. He felt the fascination of the country, and took means to enjoy it, The castle of Lochindorb, a formidable Norman fortress in a moorland loch, which had been fortified against his authority by Douglas, he doomed to destruction, and employed the Thane of Cawdor to demolish it.14 But he chose Darnaway for his own hunting-seat – as old Thomas Randolph had done a century before – and completed the extensive repairs and new erections which the Douglas Earl had begun. The massive beams of oak, and solid structure of the roof of the new work described in these accounts, are still in part recognisable in the great hall at Darnaway, which popular tradition, ever leaning towards a fabulous antiquity, ascribes to Earl Randolph, but which is certainly of this period. Here for two seasons the king enjoyed the sport of the chase. Great territories on both sides the river were thrown out of cultivation for the sport, and the tenants sat free of rent while their lands were waste.15 What was the manner of the hunting we are not informed. The sport of hawking, indeed, might well be enjoyed on the river bank at Darnaway;16 but hawking could not require a whole district to be laid waste. The fox was not of old esteemed a beast of chase in Scotland, nor perhaps so early in England. The wolf was trapped and speared and done to death as vermin. There is no doubt the king’s chief game was the red deer, the natives of those hills; and it is probable that the hart was shot with arrows, and hunted down with the old rough greyhound, still known among us as the deer-hound, and until lately in Ireland as the wolf-dog, with such help of slower dogs of surer scent as the country could afford; for the English “hound” was hardly known in old Scotland. But “riding up to hounds,” or riding at all, must have been very partially used among the peat-mosses and rocks of the upper valley of the Findhorn.
It may be fairly conjectured that Thane William’s public employments were the source of his prosperity. His building of the castle, large additions to the family estates, making a very opulent marriage for his heir,17 point him out as the person who raised the family to that position which it maintained, with little change, for several centuries.
“The Thanes of Cawdor,” writes Lachlan Shaw, “as Constables of the King’s house, resided in the Castle of Nairn, and had a country seat at what is now called Old Cawdor, a half mile north from the present seat. There they had a house on a small moat, with a dry ditch, and a drawbridge, the vestiges whereof are to be seen.” The remains at Old Cawdor – in the midst of the flat alluvial plain – have only finally disappeared within the memory of the present generation:- “The tower,” writes Shaw, speaking of the present castle, “stands between two courts of buildings. Tradition beareth that the Thane was directed in a dream to build the tower round a hawthorn-tree, firm and sound, growing out of the rock, and reaching to the top of the vault. Strangers are brought to stand round it, each one to take a chip of it, and then to drink to the hawthorn-tree, i.e., ‘Prosperity to the Family of Calder.’ This house, with spacious enclosures, fine gardens, a park of red deer, and a large wood close by the house, make a grand and delightful seat.” Shaw omits, perhaps advisedly, part of the legend, which is yet vouched by the constant tradition of the castle – how the Thane resolved to build a tower of fence, but hesitating as to its site, was admonished in a dream to bind the coffer containing his treasure he had collected for the purpose on an ass; to set the animal free, and to build his tower wherever it stopped; how the treasure-laden ass stopped exactly at “the third hawthorn-tree,” and how the castle was there built accordingly. The “first and second hawthorn trees,” which stood within a hundred yards of the castle, fell within the last forty years, bearing the marks of extreme old age. Even those who are sceptical enough to question the mythical history must confess that the tree is still standing rooted in the castle vault, and that beside it lies the coffer, albeit no longer full of gold or silver.
William Thane of Cawdor, the son of the builder of the tower, was, like his father, a lettered man, and he fell on a time when learning was in repute in the north – when an Earl of Huntly was Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and when barons were ordained by Act of Parliament to put their eldest sons ot grammar schools. He added to the estates of the family by marriage and purchase. He changed the base tenure of his estates into a Crown holding, attended to his affairs in person, docqueting important papers with his own hand. He was familiar with forms of law and legal instruments. Now was the time of quarrels with neighbours, quarrels at law and against law, and laborious treaties of peace, arbitrations about marches, and those strange contracts of marriage where parties arranged the nuptial happiness of their children before they were born. Through all, the family continued to prosper. The Thane’s own first marriage was apparently very fortunate, and perhaps also his second, with the widow of Kinnaird of Culbin. Not so the long premeditated marriage of his son, that was meant to heal the differences between the houses of Cawdor and Kilravock.
On account of some personal defect, the Thane’s eldest son William was set aside (put from all his lands and heritage), with a pension until he should obtain a church benefice, and with the sheriffship and constabulary, which were probably held inalienable from the heir-male; and John, the second son, was to be invested in the whole heritage of his family, “as sicker as men’s wit can devise,” and married to Isabella the Ross of Kilravock. The marriage was not happy, and the feud of the two houses was embittered by family dissensions, in which it appears the old Thane took special umbrage at his son’s bride. The young man did not long survive his marriage, dying in 1498.
It was not unnatural that the four sons and even the old Thane should look back with some disappointment on the transactions which had resulted only in leaving an infant girl sole heiress of the possessions of their house. They resolved, if they could, to set her aside; and, with the help of their kinsman, the Precentor of Ross, they brought forward some curious evidence to prove her illegitimate. But the little Muriel was not unfriended. The new tenure was against them too. The young Thane had been fully invested; the estates held ward of the Crown; so that the infant was under the care of the Sovereign, who bestowed her ward and marriage upon the Earl of Argyll, and, backed by that powerful guardian, the little Muriel floated safe through the storm of a disputed succession. The marriage of the heiress to the son of her guardian (the donator of her ward and marriage, as the lawyers called him), was an understood sequel of the gift, and followed as a thing of course, and without undue delay, for Muriel of Cawdor was only twelve years old when she was given in marriage to Sir John Campbell, the Earl’s third son.
It is to be hoped that John Campbell was a kind husband to his child-wife. Certainly the marriage had many advantages, and perhaps no other alliance in Scotland could have enabled the young heiress to hold her own so well among rough neighbours and unfriendly kinsmen and clansmen.
The Campbells were already firmly established in the room of the great ancient lords of Argyll, the Isles, and Lorn. But theirs was a different rule from that of the pirates and rude princes, their predecessors. Not satisfied with a sway quite absolute, and which they might easily have made independent, over the Celts of those remote and inaccessible mountains and isles, the Campbells, from the beginning, attached themselves to the Scotch Court, obtained great and opulent marriages, and held the highest offices of the state. The first Earl of Argyll had been Chancellor; the second, who fell at Flodden, was Master of Household; and the third handed down, as hereditary possessions to his successors, the great offices of Master of Household and Great Justiciar of Scotland. But it was the personal character of the race, predominating alike in policy and force over all their neighbours, that gave the Campbells their chief influence.
Sir John, who married Muriel of Cawdor in 1510, was the third son of that Earl Archibald who was killed in the field of Flodden three years later. His mother was a daughter of the gallant race of Stuart of Darnley. He himself was a Campbell of the old stamp, seeking incessantly to increase his possessions and extend his influence. His treaties with cousins of his own clan, with the McLeans and Camerons, McLeods, McDonalds, and McNeills, show both is policy and his acknowledged power. The proudest of the Highlands did not disdain to take service with him, – to become leal and true men and servants to Sir John Campbell of Cawdor. It is astonishing how soon the old Cawdors – the four uncles of Muriel and their kinsman the Precentor, went down before the ascendency of the new Thanes. The careful economies of the Precentor were all in vain, and the estates he had providently acquired to maintain the male line of his house, all came at length to swell the possessions of Muriel’s husband.
Sir John’s own possessions in Argyll were large and still increasing. He seems to have already pretended some right to Isla, and long before the general spoil of church lands, the Campbells, who could not wait for the Reformation, had appropriated to him a great territory on the shore of Loch Etive (a hundred merk land of old extent pertaining to Iona), of which he had previously been bailie.18
Muriel, while still an infant, seems to have been removed for safety to Argyll, and she probably passed the first years of her married life in her husband’s country. We moderns, looking on the unmatched beauty of that western shore, may feel some surprise that even the charming situation of Cawdor, and the lighter air and bright sky of Moray could compensate for it in the eyes of a Campbell. There were other considerations, no doubt, then more weighty. Ferquhard McLachlan, Bishop of the Isles, and no stranger to the manners of his people, when making over the church land on Loch Etive to Sir John, recorded that the estate was in a wicked and pernicious province, from whose inhabitants he and his predecessors could get no rents or profits, expressing an unnecessary doubt whether Sir John Campbell will be more successful. Now, though a Campbell knew how to draw his rents in Argyll, it is not improbable, that as the knight got older and richer, the security of the east coast, amidst Saxon settlers and their institutions, amidst royal burghs, endowed churchmen, regular and secular – all lovers of order and respecters of property – might lead him to prefer his wife’s country and to settle there permanently. It seems that Sir John and his family came to Cawdor in 1524, and from that time made it their usual residence.
After a prosperous reign, Sir John died in 1546. The Lady Muriel survived him long, and survived also their eldest son Archibald, who died only five years after his father. At length, when Dame Muriel of Cawdor is now of a good old age, in the year 1573, she resigns her thanage and lands in favour of her grandson, “Jhone Campbell, my oy, his airis male and assignayis;” and so disappears from the scene.
John, the young Thane, made a good beginning. He married Mary Keith, the daughter of a very noble, opulent, and, for the times, most virtuous family, the Earl Marischall’s, and the younger sister of the good Dame Annas Keith, wife of the Regent Murray, and after his assassination, of Colin Earl of Argyll. In Thane John’s time befell the greatest revolution in the world – the Reformation; yet no paper preserved at Cawdor bears notice of it directly or incidentally, if we except large accessions of church lands – the priory lands of Ardchattan on the west, and the bishopric lands of Arderseir on the Cawdor side – and the crowd of churchmen avowing families of children (some of whom must have been born before the Reformation made them lawful).
The marriage of John Campbell of Cawdor with the sister of the Countess of Argyll had drawn his connexion still closer with his chief’s family, and upon the death of her husband, the Chancellor, Earl of Argyll in 1584, he was one of six persons named to advise the twice widowed Countess in the management of the Earldom during the minority of the young Earl, her son.19 Not content with his share of power, Cawdor planned with Campbell of Lochnell to seize and keep the boy by force, Lochnell to have control of his household, Cawdor of his person,20 and thus to rule the State together. Cawdor seems to have attained his object, and after the death of the Countess Dame Annas Keith,21 and of Ardkinglass the comptroller, governed the young Earl, and his kingdom with almost undivided sway.22 It was a short rule, however, and came to a violent end. Young Ardkinglass, the comptroller’s son, provoked that he was unable to exercise the same influence as his father, and having tried to gain the young Earl’s affection, by means of witchcraft, without effect, took the more certain Highland method of removing an impediment from his path. He employed two poor natives to do the deed, and Cawdor was shot at night by three bullets from a hagbut fired through a window of the house of Knepoch in Lorn. the instruments in the assassination were given up to punishment, but their instigator was not punished.23
The half century covered by the life of the second Sir John of Cawdor was a very eventful period for the family: a period of great acquisitions of territory, some of it won by the sword, – of high alliances, – of personal misfortunes, domestic quarrels, and the unhappiness of overwhelming debts. The known historical events in the family make us regret the more the almost entire absence of familiar correspondence and domestic documents. It is a pity we can see nothing of the first wife, Jane Campbell, the daughter of black Sir Duncan of Glenurchy (a very interesting person in the history of Highland civilisation) and whose grandmother was of the gentle and unfortunate house of Gowrie. How much it is to be regretted that the documents relating to Isla, are all what may be called public documents. We long to know the personal adventures of the Knight and his Squires in their perilous expedition; still more the life of the Lord and Lady when Isla was their own. Did they live in armed state in the Castle of Dunivaig, or in the Fortalice of Illanlochgorme; and what manner of neighbourhood and hospitality was kept in their island kingdom? Of all that, we learn nothing. We hear of a fierce but unsuccessful onslaught on Dunivaig in their absence;24 we hear of the maills paid to the Crown, alas! too irregularly; and now and then have, incidentally, notice of the manner of raising these by multitudes of cattle levied from the inhabitants, and sent in large droves (scholls they are sometimes called) twice a year into England. But we gather nothing of life in the Isles; and only learn that Cawdor was deserted, by the miserable description of the roof rotted, the glass, timber, windows, and doors fallen down, the very drawbridge broken down by a storm of weather,25 and from the repair and re-edification that became necessary a few years later.
With the acquisition of Isla26 (c. 1615) began the misfortunes of the family. The expense of winning and keeping the island; large bribes exacted by courtiers, others possibly paid to the King, for the gift; heavy rents to be made forthcoming while the land was still in the hands of enemies or waste: these causes, added to family expenses, the cost of two establishments, visits to a Court where none were welcome empty-handed, heaped up an amount of debt which, in that age – innocent as yet of bills and bank-notes – might have weighed down a better manager than Sir John Campbell. It appears, indeed, that he was not held a prudent head of a family; for a meeting of friends convened to consider its affairs, in his own presence recommended his son to be set in his place, and in all respects treated him as a prodigal unfit to administer the estates.
But greater misfortunes than such as debt and imprudence can produce were in store. John, the eldest son, married to a daughter of Urquhart of Cromarty, sister to the eccentric Sir Thomas Urquhart, in 1622, was then invested in the fee of the estates. The marriage was probably not happy; though we need not credit the country gossip, which accused the young wife of designing to poison him.27 But disputes arose also between him and his father, which would be aggravated by the old Knight’s second marriage with the Lady Elizabeth Douglas, who had a large “maintenance” or provision out of the estate of Cawdor.28 The straits to which the family were driven is seen in a sale, by Sir John to his second son Colin, of the “plenishing” of the old castle – a poor account of its provision for comfort or defence – in 1636.
John, the fiar of Cawdor, had hitherto lived and ruled in Isla, and it was apparently there that he was seized with his malady. In 1638, we find Dr. Beaton sent to Isla. Ominous consultations of Dr. Beaton, Dr. Arnot, and Dr. Sibbald, at Edinburgh, “concerning the Laird’s sickness,” and the Lord Advocate consulted “concerning the Laird’s estate and the young boy’s securities.” The malady was not to be cured, and in the following year John Campbell of Cawdor was declared by a jury to have been, for eighteen months, unfit to manage his affairs, and his brother Colin declared entitled to be his Tutor-at-law.
We have now (1639) the contract for building “the Auld Hall and Kitchen of Calder.” A Tutor undertaking so considerable an amount of building while the heir of the family was in so melancholy seclusion, shows the greatness of the necessity, or else that affairs were not so desperate as the hornings and escheats and all the diligence of the law put in force against the careless Sir John, would lead us to suppose. What the habitable house of Cawdor was before this time, it is difficult, but perhaps not impossible, to guess, by the help of some materials that would guide a practised and intelligent builder. There can be no doubt that the superstructure of the house north of the tower is altogether of this date or later; and the description of the simple requisites of a Scotch gentleman’s house of that period is not without interest. It is apparent that drawings or plans were not used, and that, in the very time when Heriot’s Hospital was building in Edinburgh, Glammis in Strathmore, and Castle Fraser and Craigievar in Aberdeenshire, the Tutor of Cawdor was satisfied to leave the architecture of his family mansion to the Nairn masons, provided the “armes, names, and siferis upon the windockis were wrocht to the said Colin Campbell his contentment.”29
Mixed with the din of the mason’s hammer, we have some sound of the war that raged without. The family of Cawdor, as good cousins to Argyll, were probably of the Puritan party from the beginning. But about Colin the tutor, there is no mistake. He attended the famous Assembly of the Kirk at Glasgow in 1638, which abolished Bishops. He was one of the committee which was the occasion of the famous “Trot of Turriff” in February 1639. There was no backsliding nor suspicion of Popery now, as in Sir John’s time.
On whichever side a man was, in those times of civil war, he suffered for his opinions, for both parties followed the rule of living on the enemy. It thus fell out, that the estate and tenants of Cawdor were pillaged by Montrose and his cavaliers, and the charter-room, like many others in Scotland, abounds in those rolls and schedules of damages which the Laird hoped fondly to recover from the Government for injuries sustained.30
Colin was succeeded in the tutory by his brother George. Both seemed to have looked to Isla, or their possessions in the far west, as their securest place of dwelling during the troubles of the civil war; and it was probably on this account that the family of John “the fiar” were educated at Glasgow, while Lady Elizabeth’s children, both before and after her death, were brought up among her relations in Edinburgh. While the children were at Glasgow, Colin, the heir of the Thanedom, attending the University, was taken ill, removed to Irvine, and, notwithstanding the care of the famous medicinar, Dr. Donald Ochonochar, brought from Argyll to attend him, died there.31 Sir John, his grandfather, long set aside from the management of the estate, died about the same time; and at length, in June 1654, died his father John “the fiar,” the unhappy lunatic cognosced by the inquest in 1639, who appears to have spent his latter days in Isla.32
Hugh, the eldest son of the tutor Colin, was now Laird. Perhaps he is the Hugo Cambellus who is inscribed in the Register of Masters of Arts of the University of Glasgow, as having taken his degree in 1654. In this generation we arrive, as it were, by one step, from a state of society and feeling which we cannot rightly appreciate, so different does it seem from us, and find ourselves among the habits, manners, feelings, and motives – even the language of our own time. to this effect, the great Civil War serves as the line of demarcation between the old world and the new. We have now familiar letters – would that more of them were preserved! – household cares and comforts, and some of the elegancies and refinements of private life. The sons are sent to college, and afterwards travel abroad for improvement. The daughters play on the virginals and the viol de gamba, and have even a wish for balls. We have had no acquaintance hitherto with the ladies of Cawdor, except in their marriage contracts and settlements of dower. The Lady of the house now appears as a recognised authority, directing her housekeeping and domestic supplies. The Knight himself still attends to the droves from Isla; but he has a scholarly feeling, and can express regret that “rambling abroad in the country, hunting, and hawking, have taken him from reading and study, except for divertisement.” Later in life he can recall his studious habits, and even descend into the arena of letters – the author of a printed book.
Sir Hugh came of age in 1660 – the year of the Restoration; and two years later, Lauderdale, already in full power, had obtained the gift of the young Thane’s marriage, and probably directed his choice to his wife’s niece, the Lady Henrietta Stewart, sister of the Earl of Moray.33 The smallness of tocher of 9000 merks was compensated by the good connexion, and much more, as it turned out, by the good qualities of the lady, who lived long at Cawdor, and had left the memory of much feminine and domestic virtue.
Sir Hugh served in several Parliaments as member for the shire of Nairn; and, like other commissioners to Parliament, he received an allowance for his expenses. The manner and fashion of parliamentary life in Edinburgh may be in some degree gathered from the shop bills and accounts of expenses down to 1676, still preserved at Cawdor. Of the country occupations we may have some idea from the instructions written by Sir Hugh in 1677. He is then preparing for a visit to Isla; lime, timber, and all materials are to be got on the spot for building a mansion-house at Killarow, but the masons, skilled workmen, he is to bring himself from the Saxon coast.
The chief interest is in the cattle, the main produce of the island, but it is only to realize their value. No care is taken – it has not yet occurred as desirable or possible – to improve the breed. No directions are given for restricting the number according to pasture, or changing the stock by new blood. Somewhat more care is shown of the breed of horses. Long before this time, the Lairds of Glenurchy had introduced English or foreign horses for their great stud in Perthshire and Argyll, and the example was followed at Cawdor.34 The Thane’s young horse and the two colts, recommended to the particular care of the store-master, were evidently of a pedigree thought superior to the old breed of Isla.
The directions for preserving deer, rabbits, and blackcocks – no mention of red grouse – and the collecting a few deer from Jura and Isla to be brought to Cawdor,35 call our attention to the subject of game. Here the scene is in the west. Farther on, we have at Cawdor a notice of “buying moorfowl and tarmachans from Badenoch and Strathspey,” suggesting the strange suspicion that grouse were then not to be had, or not abundant on the hills of Cawdor. Moorfowl were brought also for Sir Hugh’s funeral banquet in the end of March. In truth, the common notion of the abundance of game, and of the whole occupants of our mountain ranges, in the olden time, is very mistaken. Sheep and wool are not mentioned in these papers; but we know, from similar authentic sources of information, that in countries where they were kept, they were in miserably small flocks, herded close to the dwelling of the owner. Black cattle, in like manner, were few and bad. In the eastern Highlands, the rents were seldom, or in small proportions, derived from them. It could not be otherwise. The mountains swarmed with foxes and wolves, and other cow-stealers more daring and skilful. every clan was against its neighbour; and where there was any excuse of war, or popular rising, or faction fighting – and when was such excuse wanting? – the country was soon covered with marauders, to whom everything was lawful booty, and that was preferred which could be moved off on its own legs.36 The pasture, unused by sheep or cattle, ought to have maintained a multitude of deer; but it was not so. The deer being unprotected, killed out of season,37 driven about and allowed no rest, were reduced exceedingly in number, and found only in the remotest fastnesses of the hills. No doubt the primary cause of the scarcity of deer was the state of the inhabitants of the Highlands, always on the verge of famine, and every few years suffering the horrors of actual starvation. The introduction of fire-arms seems to have added to the other causes of their decay, more than we should be prepared to believe. An Act of Parliament, so early as 1551, sets forth that “deer, roe, and wild beasts and wild fowl are clean exiled and banished by shooting with half-hag, culvering, and pistolat.” But the confusions of the following century undoubtedly much increased the evil; and, at the end of that period, deer were to be found only in the great central forests of Perthshire, stretching from Aberdeenshire to Argyll, and in the wilds of the Sutherland peninsula.
Some of the documents of the latter part of Sir Hugh’s time are useful for domestic annals. Turn to a common business letter of 19th July 1677:- The Thane has now been married fifteen years; has a family growing up; has served in Parliament; has just returned from a visit to his western estates; and is leading the life of a country gentleman and magistrate at the castle of his forefathers. The letter is addressed to his “Loving friend,” and one whom northern barons like to consider their loving friend – William Duff, merchant in Inverness. He was a man of very general dealings – large and small. He could take charge of a commission for groceries, or advance the price of a barony, on good security. he had formed extensive connexions, and was the first man in the north who dealt in money on a large scale, and he laid the foundation of a very noble fortune. Here his dealings are in various commodities. The Thane wants lead to cover his castle roof, bottles, and some very good water – better than brandy – table-cloths and napkins, capers, olives, and anchovies. His thoughts are on hospitality. But, as magistrate and head of the posse comitatus, he commissions fifty or three-score musket barrels, which he minds to stock and furnish at home. For the arms he requires ammunition; but the season of the year puts him in mind that some of the same powder would serve for his “fowler,” who required also shot, – one-half, of the size used for muirfowl, and the other, divided between very large shot for wild geese and roc, and pretty small, for plover and lesser fowls. The Lord of Cawdor had not yet dreamt of shooting his own game with a gun for sport.
Of the Lady of Cawdor we have not much under her own hand. From the days of Parliamentary life in Edinburgh, when the shop bills lead us to suppose her heart may have been set on lace pinners and gowns of flowered brocade, and on ribbons for her children, we have her recalled in person only at long intervals by greetings and messages of kindness from neighbours. She may have been the directing head in all the buildings and furnishing of the Castle, but she nowhere appears. Perhaps she was no good pen-woman. There are a few household memoranda in her hand, and the only letter of hers preserved in one of housekeeping. She wants some chocolate for their own use, and, for the first time here, “one pound of true tea.” But these commodities must be bought by one that has skill to choose them, for there is much chocolate that is reddish, a mixture of eggs, that she cannot abide. The finest is of a brown colour, and very pleasant to the taste. She signs her note in the simple old Scotch manner – H. Steuart.
The eldest boy has been entered at King’s College, Aberdeen, is found abundantly capable of learning, and none in the class take up the propositions of geometry and niceties of logic more readily and easily. In a few years he is to go abroad with his tutor, and we shall find that he profited admirably well at Blois, and pressed, let us hope, successfully, to be allowed to go into Italy.
Two daughter, Margaret and Jean, are at Mistress Campbell’s school in Edinburgh. they learn music from Mr. Chambers; Miss Margaret has had two quarters of the viol de gamba; a person whose name the Edinburgh agent spells “Devo” is perhaps their French dancing-master; and they had gone to a children’s ball, which was censured. But they have other more solid accomplishments. The usual branches of a young lady’s education are taught by the mistress herself, and accidentally we hear they have worked a cabinet for their father, in needlework doubtless; and that they are learning the mysteries of pastry. Maggie is encouraged to take pains and to be an extraordinary player on the virginals by a promise of the best harpsichords that England can afford. her father does not fancy the viol de gamba so much as the guitar or cithern. Her cousin, Lady Caithness, has a good opinion of her, and has already a project of a good match for her. The youngest girl, the pretty Mary – as pretty a child as I see anywhere – must have died early. We hear no more of her.
The Library at Cawdor of old must have been a dreary room. It must be confessed, the list of my Lady’s books disappoints even more than Sir Hugh’s. He has some great old names and weighty learning. The Lady’s Balm from Gilead, and Sighs from Hell, are scarcely relieved by her Rutherford and Bunyan. One wonders which of the books the Thane applied to for his “divertisement.” There is not a volume to remind one that they spoke the language of Bacon, Hooker, and Shakspeare, and were contemporary with Milton and Clarendon.
Next we turn to a document which shows us how a persecuting law was sometimes mitigated by the kindly charities of neighbours. A letter, a little before, telling the news of Bothwell Brig, recalls to mind the state of the country. The Laird of Lethen was more than suspected of rank covenanting and haunting conventicles. The old man was summoned to Nairn to be examined; but the Knight of Cawdor, a neighbour and gossip, in respect of his sickly condition, goes with his under-sheriff to take his deposition at his own house of Lethen; and certainly with no wish to strain the law against him. The formal questions are put, and he depones that he haunted and knew of no field conventicles. But with regard to house conventicles, he admits that some outed ministers came to his house, and he and his wife and family joined in family exercise. The whole is taken down according to the letter of the odious law, but evidently made as light to the old man as the law would allow.
The contracts for building in Sir Hugh’s time are again of much interest to the lovers and friends of the old castle,38 but their meaning is not everywhere free from difficulty, and may be perhaps best read by supposing considerable departures from the plan in the course of its execution. It seems that the building is to cover exactly the same ground as formerly. It is only the superstructure that is to be altered, – the little tower being quite cast down, and supplied by the north-west angle of the present building (which very corner has some features of higher antiquity than can be reconciled with this account). The builders are to complete the whole work in the best and handsomest manner, so as themselves may have credit and Sir Hugh satisfaction; and it would seem that both parties were well satisfied One part of Sir Hugh’s repair, which is not doubtful, is where the masons contract to reduce the close to a square (into which the hall-door is to open), finishing it in some handsome order, with six or seven easy steps to lead down thereto; in short, the little court, exactly as it stands at this day, distinguished by the coat armour of Sir Hugh Campbell and the Lady Henrietta Stewart, his spouse. It is, unfortunately, the one mistake of the castle. Possibly the situation was difficult, and required more architectural skill than James and John Nicolson brought to the undertaking.
The completion of the house internally was a work of time, and lasted even beyond Sir Hugh’s long life.
The estimate of the expense for maintenance of the family is very valuable among our few materials for domestic economy.39 It may be compared with that testament of the Countess of Argyll, and one of the murdered Thane, mentioned above.40 Unluckily, its date cannot be fixed with precision. The only part of the castle furniture at all curious, noticed in these documents, is the tapestry; and the accounts concerning it are chiefly interesting as showing the manner in which such hangings were procured in Scotland, and their expense.
In 1704, Sir Hugh published an Essay on the Lord’s Prayer. He wished that it should form a necessary part of the daily church-service of Scotland. His pleading was evaded by the Church Courts, and received coldly by the public, which stimulated him to more urgent appeals. Some sharp things were said and written on both sides, and at length, in 1709, Sir Hugh put forth a small volume of the correspondence, together with a new edition of his Essay, which produced little more effect than the first publication. One of Sir Hugh’s letters (26th August 1707) is interesting. He had been twitted with lukewarmness for Presbytery, and even with that sin of sins, lapsarianism. The old man replied, – “Since ever I came to the age of a man, I made it my business to do every honest minister of the Gospel all the good offices and service that was in my power, as I could find occasion; and God honoured me so much that I relieved many honest ministers out of prison, kept more from trouble, and to be an instrument to save the lives of severals who were pious, eminently pious and knowing beyond many of their brethren, such as Mr. William Guthrie, Mr. William Veitch, and several others; and I can say I spared neither my pains nor what credit I had with any who governed the state, nor my fortune nor purse. I ventured these, and my office and life too, to save honest people, who walked according to their light, without flying to extremities, and taking arms against the King and Government; so that all the time, from 1662 to the late Revolution, there was not one man payed a fine in the shire of Nairn, except two or three.”41
Among the heap of bills and accounts for the equipment of a family on the very verge of the Highlands, we seek in vain for anything of Highland dress, arms, ornaments. We have materials for describing the whole wardrobe of the Thane of Cawdor and his servants, but there are really no points of difference from the dress of the time in England or France. Sir Hugh, like his predecessors, wore a rapier, and, on occasion, doubtless a couteau de chasse. He had a dirk and a “by knife” for Highland expeditions, but we hear nothing of family tartans, and bonnets, and chieftain’s plumes. He has quantities of gold and silver buttons, and hats laced with both metals, but no tailor sends in to the Thane of Cawder, Lord of Isla and Muckairn, a bill for making a kilt or philabeg; and among the various trifles of silver work we seek in vain for “Highland brooch” or ornaments such as now flame in London and Edinburgh shop windows as of the true ancient Highland fashion. The Scotch gentleman of that day was too near in place to the Celt, and perhaps not sufficiently removed in manners, to dress by him. The laird whose cows had been lifted over night was not in a humour to imitate the dress of the Mackintoshes or Macgregors. It is only when society has gone some way in refinement that the man of fashion can afford to ape the outlaw of the melodrame.42
We find little evidence of Sir Hugh’s conduct or opinions at the Revolution. His family alliance and interest, as well as his religious leanings, and those of his wife, were all in favour of it. Like a large proportion of the Scotch gentry, however, he was opposed to the “Incorporating Union;” and we may conjecture that disgust with that unpopular measure, and some natural compunctions for the old family, whose faults were in part forgotten, induced him, on the Queen’s death, to support the foolish rising of ’15. His kinsman, Breadalbane, older than himself in years and worldly wisdom, may have influenced his conduct, and shown him the method of throwing his strength on the side which he yet did not openly support, and of escaping when that party was beaten. But it is vain to speculate upon motives where we have so few documents. Sir Hugh gave his grandson43 authority to raise his followers, and to join Mar. It is very probable the abortive effort was at an end before the commission could be acted on; but whether the commission had been executed or not, the family escaped all the penalties of rebellion.
On 11th March 1716, Sir Hugh died, seventy-seven years old, “the oldest that had had his place for a hundred years;44 and he was buried, not with his forefathers, but in the “families new buriall place in the parish church built by Sir John, with a great funeral and funeral entertainment, and much drinking of claret and ‘waters.’ “
Ten years after Sir Hugh’s death, occurs a report of the condition of the castle and whole property, all very valuable for the statistics of the district. The writer is Sir Archibald Campbell, Sir Hugh’s second son, who held a large territory in wadset, and settled his own residence at Clunes, in the moor above Cawdor, showing great taste in the choice of situation, and in the laying out and planting the grounds, whereof something remains yet visible.
The bridge of Cawdor (over the burn), Sir Archibald reports, is of timber, and almost impassable, but can be repaired for forty or fifty shillings.
The mansion-house is in very good repair, wanting only lead for the platform of the roof over the library and charter-room. There are eighteen or nineteen red deer in the park close to the garden.
The tenants on the estate are numerous, and generally poor; their houses, all of “faile.”
The old wood of Cawdor, surrounded with a mason dike three miles in circumference, is very thick, mostly of birch, alder, some young oak, and about 400 old oaks fir for sale or use.45 Sir Archibald is very proud of his handsome young plantation, that is to extend over the village of Cawdor, which seems then to be called Campbelltown, and of the new garden, where all sorts of fruit grow that are in Scotland.46
Every notice of early planting or of gardening is valuable, but here they amount to very little. When the present proprietor succeeded,47 the garden, though suffering under 150 years of non-residence, showed the remains of old careful tending – the trees and fruit bushes being of the time of Sir Hugh, or at latest of Sir Archibald. It is curious to mark the small and timid beginnings of planting. So late as 1722, the gardener sows an ounce of pinaster seed and a pound of acorns. In 1741, the planting of trees is counted and paid by the score; and we need not be surprised that Sir Archibald takes credit for executing, at his own expense, a plantation “of all sorts,” which consisted of a few acres; not the work of one winter’s day to the forester and his troop at Cawdor now.
Sir Hugh was the last of the family who made Cawdor his chief residence. His son’s marriage with the heiress of Stackpole, and that of his grandson with Mary Pryse of Gogirthen,48 gave the family a greater interest in Wales than they had from all their estates in Scotland. The sale of Isla and their Argyllshire possessions still further weakened their connexion with the country of their forefathers. Nothing but the ancient Thanedom upon the Nairn remained. The passion for Scotch sport and the free life of Scotland had not yet arisen; and, for a century and a half, the family of Cawdor resided in Wales, with only occasional visits to Scotland. For the greater part of that time, little care was bestowed on the old place, and no one thought of repairing the castle except to defend it from the weather. It thus happened that when quite lately – almost, it may be said, in the present generation – the interest revived for Cawdor and the life to be enjoyed there, the owners found it as it had been left by Sir Hugh; and the right feeling of the present time has forbidden any change that would alter the character of the quaint, antique, charming old place. The tower which Thane William built round the hawthorn tree in 1454, stands, surrounded by buildings of all subsequent dates, down to the work trusted to the skill of the Nairn masons in 1699. The simple draw-bridge hangs as it has hung for centuries. The gardens and garden-walls, the row of limes to screen the east wind, are all as Sir Hugh left them, or perhaps made and planted them. The place is unspoiled – not changed, but for the better. The burn pours its brown sparkling stream down its rocky channel as of yore. The air has the brisk freshness of the Highlands, while the sky is blue and bright as in more southern climates. The woods now wave over the grey castle with a luxuriance of shade which its old inhabitants never dreamt of. Above all, the country round, of old occupied by a half-starving people, lodged in houses of “faile,” disturbed by plundering neighbours, and ever and anon by the curse of civil war, is now cultivated by an active and thriving tenantry, with the comforts which increasing intelligence and wealth require and supply.
The “old wood” has recovered some severe usage. The scrubby birch and alder, described by Sir Archibald, has been in part removed; and the wood of Cawdor, with its two romantic burns, joining above the castle, is now a piece of the most beautiful oak forest ground in Scotland.
The Cawdors of old buried at Barevan. The walls of the old church, except the east end, are still pretty entire,49 though the dressed stones have been generally taken away.
There are many old grave-stones, and one row right across the church where the choir and nave joined; but no inscriptions nor arms.
19 thoughts on “Cawdor Papers, pp.395-436.”