“Gie up your house, ye fair lady,
Gie up your house to me;
Or I will burn yoursel’ therein,
But and your babies three.”
– Ballad of Edom o’ Gordon.
T was in 1571, during the internecine war waged between the partisans of Queen Mary and those of her son, the young King James. Scotland was ravaged by the contending factions, whose embittered animosities found vent not only in soldiery conflict but in assassination and the massacre of prisoners. The previous year had seen the murder of the Regent Moray, in open day, as he rode through Linlithgow – an event which was followed by the elevation of the Earl of Lennox to the Regency, and the sudden revolt of Kirkaldy of Grange, the best captain in Scotland, and of Maitland or Lethington, one of the subtlest politicians of his time, to the Queen’s party. Kirkaldy held Edinburgh Castle, of which Moray had made him Governor, and his chosen counsellor was Lethington, in concert with whom he now declared for the imprisoned Mary, and began war upon his late associates, trusting to receive speedy succour from France. Memorable passages of arms crowd the annals of 1571. In April, the Castle of Dumbarton, which was garrisoned for the Queen, under Lord Fleming, was surprised and captured in a night’s time; and one of the prisoners, Archbishop Hamilton of St. Andrews, was so obnoxious to the victors that they condemned him to death on the gallows. “This cruel deed,” says Sir Walter Scott, “occasioned other violences, by way of retaliation, which, in turn, led to fresh acts of bloodshed. All natural ties were forgotten in the distinction of Kingsmen and Queensmen; and as neither party gave quarter to their opponents, the civil war attained a most horrible aspect. Fathers and sons and brothers took opposite sides and fought against each other. The very children of the towns and villages formed themselves into bands for King James or Queen Mary, and fought inveterately with stones, sticks, and knives.” Eventually the fertile brain of Kirkaldy devised a project which promised to end the war at a blow, and re-establish the authority of Mary over the kingdom.
Parliaments were summoned by both sides. That of the Queen met in Edinburgh Castle, but was attended by about a handful of chief men, who denounced the doom of treason against their enemies. The Regent Lennox called together a Parliament at Stirling, in name of the young King James, then only five years of age, who lived in the Castle with his guardian, the Earl of Mar. This Parliament, unlike its rival, was numerously attended. The boy-king, arrayed in regal robes, was brought into the place of assembly and set on the throne. Having read a short speech, he cast his wondering eyes about him, and soon perceived a rent or hole in the cloth of state that covered the table. “As young children,” writes a chronicler of the day, “are always unconstant and restless, he pressed to attain to the hole with his finger, and desired of a lord that sat near him to know what house that was. It was answered the Parliament House. ‘Then,’ said he, ‘this Parliament has a hole in it.’ Whether God inspired the babe with prophecy at that time or not,” adds the contemporary, “I will not dispute. But in very deed, the chief leader of that Parliament was stopped with such a hole within five days after this saying, that it convoyed him even to the death.” On the evening of 3d September, Kirkaldy despatched from Edinburgh 300 of Buccleuch’s Border horsemen and 100 infantry, arquebusiers (or musketeers) on a hasty route to Stirling, with the design of seizing all the lords of the King’s Parliament, who lodged in the town. For the sake of speed, the hundred footmen were mounted behind as many of the mosstroopers. The party reached Stirling in the gray of the morning, and, leaving their horses at some distance from the wall, got entrance into the town by a private passage, without so much as a dog barking at them, and immediately raised their war-cries in the principal street. The various lodgings of the nobles were pointed out and attacked, and the Earl of Morton alone gave stubborn resistance. All his compatriots, including the Regent himself, were made captives. But the Borderers, scattering through the town in quest of plunder, and Mar, coming down from the Castle with a band of the garrison, who opened fire on the invaders, and the citizens rising in arms to defend their property, the whole enterprise failed. The Queensmen were compelled to relinquish their prisoners, and made a hurried retreat; but in the confusion the Regent received a mortal wound. Such was the catastrophe of the “Black Parliament.” To Kirkaldy it was matter of regret till his dying day that he had been dissuaded, sorely against his will, from personally conducting the expedition; “for he was secret and prudent in all his enterprises,” says Sir James Melvil, “so that never one that he made or devised misgave where he was present himself.” Lennox died in the evening of the fatal day; and the Earl of Mar was appointed Regent in his room.
Meanwhile the war raged hotly in the North. There the Earl of Huntly was the Queen’s Lieutenant, and his brother, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindown, acted as his deputy, proving himself an able and successful leader, though latterly he disgraced his career by ruthless barbarity. Between the house of Gordon and Forbes, both so powerful in Aberdeenshire, existed deadly feud, arising from the desperate divisions of the period. Yet they were connected by matrimonial relations – for example, John, eighth Lord Forbes, being the husband of Huntly’s youngest sister, Lady Margaret. As the Forbeses had espoused the cause of the King, they came to be at mortal enmity with the Gordons, and much blood was spilt in consequence. For centuries the Forbeses had possessed extensive domains in Aberdeenshire, bordering with those of the Gordons: and hoary tradition carried back the origin of the Forbes surname to a mythic ancestor who, having killed a wild boar, or other savage beast, which had devoured nine young maidens near a spring-well in the parish of Auchindoir, was called For-beast in token of the achievement; but, in truth, the name was derived from lands. Several families branching off from the main stem acquired considerable standing in the same district of country. One of the branches sprang from Alaster Forbes, who wedded the heiress of the Camerons, Lairds of Brux; and from the Forbes house of Brux came that of Towie. In the earlier part of the sixteenth century Alexander Forbes of Towie married Janet, daughter to Patrick Gordon of Haddo; and John, the eldest son of this union, succeeded his father, and was thrice married. According to the Genealogy of the Family of Forbes, compiled in 1580 by Mr. Matthew Lumsden of Tulliekerne, this John Forbes, Laird of Towie, had for his first wife the daughter of John Grant of Bandallach, who bore him a son; but the mother’s life was short. The widowed husband entered a second time into the bonds of matrimony with Margaret, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Calder, the issue of which marriage being three sons, Alexander, John, and William, and other children. It was in Margaret’s time that the frightful disaster befell the house of Towie which we have now to relate.
During the summer and autumn of 1571 Sir Adam Gordon was rampant in the north, putting down Queen Mary’s enemies wherever they showed head. The Forbeses felt the full weight of his hand. On the 9th of October he came upon their array entrenched on the White Hill of Tullyangus, in the parish of Clatt, and making a fierce assault, put them to flight with the loss of 120 men and Black Arthur of Logie, the brother of Lord Forbes. The Regent Mar, being informed of the defeat, despatched Captains Chisholm and Wedderburn with 200 arquebusiers to assist the Forbeses. On the other hand, Kirkaldy of Grange selected a strong body of the like class of soldiers, and, placing them under the command of his brother, Sir James, sent them from Granton by sea to Aberdeen, to reinforce Auchindown, who occupied that city. Both parties joined their respective friends. The Forbeses being now in good strength, having 300 horsemen and more than that number of foot, their leader, the Master of Forbes, resolved to attempt the dislodging of Gordon from Aberdeen. But Auchindown took time by the forelock, marching out of the city to a spot called the Crabstane, beyond which yawned a deep and wooded defile, through which his advancing foes behoved to pass. In that dark gorge he posted a hundred of Kirkaldy’s men, who, when the Forbeses entered its forbidding jaws, unsuspicious of the ambush, opened a destructive fire, which threw them into confusion. Auchindown then charged with his main body, and after a struggle of about an hour put his foes again to rout with heavy slaughter. The Master of Forbes and 200 of his men were made prisoners, and Captain Chisholm and fifteen gentlemen of the Forbes clan were left dead on the field. All the prisoners were taken to Strathbogie, where they were released on giving oath not to serve any more against Queen Mary.
Auchindown hastened to improve a victory which threw a bright gleam of hope on the sinking cause of the Queen. Having planned a descent into Angus with his principal forces, he detached an officer, called Captain Kerr, and a party of men, to seize and garrison Corgarff Castle in Strathdon. This old tower belonged to John Forbes, the Laird of Towie, who was then, along with his three sons, Alexander, John, and William, aiding his kinsmen in the field.
Corgarff Castle stood near the head of Strathdon, on the side of the southern heights that confine the valley, and not far from where the river Don has its source as a tiny burn. The surrounding scenery was mountainous, wild and dreary. In the distance “the brows of old Cairngorm,” and Ben Avon, and the mighty mass of Ben Macduie frowned in sullen majesty over the lesser hills. Corgarff, and olden keep, four storeys high, with a battlemented roof and narrow iron-grated windows, and environed by an outer wall, was capable of stout defence, except against cannon, which as yet were strange in Highland wars. In this grim and secluded stronghold the Lady of Towie remained, with her step-son (who, being probably ailing in health, had not accompanied his father and three brothers), three of her own young children, and a number of retainers and domestics, the whole household comprising nearly forty persons of all ages. Moreover, at this juncture the lady was again about to become a mother; but she felt secure in the strength of Corgarf, little anticipating attack.
It was now gloomy November –
“About the Martinmas,
When the wind blew shrill and cauld;”
and the lowering days, with their driving showers of rain and hail and snow, and their fitful glints of pallid sunshine, gave the scene around the sources of the Don an aspect still more bleak and desolate, while the sough of the blast was ever and anon mingled with the scream of the Highland eagle speeding through the air towards its eyrie on some craggy peak, and the howl of the wolf roaming over its deserts for prey. One of those days was declining when the inmates of Corgarff were startled to learn that a strong body of spearmen, bowmen, and arquebusiers was marching towards the tower, all the soldiers wearing in their iron caps the Gordon cognisance, sprigs of the Iadh shlat Eithann – that “dainty plant, the ivy green.” Enemies truly! – and they soon came in full sight. But the tower was high and strong; and what could arrow and musket bullet avail against its massive walls? Lady Towie, emerging upon the battlement with some retainers, viewed without a qualm the steady approach of the soldiers in their ranks. She caused the outer gate to be well fastened, and the inner portal to be closed with its hammered-iron grate and thick oaken door, which being done she ordered her men to arms. The Gordons halted within a bowshot, and then two of their number advanced – the one being Captain Kerr himself, and the other a trumpeter, wearing over his buff-coat something like a herald’s emblazoned tabard, and carrying aloft a spear, with a white handkerchief flying from the point, in token that a parley was desired. They paused near the gate, directly under the battlement on which the lady was standing, and the pseudo-pursuivant blew a prolonged blast, which echoed far and wide, and next commanded the surrender of the tower to Captain Kerr, as representing Sir Adam Gordon, deputy of the Queen’s Lieutenant, under all the pains of open rebellion.
Lady Towie heard the summons distinctly, word by word, and with flushed cheeks she answered, in a clear and firm voice, that she would never surrender to the enemies of King James, but would defend the place to the uttermost; that as for Auchindown, he was a false knight and an arch-traitor, who had the blood of many of her husband’s kith and kin upon his head; and that she defied his hired myrmidons to do their worst. Now, Captain Kerr’s temper was none of the smoothest, and this unexpected defiance ruffled it exceedingly. He was a mercenary soldier, caring less for the cause he served than for pay and plunder; but to be thus bearded by a woman was unbearable. He flew into a rage, and retorted in coarse and despiteful terms, threatening the severest military execution should he be compelled to take the tower by storm.
Unfortunately the insulted lady allowed her high spirit and her indignation to overcome all prudence. Turning to one of the retainers by her side, she plucked a petronel (or pistol) from his belt, and, pointing it at Kerr, gave fire. The aim was unsteady, yet the bullet grazed the Captain’s knee, and drew from him a yell of fury. The men on the battlements raised with strained throats the Forbes slogan, “Lonach! Lonach!” – that being the name of a hill in the lower part of Strathdon. “For God and the Queen!” responded the Gordons – that being the war cry of the Marian faction. For some moments the hostile words of courage filled the heavy air; and then Captain Kerr exclaimed, as he slowly stepped backwards, and shook his clenched hand at the tower, “Lady, for this vile outrage you shall abide our vengeance. You and yours shall have no quarter. We will wrap your hold in flames, and see you perish amid the consuming fire!” The lady’s reply was a burst of scornful laughter, and she withdrew from the battlement.
The Captain and his trumpeter went back to the band, who all cried out for the onset; but the gaunt old fortalice frowned defiance to foes destitute of artillery, and their leader’s only resource seemed to be the putting of his ferocious threat into execution – at least, let us hope in charity that he had no other wish than to smoke the Forbeses into submission, little expecting that they would hold out to the last. Men of the garrison were crouched behind the battlement, pointing their arrows and firearms through the embrasures, whilst the like weapons appeared at the grated windows; but not another shot was discharged. There was a deep pause, during which Kerr moved to and fro, surveying the strength, and probably making up his mind – bending, as Macbeth did, “each corporal agent to the terrible feat;” and then he gave his final directions. The fire-demon was to be his ally, and the hillsides, with their scattered thickets, brushwood, and heather, afforded plenty of material for his purpose. A considerable number of the soldiers dispersed themselves about, and cut down the younger pines, branches from the older trees, and bushes and heather, collecting the brushwood in great heaps.
The trumpet sounded the advance, and, under cover of a fire of muskets and the flight of arrows, which were promptly answered from the tower, Kerr led forward a portion of his men to the gateway, which some of them began to batter with axes, whilst others climbed and clambered over the wall, which was entirely undefended, as the garrison was too weak. The gate was soon broken in, and the Gordons, losing a few comrades in killed and wounded, swarmed into the ample courtyard with deafening shouts, and the powder smoke rolling lazily above their heads. The constant fire kept up by the assailants gradually reduced that of the garrison; and now the gathered fuel was dragged and carried in, and piled high against the sides of the tower ready for ignition. In Kerr’s band was a man who had recently served in Corgarff, and had a personal grudge to gratify against the Towie family, and he found his revenge in pointing out a broken part of the masonry at the base of the back wall of the tower. There the Gordons set to work with a will, and speedily opened a wide hole into the interior of the building – evidently into the interior of the hall – and which, though they did not venture to crawl in through, would give passage to smoke and flame. Gunpowder was now freely sprinkled over the heaps of fuel, and fire was applied all round. The smoke rose in dense wreaths, which there was no wind to dissipate; the flames crackled and flashed and darted hither and thither like serpents, and in a brief space the tower was encompassed with raging conflagration, the blinding glare and scorching heat of which drove back the incendiaries.
Kerr viewed the scene with relentless eye. What could the inmates of the castle do to save themselves from the horrible fate to which he was consigning them? Some were women, some were children. Shooting from battlement and casement availed nought to quench the fiery element. Surrender might be offered, but would it be accepted by the furious foe? To the offer there was this obstacle that Lady Towie, full of the spirit of inveterate family hate and feud, was inflexibly resolved not to yield, come what might. She had the dauntless soul of a heroine; but her self-devotion degenerated into stubborn recklessness. Were her men, disregarding her obstinacy, to rush out at the portal and seek death on the spears of the Gordons? The smoke came in thickly at the windows and at the broken aperture in the wall, filling the whole place, and threatening speedy suffocation. Higher and higher leaped the blaze, as the enemy assiduously fed it with fresh fuel, until it almost licked the lofty battlement, while burning material was pushed in through the breach below, and the bars of the iron grate that defended the door were red-hot. It was now that the lady’s youngest boy was prompted by his nurse, in an agony of affright, to beseech his mother to submit for the sake of dear life; but she, in her desperate implacability, would grant no such entreaty. As the old ballad describes the incident –
“Oh, then out spake her youngest son
Sat on the nurse’s knee:
Says – ‘Mither dear, gie o’er this house,
For the reek it smothers me.’
‘I wou’d gie all my gold, my bairn,
Sae would I all my fee,
For ae blast o’ the Westlin’ wind
To blaw the reek frae thee.
But I winna gie up my house, my dear,
To nae sic traitor as he;
Come weal, come wae, my jewels fair,
Ye maun tak’ share wi’ me.’ ”
The next appeal was from the lips of her daughter; and this episode is depicted in the ballad with almost unequalled power and pathos –
“Oh, then out spake her daughter dear,
She was baith jimp and small:
‘Oh, row me in a pair of sheets,
And tow me o’er the wall.’ ”
The lady was moved, and assented to the petition; and so the trembling girl was wrapt in sheets and lowered from the battlement by a rope – the men that held it endeavouring to swing her clear of the fire. She might have descended without scathe, but – frightful to tell – she was received on the point of Captain Kerr’s spear, which transfixed her, and she fell to the ground in her blood.
“Oh, bonnie, bonnie was her mouth,
And cherry were her cheeks;
And clear, clear was her yellow hair,
Whereon the red bluid dreeps.
Then with his spear he turned her o’er,
Oh, gin her face was wan!
He said – ‘You are the first that e’er
I wish’d alive again.’
He turn’d her o’er and o’er again,
Oh, gin her skin was white!
‘I micht hae spared that bonnie face
To hae been some man’s delight.
Busk and boun, my merry men all,
For ill doomes I do guess;
I canna look on that bonnie face,
As it lyes on the grass!’ ”
No! the ruffianly soldier, habituated as he was to ruthless deeds, was heart-stricken as he gazed on the fair young maiden lying at his feet, breathing her last; and he thought of flight from the scene of his guilt, as though he feared that the red right hand of vengeance would emerge from amid the blaze and crush him. But his men were resolute not to retire until they saw the end of their work.
The plying of bow and musket had now ceased on both sides. The flames had seized on the interior of the tower, and raged within and without. Escape was impossible to the doomed inmates, whose wild cries were heard mingling with the horrid crackling of the fire. The November gloaming was fallen, and the blaze illumined the strath, and reddened the heavy sky, on which the reflection flitted like aurora or lightning. At length the consummation came. The roof of the keep, which was covered with grey stone flags, fell in which a thundering crash, and a cloud of sparks burst upwards, and all was over. Lady Towie, her step-son, her three children, her domestics, and her retainers – thirty-seven souls in all – had perished; and Corgarff was a pile of smoking ruins! It is said – though on dubious authority – that “one being alone – an aged woman, whom terror had endowed with supernatural strength – bursting from the smouldering flames and crumbling walls, escaped the feathered arrows and levelled lances of the Gordons, and escaped, to raise a cry for vengeance throughout the land of her tribe.”
To Auchindown was attributed the atrocious tragedy – not that he was personally present, but because it was believed that he gave Captain Kerr the orders which led to it. “This inhuman and barbarous cruelty,” says Archbishop Spottiswoode, “made his name odious, and stained all his former doings: otherwise he was held both active and fortunate in his enterprises.” But Auchindown’s fortunate career was cut short by the utter collapse of the Marian cause. The Regent Mar died in about a year after his election to that dignity, and the Earl of Morton coming into his place, soon trampled down all opposition. Auchindown was still keeping the field in the summer of 1572, and traversing Angus and the Mearns, where he was “assieging the houses of true barons,” and “using all kind of hostility and barbarous cruelty upon the honest and peaceable good subjects” of the King. To check this campaining the Scottish Privy Council ordered out a levy of horse and foot. By the following February, Morton having established his power, a number of the Marian adherents, including Sir Adam Gordon, obtained the royal pardon.
In 1574, Auchindown was granted license by the Privy Council to pass beyond seas; and he went to France, whither it appears the vengeance of the Forbeses pursued him – though, as in all their former conflicts with him, they signally failed. He had not been long resident in Paris when a scion of the house of Forbes planned his assassination. According to Robert Gordon of Straloch’s History of the Gordon Family, Forbes and his associates lay in wait for their enemy “in the street through which he was to return to his lodgings from the palace of the Archbishop of Glasgow, then (Queen Mary’s) Ambassador in France. They discharged their pistols upon Auchindown as he passed by them, and wounded him in the thigh. His servants pursued, but could not catch them; they only found, by good chance, Forbes’ hat, in which was a paper with the name of the place where they were to meet. John Gordon, Lord of Glenluce and Longormes, son to Alexander Gordon, Bishop of Galloway, Lord of the Bedchamber to the King of France, getting instantly notice of this, immediately acquainted the King, who forthwith despatched le grand provost de l’hotel, or the great provost of the palace, with his guards, in company with John Gordon, and Sir Adam’s servants, to the place of their meeting to apprehend them. When they arrived at the place, Sir Adam’s servant, being impatient, rushed violently into the house and killed Forbes; but his associated were all apprehended and broke upon the wheel.”
Before the year 1574 was out, information reached the Privy Council of Scotland that Auchindown was guilty of “unlawful practice and dealings in the realm of France” against the Regent Morton at home. This was in November; and the Council, though they could not reach Auchindown, promptly obliged the Earl of Huntly to give caution for his brother’s good behaviour, and furthermore caused him to enter in ward in Galloway. But in December the Earl was delivered, his sureties being deemed sufficient. Soon afterwards Sir Adam returned to Scotland, and, falling again under suspicion of conspiracy, was committed to the Castle of Blackness. But, as no treasonable plotting could be proved against him – though he was still regarded as a man who might trouble the State – he was enlarged from Blackness in January 1575-76, upon surety given by the Earl of Eglinton, Lords Elphinstone and Livingstone, and James Chisholm of Cromlix, that within eight days he “should enter his person in ward within the burgh of Kirkcudbright, and remain within the same and ten miles thereabout,” with liberty, however, to pass to the place of Kenmure (which was held by a branch of the Gordon family) and two miles about the same, in addition to the above ten miles; that he should in no ways escape out of the said bounds without permission; and that he should behave himself dutifully, and not practice anything against the King, the realm, and the lieges, all under the penalty of 10,000 merks. Thus he was disposed of by the Privy Council. We hear no more of him until his death, which is stated to have taken place in Paris, in the year 1580. Leaving no lawful issue, he was succeeded in Auchindown by his younger brother, Sir Patrick Gordon of Gartly. But the Deputy-Lieutenant of the North for Queen Mary went to the grave with the infamy of the Corgarff tragedy clinging to his name; and so it clings still. The thrilling story was woven into verse by some one of those nameless bards to whom Scotland owes her imperishable ballad minstrelsy; and this unknown bard, expressing the popular belief, imputes to Sir Adam of Auchindown, as “Edom o’ Gordon,” the guilt of his subordinate, Captain Kerr, who may or may not have had orders for all he did in Strathdon on that November day in 1571. The old ballad of “Edom o’ Gordon,” obtained by Lord Hailes from the recitation of a lady, was first given to the world in 1755, through the famous press of the Glasgow printers, the brothers Foulis. It next appeared in Percy’s Reliques, and has subsequently been included in numerous collections of Scottish ballads.
Strange to relate, after twenty years were gone since the Towie atrocity startled the North, a fate similar to that of Corgarff befell Auchindown Castle, and this, too, through a lady’s rashness.
Auchindown Castle, in Banffshire, stood – as its ruins still stand, on a hilly ridge on the Western bank of the Fiddich, a brawling stream that traverses the wooded glen called by its name, and then falls into the Spey. The Castle, like Corgarff, was a tall tower, surrounded with a wall. Dating its foundation from the days of James III. (whose favourite, Cochrane, is believed to have been its architect), it became a seat of the Gordons in 1535, the previous possessors having been the Ogilvies. Twenty years, we say, were gone since the burning of Corgarff. Sir Adam Gordon’s elder brother, the Earl of Huntly, was dead, and was succeeded in lands and honours by his only son, George, the sixth Earl. In the early part of 1592, the young Earl chanced to fall at deep variance with William, the Laird of Macintosh, and Captain of the Clan Chattan, who owned vassalage to him. The Gordons and Macintoshes had been frequently at feud before; there never seems to have been much love lost between them; and this quarrel, like others, ended in bloodshed. Huntly openly vowed vengeance; but the Macintoshes, averse to hostilities, urgently counselled the Laird to take steps for patching up a reconciliation with their powerful neighbours. In accordance with their wishes, the Captain repaired to the Castle of Auchindown to concert measures with Sir Patrick Gordon, the Earl’s uncle, and the successor of Sir Adam. When Macintosh reached the tower, Sir Patrick was from home, but his lady gave the visitor audience, and heard his mission. Instead, however, of coinciding with his peaceful desire, and promising (as might have been expected) to promote it with her husband when he returned, she treated the Captain haughtily, spurned his friendly offers, and went the length of declaring his fault unpardonable, and that Huntly would have his head for it. Highly incensed, he took his leave, and as he was quitting the hall, bowed low, with undisguised scorn, to the proud dame, who (as one tradition avers), plucked a sword from the wall and struck off his head: or (as another and more likely story goes), she caused him to be seized, put to trial on the spot, and condemned to be beheaded before the Castle gate! Anyhow, the Captain was put to death – either by the impetuous lady’s own hand, or by the axe of the baronial executioner.
When the Mackintoshes – the “race of the tiger-cat” – heard of the foul deed, they flew to arms, swearing upon their claymores to devote Auchindown and all within it to destruction. Led by their dead chief’s son, they set out in full array, and reached Glen Fiddich in the middle of a dark and stormy night, ere Sir Patrick had come home, and when their inroad was undreamt of by their intended victims, to whom no warning whisper had been vouchsafed, no bird of the air had carried the matter; only, in its deep and tangled glen,
“The Fiddich, wildly wailing,
Of foes upon its woody banks,
Of coming woe was telling!”
Soon the assault was given, amid resounding shouts of the Macintosh slogan, Loch na Maoidh! – the Loch of Threatening – and after a confused and weak resistance the tower was forced. The broadsword and the torch did their work. The Castle was wrapped in flames; but Lady Gordon and some of her household escaped with their lives. Such was the requital of Macintosh’s death. A ballad on the subject still exists –
THE BURNING OF AUCHENDOWN.
As I came in by Fiddich-side,
In a May morning,
I met Willie Mackintosh
An hour before the dawning.
“Turn, Willie Macintosh,
Turn, turn, I bid you;
If you burn Auchindoun,
Huntly will behead you.”
“Head me or hang me,
That winna fley me;
I’ll burn Auchindoun
Ere the life lea’ me.”
Coming ower Cairn-Croome,
And looking down, man,
I saw Willie Macintosh
Burn Auchindoun, man.
Light was the mirk hour
As the day dawing;
For Auchindoun was in flames
Ere the cock-crawing.
The feud of the Gordons and Forbeses, after creating so much strife and ravage, was at length sought to be amicably closed by the heads of the rival houses. But if Highland tradition can be trusted, the attempt to bury old grudges and shake hands in sincere friendship inadvertently led to fresh bloodshed – just as in the case of the Macintoshes. A conference between the Earl of Huntly and Lord Forbes, and equal parties of their chief kinsmen and followers, was held in the hall of the old Castle of Drummond, belonging to the latter noble. So excellent a spirit prevailed in the assemblage that all matters of dispute and grievance were satisfactorily arranged; and the company sat down together at the festive board to pledge in flowing cups the friendly compact. Huntly and Forbes presided at the head of the table, and the others were intermixed alternately. Amidst the general hilarity, Huntly inquired of Forbes what he would have done if a pacific conclusion had not been arrived at? “What would I have done?” repeated Forbes. “There might have been deadly work. See you not, my Lord, that our men are mixed one by one? If I had been disposed for foul play, I needed but to give a sign by stroking down my beard, and every Forbes would have driven his dirk into the breast of the Gordon on his right hand?” And so saying he drew his hand slowly down his beard. It was the fatal sign, and its import was mistaken by his followers, who were as ready for fray as for feast. They drew their dirks, and ere the exclamation of their lord could stay their hands, they stabbed at their neighbours. Wounds were inflicted, some mortal; and with the utmost difficulty was peace restored. “This is a tragedy we little expected,” said Forbes. “But what is done cannot be undone. Let the blood that flows on the floor of Drummond slocken the fire of Corgarff?” Such is the legend – to which, indeed, scant credit may be attached, even allowing for exaggeration; but we have given it as it is preserved in Picken’s Traditionary Stories of Old Families. We know for certain, however, that in 1589 a formal reconciliation was effected between the two houses – a fact attested by documents still extant amongst the family papers in Castle Forbes.
A word in conclusion as to the Towie family. The twice-widowed Laird contracted a third matrimonial tie with a daughter of Forbes, Laird of Reires, who bore him a son, named Arthur; but, after attaining to manhood, Arthur died in Germany, before his father. On the old Laird’s demise, he was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, Alexander, who, though married to Elizabeth, daughter of Duncan Forbes of Monymusk, left no child at his death. His immediate younger brother, John, was his heir. John wedded the daughter of the Laird of Brodie, and had a son, Alexander, who was his successor. “But,” says the family genealogist already mentioned, “in the person of the said Alexander the succession of the house of Towie failed, for he left no issue, and his uncle, William, had predeceased him without issue.”
And so the story of Towie closes.