Monday, December 03, 2018

Neidpath Castle, a seat of Frasers, Hays, and Douglases


The Frasers are a Highland clan. Of course. But before that they were a Lowland clan, and their seat was here at NeidpathCastle on the Tweed, founded by Sir Gilbert Fraser in about 1190.  The last Fraser to own it was his descendant,  Sir Simon Fraser, known as 'The Patriot', for his astonishing feat of defeating three English armies in one day in 1303.  Detail is on Sarah Fraser's excellent blog, Patriot Games. The strawberry plant (fraise) can still be seen above the archway in the Neidpath courtyard.

The Patriot was executed in London in 1306 and his head stuck on a spike on Tower Bridge, next to that of William Wallace. His daughter Mary inherited a ruin but married Hay of Yester who rebuilt the castle, now all in stone and now of walls 10 foot thick with distinctive rounded corners. 

And Neidpath, overlooking a bend of the River Tweed just above Peebles, has dominated the Upper Tweed Valley ever since. Tower houses sprang up all over the Borders in the reiving times of the 16th century but in the 14th century there was really only Hermitage, Roxburgh and Neidpath. (Cessford and Newark followed in 1425 and 1465). One reason for its outlasting its contemporaries is the construction. A vaulted basement to carry the weight of a castle was normal, and sometimes a castle's top floor was vaulted; but Neidpath was built with three vaulted floors.
 
The castle was gradually extended and ‘modernised’, largely in the 16th century, and no doubt considerably spruced up for the visits of Mary Queen of Scots in 1563 and James VI in 1587 on expeditions to discipline the Border reivers. But the Hays were not reivers; they were establishment, becoming Earls of Tweeddale in 1646.

They sold the castle in 1686 to the Douglas Duke of Queensberry, whose granddaughter, they say, still restlessly walks the battlements. This is Lady Jean Douglas: having not been allowed to marry young Scott of Tushielaw in Ettrick, she pined for him and so became a shadow of herself, to the extent that, returning from exile, he didn’t recognise her; and she, wounded to the core, died of a broken heart. The tale was related by Sir Walter Scott who speaks of ‘cheerful evenings’ at the castle. However it was gradually abandoned as a dwelling in the 19th century,

Neidpath is once again roofed and available for events.  It also plays a significant role in the annual Peebles Beltane Festival. Each year a ‘Warden of Neidpath’ is appointed and has the honour of welcoming the Peebles Cornet, his lass and supporters to the castle from where they will ride the boundaries, an echo of the old reiving times, of course!

Warden of Neidpath, Bob Harrison, addressing the crowd at Neidpath in 2016


Sunday, November 05, 2017

Lord James Douglas, The Royal Scots and Louis XIV.

Lord James Douglas, who died in 1645 aged just 28, is buried in the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris. Wandering through the church recently I was amazed to see the graves of both Lord James and his grandfather, 10th Earl of Angus (another interesting story). Not just graves but, in the case of Lord James, a massive monument in its own chapel, with a sculpture of him in white marble, all funded by King Louis XIV at a cost of 2900 livres. Anyone who has visited Versailles knows that Louis was a big spender, but to spend close on a million pounds commemorating a 28 year old foreigner...

Statue of Lord James Douglas, Saint Theresa Chapel, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.

Lord James, born at Douglas Castle in Lanarkshire, was “at an early age” a page in the court of Louis XIII of France. His father, a committed Roman Catholic in a predominantly protestant country, clearly didn’t enjoy life in the ruthless (and often rule-less) world of the South of Scotland. He was embroiled in a long legal dispute with the rough and reiving Kers of Ferniehirst over rights to hold courts in Jedforest, his brother was remanded in prison at Blackness Castle for threatening one of the Kers. It was all too much for this quiet and rather unhealthy earl. He left his estates to be looked after by others and lived for many years in France where he could practice his religion in peace and not be plagued by Border lairds.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés

His son Lord James was made of different stuff. He worked his way up in the French court and at the age of twenty, was appointed colonel of the ‘Scots Regiment’, which had been raised four years earlier in Scotland and was bound to King Louis, "in all service except against the King of Great Britain”. (The Auld Alliance in action).

This was the time of the 30 Years War and the regiment, now titled the Régiment de Douglas, took part in the siege of St. Omer in the Spanish Netherlands, fought in Piedmont under the Prince of Savoy, participated in the successful siege of Turin, and was then back in the Spanish Netherlands at the siege of Gravelines. The regiment 'fought with distinction' and its strength was increased to twenty companies of one hundred men each.  Lord James, however, was killed in a skirmish near Douai on 21 October 1645 during an attempt to take it from the Hapsburgs. On the very day of his death Louis XIV had indicated his wish to give him a Field-Marshal's baton.

Douglas was succeeded as colonel by his elder brother, Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus. The Régiment de Douglas returned to British service in 1662, and in 1812 took its more famous name: The Royal Scots.


Thursday, May 05, 2016

Flodden 1513

The most recent Scots Heritage Magazine has a piece on the feud between the Montgomery and Cunningham families in the 15th/16th centuries. It's a depressing story but I read it anyway: castles burned with folk inside them, a parade of individuals ambushed and murdered. Gory even for Scotland at this time. It went on until well into the 17th century (when James VI called a halt) but there was a pause in 1513 when, as the author Margaret Skea notes, "private grievances were set aside in the face of an English threat".

The Flodden Monument

Look into the history of any Scottish name and you will wince at what was lost at Flodden in 1513. Not just our best king since Robert the Bruce, but 10,000 men including most of Scotland's nobility. William Cunningham 1st Laird of Craigends, son of the first Earl of Glencairn, died (his father died fighting the English at Sauchieburn in 1488). Hugh Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Eglinton, fought and escaped. Their neighbour in the south west, David Kennedy, 1st Earl of Cassilis died.

Kings of Scots at this time struggled to make their writ run throughout what they considered to be their kingdom, but the Flodden dead came from all parts. Archibald Campbell 2nd Earl of Argyll and Hector, 9th Chief of Clan MacLean in the west; from the north William Sinclair 2nd Earl of Caithness; from the north east William Graham, 1st Earl of Montrose and both sons of William Keith, 3rd Earl Marischal.

Quite naturally most came from the Borders. Every year at Selkirk as part of the Common Riding celebrations, the town's Standard Bearer recalls Fletcher, the town's sole survivor, who returned with a captured English banner and when asked where the other men were, he silently laid it on the ground.
Selkirk Common Riding

I was at Flodden yesterday (it's about an hour from my house) on a fine spring afternoon. Between the monument and Branxton Hill is 'the boggy ground' where about 10,000 Scots died. Now it is drained and under efficient cultivation. A monument was erected nearby in 1910. The dozens killed in the Montgomery-Cunningham feud are inconsequential by comparison.

And if you ask what the battle was all about...it's complicated. James IV aimed to relieve pressure on his ally the King of France but Niall Barr in his excellent book on Flodden also notes, "James had achieved much in his reign, but he had never won a pitched battle - which remained the ultimate accolade for a Renaissance prince". We've had a few frustrated would-be princes ready to sacrifice lives in our 21st century too.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Scots who migrated to Bath.


The mineral-rich hot springs of Bath, Somerset, England still bubble away, as they did in Roman times. As they did in 1687 when Mary of Modena, wife of James II, visited there desperately hoping for a healthy child and nine months later James, father of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', was born. As they did when it was the most fashionable resort in Georgian times.

Unusually, I was in Bath over Hogmanay, attending a wedding in the wonderful 16th century abbey. Drawn back there next day my eye wandered over the 641 marble plaques on the walls and saw a remarkable number of Scots featured. I started to write down the details and whilst I certainly did not get them all, I noted 31; details are below (but 100% accuracy is not guaranteed).


Two of those so honoured are from Hawick, 330 miles from Bath. Two refer to Lord Reay whose seat was at Tongue on the north coast, 640 miles from Bath... big distances in the late 1700s! So what were they all doing there?

I have half an answer. Many were ex-military or ex-Civil Service and having served all round the world, joined others in fashionable Bath, inhabiting those famous Georgian houses and hoping that the curing waters would prolong their lives. I can also vouch for the fact that it is a little warmer there in winter. But still, if Scots lay claim to 5% of all the plaques, was fashionable Bath really 5% Scottish in the 18th century?


The list of those remembered in Bath Abbey (chronological order).

Margaret Pringle, daughter of Sir Robert Pringle of Stichill in the County of Teviotdale, in Scotland, Baronet and wife of William Drummond of Grange in the County of Stirling Esq, who died 26th August 1728, aged 48.

George Gordon of Gight in Aberdeenshire, died 9 January 1779.

Sir Patrick Houston of Houston in North Britain, Baronet who died 24 March 1785 in the 43rd year of his age.

Duncan Grant of Mullochard, North Britain, died 1 January 1788, aged 59.

John Hay Balfour Esq of Leys, Perthshire, North Britain who died 28 February 1791.

Charles Lockhart of Muiravonside in the County of Stirling, died 3 February 1796, aged 55.

Mrs Mary Fraser, died 25 July 1799, aged 60.

Adam Gordon of Lime Street London, 5th son of Charles Gordon Esq, of Abergeldie, in the county of Aberdeen, North Britain, died 28 May 1800, aged 42 years

Helen, Countess of Selkirk, relict of Dunbar Earl Selkirk, who died 29 November 1802, aged 65.

Alexander Ellice Esq, born Anchelys, Aberdeenshire June 15th 1743 and died at Bath, 28 September 1805. Anne, his widow, died at Bath April 30th 1847. Sacred also to the memory of Charles, son of Alexander and Anne Ellice. Born December 10th 1797, died March 10th 1799.

Mary Anne Leycester Sturt, youngest daughter of Thomas Lenox Napier Sturt & James, his wife. Died 19 February 1812, aged 2 years 5 months.

Alicia, Countess of Erroll, died 24 April 1812 in the 35th year of her age.

William Kennedy Lawrie of Red Castle, Galloway, late of St Thomas in East Jamaica, died 28 January 1811, aged 62.

John McDougall Vice Admiral of Red of His Majesty`s Fleet, died 21 November 1814, aged 66.

John Maclean Esq of Inverscardle, North Britain, died 27 April 1812, aged 72.

John White Melville of Bennochy and Strathkinnes in Fifeshire, Scotland, died 27 May, 1813, aged 59.

The Honourable Colonel Cosmo Gordon, brother of the late Earl of Aberdeen and Uncle to the present Duke of Gordon, died 27th February 1813 in his 76th year.

Colin Mackenzie, son of the late Sir Lewis Mackenzie of Scatewell, North Britain, died 3 February 1814, aged 66. Janet, relict of the above, died 19 July 1817 aged 57.

Lt General Elliot, late Commandant of Royal Marines, died 16th April 1820 in the 88th year of his age. 


John Campbell, 1st Lord Cawdor who died 1st June 1821 in the 68th year of his age.

Hugh Campbell Esq of Mayfield in the County of Ayr, North Britain, late Captain in His Majesty's 85th Regt. Died 5 January 1824, aged 51.

Mary, Countess Dowager of Kintore, died on the 30th of June 1826, aged 56 years.

John Ewart Christie, Royal Marines and late Lt Col of the Nithsdale Militia, died 27 July 1828, aged 74.

James Sholto Douglas Esq, died January 12 1830 Aged 72. Also of Anne Elizabeth his second daughter who died March 13th 1842.

William Murray Esq of Glencaird, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Died 14 April 1833, aged 83. 

Anne, widow of the Hon George Mackay and mother of Eric, 7th Lord Reay, died 15 March 1833, aged 82.


James Anderson Esq of Wilton Lodge, Roxburghshire, died 30 October 1833, aged 76.

David Monro Esq, formerly of Quebec, lower Canada. He died September 3rd 1834, aged 74 years.


Lt General Sir Thomas Dallas, GCB, died 12 August 1839. Anne, his widow, died 30 April 1847.

Col the Hon Aeneas Mackay, 3rd son of the 2nd Lord Reay who died in the service of the States General. His descendants settled in the Netherlands and to them the Scottish Barony descended in 1875.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

General Hugh Mercer: Jacobite, Doctor, Symbol of the American Revolution


General Hugh Mercer was a Jacobite who fought at the Battle of Culloden (1746) as a 20 year old surgeon and died as a general in George Washington's Continental Army, fatally wounded at the Battle of Princeton in 1777, now aged 51. Washington said of him, "In his experience and judgement you may repose great confidence."



From 1 April 2016 there will be a permanent exhibition at the Fraserburgh Heritage Centre (up on Scotland's North East Coast) highlighting this famous son of the area.

Born at Pitsligo Kirk Manse (near Fraserburgh) in 1726, he studied medicine at Marischal College Aberdeen from age 15. In 1745 he enlisted in the Jacobite Army (Pitsligo's Regiment of Horse) as a Surgeon. Fighting alongside him was his cousin, Thomas Mercer of Auchnacant, an Aide de Camp.

Following the disaster of Culloden, Mercer spent months in hiding, and in 1747 bought his way on to a ship and settled at Mercersburg, Pennsylvania where he practised medicine.

Eight years later, his taste for adventure resurfaced and he joined the British Army, not as a doctor but as an infantry officer, and was prominent in the struggle against the French for Fort Duquesne. Having captured the fort and (now renamed Fort Pitt, the origin of Pittsburg) in 1758 Colonel Mercer was left in charge and at one stage the new fort was recorded as 'Mercer's Fort'.

He returned to medicine in Fredericksburg Virginia where he married and had five children. At the outset of the Revolution in 1776, he joined George Washington and is credited with the plan to cross the iced over Delaware and surprise the British Army at Trenton. Next month, though, his brigade became separated from the main army on the way to Princetown and he died of his wounds. There is a memorial plaque outside the house where he died.



Amongst Mercer's many descendants was General George S. Patton Jr. of World War Two fame.

Some might comment that, although he looks very much a part of the establishment, he was a rebel all his life!

General Hugh Mercer Memorial Statue, Washington District, Fredericksburg, Virginia.