William Fraser.

The earls of Cromartie; their kindred, country, and correspondence (Volume 1) online

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to trial.

From the evidence of the witnesses it appeared that the Master of Tarbat,
seeing a coach at the door of John Brown, vintner, Kirkgate, Leith, asked of
Christian Erskine, the servant, if it was to hire, and to whom it belonged, who
answered it was the Laird of Mey's, and that he was in the house. The laird,
being a kinsman of the Master, he said he desired to see him, and also Ensign
Mowat, who he learned was in the house, and was accordingly shown into the
room. The coach being gone, and the night rainy, and late, he resolved to stay
all night and sleep with Mey, — Brown having no other bed unoccupied. The
IMaster of Tarbat ordered his servant to go to his lodgings and tell that he was



1731.] TRIAL FOR SLAUGHTER OF THE FRENCH OFFICER. cxcix

not to be at home, and he and Ensign Mowat had laid aside their swords
in the room where they were to lodge. Christian Erskine deposed that the
Master of Tarbat went into George Poiret's room after twelve o'clock, and
she, hearing a noise in the chamber, went in with a candle, and saw the
Master of Tarbat standing at George Poiret's bed-side and the said George
sitting up in bed, and a little drop of blood on his cheek. They were speak-
ing together angrily in French. She went for Ensign Mowat, who was sit-
ting in the hall, whom she thought the soberest of the party, though she
could not pronounce any of them drunk. When Mowat and another person
came into the room, Poiret took down his sword, which these two and the Master
of Tarbat forced out of his hand. At her entreaty Mowat took the Master of
Tarbat and the other person out of the room, the other person, who was none of
the prisoners, carrying Poiret's sword with him out of the room into the hall.
Mowat desired the witness to keep the door close, and none of them should come
back again. None of them had arms when they were in the Frenchman's room
except the sword which they wrested from him. Jean Thomson deposed that
when Mowat was thus carrying the Master of Tarbat and another person out
in his arms, the Master said he ivoidd go hack and crave the gentleman s iiardon.
Christian Erskine further dejiosed that on Mowat's taking them out of the room,
George Poiret got up and rapped with the tongs on the roof of the room to alarm
his brothers. Soon after, the Master of Tarbat, as she supposed, came back
and rapped at the door, saying he would be in, to which she made no answer.
Presently the Frenchmen above, having thrown on a few clothes, came to George
Poiret's chamber-door and spoke French to him, but did not enter his room, and
then Avent to the hall. The witness then heard a noise in the hall and some folk
speaking Scotch, and immediately after heard the shot of a pistol and saw the
smoke, but knew none of the people save Isaac Poiret, whom she thereupon pulled
])ack, and found him with a drawn sword in his hand, his hand streaming with
blood, and his little finger almost cut off. As she was coming back with Isaac Poiret
she found a man on the floor, who turned out to be Elias Poiret, lying dead. She
saw a drawn sword or two in the company, but could not specify who used them.
She did not see the prisoners wound any of the Frenchmen or kill the deceased.
The evidence of this witness Avas corroborated by a fellow-servant. Ensign
Mowat Avas suspected of having dealt the deadly bloAV. Another Avitness deponed
that MoAvat's SAVord Avas naked, much bent, and bloody both in blade and hilt.



JOHN SECOND EARL OF CROM ARTIE. [1656-



The witness was present when the surgeon compared this sword with the hole in
the deceased's coat and with the orifice of the wound. It corresponded with the
hole in the coat, and the surgeon said it did the same with the wound. Mowat
had a wound on his right hand. Andrew Fairburn deposed that when Mowat
heard that a man had been killed he desired to see the body, and on seeing it
Mowat said, " God knows who has done it ; " and there was no emotion or pale-
ness visible on his countenance. When the Master of Tarbat was carried prisoner
to the commandant, he was so apprehensive of bodily harm from the Frenchmen
that a stronger guard was sent for to protect him from their fury. Robert Brown,
surgeon, deposed that the hole in the coat corresponded with the sword produced,
but as for the wound he could not say, for the dimensions of wounds alter and
contract after ten or twelve hours.

The jury found none of the crimes proved, and acquitted the prisoners.
An account of this unfortunate affair was given by Lord Cromartie at the time
in a letter to Lord Melville, in which it is explained that the Master of Tarbat
acted against the Frenchmen purely in self-defence. The following is the letter
referred to : —

"29 August 1691.
" My deare Lord, — I did trouble your Lordship with a confused note the night
that the jury assoilied my sonne and Andrew Mowat, on as cleare and undoubted
evidence of a forct and most dangerous self defence as ever was adduced before
that Court ; for it was so evidently proved that there was nothing on my sonnes
side but a pure mistake of entring half naked, without weapon or any thing but
bare hands ; that there did not 4 sentences passe betwixt him and George Piozet
[Poiret] ; that Mr. Mowat immediatly parted them with all the civility in the world
to the French man ; that they were fairly parted ; and after ane intervall of tyme the
French man and 3 more, with swords and pistols, went in to their room to search
for them, fyred at them, and wounded all of them, not on of them haveing a sword,
but that they did take two from the French en 'passant, and so escapt. This was
proven both by witnesses and evident demonstrationes of the fact ; so that, my
Lord, I cannot but be glad that all I said for my sonne, or against them, and more,
was true, which will be no disadvantage for my freends who spoke for me, as weell
as for my self, to make known to their Majesties and others, because of the great
clamours which was made on base falshoods. Mr. Mowat was dismist from the
barr ; but on witnes has (tho not to the lybel nor purpose) told that my sonne



1731.] STATE OF THE HIGHLANDS IN 1714. cci

said he owned that he was for King James, albeit this accusation was given in by-
petition to the Secrett Councell be the Frenchmen ; and the Councell refusing to
order a process on hasty dubious words, spoke in rage and drink, unless one would
signe ane information ; yett the Justices were so kind as, in place of dismissing my
Sonne from the barr in ordinar form, to order him back to the Castle ; albeit he
was prisoner under baile to compear, tho he had been dismist in form, and this
was told, yett to the Castle he was sent, and the Councell ordered the sollicitor
to persue him for treasone, tho few wanted faulting relationes. But this oblidged
me to produce his Majestie's remission, and to pass it in Exchecker ; and so this
day he is released on pardon, and at freedome. And I am glad I had occasion to
publish the remission, for the King's sake, because it shews so great a wariness in
remitting blood, since the narrative binds the remission to the innocence of self
defence, which I thank God is now proven ; and the words are the lowest crime
he pardoned since he was King."^

Lord Cromartie's official duties required his frequent residence in Edinburgh,
and he appears to have intrusted his eldest son with the oversight of some
of the improvements which he was making on his estate in Ross-shire. In a letter.
Lord Tarbat gives his son directions about the building of Tarbat House, the
superintendence of which was left in the Master's hands."

In a letter to his father, dated 26th February 1714, Lord Macleod, after an
account of his management of various matters intrusted to him connected with
the estate, gives a striking account of the state of the country, shortly before the
rising of the Earl of Mar in 1715. He says : — " I must acquaint your lordship
that we have frequent reports of the passes of the Grampion being infested with
robbers ; therefore I'le expect your lordship's particular order anent the method
of remitting the crown rentt. . . . The other newes of our countrey is a warlike
preparation of your neighbours in East Eoss. The house of Fowlis and Inver-
breakie have been garrison'd since Christmass last ; and this day I 'm inform'd
that your neighbour, Lady Ann Stuart, has done the like, and has sent the com-
mander of the garrisone, Mr. Donald MacKiligan, Invernes, to buy ammonitione."^

While the country was in that unhappy state of feeling. Lord Macleod suc-
ceeded his father as second Earl of Crornartie. The Earl of Mar, his cousin, when

' Leven and Melville Papers, pp. 643, 644.

2 Letter, dated 16th January 1688, vol. i. pp. 55, 56. ^ Letter, vol. ii. p. 146.

2 C



congratulating him on his succession, expressed a hope that he would succeed his
father in the Tory party as in other things, and concur in the measures for
returning representatives to Parliament.^ Although the cousin and correspondent
of Mar, the second Earl of Cromartie did not take any active part in the
insurrection which soon after broke out, headed by the former. He was, not-
Avithstanding, suspected of being favourable to Mar, and appears to have been
incarcerated by the authorities. On that occasion, Simon Lord Lovat acted as his
friend ; and as usual took full credit for what he did, assuring Lord Cromartie
that he had acted for him as for his own brother, and had prevailed with Major-
General Wightman to write for his Lordship to General Cadogan, to get his permis-
sion for Lord Cromartie's release from confinement on bail, or parole of honour, as
there was no actual rebellion proven against him.^ Neither did Lord Cromartie
take any part in the landing of his chief, the Marquis of Seaforth, with his Spanish
auxiliaries, at Glenshiel, in 1719, or in the disastrous battle which then ensued.

A few years later, the state of the shire of Ross, both civilly and ecclesiasti-
cally, gave much trouble to the Government, as appears from a letter of the
Lords Justices, apparently to John Earl of Cromartie, in 1723. They state
that the Commission of the General Assembly had represented to them the
restless endeavours of Popish emissaries in perverting many to the errors and
superstitions of the Church of Rome and withdrawing them from their duty and
allegiance to his Majesty, and the industry of others who called themselves Pro-
testants, to promote the interests of a Popish pretender, and erecting meeting-
houses wherein the preachers neither pray for the king nor have taken the oaths ;
and they order him to suppress Popish schools and seminaries within his bounds,
to apprehend trafficking priests or Jesuits, to see the letters of orders of preachers
or pastors who held meeting-houses within his bounds duly recorded, and to
punish those who were not qualified by law.^

If that letter was really addressed to Lord Cromartie, as seems probable,
although the address is wanting, and if his Lordship entertained the Popish
opinions indicated by his priests and Popish servants, he must have felt himself
in an awkward position in complying with the orders of the Lords Justices, which
had chiefly in view the extirpation of Popery.

The first Earl of Cromartie and Lord Macleod had much trouble with their
neighbouring lairds in the county of Ross, who were alleged to be of a litigious

1 Letter, vol. ii. p. 1.56. - Ibkl. j). 28.3. ^ Ibkl pp. 175, 170.



disposition. The latter, writing to his father in 171 4, complains of that litigious
spirit, and adds that they will never be rid of some pleaing laird or other in
Ross. Like the hydra, when one head 's cut off, two starts up.^ Even of his own
nephew, the Marquis of Seaforth, the first Lord Cromartie appears to have had
cause to complain, and five-and-twenty Mackenzies interceded with Lord Cromartie
to be reconciled to the Marquis. The petition was sent to his Lordship by his
own sister, Isabella Countess of Seaforth, and the terms of her letter indicate that
her son was the aggressor.-

Like his father and grandfather, the second Earl of Cromartie took an interest
in the prosecution of the fishings, which form one of the staple industries of both
the east and west coasts of the North of Scotland. In a letter to his father,
dated 30th June 1714, Lord Macleod mentions what he had done as to the fishing
in Gairloch, Lochew, and Torridon.^ The second Earl made a contract, in 1721,
with Thomas Robertson, a merchant in Inverness, whereby the Earl set to him all
his fishing-boats for flashing of cod, herring, and other white fishes, within the
bounds of Lochbroom, Coigeach, and all the other lands belonging to the Earl
in the Highland country upon the west seas, to the number of between thirty
and forty boats : also the boats for fishing of cod, herring, and other white fishes,
within the bounds of Milntoun, Tarbat Ness, Wilkhaven, and other lands in Easter
Ross, for eight, nine, or ten years from 1st June 1721. The Earl also agreed
to sell to Robertson all the fish caught by the boats at a price to be arranged.*

Although the second Lord Cromartie possessed the estates for the compara-
tively brief period of seventeen years, from his father's death in 1714 till his
own in 1731, he was embarrassed in his pecuniary affairs. The large burdens
on the estate were a source of anxiety : and when his son, Lord Tarbat, was
married to the daughter of Sir William Gordon, who was a wealthy London banker.
Sir William promised to lighten the burdens. In announcing the betrothal, he
says, — " The disposition which your Lordship has had the goodness so often to
express in his favor, and your family, give me a very hopefull prospect of success
to the endeavors which shall be us'd for retrieving the present weights and intri-

1 Letter, vol. ii. p. 145. Balnagowan and the Master of Tarbat ; but this Balnagowan

the Master of Tarbat, although near neigh- denied.

hours, appear to have been on no very ^ Letter, vol. i. pp. 125, 12(}.

friendly terms. The former was charged in ^ Letter, vol. ii. p. 148.

1694 for not attending funerals for fear of ■* Original Contract at Tarbat House.



cacies under which it labors." ^ Alexander Lord Elibank, writing to Lord Tarbat,
afterwards third Earl of Cromartie, mentions the debt that his grandfather left
the estate encumbered with as one of the chief burdens.^

The estate of Cromartie was sequestrated in the year 1724, and John M'Bean,
writer in Inverness, was appointed factor to collect the rents. In the year 1730,
John Earl of Cromartie and George Lord Tarbat gave in objections to the auditors
of the accounts against the accounts of John 'M'Bean, as factor on the Earl of
Cromartie's estate. Among other objections, it is stated that he employed unne-
cessary messengers and concurrents, as pretending to be in danger of their lives,
whereas Easter Eoss was as accessible as Midlothian ; and that on many occasions
after they have, as they pretend, been thus barbarously used and deforced, they have
dwelt several days on the memorialist's lands in company with some of the tenants,
and making entertainments with music, which does not look like ill-usage.^

"When about thirty years of age, the second Earl of Cromartie, then Master of
Tarbat, married, first, in January 1685, Lady Elizabeth Gordon, only daughter of
Charles first Earl of Aboyne. The contract of marriage is dated 2d and 10th
January 1685, and it is registered in the Books of Council and Session on 15th
July 1697. Her father being then dead, the contract was made with the con-
sent of James Earl of Perth, Lord Chancellor, George Duke of Gordon, cousin-
german to Lady Elizabeth, and Patrick Earl of Strathmore, her uncle. Lady
Elizabeth assigned to the Master of Tarbat, her husband, a bond of provision to
her by her late father for eighteen thousand merks ; and she was provided by her
husband in liferent to the lands of Easter Aird, Ballone or Easter Tarbat, etc.*

Lady Elizabeth Gordon and her husband, the Master of Tarbat, had not a
happy wedded life. After their marriage, they appear to have resided for some
years at the Castle of Ballone, in Tarbat. In 1693 they went abroad, and
visited Brussels, Amsterdam, and other places. It was while on the Continent
that Lady Elizabeth fell into tliose acts of infidelity to her husband which
ultimately led to her being divorced from him. At first he complained that she

^ Letter, vol. ii. p. 177. the north side of the High Street, below the

2 Letter, dated 26th July 1722, vol. ii. p. Tron Churcli. This appears from a Messen-
174_ ger's Execution, dated 17th May 1/22. [Ori-

3 Memorial, Cromartie Papers, vol. xxi. No. ginal Execution, per Captain Dunbar.]

1.56, at Tarbat House. The Edinburgh resid- ■^ Extract Registered Contract of Marriage,

ence of John Earl of Cromartie in the year Bundle 3 L, No. 6, of Cromartie Writs, at
1722 was in Carrubber's Close, which is on Tarbat House.



deserted him Avitliout any provocation on his part. She contracted debts in his
name " for meat, drink, cloaths, abulziments, rings, bracelets, and jowals of great
value;" and this extravagance on her part induced her husband to raise letters of
inhibition to prevent her incurring these debts. The inhibition bears date 16th
April 1696;^ and the extravagance complained of by her husband may have
contributed to his own pecuniary embarrassments. Nor was her contracting of
heavy debts the worst part of her conduct. She proved unfaithful to her husband,
who sued for a divorce, which was granted by the Commissaries of Edinburgh on
the 28th July 1698.

The decree of divorce bears that the action was raised at the instance of John
Master of Tarbat against Lady Elizabeth Gordon, lawful daughter to the late
Charles Earl of Aboyne, who were married at the kirk of Glamis by Dr. Haly-
burton. Bishop of Aberdeen, in January 1685, for alleged infidelity on her part
with Monsieur Lavallette, a Frenchman, on several occasions in Brussels, Amster-
dam, London, Edinburgh, and other places, in the years 1693-7. It was urged
in defence, that the Master of Tarbat had contracted debt at Brussels, and that
his wife had to remain in pledge until her husband returned to Britain, and that
her position had been misconstrued. Proof was led on both sides, and the Court
granted the divorce.

An action of improbatiou at the instance of Lady Elizabeth Gordon against
John Master of Tarbat ended in decree of absolvitor in favour of the latter."

Of this unhappy marriage there was no issue.

A book which treats so largely of the history and habits of several of the
northern counties of Scotland, might be considered incomplete without a good
ghost story. Lady Elizabeth Gordon, the mistress of Tarbat, being partly the
cause of one, the following account of it may be quoted from a manuscript in the
Cromartie repositories at Tarbat House. It may be explained that the parties
concerned in that story were the Viscount of Teviot, his wife the Viscountess of
Teviot, and the Lady Elizabeth Gordon, the divorced mistress of Tarbat. Sir
Thomas Livingstone, of the family of Kilsyth, being a distinguished soldier, King
William the Third appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Scotland,
and on December 4, 1696, created him a Peer by the title of Viscount Teviot.
His wife was Macktellina Walrave de Nimmeguen. An action was brought by

1 Letters of Inhibition, Cromartie Papers, ^ Commissariat of Edinburgh, Consistorial

vol. xii. No. 90, at Tarbat House. Decreets, vol. i. p. 305.



the latter against her husband in the Court of Session on December 14, 1703,
concluding for £500 sterling for debts contracted since he withdrew from her,
and an aliment of £400 sterling yearly for the time coming. Lord Teviot resisted
the claim, and asserted in his defence that any want she fell under was due to her
own restless unaccountable humour, whereby she refused to settle at Rippon,
which he had appointed for her, but would " vaig" and wander from one place to
another. Among the answers it was queried, " Is it not maltreatment if the
husband's affection be withdrawn by criminal rivals 1" The Lords thought a wife
was to be regulated by her husband's orders as to residence, but, in respect of
the special circumstances of the case, recommended to some of their number to
deal with the Viscount to pay her bygone debts, and settle somewhat on the lady
yearly.!

AYhile these sheets are passing through the press, an original letter by the
Viscount of Teviot has accidentally come under notice. The Viscount refers to
his relations with his lady in no very flattering terms, as will be seen from the
following extract from his letter. Judging from his indifferent spelling, the

writer had been a better soldier than a scholar : —

Rippen, 20 Apr^l 1701.
... I ame this lentil in order to remoeve my furniture from this plasse, and theerafter I
come and wait opon your Lordship, if in Scotlant, wher T hope to be about the middel of
nixt month. I have been necessitat to send the women your Lordship see heer, when you did
me the honour of a visit in this country, back to her one clymat again. I hade given that
creature a great deal of liberty, and aloued her to cale her self what shee pleased, but by the
advyse of some meddeling weemen heer, and her one foly, became insolent, and to take opon
her, so I was forcet to make her troop, and reduce her to her former statioun again.2 . . .

The following narrative is signed by Robert Keith, — probably the well-known
writer, Bishop Keith, author of the History of the Church, and other works : -

The following narration 1 had from my Lady Teviot's own mouth, viz. : —

That her Ladyship felt herself very heavy and uneasy for two or three days preceding
Sunday the 14th of January 1711. In the morning of which day she awoke out of sleep at
three a clok, which she heard strike both on the Trone Church and Nether- Bow ; at which
time also the fire in her Ladyship's room was pretty clear, and the lamp on the press opposite
to the windows of the room was still burning, as she perceived by the reflexion of the light.

A httle space thereafter, she heard upon, or about, the pillow whereon her head lay, such
a noise as the ticking of a watch, which by reason of her former indisposition she reckoned to
be a warning to death ; and accordingly turned herself with her face upward and prayed to
1 Fountainhall's Decisions, vol. ii. pp. 199, 200. - Original letter at Eaehills.



Almighty God for pardon of her sms ; and farther made such suitable ejaculations as she
thought the occasion required. And while her Ladyship was so doing, she felt an exceeding
great weight seize the whole left side of her body, which confirmed her still more that death
was in all likelihood approaching. This weight had not continued long, when she heard au
audible voice repeat three times distinctly, Fonjive, Forgive, Forgive : and on hearing thereof
she cried out. Lord, Thou knowest I forgive all that ever offended me; but, Lord, have mercy upon
me, and forgive me all my sins [for she still thought that the voice was sent as a forerunner of
her own death]. And when she had thus said, the weight immediately left her, and tumbled
})y the foot of the bed into the tioor, with such a motion and noise as she reckoned a big dog
might excite if he was tumbling in the floor. Upon hearing of this, she began to doubt
whether there might not be thieves in the room ; and therefore her Ladyship drew by the
curtains on the foreside of the bed, where, to her terrible surprise, she saw her husband, the
vicecount of Teviot, standing, very ghastly to behold, his face appear'd black and oily like,
and a mighty alteration about him by what his usual form was. This struck her into a
dreadful consternation, so that she cryed out; Lord Jesus. But he presently evanished out of
her sight in the very place ; whereupon there followed such a noise in the room, as if chairs
and everything else liad been broken and thrown together. Her Ladyship could not, she
said, express to another the horrour she was in ; she caUed loudly upon her woman, but no
body made her answer. She was therefore obliged to lye still till break of day, but says she
doubts not but that she fainted, and lay for some time in that condition, tho' she cannot be
positive therein ; only she does not conceive how she could be able to lye in her right wit till
morning, if some such stupifying fit did not overtake her.

How soon the least glimpse of light appeared, her Ladyship arose and called to her woman,
who, upon seeing her, said, God bless me. Madam, yoiu look ill, what is the matter ? Her Lady-