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214 Historic Scenes in Forfarshire.

wearing influence of the " tooth of time," it has suffered much
dilapidation both within and without. But it was once one of
the most splendid baronial residences in Angus. Ochterlony
thus describes it : " A great and most delicat house, well
built, braw lights, and of a most excellent contrivance, without
debait the best gentleman's house in the shyre ; extraordinare
much planting, delicate yards and gardens with stone walls, ane
excellent avenue with ane range of ash-trees on every syde, ane
excellent arbour, for length and breadth, none in the countrey
lyke it. The house built by Sir Harry Lindsay of Kinfaines,
after (wards) Earl of Crawfourd." There is still a rare style
about the fabric, even in those parts of it where decay is most
marked ; and it is to be hoped, that when the present proprietor
by and by enters on the possession of it, he will be able so to
repair it, and so to decorate it with the remains of its fine old
sculpture, that his Castle will be second to none in the county.

The families who have successively possessed Careston have
been most of them, historic families. The first of them on
record were the Dempsters. They took their name from their
office, which we shall afterwards explain ; that, viz., of Demp-
sters or Doomsters to the Parliaments of Scotland. In 1379,
King Robert II. confirmed to Andrew Dempster of Careston,
the office of heritable Dempster to the Parliaments. It was
two of those Dempsters who, associating with the profligate
sons of the Duke of Montrose, were accomplices with them in
the sacrilege committed on the monks and horses of Coupar
Abbey. The barony next fell to the Lindsays ; after that to
the Carnegies ; after that, to Stewart of Grandtully and
Murthly ; and after that, to the Skenes an old Scottish family,
of which we read in the time of the War of Independence ; the
heads of which fell at Harlaw, Flodden, and Pinkie ; and
which figured also in the Civil War of the seventeenth century ;
James Skene having been a zealous Eoyajist, for which he had
to go into exile ; and his second son having joined the
Covenanters, was taken prisoner at Rutherglen, and executed
in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, on the 1st December, 1680.

George Skene bought Careston from Stewart in 1720.
Captain Skene, one of his successors, a zealous Reformer, like
the late Lord Panmure, attended with his Lordship a public
banquet in Paris, at which, soon after Napoleon was made First
Consul, they had the audacity to drink to his overthrow.
Napoleon arrested them, and the fines which he imposed on

The Strathmore District Gareston. 215

them, and the bribes which they had to pay for their escape,
wei-e so heavy as to embarrass both of them for the residue of
their lives. Of another of the Skenes some tempting stories are
told. He was a great musician, and it was commonly believed
that he could make the bag-pipes play in the Castle while he
himself was at a distance, strolling in the fields. The commonly
received explanation of the prodigies ascribed to him was tha,t
he had, when travelling on the Continent, acquired, like the
Black Earl of Southesk, the art of magic. He was a great
Bacchanalian, as well as musician, and riding home one night
rather top-heavy, and falling over his horse's ears into a Burn
which he was crossing, he cried to his man, Harry Walker, " Is
that a man fa'in i' the water, Harry ? I thocht I heard a
plash !"

The farm of Nether Careston, which we have mentioned,
almost deserves to be reckoned a Historic Scene, as being the
first place in the district where the agricultural implement
called fanners was used. Mitchell, the tenant of the farm, and
a very advanced agriculturalist in his day, ventured on the in-
novation, and it required no little courage to do so. The alarm
and horror of the district knew no bounds. The wind pro-
duced by the fanners was Devil's Wind ! and for fear of a blast
of it, nobody, for a time, would assist Mitchell and his family
in working the fanners, and hardly anybody would let a particle
of the meal made of grain so winnowed enter his house.

It was in front of Careston Castle that Montrose and his men
first rested, on the 5th April, 1645, in accomplishing their
famous retreat into the Highlands. They had left Dunkeld at
midnight for Dundee, which they reached about ten o'clock in
the morning. They had stoi'med the town. They had marched
from Dundee to Arbroath, skirmishing a good part of the way
with a detachment of Covenanters, who hung on their rear.
They had cut across the country, passing between the two
Parliamentary Generals, Baillie and Urrey ; and they landed
before Careston in the grey of the morning, their fatigue un-
relieved by a moment's repose since they left Dunkeld. No
wonder that they immediately sunk down on the lawn in pro-
found sleep ! And no wonder that Montrose, on hearing of
Baillie's approach, had to prick many of them with their swords
in order to awaken them ! Thus aroused, they resumed their
reti-eat, and were soon able, from the fastnesses of Glenesk, to
bid their pursuers defiance.

216 Historic Scenes in Forfarshire.

To these things we must add that the eminent persons whom
Careston has produced have made it historic. The Rev. John
Gillies, minister of the parish from 1716 to 1753, left two sons,
John and Robert. John became the Rev. Dr John Gillies,
author of the Life of George Whitfield, and of Historical
Collections of the Success of the Gospel, and for forty-four years
minister of the South Parish, Glasgow. Robert, a merchant in
Brechin, and ultimately proprietor of Little Keithock, had three
sons, John, Thomas, and Adam. John was the author of the
History of Ancient Greece, and many other works ; and, on the
death of Dr Robertson, was appointed Historiographer Royal
for Scotland. John, a surgeon, went to India, where he made
a large fortune, and was the father of Robert Pearce Gillies,
who has told the stoiy of his life in the Memoirs of a Literary
Veteran. Adam was the late well known and greatly esteemed
Lord Gillies, raised to the bench in 1811, and on which he sat
till within a few weeks of his death in 1842. At the bar he
made his mark by his noble defence of some " political martyrs "
in the early part of this century. He was the first of our
judges who studiously disused the Scotch vernacular, and even
affected ignorance of it ; and hence a ludicrous anecdote which
is told of him. He was one day trying a case on circuit, in
which some natives of Brechin were witnesses. One of them,
an old man, whom Lord Gillies had known from his infancy, in
giving his evidence called a Jiat a het. " What do you mean by
a het, sir?" said his Lordship, snappishly. "Ithocht,"
answered the witness, " that yer honour had been lang eneuch
aboot Brechin to ken what a het was !"


The age of the City of Brechin is unknown. The Pictish
Chronicle, which has the earliest notice of it upon record, says
that, in 990, it was " a great city." How long it had existed
before that date, and when it had attained its greatness, are
matters of conjecture, which Boece does not much assist in
characteiising Brechin as being in the time of Malcolm II.
(1001 10S1) " an old town of the Piets."

The Strathmore District Brechin.

Long before that date the Romans were in its neighbourhood.
At Keithock, three miles north of Brechin, they had a camp,
called War Dykes, now Black Dykes. It is calciilated to have
been nearly of the same size as the small camp at Ardoch,
capable of containing, on the Polybian system, about 12,000
men. With this division of his forces Agricola is thought to
have left his main army at Battle Dykes, and to have proceeded
to Keithock ; and it is further thought likely that the camp he
made at Keithock was reoccupied by Lollius Urbicus. It was
on the line of the great Roman Road, which proceeding north-
ward in Perthshire by Ardoch and Grassy Walls, passed
through the southern part of Angusshire to Rae-dykes in the

In the earliest era of its annals of which we have any glimpse
Brechin was a seat of the Druids. Tradition has spoken of it
as " the chief seat of Druidism benorth the Forth, and the Pictish
capital." However this may have been, there is no room to
doubt that, in Pre-Christian as in Christian times, Brechin owed
much of its importance to its being a sacred city. It had been so
with all like places in Scotland ; with Abernethy, with Loch-
leven, and with lona itself. Chalmers says, in his Caledonia,
" that the principal seat of Druidism in Scotland seems to have
been in the recesses of Perthshire, near the range of the
Grampian hills ;" but it was not confined within the limits of
Perthshire, and it is certain that it extended noi-thward into
Angus in the line of the same " range." We shall come to
marked remains of it in the " recesses" of the district to which
Brechin belongs. We have them, indeed, in the parish itself ;
for we agree with Huddleston, in his edition of Toland's History
of the Druids, that the three farms close upon Brechin, called
Pittendreich, are identified with Pit-an-donach, which is, being
interpreted, the burial-place of the Druids. We also agree with
Mr Black, in his History of Brechin, that the site of public
worship in the time of the Druids may have been the same as
the Established site of it is now. " Without much stretch of
the imagination," says he, " we can conceive that the site of the
present Presbyterian Church of Brechin was the place of worship
successively of Druids, Culdees, Romanists, Episcopalians, and
Presbyterians. Nor is there any thing in the situation of the
church of Brechin opposed to the idea that it was originally a
Druidical temple. The church stands on a sandstone rock, the
sides of which are precipitous on the south and east ; and while

218 Historic Scenes in Forfarshire.

the western side slopes more gently, the northern side appears
to have been a deep ravine ; for every excavation made on that
side proves that the earth, to a very great depth, is forced or
artificial. Such an isolated rock presented a fit site for the
worship of the Druids ; and the dells around may then have
been clad, as some of them still are clothed, with umbrageous trees,
the castle and town of Brechin being, in the time of the Druids,
both alike unknown. Whether such a succession of religious
orders did or did not occur on the little mount which for ages
has been the burying-place of the inhabitants of Brechin, it is
impossible positively to say ; but there is nothing in the supposi-
tion inconsistent with what has occurred amongst other nations
which have undergone changes in their religious dynasties the
newly established order having generally selected the places of
worship of the expelled party for the site of the new churches
or altars."

In the next era, Brechin was a chief seat of the Culdees ; and
they supplanted the gross superstitions and the bloody rites of
the Druids. The Culdees came to Britain from Ireland in the
sixth century with St Columba. Landing in lona, they planted
there their religious establishment; which was essentially an
institute for training missionaries to go forth and evangelise
the country. A greater, a more difficult, and a more praise-
worthy enterprise was never attempted ; and the success of it
was marvellous. The parent institute in lona multiplied
betimes into three hundred Mission Colleges on the main-land
and in the islands ; and to the labours of the men whom those
Colleges educated and sent forth, Scotland owed for a number
of centuries almost all its Christian enlightenment and civilisa-

The Culdees found their way to Brechin, and made it one of
their centres of evangelisation, setting up in it one of their
Colleges. In 990, Kenneth III. "gave the great City of
Brechin to the Lord." The general idea must be that he gave
it to the Lord by giving it to His Church, by making it some-
how specially tributary to the interests of the Church; and the
Church in Brechin, as elsewhere in Scotland, was then Culdee.
When Malcolm II. (10031033), having defeated the Danes at
Aberlemno, is said to have erected, in honour of the victory,
a monastery at Brechin, the monastery could be no other than
a convent for the Culdees. When David I. (1 124 1 153) gave
a charter for holding markets on Sabbath in Brechin, he gave

The Strathmore District Brechin. 219

it to the " bishops and the Culdees :" so his grandson, William
the Lion (1165 1214), expressly said in confirming the

The Church of Rome hated the Culdees. They did not
partake with it in many of its abominations, but witnessed
against them. They held fast by the Word of God as the only
infallible standard and rule in matters of religion. They
rejected transubstantiation, the worship of saints and images,
purgatory and prayers for the dead, the infallibility of the Pope,
the doctrine of the merit of good works, and other Romish
tenets. The consequence was, that as Romanism grew strong,
it persecuted Culdeeism, setting itself to extirpate it ; and it so
succeeded that by the end of the thirteenth century, or the
beginning of the fourteenth, the Culdees had dropped out of
view. By 1248 they had entirely disappeared in Brechin.

But there are yet unmistakeable traces of them about the
city. The gardens on the west side of the present Parish
Church, and belonging to the Kirk Session, are called the
College Yards, and who can doubt that they were in days of
yore the Yards of the Culdee College hard by 1 The well in
these gardens, yielding remarkably pure and sweet water, is
called the College Well, and who can doubt that it was the
well of the Culdee College 1 There is a wynd called the College
Wynd, and who can doubt the origin and the historic import
of such a name ?

Above all, the famous round tower is a standing memorial of
the presence and power of the Culdees in Brechin. About it
and the Abernethy Tower, the only other of the class in Scot-
land, there has been endless speculation. The opinions, too,
about their age, their builders, and their uses, have been so
many and diverse, that we cannot afford space to state them in
a way that would be intelligible. There are many such towers
in Ireland, and nowhere else in the world. From this we
might naturally presume that the idea of the Round Towers
came from Ireland. The sculpture on the Brechin Tower (there
is none on the Abernethy one) is Christian symbols. The
crucifixion is the subject carved over the door-way. From this
we might naturally presume that the idea of the Round Towers
was brought from Ireland by the Culdees ; the missionaries by
whom Scotland was originally Christianised. And these pre-
sumptions are sustained by the most learned investigations.
They are in harmony with the conclusions to which Mr Petrie

220 Historic Scenes in Forfarshire.

came in his prize essay, published by the Royal Academy of
Dublin. ; and they would seem to be now generally acquiesced
in. His conclusions are, " 1, That the Towers (in Irelaiid and
Scotland) are of Christian and ecclesiastical origin, and were
erected at various periods, between the fifth and thirteenth
centuries. 2, That they were designed to answer, at least, a
two-fold use, namely to serve as belfries and as keeps or places
of strength, in which the sacred utensils, books, relics, and other
valuables were deposited, and into which the ecclesiastics to
whom they belonged could retire for security in cases of sudden
predatory attack. 3, That they were probably also used, when
occasion required, as beacons or watch-towers."

The Eound Towers of Brechin and Abernethy remain ; but
all vestiges of the ecclesiastical buildings connected with them
are gone. It was not so, however, so late as about the middle
of the last century. Maitland, the historian, a native of the
town (born about 1690, died in 1757), testifies that the ruins of
the Culdee College or Church at Brechin were visible in his day.
And of the ruins of the Culdee College or Church at Abernethy.
Captain Grose, the " chiel amang you takin' notes" in Burns'
time, actually took the engravings ; and these are yet to be seen
in his Antiquities of Scotland.

Brechin was burned by the Danes in 1012. Either their
whole army, landing at Redhead, and taking a circuitous route
by Brechin to Barry, gave it to the flames, or one of the three
divisions, into which they are said to have formed, directing
its course northward by Brechin, set fire to it. The latter
version of the history is perhaps the more likely one ; and if so,
the division which burned Brechin must have been that which
was pursued and cut off at Aberlemno.

It was about 1150 that the Cathedral of Brechin was
founded by David I. About the same time the town is sup-
posed to have been created a royal burgh ; and, according to
Keith, the first known Bishop of the See flourished about
1155-6. King David was a zealous Papist, and therefore a
zealous ante-Culdeeite. The addition of a Prelate with a
diocese to the orders previously existing in the Culdee Church,
was significant of his policy, which aimed at suppressing
Culdeeism, and completely conforming the Scottish Church to
the Roman model.

With the Cathedral were connected several chaplainries, pro-
minent among which was that of the Maisondieu, or, as it was

The Strathmore District Brechin. 221

also called, the Hospital of the Virgin Mary. The chapel of
Maisondieu was founded and endowed about 1256 by William
of Brechin, grandson of David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of
William the Lion, whom the King, among many other tokens
of his loving favour, made Lord of Brechin. The chapel was a
small but elegant house, pretty well endowed ; and in process
of time, when the lordship of Brechin came to the Panmure
family, the endowment was made to serve the interests of educa-
tion as well as religion. The minister of the chapel was taken
bound to " teach the youth of the city of Brechin in grammar,
and exercise the place and charge of a master of the grammar
school within the samyne." This was the origin of the Grammar
School of Brechin, the rector of which, under an arrangement
made in 1833, now draws a salary of 50 a year, in lieu of the
old Maisondieu endowment. The site of this chapel was in
what bears the memorial name of the Maisondieu Lane or
Vennel. Part of the walls of it is still standing ; and in the
last stage of its existence as a house it had, alas ! been put to a
vile use. It was turned into a stable ! which a fire happily put
a period to, " the wood work and one or two horses being
burned to ashes."

Brechin Castle, the favourite residence of the Earl of
Dalhousie, is beautifully and romantically situated on the south
of the city, and on the top of a cliff" about eighty feet high,
overshadowing the South Esk. It occupies the site of the Old
Castle, of which we read as early as the days of Henry of
Brechin, the son of David, Earl of Huntingdon. In the time
of Edward I. of England, the Castle belonged to David of
Brechin, who, though brother-in-law to The Bruce, long adhered
to the English interest, and fought against the patriots of his
native country

On the 10th July, 1296, Edward visited Brechin Castle, for
a purpose the most humiliating to Scotland. It was to receive
from John Baliol the formal surrender of his crown and
kingdom. His vassalage to Edward proving too galling to be
tolerable, Baliol solemnly renounced his allegiance to him, send-
ing to his Court Henry, Abbot of Arbroath, with the instru-
ment of renunciation. This gave Edward the pretext wanted
for putting an end to the separate and independent existence
of Scotland as a kingdom, and annexing it to his English
dominions. He entered Scotland by Berwick with an army to
which it could offer no effective resistance ; and when he had

222 Historic Scenes in Forfarshire.

proceeded as far as Perth, Baliol felt himself reduced to the
necessity of sending him a message offering submission, and
imploring peace. Edward directed him to repair to Brechin
Castle, where he would learn from the Bishop of Durham the
terms on which alone mercy could be extended to him. He
must not only abdicate his throne in favour of Edward, but he
must do so in a manner the most degrading. " Divested of his
royal robes, and crown, and sceptre, he was compelled to stand
as a criminal, with a white rod in his hand ;" to " confess that,
misled by evil and false counsel, as he averred, and through his
own simplicity, he had grievously offended his liege lord ;" to
" recapitulate his various transgressions;" to " acknowledge the
justice of the English invasion and conquest ;" and to " resign
his kingdom, its people, and their homage, into the hands of his
liege lord, Edward." And all this humiliation only saved his
life; for he was forthwith sent a prisoner to the Tower of
London, and thus ended his brief, inglorious, and wretched

In returning from the north, into which he had gone as far
as Aberdeen and Elgin, Edward again visited Brechin Castle,
and spent in it the night between the 4th and 5th of August,
1296. Proceeding thence to Scone, he concluded what he
fondly regarded as the conquest of Scotland, by removing from
Scone to Westminster, along with the crown and sceptre, the
famous stone on which the long line of Scottish Kings had been
crowned and anointed the Stone of Destiny concerning which
had been uttered the well-known oracle, which Edward thought
he was falsifying, but which many regarded as restored to credit
and accomplished by the accession of James VI. to the English

" Unless the fates are faithless grown,

And prophets' voice be vain,
"Where'er is found this f acred stone

Ihe Scottish race shall reign."

In 1297, Wallace recovered the Castle of Brechin from the
English garrison which Edward had left in it, and it seems to
have continued in the possession of the Scots till 1303, in which
year Sir Thomas Maule, brother of Sir William Maule of
Panmure, made his famous defence of it. Edward had that
year gone as far north as Moray, and in returning south, his
progress was so triumphant, that the only fortress which did
not at once open its gates to him was the Castle of Brechin.
He laid siege to it with a force, compared with which the

The Strathmore District Brechin. 223

garrison within was a mere handful. Its brave commander
held out for twenty days against all the strategy and power of
the assailants appearing on the ramparts, and contemptuously
wiping off with a handkerchief or towel the dust and rubbish
raised by the embryo artillery of the English. But a shot at
length struck him down mortally wounded. The shot was
from an engine called the War Wolf : the power propelling it
was powder, then beginning to be used in war ; and the deadly
missile was a rounded stone, the Wolf being capable of dis-
charging stones of two or three hundredweight. Tradition says
that the engine was planted on the east side of the deep ravine
which then ran between the city and the Castle, and that Sir
Thomas Maule was on the bastion, now as then on the south-
east corner of the Castle, when the shot struck him. It is also
noteworthy that, on the ground occupied by the besiegers, there
have been found stone coffins ; a skull with a nail in it, the
owner of which may have been killed by a shot from the Castle ;
and a rounded free stone, which may have been one of the
stones which the English had prepared for using in the siege.
As Sir Thomas lay dying on the ground, his men asked him
if they might now surrender, and were answered by upbraidings
for their cowardice. His death, however, ended the defence ;
for the garrison capitulated next day.

In 1310, The Bruce must have honoured Brechin with a
visit. By a charter dated at Brechin on the 4th of December
that year, he conferred certain privileges on the church of

Though a Maule of Panmure happened to be military com-
mander of Brechin Castle at Edward's invasion, it was not till
long afterwards (1642) that the lordship of Brechin became the
property of the Maules. In the interval it was in many
different hands. For a while after the War of the Indepen-
dence it continued in the possession of Lords of the Huntingdon
line ; and two of these suffered the death of traitors. In 1320,
Sir David of Brechin suffered as an accomplice of Sir William
of Soulis and others in their conspiracy against the life of King
Robert Bruce. His death was much lamented, but there can
be no reasonable doubt of his guilt ; and it was aggravated by
his being a tool and pensioner of England, by his relation to the

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