Monday, 27 May 2013

Strathearn and Perthshire's Role in the Wars of Independence : Wallace and Bruce .

Wallace Monument Stirling

Scotland Emerges As A Country And  Becomes A Target For Others

Scotland a s a nation arrived on the scene  when Kenneth mac Alpin emerged as King of Scots  when his Dalriata ( modern Argyll ) joined  with the Pictish kingdom of Fortren in what is now  modern Strathearn . It was  not a peacefully worked unification as mac Alpin had defeated the Picts  under Drust near Scone  . There was, as well, a threat from over the water in Scandinavia. Attracted by the wealth of the increasingly important religious centre of Dunkeld, the Vikings based in Dublin in Ireland launched an attack on the Picts and Scots in 839 at Forteviot near Perth . It was the first of many Viking victories and after a succession of raids succeeded in capturing Dunkeld. Constantine , King of the Scots , retaliated and although defeated at Scone in 904 fought  back and won a significant victory in the Battle of Strathearn the following year . Here the Vikings were virtually annihilated and their leader King Ivarr ll was killed in the battle.

Battle of Monzievaird

Although the Vikings and Danes  were defeated , internal wrangling  between the claimants  for the Scottish throne continued .

Perched high above Loch Turret are some of the most picturesque peaks in Strathearn. For many years visitors and locals alike have walked from the foot of the Turret Dam past Creag Chaissean towards Choinneachain, the Blue Crags and the source of the Barvick Burn. Not the highest of local hills at little over two and half thousand feet but undoubtedly one of the most interesting.  The ordnance survey map proclaims both in English and our native Gaelic that it is King Kenneth’s Cairn. Who was Kenneth and why does this lonely peak have a cairn in his memory?  One thousand years ago (the actual date is subject to debate) a great battle was fought between Kenneth lV, King of Scots, and his cousin Malcolm. Kenneth was known as Kenneth the Grim or Kenneth the Brown from his dark, swarthy complexion. Malcolm who was in possession of what is now Cumbria had fallen out with his relation over his claim to the throne. He alleged that his father had settled the dynasty in his favour and that Kenneth was a usurper. A civil war ensued and Malcolm invaded Strathearn at the head of a substantial army. Battle was engaged in the area of ground below where Ochtertyre House now stands and the ruins of Castle Cluggy. The Church at the time tried to intervene and attempted to negotiate a compromise, proposing that Kenneth reign for his lifetime and on his death be succeeded by Malcolm or his heirs. Alas both parties ignored this peace saving move and on the 25th of March 1005 battle raged.   Kenneth and his son Giric were slain.  Malcolm became King as Malcolm ll. He reigned for some thirty years and in this time the differences between the Picts and the Scots was consolidated thus laying the foundations of a stable kingdom. Up until this time succession to the throne was by a system known as tanistry. The dying king named the person to succeed him from one of the two family lines (maternal or paternal). Malcolm solution to this was quite simple. On Kenneth’s death, he murdered all his surviving male heirs! The somewhat incestuous nature of succession was not however entirely eradicated. Kenneth’s granddaughter had a son Luloch prior to her marrying Macbeth (and becoming Lady Macbeth). . When Macbeth died Luloch, great grandson of Kenneth became King of Scotland.

The ancient cairn on the hill is a sad reminder of Strathearn’s violent past. The slain King’s body does not, as some sources suggest, lie beneath it but was removed and buried on the Island of Iona, the traditional resting place of Scotland’s monarchs.  

Wallace - hero and patriot

With the tragic death of Alexander lll a new problem arose over the freedom  and sovereignty of Scotland . John Baliol was  chosen as the successor to the Kingship but only with the support of the English King – Edward l , known generally as “ Longshanks “ . Edward demanded  Baliol swear allegiance  to him thus tacitly  handing over control of Scotland  to the English . Scotland  was by this time a national entity and its populous resented the intrusion of a foreign power .In 1296  the English army  swept to victory  at Dunbar and this  was  followed  up by the seizing of  both Stirling and its castle  and the town of Perth . To add to the humiliation  Balliol was  captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London . Scotland had a strong affiliation with France over many decades  and known as the entente cordialle . England unlike Scotland was  a traditional enemy of France and Edward of England demanded  that all Scottish land owners  renounce the French alliance and swear allegiance  to him thus encompassing the Scottish nation within complete English supremacy and  virtually ending their independent status .

It was at his stage  the “ Braveheart “ scenario  kicked in led  by two nobles William Wallace and Andrew Murray . The resistance  movement very much centred in Perthshire . The Raid on Scone  in 1297 saw Ormesby the English justiciar narrowly escape capture as the Scots  under Wallace and Sir William Douglas attacked with their band of fighters .Shortly afterwards Wallace and his men ambushed an English troop of soldiers attempting to cross the Allan Water at Blackford . The die was truly cast as Wallace continued his guerrilla tactics to the consternation and confusion of the invaders . At Kinclaven near Meiklour ( where the tallest  beech hedge in the world  now exists ) , Wallace continued  his  offensive .His  cleverly planned ambush trapped a troop of cavalry under the command of Sir James Butler riding to reinforce Kinclaven Castle , Butler and many of his men died . Wallace pursued  the remnants  to the Castle . The garrison was captured and the  occupants  put to the sword . As a sign of his growing dominance Wallace set fire to the castle . The following  day , Butler’s son led an English force of  some 1 000 men against the “usurper “ . In a somewhat indecisive  encounter there was  no clear winner . Wallace  decided , tactically , to retreat to the safety of Methven Wood and after a  while  made  his move . He and Andrew Murray attacked the English at Stirling and the Battle of Stirling Bridge was an epic victory for the Scots . Tragically Murray was  killed but  Wallace  thereafter  became one of the Guardians of Scotland . Edward 1 (Longshanks) was enraged that the Scottish upstarts  dare  challenge  his authority . Having just returned  from a campaign  in France  he ordered his army to invade Scotland . The wily Wallace adopted  a scorched earth policy destroying crops and vital supplies required  by the invaders . This  resulted  in many of Longshanks’ soldiers  deserting and mutinying from the resulting hardships  .Wallace  attacked and captured the Fair City of Perth killing or taking prisoner  the English garrison .It was not however all success . Such was the size of the invasion force that perhaps the inevitable happened

 Wallace’s confrontation at the Battle of Falkirk saw him defeated by the superior strength of his foes. What was interesting in this encounter  was that the English army contained a  number of Scots nobles including one Robert Bruce  who was a little later to become King Robert 1 of Scotland . The reasoning behind  this apparent anomaly lay in the fact that many Scots nobles , particularly those of  Norman descent held land in England as well as Scotland thus causing a loyalty problem when conflict occurred . 
Wallace resorted again to guerrilla tactics with a degree of success. Just before his betrayal and capture he led his  men at what  had become  a typical hit and run tactic near Bridge of Earn south of Perth in 1304. Again he chose to strike as the English troops were attempting to cross the River Earn heading northwards. Wallace however was captured in the end by the betrayal of a so called compatriot , one Sir John Stewart of Menteith . For the paltry sum of £151 Wallace  was handed over to the English and taken to London  where  King Edward determined his fate .   Wallace received no trial but was hung , drawn and quartered after torture and his head and limbs displayed both in England and in Scotland as  a “ deterrent “ to any of his  fellow countrymen following suit .

The "Trial " of William Wallace

Robert the Bruce and the Battle of Methven 

Commemoration Stone in Methven Den
The aftermath of Wallace’s death saw the arrival of someone who was to make an indelible mark on the future of our country . Robert Bruce , Earl of Carrick and Lord of Annandale was of Norman descent and held lands in England as well as Scotland . As stated above this was why Bruce had actually fought on the side of Edward of England against Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk . Bruce’s arrival on the scene was largely on account of his claim to the Scottish throne . He murdered another claimant John Comyn allegedly in a church in Dumfries . The Comyn family held amongst other strongholds Castle Cluggy at Ochtertyre just west of Crieff . Bruce was crowned at Scone in strong defiance of Edward . We have narrated in an earlier blog how Bruce marched into Strathearn confronted Malise Earl of Strathearn at Fowlis Castle demanding , successfully , that he pay him due allegiance.  Bruce’s had a displayed a powerful and  ruthless approach to controlling his country but the aging Edward was not someone who would lightly relinquish what he believed was his . In 1306  he assembled a large  force at Carlisle under the  command of the Earl of Pembroke – Aymer de Valence – who just happened  to be the brother in law of John Comyn murdered  by Bruce . Under the Dragon Banner the army marched into Scotland . The significance of the banner was simply that it indicated n  mercy would  be shown . Perth was soon occupied and  Bruce moved into action . The story goes that Bruce sent four emissaries to the town to make an agreement not to commence  battle till after the end  of the Sabbath ( Sunday ) . After this had been achieved , Bruce and his army made camp at what was probably Methven Den  north of the present village. In a relaxed mood Bruce’s army were sitting ducks when de Valence attacked . It was a virtual slaughter and Bruce himself was captured . Fortune  smiled for once when he was recognised and released by a Scottish knight John de Halliburton fighting on the English side . Bruce with a few followers escaped through the wood . It  was estimated that only about 500 Scots escaped and survived . Bruce  spent the next eight years fighting a guerrilla campaign  like his compatriot William Wallace . The grand finale came in 1314 when Bruce won a stunning victory at Bannockburn against Longshanks’ son Edward ll . It  was in reality another 27 years before the Wars of Independence were finally won and Scotland liberated . Strangely enough that final clash was the liberation of Perth when the English garrison surrendered after a prolonged siege . Unlike earlier scenarios things showed a more humanitarian touch than might have been anticipated . The English commander Sir Thomas Ughtred and his men were allowed  to leave  Perth and join the English fleet anchored further downstream in the Tay. They returned to England and Scotland was at last free and independent ,

Robert the Bruce
Scotland Today
In September  2014 all persons aged 16 and over living in Scotland will have  the
democratic right to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum . Irrespective of
which way one  chooses  to vote , it clearly demonstrates a freedom to express one’s
opinion as to how Scotland  as a nation should  be governed . This blog is an historical
account of our turbulent past and not a political diatribe  Of all constituent  member
nations that comprise the United Kingdom , it is arguable that with the advent  of 
devolution and the re establishment of the Scottish Parliament after  some 300
years  in abeyance , the quality of government in this  country is fairer and more
democratic than it  has been  for many a long decade . The anomaly in the UK now is
that whilst, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own devolved
Parliamentsor Assemblies, England, by far the largest of the four nations, has not!
The somewhatmyopic Westminster Parliament in London seems to believe that as well
as administering for matters affecting the whole of these Isles it can squeeze in the
domestic businessof its English members without any problems. Devolution in the case
of Scotland includes control and legislation covering such matters as housing, health,
education and tourism . These matters are voted on in the Holyrood Parliament by
Scottish MSPsand no one else. Similar matters affecting England alone are voted on
in the Westminster Parliament not just by English elected MPs but by Scots, Welsh
 and Irish MPs - a somewhat odd situation . 
Scotland politically may be defined as a social democratic country with 85% of the
constituency vote at the last ( 2011 ) election going to parties  who fall within this
category . The political balance at Holyrood  is  maintained  by the use of the  STV
or Single Transferable Vote . The existence of the Conservative  Party at ,Holyrood,
for example  has  been maintained  by the use of this system .Under  the
Westminster“ first past the post “  system they would have disappeared  without
trace  - hardly a democratic decision to protect the rights of the largest right of
centre grouping !
Come 2014 let democracy be the judge . If  you have a vote listen to the debate
and decide !

Friday, 10 May 2013

A look at the historic village of Methven and its Castle

 Methven Castle

Methven Village

The village of Methven  lies some  10 miles  to the  east of Crieff and approximately 7 miles  west of the City of Perth . Like  so many  villages in the Strath that  sit  astride modern highways  it  suffers  from  its  somewhat  linear lay out which sees  heavy traffic  speed its  way  to places elsewhere ! Scratch the surface  of this wee place  and  you come  up with a plethora of  fascinating facts about its heritage and historical past. Just off Main Street lies the Methven and Logiealmond Parish Church built in the 1780s and so typical of the parish churches of this period  we  find  scattered about Strathearn .  Built  by local masons James Watt and John Taylor  and a wright called James Anderson , it was in its original state  somewhat devoid of the imagination of  design . The additions of the 1820s made up for this in no  uncertain way and the little kirk  with its  eye catching  bell  tower or bell cote is undoubtedly one of the most attractive church buildings in the area . The organ within the church  was originally installed  within near by Dupplin Castle .

Methven and Logiealmond Parish Church
Interestingly there till remains a little of  yester year that pre dates the present building To the west of it lies the Methven Aisle  - a surviving  part of the medieval kirk / church which was demolished in 1783. It dates  back to 1433 when Walter Stewart , Earl of Atholl , endowed an establishment consisting of a provost , 5  chaplains and 4 choir boys ! The importance of pre Reformation Methven was highlighted in the early 1500s  when 9 extra prebends ( similar to canons ) were  appointed  including  one under the auspices of the King , James lV .Although  badly weathered  , one  can still make out the King’s  Coat of Arms on the north gable .

Last  but not least , I must  draw attention to the Lynedoch Mausoleum  located  next to the  kirk in the adjoining churchyard , Constructed  to the design of the renowned Scottish architect James Playfair in 1792 , this neo classical structure was commissioned by General Thomas Graham , 1st Lord Lynedoch ( the “ Lion of Barossa “ ) in memory of his wife Caroline  who pre deceased him .

Methven Castle

Prior to 1323, the lands of Methven belonged to a family by the name of Mowbray.  Their ancestor, Roger Mowbray, a Norman, accompanied William the Conqueror to England. “A branch of this family, “ says the Old Statistical Account, “ afterwards established itself in Scotland, and became very flourishing.”

Sir Roger Mowbray held the baronies of Kelly, Eckford, Dalmeny, and Methven,  in the shires of Forfar, Roxburgh, Linlithgow, and Perth respectively. Politics  were a delicate  matter in those far off days . The Mowbrays  adhered to the Baliol and English interest, and after Bannockburn in 1314 their lands were confiscated by Robert I aka Robert the Bruce who bestowed Eckford, Kelly, and Methven on his son-in-law, Walter, the eighth hereditary lord-high-steward of Scotland. It was his son who succeeded to the crown in 1371, as Robert II. This was in right of his mother, Marjory Bruce who was the daughter of Robert I . The Lordship of Methven was granted by him to Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl, his second son, by Euphemia Ross, his second wife. After his forfeiture  in 1437, it remained within the Crown’s  jurisdiction for  some considerable time. It became part of the dowry lands usually appropriated for the maintenance of the queen-dowager of Scotland, together with the lordship and castle of Stirling, and the lands of Balquhidder, etc-, all of which were settled on Margaret, queen-dowager of James IV . In the year 1525, having divorced her second husband, Archibald, Earl of Angus, she married Henry Stewart, second son of Andrew Lord Evandale ( afterward Ochiltree ) a descendant of Robert, Duke of Albany, son of King Robert II. Margaret was the eldest daughter of Henry VII- of England, in whose right James VI- of Scotland, her great-grandson, succeeded to that crown on the death of Queen Elizabeth .

She procured for her third husband a peerage from her son, James V, under the title of Lord Methven in  1528 . On this occasion, the barony of Methven was dissolved from the Crown, and erected into a lordship, in favour of Henry Stewart and his heirs male, on the Queen's resigning her jointure of the lordship of Stirling. By Lord Methven she had a daughter, who died in infancy, before herself. The queen died at the castle of Methven in 1540, and was buried at Perth, beside the body of James I. Lord Methven afterwards married Janet Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Atholl, by whom he had a son, Henry, who married Jean, daughter of Patrick, Lord Ruthven, and was killed at Broughton by a cannon-ball from the castle of Edinburgh in 1572. He  left a son, Henry, who die without issue and accordingly the lands reverted to the Crown. This third Lord Methven is mentioned on the authority of Stewart's Genealogical Account of the House of Stewart. In 1584 the lordship of Methven and Balquhidder was conferred on Ludovick, Duke of Lennox, in whose family it continued untill it was purchased from the last Duke, in 1664, by Patrick Smythe of Braco.

 His great-grandson, David Smythe  (1746-1806), assumed the title of Lord Methven on his elevation to the bench; and his son, William (b. 1803) inherited and lived in Methven Castle . Methven Castle lies to the west of Perth and stands on elevated ground to the east of the village of Methven. This historical castle is steeped in history.

Methven Castle is first mentioned as early as 976AD. The King of Scotland, King Culen, who was crowned in 972AD, was, as a consequence of his wayward lifestyle, summoned to attend a specially convened Parliament in Scone, where it was planned that he would be deposed. However, en-route to that meeting he was slain by Cadhard, Thane of Methven, whose daughter he had reputedly de-flowered.

The Castle is not ( comparitively speaking )  that old having  been built  for the Smythes in the 1680s.  It is now  occupied  by the talented and artistic Murdoch family whose web  site tells us this lovely tale :

The Murdoch Family first took an interest in Methven Castle when, in 1953, Ken Murdoch fell off his motorbike on the sharp bends below the castle en-route to see Anna his bride-to-be who was living in St Fillans and from that time, pursued a love affair with both. However, it wasn't until March 1984 that the Murdoch Family became owners of what had then become a ruinous building.

The family are still in residence and have breathed  fresh air into a formerly decrepit pile ! Have a look at their web site  for  more intriguing apects of this incredible resoration .

My next blog  will cover the Battle of Methven and its part in establishing our  Scottish Nation .