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Pictish KingList 700 Years before the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath

2014 History Corner

Just a little history to while away New Year hours, before the daily round catches us unawares… It seems increasing one’s awareness of our more ancient roots has the added pleasure of making us more compassionate towards other struggles of NOW. Plus, Pictish history is my favorite indulgence, because the Scots tried to sweep it under the carpet, and the English taught only their own version in all schools.

So, for dipping in, or future delectation: here are the REAL heroes of pre-Celtic Scotland: Alba—Dubh: Home of the White Race with the Black Hair

Reblogged from Devorguilablog: View from the Pictish Citadel

PICTISH KINGLISTS:

Colbertine version of the Pictish Chronicle: King List MS-A from Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS Latin 4126

Pictish kinglists are exceedingly difficult to cross-reference and confirm, particularly as, once the Scots were in power in Forteviot (from c. AD843), annals were consistently adjusted–corrected, scored through and re-written–to reflect homage to the Scots and to glorify Dalriatan Scots lineage, to the detriment of the Pictish line.

Even as late as the Letter by the Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII (otherwise known as the ‘Declaration of Arbroath‘) in 1320, it was felt necessary to explain to the holy father how ancient was their ancestry and how famous was the nation of Scots–‘having expelled the Britons and entirely rooted out the Picts’.

Recent scholarship by remarkable historians, however– Marjorie O Anderson, David N Dumville and others–have added light to the darkness and within a relative framework of intermarriage between the reigning houses of neighbouring states at the time, a tentative list emerges.

A longer page with more detailed background can be found at Devorguila-page here.

As research and new knowledge produce results, these lists will be updated and revised. They are offered in the spirit of true academic thirst for knowledge and we hope that they will be received in the same light.

KINGS OF PICTS
While it is known that the journeys of Columba brought him to the fortress of Bridei son of Maelchon, king of the Picts, ‘near Inverness’, the extent of his dominion is not known. It may be that he ruled over the ‘Northern Picts’–as several annals from that time refer to the kingdom of the Picts as being divided by the range of the Mounth into northern and southern kingdoms.

On several occasions kings are referred to as ruling on ‘this’ side of the Mounth or on the ‘other’ side of the Mounth. Depending on where the Chronicle is being written at the time (either northern monastery at Fyvie or Kineddar or Deer– or southern monastery associated with Forteviot, Iona or St Andrews: Because no ‘original’ Chronicle of the Picts now survives–only 12thC copies–it is difficult to know which location is implied.

Forteviot cross commemorating Pictish monarch Custatin filius Forcus: his Latin name gives Pictish authenticity

Bridei is known to have died c. AD585.

617-633 Edwin King of Northumbria [Oswald, Eanfrith, Oswiu exiled in Pictland]
634-641 Oswald returned from exile, reigned as King of Northumbria
641-670 Oswiu reigned in Bernicia and from 655 over Northumbria
653-657 Talorgan son of Eanfrith (Northumbria) king of Picts
670-685 Ecgfrith king of Northumbria [672 Picts deposed Drust from kingship]
[672 Pictish army slaughtered by Ecgfrith]
672-693 Bridei son of Bili king of Picts [Adomnan became 9th abbot of Iona in 679]
681 Siege of Dunnottar (Kincardine)
682 Bridei laid waste the Orkneys
683 Siege of Dunadd and Dundurn (Perthshire)
685 Battle of Dunnichen Moss, called ‘Nechtansmere’; Bridei/Pictish army killed Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria
[Adomnan wrote his Law of Innocents and made visits to Pictish king in 697, d.704]
697 Tarachin (sic), Talorcan, king of Picts expelled from his kingdom
706-724 Nechtan son of Derile king of Picts (N and S)
711 Picts slaughtered by Northumbrians on ‘plain of Manaw’ (Clackmannan).
711 Nechtan requests Northumbrian architectural expertise in building a church ‘in the manner of Rome’, dedicated to Saint Peter–probable first church at Restenneth
717 Nechtan requests Columban ‘familia‘ return to Iona, leaving Pictish kingship in control of the Pictish Church
724 – 734 Nechtan retired to monastic life at Derile (Darley, Fyvie, Aberdeenshire); Drust ruled as successor
727 Oengus defeated Drust in three battles
728 Oengus defeated Alpin; Nechtan came out of retirement, defeated Alpin
729 Oengus defeated Nechtan who again retired, d. 734
729-761 Oengus I, son of Fergus, king of Picts
[735 death of historian Bede]
Oengus as overlord in Dál Riata, d.761
739 Oengus had Talorgan son of Drust drowned
750-752 Teudubr (?) son of Bili, king of Strathclyde, overlord of Picts
752 Battle of Asreth in Circenn (Mearns) between Picts; Bridei son of Maelchon died.
782 Dubh Talorc, king of the Picts on ‘this side of the Mounth’ died
789 Battle among Picts where Conall, son of Tadc escaped; Constantine victorious
802-806 Devastation of Iona by Vikings
811-820 Constantine, son of Fergus, king of Picts and of Dál Riata; founded Dunkeld–he is Pictish king commemorated on Dupplin Cross:Custatin filius Forcus
820-834 Oengus II, son of Fergus, king of Picts and of Dál Riata; founded Saint Andrews, buried in sarcophagus there
839 major victory by Vikings over Picts; death of Eoganan (Euan) son of Oengus–opportunity used by macAlpin for his takeover
c.840 Kenneth macAlpin king of Dál Riata
c.847 Kenneth macAlpin king of Scots and Picts – called himself King of Alba

KINGS OF SCOTS
858-862 Domnall (Donald I) king of Alba, brother of Kenneth
interregnum 862-880Constantin, son of Kenneth, king of Alba
ditto Aedth, brother of Constantin, king of Alba
880-889 Giric/Grig, brother of Donald mac Dunstan, king of Picts & Alba d. 889
because of his Pictish lineage, Giric/Grig ruled from Northern Pictland (St Cyrus in Mearns named after him)
He is founder of the Harbour of Aberdeen
900-943 Constantine II, son of Aedth, king of Scots
[937 after treaties negotiated with Northumbria, Constantine defeated at Brunanburh by Athelstan]
939 death of Athelstan
943-952 Constantine II retired to seclusion of St Andrews
943-954 Malcolm I, son of Donald mac Dunstan, king of Scots
954-962 Indulf son of Constantine II, king of Scots
[962-967 Culen macIndulf and Constantin macCulen interregnum with Dubh son of Malcolm and his
brother Kenneth II son of Malcolm 971-995]
967 Culen died at Cullen, Banffshire
966-1005 descendants of Constantine I excluded descendants of Aedth (son of macAlpin) from
kingship
Historical Kings of Scots
997-1005 Kenneth III, son of Dubh and his son Girc joint rule
1005-1034 Malcolm II king of Scots
1034-1040 Duncan I, grandson of Malcolm II through eldest daughter Bethoc. It was through his grandfather Malcolm II’s line via Malcolm’s second daughter Doada that Macbeth claimed kingship in 1040
1040-1057 Macbeth, grandson of Malcolm II, king of Scots
1057-58 (6 months) Lulach, son of Gruoch, lady Macbeth, by Gillecomgan, king (died at Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire)
1058-1093 Malcolm III Canmore, son of Duncan I, king of Scots

Further reading:
The Pictish Symbol Stones of Scotland (RCAHMS) ed. Iain Fraser 2008
Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland AD80-1000 by Alfred P. Smyth 1989
The Sculptured Stones of Scotland (2 vols) John Stuart, 1856
The early Christian monuments of Scotland: a classified illustrated descriptive list of the monuments with an analysis of their symbolism and ornamentation. JR Allen and J Anderson, 1903

©1998-2012 Friends of Grampian Stones, Editor: Marian Youngblood
Reblogged from Devorguilablog: View from the Pictish Citadel
©2013-2014 Youngbloodblog

January 5, 2014 Posted by | history, Prehistory, sacred sites | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phantom’s Child and the Scent of Roses

PHANTOM’S CHILD

Fyvie eastern front, showing contrast between older apartments and Seton's grand front

‘FYVYNS riggs and towers
Hapless shall your mesdames be,
When ye shall hae within your methes,
From harryit kirk’s land, stanes three–
Ane be in Preston’s tower,
Ane be in my lady’s bower,
And ane below the water-yett,
And it ye shall never get.’
Thomas the Rhymer

In November last year a group of us writers decided to take part in the NaNoWriMo marathon: a project to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. One of the carrots dangled before our writerly eyes — slaving over our Muse-filled computers — was the offer by Amazon’s CreateSpace that ‘winners’ who reached the target would have their novels published by them: one proof copy provided free. Too good to be true. Several of my blogging friends took part and we had until June 30th 2010 (today) to edit, rewrite, get feedback on and submit the resulting MS. It was truly a marathon. I and a number of my blogging buddies miraculously succeeded in reaching the wordcount. Below is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my entry: ‘Phantom’s Child’. Another was featured on this blog back in November last year. The evocative bookcover (shown below) was designed by my talented illustrator friend Joris Ammerlaan. Thank you, Joris.

A haunting scent of roses follows Lady Lillias

‘I AM not as I appear. I have taken many forms. The greatest of these is the one they call the Greene Ladye, but I am many. I have always lived, never died. It is my wraith they see in the drawing room, but my spirit is abroad for all Time. I cannot die.’

History is a strange thing: its tellers and retellers say one thing, historians in books something else. Mother’s tale had such immediacy, such clarity; I might have been there with her.

Kings, queens and courts of old had royal bards recite their oral history. This clever method of continuity made the past sound real. In the earliest times, when only clerics and kings could write, it served a dual purpose: to keep tradition alive (books and manuscripts could be burned and stolen), and to instill in the young a pride and knowledge of their heritage, so that they, too, would pass on a love of nationhood to their children.

Mother’s tale had such tragedy and yet it was full of poignant meaning, I didn’t want her to stop. At first I had no idea why she was discovered searching the Fyvie Charter Room for what I thought was the wedding dress of her ancestor at Straloch. It was only after some details emerged that I knew, not only was she living the life of her Straloch ancestor in her mind. She was being dragged through the minds of all her ancestors; my ancestors; through a long line of past lives.

Dame Lillias Drummond, the wraith who haunts the Ladye's Bower

I have since wondered whether she has passed on to me the ability she expressed that fateful day in the car on the way home with the boys. They were quite oblivious, lost in their ‘I Spy’.

I have many times since then felt myself in my mind standing in a room I do not recognize. If I had been able to ask Mother, I would have tried to find out what to expect. As it turned out, her need to express the tale was so vital, her slight frame shaking throughout, it was beyond us to make her stop. And after the tale was told, I’d already lost my opportunity.

Mother was already in the realm of the ancestors, caressed by their timeless fingers – a flimsy ribbon of time and space, of genealogy and upbringing – which holds the family together.

* * * * * * *

OF course I’d heard of the Fyvie curse. We all had. Many families in the Shire had similar stories. When your family tree is a product of generations of intermarriage and strategic connections, there’s bound to be an overlap. It’s understandable.

Fyvie started out as a domain of kings. Even before 1200 there were royal charters. But in the mists of unrecorded time, local knowledge, a few recopied Pictish Chronicles, and placenames in the countryside were all one had to go on. We knew there was a Pictish royal settlement, nay, even a royal lineage through the female line there, but records were sparse.

The only real window, though, the window of history, had some significant dates.

One I learned at school was the event with ‘all-the-2s’: Alexander II of Scotland held his court there on February 2nd 1222. He was not the only king to make his residence in the turreted stone keep. William I ‘the Lion’ was there before him and probably had something to do with the earlier curse – the curse of the weeping stones.

Mother was less concerned about the stones and more about the second part of its pronouncement,: that, as these displaced sacred boulders would never be found, the ladies of Fyvie would be cursed forever; to survive in the knowledge that they could not bear sons who would live to reach maturity.

I doubt whether the original builder realized he was desecrating sacred ground when he took three stones to build the first stone tower. It’s called the Preston Tower, but it was standing long before that family owned Fyvie in the early 15th century.

Mother didn’t concern herself with such details. She said she was sure it was a Pictish citadel before the Normans took it over in the 12th century, and the Picts hadn’t moved the stones, because they held sacred heritage dear. So it couldn’t have been them.

I guessed the Normans — after 1066 — were the culprits. It’s a long time for a lineage to pay the price of something as simple as moving three sacred boundary stones from Churchlands and building a tower on top of one of them. But that, it seems, is what caused the curse.

And while two of the stones have been found — one in the foundations of the Preston Tower and one residing in a bowl of its own tears in the Charter Room where Mother was caught red-handed — the third is never going to come to light. Thomas the Rhymer, author of the sad song of ‘hapless mesdames’, was fairly clear on that.

Mother said he had it in for Fyvie because he thought they were inhospitable and slammed the great door in his face.

‘But it was only the wind.’ She spoke in a whisper, as if she remembered the day personally.

Great Iron Yett swung shut when Thomas the Rhymer approached

‘Thomas of Ercildoune. Berwickshire was his home. What he was doing up this way, I cannot fathom.’ She continued. ‘He liked to think he was a seer of sorts. He warned Fyvie of his visit, and admonished them to keep the yett open, but it took him two years to arrive. I imagine by that time they’d forgotten or were concerned with other things. He was singing ballads and pronouncing oaths and prophecies at the feast tables of all the nobles between Edinburgh and the North. Anyway, when he finally arrived, a fierce storm arose and the winds caused the great iron yett to slam shut before he reached it. They say, too, that while the castle was surrounded by a vortex of high wind, he stood in a pool of calm just a stone’s throw away.’

His curse certainly had a far-reaching effect. Not just through time in this amazing place, but through generations of families in other houses in the county as well.

It was common knowledge in our circle that since 1433, the castle, its lands and its title of barony had failed to descend through the firstborn son. Since the mid-fifteenth century until it was purchased by the National Trust for Scotland in 1984, the firstborn male of every generation at Fyvie died. The castle changed hands too. So the curse wasn’t family-specific. Mother made me remember that. Or rather, she used to tell me: ‘it goes with the family AND with the house.’

That meant the female line was cursed too, even if it married into another line.

I was never very sure — until that day in the car — whether our family had Fyvie links or not. But now I am certain of it. And, if you believe in curses – and this one seems ironclad – there isn’t much one can do about it.

In 1290 it was king Robert III of Scotland who gave Fyvie to Henry Preston, whose tower remains. He had no male heir, so the castle changed hands through marriage in 1433, passing with Preston’s eldest daughter to the Meldrums. It is known that they did indeed build the second tower to mirror the first.

Their firstborn son died.

However, as the Meldrums had houses elsewhere, they chose not to live at Fyvie and somehow escaped the curse for a generation or two.

The Meldrums sold Fyvie to the Setons, another great Northeast family with houses all round the county. Sir Alexander Seton, first earl of Dunfermline and Chancellor of Scotland who bought it in 1596 had no time for the curse; his dreams of creating a dynasty did not include ‘such nonsense’, Mother said; and he began plans to make it an architectural masterpiece.

Alexander Seton's great south front at Fyvie

His building of the grand southern front which greets visitors today, was inspired by castles he had visited in the Loire and valley of the Rhône, and his vision was truly spectacular. He consolidated the south front with a five-storey wing connecting both the Preston and Meldrum towers and built a great extended work of staterooms and offices stretching out back toward the North. His glorious south façade culminated in central twin towers which greeted his famous guests and royal visitors: it is this Great Entrance which is called the Seton Tower. In dividing his time between the court in Edinburgh, a palace in Dunfermline and creating such grandeur in Aberdeenshire, he had little time for his wife and four daughters. He had no male heir.

‘It was during his grandiose schemes that time passed and he forgot about me.’

I jumped. I had forgotten Mother was still consumed by her persona as one of the Fyvie ladyes: Until that moment it hadn’t occurred to me to ask which of the ‘hapless mesdames‘ of the castle had become the one with which she identified the most.

'Phantom's Child', 2009 NaNo winner picked up by Amazon CreateSpace publishing arm

So it was Lady Lillias Drummond, wife of Alexander Seton, later to be known as the ‘Greene Ladye’.

I might have known. Lillias was a sad soul. She gave him five daughters, all hale, healthy, nubile and ready to marry into the best families of the land. But because of his position, or perhaps because he had to prove that the curse was no match for his power and wealth, he wanted a male heir. The long awful tale began with his plan to marry another.

In order to do that, however, he had to be rid of Lillias.

‘I was too strong. He couldn’t poison me and, while he tried, he was unable to starve me to death. I died of a broken heart.’ I’d read many versions of the tale, but wanted to hear it from Mother’s lips.

Lillias heard of her husband’s plan to marry Grizel Leslie and gave up early in 1601. Her husband had her locked in her bower, the so-called Murder Room, and fed her gruel. They said she died there and her body was left to decay. Another story is told of her being walled up in a secret panel. However, Mother was not going to let me dwell on details.

‘He left me there to die, but for the sake of decency, did not take a second wife until October of that year. I was in my room from May till October.’ She made her own death sound quite surreal; her disembodied voice came from another layer of reality. ‘Only on their wedding night, I declared I’d had enough of the charade. He needed to be punished. He did not believe in the curse. He and Grizel were going to have a son, whatever happened to me. I made sure they remembered their act was murder. I stalked them that night. I stalk them still.’

The tale is told to present-day Fyvie visitors that on the night of October 27th 1601 the newly-wed couple had to spend their wedding night in the bedchamber above the Charter room in the old tower, because the new apartments Alexander was decorating for his bride in the Seton Tower were not yet finished. They were disturbed by strange scratching sounds outside their bedroom window, accompanied by heavy sighs which went on through the night. In the morning they discovered a name scratched on the outside window sill upside-down:

‘D. LILIES DRUMMOND’.

As the bedchamber is on the fourth storey, fifty feet above ground in the old defensive wall which has no footholds, it was thought the carving might only be achieved by someone with powers of levitation — or the ghost now called the Greene Ladye.

Mother loved this part of the story. I know she liked being Lillias. She said it was because she has free rein to wander throughout the apartments at night, as she did when she was mistress, but I think it is something simpler.

Lillias always left the room with a lingering scent of roses

Mother always loved her garden and roses were her particular favourite. Whenever I found her in latter years, she had, season permitting, a rosebud in her hand. Lillias, or the Greene Ladye, has been seen by many Fyvie custodians. She is one of their favourite ghosts. And whenever there is a chance encounter, or one of the guides or visitors feels a presence over his shoulder, it is usually accompanied by the scent of roses as the apparition moves through the room.

Mother read my thoughts.

‘Yes,’ she said. I am glad. They took my home, my children and my life. But I was able to bring my roses.’ She smiled and I was certain that she was right. For a moment, in the old family car filled with noise, childish laughter and song, on Mother’s last drive from the coast to the security of home I was sure I smelled the scent of roses.
©2010 Marian Youngblood
This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of Marian Youngblood’s forthcoming historical novel ‘Phantom’s Child’, published by Amazon CreateSpace

June 30, 2010 Posted by | authors, belief, culture, history, novel, Prehistory, publishing, traditions, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ides of March: Prophecy & the Power of Belief

Julius Caesar, iconized and immortalized after his death, Ides of March 44BC

Julius Caesar, self-styled vanquisher of Britannia, those restless natives in the extremities of his empire, would be surprised to learn that, 2054 years after his death on 15 March 44BC, we still remember him, if only for the prophecy that warned of his demise. It is extraordinary that most of the English-speaking world – if they think about it at all – associates the middle of March with that ancient Roman calendar which named the beginning of a lunar month the Kalends, the day of New Moon the Nones and middle (or full moon) the Ides. And, as the Julian calendar had only been established and corrected to include months of 30 and 31 days two years before he died, it seems his prophesied murder had potency because it happened on a Roman full moon.

What is it about phases of the Moon and our need to believe in doom and gloom?

Nostradamus, French apothecary and seer Michel de Nostradame (1503-1566) was famous not only for thousands of quatrains, but for the obscurity and multiplicity of their interpretation. He wrote the following quatrain:

‘The Moon in the full of night over the high mountain, The new sage with a lone brain sees it: By his disciples invited to be immortal, Eyes to the south. Hands in bosoms, bodies in the fire’ Century IV number 31

French Apothecary and Seer, Nostradamus

It has so far escaped attribution. In recent years the most famous of his quatrains (Century I Quatrain 87) has been interpreted (usually by re-writing its context), to apply to the World Trade Center tragedy of 9/11, 2001. In the original it appears:

‘Earthshaking fire from the centre of the earth will cause tremors around the New City. Two great rocks will war for a long time, then Arethusa will redden a new river’

When rewritten to tie more closely into the the Twin Towers scenario, it reads:

‘Sea of fire at the world centre, The tower of the new city will tremble: Two great blocks will be at war for a long time, Then Arethusa will redden a new river

Lost in the thrill of proclaiming the French mystic’s ability to see five hundred years into the future with such precision, the interpreters failed to notice a suggestion by a contemporary volcanologist that Vesuvius is sited between two great massifs, did in fact tremble and erupt shortly after this prediction and Arethusa – a Greek mythological Neried who was turned into a fountain – appeared to influence ‘rivers’ of lava which cascaded down its slopes. Nearby Napoli/Naples, in translation does also mean ‘New City’.

Such is the nature of perfect prognostication.

Its interpreters may never agree. And yet it is human nature to ‘see’ the alternate reality, poised, ready to believe.

In the months following 9/11 public hysteria whipped up by veiled suggestion had books on Nostradamus and those quoting his work catapulted to best-seller status in both Amazon and Barnes & Noble reading lists.

In Nostradamus‘s time, the Scots-Gaelic equivalent of the French prophet was one favored by Clan Mackenzie in their talented son ‘Dun’ Kenneth (Coinneach Odhar), the Brahan Seer. While first reference to him in print does not appear until Thomas Pennant’s ‘Tour of Scotland’ (1769) “Every country has its prophets… and the HIghlands their Kenneth Odhar,” it is likely this refers to Keanoch Owir, ordered prosecuted by Rossshire authorities for witchcraft by two Commissions of Justice in 1577. Oral tradition says he predicted the fate of Fairburn Tower, seat of the Mackenzies overlooking great landholdings in Rossshire river valleys of the Orrin and Conon:

‘The day will come when the Mackenzies of Fairburn shall lose their entire possessions; their castle will become uninhabited and a cow shall give birth to a calf in the uppermost chamber of the tower.

Fairburn Tower where the Seer predicted a cow giving birth

The castle did indeed become a ruin and in 1851, when a cow calved in the garret, it was being used by a farmer to store hay. The prophecy was so well-known that people came by train to Victorian health-spa Strathpeffer and on by coach to see the cow. She had climbed up the tower following a trail of hay, had a good feed at the top and become stuck. She gave birth to a fine calf and both were carefully led down some five days later, allowing enough time for the incredulous to visit and see the prophecy fulfilled for themselves.

A laborer on the Brahan Seaforth estate, Kenneth was summoned by Isabella, Lady Seaforth to give her news of her husband, then on a visit to France. He saw in his mind the Earl cavorting with a Parisian demoiselle and wouldn’t answer his mistress. She threatened him with dismissal and insisted until he told her what he had seen. The revelation cost the oracle his life. Traditional reward for the bearer of bad tidings was death by ‘tarring’ in a barrel of boiling pitch. Before receiving his sentence, he threw his ‘divining’ stone into Loch Ussie and foretold the end of the male line and the extinction of the Seaforths.

In its Georgian heyday, one mile west of Brahan House the grounds stretched to meet the A835 Dingwall-to-Ullapool road. A monument rests by the road. It was here that the Brahan Seer’s final prediction of the fall of the Seaforths became a reality.

When the last Lord Seaforth died (after his four sons) the estates went to his eldest daughter, Mary. She had married Admiral Hood, spending several years stationed in the East Indies. When the Admiral died, Lady Mary Hood, (later Lady Stewart-Mackenzie) returned wearing the traditional Indian white coife of mourning. In 1823 Lady Mary was in control of a pony carriage near Brahan accompanied by her sister, Lady Caroline Mackenzie. The ponies bolted and the carriage overturned. Lady Caroline was thrown out and died of her injuries.

Dun Kenneth’s last words before he was ‘tarred’ were that Lord Seaforth’s possessions would be

‘inherited by a white-coiffed lassie from the east and she is to kill her sister’

Two of his predictions remain, so far, unfulfilled:

‘One day black rain will fall on the City of Aberdeen’

Optimists hope this refers to North Sea Oil and not nuclear fallout. And

‘Rome was; London is; Edinburgh shall be’

While this could refer to the present condition of Scots parliament sitting in the Scots capital, it may imply a future time when Edinburgh becomes more important than the capital of Great Britain…

Scotland’s most famous seer, however, is 13th-century Thomas the Rhymer, Thomas Learmounth of Ercildoune (c. 1220 – c. 1298), from a district now called Earlston near Berwick in the Borders. There is documentary evidence of a Thomas Rimor de Ercildoun witnessing deeds in the 1260s.

Nearly all his sayings have been recorded, and were first published in 1603, but it is remarkable that in the handing down through oral tradition of his many prophecies, the rhyming and rhythm has been maintained, so that his legacy is indeed a series of poetic prognostication.

And, remembering that what a poet, bard or seer of the 13th century was usually expected to foretell was the fate or future of a great house or a noble family, his words have a way of telling an alternative history of ‘lowland’ Scotland stretching from the Moray Firth to the Forth.

Sir Walter Scott became fascinated by him and created the ‘Ballad of Thomas the Rhymer’ to include in his ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border‘, 1802.

Syne they came to a garden green,
  And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
‘Take this for thy wages, true Thomas;
  It will give thee the tongue that can never lee.’ Thomas and the Queen of Fairyland 17thC Anon

The Queen of Elfland gave Thomas the gift of prophecy

The tale goes that Thomas Learmounth, while out walking near his Tower House of Ercildoune, sat to rest under the ‘Eildon Tree’, a hawthorn, known to have magical powers. While he slept, the Queen of Faeryland spirited him away to live with her, some say for three, others for seven, years and when he returned from what he thought was a nap of a few minutes, the world had changed by several years.

And he returned with the power of prophecy.

The Queen’s gift was bestowed on condition he should always speak the truth, but also on the strict understanding that he would return immediately at her summons.

His elf-given powers predicted some historically life-changing events:

The death of King Alexander III in 1296 in a fall from his horse
The succession of Robert the Bruce as King of Scots
The disastrous defeat of King James IV of Scots at Flodden in 1513
The defeat of Mary Queen of Scots at the Battle of Pinkie in 1567 and
The Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603.

The downfall of many a great landed family was until the age of film and television attributed to the powers the Queen of Elfland had bestowed on Thomas the Rhymer. Now fantasy is the stuff of moviemakers.

However, some of his prescient pronouncements bear repeating.

The family of Gordon from whom George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (the poet Lord Byron) was descended, suffered in a typically Thomas fashion:

‘When the heron leaves the tree
The laird o’ Gight shall landless be’

On May 12, 1785, his mother Catherine Gordon of Gight, the last female descendant of an estate overlooking the river Ythan in Aberdeenshire, married Hon. John Byron. The estate was sold soon after the marriage. Tradition says that about the time of the marriage the falcons or ‘herons’ which had built their nest for many years in a ‘fine tree near the castle’, left and took up their abode in the woods of nearby Haddo. Gight is now a ruin. Another, that

‘At Gight three men a violent death shall dee
And after that the land shall lie in lea.’

This prophecy was also fulfilled.

One of the most famous tragedies to befall a family in Aberdeenshire was that of the hereditary Earls Marischal, (former Knights Marischal), Masters of Horse to the Royal Household from time immemorial. The honour was traditionally given to the house of Keith, earlier known as Keiths-Falconer, later Earls of Kintore, Lords Inverurie and Stonehaven, a family with hereditary lands at Dunnottar south of Aberdeen, and Inverugie near St Fergus in Buchan. Their medieval power was so great that when county boundaries were drawn up in the 12th century after Norman nobles moved north with the Court, St Fergus (and Inverugie) was allowed to maintain the status of being part of Banffshire, from where the family originated. It is to this day an enclave of ‘Banffshire’ within the confines of ‘Aberdeenshire’ in this Buchan corner.

Crown Jewels of Scots Regalia, hidden from Cromwell's soldiers in the cellar at Kinneff

The family had been immensely wealthy, with lands stretching from the Moray Firth (Banffshire and north Aberdeenshire) through Kincardineshire (the coastal fortress of Dunnottar) to the Esk river boundary with Angus and the Mearns: an area half the size of Switzerland.

They were trusted, loyal to the Crown, had held their hereditary position as protector of the King’s person and his stable for centuries. They were elevated to Earls Marischal after supreme acts of bravery on behalf of the Royal House, concealing the royal regalia – the Crown Jewels of Scotland – after the coronation of James II in 1650, from the eyes of Cromwell’s soldiers, whose most ardent quest was to remove and destroy them, as they had so recently melted down the English regalia.

Dunnottar - fortified promontory keep on the North Sea - where the Crown Jewels were hidden

The Knights Marischal were the trusted recipients of the precious Crown, Orb, regal Sword and Sceptre after the hastily-conceived coronation at Scone, and they concealed them at Dunottar until it, too, lay under siege. The situation became urgent. The ‘Honours’ were lowered by rope to a serving woman in a boat who took them to the nearby village church of Kinneff and hid them in the cellar. For this act of bravery and allegiance the Keiths – after the king’s “Restoration’ – were elevated to Earls Marischal and once again their power and position seemed untouchable.

Until some of Thomas’s prophecies started to bite.

One relates him standing personally within Inverugie Castle grounds on a huge prehistoric boundary stone revered as sacrosanct in his time:

“Inverugie by the sea
Lordless shall thy lands be
And underneath thy hearth-stane
The tod* shall bring her birds hame.”

*tod = fox

and

“As lang’s this stane stands on this craft
The name of Keith shall be held alaft’
But when this stane begins t’ fa’
The name of Keith shall wear awa'”

In 1715 the Inverugie property of the Earl Marischal at St. Fergus was ‘attainted’ (put in disgrace). This meant that by order of the Crown, descendants could not inherit. The estate at St Fergus was bought from the Crown by York Buildings Co. Trustees of that Company sold it in 1761 to George, Earl Marischal, son of the attainted earl.

The stone of Thomas’s recital was removed in 1763 and built into the church of St Fergus which was then under construction. This seemed to add to the family’s downfall. The ‘new’ owner went into debt and he sold Inverugie in 1764, the year after the stone was removed, to Lord Pitfour, one of the senators of the College of Justice. Inverugie has not been in Keith hands since that time.

Dunnottar, too, fell into ruin.

One of the family’s other houses was at Auchmedden, near Pennan in Aberdour parish on the North Coast.

“As long’s there’s an eagle in Pennan
There will be a Baird in Auchmedden”

Baird was another family name of the Keiths. In historical records of the House, a pair of eagles built their nest in the cliffs near the village of Pennan and the Bairds protected them with the greatest care and fed them by placing daily on a ledge of rock near their eyrie food and tidbits. Willam Baird joined ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie as an officer of his bodyguard at Culloden. He continued in hiding for some years after and then lived the remainder of his life at Echt House (central Aberdeenshire) where he died in 1777. Auchmedden was not confiscated, but Mr Baird had to sell it in 1750 to relieve debt contracted in support of the Stuarts. When it was bought by Earl of Aberdeen in that year, the eagles left.

There is one final Keith prediction which may be their death knell, although Thomas’s words do not specifically mention the family:

‘When Dee and Don shall run as one
And Tweed shall run with Tay
The Bonnie Waters o’ the Urie
Shall bear the Bass away.’

The Bass is a man-made medieval mound used to garrison troops of David I (1170). It is situated at the confluence of the Urie and Don in Inverurie which meets the boundary of the lands of Keith Hall, where the Earls Marischal built their glorious edifice after they were elevated and once more restored to royal favour. The Hall is a superb example of 17th century style and elegance and its surrounding woodland reminiscent of once-great royal hunting forests.

The Earl of Kintore, in his traditional rôle as Chief of Clan Keith

It lies on the edge of the modern town of Inverurie and the town is encroaching.

The river floods regularly and in these last floodings, the Bass got its feet wet.

Within the last decade, the great Hall was sold and converted into a condominium; while the Earl and Countess of Kintore remained on the estate – making a comfortable residence in the Stables – they both seemed to have ‘lost’ something in the move.

Lord Kintore then ‘lost his seat’ in Tony Blair’s insensitive reshuffle of the House of Lords and the light went out of his life.

The Countess contracted cancer and was given a few months to live. One Hallowe’en, before events could progress too far in that direction, the Earl took his own life. His wife died within the year. Their son, the present Earl, no longer makes his home in Aberdeenshire.

The lands are walked upon by Inverurie passers-by who use the once-great ‘hunting forest’ to promenade their dogs on weekends, in the evenings; in fact at any time of the day or night. How many of them are aware of the great history that lies under their feet?

“The name of Keith shall wear awa'”

has come true in ways even Thomas could not have imagined.

So, did the Queen of Elfland ever summon Thomas back? Maybe so.

He disappeared one day in 1298 after walking out of his Tower House and was never seen again.

According to legend, he will return and come to Scotland’s aid in the hour of her greatest need…

March 15, 2010 Posted by | ancient rites, calendar customs, culture, earth changes, history, New Earth, popular, Prehistory | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments