Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Braemar Highlands
Part the Third - Chapter II

Donald Farquharson of Castleton, and collateral Traditions.

HAVING traced the successful career of Finla Mor, and noted the solid foundation laid by him for the future aggrandizement of his clan, I may notice next the traditions respecting the history of his family. They were not by any means slow to avail themselves of the advantages their chivalrous father had procured for them, or to strike out new paths for themselves. William, the eldest son, married a daughter of Lord Sutherland, and probably left Braemar, as he does not again figure in the traditions. James, the second son, bought the Castleton from Cluny Gordon, and settled there. A third son, Alexander, took up his residence in Glen Tilt. John, the fourth son, left Braemar, and settled in Craigniety. From him sprang the Farquharsons of that name.

A second family, of five sons and a daughter, were disposed of in the following manner. Donald, the eldest, succeeded his half-brother James in the Castle-ton; Robert, the second, succeeded to Invercauld ; Lauchlin obtained with his wife the property of Broughdearg; George got Deskry andGlen Conry; while Finla, the fifth son, bought with his wife’s dowry A chreachan, in Glenlivet. From one of his sons sprang the Allergue family of Farquharsons.

Beatrix, his daughter, though remarkable for her beauty, was not so fortunate in her settlement. She had herself to blame, however: although she had a large choice of partners of suitable rank, with a perversity by no means uncommon, her preference fell upon her father’s shepherd, a poor but handsome youth.

Though poor, Kenneth M‘Kenzie was in one respect equal to Miss Farquharson, as he claimed descent from Kenneth II. Be that as it may, Finla was very angry when he came to understand the state of matters. But as the maiden was inflexible in her purpose of marrying the shepherd, Finla gave in with a good grace. He had not quite forgotten the result of a like unequal match in the case of his own father.

The shepherd, when consulted as to where he would like to reside, replied in Gaelic, ‘ A ir an Dail Mhorgoram,' etc., i.e. on that big haugh far west, etc. Thus originated the name and family of Dalmor. The place is now called Mar Lodge.

As the first family of Finla left only daughters, the genealogy of the Farquharsons is continued through the second. The traditional account of Donald, the eldest, will form the subject of this chapter, as he succeeded to the chieftainship of the clan.

About the year 1541, Donald Farquharson, on succeeding, to the property of his half-brother James of the Castleton, was appointed bailie of Strathdee by George the fourth Earl of Huntly, who had lately been by special commission made Lieutenant-General of all the Highlands.

This office of bailie was a great accession of power to Donald. It has been thus explained : The Lords of Regality, with the great barons and chiefs, had jurisdiction conferred on them by the Crown. This power they sometimes exercised in person, and sometimes by deputy. The persons to whom they delegated their authority were called bailies.

The office could be no sinecure, however; for every part of the Highlands was the scene of a constant petty warfare between the different clans, and often between families of the same clan. Feuds were considered family property—a sort of sacred heirloom; while all the rancorous feelings engendered by them were cherished carefully until an ample revenge was secured.

In illustration of these remarks, I may notice a feud between James of the Castleton and Donald of the Coldrach. I mentioned in a former chapter that Fearchar, brother of Finla Mor, obtained the lairdship of the Coldrach in Glen Cluny, and when Fearchar died his son Donald succeeded. His cousin James having settled on the opposite side of the river, the two quarrelled about marches; and as might was the only right then, James killed Donald, and that for a season settled the matter.

Donald of Coldrach left a son called Fearchar. When he grew up, he married a daughter of the laird o' Abergeldie; and when he had obtained this increase of power, the 'troubles’ broke out afresh. It was not long until he also lost his life in the quarrel; for while crossing the Dee in a corrach (a small framework of wicker-work covered with skin) to labour a piece of the controverted land, the weight of his arms and implements upset the corrach, and he was drowned.

The contest even then was not given up, but continued by his son William Buidhie, i.e. Yellow-haired William, until he lost his life also, on which the feud ended. The Coldrach family left Braemar, and the lairdship was sold for a trifle to William Buidhie’s sister, who, despite all the quarrelling, had married Donald of the Castletoris son, her cousin William, who acted as fiscal to his father.

Before touching on Donald’s more public character as bailie of Strathdee, I may slightly notice his domestic history, alliances, and settlements of his family. Milton’s description of the celebrated banyan tree I have often thought very applicable to the Farquharsons. He says:

‘The fig-tree, not that kind for fruit renowned,
But such as at this day to
India known,
Malabar or Decca spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that in the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother tree.’

Donald of Castleton, like his father Finla, had two families. The first consisted of seven sons and a daughter; the second, of three sons and a daughter. A third wife he repudiated, on account of a feud with her clan. She was the mother of William of Coldrach.

His eldest son and namesake succeeded him in Castleton; his history comes in anon. The second son, Robert, became the progenitor of the Fenzean Farquharsons. As we do not again come across him, I give his history now.

From some disagreement which took place at home, Robert left his father’s house. As a curious illustration of the customs of the times, it is said that on finally quitting it he shut his eyes, and, turning round three times, threw his staff into the air: the direction in which it fell indicated, of course, the route it was best for him to follow. It happened to fall so, that. going straight before him he arrived at Dundee; and when there, though at first doubtless not a little galling to his Highland pride, he became first a plodding, but ultimately an expert carpenter.

Fortune, however, had no intention of dealing harshly with Robert It so happened that a great man and his daughter, a young widow, came to Dundee to visit some relations. It also happened that, in going to and returning from his work, having to pass the young lady’s window, the handsome carpenter made, all unconsciously, an impression which nothing would eradicate.

The lady became ill, and pined away; and though several doctors were called in, none of them had skill enough to reach the seat of her disease. But by some means her father began to suspect the real cause; and on his very peremptory demand to be made acquainted with it, she made a full confession.

‘Pretty work' said the chief,  but just let me know the first time you see him passing.’

Next morning, to Robert’s great surprise, he was accosted by a fine-looking old gentleman, who asked him to go into his house. On going in, he was informed what mischief he had been doing; but Robert had not the least compunction, for the old gentleman’s proposal for a family alliance met with a flat denial.

The old man took it very quietly, merely saying, ‘Very well; only you must see Maggie, and give her the denial yourself.’ He then ordered his daughter to make her appearance. No sooner did the really beautiful Maggie make her entree, than the father stepped out; but somehow or other Robert never gave her the denial. Instead of that, he soon after made her Mrs. Farquharson, and received a very handsome dower on his marriage-day.

Soon after these events he returned to his native place, and set up as a miller at Crathie. But, not prospering there as he expected, he went farther down the Dee, and erected a mill in Birseon the Fenzean estate. The laird of Fenzean lived far too fast, and, being often in want of money, had to borrow from his tenants. The repayment was often rather uncertain.

Mrs. Farquharson was a pretty good tactician ; so she resolved to take advantage of that circumstance, and as a first step sent her husband with an overflowing purse on the rent-day. The laird did not fail to notice that, and, as Mrs. Farquharson expected, soon applied for a loan. It was given with the greatest alacrity, on the security of the mill and adjoining farm. Shortly after another loan was required, and given on the same conditions, the mortgage of another farm. This was so often repeated, that Robert, who was not in the secret, got alarmed at the rapid decrease of his gold. His wife’s explanation, however, relieved him not a little.

At last there came a time when no more farms remained to mortgage, and Mrs. Farquharson at the same time found that she had no more money to lend—that, in fact, she would require to have some of the former sums repaid. That could not be done ; so the laird had to take his departure from the castle, while the miller and herself entered into possession of the estate of Fenzean..

To return to Donald of Castleton. Alexander, his third son, became laird of Allen-cuiach; James, the fourth son, got Inverey; the fifth, John, became the founder of the Tullycairn Farquharsons. The history of these settlements comes out fully in connection with their father’s public life.

As the Earl of Huntly, from his confidence in the bravery and prudence of Donald, had appointed him to the difficult office of bailie, so it was accepted in good faith ; and whatever may be said of the justice of Donald’s measures, they were vigorous enough, as the following instances will show.

Two brothers, of the name of Lamont, had come from Perthshire and settled in Braemar. One of the brothers had the property of Inverey, the other that of Allen-cuiach. A wealthy drover, of the name of Rory, was in the habit of lodging with Allen-cuiach on his way to and from the south markets. One evening, after drawing an unusually large some of money, he arrived at Allen-cuiach, and was, as on former occasions, hospitably entertained. Next morning he departed, accompanied by the laird’s son, young Lamont, who was to show him a nearer cut by the Bealeachdearg and Strathaven route.

A few days after, the drover’s body was found by two shepherds, with a deep cut in the back of his head. Rory had been murdered without doubt, and the great matter was to find out who had done it. As the young laird of Allen-adach was the last person known to be in the drover’s company, Donald of Castleton summoned him to appear.

The Lamonts and Farquharsons had long been on very indifferent terms. Jealous of the growing power of the Farquharsons, and doubtful as to the justice of some of the measures taken to increase it, a spirit of distrust had taken possession of the Lamonts; and now that the young laird was summoned to appear before Donald, fearing that he would not get fair play, he refused to do so.

The unfortunate lad, aware that his people could never withstand their powerful neighbours, and knowing also that William of Coldrach, the indefatigable fiscal, would soon be in search of him, fled to the hills. It was not consciousness of guilt which led to this course (his innocence was afterwards fully proved), but dread of the Farquharsons’ arbitrary measures.

Just as he expected, a party of Farquharsons, led by the fiscal, were speedily in pursuit; and as their knowledge of the district equalled Lamont’s, they soon ferreted him out, and at last succeeded in hemming him in beside a deep pool formed by the Dee, a little to the east of Cairn-a-quheen. Driven to I desperation, he leaped into the pool with the intention of swimming to the other side ; but he never reached it: the poor lad was drowned. His old father died of grief, and the confiscated lairdship was given to Alexander Farquharson, Donald’s third son.

Many years after, a number of Katrin were apprehended in Moray for cattle - lifting. Among them was the gillie who accompanied the murdered drover. Before his execution he confessed to the murder of Rory. After Lamont had left them, tempted by the large sum of money in his master’s sporran, he, while walking behind him, drew his sword, and with a single blow felled him to the ground. He then took the money and went and joined a band of Katrin. Although the innocence of Allen - cuiach was thus fully proved, the Farquharsons retained possession I of the property until towards the close of the last century, when it was sold by them to the Earl of Fife.

It has been said that the greatest insult which could be offered to a clan, collectively or individually, was to speak disrespectfully of its chief, each considering it a personal insult which they were bound to resent and revenge. If this was the general rule, Donald of Castleton made no exception to it. One instance of this, given at the expense of personal feeling, brings it out pretty clearly.

In 1562, a great battle was fought between the Earls of Moray and Huntly (Donald’s master) at Corrichie. Huntly’s army was defeated, and himself slain by some of the Forbeses, who were in the opposing party.

On hearing of this, Donald immediately put away his wife, as she was a niece of the Lord Forbes, which of course led to deadly feud with her tribe, or clan ; and it was during the wars which ensued that the war-cry of Cairn-a-quheen was adopted, though the cairn itself had been in existence earlier, as from the time of Finla Mor it was the spot where the Strathdee men assembled for war.

Shortly after the repudiation of his wife, Donald and his men assembled at Cairn-a-quheen, and proceeded to Lonach on Donside, where a fierce battle was fought, the Farquharsons claiming the victory. The results of it certainly favoured their interest. After this battle the feud was suppressed for a time, but it broke out again with great virulence; Arthur, brother of Lord Forbes, and the laird of Strath-girnock, being the aggressors.

Donald, as before, took the side of the Gordons ; and when a fierce battle took place at the Crabstanes between the Forbeses and Adam Gordon of Auchin-doun, deputy to his brother the Earl of Huntly, Donald rendered the latter essential service. At this onset one of the Gordons took Alexander Forbes, laird of Strathgirnock, prisoner; and as he had. been a principal means of stirring up the strife, he was sentenced to death. The sentence, however, was not carried into execution. Adam Gordon, in virtue of his power as deputy, after a short confinement at Auchindoun, set him at liberty.

Instead of being grateful for his deliverance, Forbes treasured up the injury of being taken prisoner in his heart, and only waited his time to take a terrible revenge. To wipe out the stigma of a defeat, or revenge the death of a relation, were considered sacred and paramount duties ; and the working out of these perverted ideas gave full scope to the wildest passions of the human heart. And perhaps one of the ugliest traits of the Highland character, was the patience with which they could wait for the fitting opportunity of revenging themselves, and at the same time conceal their vengeful intentions under a guise of friendship. Thus waited Forbes of Strathgirnock for his opportunity. At length it presented itself.

The lands and castle of Knock adjoined Strathgirnock; and on the death of the laird, Henry Gordon, his brother, the capturer of Forbes, succeeded to the estate. The new laird had seven sons ; and as it was not then considered below young gentlemen to engage in what is now considered menial employments, they went out one day to cast divots or sods, and all unwittingly set to work on Strathgirnock’s land.

Here, then, was the long-looked-for opportunity of an ample revenge. Forbes, calling out a number of his people, surrounded the lads. Unarmed, of course they could make little resistance ; and with his own sword he cut off the heads of all the seven, then ordered them to be attached to the top of the spades they had been using, and set in a row along the side of the hill.

Such was the fearful spectacle presenting itself when a servant arrived with their dinner. The sudden return of the servant, and his terrible state of excitement, brought the laird out of his chamber to inquire what was wrong. On hearing the dreadful fate of his sons, Gordon, completely overcome, fell over the banister of the stair on which he was leaning, and was killed. Thus Forbes was revenged.

Gordon of Abergeldie, a near relation of Knock’s, hanged Forbes in his own house, to avenge in turn the death of his relations, and then took possession of the lands both of Knock and Strathgirnock. This he did with some show of justice, as Donald of Castletori being now old and infirm, Abergeldie had been appointed bailie in his room.

With some account of the raid of the Clan Chattan into Strathdee and Glen Muick, I will conclude this legendary account of Donald of Castleton, as it accounts for the acquisition of Invereyby his son James. The great power conferred on the Earl of Huntly as Lieutenant-General of the north of Scotland, the promptitude and severity with which he put down the insurrections of the chiefs, etc., raised him up many enemies. Among them was M‘Intosh, chief of the Clan Chattan ; and he being convicted of heading a conspiracy against Huntly, was beheaded by him in 1550. From that time the clan watched for a favourable opportunity of revenging his death.

Huntly having retired for a time to his possessions in the north, resolved on erecting a castle at Ruth-ven, in the neighbourhood of the forest of Badenoch. This gave great offence to the Clan Chattan, as they believed his intention in erecting it was to overawe them; and from being at first somewhat dilatory, they at last positively refused to render the service required of them as vassals of Huntly in building it. This led to an open feud, in which they persuaded the Earls of Athole and Moray to assist them. This feud, which cost the Earl of Moray his life, ended in the defeat of the Clan Chattan; but so far were they from being subdued, that, as soon as they had recovered a little strength, under the command of Angus Donald M‘William, they invaded Strathdee and Glen Muick, because they were the friends and allies of Huntly.

Lamont of Inverey, considering this a fitting time to avenge the treatment which his relations of Allen-Qnoich had met with from Donald of Castleton, joined the M'Intoshes; and having swept Braemar, they descended the Dee through Crathie, to visit on a similar errand Glen Muick, Glengairn, and Tullich. They took, however, the precaution to send spies before them. There is a legend connected with these spies which will be best told here :

A son of Adam Gordon of Auchindoun had committed some misdemeanour, for which he was for ever banished from his father’s presence. Young Gordon, who from that time led a very unsettled life, came one night upon the old castle of Braichley. As was customary in the Highlands, he was hospitably entertained; and so agreeable did Gordon make himself to the baron, that he would not allow him to depart in the morning.

The baron, an old man, had lately married a young wife, and to this lady Gordon succeeded also in making himself equally agreeable. In consequence of this, some dark ideas were forming themselves in his mind. These incipient plans were suddenly brought to maturity by the following circumstance : One evening, while about the Milton of Tullich, he observed two men wandering about; he made up to them, and after some talk brought them into the hostelry and treated them liberally.

These two men were the spies of the Clan Chattan, and Gordon succeeded in bribing them to murder the old baron. After committing the deed they returned to Gordon, who, instead of rewarding them as he had promised, pretended the greatest horror at their crime, and with the help of the baron’s servants put the two men to death. A short time after, Gordon married the young widow, and so became laird of Braichley. His share in the death of the old baron at length became known, and being henceforth shunned and detested both by his wife and tenantry, he died miserably.

To return to the Clan Chattan. In revenge for the death of their spies, many of the proprietors of Glen Muick were killed, their castles and houses burnt to the ground. Braichley alone escaped, as it was well fortified, and garrisoned also by the tenantry.

About the time of this raid Donald of Castleton died ; and it fell, therefore, upon Abergeldie, now Bailie of Strathdee, Strathaven, and Badenoch, to see that the Clan Chattan and their accomplices were punished for this outrage. The better to secure the aid of the Farquharsons, Abergeldie offered his daughter Catherine in marriage to James the fourth son of Donald ofCastleton. The proposal was at once accepted ; for, besides the match being in other respects eligible, the Farquharsons had suffered in the raid along with the rest of the Strathdee people. So the whole clan turned out in its strength.

The first offender to be dealt with was Lamont of Inverey. With the force now assembled, there was little difficulty in seizing him. No proof was needed of Lamont’s guilt ; his part in the raid had been too conspicuous for that: so his punishment was summary. He was led out to a pine tree, not far from his own dwelling, and hanged on one of its branches. The tree still stands, with the branch on which poor Lamont was hanged stretching out sternly beyond the others; and from the tragical circumstance just related, and another which took place at the execution, it has been named the i Dark Doom's Pine!

Lamont was the only son of his widowed mother; and when the party marched him off to execution, she followed them, pleading, as only mother in such circumstances could plead, to spare his life, and take all they had in place of it. Seeing all her entreaties to be unavailing, and believing that the Farquharsons were the principal agents in the whole affair, she cursed them in the bitterness of her spirit, and also, in a sort of Gaelic rhyme, predicted the downfall of the clan. The substance of the rhyme was, that the tree would be green and flourishing when not one of the Farquharson tribe would be found on the banks of the Dee.

This prophecy is regarded by many of the people as accomplished, as of the Farquharsons of Monaltrie, Inverey, Auchendryne, Balmoral' Allen-Quoich, Tullochcoy, etc., not one remain, and even Invercauld has become extinct in the male line. Captain Ross, who married the daughter and only child of the last laird of Invercauld, assumed the name of Farquharson. The Fenzean Farquharsons, however, are of the old stock; and as they had nothing to do with this affair at Inverey, they are supposed to have escaped the ban.

After the summary proceedings with Lamont, Abergeldie and the Farquharsons, joined also by the McDonalds, continued the avenging march, and laid waste all the lands of the M‘Intoshes or Clan Chattan in Badenoch, the Grants also in Strathspey. Then, joined by the Earl of Huntly, they devastated all Pettie; after which they returned home laden with plunder, or, as they termed it, ‘spulzie.’ James Farquharson, as beforehand arranged, married Catherine Gordon, and received with her, as a portion, the confiscated lairdship of Inverey. Besides being the first laird of Inverey, he was also the ancestor of the Farquharsons of Atichendryne and Tidlochcoy.

Another and very different version of this raid is given, which is indignantly repudiated by the Braemar people as a total misrepresentation of the whole matter; and it must be admitted that local traditions and historical notices of it bear them out in that.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus