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Clan Drummond
James Drummond and the Biddick Earls
Thanks to Monica Pleasants Molinar for sending this in
See her web site at

During the Jacobite uprising, James Drummond 3rd Duke and 6th Earl of Perth, joint commander of the Princes forces alongside Lord George Murray, had commanded a detachment of the rebel army at Preston Pans as a Lieutenant General and was also at the seiges of Carlisle and Stirling. Along with his uncle John, James had been one of the seven people to sign the association, engaging themselves to take arms and to venture their lives and fortunes to restore the Stuart family. Thus on the 16th April 1746, he found himself on Culloden Moor in command of the left wing of the rebel forces. This consisted mainly of the Macdonald Clan who grumbled that they should have been on the right wing, the same position as they held at the Battle of Bannockburn.The battle was fierce and the Highlanders, outnumbered almost two to one, were decimated by the British artillery, the left wing, held back by the very landscape about them, struggled to meet their enemy. If the left wing succeeded and made themselves more honourable than the right wing, James told his men, he would change his name to MacDonald .Shouting "Claymore" he led his men forward but fierce fire forced them back. Soon all was lost and the Jacobite army fled for their lives. Realising the battle was lost, James Drummond, blood flowing from wounds to his head and hands and aided by his servants, joined the retreat.

As the British army set about murdering the wounded and hunting down the surviving highlanders, James made his way to the area surrounding the Laird of Macintosh's house and sheltered for the night.The next night he journeyed to Ruthven in Badenoch where he gathered at the Jacobite held government fort with other survivors of the battle including his brother Lord John Drummond. On the 20th of April a message finally came from the Prince, it read simply "Let every man seek his safety in the best way he can".The testimony given by witnesses at the Cannongate Court during the petition by Thomas Drummond tells a different story to the contrived history drawn up by the 'False Earl', they tell how James in a far better condition than the 'history' makes out, returned to the area surrounding Drummond Castle and even visited his mother, becoming adept at disguising himself, sometimes as a beggar, sometimes as a woman.The locals became used to seeing James dressed this way, always bare headed and bare footed, but such was the Dukes popularity, they would never have thought to gain the rewards offered for his capture.This was the man for which they formed a 'body of guards' as he rode at the head of a column of tenants and friends through the huge livestock fair of Michaelmas Market at Crieff every year, they guarded him now with their silence.On one return visit to the castle he was forced to hide inside a cupboard while a servant stood in front of the doors when suprised by a search party. Having been found guilty of high treason, it became clear to James that Scotland was too dangerous a place to stay and that capture would mean death, and so with a heavy heart he decided to leave the home and the area he loved so much..

His brother John had left Scotland bound for France on board the ship La Bellone, and, gossip at the time indicated that not only had James joined him aboard, but also that he had died during the voyage from the wounds he gained at Culloden and had been buried at sea. This story was well received by James and his friends and they certainly had a hand in spreading the rumour in an effort to stop the English authorities from searching for him, perhaps a little too well as future events would show. James however departed on another vessel and soon found himself docking at the town of South Shields on the River Tyne and here he decided to leave the ship.

Travelling south he came to the town of Sunderland where he stayed for a time before moving inland to the small village of South Biddick on the banks of the River Wear outside of Sunderland.

In those days Biddick was a place of tough pitmen and smugglers and was well known for its unlicensed manufacture of liquor and of being a place that local law enforcement and duty men avoided. It was the perfect place for anyone wishing to 'go to ground'. It had a fiercesome reputation and the villagers were widely known as the "Bloody Biddickers". Here James struck up a friendship with a local pitman by the name of John Armstrong and was invited to lodge at his house.The Earl accepted the offer willingly thinking that the house of a humble miner was the last place anyone would think to look for him, and, if anyone did, the local mines would provide a good bolthole.Once settled he wrote to his brother John in France.John replied and in a letter dated 16 April 1747, exactly a year after Culloden, he said :

"I think you had better come to France, and you would be out of danger, as I find you are living in obscurity at Houghton-le-Spring," ( Biddick was then in the parish of Houghton ) "I doubt that is a dangerous place yet...You say it is reported you died on your passage to France. I hope and trust you will still live in obscurity..." , "hoping that you have at last recovered from your wounds".

The brothers continued to write to each other, John was serving under Marshal Saxe in Flanders and after the Seige of Op Zoom in 1747 was appointed Major General. Sadly though, even as this honour was being bestowed, he was lying ill from a fever from which he died. John was buried in the Chapel of the English Nuns at Antwerp. He died without marrying.

James had settled in well with the pitman and his family and because of his evident education was asked to teach the Armstrong's beautiful 13 year old daughter Elizabeth to read and write, a task he readily agreed to, James himself had been taught at the Douai College and later at the Scots College in Paris. As time passed, and in spite of their difference in status and rank, James fell in love with young Beth and for a time they courted secretly. Then just before they were to ask Armstrong for permission to marry, a great press gang descended on the area. The villagers had just sufficient time to prepare and James using his military knowledge, took charge. He instructed the villagers to put all the keel boats in line across the River Wear to form a pontoon bridge in order that the men of Fatfield Village on the opposite bank could run over them to aid them. The press gang was heavily defeated and James was held in high esteem. John Armstrong was more than willing to bless the marriage, and, after giving consent, learned the true status of his lodger.

James married Elizabeth in the town of Houghton-le-Spring on 6 Nov 1749, the Earl was 36 and the new Countess 17.

The Drummonds continued to live in the Armstrongs house and in time Elizabeth had a baby, James had realised for a long time that he would have to find funds and for a while had set up as a 'seller of shoes' but this business had been a disaster. One night while sitting by the banks of the river he heard a voice, "Good evening, my Lord Drummond, I ken you well". James wheeled around and faced the stranger, "Who are you" he asked "What do you know?, I warn you, sir, I have much to lose and will not surrender what happiness I have now lightly."

James was dumbfounded when the stranger introduced himself as Nick Lambton, landowner and Squire of Biddick.

"Oh. I know you have taken great care never to meet me" Lambton told him, "but I have known of you all along".

Nicholas Lambton told James all the news of his compatriots and warned him never to leave the safety of Biddick, he himself had no reason to see the Earl harmed, and offered his assistance. He gave James a cottage called The Boathouse near the river ferry and set him up as ferryman, here with calloused hands James Drummond Earl of Perth, plied the oars for a living while his Lady ran a small grocers store they had set up within the boathouse.

James and Beth had six children, two boys and four girls, the eldest son also called James became the inseperable companion of his grandfather John Armstrong. The Duke had always hoped that he would one day become a priest but although he had been well educated by James himself, the money could not be found to pursue this career and so the young James gained work at the local mine. After a fortnight he brought home his first wages to give to his mother. The pride the Earl had in his son caused him to reveal his story to his family, until that point Elizabeth had never been told of his true identity, he showed her his hidden papers showing his rights to the Drummond estate, these were the letters given to his grandfather by James II at Germain . He explained to them that the scars he carried had been gained at Culloden, one particularly nasty scar, on the back of his right hand stretched from his wrist to his middle finger which had been rendered shorter by the injury, here he told them was where a piece of bone had been taken out. Due to the death sentence still hanging over his head, he told his family to say nothing of his revelations.

In 1771 a mighty storm struck the North East of England, bridges, trees and even homes were swept away in the great floods, the boathouse was totally destroyed and with it went the small chest containing the all important papers. James searched the riverbank for weeks but in the end had to resign himself to the loss. His second son William had gone to sea, an active intelligent man, he had been mate, master and finally part owner of a ship.William had travelled to Scotland to see the Drummond family, he had taken with him several papers proving his identity, and after a successful meeting with family members had set sail for London to 'prosecute inquiry' into the standing of the heirs of James. During the passage his ship was struck by another and broke up, the survivors, trying to climb onto the ship that had struck them were beaten back with handspikes and all were subsequently drowned. This act of barbarity was carried out to hide the fact that the surviving ship had caused the accident. The fate of Williams ship was not discovered until years later when one of the guilty crew confessed to the crime, however it was deemed too long ago and that there was insufficient evidence for the authorities to take any action. William carried the remaining papers to his watery grave.

James had made several journeys back to Drummond Castle where he would hang around the local town and soak up the atmosphere and of course all the local gossip.At the age of 60 James once again had a yearning to return to his beloved Drummond Castle, he made the journey disguised as a pedlar in an old soldiers red coat bought for the purpose by Beth in Newcastle.Upon arriving there he sought out an old friend Mr Graeme, who while being astounded that James was still alive, chastised him for wearing the coat of an enemy and refused him entry until he took it off, giving him a fine coat to wear in its place, then he and others assembled there toasted the man they thought long dead, "Why " the said "the Duke of Perth has come to his own again". After spending some time there, James returned to Biddick. He told his family all that had happened, he lamented his forlorn and destitute situation, repeating to them that he was the Duke of Perth and that they were his children and heirs and, though he feared he would not get his lands again, yet, at some future period, perhaps, his children might, and gave them much good counsel as to their future conduct and deportment in life. (In hindsight it is a pity this counsel was not passed on to future generations). James never returned to Drummond Castle again.

Some anecdotes remembered by his family of the secret visits to his home are as follows :

Upon arriving at Drummond Castle he asked the housekeeper if he could see the apartments, the housekeeper, an old servant at the castle, looked at his face and, instead of telling this 'beggar' to leave, started to softly hum the tune "The Duke of Perth's Lament" as she went from room to room, upon entering the Duke's room James is said to have cried out "This is the Dukes own room" and burst into tears.

The local weaver took the Earl into his home and pointed to a large weaving machine standing there and said "What do you think of a machine like that in a poor weaver's house". James, in disguise put his hand in his pocket and pulled out his massive ancestral gold watch and said "What do you think of a thing like that in a poor beggars pocket".

James died in his seventieth year, early in June 1782. He was buried in Penshaw graveyard, near Sunderland.

Two years after his death the Act of Attainder which stripped him of his titles was repealed and another Act was passed to enable George III to restore forfeited estates to the heirs of attainted persons. This act named the heirs to the estates, but in the case of James Drummond, no heir was listed, the belief that James had died en route to France had, while giving him much needed protection, been believed so completely that it was not thought possible for there to be any heirs. If at this time the eldest son James had come forward and stated his rights the subsequent course of events would have been very different and the estates would have been restored. James however, for whatever reason, did not step forward, some say it was due to his timid nature, others that he had no knowledge of events and was anyway too poor to pay to press the claim. He died at Biddick on the 7th February 1823 and was buried near his father.

Many claimants did come forward however, one such claimant presented himself as Capt James Drummond and was awarded the titles, although an imposter.

The second James Drummond of Biddick left a family, the eldest son, called Thomas, was not of the timid nature of his father, he bore a striking resemblance to his grandfather and above all else wanted to regain the family estate.Soon after his fathers death Thomas devoted himself fully to accumulating evidence that would prove his claim. In this venture he was helped again by the Lambton family, this time by Lord John George Lambton a relation of Nick Lambton, and also known as Radical Jack the Governor General of Canada and the first Earl of Durham, the identity of the Drummonds had been as much a Lambton secret as it had been for the Drummonds themselves and so John Lambton knew of the validity of the claim.. A claim was made to the House of Lords which, in turn ,directed it to the Court of Privileges. On 21st June 1831 the case came up for hearing at the Cannongate Court Room in Edinburgh, here the daughters of James Drummond gave evidence before a jury, they related what their father had told them of the Battle of Culloden and his subsequent flight, of his clandestine return visits to his ancestral home and they supplied letters written by the Earls brother John from France. After hearing all the evidence the the jury decided unanimously that

Thomas Drummond of Biddick was proved to be the "nearest and lawful heir male of his deceased great-granduncle, Lord Edward Drummond.", and the heir of James Drummond formerly known as the Earl of Perth, and as such, had every legitimate claim to the Earldom of Perth and the estates of the Drummonds.

Thomas was overjoyed, soon, he told everyone, he would gain back the family estates and titles, all he had to do was put his case before the House of Lords. Thomas however had a reputation for liking the drink a little too much and would often be found in the local inns relating the Drummond history interspersed with musical performances on the violin he always carried, the inn patrons would repay this entertainment by buying him his drink, all the while being told that he would see them alright when his estates were restored. As the great day dawned Lord Durham furnished him with a new suit to wear before the Lords. As Thomas tried on the suit he decided to parade his new finery before the locals and went out into the lane, alas poor Thomas did not command the respect that his grandfather had and the local roughs seeing him swaggering around in his dress suit decided to teach him a lesson, his fine new coat was torn to shreds.

One day a man going by the name of Count Melfort appeared at the house of Mrs Elizabeth Peters, formerly Elizabeth Drummond, daughter of the Earl, and, calling her cousin, asked her if she had any family papers that could assist him in his claims to the estates, which, as the nearest male heir, undoubtably belonged to him. Mrs Peters pointed out that he was not the nearest male heir while her brother and his sons were alive. He seemed very distressed to find out that the Earl had male issue, he had been led to believe that James only had daughters. It is believed this Count Melford was a great grandson of John Drummond, the second son of James Drummond 3rd Earl of Perth and the younger brother of James the 4th Earl. He would appear to have been a Roman Catholic priest and officiated as such at the Roman Catholic Chapel in Moorfields, London. It is said that his claim to the estates was very strong (given that James the 6th Earl was believed to have died without male issue) and that he was ' bought off ' from making his claim by certain other claimants. Count Melford, ancestor of the current Earl wrote a book about the Drummond family which includes these years, it tells of conspiracies involving persons of high rank that gained much from the estates. Little wonder that a pitman from Biddick looking only for justice would find none, not when these high ranking persons had nothing to gain and much to lose.

In 1831 a book was published entitled "The Case of Thomas Drummond", it detailed the story of James Drummond and gathered together much of the detailed evidence from both England and Scotland, it left the reader in no doubt as to the validity of Thomas's claim. It opened with an address by Thomas himself.

The night before the case was due to be heard by the Lords, Thomas was summoned to the house of Lord Durham, upon whom he was relying for support in the Lords. When Thomas entered the room it was apparent to Lord Durham that he was totally drunk, some say he was in this state because Durham's butler had plied him with wine, others, that he had spent the night in the local bar, whatever the reason Lord Durham was disgusted and refused to have anything more to do with him.

The hearing at the Lords went ahead, Thomas stood before them, a poor ragged pitman, and stated his claim to his estates. The House of Lords has no real records of the hearing, but from snippets of information found in the library there, the following reasons for the failure of Thomas's claim can be surmised.

1. He had lost the backing of Lord Durham and any of his friends.

2. Lord Durham was unpopular at that time and so the mere fact that he had at one stage supported Thomas was enough to set some Lords against the claim.

3. Thomas was a mere 'pitman', an upstart, in an age when British snobbery was at its height.

4. The House was also considering a claim by the family of the current Earl, and, though this was a lesser claim from a different line, it seems that the House decided to overturn the lawful decision of the Cannongate Court, i.e that James Drummond of Biddick was in fact the 6th Earl of Perth and that Thomas was proven to be his rightful heir, and so turned down his claim in favour of the claim made by the Duke de Melfort to whom they eventually restored the titles in 1853.

Thomas returned to Biddick and the mines, though he made more claims during the following years they came to nothing, and, when the Duke de Melfort was granted the titles, Thomas finally gave up, the last record of him appears in the Penshaw Church Registers : "Thomas Drummond, Alleged Earl of Perth, buried November 22, 1873. 81 years. Signed Philip Thompson (rector).

Read the Inscription from the burial plot of Thomas Drummond.

After asking the House of Lords to provide information regarding the case of Thomas Drummond I was informed that "The case of Thomas Drummond is unusual in that despite his petition to the House to claim the Earldom of Perth, his case was not heard by the Commitee for Privileges", I do not know enough yet about these procedures but I intend to find out why the case was heard by the Lords but not by the Commitee.

For more information on the Drummonds visit The True Drummonds web site

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