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Historic Homes of Scotland

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A hundred years ago Sir Walter Scott, in the writing of his romances, exploited the traditions and descriptions of many of the historic houses of Scotland. Much of the colour and vigour of his narratives, indeed, was owed to the fact that he was not merely spinning an imaginary yarn, but was telling again, vividly and with his own embellishment, the tales he had picked up in his reading of family history and in his rambles, from Carter Fell to Cape Wrath. Yet Sir Walter Scott exploited not a tithe of the legend and story that has gathered about these old family seats.

A dozen writers of romance, equally vigorous with Scott, might labour all their lifetime in the same quarry without exhausting its wealth and its wonderful variety of interest. If, as has more than once been said, there is not an acre of Scottish soil without its story, there is certainly not a mansion of any antiquity that has not its dramatic legend or romance. To illustrate this fact the story may be briefly outlined of a few well-known historic mansions of Scotland.

Since the Great War the old house of Bemersyde, overlooking one of the loveliest vistas of the Tweed near Melrose, has come once more vividly into public knowledge by reason of the residence there of the leader of the victorious British Army in France, Field-Marshal Earl Haig. For many centuries, in unbroken succession, Bemersyde has been a seat of the Haig family. Petrus de Haga owned these lands in the days of Malcolm IV, and Haigs of Bemersyde were slain at the battles of Halidon Hill, Otterbourne and Flodden. All the world knows the prophecy attributed to Thomas the Rhymer of Ercildoune, in the neighbourhood, who flourished about the year 1290:

Tide may tide, whate'er betide,
Haig shall be Haig of Bemersyde.

Sir Walter Scott tells how in his time the ancient prophecy appeared to have exhausted itself. The Laird of Bemersyde of that time had twelve daughters, and it seemed that in the absence of a male heir the estate must pass by marriage to another name. At last, however, the lady of Bemersyde presented her husband with a son, the perpetuation of the Haig proprietorship was again assured, and the fame of True Thomas as a prophet once more rose to its zenith.

In our own time the ancient prophecy appeared again to be on the point of collapse. There was every expectation that on the death of its owner Bemersyde would pass out of the possession of the Haigs. But on the victorious ending of the late war it occurred to the admirers of the great Scottish general that it would be a graceful act to present Earl Haig with the seat of his own early ancestors. This accordingly was done, and the connexion of the Haigs with Bemersyde was ensured in this manner for a further indefinite period.

Blair Castle, the great old many-towered mansion at the mountain foot, looking down upon the rushing Garry, half-way through the main pass of the Grampians, is of unknown age, and has always been owned by one of the most notable families in Scotland. Comyn's Tower, perhaps its oldest part, is believed to have been built in the thirteenth century by one of the chiefs of that great house, John de Strathbogie, who, in right of his wife, was known as Earl of Atholl.

James V was entertained at Blair, not in the castle itself, but in a wonderful palace built for the occasion at the foot of Ben y Gloe, which, when the king left it, was burned to the ground by his host- the fashion of the Highlanders, he said, with their summer sheilings. James's daughter, the beautiful Mary Queen of Scots, was also entertained at Blair with signal hospitality, and, more magnificently still, three centuries later, Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort were welcomed within these walls. For a time the Dukes of Atholl were Kings of Man, and they still upon occasion appear at the head of the only private army in Britain, the Atholl Highlanders. Within these walls John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, died of his wound after winning the battle of Killie-crankie for James VII and II in 1689, and among the treasures of the house are the sword and white cockade worn at Culloden by Lord George Murray, the brilliant lieutenant-general of Prince Charles Edward's army throughout the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

No mansion in Scotland, perhaps, enjoys a finer situation than Brodick Castle. Looking southward from its terrace among the woods that cover the lower slopes of Goatfell, over a lovely bay where the blue waters of the Firth of Clyde break on a crescent beach of yellow sand, and pier and village sun themselves at the mouth of branching glens, it is, with the island of which it forms the capital seat, a possession which must have filled the heart of many an owner with pride.

Built, to begin with, probably by the Vikings, who gave it its name of Brathwick, it rises to-day an irregular and picturesque pile. Captured with characteristic stratagem by the Good Lord James ol Douglas on the return of Robert the Bruce from his winter exile on Rachryn Island, it was destroyed in 1456 during the Douglas rebellion, when Donald Balloch and his Islemen, to help the Earl of Douglas, plundered the islands and shores of Clyde. It was restored, however, by James V, and garrisoned by Cromwell after his victory over the army of the Covenanters at Dunbar.

Dalkeith Palace, the seat of the Duke of Buccleuch, near Edinburgh, occupies the site of an earlier stronghold which in the time of Mary Queen of Scots was known as the Lion's Den. Thither the sinister Earl of Morton retired to evolve his unscrupulous designs, and General Monk had his headquarters in the castle while he governed Scotland in Cromwell's name. In 1642 the castle and estate were acquired by the Earl of Buccleuch, and forty-three years later came the tragedy of that house. Anne, Countess of Buccleuch in her own right, was one of the great heiresses of her time, and Charles II, marrying her to his own son by Lucy Walters, created the pair Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth.

It is matter of history how Monmouth rebelled against his uncle, James II and VII, and was defeated and executed. His widow, the Duchess Anne, lived for fifty-six years after his execution. She is pictured by Scott listening to the Lay of the Last Minstrel, recited in Newark Tower on Yarrow, and she replaced the ancient castle of Dalkeith with the present noble but somewhat ill-set palace in 1683. George IV enjoyed the hospitality of the palace in 1622, and, during the first fortnight in September 1842 Queen Victoria made it the headquarters of her Scottish visit, holding a levee in the great gallery which recalled the glories of Scotland before the Union. Since that time Dalkeith Palace has frequently entertained members of the Royal House.

Dalmeny Park, the seat of the Earl of Rosebery and Midlothian, on the shore of the Firth of Forth, near South Queensferry, has itself no episodes of ancient strife and tragedy to lend it glamour. Barnbougle Castle, within tidemark at hand, was till 1620 the home of the Moubrays, one of whose chiefs played a strenuous part in the Wars of Independence; and Dalmeny Church, of Saxon or early Norman architecture, recently restored, is the finest example of its style in the country, and has been in uninterrupted use for seven or eight centuries. But Dalmeny Park itself is of much more recent origin and interest.

The Primroses, ancestors of the Earl of Rosebery, rose into note in the second half of the seventeenth century, in the times of Cromwell and the Revolution. The baronetcy of the family dates from 1651. It was the first baronet who purchased Barnbougle and Dalmeny in 1662, and during the succeeding two centuries and a half the estate has been gradually brought into its present enriched and beautiful condition. Dalmeny owes its chief enrichments and most of its fame, however, to its present owner. Queen Victoria was entertained at Dalmeny on her first visit to Scotland in 1842, and it was at the suggestion of Mr. Gladstone, when staying at the house during his great Midlothian campaign, that Barnbougle was restored and furnished as a library house.

In the upland recesses of the Lanarkshire hills stands Douglas Castle. It was twice the scene of dramatic captures during the Wars of Independence. On the Palm Sunday after Bruce's return from Rachryn Island his lieutenant, Lord James Douglas, came quietly through the passes from Ayrshire and surprised and slew the garrison in the little kirk of S. Bride, which still stands in the heart of Douglas village. So perilous was the holding of the stronghold after that event that a fair English maiden promised her hand to a suitor if he could keep it against the Scots for a year and a day. The gage was nearly won when one morning the garrison saw a long line of waggons carrying hay to Lanark market. Hay was exactly what the garrison most needed at the moment, and they sallied forth to a man to take forcible possession. The hay carts, however, were full of armed men, and while the garrison found themselves suddenly engaged with these they saw their retreat cut off and the castle captured behind them by another Scottish company.

After each capture Douglas burned his stronghold, preferring, as he said, "rather to hear the lark sing than the mouse squeak," but a prophecy ran that however often Douglas Castle might be destroyed, it would always be rebuilt in greater splendour than before. The present mansion was built in the middle of the eighteenth century by the first and last Duke of Douglas. It comprises only a wing of the great palace which the duke intended to build.

Drumlanrig Castle, in the beautiful upper valley of the Nith, is one of the stateliest dwellings in Scotland. Standing four square and four storeys high, in its open space among the woods, with the river brawling below and the mountains rising around, it took ten years to build, and was completed in 1689, the year in which William of Orange ascended the throne of these realms. Its builder, William Douglas, first Duke of Queensberry, was successively Lord Justice General and Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, and is ranked in the writings of the Covenanters as one of the "persecutors." Drumlanrig was occupied by Prince Charles Edward's army on its march to Derby in 1745, and the defacement of a portrait of William III on the walls still bears witness to that occupation. Since 1827, however, Drumlanrig has been restored and used as a residence by its ducal owners.

Drummond Castle, near Muthil in Strathearn, is one of the "sights" of central Scotland, with its famous Italian gardens and its museum of historic costumes. Built by the first Lord Drummond in the days of James IV, it has been the scene of many dramatic incidents, including the poisoning of the beautiful Margaret Drummond, beloved by James IV, whose existence stood in the way of that king's marriage to the Princess Margaret of England.

Mary Queen of Scots was once and again a guest at Drummond Castle, where she hunted the deer in Glenartney; and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent a couple of days there in September 1842, for which occasion the castle, which had been burned in 1745, was again put into good habitable condition.

In the far north, on the wild Caithness coast, the "bluff old castle" of Dunbeath keeps its own tale of many bygone centuries. Probably, to begin with, the eyrie of some Norse adventurer, it was a possession of the great house of Sutherland till the latter part of the fifteenth century, when it passed by marriage to the Sinclairs, or St. Clairs, Earls of Caithness, of whose family the Sinclairs of Dunbeath of the present day are a branch. To-day the seat of the Sinclairs of Dunbeath is not at the old castle itself, but at Barrock House, not far away.

Dunrobin Castle, looking out on the grey North Sea from the Sutherland' coast, between Golspie and the famous golf links of Brora, is one of the most splendid mansions in Scotland. With towers and pinnacles rising to the sky, halls and staircases of the most noble proportions, and suites of apartments of the stateliest and most sumptuous design, its modern part is the monument of a very loyal idea. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, a daughter of the sixth Earl of Carlisle, had been Mistress of the Robes to the young Queen Victoria, and remained the Queen's lifelong friend. In preparation for the royal visit to the North in 1847 the Duke of Sutherland erected this superb mansion.

Each suite of rooms, the Duke's, the Argyll, the Blantyre, is named after some family connexion. Most splendid of all are the Royal apartments, ranging along the seaward front, and separated by a wide gallery from the rest of the house. These rooms are hung with silk tapestry, and their furnishings are in the most costly and elegant fashion of that time, while the view from the windows, over firth and mountain, is one of the most extensive and noble in the kingdom. Along the sea front a massive wall, three hundred feet long, with bastions at its ends, replaces the rampart of an earlier age, and successive flights of stairways descending the terrace to the flower garden complete as stately a frontage as that of any chateau in France.

This splendid mansion was erected as an addition to the ancient tower which had been the stronghold of the Earls of Sutherland for nearly six centuries. That tower took its name, Dunrobin, from its builder, Earl Robert, in the year 1275, and while its memories link with the stormy events of feudal times and the descent of its owners from Freskin, the famous Fleming, ancestor of the Sutherlands, the Murrays, and the Douglases, the modern part of the mansion reminds the visitor of the English descent of the ducal line, through a long array of historic English families, from the Princess Mary, younger sister of Henry VIII and of Margaret, queen of James IV.

Few greater contrasts could well be imagined than that between the grim, ancient stronghold of the Gordons, known as Gordon Castle, approachable only by a narrow causeway and bridge through the wide morass, known for centuries as the Bog of Gight, and the wide-extended modern mansion, in which that tower is included, in the midst of a fair demesne of wood and water and pasture-land. In their feudal fastness of Bog of Gight the old Earls and Marquesses of Huntly for centuries practically ruled the whole north of Scotland, and again and again defied the forces of the Crown itself. This was only one of their many castles, but was always the most remote and most secure. After vicissitudes of many kinds, the recital of which would involve half the history of Scotland, their direct line came to an end with the death of the fifth Duke of Gordon on May 28, 1836.

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