Friday, January 31, 2014

While She Was Laughing Them To Scorn

In a previous post, I noted the potential for Scotland’s Earls Marischal to have influenced my ancestors. Here are some tales, relating to my Keith 'kith and kin'
... phrasing my family employs to depict 'native land and people.’ 

Beginning with the earliest: 

Thomas the Rhymer (also Thomas of Erceldoune, c1220 – 1298) was to have made two 13th century predictions, concerning Inverugie property that entered the Keith family after Thomas’ death.
“Ugie, Ugie, by the sea,
Lordless shall thy lands be,
And beneath thy ha’ hearth stane
The Tod shall bring her bairns hame.”
[See Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff, Volume 1, by Joseph Robertson; pp. 420-421.]
My translation: “Where River Ugie approaches the North (then 'German') Sea, there will be no lord over these lands, and beneath the high stone above a fireplace, the fox shall bring home her pups.”

The name of Keith was not likely associated with Inverugie until about 1369, when Mariot le Cheyne (c1335-c1391) took John de Keith (1336-1420) as her second husband. Cheyne’s Tower (below, right) was most likely integrated into Keith’s subsequent Inverugie Castle c1380 during John de Keith’s lifetime … and generations after The Rhymer’s death. [See Andrew Spratt watercolor of Inverugie, here.]
Image of Inverugie Castle, c1961
Inverugie Castle, c1961

Although England, under King George I, deprived Scotland's 10th Marischal of all his titles and confiscated his lands c1716, it is a "mistake" to suppose that the above stanzas were composed with the Inverugie Castle of the Earls Marischal in mind, cautions one author.

Another of the Rhymer's mystical pronouncements does make Clan Keith its subject, however. Popular culture reinforces the inevitability of the family's demise by venerating the site where Thomas revealed his foretelling.
“As lang’s this stane stands on this craft.
The name o’ Keith shall be alaft,
But when this stane begins to fa’
The name o’ Keith shall wear awa’.”
[See Annals of Peterhead, by Peter Buchan; pg 64.]
My translation: “As long as this stone remains upright on this croft, the name of Keith shall be aloft. But when the stone begins to fall, the Keith name shall wear away.”

William Ferguson, in his 1881 guide, The Great North of Scotland Railway, cites a field named ‘Thamas’ Stane’ (Thomas’ Stone) at his depiction of Inverugie village. It is from this spot, with “many curiously sculptured stones still to be seen,” that Thomas the Rhymer was to have shared his prophetic vision. [See pg. 115.] 

Perhaps Thomas evidenced incredible foresight, to link the Keith family with this place. If this is the case, subsequent chroniclers showed great skill … retaining a name association whose relevance would not become apparent for a hundred years or so. I've found no evidence the 18th century Keith family was aware of Thomas’ foreboding. The fall of the house of Keith (described here) made a deep, psychic impression on those who remained in the area (on lands which did not become immediately ‘Lordless,’ but were merely assigned to new, Royal favorites). If Thomas did make any pronouncement in these environs, it was likely amended in retrospect.

“During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries,’ says Chambers, ‘to fabricate a prophecy in the name of Thomas the Rhymer appears to have been found a good stroke of policy on many occasions.” Scots’ aspirations were intended to be dampened, by attributing false assertions to the mystical poet and seer. Hence the alternate appellation, ‘Thomas the Lyar.’   [See Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17, entry for Thomas Erceldoune, Henry Richard Tedder, ed.; citing Popular Rhymes of Scotland, by R. Chambers; pg. 212; here]
Note: Robertson reports ‘Thamas’ Stane’ was incorporated into the nearby parish church in 1763. This would have immediately preceded repurchase of ancestral lands by George Keith (c1693-1778), the by-then restored 10th Earl Marischal.
The following portent, by an Earl Marishcal’s wife, arrives from the 17th century:
“Hereupon, it is said, she dreamed a dream, which was thought to portend the downfall of the House of Keith. She saw the monks of Deer set themselves to work to hew down the crag of Dunnottar with their penknives and, while she was laughing them to scorn, Behold! the whole crag, with all its strong and stately buildings, was undermined and fallen in the sea.” [From Chambers's Encyclopaedia, Volume 4, pg 750. See also note, below.]
Cistercian monks founded the Abbey of Deer in 1219. In the course of three centuries the monastery had come into possession of considerable income, based on great landholdings in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. "In 1543 the charge of the abbey [of Deer] came into the hands of the great Keith family." [See Makers of the Scottish Church, by William Beveridge, pg. 69.] 

The Keiths were already doing quite well. The 4th Earl Marischal ('William who Kept the Tower' at Dunnottar Castle, 1506-1581) had married his cousin and "nearly doubled the family domains, which now included lands in seven shires: Haddington, Linlithgow, Kincardine, Aberdeen, Banff, Elgin, and Caithness." [See Chambers’s, Volume 5, pg 778.] In 1552 William got his 2nd son, Robert Keith (1533- bef 1592), then a youth, appointed Abbot 'in conimendam,' or in trust, on behalf of the Abbey.

"The flourishing monastery soon fell prey to the Scottish [Calvinist] Reformers." [See The Catholic Encyclopedia.] The Abbey’s annual income was valued at £2300 in 1561. Revenue was - in part - to fund a glebe, several churches, and their ministers. Robert Keith was “by no means liberal or regular in his payments.”  Eight years later, Scotland’s General Assembly refused Keith’s petition to be relieved of paying stipends to clergy from these revenues. In 1587 King James VI and I erected Abbey lands into a lordship, under a peerage styled Altrie. The petition begins with a declaration “that the monastical superstition for which the said abbey of Deer was of auld erectit and foundit is now, by the laws of this realme, utterly abolished … so that na memories thereof shall be heirafter.” Robert Keith, as Lord Altrie, pensioned the monks off … and drew the income to himself.  [See Beveridge, pp 69-70.]

These former monastic properties passed to George Keith, the 5th Earl Marischal (1553-1622). Adherents of the old faith begrudged seeing this Church property remaining in the Keith family’s “already overgrown estates.” Public animosity passed as well … as land and income accrued to George Keith. The dreaming wife above is not specified. The 5th Marischal married twice, both times to a ‘Margaret:’ c1581 to a daughter of Alexander, 5th Lord Home; and c1599 to a daughter of James, 6th Lord Ogilvy of Airlie. “The story ran that his wife earnestly entreated him to forego the spoil [of the lands of Deer]. But ‘fourteen score chalders of meal and bear was a sore temptation,' says Patrick Gordon of Cluny,” reports Chambers, describing crop yields and - I suppose - hunting. [EDIT - See note below.] Chambers informs us, “The earl was deaf to her entreaties.”
Aerial image of Dunnottar Castle, attributed to Roger Wollstadt, use by Creative Commons licensing.
Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar (Dùn Fhoithear) was reduced by Cromwell’s forces in May 1652. Chambers alleges Lady Keith's account was to have been written down before 1660, when the Keiths re-seated themselves at Inverugie Castle in Peterhead.
[More at post 'Clishmaclaver'.]

Other mid-17th century apparitions follow, in the wake of the Marischal’s decision to set up operations at Inverugie. Phantasms apparently visited the place over time. 
“About the 5th of November, in ane seamanis house of Peterheid there was hard, upone the night, beating of drums, uther tymes sounding of trumpetis, playing on pifferis, and ringing of bellis, to the astoneishment of the heireris. Trubles follouit.” [See The Gazetteer for Scotland.]
My translation: “Drums were heard in a mariner's house at the port at Peterhead on 5 November 1642. At other times, trumpets, pifferis [see image, below] and bells astonished listeners.”

“Troubles followed.”

The account evokes an apprehensive, populist foreboding ... to choices made by William Keith (1610-1670/71, Scotland's 7th Earl Marischal), to whom local, able-bodied men owed their fealty. The 'First Bishop's War' had broken out in 1639. This conflict may have seemed a prelude to a series of civil wars which embroiled Scotland and Ireland ... and then blazed into an English Civil War.

‘Troublous times’ ensued after the general population dutifully followed the Earl Marischal's decision to draw from his clan levies an army to support Covenanters, a Presbyterian movement who opposed the established Episcopal Church … particularly changes to religious practice (including introduction of a Book of Common Prayer) that King Charles I was attempting to impose. Troubles likely did not recede when the Earl later made a pact with Charles … supporting him militarily ... until the King was executed in 1649.

Image of piffero, shared under the Creative Commons license at Wikipedia.
The piffero or piffaro is a double reed musical instrument of the oboe family.

Having discovered the original phrasing employed by Gordon to be "fourtein scoir chalderes of meill and beir," I'm no closer to understanding the term 'beir.' The World Sense Dictionary allows for a translation which depicts the mammal. The Scottish Archive Network includes it in terms of dry measurement. I conclude from Cullen's glossary that 'bier' makes reference to barley, also styled 'bere' and a precursor to beer.

More importantly, Gordon, in his Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper (written mid 17th century, published 1844), makes the case that the Lady Keith in question was the 5th Marischals' first wife, daughter of Home, and that accounts of her dream were very likely in circulation before the destruction of Dunnottar.

Reports Gordon: "A woman both of a high spirit and of a tender conscience," Lady Margaret Keith forbid her husband to "leave such a consuming moth in his house as was the sacrilegious meddling with the Abbacie of Deir."
"Upon his absolute refusal of her demand, she had this vision the night following.
In her sleepe she saw a great number of religious men, in ther habit, come forth of that Abbey to the stronge craige of Dunnottar, which is the principal residence of that familie. She saw them also set themselves round about the rock, to get it down and demolishe it, having no instruments nor tools wherewith to perform this work, but only pen-knyves, wherewith they foolishly (as it seemed to her) began to pick at the craig. She smiled to see them intend so fruitless an enterpryse, and went to call her husband, to scoff and jeer them out of it. When she had found him, and brought him to see these sillie religious monckes at ther foolish work, behold the whole craige, with all its stronge and stately buildings, was by ther pen-knyves undermined and fallen in the sea, so as there remained nothing but the wracke of ther rich furniture and stuff floating on the waves of a raging and tempestuous sea."