In Another Tongue o' Clishmaclaver
I proffer contention that maternal, 5x great-grandfather James Keith
(1696-c1752) came of age under the direct influence of a pair of Scotland’s Earls Marischal. The following tales pertain to my noble Keith 'kith and kin' ... phrasing that my family employs to depict 'native land and people.’ I find them enchanting.
Beginning with the earliest:
Thomas the Rhymer
(also Thomas of Erceldoune, c1220 – 1298) made 13th century predictions. Two perhaps pertinent foretellings center on enduring stones near mainland Scotland's easternmost settlement. In environs of what is today the coastal port of Peterhead, at Aberdeenshire.
“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, Vol. 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 stone undergirding a raised fireplace, the fox shall bring home her pups.” The portent seems coldly ominous for substantial estates at this estuary. Wild animals will occupy a once-impressive family hearth ... after title passes from the landowner.
The name of Keith was not likely associated with the nearby village of Inverugie until about 1369, when Mariot le Cheyne (c1335-c1391) took John de Keith (1336-1420) as her second husband. Cheyne’s Tower (below)
was, c1380, integrated into Keith’s subsequent Inverugie Castle (right)
... four generations following The Rhymer’s death.
Another of the Rhymer's mystical pronouncements makes Clan Keith its subject:
“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 within this tenant farmer's land enclosure, the name of Keith shall be aloft; but when the stone begins to fall, the Keith name shall wear away.”
Popular culture reinforced an inevitability of the family's demise by venerating the site where Thomas is to have revealed this forewarning. William Ferguson, in his 1881 guide, The Great North of Scotland Railway,
identified a field as ‘Thamas’ Stane’ (Thomas’ Stone) when depicting Inverugie village. It is from this spot, with “many curiously sculptured stones still to be seen,” that Thomas the Rhymer was to have manifest prophetic vision. [See pg. 115.]
Thomas would have evidenced incredible foresight, to link the Keith family with this place. If this is
the case, subsequent chroniclers showed tenacity … retaining a name association whose relevance would not become apparent for a century or so.
If Thomas did
make any pronouncement in these environs, it is not inconceivable that English overlords later tailored it ... to dominate in subsequent culture wars. “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 afflicted by attributing false assertions to the mystical poet and seer. Hence the alternate appellation, ‘Thomas the Lyar.’*
[See Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Vol. 17, entry for Thomas Erceldoune, pg. 212; citing Popular Rhymes of Scotland, by R. Chambers.]
The name of Keith has yet to fully wear away, but Inverugie Castle is
admittedly now in ruins.
As happened periodically after the hereditary office was founded in the 12th century, Scotland's Earl Marischal ran afoul of the Crown. George Keith (1692-1778, left) was likely born at Inverugie Castle. He was four years older than my ancestor James (above)
, and from 1712 the 10th Earl Marischal of Scotland. The young peer of the realm, at age twenty-four in 1716, had his titles and prerogatives attainted by England's George I. George Keith also forfeited his estates ... for battling on behalf of the House of Stuart in the First Jacobite Rebellion a year earlier.
Landless George Keith entered service to Frederick the Great of Prussia. After some time roaming Scottish highlands following the Battle of Sheriffmuir, 'my' James Keith fled to the New World, entering Anglican service as Rector of Henrico Parish in Virginia.
I've found no evidence that 18th century Keith kin were aware of Thomas the Rhymer’s foreboding nearly five hundred years earlier. The fall of the House of Keith (which I describe here
) without doubt made a deep, psychic impression on some remaining in Aberdeenshire (on lands which did not become ‘Lordless,’ but where title was merely re-conveyed by the royal House of Hanover).
Perhaps Keith names did
wear away, in a technical sense: both the 10th Earl Marischal and his younger brother died childless. Exiled George Keith did not remain forever 'away,' however. For diplomatic services rendered Prime Minister William Pitt (the Elder), England's King George II pardoned Keith in 1759. Burke's Peerage
has Keith rejecting language in a concomitant Act of Parliament that would have restored his hereditary titles and honors. The Crown in 1761 repaid takings of £3,618: Keith committed £12,620 to repurchasing former family holdings at the place of his nativity.
"He resolved to visit Inverugie, and formally take possession," says William Anderson, in Howes o' Buchan
. Keith contemplated offering castle lodgings to Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had been driven from France ... and Geneva and Bern in Switzerland ... before befriending Keith, then serving as Frederick's Governor at Neuchâtel on the continent. "But, before any arrangements were made, Rousseau had changed his mind."† [See pp. 29-30.]
The erstwhile Earl "proceeded no further than the Bridge of Ugie, however — being completely overcome by the sight of his home in ruins." He was, according to Anderson, "moved to tears" by the "sad spectacle" of his deteriorated birthplace.
MacGibbon and Ross, in Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, Vol. 2
, one hundred and twenty years later preserved an image of an Inverugie Castle hearth. Intriguingly, in the foreground of the 1887 woodcut (right)
, the artist prominently featured a block of stone: it is labeled "Jamb of Fireplace."
The property did not leave the Keith Family in this declined condition, however.
It is time to introduce the Dowager Countess, widow of the 9th Earl Marischal and mother of George Keith the attainted. Mary, Countess Marischal (1675–1729) "was no ordinary woman" according to Robert Anderson in Transactions of the Buchan Field Club, Vol. 10
. A staunch Jacobite like her father, fate did not require her to forfeit her properties ... as had been required of her father and sons. "She retained until her death in 1729 the occupancy of lnverugie, then 'a great castle and court
.'" [Italics mine; see pg. 34.]
George Keith purchased a dilapidated estate from Trustees of the York Building Company. At auction, which may indicate failed enterprise. William Anderson has the still-popular Keith declaring "There was no bidder against me, and great applause of the spectators." Several archaeologists comment on castular building materials found in nearby fabrications: I suspect the firm was piecing out stonework as if from a quarry.
likely that, had Inverugie Castle remained part of an Earl's vast landholdings, it may not have fallen prey to deconstruction.
|Cheyne’s Tower, Inverugie Castle, c1961|
Before we pass this scene, I'll observe a final, turbulent period: "The late James Ferguson, Esq. repaired and roofed in the main building of the castle, floored it, and erected an observatory on the top of it at considerable expense," observed the New Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. 12
in 1845. "But the present proprietor, with a greater regard to taste than utility, has dismantled it of these modernizings, and allowed ruin to reassume her empire." Perhaps as a matter of public safety, the structure was blown up in 1899.
The following portent is to have arrived from Lady Margaret Keith (1565-1598), first wife of Scotland's 5th Earl Marischal:
"In her sleepe she saw a great number of religious men in ther habit com forth of that abbey to the stronge craige of Dunnotture, which is the principall residence of that familie. She saw them also sett themselves round about the rock to gett it down and demolishe it, having no instruments nor toilles wherwith to perform this work, but only penknives, wherwith they follishly (as it seemed to her) begane to pyk at the craige. She smyled to sie them intende so fruitles ane interpryse, and went to call her husband to scuffe and geyre them out of it. When she had fund him and brought him to sie these sillie religious monckes at ther foolish work, behold, the wholl craige, with all his stronge and stately buildinges, was by ther pyn knyves wndermynded and fallen in the sea, so as ther remained nothing but the wrack of ther riche furnitore and stufe flotting on the waves of a rageing and tempestous sea."
[See Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper, citing Patrick Gordon of Cluny; pg. 113 (written mid 17th century, published 1844).]
It's challenging to acknowledge the vastness of the 5th Earl Marischal's landholdings. It is reputed in Chambers' Encyclopædia, Vol. 5
that George Keith (c1553-1623) could travel from River Tweed to the Pentland Firth – a stretch, at a minimum, of more than three hundred miles among Scotland's northeastern provinces – "eating every meal and sleeping every night on his lands." I suspect he lodged in a progression of his own manor houses, when affairs of state took him to London.
Before Inverugie, the Keith family seat perched at Dunnottar Castle, atop a headland fifty miles south. I leave it to William and Robert Chambers to anglicize presentiment attributed to Lady Keith:
“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' Encyclopædia, Vol. 4, pg. 750.]
Cistercian monks founded the Abbey of Deer in 1219. In the course of three centuries the monastery became possessed of considerable income, based on extensive, Aberdeenshire farmholdings. "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’ Encyclopædia, Vol. 5, pg. 778.]
William in 1552 got regents for Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, to appoint second son Robert Keith (1533- bef 1592) – then a teen – Abbot 'in commendam,' at the Abbey Of Deer. It was in that time within "the gift of the Crown" to bestow standing, as absentee landlords, on persons "who were not churchmen in any real sense, but mere laymen of mark or of important family connexions." Particularly among Scots royals in this era, commendatory abbots drew from a monastery's revenue ... without fulfilling ecclesiastical duties, or even residing in the religious community. [See The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, Series 2, Vol. 1, pg. cxv.]
Deer Abbey’s annual income was valued at £2300 in 1561. Revenue was – in part – to fund a glebe
, sustain several churches, and their ministers. Robert Keith was “by no means liberal or regular in his payments,” according to Beveridge. Eight years later, Scotland
’s General Assembly refused his petition to be relieved of paying stipends to clergy from these revenues. The Catholic Encyclopedia
reports "The flourishing monastery soon fell prey to the Scottish [Calvinist] Reformers."
In 1587 Mary Stuart's son, then Scotland's King James VI, erected Abbey lands into a lordship, under a peerage styled Altrie. Historians might shudder at Robert Keith's petition. It begins with 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.
” [Italics mine.]
Robert Keith, as Lord Altrie, pensioned off the white-robed monks … 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). Beveridge informs that 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 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.”‡
Chambers also informs us “The earl was deaf to her entreaties.”§
Dunnottar (Dùn Fhoithear) Castle (right)
was reduced by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan forces a generation later, in May 1652. Chambers alleges Lady Keith's account was to have been committed to writing before 1660, when the Keiths re-seated themselves at Inverugie Castle
[More at post 'Clishmaclaver'.]
Mid-17th century apparitions are to have prompted presentiment. This in the wake of the 7th Earl 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.”
The account evokes an apprehensive, populist foreboding ... to choices made by William Keith (1610-1670/71), 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 7th Earl Marischal's decision to draw an army from his clan levies. And support Covenanters
, a Presbyterian movement militantly opposing the established Episcopal Church … and changes to religious practice (including introduction of a Book of Common Prayer
) that English 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.
The piffero or piffaro is a double reed musical instrument of the oboe family.
"A white hind should come from afar, and give three roars at the gate," contends William Anderson, 19th century propagator of several prophetic stories pertinent to the Marischals. He here references a female deer without pigment ... that Celtic people considered a messenger from the otherworld ... and the Keith's Inverugie Castle. Following the interloping animal's trumpeting, "the keystone should fall from its socket, and break the threshold in three." [See Howes o' Buchan, pp.34-35.]
"Whether or not the white hind ever appeared we are not informed – but one thing is certain, that the threshold was broken in three, and that the keystone has been out of its place," observes Anderson.
Diverting our attention to Deer Abbey, by the undated photo (right)
we can ascertain that a keystone remained intact above the doorway to the abbot's lodging for some time.
Robertson reports ‘Thamas’ Stane’ was incorporated into the nearby parish church in 1763. This would have coincided with George Keith's repurchase of ancestral lands in the area. It's inviting to speculate that Keith was aware of The Rhymer's prognostication and, finding the folklore disagreeable, ordered the signifying stone sequestered.
Rousseau was prolific in this period. It is stimulating to consider whether Keith declined restoration of hereditary titles as result of having been won over in discussions leading to philosoph Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men
. The progressive argued differences in "wealth, nobility or rank, power and personal merit" formed groundwork for moral inequality.
Having discovered Gordon's original phrasing 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 'bear.' The Scottish Archive Network
includes beir among terms of dry measurement. I conclude from Cullen's glossary
that bier references barley; also styled 'bere' and a linguistic precursor to beer.
Gordon, in his Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper
, makes the case that accounts of Lady Keith's dream were very likely in circulation before
Dunnottar's reduction by the New Model Army. "A woman both of a high spirit and of a tender conscience," Gordon continued with an 'eating away' metaphor. He contends Margaret forbid her husband to "leave such a consuming moth in his house as was the sacrilegious meddling with the Abbacie of Deir."