Tradition loves a bad landowner more than those thousands of humdrum, half decent property owners who held sway over the land for centuries, or even those one or two lairds who were active benefactors for those whose lives they controlled. But some 'bad lairds' have - regrettably and unjustly - fallen off the edge of public consciousness even at a local level, in places where they were rightly reviled and despised, which seems a bit of a shame.
In an effort to redress this shocking historical injustice, I will endeavour to shine a light from time to time on odd characters whose downright nastiness merits a lasting memorial. Heaven forfend that I or anyone else should attempt to rehabilitate these nasties. I will let the facts speak for themselves, as far as they are known. First up is the 16th century landed hooligan who bullied and terrorised the area east of Dundee for twenty solid years. Step up, if you will, Henry Lovell of Ballumbie Castle. The family had migrated from Hawick to Angus at an early date and traditionally provided Dundee with baillies and councillors, but this Lovell was a notorious bad seed. Despite his notoriety, or possibly before his wickedness got into full swing, he was knighted and incorporated into the Guildry of Dundee on 20th June 1559. He was so feared locally that Claypotts Castle was built as a defence against his violence. One of his first recorded victims was James Durham of nearby Pitkerro House, a douce man who professed to be 'ane sober and poor gentleman'. Durham complained to the authorities that Lovell and his men frequently came to his house with the purpose of murdering him. On the 23rd April, 1566, Ballumbie and eighteen henchmen came to Pitkerro House. James Durham, luckily for him, was absent, but Lovell 'boisit' (threatened) his wife, then went into the barn and wounded a servant in the head with his sword. Another servant had a staff broken over him. Durham reported that he was scared to return to his house and said that Lovell had been swaggering about Dundee, boasting about persecuting him. Lovell was apparently already well feared and notorious: what he had 'done to sindry utheris of the countre [was] notorslie knawin'.
Another complainant was Lovell's own son John, who had often suffered from 'unnatural wrangs and injuries' committed by his father. In fact his grandfather Andrew Lovell had dispossessed Henry in favour of John. Henry had frequently burnt John's growing corn, and in 1567 he injured his son's tenants and drove them off the land. Lovell senior was summoned before the Privy Council, but he absconded from Edinburgh before his appearance.
Ballumbie's most sustained raids were against the kirk lands of Monifieth, between 1565 and 1569. The minister, Gilbert Gordin (or Gardin), said that on one occasion Lovell arrived with thirty men and expelled the tenants from the manse and the glebe. He also knocked down houses, cut down trees and stole monies due to the kirk. The Regent Moray heard complaints against the man when he came to Dundee in July 1569, and appointed the Laird of Dun to deal with Lovell. But Dun reported that Lovell refused to leave Monifieth manse and let the minister return. Two Dundonians also claimed protection from Lovell, and John Lovell was bound under the penalty of 2000 merks to keep his father within the law. The wicked Lovell, however, carried on regardless. In 1572 he stole four oxen belonging to one Thomas Schippert. He was ordered again not to molest his son John and at the same time John, who had evidently lost all patience with him, was ordered not to attack his father. The laird was 'was denunceit rebell and thairfor put in ward'.
The last record of the wayward laird was in 1575, when Lovell - now designated as Auld Ballumbie - harried the village of West Ferry. Four houses were demolished, a woman named Helen Buchan was forcibly evicted, and harry knight was threatened with a sword. The Lords Council adjourned the case to gather more evidence, but there is no further mention of wicked Henry Lovell in historical records. The crumbling remains of the castle remain, though it quickly passed from the Lovell kindred to the Lyons of Aldbar, and later the Maule-Ramsays of Panmure.