Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Durward Family

A lot is known about some of the noble families who were prominent in Angus for many the centuries.  Some, such as the Lyons (later the Bowes-Lyons) and the Ogilvys have retained some of their estates, while others like the Lindsay have vanished entirely.  But some powerful families only resided in Angus for a relatively short period and are largely forgotten by history.  This is the case with the Durwards.  The only residual fame the kindred has survives in Sir Walter Scott borrowing their name for his novel Quentin Durward.  Back in the 13th century, Sir Alan Durward was one of the most powerful men in the kingdom for a time.  The first of the family with a local connection was Malcolm Lundin, the hostarius or door-ward of King William the Lion (in effect, guardian of his property), who became Baron of Lundie, near Dundee, in the 12th century.  Malcolm's son Thomas gained lands in Aberdeenshire, and his grandson Alan became the Earl of Atholl through marriage to Isabella, Countess of Atholl.  Alan had the blood of the native rulers of Atholl and Mar running through his veins in his own right.

   Sir Alan Durward's political faction view for national power with the Comyn family during the reign of Alexander II (1214-1249), and the king had to carefully play off one faction against the other.  When the ten year old king, Alexander III, married Princess Margaret of England in 1251, her father, King Henry III, accused Durward of treason.  Alan Durward's first wife, Marjory, was an illegitimate daughter of King Alexander II, and it was alleged that Durward had sent envoys to the Pope, attempting to legitimise his own three daughters, hoping they would succeed to the throne if the young king and queen died childless.

   Durward and his allies later gained control of the young monarch, and he became Justiciar of the kingdom, but they were ousted by the Comyns in 1257.  After six years' exile in England, Sir Alan returned to Scotland and redeemed himself by raiding the Norwegian controlled Hebrides on behalf of the king.  He died in 1275 and was buried beneath the main doorway of Coupar Angus Abbey.  His wide estates were split between his three daughters. 

   A rather dubious legend recorded centuries  later states that Alan Durward resided at Balfour Castle, in the northern Angus parish of Kingoldrum.  During the hunting season he played host here to huge numbers of lords and ladies.  Every day he went hunting with his retinue in the forest, and one day he was spotted by the abbess of a remote religious house as he passed by.  She rather foolishly fell in love with him at first sight, and though she did not break her vows, the sound of merriment which came from Balfour Castle nearly every night drove her mad.  her secret was soon guessed by a  priest of the house who had a hidden passion for the beautiful young abbess.  He asked her to meet him at midnight in the chapel and she agreed, though she suspected him and concealed a knife beneath her garments.  The old crippled cleric tried to rape her, but she stabbed him and then took her own life.  The two bloody corpses were found by the monks next morning.  Also found was a note in the chamber of the abbess, in which she gave her suspicions about the evil priest.

   In time the convent became a ruin.  The remains of the chapel were haunted each night.  Spectres were seen drinking blood from human skulls, fantastically chained around their middles and legs with terrible serpents.  An indescribable monster squatted on the roof and brought down bolts of lightning to split the forest trees, while the air was full of ghastly and ghostly sounds.  No single stone remains of the Kingoldrum convent, so effective was the demonic wrecking crew.  It does not even seem to appear in historical records:  the nearest holy house was a small monastery in Ruthven parish.  Balfour Castle has also vanished, apart from a single round tower incorporated into a farm house.  The castle was in fact constructed by the Ogilvys in the 16th century. 

   Near the confluence of the Kilry Burn and the River Isla there is a seven foot standing stone said to have been raised to commemorate a battle between the Laird of Kilry and the Durwards of Peel Castle.  A great massacre of the Durwards was made in the battle.  The survivors attempted to flee across the Isla, but the river was high and they were washed away and drowned.  Peel Castle was allegedly besieged and taken by the Ogilvys, who crossed the frozen moat.  Everyone found within the walls was done to death, with the exception of a young boy who was sent to live in the Abbey of Arbroath.

   There are a few residual traces of the Durwards on the land.  A sandbank near the Fife side of the River Tay is named Durward's Scalp and an ancient wall on the hill called the Knock of Formal, Lintrathen parish, is named Durward's Dyke. This wall is said to mark the boundary of the deer park of the long vanished Peel Catle, home of Sir Alan Durward.  Beyond these scattered, ghostly place-names, the Durward have disappeared forever.

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