Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Mormaers and Earls of Angus

Mention has been made of the first mention of the place-name of Angus, which was in the death notice of its ruler, the mormaer Indrechtaig, who supposedly died in 938, but may have actually died in the Scottish defeat at the Battle of Brunanburgh the previous year.  The victor of that battle, King Aethelstan of England, himself invaded Scotland in 934, when his army penetrated as far as the Werter-Moors, which may well have been Kirriemuir, the seat of the mormaers and later the Earls of Angus.

   Following Indrechtaig, the next two rulers of Angus, Dubucan and Maelbrighte, are no more than names. The fourth known mormaer, Cunthar, had the misfortune to be murdered by a member of his own family.  His daughter was named Fynebole or Finella, and she was styled the 'Lady of Fettercairn' after marrying the ruler of the Mearns.  Her son, Crathilinthus, was the heir of both countries, so it is a mystery why he chose to kill his grandfather.  Retribution was swift:  King Kenneth II had the young man executed on Dunsinane Hill.  Fynebole was embittered by her son's death and began to plot against the monarch.  She organised a tournament at Stracathro in Angus and had the king murdered there.

   John of Fordun, the historian (and a local man), provided a different account of Kenneth's murder.  When the king was out hunting in the Mearns, Fynebole went to meet him and assured him that she was his loyal supporter, despite all the rumours to the contrary he might have heard.  She persuaded the gullible king to follow her to a cottage deep in the forest.  As he entered, Kenneth saw a peculiar manikin or statue shaped like a boy standing in the middle of the room.

   'What is the purpose of this?' he asked.

   Fynebole smile slyly.  'My lord king,' she replied, 'if anyone touches the head of this statue, a marvellous and pleasant jest will come from it.'

   King Kenneth placed his hand on the figure and was immediately slain by a shower of crossbow bolts which his touch had triggered.  Fynebole had fled when the king's bodyguard found his corpse, but they tracked her down to a place later named the Den of Finella.  To avoid capture, Fynebole  jumped to her death from the rocks where the water falls 150 feet.

The Den of Finella in the Mearns.

   The 'Lady of Fettercairn' is a shadowy, unreal character whose name could be a form of Finnghuala ('white-shouldered'), one of the fabled Children of Lir, who were transformed into birds in Irish mythology.  Mearns folk once believed that she walked along the treetops from the Hill of Finella to the Den, following the Finella Burn, of which she may have been the guardian spirit.

   During the reign of King William the Lion, in the 12th century, the first Earl of Angus appears.  Earl Gillebrighte's father was named Dufugan, suggesting a kinship with the mormaer named Dubucan.  He was succeeded by his sons Adam and Gilchrist.  Gilbert, his third son, gained the lands of Wester Powrie, Kilmundie and Glen Ogilvy from the Crown.  His descendants adopted the name Ogilvy and became numerous and powerful in Angus.

   The third Earl of Angus, had an evil reputation.  His wife was king William's sister and she bore him three sons who became bloodthirsty barons like their father.  The brothers suspected their mother of adultery and eventually found her with her lover.  After slaying both of them, the brothers fled into hiding in the Sidlaw Hills.  Soon afterwards, King William was hunting in Glen Ogilvy when he was waylaid by robbers.  He was rescued by the three outlaw brothers who fought off the bandits.  The king pardoned the trio and also gifted them the barony of Ogilvy.

   The tale actually confuses Gillebrighte's sons with three non-existent sons of Gilchrist.  Another version of the legend has Earl Gilchrist fleeing to England after his wife's murder.  He and his sons, dressed as peasants, were later met by the king in Glen Ogilvy and forgiven.

Mains Castle, possible site of the ancient manor of the Celtic Earls of Angus.  Mains parish (later united with Strathmartin) was anciently Earl's Strathdichty.

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