The Scottish Chiefs, by Jane Porter


Note Respecting the Personal Conformation of Sir William Wallace and King Robert Bruce.

The extraordinary bodily, as well as mental superiority which Wallace and Bruce possessed over their contemporaries, is thus recorded by Hector Boetius:

“About the latter end of the year 1430, King James I. (of Scotland), on returning to Perth from St. Andrews, found his curiosity excited to visit a very old lady of the house of Erskine, who resided in the Castle of Kinnoul. In consequence of her extreme old age she had lost her sight, but all her other senses were entire, and her body was yet firm and active. She had seen William Wallace and Robert Bruce in her earliest youth and frequently told particulars of them. The king, who entertained a love and veneration for great men, resolved to visit the old lady, that he might hear her describe the manners and strength of the two heroes. He therefore sent a message acquainting her that he would come to her the next day. When she was told that the king was approaching, she went down into the hall of her castle, attended by a train of matrons, many of whom were her own descendants. She advanced to meet his majesty so easily and gracefully that he doubted her being blind! At his desire she embraced and kissed him. He took her by the hand and made her sit down on the seat next to him, and then, in a long conference, he interrogated her on ancient matters. Among others he asked her to tell him what sort of a man William Wallace was; what was his personal figure; what his bearing, and with what degree of strength he was endowed. He put the same comparing question to her concerning Robert Bruce. ‘Robert,’ said she, ‘was a man beautiful, and of fine appearance. His strength was so great that he could easily have overcome any mortal man of his time, save one — Sir William Wallace! But in so far as he excelled other men, he was excelled by Wallace, both in stature and in bodily strength! For in wrestling, Wallace could have overthrown two such men as Robert. And he was comely as well as strong, and full of the beauty of wisdom.’”

I might have thought, had I known the above record in my young days, when I heard my old friend Luckie Forbes describe the Scottish heroes, that she must have been one of those matrons of honor to Lady Kinnoul, and had “seen baith the stalwarth chiefs” in her also venerable life. But the description of my humble historiographer was the work of her own heart, suggested there by tradition, and a holy reverence of even the name of William Wallace to help it out; and so my pen, moved by the same impulse, has attempted to copy the picture she presented.

Note Concerning Joanna of Mar and Strathearn.

This unhappy and wicked woman’s descendance, as daughter of a Princess of the Orkneys, and her husband, Mellis, Earl of Strathearn, is given in all the old Scottish genealogical words, and her marriage with Earl de Warenne, followed up by her most unnatural treasons against her native country, are not less faithfully recorded. But it is something curious that while revising this volume a few years ago, I met a paragraph in the Morning Post newspaper, relative to this very lady — now dead upward of five hundred years — and dated August 26th, 1831; almost the very anniversary-day of Sir William Wallace’s death! It was an extract from the Perth Courier, and runs thus:

“In preparing the foundation of the classical monument which Lady Baird is about to erect on Tom-a-Chastel, to the memory of Sir David, the workmen discovered the remains of an extensive edifice, intermixed with a blackish mold, in which human bones frequently occur, with stirrups, buckles, and other decayed fragments of ancient armor. In an excavation were found a quantity of black earth, the debris of animal matter, some human bones, a bracelet, and a considerable portion of charcoal, from which it may be concluded that the individuals whose remains were discovered, had perished during a conflagration of the castle. The tradition of the country is, that — Three ladies had been there burned to death. And as it is known that the Lady of Strathearn, a daughter of the Earl of Orkney, involved herself in the quarrels between Bruce and Baliol, and was, after the ascendency of the former, in a parliament held at Scone in 1329, doomed to perpetual imprisonment for the crime of laesoe majestatis, it is no violent stretch of conjecture to come to the conclusion that this very lady may have been one of the unhappy victims whose remains have been thus accidentally brought to light. The excavation undoubtedly (being the most probably supposition) was that usually found in the base of the dungeon-keep of the castle. Tom-a-Chastel, on the summit of which Sir David Baird’s monument is to be placed, overlooks the whole strath, and is even visible from Dundee.” So far the note from the Perth, newspaper (which was first appended to this “almost veritable romance-biography of Sir William Wallace,” in the edition of 1831); and on comparing the circumstances and dates of the period referred to, it does not seem improbable that such might have been the fearful end of that ambitious and cruelly impassioned woman. Earl de Warenne was not a man to burden himself with cares for such a partner, after her treasons had become abortive, in the secret continuance of which, most likely, she had been discovered in some of her territorial permitted visits to her inherited lands in Scotland. And the relics of the other two female forms found in the ashes, may reasonably be supposed to have been those of her personal attendants, sharing her captivity.

The above coincidence of recollections between the far past, and the present nearly but passing events, may be regarded as rather remarkable, for the hill of Tom-a-Chastel may now be looked upon as an object recalling to memory of two heroes. One Scotland’s noblest son, of full five hundred ages gone! The other, her boast on the plains of India, within our own remembrance. While the same summit brings two of her daughters likewise to eminent recollection. One that disgraced her sex in every relation of life; the other, who honors it, in all. The hand of the first would have destroyed her country’s greatest hero; the hand of the second raised a tumulus, to maintain the memory and the example of such true sons of her country in a perpetual existence.

The Scarf of James the Fifth of Scotland, in the possession of Dr. Jefferson, of West Lodge, Clapham.

This scarf belonged to, and was worn by the truly royal, but something romantically adventurous King of Scotland, James the Fifth. He was fond of roaming about in his dominions, like the celebrated Haroun Al Rashid, in various disguises, to see and to observe; and to make acquaintance with his people of all degrees, without being known by them. In one of these incognito wanderings, about the year 1533, he was hospitably entertained for a night, by an ancestor of Dr. Jefferson’s lady, a man of liberal name in the country; and who unwittingly had given most courteous bed and board to his sovereign (then personally unknown to him), when he thought he was entertaining a person not much above the rank of the commonest degree, it being the monarch’s humor generally to assume the most ordinary garb outwardly; and it therefore depended on the tact of the entertainer, from his own inherent nobleness, to discern the real quality of the mind and manners of his transitory guest. The host in question did not discern that it was his sovereign he was then treating like a prince; but he felt it was a visitant, be he whom he may, that was worthy his utmost respect; and the monarch, highly pleased with his night’s lodging, and previous gracious welcome, on his departure next morning, presented to the lady of the mansion a grateful tribute to her good care, in the form of a small parcel rolled up, which, when opened, they found to be a splendid scarf, indorsed to herself and lord, in the name of the Gudemon o’ Ballangeich. All then knew it was the “generous and pleasant King of Scotland” who had been their guest.

The Scottish Chief on whom this beautiful memorial of received hospitality had been bestowed, was John Baird, of Burntisland, in Fifeshire, from whom the writer of this note literally traces the present inheritance of the scarf. John Burgh had an only daughter, who married John Balfour, K. N., who also had an only daughter, and she married Gilbert Blair, brother to Blair of Ard–Blair. Their only son, James Blair, married Jane Morrison, daughter of — Morrison, Esq., and an heiress of the brave house of Ramsay, by which marriage the ancient and honorable families of Burgh, Blair, and Ramsay, were woven into one branch; and from this branch, indeed, from the first set-off of its united stem was born of this marriage, Margaret Blair, who dying in the year 1836, bequeathed the long-cherished scarf to Dr. Jefferson, the worthy husband of her beloved kinswoman — direct in the line of John Burgh, to whom it had originally been given.

The scarf was composed of a rich and brilliant tissue of gold and silver threads, interwoven with silk-embroidered flowers in their natural colors. They are chiefly pansies, the emblems of remembrance; thistles, the old insignia of Scotland; and the field daisy, the favorite symbol of King James’ mother, the beautiful Queen Margaret. The flowers, entwined together, run in stripes down the splendid web of the scarf, which terminates at each end with what has been a magnificent fringe of similar hues and brightness. The scarf is seven feet in length, by one foot nine inches in width.

This interesting bequest was still further enriched to Dr. Jefferson by the addition of a cap and gloves, which, tradition says, the worthy chief of Burntisland wore on his nuptial day. There was also a smaller pair of gloves, of a more delicate size and texture, appropriated by the same testimony to the fair bride. But these articles are supposed to have been of earlier fabric than that of the scarf — probably the year 1500 — and they are of less exquisite manufacture; the former appearing to be from the fine looms of France, and the latter wrought in the less practiced machinery of our then ruder northern isle. The cap is of a pale red silk, with gold cord and embroidery down the seams, it being formed to fit the head, and therefore in compartments; broad where they are inserted into the rich fillet-band round the head, and narrowing to the closely-fitting top. It looked something like an Albanian cap. The gloves, which are said to have been those of the chief, were of a brownish fine leather, with embroidered gauntlet tops. The lady’s are of a lighter hue, still softer leather, with gay fringe of varied-colored silk and gold, and tassels at the wrists. Both these pairs of gloves were well shaped and most neatly sewed.

On these relics of antiquity, and of ancestorial memorials devolving on Dr. Jefferson, he sought for a place of deposit for them, suitable to their dignity, their character, and their times. He had in his possession a curious old table, of the era of Henry the Eighth, which he soon adapted to the purpose. Its large oaken slab was of sufficient dimensions to admit of the royal gift being spread in graceful folds over the dark surface of the wood, which the better displayed the tissue’s interchanging tints, and also gave room for the disposal of the cap and gloves, which were placed in a kind of armorial crest between its gauntlets, at the head of the scarf, and at its foot was added a beautifully written inscription in old emblazoned characters, historic of the interesting relics above. The whole is secured from dust or other injury by a covering of plate-glass, extending over the entire surface of the table, which, having a raised carved oak parapet-border of about four inches high along all its sides, forms a sort of castellated sanctuary that completely defends from accident the glass and the treasure beneath it; which is distinctly seen through the lucid medium.

The shape of the table is like that we call a sofa-table, but very long, being five feet by two and a half. The depth of its frieze altogether is eight inches, for it extends four inches below the four-inch parapet above, and this lower portion is worked into a foliage enwreathing the sides. The whole height of the table from the feet of its four-clawed pedestal, is three feet two inches. This pedestal, or rather branching stem of polished oak — being of the sturdy contour of its original growth, with its superb ramifications supporting the precious slab above — shows an elaborate design in its carvings, far beyond my power to describe, so luxuriant, so various, so intricate, one might almost suppose that the matchless tool of the famous Benevanta Cellini had traced its wild and graceful grotesque. The four claws, which are like roots from the stem of the pedestal, partake of the same rich arabesque in their design, and terminate in the form of lion’s paws.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59