History Index : The Age of Enlightenment

Tower Houses
Tower of Monymusk House
Tower of Monymusk House

The East side of Scotland has rich fertile agricultural land compared with most of the land in the West and the North, but Scotland was always a poor county due to the cold climate. The large castles in Scotland were built in order to repel invaders and foreigners but there are also hundreds of small tower houses. Clans in the West frequently went South and East to steal food for their families. They usually preferred to steal from the English, hence the notorious raiding parties in the border regions and the fearsome fighting reputation of the Scots. The tower houses were family homes too and their battlements, decoration and coats of arms often clearly showed their status and who they were to the approaching newcomer.

The Tourist Office has set up a Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire, and local examples can be seen at Castle Fraser, Craigievar Castle and Castle Crathes, which are all now run by the NTS (National Trust for Scotland). Monymusk House is also an example of a tower house, although as a private residence is not open to visitors. The tower houses were fortified to protect grain and livestock from neighbouring Clans. If food stores ran out in early Spring families might be forced to go raiding to steal food to take home. As these raiding parties appeared over the horizon, a smoke beacon might have gone up and the tenants would run to the local Laird's tower house. The tenants would have provided the fire-power, and the Laird the four walls; it was a system of self preservation and was perhaps a basis for the Clan system in Scotland, which largely survived until the Union of Scotland with England in 1707.

Tall Tales

In the sixteenth century (1556), Ivan the Terrible, the Czar of Russia, sent an Ambassador and a ship full of treasures (Russian furs, amber, gold, etc) to the English Queen Mary, as the first official contact between Russia and the West. The ship, the 'Edward Bonaventure' was unfortunately wrecked off the Buchan coast, specifically off Kinnaird Head at Fraserburgh and the ensuing scenario must have almost paled into insignificance the whisky squirreled ashore by the locals, from the wreckage during the Great War on the West Coast of Scotland - later made into the classic film "Whisky Galore".

Needless to say, when the English tried to explain to Ivan the Terrible what had happened he had great difficulty in believing them. Not a scrap of the treasure could be found, the locals had successfully hidden the lot and it was only by dint of great persuasion that the Czar in the end believed the English and that they had been completely unable to find a single item he had sent to Queen Mary. The Scottish Regent, Marie de Guise (Mary Queen of Scots mother) ordered a judicial enquiry into the theft of the goods, which met in the great hall of Pitsligo Castle, the main accused were the local lairds, Forbes of Pitsligo and Fraser of Philorth and their sons, who all said they knew nothing about anything. Queen Mary was incandescent, the merchants sent a formal report to Czar Ivan blaming it all on the thieving Scots and nothing more was heard of the stolen treasures.

But is it mere coincidence that both Pitsligo and Philorth from this point on were suddenly much richer than previously? Both vastly enlarged their houses, built new towns with harbours (Fraserburgh and Rosehearty) and started buying land all over Aberdeenshire. Philorth's son founded a University at Fraserburgh, which didn't really get off the ground.

The Act of Union

There had been proposals to unite the English and Scottish parliaments to form the Kingdom of Great Britain since the 1604 Union of the Crowns (when both countries shared a Monarch.) However Scotland was still fearful that it would become swallowed up and simply turned into another region of England, as had happened to Wales when it was absorbed by England in 1536-1543. England was pressing for further Union as it feared that Scotland would join again with France to form the 'Auld Alliance'; something they could ill afford as they relied heavily on the support of the Scottish solidiers.

The main reason for the Act of Union in 1707 was an economic one. By the beginning of the 18th Century Scotland's economy was virtually bankrupt due to the failed attempt by the 'Company of Scotland' to colonize Darien, an area of Panama in South America in 1695. The Scots had attempted to set up a trade base there but were totally unprepared for the swamp and disease infested environment they encounted, not to mention the hostile natives and Spanish colonists who already controlled the region. To make matters worse the English thwarted their attempts at trade and imposed blockades. Most of the excited pioneers who set out on one of the 3 fleets of ships during the course of the 1690s died of hunger or disease with only a handful making it back to the homeland. Scotland paid a huge price with over 2000 lives lost and it is estimated that over a quarter of Scotland's wealth was lost in this disastrous scheme as most Scots had invested heavily. The ecomony was crippled and it effectivly lead to the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament and Union. Scotland kept its own legal (and for a time religious) systems, but coinage, taxation, sovereignty, trade, parliament and the flag became one.

Many believed that the English had deliberately caused the failure of the Darien Scheme, as they and the Dutch had initially backed the scheme financially but had pulled out at the last minute. The whole affair became a great source of conflict which, after the Union, fuelled the Jacobite rebellions, culminating in the Uprisings of 1715 and 1745.

The Uprisings of 1715 and 1745

With the death of Queen Anne, in 1714, a dynasty ended and the Hanoverian monarchs came to the British throne. But a Stuart line survived through the offspring of James VII of Scotland (James II of England). His son, the 'Old Pretender' James Francis Edward Stuart, tried to claim the throne in 1715 and his grandson, the 'Young Pretender' Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or the 'Young Chevalier', tried again in 1745 but was disastrously defeated at Culloden. He was not supported by the French as he had hoped, was badly advised by the Irish and finally fled to Skye with Flora MacDonald, before living the rest of his life in exile in Italy.

Duncan Forbes of Culloden
Duncan Forbes
of Culloden

Another Forbes cousin, Duncan Forbes of Culloden, was a very clever lawyer. He was President of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, head of the Scottish legal system and the chief government officer in Scotland. He was also famous throughout the North for his wisdom, humanity and common sense. He used his position and tremendous influence to persuade almost all the Northern clans (including the MacLeods, Macdonalds, Mackays, Sutherlands, Sinclairs, Mackenzies, Frasers, Munros and Grants) not to join Bonnie Prince Charlie's rising. He wrote to one Forbes cousin (possibly Pitsligo), "it is a foolish thing to fight for the Prince". To which the cousin replied, "I know it is foolish, but we will come out for the Prince!" After the battle of Culloden, which took place on his own estate and within sight of his house, Duncan tried desperately to persuade Butcher Cumberland to be merciful to the Jacobite Clans, but failed. He had bankrupted himself in opposing Bonnie Prince Charlie, but received not a penny in compensation from the government.

The dilemma faced by the Grants and the Forbeses was typical of that facing many families at the time. They knew that going to war would almost certainly be a lost cause, yet many still felt it was a cause worth fighting for.

The son of the last Forbes of Monymusk was married to Forbes of Pitsligo's sister (cousins). This Lord Pitsligo came out in both Uprisings, though unusually he left it to his followers to decide whether they wanted to join him or not. He was outlawed for his part in both the Uprisings, but second time round he felt he was too old to live abroad again, so he hid out in the Buchan. He took a couple of names as aliases and lived like a tramp, even showing the English soldiers at one point the bridge he lived under sometimes. The soldiers had no idea that this was the man they were looking for! Even with a price of three thousand Pounds on his head none of the local people gave him up.

Lord Forbes of Pitsligo
Lord Forbes of Pitsligo

In her papers Christian Watt tells of how her grandmother remembers an old man arriving after dark at their house in the Broch (Fraserburgh) when she was a little girl. The man was given a bowl of soup and a clean shift, spent the night and was gone before daybreak. Afterwards her father told her she had met the great Lord Pitsligo that night.

He was so well liked that when he died after ten years of hiding out, the English Authorities stood back out of respect and allowed a wake of 10,000 to follow him. In this well known picture he can be seen to the right of Bonnie Prince Charlie with his head bowed characteristically.

After the 1745 uprising, the English outlawed the tartan, the bagpipes, weapons were confiscated and the Episcopalian religion was banned. At this time a famous teacher from Longside outside Ellon, the Rev John Skinner, came as headmaster to the school at Monymusk and he lived here for about 7 years. He wrote the celebrated poem "Tullochgorum". As a man of letters he fought the cause for religious equality with his pen - eventually being incarcerated in the Aberdeen Tolbooth for lampooning the authorities. Throughout his pastoral years he administered to the people of Longside, reflecting the harshness of a crofting community through poetry and song. Robbie Burns admired Skinner's verse and often corresponded with him as a "dutiful younger brother" in poetry.

After 1745 no Monarch visited Scotland for about 30 years until George III went in the 1770s. Walter Scott's writings romanticised the savage native making Scotland fashionable and attractive. Robbie Burns was also writing at this time, his songs and poetry are still more celebrated outside Scotland in Russia and Germany than they are in England. During the second half of the 17th Century the Adam brothers were transforming Edinburgh, building a whole New Town along the stylish and grid pattern lines of Georgian Architecture. Sir Archibald (2nd Bt.) corresponded with the famous philospher John Hume and also Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Constitution in 1789.

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