Posted in castles, Events in History

The Ghost Piper of Duntrune Castle

On the northern banks of Loch Crinan, in the western part of Scotland stands a picturesque little castle named Duntrune. Built in the 12th century, it has withstood the tumultuous history of Scotland to remain one of the best and longest preserved castles that is still occupied in all of Scotland today.

Though Duntrune is a lovely castle in a beautiful setting, it was an event that took place there in the mid 1600’s that first drew my attention to it.  

Duntrune Castle

A Nasty Civil War

The backdrop of our little ghost story is the English civil war that took place between King Charles I and his disagreeing Parliament. Charles eventually dissolved Parliament and decided to rule without them. This threw the country into a civil war that wasn’t satisfied until Charles was dethroned and beheaded in 1649.

This is a very simplistic explanation of events, for there were underlying causes that put the two ruling forces at odds with each other. One of those causes was deeply rooted in religious disagreements. At first, Scotland made an attempt to steer clear of the problems in England, but it soon became apparent that they would eventually be dragged into the quarrel.

Two Sides of the Same War:

The English Civil War was one component of a bigger war known as the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. This not only involved the people of England, but Scotland and Ireland were also thrust into the disputes between Charles and his Parliament.

At the heart of the Scottish involvement in this war were the Covenanters and the Royalists. The Covenanters had their roots in Presbyterianism, a movement that had shaken Scotland over a hundred years earlier and had caused dissent between the Catholic Scots and those who fought for reformation. The Covenanters were also known as Parliamentarians, due to their support of Parliament over King Charles. The other faction was the Royalists. They were also known as the King’s Scottish army. They were loyal to the king and supported King Charles’ policies of governance in England.

Riot Against Anglican Prayer Book, 1637. ~Wikimedia Commons
“Riot sparked by Jenny Geddes over the imposition of Charles I’s Book of Common Prayer in Presbyterian Scotland. Civil disobedience soon turned into armed defiance.” Wikipedia

Enter: The Highlanders

The diverse clans of the Highlands were of differing opinions on Charles  and his policies. This was due in part to the many cultural and religious beliefs held by the disparate clans. When it came time to choose sides, some clans followed King Charles (the Royalists), and others joined the Covenanters who sided with Parliament.

Amongst these divided Highlanders were two clans that knew hundreds of years of quarreling. These were the infamous Campbells and the MacDonalds. The bad feelings between these two clans make the American Hatfield’s and McCoy’s feud look like a playground scuffle. Even to this day, you can still find places in Scotland that refuse to serve patrons who are in possession of a certain clan name of Campbell.

Historians seem to think that a lot of the riff between the two clans has been blown out of proportion. However, the fact still remains that in the mid-17th century, when there were sides to be chosen, the Campbells and the MacDonalds happened to find themselves on opposing sides of King Charles’ war. And this was the heart of the problem concerning Duntrune Castle. 

The Stuff of Folklore

Several versions this tale can be found. Here I will give the account that I first heard. Readers may wish to do further reading and research and come across another tale that you find more believable or fascinating.

The MacDonald clan was led by a hulk of a man that came to be known by the name Colkitto. He was a master at warfare and not only fought for his own clan but was also known to have assisted Clan MacIntyre of Glen Coe. In thanks for his assistance, the MacIntyre chief gave Colkitto his favorite piper. He was to accompany Colkitto and the MacDonald warriors on their campaign.

And so it was that when the MacDonald clan came upon Duntrune Castle in the middle of the night, the MacIntyre piper was also there to take part in the action. The control of the castle was wrestled from the Campbells and left in the capable hands of a few of Colkitto’s men along with his prized piper. Colkitto himself boarded a boat and set sail across the Sound of Jura to continue on his campaign, leaving his men to hold down the fort until his return.

When the Campbells launched a counter-attack to regain control of Duntrune, all of the warriors of the MacDonald clan were killed, except for the piper. He alone was left, with the intent that he would play his pipes and entertain the Campbell clan.

And that he did, until one day Colkitto’s boat was spotted on the Sound. With permission, the MacIntyre piper played a song that he had prepared in honor of his leader’s return, “Piobaireachd-dhum- Naomhaid” or in English, “The Piper’s Warning to His Master”. Soon the haunting notes drifted out across the water, reaching Colkitto’s ears. But it didn’t take long for the great chieftain to notice something odd about the melody. The piper had intentionally misplayed some of the notes in an effort to send a warning message to Colkitto.

Colkitto, understanding the piper’s intent, turned his boat around and never completed his destination to Duntrune. When the Campbell clan realized what the piper had done, they called for the piper’s punishment.

And what greater punishment could there be, than to disable the man, preventing him from ever being able to play the pipes again? The MacIntyre piper’s hands were cut off, and he eventually bled to death from his injuries.

I’m not sure if this is the exact version of The Piper’s Warning to His Master that the MacIntyre piper played for Colkitto, but have a listen.

The “Ghost” Part of This Little Story

So, what’s so ghostly about this sad story? For hundreds of years there have been stories of banging noises and flying objects heard and sighted at Duntrune Castle. There have even been reports of a mysterious sound of bagpipes playing on occasion. For many years people actually thought the story of the mutilated piper was just that—a story. But while a renovation project was underway at Duntrune in the late 1800’s, an Episcopalian bishop reported that workers found the skeletal remains of a man. They unearthed the bones: skull, arms, legs, torso—everything was there—except for his hands. The remains were reburied outside of the castle walls in an unmarked grave. Later, another excavation uncovered the bones of two hands, without a body to go with it, buried under one of the rooms of the castle.

If you are ever in Argyll, perhaps you can venture to see Duntrune Castle. See if you can spot a lonely specter dutifully piping out his warning across the salty waters of Loch Crinan. Oh, and let me know how he does it without his hands.

Posted in Historic Characters

The Heart of a King

Robert the Bruce-King of Scotland

Robert the Bruce (also known as Robert I) is one of the most celebrated and respected kings of Scottish history. Even to this day, 700 years later, monuments and statues are still being erected in his honor, books are still written about him, and movies are still being made.

Monument to Robert the Bruce~Stirling, Scotland / photo: Tonya U. Brown, 2017

A Little Back History

In the late thirteenth century, Scotland was plunged into a period of political turmoil. The seven-year-old heir to the Scottish throne, Margaret, the Maid of Norway, had died before her coronation, leaving the throne empty and thirteen men vying for the position.

However, the King of England, Edward I had other plans. He exerted a feudal superiority, treating Scotland like a vassal of England. Edward appointed John de Balliol to take the Scottish throne. John was heavily influenced by Edward, putting him out of favor with the Scottish nobility.

The nobles deposed John and set up a council to rule instead. This, of course, angered Edward and goaded him to invade Scotland, starting the Wars for Scottish Independence. When Scotland was defeated in 1296, John abdicated, leaving Scotland without a king once more.

Enter Robert the Bruce

Robert was one of the many men who claimed a right to the Scottish throne. He was known to have led supporters of the rebel, William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) during the Wars for Scottish Independence. However, he was also known to be in good graces with the English king from time to time as well. But any goodwill that might have been shown to him by Edward came to an end in 1306, when Robert killed the cousin of the appointed Scottish king, John.

1797 painting of Robert the Bruce by unknown artist~The Granger Collection, New York

Questionable Actions

When Robert’s loyalty to Edward was called into question, he went right to the traitorous source: the cousin of John de Balliol, John (“The Red”) Comyn. Adamant opposer to English Rule, and another rightful heir to the Scottish throne, Comyn may have tired of Robert’s vacillations between English rule and Scottish rights. He met with Robert at a church at Dumfries on February 10, 1306. An argument broke out when Robert confronted Comyn on his reports to King Edward about Robert’s possible betrayal.

Here is where history gets a little cloudy. Some say Robert met John Comyn with all intentions of killing him. Other historians think that an argument broke out, and in a fit of passion Bruce struck Comyn, taking him down. When he asked after Comyn’s wellbeing afterward, one of Bruce’s supporters decided to take it upon himself to make sure the job was done.

The difference in that time period is comparable to our current U.S. laws differentiating between murder and manslaughter.  Was it cold-blooded premeditated murder, or a hot-blooded lashing out that resulted in someone’s death?  Opinions vary and depending on which way you look at it could determine Robert’s popularity among the people, or lack thereof.

Either way, one thing remained: he had taken someone’s life within the walls of a holy sanctuary. This caused him to be excommunicated from the church and may have tormented Robert for the rest of his life.

Death of a Warrior

Many years later, the man who is most famous for breaking the English hold over Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn, died at the Manor of Cardross, near Dumbarton.  His body was buried in the Dumfermline Abbey, but his sternum was cut open and his heart removed so that it might be buried elsewhere. Some historians say that it was Robert’s one unfulfilled wish to go on a crusade. For this reason, his heart was put into a metal casket and borne about the neck of his close friend, Sir James Douglas as he set off for a crusade to Jerusalem.  However, the crusade never came to fruition and instead Bruce’s men were sidetracked to Spain where Alfonso XI of Castile was instigating a campaign against the Moors of Granada. There, Douglas was killed, and Sir William Keith brought Robert’s heart back to Scotland. It was buried at Melrose Abbey, (a place repaired several times throughout Robert’s reign and with his funding),  according to his wishes.  

Other tradition holds that Bruce wanted his heart to be buried at Jerusalem. The reason for this wish could lead back to his excommunication from the church. Local tradition believes that Robert the Bruce wanted his heart buried in Jerusalem to atone for the sin of his murder of John Comyn at the Franciscan church 23 years earlier.

Whatever the reason, we know that his heart unfortunately did not make it to Jerusalem (unless you believe some conspiracy theories that hold that it was actually smuggled into Jerusalem hundreds of years later). However, what we do not know for sure is whether the small casket unearthed at Melrose Abbey in 1920, reburied, then unearthed again in 1996 are the actual remains of Robert the Bruce.

The heart was reburied again in 1998 and a marker has been set at the new burial place. For the most part people accept that it truly is Robert’s heart. Although it may have been Bruce’s wish to have his heart buried at Jerusalem, no one can deny that the rightful place for the heart of this beloved Scottish hero belongs in the soil of his hard-won land.

The heart of Robert the Bruce, buried at Melrose Abbey in Roxburghshire, Scotland / photo: Tonya U. Brown , 2017

The above inscription on the stone comes from a long, narrative poem by John Barbour called The Brus. It is a historic account of Robert the Bruce’s heroic deeds during the Scottish Wars for Independence. In Early Scots it reads: “A noble hart may have no ease, gif freedom failye” In English it is translated as: “A noble heart cannot be at peace if freedom is lacking”. Notice how the heart is entwined with the Saltire, the symbol used on the Scottish flag.

Here are a few more pictures I took at Melrose Abbey. You can click on the picture to open and expand for a bigger, better view. I hope you enjoy!

I allow the use of my images in this way:
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Posted in castles

Dundas Castle

Photo by: A.D.Wheeler/The Explorographer

Dundas Castle

The one in Edinburgh, Scotland, right? Nope, the one in the secluded forests of the Catskill Mountains in the good ole U.S. of A.

How odd (or maybe not, considering it’s me :P) that one of my first posts is not about Scotland, England, or even the sixteenth century for that matter. It is about a place that I have been obsessing about since seeing an abandoned house video on YouTube. The place is Dundas Castle in Roscoe, New York and although abandoned, it is hauntingly beautiful and still full of potential.

Shrouded in mystery, the original country house, called Craig-E-Clair, was expanded in 1915 with the beginning of the building of the castle now known as Dundas. Built on 964 acres, the massive estate has 40 rooms, and took the owner and originator of the idea, Ralph Wurts-Dundas, over eight years and more than a million dollars to construct.

Sadly, since it took over eight years to build, Mr. Wurts-Dundas did not live to see its completion. Ralph died in 1921, and construction stopped in 1924. The finishing touches were never added, and neither he nor his wife, Josephine, ever lived within its walls. Josephine had been committed to a sanatorium and upon her death, the castle passed to their only daughter, Muriel, who was a child at the time.

But the tragedy of Dundas Castle doesn’t end there. Muriel Wurts-Dundas, who had only visited the castle a handful of times, married James R. Herbert Boone and moved to England, where she too eventually was committed to a mental health institution. In her absence, Dundas had passed through the hands of several caretakers before being sold to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Masonic Order in Manhattan.

Although Dundas Castle was used as a children’s summer camp for some time, no one has ever lived there, and it still stands empty to this day.

I just had an epiphany!  My house is older than this one.  It was built in 1890. Woohoo!

Feel free to click on the images below to view photographer, A.D. Wheeler’s other photos of Dundas Castle. Or, check out his other photos and the history behind the pics at https://portfolio.theexplorographer.com/Landscapes/Dundas/

<strong><a href=”https://TheExplorographer.com” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Photo by: A.D.Wheeler/The Explorographer</a></strong>

Want to feel like you’re really inside Dundas Castle? Watch the YouTube video that spurred my interest.

Want to read more about Dundas? Take a look at these sites:

http://dundascastle.synthasite.com/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/craig-e-clair-castle

One final note…

I have not been to Dundas Castle in Scotland, but I have been to a few others there. Can you tell this is one of my favorite things? Obsessed, I tell ya. Ob-sessed. It could be worse, right?

The following pictures are my own. Please see below for usage permission.

Now go be the queen (or king) of your castle...and have a blessed day. 

I allow the use of my images in this way:
Creative Commons License
With Creative Commons you are free: To Share: Copy, Distribute, and Transmit the image
Under these conditions:
Attribution: Attribution to TonyaUBrown and theroseandthethistle.com must be made along with the image.

You may not print withouth permission.

Posted in Uncategorized

Welcome!

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

— Winston Churchill.

I am so glad you’re here. If you found me through Twitter, you probably already know that I am a writer of historical fiction who loves all things British–and in particular, Scottish. If you came here from Facebook, then you probably already know that I have written a book about Mary, Queen of Scots (more on that later). And if you know me from Instagram then you know that I like to post pictures of my travels and my kids–the two-legged ones and the four-legged one.

If you know me in person, then you know that I have a huge obsession with 16th century Europe and love to read about the Reformation and what life was like in that time period. I also like to read about the kings and queens of the medieval time period. You are likely to find any number of those topics on this blog.

I hope you love history as much as I do. If you do, then perhaps you’ll hang around and chat a while. Feel free to comment on what you liked, what you didn’t, and what topics you might like for us to discuss further.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tonya Brown

P.S. If you enjoy my blog, please like, subscribe and share with others!

Posted in Writing

The Queen’s Almoner

A young Reformer and childhood friend of Mary, Queen of Scots sacrifices everything for love and loyalty to his queen.

Thomas Broune is a sixteenth century Scottish cleric and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. While in service at the queen’s court, he soon realizes that the feelings that he held for Mary, as a protective brother that cares for his sister, has turned to feelings that he can no longer deny; he is deeply in love with the beautiful queen. Yet Thomas is a man of the cloth. She is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude; he to his conscious, and she to her throne. 

Thomas finally removes himself from the temptation, and eventually marries another. However, when he chooses loyalty to his queen over the well-being of his wife and child, he finds that the choice comes at a very high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.

Want to read more? Click on the link below to read a sample of The Queen’s Almoner. Then, tell me how much you love it and can’t wait for it to be published, or tell me how much you hate it and what I can do to improve it. (It’s ok, I’m a grown-up, I can handle a little criticism 🙂 ) Please keep in mind this is a working title and cover. When a publisher decides to publish my book the title could change, and the cover definitely will.