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Mary Queen Of Scots

Aberdour In The Sixteenth Century

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the barony of Aberdour belonged to John, second Earl of Morton, and he and his wife Janet Crichton were confirmed in the barony in 1507, together with the village, mill, castle
and fortalice of Aberdour. James, the third Earl, succeeded about 1513 and was served heir to his father with his spouse Katherine, a natural daughter of James IV, in 1521. His principal residence was at Dalkeith and
responsibility for Aberdour was delegated to the Captain of Aberdour Castle who, in 1525, was one William Boyd.

In April 1538 the Earl and his wife were summoned for the non-payment of their feudal dues on the lands of Aberdour and in July of the same year James Bisset, one of the king’s messengers, was sent to Dalkeith and
thereafter to Cupar to make a public proclamation of the matter. Such incidents were not unusual in the sixteenth century but in this instance the King’s action was
probably due to the fact that he wanted the Morton lands for himself, an object he achieved in 1540 by banishing the earl to Inverness. The earl, who was in poor health, travelled as far as Brechin and there resigned his lands in favour of his kinsman, Robert
Douglas of Lochleven. The latter, acting under compulsion, resigned them to the king with the exception of the barony of Aberdour which he was allowed to keep for himself.

James V died in 1542 and the unjust settlement of Brechin was rapidly overthrown. To secure this end the earl enlisted the aid of his kinsman, Sir George Douglas of Pittendreich, at the price of a marriage contract between his youngest daughter Elizabeth and Sir George’s second
son, James, who was to succeed on the earl’s death to the earidom. The marriage agreement was embodied in a charter of 22nd April 1543, which was confirmed in the name of the young Queen Mary. Although the barony o Aberdour was included in the arrangement it was reserved by the earl for his wife, the Countess Katherine, during her lifetime.

The earl may also have been helped to reestablish his position by the Lord Governor, James, Earl of Arran, since on 22nd December John Hamilton of Milnburn was repaid expenses incurred in travelling to Aberdour ‘with certain silver work of my lord governor to be delivered to the Earl of Morton in pledge of a sum of money borrowed from
the said earl. Five years later another messenger, Alexander Guthne, was paid eleven shillings for the hire of a boat to Aberdour and back ‘he being sent to my lord
of Morton afore his decease to inquire for certain pledges of my lord governors laid in pledge to the said earl.

In 1544 war broke out between England and Scotland and in the following years considerable efforts were made to secure the Forth and lay coasts against attack, although this did not prevent the English occupying
lnchcolm after the battle of Pinkie. In 1547 the earl was granted a licence of exemption from military service on the grounds that he was of great age, sickly and tender of complexion, so that he may not endure and sustain pain and travail of wars without danger to his life. The exemption extended to his servants since ‘by reason of his great age and estate he must have certain servitors
to wait upon him for keeping of his person, houses and strengths, and specially of his strength and fortalice of Aberdour, lying on the coast side’.

Regent Morton

The earl died in 1548 and was duly succeeded by his son-in-law, James Douglas, known to history as the Regent Morton. The widowed Countess continued to occupy Aberdour castle in accordance with the terms of the charter of 1543 and was in her turn granted
exemption from service ‘because it is right needful to the said Dame Katherine to have these her servitors to await upon the keeping of her strength and fortalice of Aberdour, which will be of great hurt to this realm if the
same be recovered by our old enemies’. In June of the same year (1549) the government decided to fortify Inchkeith as an additional place of strength in this area and it was ordained ‘that the whole burghs on the sides of the Forth, and the great towns and thoroughfares that lies within two miles to the coast of the same shall furnish 400 pioneers, each man 2s in the day for the space of 16 days, to work at the said fort in the same
insch’. Aberdour was one of the burghs called upon to contribute to the scheme.

The Aberdour lands were still in the hands of the earl’s mother-in-law in 1553 since in that year he obtained discharge of a precept by the countess calling the tenants of Aberdour and other lands to her own court of
justice away from the regality of Dalkeith. The earl had confirmation of his right to the whole barony in 1564 when the Queen formally annulled the resignation made by James, the third Earl, ‘under fear for his life’.

On 9th March 1566 Riccio was murdered at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the court was throwp into an uproar. Although not one of the assassins, Morton, then Chancellor, was regarded as one of the principal
conspirators and on March 19 he and others were ordered to be charged ‘personally or at their dwelling places and failing thereof by open proclamation at the market crosses of the head burghs of the sheriffdoms where they dwell’. On the same day John Paterson,
herald, and John Brown, messenger, were sent from Edinburgh with letters ‘to search, seek, intromet and make inventory of part ot the escheit goods, corns, cattle and others whatsoever which pertained to James, Earl of Morton, being in Aberdour’, and with letters
charging the earl and others personally or at their dwelling places to compeir within 6 days under pain of outlawry. The charges were subsequently said to be that the earl and others were ‘complices in the crewell
muthuring and slaying of umquhile David Riccio thair majesteis domesticall servitor, in the month of March last bipast, and detaining ot their highnesses persons in
captivity within the Palace of Holyroodhouse’. Elsewhere the crime was described as ‘treasonable slaughter,
committed and done in their Majesteis chamber in their presence’. The letters were delivered at Dalkeith and Aberdour in vain, for the earl had fled to England.

Although the earl saved his life he did not escape punishment altogether. On 20th March Lord Huntly was appointed Chancellor in his place and by 10th April the
Queen was disposing of goods and money from the rents of Aberdour ‘which belonged to the earl before he was denounced rebel and put to the horn’. In this context William Lawson, one of the Queen’s messengers, passed from Edinburgh to Dalkeith and Aberdour on 29th May, charging the earl’s chamberlains to produce their rentals of the Earldom of Morton to the Treasurer. But for political reasons the storm blew over more quickly than might have been expected and on 24th December the Earl and his accomplices received a precept of remission
for the murder and for the subsequent detention of the Queen.

The recall of Morton was from Darnley’s point of view an ominous move, since he had betrayed the conspirators and his own part in the crime had been suppressed. Within a year he was murdered, the Queen was a
prisoner, and Morton and others had received the Queen’s demission in favour of her son. James VI’s coronation took place on 29th June 1567, and Morton took the oath ‘inclinand and his body and layand his hand
on the buike of God, in name and upon the behalf ot his Grace’.

Although Morton was intimately connected with these events it was the Queen’s half-brother, the Earl of Moray, who was first appointed Regent, and it was to him
that on 16th September 1568, Morton handed over ‘a silver box, overgilt with gold, with all missive letters, contracts or obligations for marriage, sonnets or love
ballads and other letters contained therein, sent and passed betwixt the Queen, our Sovereign Lord’s mother, and James, sometime Earl of Bothwell’. These were the
notorious ‘Casket Letters’ which, if genuine, proved the Queen’s complicity in Darnley’s murder and which subsequently played so prominent a part in discussions of her guilt. Morton was appointed Regent on 24th November 1572, and during his period of office, which lasted until 24th March 1578, he is recorded as having summoned the Privy Council to meet on one occasion at
Aberdour, ie, on 27th August 1576, when measures were taken to restrict the freedom of gypsies who had been ‘abusing the simple and ignorant people with sorcery and
divination’. It was from Aberdour that Morton wrote on 27th March 1580, to warn the Laird of Lochleven that he had been summoned to Stirling in connection with a plot to surprise King James. If this was an attempt to implicate the earl it failed, but in January of the following year he was committed to prison, first in Edinburgh
then in Dumbarton, ‘being suspected and accused as culpable of the treasonable murder of umquhile the king our Sovereign Lord’s father’. He was ordered to pay 20
marks a day for his keep from the rentals of Aberdour. The lands were committed to the custody of Archibald, Earl of Angus, upon the promise that these sums would be forwarded but the earl failed to keep his promise and on 3rd May further arrangements had to be made to ensure that the payments due to the captain of
Dumbarton should be forthcoming.

The result of Morton’s trial was for political reasons a foregone conclusion and although all that could be proved was that the earl was aware of the plot against Darnley he was convicted and executed. On 3rd June 1581, an act of approval was passed by the Privy
Council supporting the prosecution of the late earl by James, Earl of Arran, and on 5th June his lands, including the barony of Aberdour, were granted to one of his
principal enemies, the Earl of Lennox. On 13th December the grant was confirmed and the lands united as the Dukedom of Lennox. Lord Maxwell, the Regent’s nephew-in-law, assumed the title of Earl of Morton.

There appears to have been little popular regret at the death of the Regent whose rule was severe and popularly believed to be exercised to his own advantage. According to one account he managed to conceal his treasures before his arrest including ‘four puncheons of silver at Aberdour under a broad stone at the gate’.

In 1586 the act of attainder was reversed and the earldom reverted to the heir of entail, the Earl of Angus. In 1587 the Morton lands were restored by the Duke of Lennox ‘for the sake of peace in the realm amongst the nobles of the same’ and in return for the lands of
Methven. On the death of the earl his successor, Sir William Douglas of Lochleven, was created sixth Earl of Morton. Sir William is best known as the custodian of Queen Mary during her imprisonment at Lochleven
castle and derived his claim to the earldom as a descendant of Henry Douglas, brother of Sir James Douglas.

The earl’s eldest son, Robert, never succeeded to the title. He was granted licence to travel abroad in 1584, and did not return. A petition for his relief raised in England in1600 stated that he had been enslaved by the
Turks and was then in captivity in Algiers on the Barbary Coast. His wife, Jean Lyon, second daughter of John, eighth Lord Glamis, subsequently married Alexander
Lindsay, the royal favourite, who was elevated to the peerage as Lord Spynie in preparation of the event. Lord Spynie was cautioned in January 1591 not to harm
certain of his wife’s tenants at Aberdour, and in 1592 was accused by the commendator of Pittenweem, Colonel William Stewart, of conspiring with Francis, Earl of Bothwell, at Aberdour castle. The commendator was
himself in ward at Blackness at the time, accused of the same offence. Lord Spynie is said to have lived at Aberdour until his untimely death in an Edinburgh street brawl in 1607.

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