Glimpses into the History of an Ancient Parish & Burgh
Extracts & Articles | Lochfergus
By Mr. JAMES AFLECK.
DATE AND DESCRIPTION.
No one looking at the little green knoll on the right hand side of the road at Lochfergus would ever dream that it was the cradle of Galloway history, and the birthplace from which sprang all our ancient Norman castles, abbeys, priories, and churches, whose ruins are now sacred to antiquarians. Yet this is so. In olden times this little green field was a loch, and the large knoll in the centre was an island, partly natural and partly artificial. On it stood the first Norman castle or palace, built by Fergus, the first Lord of Galloway. This castle or palace was built somewhere between the years 1138 and 1140. The site, which is now barely visible, alone remains, and proves that it must have been an oblong building of great dimensions. It stood on the centre of the large island, 1140 feet in circumference, and was surrounded by a wall, with towers at each of the four corners in true Norman fashion. The southern end of the island seems to have been intersected by a moat or ditch, dividing the building proper from the courtyard. This may have been the stableyard, for it is shown as a separate island on old maps. At that period it must have been a place of great strength, as it was also surrounded by the loch. Near the southern end of the loch there was another little island, partly natural and partly artificial. Tradition says that this island was used for stabling accommodation, and, therefore, it has been called Stable Isle." To the practical eye of the antiquarian, however, or the archaeologist, its form—height, build, and inaccessibility—proves that such a theory is quite untenable, and that it must have been an island fortress prior to the more resplendent palace on its larger neighbour, Palace Isle.”
So far as I can glean from trustworthy records, Fergus must have taken up his residence on Palace Isle “ a year or so after the Battle of the Standard in 1138. He was born somewhere about the year 1096. Those were troublous times in Galloway. In 1096 the inhabitants were just emerging from the galling yoke of the ruthless Norsemen. Edgar had ascended the Scottish throne, and he was succeeded in 1107 by his brother Alexander, but when Edgar died he divided up the Scottish Kingdom. To his younger brother, David, he left the whole of the district south of the Firth of Forth, except the Lothians. David took up his residence at Carlisle, and assumed the title of Earl. The accession of David as supreme ruler of Galloway is important, because it was during his regime that we find, for the first time, the official name “ Galloway “ applied to our ancient province. Fergus was one of David’s favourite companions and courtiers, which is amply proved by his witnessing many of the King’s charters. He was also a “persona grata “ at the English Court, so much so that he married the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Henry I., and thus became allied to English Royalty. And, as King Henry I. of England married David’s sister, Fergus was thus also by marriage allied to the Scottish King. By Elizabeth he had two sons and one daughter—viz., Uchtred and Gilbert, and Affrica. She married Olave, King of Man. To anyone who has studied the history of Galloway carefully it is quite evident from the career and actions of Fergus that he was not a Gallovidian by birth, but one of the many Norman favourites by whom David was surrounded, and to which favourites he was very lavish with grants of land. The most of our historical accounts perpetuate the error that Fergus was of the line of native Galloway princes or rulers. I am afraid, however, that all the facts to be deduced from a careful study of his history go to prove that he was a Norman. In 1130, Angus, Earl of Moray, raised the Standard of Insurrection, and entered Scotland proper with 5000 men, with the intention of reducing the whole kingdom to subjection. Mackenzie, Sir Herbert Maxwell, and other writers have concluded that Fergus was implicated in this rebellion, and thus forfeited the confidence and trust of David I. I cannot see what Fergus had to gain by such an action. In fact he had everything to lose. The greater probability is that it was the rebellion or insurrection by Malcolm M’Eth in 1134 to 1137 that he joined, because it was also joined by Somerled, the Regulus of Argyll, who was related to him by marriage. This is borne out by the fact that he also joined the second insurrection in 1154 by the sons of Malcolm M’Eth and Somerled, which insurrection led to his downfall.
BATTLE OF THE STANDARD.
In 1135 Henry I., the King of England, died, and David I. invaded England in support of the cause of his niece, Matilda, who was the daughter of the English King. This invasion culminated in the great Battle of the Standard. This battle is interesting and important, because it shews the desperate savage nature of the Gallovidians at that period. The “ Wild Scots of Galloway,’’ as they were called, were pressed into the service of the King, led by their two chiefs, Ulric and Duvenald. A Monastic historian thus described the Gallovidian contingent as “that detestable army, more atrocious than Pagans, reverencing neither God nor man, plundered the whole province of Northumberland, destroyed villages, burned towns, churches, and houses. They spared neither age nor sex, murdering infants in their cradles, and other innocents at the breasts, with the mothers themselves, thrusting them through with their lances, or the points of their swords, and glutting themselves with the misery they inflicted.’’ They met the English army on Catton Moor, near Northallerton, in 1138, and here the desperate and decisive battle was fought, called the “ Battle of the Standard.” The Galwegians claimed the honour of leading the van, notwithstanding the opposition of the King and his advisers. “ They commenced the attack,” says Hailes, “by rushing in a wedge-like shape on the enemy, with savage vociferations, loud yells, and infuriated valour.” Hovedon says that “their war-cry was Albanich Albanich !” to which the English retorted Vry ! Vry ! meaning the opprobrious epithet, “Irish !’’ The onset was appalling, and they broke through the ranks of the spearmen, but after the battle had raged for nearly two hours they were reduced to a state of utter confusion. Both their chiefs, Ulric and Dunvenald, were slain. The English were victorious, and peace was concluded in 1139. Fergus seems not to have been at this battle, which shows that he had riot yet been appointed ruler of Galloway, nor even a hereditary prince, or he would have led the Gallovidian contingent.
FERGUS PARDONED BY THE KING.
It was about this time, however, that he once more made friends with the King, and was appointed Lord of Galloway in succession to Ulric and Dunvenald. The cunning ruse by which he obtained the King’s pardon for his former insurrection is well worthy of record. I take the following facts from the History of the Priory of St. Mary’s erected on the Isle of Trahil, i.e., St. Mary’s Isle, Kirkcudbright :— “ Fergus, Earl and lord of Galloway, having failed in his duty to His Majesty, and committed a grievous fault, at which the King, evidently very angry, determined to put the law in force vigorously against him. At last, in a change of habit, he repaired to Alwyn, the Abbot of the Monastry of Holyrood, the King’s Confessor and confidential secretary, for advice and assistance. The Abbot compassionating him, contrived that Fergus should assume the habit of a Canon Regular, and thus, God directing, should, along with his brethren, obtain the King’s pardon for his offence, through supplication under a religious habit.’’ The ruse was successful, and he not only obtained the King’s pardon, but also “ The Kiss of Peace." The King and he, therefore, became reconciled. To the assistance thus rendered, and coupled with the King’s extreme religious fervour, we may safely advance as cogent reasons for the many abbeys which in after years Fergus founded in Galloway.
Fergus was now supreme ruler of Galloway, and resided at his Castle or Palace of Lochfergus. Thus we may fix the building of the castle or palace at this period. For many years he devoted his time and attention to the founding of religious houses. The first one he founded was at Saulseat, in the parish of Inch, about three miles from Stranraer, which he handed over to Monks from Premontre in Picardy. The next was the Priory of Whithorn. Some fragments of this Priory still remain, notably the beautiful south door of late Norman work. The west tower stood in the time of Sym son, when he wrote his large description of Galloway in 1684. Tongland Abbey followed next in the order of building, then St. Maria de Trayll, now known as St. Mary's Isle, Kirkcudbright, and lastly Dundrennan, which is a very fine piece of early pointed work. The Norman style of architecture and the Monks he placed in these Abbeys all go to prove that he was not a Gallovidian by birth, because the religion of the Gallovidians differed materially from that of the Abbeys. There seems no doubt that Fergus must have been a man of deep religious feeling, but at the same time we cannot but recognise the fact that in the founding of these Abbeys he was simply carrying out the orders of King David, nicknamed the “ Prince of Monk feeders,’’ or “ The sore sanct to the Crown," and thus in some measure making atonement for the grievous offence which he had formerly committed against his Sovereign. Fergus Castle at this period must have been a very important place. It was the favourite home of his wife, the Princess Elizabeth, whose courtly manners and kindly disposition did much to tone down the semi-civilised inhabitants.
SECOND REBELLION AND THE END.
During the subsequent part of the reign of David there is nothing of importance to chronicle regarding Fergus or Lochfergus. David died in 1153, and was succeeded by his grandson Malcolm IV., then a minor. He was the first King who was crowned at Scone. Somerled and several others of the northern chiefs were dissatisfied with the succession, and taking advantage of the extreme youth of the King, and the distracted councils which prevailed at Court, rose in insurrection, and put forward a son of the former Pretender, M’Eth. Fergus at first did not join them, because we find that he seized the claimant Donald when he sought sanctuary at Whithorn, and sent him to prison at Roxburgh, where his father, the elder M’Eth, was also confined. However, the English King Henry II. having persuaded Malcolm to resign that part of his territory south of the Tweed and go to France to assist him in fighting his battles there, the Gallovidians refused to have an English King to reign over them, so they, under Fergus, joined Somerled. The young Scottish King hurried home, and took up arms to chastise the Gallovidians, but the impenetrable forests, the treacherous morasses, and the rugged hills of Galloway were practically inaccessible, except to those who knew them intimately. Twice Malcolm entered Galloway, but had to retire beaten and discomfited. The third time, however, he doubled his forces, and by this means, in addition to propitiating some of the rebels, he prevailed, and Somerled became reconciled. Fergus, thus deserted by his former friends, resigned the Lordship of Galloway, or what is more probable, deprived of his office, and retired once more to the Abbey of Holyrood, where he became a Canon Regular, and it is said ended his days in the following year through grief and sorrow. Before he died, however, he bestowed on Holyrood Abbey the village and church of Dunrodden (Dunrod, near Kirkcudbright). There seems little doubt that Fergus was a wise and beneficent ruler, and that Galloway made great progress under his sway. And to any impartial historian who takes the trouble to enquire into the reasons or motives which prompted him to take up arms against his Sovereign will not only find extenuating circumstances, but in these unsettled times very good reasons for his actions. In these old times “ might was right,’’ and the succession to the throne was not always in accordance with justice.
Fergus was succeeded by Uchtred, who took up his residence at Fergus Castle. Like his father, Uchtred was of a strong religious turn of mind. He followed the footsteps of his father by giving generous grants of land to the Church. To Holyrood Abbey he gave the churches of St. Cuthbert of Denesmore (Kirkcudbright), St. Bridget of Blackhet (Tongland); Twenhame (Twynholm); Keletun, alias Lochletun, now Kelton, and Kirkecormac, along with the chapel of Balnacross. The last four belonged to the old Celtic religious faith, viz., the Monks of Iona. Again this shows that neither Fergus nor his family were native Gallovidians, because their religious faith was antagonistic to that of the natives. He also founded the St. Benedict Convent of Cluden, and granted to it the lands of Crossmichael and Drumsleet, in the parish of Troqueer. To the monks of Holm Cultran, in Cumberland, he also granted the extensive tract of land known as the Grange of Kirkwinning (Kirkgunzeon). In addition to those in Galloway, he also granted Colmonell, in Carrick, to Holyrood Abbey. It is no wonder then that this opulent family received such assistance from the church. Uchtred married Gurnelda, a daughter of Waldave, son of the Earl of Gospatrick, and with her he received the lands of Torpenhow, in Wigtownshire, as a dowry.
Only three years after the succession of Uchtred, Galloway was once more in arms. Malcolm, King of Scotland, died in 1165, and his brother William, better known as “William the Lion,’’ succeeded to the throne. One of his first acts was to demand the restitution of the southern part of Scotland, which had been so unwisely granted to the King of England. Under Uchtred the “Wild Scots of Galloway” rose to a man in favour of William, and marched into England. By a series of forced marches, however, the English, with only a small company of 400 horsemen, surprised the Scottish army, and captured the Scottish King. The moment the Gallovidians saw that their King was a prisoner they threw off their allegiance, and returned in confusion to their homes in Galloway. It is said or thought that Gilbert and Uchtred quarrelled at that engagement over the succession to the Lordship of Galloway. Hence the confusion. It is also asserted that Gilbert accused Uchtred of treachery at the battle. At anyrate Uchtred had to fly home to Fergus Castle for protection. An internecine rebellion in Galloway was the result. Under Gilbert the natives murdered all the Saxon and Norman subjects in Galloway they could lay hands on. Not only that, but they became treacherous towards each other, and began to fight amongst themselves for the spoils. On the 22nd September, 1174, while Uchtred was in his Castle of Fergus at Lochfergus, Gilbert surprised him, and deprived him of his tongue, eyes, and otherwise mutilated him in the most revolting manner, thereby causing his death.
Gilbert, realising the enormity of his crimes, tried in the most cowardly manner to obtain the protection of the English King, and thus secure himself against the vengeance of the Scottish Government. On behalf of himself and Uchtred (who was dead) he offered to do homage to Henry II., and pay a yearly tribute of 2000 merks of silver, 500 cows, and 500 swine. The English King accordingly sent Roger Hoveden and Robert de Val to Galloway to accept the homage of the two brothers, and to assure them of his protection. When they arrived, of course, they found that Gilbert had not only murdered his brother, but also had put a great number of Norman subjects to death, therefore they refused to have any dealings with him. William the Lion was ultimately restored to liberty as a vassal of King Henry II. Accordingly he marched into Galloway to punish Gilbert for his crimes. The warlike prowess of “The Wild Scots of Galloway,’’ however, was too much for him, and he had to content himself with the proffered submission of Gilbert and his rebellious subjects. Gilbert therefore did homage to the English King, and paid him £1000 of an indemnity, forbye giving his son Duncan as a hostage to the English King. Gilbert, however, was of too turbulent a disposition to remain long in peace. In 1184 he once more rose in rebellion against the King, but was arrested by Henry Kennedy, the forerunner of the noble name in Ayrshire. Terms were again proposed, but Gilbert’s ambition was insatiable, and he refused them, so long as they did not recognise the independence of Galloway. Death, however, put an end to his guilty career in 1185.
He was succeeded by Roland, the son of the murdered Uchtred. Roland at once proceeded to regain his father’s possessions, and restore his own authority in Galloway. From the “Chronicle of Melrose” we learn that on the 4th of July, 1175, he met and defeated the supporters of the late Gilbert in a battle in Galwela. We cannot trace where this fight took place, but it was a sanguinary battle, and many were slain. Roland proved victorious, and slew Gilpatrick, the commander, and in order to strengthen his position in Galloway Roland built a great many fortresses and castles in Galloway. At this time, no doubt, Buittle, the old Castle of Kenmure, Kirkcudbright, and others were built. He also fought another battle with Gillecolum, or Gilcolm, in which the latter was slain, but Roland lost a brother. Gillecolum was a notorious freebooter, who had not only terrorised Galloway but had carried his depredations as far as the Lothians. Several authorities assert that he was a Gallovidian. The Scottish King was greatly impressed with Roland’s bravery, but it was otherwise with the English King, who was not only jealous but afraid of this famous fighting Gallovidian. However, on the death of Henry II., Richard I., King of England, agreed for a stipulated sum to restore to Scotland its independence. Thus was peace completely restored in Scotland once more, except in the North, where Donald Bane preferred a claim to the Crown. Roland joined William in an armed expedition composed of Galloway men against Donald Bane. The Royal Army met the insurgents near Inverness, where a fierce battle was fought, and Donald Bane was defeated and killed. Roland died at Northampton on the 19th December, 1200, and was buried in St. Andrew’s Church there. He was not only a brave soldier, but a wise statesman, and at his death Galloway enjoyed peace, freedom, and prosperity. He was also a strong supporter of the Church. In 1190 he founded a monastery at Glenluce for Cistercian Monks, and also granted to the Monks of Kelso some salt-works in Galloway. He was very wealthy through his wife succeeding to the estates of her father, Richard de Morville, Lord of Cunninghame.
Roland’s eldest son, Alan, succeeded him as Lord of Galloway, and Constable of Scotland. Alan also took up his residence at Fergus Castle, Lochfergus, and became one of the greatest nobles of that age. So far as can be ascertained he was thrice married. The name of the first wife cannot be traced, but the second was Margaret, the eldest daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, and the third was a daughter of Hugh de Lacy. According to Wyntoun:-
"This erle Dawy had dochters three,
Margret the first of these cald be,
This Margret was a pleasand May,
Hyr weddit Alayne off Gallway.”
In 1211 he assisted King John of England with men and arms to invade Ireland. For this he received, as a reward, a grant of the Island of Ruchil or Ruglin, and other lands (Antrim) belonging to that country. He was also one of the Barons who assisted in obtaining from King John the famous Magna Charta for England, and also one of the Barons to whom it was addressed, It is on record that a few weeks before Magna Charta was signed a curious interchange of presents was made between him and King John. It seems Alan had sent the King a present of a very fine hound, and in return he received two geese to grace Lochfergus. However, King John soon began to rue the fit of generosity, and the great liberties and privileges which he had signed away, and so threatened those Barons, who had prevailed upon him to do so, with condign punishment. Alan, therefore, had to fly for protection to the Scottish King, and was received into favour. He was appointed High Constable and Chancellor of the Kingdom, and thus became the most powerful noble in Scotland. The political wheel of fortune must have been very erratic in those days. In 1212 Alan was at Durham when the Scottish King did homage to the English King, and he afterwards accompanied the Scottish King to Norham, where, in presence of the Ministers of both Sovereigns, his seal, as High Constable, was attached to deeds professing to secure peace and love between England and Scotland for ever. Again, to shew the vast power wielded by Alan, we quote from a letter as follows :— “ The King to his faithful cousin, Alan de Galweia, and requests him for the great business regarding which he lately asked him, and, as he loves him, to send 1000 of his best and most active Galwegians, so as to be at Chester on Sunday next, after the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, Alan to place over them a constable, who knows how to keep peace in the King’s army, and to harass the enemy. The King will provide their pay.” In confirmation of this letter, the following entries appear in the Kalendars, Record Office :— “8 July, 1212, 55s allowed for expenses of twenty horsemen sent from Galloway.” “ 15 July, Ralf de Cambray going to Alan of Galloway with a letter.” Alan not only found the men, but their services were so efficient that, in addition to the stipulated pay, he also received a gift of 500 merks to pay his squires who had come with him to the King’s service in the army in Wales. Thus we see that all through history Galloway men have been renowned as splendid fighters, and ever in the front when fierce engagements were anticipated.
Alan seems not only to have had the command of men, but also the ships, because he made a raid on the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, and Ireland, despoiling the country and carrying off much booty. Olave, the King of Man, was unable to withstand his attacks, so he appealed to the King of Norway for assistance, stating at the same time that Alan had despoiled churches, butchered the inhabitants, and reduced the whole country to a state of desolation. Alan even threatened to invade Norway. The King of Norway, therefore, provided Olave with a fleet of ships and men. This powerful fleet swept round the north of Scotland, and down through the western isles, plundered Cantire, and laid the Island of Bute under tribute. Olave then resolved to proceed to the Isle of Man, but learning that Alan was lying in wait for him behind the Mull of Galloway prudently fell back on Cantire. In 1215 Alan not only held up an English ship at Kirkcudbright, but he actually despatched it to Dublin to bring some merchandise for himself. And to show the hold which Alan must have had over the English King, even when he was in the field against him, the King signed a mandate as follows :— “ The King commands the Archbishop of Dublin, Justicier of Ireland, to allow the men of Alan of Galloway to come to Dublin, and to return with the merchantship that Alan took at Kirkcudbright, and allow Alan to have his merchandise in the said ship till the owner of the vessel shall come over to speak to the King.”
In 1216 Alan, along with his “Wild Scots of Galloway,” joined Alexander in an invasion of England, and marched into the western counties. There they sacrilegiously burned the Abbey of Holmcultran, despoiled the country, and took many of the inhabitants prisoners. Disaster, however, overtook them in their depredations, for nearly 2000 of their number were drowned by the overflowing of the river Eden. Either their excesses or an insurrection must have disgusted the King, for the Gallovidians were dismissed from the army in disgrace. In view of this behaviour, it appears that the natives of Galloway were still uncultured and savage in their nature. About this time we learn from the “Chronicle of Melrose” that a most remarkable aurora borealis appeared in Galloway, a phenomenon, which, in those unlearned times, was always looked upon as an evil omen.
“Fearful lights that never beacon,
Save when kings and heroes die.”
DEATH OF ALAN.
Alan died in 1234, and was buried in the Abbey of Dundrennan. The tomb is in the north transept in a niche cut out of the wall, formed by a Norman arch, with a single round filleted moulding. The effigy, usually called the “Belted Knight,” is practically demolished, but the remains show chain armour at the neck, the armpits, and knees, and on the head. A belt, buckled in front, encircles the waist, and another passes over the right shoulder, and the right hand seems to have been clasping a sword. His lady is said to have been buried on the west side, also in a niche. Alan was a wise and patriotic ruler and a brave soldier. He had a most unruly and rude lot of vassals to deal with, but nevertheless he spent much of his time and energies in reforming the laws and advancing religion. Chalmers says he was one of the greatest nobles of his age, and Buchanan says that he was by far the most powerful of Scotsmen of the period. Mackenzie, in his history, says :— “His bounties to Monasteries were very considerable, for he either granted or confirmed many charters, and relieved Galloway from the Monks of Kelso.” Alan was long distinguished by the epithet of “The Great.” He was the last in the male line of the Lords of Galloway. Thus, it will be seen that this line of the Lords of Galloway barely lasted a century. During their regime, however, Galloway had undergone many changes. Monasteries had been built, abbeys founded, and churches erected, and although the people were in a state of semi-civilisation it was due more to their unsettled and war-like propensities and their intense love of freedom.
DEMOLITION OF CASTLE.
For the next two hundred years history is silent regarding the castle or palace at Lochfergus. Whether it was inhabited or not we cannot tell. It may have been rendered uninhabitable during the wars of the Bruce. In 1471, however, the lands of Lochfergus passed by charter into the hands of the Maclellans of Bombie, and from Pitcairn’s criminal trials we learn that it was burned to the ground by “Thomas Huthinson and Carnyis in ye Copsewood in 1499.” The ruined walls remained standing till about the year 1570, when they were demolished by Maclellan in order to get stones for his Castle of Kirkcudbright.
Note: I discovered the small booklet containing this article in the Ewart Library in Dumfries. It is not dated but seems to be about 1880. There is no indication of who the author James Afleck might be, but a check of the 1881 census showed a James Affleck, a shopkeeper in Cotton St., Castle Douglas, as the only likely person in Kirkcudbrightshire or Dumfriesshire