The Earldom of Menteith
THE district of Menteith, situated partly in Perthshire, partly in the county of Stirling, is celebrated for the beauty of its scenery and its traditionary and historical associations. It has been depicted by Sir Walter Scott both in prose and verse in the Lady of the Lake and in Rob Roy, and the Legend of Montrose, and is probably more familiar to Englishmen, Americans, and Continental visitors than any other part of Scotland. The earldom of Menteith, which takes its name from the district, is one of the most ancient of the Scottish titles of nobility, and dates from the beginning of the twelfth century, while the oldest English earldom that of Huntingdonis three hundred years, and the oldest baronyDe Rosis a hundred and fifty years, later. This famous earldom has been borne successively by three of the most distinguished families of Scotlandthe Red Comyns, the royal Stewarts, and the gallant Grahamsand is associated with a great part of the most important and interesting events in the history of the country.
Of the original line of the Earls of Menteith only three are knownGilchrist, Murdoch, and Maurice. On the death of Earl Maurice, about the year 1226, his title and estates descended to his daughter, Isabella, the wife of Walter Comyn, second son of the first Earl of Buchan. Comyn, who became Earl of Menteith in right of his wife, was one of the most powerful nobles in the kingdom, the leader of the national party, and one of the regents of the kingdom during the minority of Alexander III. He is described by Pordun as a man prudent in counsel, valiant in battle, whose foresight had been obtained by long experience. He founded the Priory of Inchmahome, on the island of that name in the Lake of Menteith, in 1238, which for upwards of three centuries flourished as a religious house, and afforded a place of refuge to the infant Queen Mary after the battle of Pinkie. He was the builder of the famous castle of Hermitage in Liddesdale, the stronghold in succession of the Soulis family, the Douglases, Hepburns, and Scotts. He also erected the castle of Dalswinton, in Galloway, long one of the chief residences of the Comyns. His sagacity and influence were conspicuously shown at the accession of Alexander IlI. to the throne in the eighth year of his age. The leaders of the English party endeavoured to postpone the coronation of the youthful monarch, on the plea that the day fixed for the ceremony was unlucky, and that it was unprecedented to crown the king before he became a knight. But the Earl of Menteith, a man of foresight and shrewdness in counsel, says the old chronicler, urged the danger of delay, as the English King Henry was intriguing at Rome to procure from the Pope an interdict against the coronation of the young prince, alleging that Alexander, being his liegeman, should not be anointed or crowned without his permission. He had seen a king consecrated,the Earl said, who was not yet a knight, and had many a time heard of kings being consecrated who were not knights; further, that a country without a king was beyond doubt like a ship amid the waves of the sea without a crew or steersman. So he moved that this boy be raised to the throne as quickly as possible, seeing it is always hurtful to put off what may be done at once. The prompt and wise counsel of this great noble silenced the objections of the English partisans, and induced the barons and bishops to proceed at once with the coronation of the young king. The bold baron of Menteith, says Chalmers in his Caledonia,deserves lasting praise for having thus exploded a scruple which might have involved an irascible nation in civil war.
By a dexterous stratagem Alan Durward, the High Justiciary and the leader of the English party, obtained possession of the Kings person and the castle of Edinburgh in 1255, and with the assistance of King Henry, Alexanders father-in-law, the regents were supplanted by others who were favourable to the English interests and supremacy. But the national party refused to acknowledge the new regents, who, in consequence of their oppressive treatment of the Bishop of St. Andrews, were excommunicated by the Pope.
The Earl of Menteith availed himself of the favourable opportunity to overthrow this unpatriotic faction, and suddenly seized the young king while he was holding a court at Kinross, rescuing him, as he said, from the hands of excommunicated traitors; and Alan Durward and the barons who supported him immediately fled to England. Soon after the new government was established, the national party lost their leader. He died suddenly, without male issue, in 1258, and it was believed that he had been poisoned by his wife, in order that she might be free to marry an English knight, named John Russell. There was no satisfactory evidence adduced to prove her guilt, but her marriage to Russell, which took place shortly after, gave colour to the charge. She was in consequence deprived of her earldom, and imprisoned, along with her new husband, and was ultimately expelled the kingdom in disgrace. The Countess appealed to the Pope (Urban IV.) against the injustice which she alleged had been done to her, but the Scottish King and his nobles indignantly repelled the interference of the Roman Pontiff with the affairs of the kingdom. Isabella, daughter of the Countess by Walter Comyn, married her cousin, William Comyn; and after long contention a compromise was effected in the year 1285, and the vast domains of the earldom were divided between the Lady Isabella and the husband of her mothers youngest sister, WALTER STEWART, a son of the High Steward of Scotland, who obtained the title. The new Earl of Menteith, surnamed Bailloch, or the Freckled, was a famous warrior. He joined the disastrous expedition under St. Louis of France, called the Third Crusade, for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, and fought with great distinction at the battle of Largs in 1263, at which his elder brother defeated the Norwegians under King Haco. He took a prominent part in the proceedings connected with the contest for the Scottish crown after the death of the Maiden of Norway, and was one of the commissioners nominated by Robert Bruce in his competition with John Baliol. The Earl left two sons, who dropped their paternal surname of Stewart, and assumed that of Menteith. The younger of the two, Sir John Menteith of Ruskie, is the false Menteith who is branded by Scottish tradition and history as the betrayer of the patriot Wallace. Lord Hailes, who sometimes carried his scepticism respecting the statements of the old Scottish historians a great deal too far, discredits the story, which he asserts rests only on tradition and the allegations of Blind Harry. Sheriff Mark Napier, a descendant of Sir John Menteith, has made an elaborate defence of his ancestor from the charge of betraying Wallace; and Mr. Burton designates it as a part of the romance of Wallaces career that he was betrayed by a fellow-countryman and an old companion in arms. Menteith, he adds, held the responsible post of Governor of Dumbarton Castle, and it seems likely that he only performed a duty, whether an agreeable one or not. There is conclusive evidence, however, afforded by documents recently discovered that the charge brought against Menteith is not without foundation. Mr. Fraser, who has discussed this question very fully and impartially in the Red Book of Menteith, and has carefully examined all the documents bearing on the subject, is of opinion that the accusation that Menteith basely betrayed Wallace as his friend rests upon evidence too insufficient to sustain such a charge. But the documents which Mr. Fraser has examined show that Sir John Menteith fought on the patriotic side at the battle of Dunbar in 1296, where he was taken prisoner along with his elder brother; that he afterwards made his peace with Edward I., and supported the claims of that monarch; that he again returned to the patriotic party; that he once more submitted to the English king, and obtained from him the sheriffdom of Dumbarton and the custody of the castle to which Wallace was conveyed after his capture, and that he obtained a share of the reward which Edward had promised to the persons who should be instrumental in delivering the Scottish patriot into the hands of his enemies. It is impossible to speak with certainty as to the extent of friendship that may have existed between Wallace and the vacillating turncoat noble, but there can be no doubt that they must have had intercourse and familiarity. In the Relationes Arnaldi Blair, it is mentioned that in August, 1298, Wallace, Governor of Scotland, with John Graham and John de Men/el/h, and Alexander Scrymegour, Constable of Dundee and Standard-bearer of Scotland, acted together in an expedition into Galloway against the rebels who adhered to the party of Scotland and the Comyns.
There is abundant contemporary evidence to prove that Sir John Menteith was the chief agent in the capture of Wallace. In the Chronicle of Lancaster, written in the thirteenth century, it is stated that William Wallace was taken by a Scotsman, namely, Sir John Menteith, and carried to London, where he was drawn, hanged, and beheaded. In the account of the capture and execution of Wallace contained in the Arundel manuscript, written about the year 1320, it is stated that William Wallace was seized in the house of Ralph Rae by Sir John Menteith, and carried to London by Sir John de Segrave, where he was judged. Fordun, who lived in the reign of King Robert Bruce, when the memory of the exploits of Wallace must have been quite fresh, says: The noble William Wallace was, by Sir John Menteith, at Glasgow, while suspecting no evil, fraudulently betrayed and seized, delivered to the King of England, dismembered at London, and his quarters hung up in the towns of the most public places in England and Scotland, in opprobium of the Scots. Wyntoun, whose Metrical Chronicle was written in 1418, says
Â Schyre Jhon of Menteith in tha days Tuk in Glasgow William Walays; And sent hym untill Ingland sune,
There was he quartayrd and undone.
LADY MARGARET GRAHAM, only child of the heroic Sir John Graham, Earl of Menteith, and Lady Mary his countess, inherited the earldom about the year 1360. She was four times married, twice before she had attained the age of twenty years; and she received five dispensations from the Roman Pontiff to enable her to enter into her successive matrimonial alliances. Her first husband, to whom she was married when she was fourteen, was Sir John Moray of Bothwell, son of Sir Andrew Moray, who was regent of the kingdom during the minority of David II. He died about the close of the year 1351 without issue. The hand of Lady Margaret was next sought in marriage by Thomas, thirteenth Earl of Mar, the last male heir of the ancient race of that house, to whom she was married in 1352; but she was soon after divorced by him, Fordun says by the instigation of the devil and on pretences that were utterly false.
Lord Hailes, after quoting the remission drawn up under the royal seal granted to Robert, Duke of Albany, and Archibald, Earl of Douglas, for the part they took in the apprehension of the prince, says
Â From this instrument the following circumstances may be collected
1. The death of David, Prince of Scotland, occasioned a parliamentary inquiry.
Mr. Frazer, in his Red Book of Menteith, has very carefully investigated the charge against the Regent and Douglas, and has come to the conclusion that the story of Rothesays death by starvation in a dungeon in Falkland Palace, which was first told by Hector Bocce, is not supported by any evidence of the slightest value. The eminent genealogist puts great weight on the facts that the charges were judicially investigated by Parliament, with the result that the Duke and the Earl were completely vindicated from the accusation made against them; and that the King himself, Rothesays father, declared publicly and explicitly in Parliament, that they were innocent from every charge of blame in connection with the Princes death.Albany died in peace on the 3rd of September, 1419, in the eightieth year of his age, having virtually governed Scotland for thirty-four years, though his actual regency extended to only fourteen. He was succeeded in his titles, estates, and office by his son Murdoch, who was most unjustly and cruelly put to death, along with his sons, and his aged father-in-law, the Earl of Lennox, and their estates forfeited, by James I., on his return, in 1425, from his long captivity in England. The unrelenting severity with which the King wreaked his vengeance on the house of Albany excited deep and general indignation.