Friday, 13 November 2015

Bad Lairds Part Five - Douglas of Arbroath

When is a Wicked Laird a would-be pillar of the church?  The answer is, when he was the man in charge of the Abbey of Arbroath, in name at least.  George Douglas, a natural son of the Earl of Angus, was Commendator of the abbey after the Reformation, which meant that he had control of its rich revenues.  But this lucrative post was obviously not sufficient for George.  On the 25th of August, 1572 ‘sindrie indwellers of Dundee returning from Barthilmo Fair’ were ambushed at the foot of Cairn O’Mounth In Aberdeenshire by George Douglas and his armed gang.  Five hapless men – Robert and David Jak, John Craigtoun, Thomas Rattray and his son  -  were kidnapped and brought with all their belongings to Arbroath and kept imprisoned there for a time.  The Commendator evidently saw traders and travellers attending fairs as easy prey because, in September 1572, he waylaid a ship in the Tay at the confluence of the River Earn and seized all its cargo (worth five or six thousand merks) which was heading to be sold at St John’s Fair in Perth.  His men attacked various other vessels on the river.  Many people were injured, including a man named William Gold ‘and diverse uthers, to the effusion of their blude in grite quantity’.  Provost Hallyburton of Dundee charged Douglas with theft, but he did not show up before the Privy council to answer the charge.  His outlawing at least allowed his predecessor as Abbot of Aberbrothock, Lord Hamilton, to step into the post again; he had been deprived of it for an act of rebellion in 1571.  But Douglas was forgiven by the authorities and was astonishingly made ‘Bishop Geordie’ or Moray in 1574.  There is a pen portrait of him during that year, ‘mumbling on his preaching aff his paper’ during the whole course of the winter.  Evidently is heart was not geared towards higher things.  He was soon charged by Livingstone with harassing his territory of Arbroath while he had been Commendator, stealing money and goods, demolishing houses and taking the pensions due to the aged monks.  But no punishment seems to have come his way.  Douglas had also allegedly had a hand in the murder of David Rizzio in 1566.
   The transformation of Arbroath from a monastery to a secular possession saw a number of strange people in charge and a few odd incidents.  A large part of the fabric had been destroyed in 1514 when Ochterlonie of Kellie Castle set the abbey on fire following an argument with the prior.  In the same year the Abbot George Hepburn fell at the Battle of Flodden and he was succeeded by Gavin Douglas, third son of the 5th Earl of Angus (the infamous ‘Bell The Cat’).  The poet Gavin Douglas died of the plague in London in 1522.

   By the start of the 17th century the Abbey was in the hand of the Hamiltons, but there were said to still be some forty ageing monks in residence, old men with nowhere else to go.  The very last monk was Brother Turnbull, who lived in the old tower.  One night a huge evil-looking rat entered his chamber.  Thinking somehow that this was Satan in disguise, the last monk of Arbroath fled and never returned.  

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