Clan Warfare & Local Clans

The Stewarts of Ardovorlich

The Stewarts had first come to prominence through their descendancy from the second son of King Robert 11, Robert, Duke of Albany. This family provided many Regents in Scotland and several were decapitated by James l who felt that their power was too great, and a challenge to his own authority.

Others, notably the Grahams, did not think that James was fit to be King so they stabbed him to death at the Blackfriars monastery outside Perth. This story is referred to in an earlier part of our history.

The Stewarts were given title to lands in upper Strathyre where they were Royal Baillies. Through that influence they secured the estate of Ardvorlich in the late sixteenth century with foes of considerable calibre all around them. As with all places in Highland Strathearn one went to one’s work armed to the teeth...just in case! Ardvorlich House stands on a short rise above Loch Earn. It was an estate of some seven thousand acres with most of it being hill.

The estate came into their hands in the late sixteenth century and in time, was hemmed in on all sides by between the Campbells of Edinample Castle, a branch of the Breadalbane Campbells; the Campbells of Aberuchill Castle; and the Campbells of Lawers House. All these Campbells were “kissing cousins” who, to a large degree, took their marching orders from Inverary Castle. Inverary was their family seat and over time became full of noble (or ignoble) Dukes of Argyll. They, in turn, were supported by their kith and kin who had “taken silk” in Edinburgh...these Campbells dominated law-making in Scotland. It was a strong combination of legal right, the conception and implementation of law, and all supported by muscle power, numbers and the sword. Vested interest was part of the daily routine of life, and was the order of the day! Strange to say the Campbells were not impartial when it came to interests, especially their own!

Further away, but still very close, their neighbours were the Drummonds of Drummond Castle, the Murrays of Ochtertyre, the MacLarens (MacLaurin) of Strathyre, the Neishes of Neishes Isle, the MacNabs of Kinnoull in Glen Dochart, and the MacGregors of Balquhidder. The Stewarts therefore were hemmed in and surrounded by both allies and enemies. Life required constant alertness and danger was an element of daily living! Today one would call it a high risk area!

Ardvorlich House, Loch Earn

Times were very turbulent and raiding other people’s property of cattle and sheep was “de rigeur” for all this living in Highland Strathearn. The Stewarts were no exception. Like all the other neighbourhood clans, the Stewarts enjoyed the sport of cattle rustling which had become an art form for all clans. It is recorded that a complaint against Alistair Stewart was lodged with the Privy Council in 1592. Evidently he and his clansmen had made depredations in the Lennox. This area was over the hill from their lands and now includes Callander returning to Ardvorlich with a good haul of 254 cows, 66 horses and 300 sheep, all preceded by “twa bagpypis (McCrimmonds) blawand befoir thame.” Ach, after all, what’s a coo between freens!

Margaret Drummond was the wife of Alistair Stewart of Ardvorlich. She was also the sister of John Drummond, “Drummondearnoch” who was the Keeper of the Royal Forest of Glenartney. He had the responsibility for maintaining the King’s estate and possessions including all animals. The story of his murder is outlined in the chapter on the MacGregors. As described the MacGregors came to call on his pregnant married sister, Margaret. After his murder of in Glenartney in 1589 it became open season on the MacGregors, and the Stewarts along with everyone else in Highland Strathearn, were not slow to act. A party of them in conjunction with men from the Drummond Estates swept into Balquhidder and killed as many of them as they could get their hands on. It was said that 37 MacGregors were slain in this foray.

On another occasion Alexander Stewart caught twelve of the Gregarach at Balquhidder and led them towards Perth for trial. Reaching Meovie, near Dunira, they decided that it would be more appropriate to undertake justice there rather than spending the time and energy of the long trek to Perth where they knew what the outcome would be. As it was a foregone conclusion they decided to hang them on the spot from an oak tree which they did. Thereafter they threw the MacGregors into a concealed pit. Two centuries later when Lord Melville was building his road to Lochearnhead in 1803 the workmen came across their bones along with metal buttons and scraps of cloth. The bones were all heaped on top of each other so it could be said that the Stewarts did not lay them “oot” for proper burial, but rather just slung them in the pit...any old way would do! Someone suggested a logical story is that they had probably been caught thieving cattle or goods by the Stewarts. Rather than take them all on the long road to Perth for trial, the Stewarts probably decided, as they were MacGregors, and probably thieves, that they should have a “drum head” trial on the spot. This they did and found them all guilty, so they just hung them. After all this would save them at least one day of travel and inconvenience.

The “Mad Major” James Beag (Small) Stewart was the boy born at the Lady’s Lochan (Lochan na Mna) high above Loch Earn on its south Side. His mother, Margaret, had fled there after seeing the head of her brother placed upon the table of Ardvorlich by the MacGregors. He had been brought up believing in the Old Testament “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and certainly spoiling the boy was not in his mother’s character! He had a burning hatred of all MacGregors, and was not all that keen on any one else for that matter. He probably was one of those people who took salt in his porridge! Ugh!

Frozen Lochan na Mna, seen from Creagan an Lochain.

©"- Richard Webb

James grew into a tall, strong young man with a vile temper. It was said that he could bring blood from a man’s fingernails just by shaking his hand. He also developed an in-born hatred of all called MacGregor. They became for him a blood sport, to be hunted down and killed, and any time he encountered any of them it was said that “his mother’s suffering always came before him like blood into the eyes.” He became adept with the sword and the dirk, the pistol and the musket, and dressed for war was, to put it mildly, an imposing figure. He led a fairly active life into young adulthood at a time when mayhem was the order of the day. It was the time of the broken men and he, no doubt, was fostered on the notion that the only good MacGregor was a dead one! In late adolescence he was prosecuted along with his brother, William, for the illegal possession and carrying of hagbuts and pistols. One really cannot blame him! Naturally he didn’t show up at court and as a result he was denounced as a rebel. He had several hiding spots of which his favourite was a small cave set in the hillside between St. Fillans and Glentarken. There today one can still see the outline of the clachan of Morell. Later it was called Mairle and reference is made to the stone which was quarried there in more “peaceful” times.

When dozing, he had a dream that told him that something was wrong and happening at Ardvorlich. Awakened, he rushed there and found a party of MacDonalds driving his cattle from the barns, and about to set fire to his house. A poor wee lassie was trying to fight off the raiders with little success. Stewart drew his weapon; a gun called “Gunna Breachd” and fired killing the man attacking the maid. Then, accompanied by other Stewarts, he counter-attacked the MacDonalds and drove them off. They left behind seven dead who were dragged to the lochside and buried near the mouth of the Ardvorlich Burn. These were discovered later by some workmen who were digging the foundations of a boathouse and who came across their skeletons. Later a stone was placed there which states “Near this spot were interred the bodies of 7 McDonalds killed when attempting to harry Ardvorlich Anno Domini 1620.” In the nineteen seventies someone placed a wreath at the stone!

Commemorative Stone at Ardvorlich House


Good and gracious Providence,

Bless all the Macdonalds

And all the Macdonalds’ children

For a thousand years langsyne;

Be gracious pleased to send us rivers of whiskies

The very finest of whiskies-

And mountains of potaties,

And breads and cheeses as big as the hill of Strathmore;

And likewise, furthermore,

Send us floods of water,

So that there may be plenty for man and beast,

And moreover, likewise, send us tobaccos and sneshing

As numerous as the seas on the sand-shore,

And swords and pistols to kill all the Grants and Macphersons.

Oh, yes, and blast the Grants for evermore, langsyne!

Bless the wee stirk and mak’ him a big coo by next Martinmass,

And put the strength of Samson into Dougal’s arm,

Mak’ him able to bring forth kail and corn, and lang kail and corn prodigious.

Bless the wee soo, and mak’ him a big boar by Martinmass next,

And mak’ him the father of big families of soos and pigs

And bless all the bairns, Duncan and Rory, and Flora,

And young Rory, and glorious days for evermore.

And oh, don’t forget malediction on the Macphersons

Oh yes, yes, yes, Amen.

Wow, Golly!

A Heilan man

At the time of the Solemn League and Covenant discontent had spread throughout the United Kingdom. We all recall the Union of the Crowns which had occurred in 1603, and whilst King James the Sixth was aptly named the “wisest fool in Christendom, his son Charles was perhaps the biggest one! Factions arose consisting of, on the one hand, in simplistic terms, those who supported the position of King Charles and his Catholic and Episcopalian followers, and his belief in the Divine Right of Kings and his English book of common prayer, set against the Calvinistic and Presbyterian Covenanters who wanted freedom of worship in their devotions without interference from any royal person, or foreign church authority. The outcome was civil war in Scotland, England and Wales. It became known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”.

At their first encounter in Scotland at Tippermuir outside Perth, on Sunday, March the first, 1645. The battle site consisted of a shallow downhill open slope facing towards the north. James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, a Protestant led the Kings, or Royalist, forces. He was the King’s Lieutenant Governor, and as such had sworn to uphold the dictates of the Sovereign. His army consisted of about 2000 men, and was a rag tag and bobtail force. Lord Kilpont commanded the left wing with 400 or so archers, Alaster McColl Keitach (aka as Alasdair MacColla McDonald), with his Highland Clans and Irish mercenaries, in the centre, and Montrose commanding the right wing. They were in the slightly higher ground and Montrose had arranged them in three lines with the first two lines being lightly armed, and the back row with no arms other than the odd stick or pitch fork. Montrose was said to have raised morale by saying, "Gentlemen: it is true you have no arms; your enemy, however, to all appearance, have plenty. My advice to you therefore is that as there happens to be a great abundance of stones upon this moor, every man should provide himself, in the first place, with as stout a one as he can manage, rush up to the first Covenanter he meets, beat out his brains, take his sword, and then I believe he will be at no loss how to proceed!"

Although their cavalry had no more than 150 horses they had three advantages. They held the slightly higher ground, their line overlapped the Covenanting army, and they had Montrose.

On the Covenanter’s side and occupying the lower ground, Lord Elcho commanded the right wing, James Murray of Gask the centre, and Sir James Scott of Rossie the left flank. Their army had about 7000 well armed soldiers supported by about 700 cavalry. The cavalry came into use immediately and were beaten back. Montrose attacked the rear of the Covenanting army and the centre in concert driving them back towards Perth. Montrose’s third line then came into play and the battle became a rout. There were not many killed in the actual battle however, thousand of panic stricken Covenanters streamed back to the city of Perth and about 2000 of them were slain by the Royalist forces. It was said that the road to Perth was strewn with bodies. James Stewarts’ son, Hary (Harry) died as a result of wounds received. He was one of the very few Royalist deaths reported after the battle.

Shortly thereafter Montrose and his forces had a big celebration at Collace to celebrate their victory. There no doubt was a lot of whisky and wine flowing, and joy was in the air. Early the following morning the army was rudely alerted to the catastrophic news that James Stewart of Ardvorlich had stabbed to death one of his closest friends, John Graham, Lord Kilpont. Kilpont was a blood relative to Montrose and this was completely unexpected and probably was caused by an excess of alcohol! Furthermore, in order to escape from the camp, Stewart killed one or two soldiers. The following are some of the possible reasons for the murder.

It has been suggested that the two were very close and may have enjoyed a homosexual relationship. They had slept in the same tent and bed during the night; however, I think that it is unlikely, though not impossible. At the time of the battle Stewart was in his fifties having been born around 1589 and Graham in his thirties having been born around 1613. Furthermore, John Graham was married to Lady Mary Keith, daughter of the Earl Marischal of Scotland, William Keith. Whilst it does not preclude the possibility, in Calvinistic Scotland, it would sure have been frowned upon - BIG TIME! If they were discovered, they would be disinherited! I suspect the relationship was more of a David and Jonathan type with mutual manly love and admiration, but without sexual practice.

It was also mooted that the real reason Stewart had joined the Royalist army was to assassinate Montrose himself. Again I think this unlikely although it was inferred at the time that Stewart shared this notion with Kilpont who was repulsed by it. The result was that Stewart stabbed him to death.

Others yet again suggest that it was as a result of a debt to the Grahams, and others yet again for depredations on Graham lands. One further part of the tittle tattle was that Stewart had been infuriated by Alastair McColl Keitach (Alasdair MacColla McDonald or Colkitto). On their way to join Montrose his highlanders and Irish troops had sacked and laid waste some of the Stewart lands and properties around Ardveich. On complaining to Kilpont his friend tried to defend Colkitto and was killed for his pains. In any event Graham blood was up and all would kill Stewart on sight. Lord Kilpont’s body was returned to the Menteith lands and he is buried in the island priory of Inchmahome.

James Stewart joined the forces of the Covenant and promoted to Major. He fought in various battles for them afterwards until Montrose was betrayed and captured and then executed in Edinburgh. However, for the rest of his life he was always looking over his shoulder in case he was caught by the Grahams and their allies. He was pardoned for the murder in a special edict:

Ratification of James Stewart's pardon for killing [John Graham], Lord Kilpont

Forasmuch as the late John, Lord Kilpont (being employed in public service in the month of August last against James Graham, then earl of Montrose, the Irish rebels and their associates) did not only treasonably join himself but also treacherously trained a great number of his majesty's subjects (about 400 persons or thereby, who came with him for defence of the country) to join also with the said rebels, of the which number were James Stewart of Ardvorlich, Robert Stewart, his son, Duncan MacRobert, [...] Stewart in Balquhidder, Andrew Stewart there, Walter Stewart in Glen Finglas and John Growder in Glassinseid, friends to the said James, who shortly thereafter, repenting of his error in joining with the said rebels and abhorring their cruelty, resolved with his said friends to forsake their wicked company and intimated this resolution to the said late Lord Kilpont. But he out of his malignant disposition opposed the same and fell in a struggle with the said James, who, for his own relief, was forced to kill him at the Kirk of Collace with two Irish rebels who resisted his escape. And so he left happily with his said son and friends and came straight to [Archibald Campbell], marquis of Argyll and offered their service to the country. Whose carriage in this particular being considered by the committee of estates, they by their act of 10 December last found and declared that the said James Stewart did good service to this kingdom in killing the said Lord Kilpont and two Irish rebels aforesaid being in actual rebellion against the country and approved of what he did therein; and in regard thereof and of the said James, his son and friends retiring from the said rebels and joining with the country did fully and freely pardon them for their said joining with the rebels and their associates or for being in any way accessory, actors, art and part of and to any of the crimes, misdeeds or malversations done by themselves or by the rebels and their associates or any of them during the time they were with the said rebels, and declared them free in their persons, estates and goods of any thing that can be laid to their charge thereof or for killing the said Lord Kilpont and two Irish rebels aforesaid in time coming, and did by the said act discharge all judges, officers and magistrates (both to burgh and landward) and others of his majesty's subjects whatsoever to trouble or molest the said James, his son or friends above-mentioned for the cause aforesaid in judgement or outwith or to direct letters against them for the same or use any judicial process against them for that effect or to offer wrong or injury to them or any of them in their persons or goods in time coming for the premises, certifying that those that should do in the contrary should be esteemed as having committed a wrong against this kingdom; and the committee recommended the ratification of the said act to this present session of parliament, as the act more fully purports. And now the estates of parliament, presently convened in the second session of this first triennial parliament by virtue of the last act of the last parliament held by his majesty and three estates in 1641, taking the same and particulars contained therein into their special consideration and acknowledging the equity thereof, they do therefore ratify and approve the same act, all articles and clauses thereof and interpose their authority thereto in all points to have the strength of an act of parliament in favour of the said James Stewart of Ardvorlich, his said son and friends above-written in time coming. When the Major died there was a great fear that his enemies would plunder his corpse and make merry with it. To solve this problem they temporarily buried him opposite St Fillans. Once the all clear had been given he was interred him at their family cemetery in Dundurn. A stone marked the spot of the temporary internment, and is still there.

Stone at the edge of Loch Earn marking the temporary resting place of James Stewart of Ardvorlich – the “Mad” Major.

The Stewarts were Jacobite sympathizers but were shrewd enough to offer only token support to the cause of both the “Old” and “Young” Pretender. This allowed them to keep their estate of between 7000 and 10000 acres. One of them was killed at Culloden.

Several of them, as time unfolded, went into the British army with most becoming mid-ranking officers. Several served in India and Lieutenant William Stewart, his wife Lucy and their infant son, Robert, were killed at Gwalior in 1857 during the Indian Mutiny. His father Major W. M. Stewart had been a Major in the Bengal Army. Later Stewarts served the army in India, and other theatres of the Empire.

Sir Walter Scott’s castle, “Darnlinvarach” described in the “Legend of Montrose” was based on Ardvorlich House which he had visited. The Stewart family is the only original land owner left in Highland Strathearn.

Dundurn Church

Postcard showing Ardveich in the left middle ground and the Stewart lands on the far side of Loch Earn

View from the Melville Monument looking west towards Loch Earn © Pete Chapman