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A true account of one of the North East Scotland's more tragic stories The Mystery of the Fire of Frendraught 1630.

by John Duncan of Sketraw, FSA Scot.

Part 1

At the beginning of 1630 a long lasting dispute over fishing rites on the River Devron, Aberdeenshire by James Crichton, of Frendraught and William Gordon, Laird of Rothiemay started an astonishing feud. Led by James Crichton and accompanied by James Leslie second son of the Laird of Pitcaple, James Meldrum of Reidhill and others left Frendraught for a surprise attack on Rothiemay on his own ground. On information reaching William Gordon (the first Gordon Laird of Rothiemay) of the forthcoming attack he set forth with his son and the brother of the Gordon of Lesmore and a small party of foot and horsemen to meet Crichton. He crossed the river Deveron and met Crichton on Fourmanhill but Rothiemay was to be the looser and later died of his wounds, as did the brother of Gordon of Lesmore. The Crichton’s were victorious with only John Meldrum of Reidhill being seriously wounded on the day.

The Marquis of Huntly George Gordon (feudal superior to both) attempted to end the quarrel. Finding Crichton of Frendraught liable to a large sum of money to the widow of Gordon of Rothiemay as a way, of compensation for the death of her husband (of course as you can imagine the Marquis was anything but bias!)

Shortly after this however Crichton entered into a new quarrel with Meldrum of Reidhill who had been allowed compensation by Crichton for his part in the conflict with Rothiemay. Meldrum looking for a larger amount of compensation (as he had a larger estimate of his services) thought abuse coupled with threats would stow upon him a larger allowance. Crichton of Frendraught remained obstinate and by doing so Meldrum removed two horses from a park on the estate and was caught and prosecuted for doing so. Refusing to appear for his sentence Meldrum of Reidhill was declared a rebel and took refuge with his by now new brother and law James Leslie second son of the Laird of Pitcaple (also a former participant in the skirmish with Rothiemay).

Frendraucht House

Frendraucht House

As a commissioner Crichton of Frendraught and Robert Crichton of Conland went in search of Meldrum on the Lands of Pitcaple and met with James Leslie who has harbouring the wanted Meldrum. He refused to assist them with information and reminded Crichton of Frendraught of the services his brother in law Meldrum of Reidhill had given in his feud with the Gordon’s of Rothiemay. Frendraught seemed to mellow on this reminder, but Crichton of Conland became annoyed with the freedom Leslie had with his kinsman and shot him in the arm with a Pistol. So bad was the gunshot wound to Leslie’s arm that he was carried home in a dying state!  

The Laird of Pitcaple went to the Marquis of Huntly at Huntly Castle demanding reparations for the injuries his son had sustained but on his arrival found Crichton before him. The Marquis we think considering this to be a case in which damages should not be awarded (for a Sword in the arm was considered in those times to be a trivial matter!) obviously Crichton giving a different account of the story in some parts.

Pitcaple left vowing vengeance and the Marquis thought it advisable to send Frendraught home under strong escort led by the Viscount Melyard of Aboyne and accompanied by John Gordon son of the late Laird of Rothiemay and six others. (A difficult choice if not strange considering what Crichton had done to John Gordon’s Father?) They rode to Frendraught from Huntly Casle without incident and were asked to "bide the night" (although this was against Aboyn’s will) by Crichton and his Lady. They drank and made merry and went to bed joyful, the Viscount of Aboyne in the Old Tower (going of the hall) with Robert Gordon born in Sunderland, his servant and English Will and his page were beside him in the same chamber. The Laird of Rothiemay, with some servants were placed in the upper chamber above Aboyn's and above that in another chamber was George Chalmers of Noth and George Gordon, another of the Viscounts servants as was Captain Rollock then in Frendraught's own company.

Rothiemay House

Rothiemay Castle

Then about midnight of the 18th October 1630 when all were asleep, the tower caught fire in a sudden, furious manner and Viscount Aboyne, the Laird of Rothiemay, English Will, Colin Ivot another of Aboyn’s servants plus two others, were cruelly burned to death. No help was given by Frendraught or his Lady or for that matter anyone else of the house hold who were looking on at the blazing tower. It is said, in an account written by Spalding that, "The ashes and burnt bones" of the victims were gathered up by the Gordon’s and buried at the Kirk of Gartly.

Afterwards in an enquiry being made into the origins of the fire, it was found that it could have only originated from within and with of ‘Set Purpose’. Popular suspicion fell on Crichton

of Frendraught and his Lady due to the feud with the Gordon’s of Rothiemay and also the ‘Blood Money’ he had to pay to Lady Rothiemay. Suspicion also fell on Leslie Laird of Pitcaple and likewise John Meldrum of Reidhill both who bared grudges against Crichton. Whether justly or otherwise it was Meldrum who was condemned (although there was nothing to prove his connection with the affair, or that he was even at or near the house at the time of the fire) and it was Meldrum who in Edinburgh on August 1631 was executed.

Local stories of the Fire of Frendraught to this day believe that it was Lady Frendraught who started the fire and threw the key of the door down the well. We shall probably never know for sure the true story and it will probably remain one of the mysterious events in Scottish History

  © John A. Duncan of Sketraw, KCN, FSA Scot.

Coming soon: Part Two 

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