Saturday, 16 April 2016

What did Alexander de Burnard live in?

Happy Saturday to you! 

It's my time again to post on the Writing, Wranglers and Warriors blog today where I've added a little about taking my grandkids to 'Visitor Centres' at an early age. I've REBLOGGED that here, along with a lot more details of our visit to Crathes Castle. 
(our visit to Grampian Transport Museum to follow) 


"Culture’em early! and questions raised…

Our local schools have recently had their 2 week spring holiday. When I was teaching, those two weeks were avidly awaited. They were an opportunity to recharge my batteries and snatch a short break in cultural venues steeped in history like Vienna, Barcelona, or Mediterranean islands like Malta or Crete. The destinations never needed long haul flights, European cities being easily achievable in a couple of hours from a Scottish airport.  

Now it’s my grand kids who’re locked into the school holiday system so, as a regular carer, I’m back to taking spring holiday breaks. We’ll work up to a whole week away…but not just yet… that’ll take a wee bit of practising! At present it’s a ‘Day Out’.
Last week we picnicked at 16th century Crathes Castle, along with my daughter who had a day off work. After a long visit to a brand new soft play area, there was heaps of grass to play ball on and space to throw a Frisbee.

My 4½ year old granddaughter wanted to go into the walled garden having remembered the fountain and various other interesting features from previous visits, her recall of things quite astounding. My grandson, only just turned 2 years old, was convinced it was Tinkerbell’s Castle and wanted to go inside, though an inside tour hadn’t been on the original plan for the day. With two adults it was doable—one adult and two little kids not so much.

Aberdeenshire is coined as ‘castle country’. It has the greatest amount of castles per acre in Scotland and there’s a plethora of them to visit, some of them now administered by The National Trust of Scotland of which I’ve been a member for the last thirty years. The interiors are all distinctively different, well preserved, and full of ancient treasures so it’s with trepidation that I enter the portals with a two year old, but you’ve got to culture’em early! "

When the castle tour is a ‘no touch’ affair an adult has to have multiple extended arms and legs but to give little Riley his due, he was pretty well behaved (for that read contained). Annalise, at 4 ½, knows the routine already in such venues and gets a lot out of looking around seeking the answers to some quiz questions, whilst milking her time doing a tap dance on the noisy stone flagged floors on ground level. There’s a tiny corner cell that’s in one of the four rooms of the ground floor which was used to lock up offenders till the Laird could deal with him, or her. Not much impressed by it being the place of the ‘Naughty Stool’, our Riley wasn’t the least fazed as he birled around his fingers trailing the stones walls as he went his merry way, singing an echoing song. His antics, however, served to show a Japanese couple that it really was a very small, low ceilinged, prison cell. The ancient lineage of the castle and details of the family who lived in it are beyond the kids just now, but I think that introducing them early to local culture is very important.   

Crathes Castle is set in magnificent grounds of around 600 acres which are typical of other grand estates in Royal Deeside. Aberdeenshire castles have an impressive history that’s both documented but also shrouded in legend. The present Crathes Castle, completed c. 1596 and which took around 40 years to build, was the home of the Burnett family for many centuries and was only given over to The National Trust for Scotland organisation in 1959, when the new Burnett heir, resident in New Zealand, couldn’t maintain the property.

Originally the ‘de Bernards’ were Norman arrivals to Britain around 1066, some of them having settled first in Bedfordshire, England. Later on, their name appears as land owning in the border counties straddling the boundary between England and Scotland. It’s only when Alexander de Burnard, a follower of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, was given a gift of lands that the name became known in Aberdeenshire. For his loyalty to ‘The Bruce’ during the early 1320s, Alexander de Burnard was given the post of ‘Royal Forester of Drum’, an area of Aberdeenshire near Banchory-Ternan where he was also rewarded with nearby estate grounds.

Legend plays a part in the story because it’s said that the most prized treasure of Crathes Castle is ‘The Horn of Leys’ which Alexander received as his badge of office as forester. ‘The Horn of Leys’ is a highly decorated carved ivory horn which now hangs encased behind glass in the High Hall at Crathes Castle;  the horn symbol also a part of the Heraldic Coat of Arms of the Burnett family.

Legend, however, also states that the Wauchope family ( a very interesting name) were the original owner dwellers of the lands but it was wrested from them when they refused to become followers of the ‘Bruce’. I’m not sure if there’s any written evidence for this, though appropriation of land by force was pretty common by Norman overlords of the 1300s.
(information on WAUCHOPE HERE )

typical crannog roundhouse dwelling
The first fortified residence that Alexander de Burnard lived in wasn’t the grand castle I visited with my grandchildren. Alexander de Burnard, and his descendants for the ensuing 250 years, were said to have lived in a wooden crannog fort.

A typical crannog dwelling in Scotland was a structure built on 'stilts' or on a small, completely man-made, island. Crannog dwellings are now known to have been fairly common on lochs throughout Scotland and I’m particularly interested in this part of the legend. I would love to find time to investigate further because typical crannog dwellings which have been excavated were built like Celtic roundhouse seen in this example.

In the above mentioned case, the crannog dwelling inhabited by Alexander de Burnard  was in the middle of the Loch of Leys (formerly named the Loch of Banchory), the dwelling locally referred to in documented memory as the Castle of Leys. That shrieks to me as being more of a tower house but that doesn't fit with the dwelling of a family of pre- Norman influence.

So this is where the questions arise…
I’m wondering if Alexander de Burnard would have been happy to live out his life in what would possibly have seemed a very primitive and pagan structure if the existing structure was a Celtic style roundhouse.

Alternatively, the Wauchopes may have lived in a more Norman styled dwelling even before Alexander de Burnard was given the land. This site HERE has a possible clue and may indicate that the Wauchopes had not been on Aberdeenshire land for all that long before being ousted by Robert the Bruce!

Unfortunately there is no documentation, at present, to prove what kind of dwelling Alexander de Burnard lived in.

Normans who gained land in Scotland tended to build wooden tower houses of motte and bailey style. During the era of Alexander de Burnard, other Norman ‘implanted’ overlords were building fortified tower houses on man-made hills (mottes) across Aberdeenshire.


Norman style tower on a motte
Questions which occur to me are:
Ø      Did  Alexander de Burnard tolerate living in a Celtic roundhouse only till he was able to replace it with a higher motte on which he could build a Norman style wooden tower?
Ø      Did he only live on the estate after he had replaced the original Wauchope dwelling if it was a roundhouse?

Or, was the original Wauchope dwelling of the Norman style he would have wanted to live in anyway?

I have all of those and even more questions, some of which are partially answered HERE

The first excavations of the crannog dwelling were done by resident James H. Burnett of Crathes in 1850 when the Loch of Leys was drained and sadly, as an amateur archaeologist of the era, most of the evidence he uncovered has been lost or destroyed during the process. However, that particular Burnett was the first documented historian of Scottish crannogs and, therefore, takes a special place in the archaeology and history of both Aberdeenshire and Scotland.

More excavation of the site might just satisfy my curiosity.

Meanwhile, I'm off to do more research...after I've had a wee rest since I've been out at a FOCUS Craft Fair selling my novels at...maybe you've guessed Banchory!



  1. What a fascinating post, Nancy! Thanks for sharing your research. It's incredible what details you can uncover.

    Having lived in Aberdeenshire, this brings back memories of wonderful days spent exploring the castles in the region. Crathes was also a favourite, as you could spend days lounging in the gardens with a good book. I do miss the area.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Cathie! Yes, the gardens are as lovely as the castle is. I get sidetracked from the main research so often... but it's fun.


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