Drum CastleTen miles from the center of Aberdeen, is one of the most beautiful castles of Royal Deeside. It is a living building, the story of which is packed with historical incident and personal drama. As a castle it is special because it combines a medieval keep, a Jacobean mansion house and a Victorian extension in a uniquely pure form. For nearly all of its seven centuries it was the home of one family, the Irvines; it has the qualities of a family home, lived in through times good and bad by twenty-four generations. This family may often have been warlike, but with one notable exception it was rarely cruel; it was talented, vigorous, never quite at the top, but in nearly every generation contributed solid service to Crown, country and community.
The Irvine FamilyThe story of the Irvine family covers seven centuries and continues today. Their descendants spread all over the world, including Germany, Sweden and the United States. Washington Irving (1783-1859), now best remembered as the creator of Rip van Winkle, and Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth president of the United States of America, were both descended from them.
Gilchrist, son of Erwini, witnessed a charter of the Lord of Galloway between the years 1124 and 1165. Appearing to have been in Dumfriesshire, were the lands that bore the name of Irvine. The origin of this chiefly family, according to family tradition, is linked up with the early Celtic Monarchs of Scotland. Duncan Eryvine, whose eldest son settled at Bonshaw, was the brother of Crinan, who through the lay Abbots of Dunkeld, claimed descent from the High Kings of Ireland. Duncan's brother, Crinin, married the heiress and daughter of Malcolm II. Their eldest son was to become King Duncan, the Monarch who was murdered (see Shakespeare's MacBeth).
The de Irwin's and Bruces' were neighbors, and William de Irwin's seat was at Lochmaben near Bonshaw. The de Irwin family strongly supported the Bruces', and William de Irwin became Armour Bearer and ultimately Secretary to Robert when Bruce became king. Rewarded for his twenty years as a faithful servant to Robert, William was granted the royal forest of Drum in Aberdeenshire. Thus, this became the chief seat of the family. William de Irwin was appointed the king's representative in the Royal Forest of Drum, part of the extensive forest where for many years the kings of Scotland had come to hunt deer and wild boar. In 1323 William was granted the charter of the Barony of Drum, giving him power 'of pit and gallows' - to drown or hang local wrongdoers. He was also given ownership of the Tower of Drum, which had probably been built during the second half of the thirteenth century, possibly as a stronghold for Alexander III, who died in 1286. The family virtually occupied the Castle and Tower until it was turned over to the National Trust for Scotland. There is a beautiful walled Rose Garden and Holly Grove on the estate.
It was probably during the lifetime of William's son, Alexander, the 2nd laird, that the feud arose with near neighbours the Keiths, hereditary Marshals of Scotland. Legend has it that the Irvines burned down Halforest Castle, stronghold of the Keiths, in revenge for their burning to death in the fields one of the Irvine children.
There was also a pitched battle at Keiths' Muir, near the Dee, in which many of the Keiths were drowned at a place called Keiths' Pot. One was cut down while clinging to a stone which occasionally still appears above the water and is known as Keiths' Stone.
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The 3rd laird, Alexander, who died in 1410, had two sons. He elder, also Alexander, supported the Earl of Mar, the Stewart General, and followed him to the French wars, where he was a commander in the successful but bloody capture of Liege. On the eve of the battle, Alexander was knighted and later given additional lands by Mar. On succeeding to Drum, he became the fourth laird, but to preserve the long-established numbering given by previous historians, who had believed Sir Alexander to be the third laird, it is necessary to designate him IVA and his younger brother Robert, who succeeded him, IVB.
Three years later, 'the gude Sir Alexander' was to serve his master for the last time. Donald MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, appeared on the mainland with a large army to challenge the royal authority. After razing Inverness, he headed towards Aberdeen to do the same.
Mar was deputed to defend the city with a small local force - prominent amongst his officers was Sir Alexander Irvine. It is said that midway between Drum and Harlaw, Irvine stopped at a place now called Drumstone and, foreseeing death in combat, made his final will.
So, in 1411, the two Irvines came to the Battle of Harlaw, a mere twenty miles north of Drum, one of Scotland's bloodiest ever acts of civil war and a desperate battle between the rising power of the Western Islands and the stolid, more settled world of the East Coast. One of the Islanders' senior chiefs was Maclean of Duart, Red Hector of the Battles, and at some point in the battle he met Sir Alexander Irvine. The two great warriors locked in single combat; neither would yield and in the end both died still fighting each other.
Robert Irvine survived the battle, changed his name to Alexander and, as fourth laird of Drum, married Elizabeth Keith, thus ending the feud of their forefathers. He is also believed to have exchanged swords with the son of Red Hector in token of peace between their families. This Alexander was also an important figure in the London negotiations to ransom the young King James I of Scotland, who had been held captive there by the English for eighteen years. He was knighted by the grateful king after his eventual release and attended him at the Inverness parliament.
The fact that he was arrested there and briefly held by the king, along with many other barons, need not be regarded as too sinister; it was part of a general trawl for traitors. When the somewhat intolerant king was eventually murdered in Perth it was Alexander who was chosen to be governor of Aberdeen during the period of crisis. In his later years he built St. Ninian's Chantry in St. Nicholas' Church, Aberdeen, and in 1457 was buried there with his wife in Drum's Aisle. Part of his carved tomb was subsequently moved to the Chapel at Drum, but the couple's stone effigies and their memorial brass, a most unusual feature in Scotland at this date, can still be seen at St. Nicholas' Church.
The 4th laird's son had died before him, so the new Alexander who succeeded as 5th laird was his grandson, described in contemporary documents as 'stout and vitious'. Despite being Sheriff of Aberdeen, he made furtive night attacks on one Walter Lindsay of Beaufort for which crime he was deprived of his office and sent to prison. Seventeen years later he was in trouble again when he ambushed and killed two men at the Brig o' Balgownie, for which he later paid compensation of 100 merks. On finding his chaplain St. Edward Macdowall in flagrante delicto with his wife, he did not murder him but had the man castrated in the Tower of Drum. For this he was not fined, and received a royal pardon from James II on 19 July 1487.
The 6th laird was more on the right side of the law and in 1527 was rewarded by King James V for helping to arrest 'rebels, thieves, reivers, sorcerers and murderers'. Bit great sadness was to overwhelm his later years. His eldest son, Alexander, went south to fight the English invaders at Pinkie and was killed there, leaving nine young children. It is recorded that he took with him to Pinkie a large cannon from Drum known as the 'Great Falcon'.