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History of Drum Castle Continued

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’. But 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’.

The next two lairds seem to have led comparatively quiet lives, but in the 9th laird the Irvines produced yet another notable character. This Alexander, known as ‘Little Breeches’ because he followed the Continental fashion of short trousers, was responsible for the building of the Jacobean mansion of Drum in 1619. He was Sheriff of Aberdeen and he and his wife, Marion Douglas, were noted local philanthropists.

The laird was rich enough to lend money to King James VI. He asked for a special dispensation to eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as other days, gave £10,000 for a scholarship at Aberdeen University which survives today as the Drum Bursary and a large number of other benefactions including ‘32 bolls of meal’ for the poor people of nearby Drumoak. His wife also founded a hospital for spinsters in Aberdeen.

Alexander, the 10th laird, was an ardent Royalist supporter of Charles I when most around him were Covenanters, the Scottish equivalent of Roundheads. He, too, was Sheriff of Aberdeen and with him the family’s prosperity and prestige reached its peak. As the Civil War spread, Alexander was away from Drum fighting when the castle was besieged. In the face of General Monroe’s heavy siege equipment, Lady Irvine decided to surrender quite rapidly and included a promise that her husband would give himself up. So Drum Castle received a hostile garrison, the first of four it was to endure during the Civil War.

The laird’s two soldier sons were also active Royalists: young Alexander was later to become one of Drum’s most colourful lairds. He fought for the Marquess of Huntly and was excommunicated by the Church of Scotland for ‘popery’, with a reward of 18,000 merks put on his head for his capture, dead or alive. He and his brother tried to escape by sea from Fraserburgh, but high winds drove them back to the Scottish coast and capture.

Robert, the younger brother, died a miserable death in the depths of Edinburgh Castle, but Alexander survived there under sentence of death until he was set free after the Marquess of Montrose’s victory at Kilsyth. His mother and wife were besieged and captured in Drum, this time by the Marquess of Argyll who turned both women out of the castle with nothing but ‘two grey plaids and a couple of work nags’.

This time Drum Castle was completely ransacked. Twice captured, four times garrisoned, Drum and its lands had been severely ravaged during the war. Animals had been killed, crops ruined, silver, jewellery and furniture stolen and its prosperity destroyed.


When young Alexander, the 11th laird, who had won a small cavalry encounter towards the end of the war, at last succeeded to his impoverished estates he was soon offered a peerage by the newly restored King Charles II. But he turned down the honour when the king refused to provide financial compensation for damage done to the Drum estate while supporting his cause.

So, twice the Irvines had missed becoming great magnates of the crown. The 11th laird’s first wife had apparently been somewhat aristocratically aloof but, after she died, he spotted a young shepherdess on his estates, some forty-seven years his junior. Sixteen-year-old Mary Coutts was not one to sell her virtue short so, despite general disapproval, the two were married and the old laird enjoyed six years of bliss before dying not long before his seventieth birthday in 1687. This story is recorded in the traditional ballad ‘The Laird of Drum’.

Alexander, his son by his first wife, was to be the 12th and last member of this line of Irvines. He died suddenly, leaving a pregnant wife, and an entail which gave Drum to his ruthless cousin, Irvine of Murtle. The 13th laird, Alexander Irvine, moved into Drum before his predecessor was even buried and confined the unfortunate widow to a small room.

His son, Alexander, the 14th laird, was a Jacobite and fought for the Old Pretender at Sheriffmuir. He was severely wounded in the head and died insane some years after the battle, leaving no heir.

Now Drum passed to the late laird’s uncle, John Irvine, the 15th laird, who had lived and worked for many years in Jamaica and South Carolina. He had returned to Scotland in about 1723.

In 1736 William, Earl of Aberdeen and Patrick Duff of Premnay bought the encumbered estate, which included lands from Cromar to just north of Dundee. They gave back to the family the ancestral seat and a small amount of land that surrounded it. The rest they parcelled out between them. The Drum estate never again grew to its former size or importance.

Clan Irwin, Drum Castle and the Jacobites!