to the House of Inchbrakie
stands high above the little country town of Crieff, which used in former days to be styled the ‘ Gate of the Highlands";
there in the fifteenth century Tosach came down from his Highland castles, and monthly hung a culprit to prove his power of
" Life and death."
There may still
be seen the gallows hill Tam-a-chastel where this was done; and in that town one may yet meet men who remember their grand-fathers
speaking of the "’15" and "’45," and there, for many a year, the great cattle market was held, till transferred
The Knock, before
the great storm of 1893, was crested with fine conifers, whose blue green branches could have told many a tale, from that
of foray and of raid, from gathering of clans with target and broad-sword, to the steady marching of troops up the high road
to Comrie, where Black Pate had swung with his Highlanders of Atholl district in 1646, to meet and defeat Cromwell’s
troops at Callander; from al these, to the tender whispered words of lovers beneath their branches on a summer evening, and
to one wild weird scene under the "King’s Craig," where a party of ignorant country folk permitted license (by their
Laird of Monzie), burnt an unfortunate woman for witchcraft in those dark and troubled days of the Rebellion of 1715 to 1720;
days in which lawlessness found a vent for itself in wrecking not only homes and villages and records of the nation, but lives
of the defenceless in the land.
The Witch of
Monzie" has caused endless discussion and argument; no authentic record of her death appears, but it was impossible in the
district of Crieff for the enquirer to go into a house or cottage (even thirty years ago) and ask, "Have you ever heard of
the Witch of Monzie," without receiving the reply in the affirmative; then there is Kate M’Niven’s Cave, where,
when haunted from her home in the Kirktown of Monzie, she took refuge, living there comfortably enough while many sought her
in secret, for her cures and so-called charms.
The Cave is
there now under the face of the King’s Craig. Just below her little hiding-place poor Kate’s fire was piled, and
there she met her doom and gave her blessing and her stone to the Inchbrakie, who was said to be her foster-son.
Many books on
witchcraft and on the history of the district contain her story given more or less correctly. Where there is no authentic
record to refer to, such histories are written down with many additions. The most erroneous is that Inchbrakie’s son
was the instigator to her burning, but that Inchbrakie himself saved her!’ That tale is an impossibility: Kate would
never have blessed the house, and in the future the man who had brought her to the stake!
The "New Statistical
Account," 1844, drawn up entirely by ministers of the various parishes, alludes to Inchbrakie’s relic, and how it reached
him. Mr James Fergusson tells the story quite simply, certain of the accuracy of his statement; while Mr John Omond says that
though there is no record of her conviction. it is possible she was, in accordance with the custom of the Privy Council at
that period, tried under its commission by a local committee of the gentry and ministers.
Both this last
volume and the New Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1896) place the date of Kate M’Niven’s death between 1710 and
Sharpe of Hoddam Castle tells the story without a date while "Sketches of the Olden Time" by Mr Fittis, and the "Holocaust
or Witch of Monzie" by the Reverend George Blair, give the date more positively as 1715.
The witch who
was burnt by the judgment of the committee mentioned by Mr Blair was Violet Mar, 1577. His poem on Kate lays the scene during
the early years of 1700, and he adds that the minister of Monzie in 1721, Mr W. Simpson, found the parish and people in a
Mr Blair states
that the last witch burnt in Scotland was in 1722 at Dornock.
Being very anxious
to bring exact data to this sketch and to poor Kate M’Niven, communication has taken place with anyone likely to have
records of the occurrence in the neighbourhood ; beyond the fact that all stoutly believed in the occurrences no one could
produce written evidence of the period, but said it had been handed down from father to son, and that the name of the Craig
bore testimony to the tradition.
A resident in
Crieff gives the information in addition to verifying the legend, that the very ancient gateway that spans the Shaggie at
Monzie village, and which leads to the Manse and to the Green, has been known since the days of the witch as " Kate M’Niven’s
Yett?; she passed through it on her way to the Craig which still bears her name, " Kate M’Niven’s Craig," and
not far from that stands " Kate M’Niven’s Well."
inhabitant of the village of Gilmerton, who has made local lore a special study from his childhood and bears much of the tradition
of the place in his head (James Taylor, " Provost of Gilmertoun "), said he had heard this story with all its details, and
he added that there used to be a stone on the top of the Gate through which poor Kate was hunted to her doom, which stone
has been always called " Kate M’Niven."
The Rev. Hugh
Jamieson was most anxious, like myself, to obtain authority direct for his article ?A Southern Outpost of the Highlands,"
and wrote to me on the subject. We were both assisted by the late Mr Maxtone Graham of Cultoquhey, a strong believer in the
tradition, which I now relate much in the same words as I wrote Mr Jamieson.
Our mother was
the first person who instilled into her children’s ears the
story of the Witch of Monzie. We were living at the time near Inchbrakie, on the outskirts of Crieff, and the Knock was a
well-known place to us, our walk often extending to the side whereon was Kate’s cave, looking down over the mansion-house
of Monzie, and naturally the scene which occurred was vividly pictured by us.
Our mother was
a woman of unusual intelligence and great charm of intellect, not at all likely to yield to ignorant superstition or conviction.
An Irish woman in the best sense of the word, she came to Scotland, seeking to love her husband’s home and relations,
his house and its records. Never was intention so perfectly carried out, and the interesting facts of her own connections
and life were always sunk when speaking to her children of their family and descent. Mrs Laurence Graeme came to Scotland
a bride in 1828, and naturally her father-in-law, Colonel Graeme, the ninth baron, fell a victim to the charm of a lovely
girl, who was prepared to reverence him and all that belonged to his family.
It was from
his lips that she heard the records of the house that claimed her beloved husband as its son; and well were they learned!
had been born in 1753, so that his knowledge of the tale must have been from his father, who was born before the occurrence.
As may be remembered
in the previous sketches, the actual Inchbrakie of the witch’s day, the seventh baron, was under extradition, though
it was thought that he returned before the remission of his sentence in 1720.
death occurred in 1715 he may have been present at it; if not, his son George, or his brother Patrick, would be the Inchbrakie
of the day.
as may be justly assumed according to the ?Statistical Act" and " Ordnance Gazetteer," the event occurred 1720 to 1722, there
can be no question that the seventh baron was present in person, and did his best for the poor victim.
Now for the
story as we heard it. The Inchbrakie of the day, hearing that some occurrence of the kind was contemplated, directed his usual
morning ride to Monzie; on arrival at the scene he was dismayed to find that matters had proceeded so far that poor Kate was
already affixed to the stake, and the pile about to be ignited. All that one man could do against a strong opposition he did,
he appealed to their humanity, their reason and their hearts; he made loud and angry protest, all to no avail; no time was
there to call to the scene such authority as might disperse the crowd; (for a mighty concourse for so thinly populated a district
had assembled); ere he could have ridden the three miles to Crieff and back, the flames would have ended Kate M’Niven’s
life. To the last minute he hoped the people would hearken to him and would extinguish the freshly lighted pile; then the
so-called witch seeing her fate was sealed, spoke with deep and heavy curse. She cursed the Laird of Monzie, on whose land
her murder was committed. From father to son she said Monzie shall never pass, no heir of line should ever hold the lands
now held by him; then she cursed the Kirktoun of Monzie; in future year by year its size and population should decrease, no
share in all the growing prosperity of the surrounding towns and villages it should hold, and ever by some hearth amidst its
cottage homes should there crawl an idiot with lolling tongue and rolling eye.
Then she turned,
and stooping her head till her lips touched her breast on which lay a necklace, she seized it in her firm, strong teeth, and
bit it through, casting it from her mouth toward Inchbrakie; she blessed him for his kind heart, and noble efforts on her
behalf, then bade him keep secure and fast in his possession and on his house and lands, the dark blue bead which was upon
the relic she had cast at him. So long as that is done, cried Kate, Inchbrakie’s laird shall never want a son nor Inchbrakie’s
son his lands, and with a last effort she added, that from the Craig under which she burnt should Inchbrakie receive benefit!
It is not surprising
that Kate’s curse and blessing lingered long in the Laird of Inchbrakie’s ears, or that he scarcely spoke of the
scene which must have haunted him often afterwards.
The ring was
shown to Mrs Laurence Graeme; for the " blue stone " was a moonstone sapphire, and had been preserved by being quaintly placed
between two brilliants of different shape, the gold setting partly embossed and ornamented with a curious shade of blue enamel;
her father-in-law slipped it on her finger, as he did to all the wives of his three sons; his own daughter was never allowed
to wear it, as it was not possible for her to bring an heir to Inchbrakie!
And what of
the witch’s curse and blessing?
or accident, Monzie has never since been owned from
father to son;
Monzie Kirktoun still stands, but has grown smaller; and always an idiot dwells in the village. A few years after the death
of Kate M’Niven some of Inchbrakie’s lands were in wadsett, and would have passed to other hands; money was urgently
needed to stave off the evil day, and the Laird sent a messenger to the "Bank of Strathearn " as BaIgowan was then laughingly
called, for he had ever spare cash at hand to lend a cousin or a friend. The bag containing the gold asked for was carried
to the stable and placed in the cloak bag then carried on every saddle; as the groom led the horse out, the protruding bag
stuck on the lintel of the narrow door, but he pushed it through, mounted and rode off; the stone above that doorway had been
cut from the King’s Craig, beneath which Kate M’Niven had burned.
and more passed over and the eleventh baron had come of age and was starting with his regiment the 79th Cameron Highlanders
for India. Mrs Laurence Graeme was then living on the outskirts of Crieff near Inchbrakie (a widow like her sister-in-law).
Inchbrakie House was to be let, the charter chest was sent to Mrs Laurence Graeme to be taken charge of whilst the family
house was in possession of strangers.
Her nephew visiting
her, opened the box, carrying into the dining- room some papers he wished his aunt to see; amongst them was a small but quaint-looking
box or casket. I was present, and with girlish curiosity opened it to find?a ring. Never shall I forget my mother’s
horror and dismay as she turned and saw the precious relic?no longer held on the lands of Inchbrakie. There is little more
to add. Accident or coincidence or fate were at work once more; who shall say which?
A few years
after the removal of the relic from Inchbrakie the first Lands of acres of the Aberuthven portion of the property was sold,
bit by bit the lands slipped from the old barony, and so far the eleventh baron has no son to gather them again.
But the spirit
of tradition never dies, and the pride and valour of hope
in a Highland
heart is never crushed; so we live and dream, though we must wait and work and seek, till an older saying than that of the
poor witch shall be fulfilled. The old Gaelic prophecy which bids us know that, when ?the Graemes find the Silver Hand," then
shall ?their lands return again to those who have lost them!?