Finavon Castle in Forfar Scotland and It's Legends

The passions triggered by infidelity and jealousy are not modernventions. Men and women have struggled with the emotions and repercussions of infidelity for ages. In dealing with couples, the stories of those struggles often provide new insights into the problem of adultery. When I come across historic accounts of adultery and how it was deal with, they have a poignancy that modern stories do not convey. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Finavon Castle in Scotland which was the location of several sordid events. Finavon Castle is located in Angus, four miles northeast of Forfar. The city of Forfar is known for its meat pies known as 'brides'. The ruins of Finavon castle are located just west of ridge where a Pictish fort once rested. The area was once known as Forafshire. Nearby are also the ruins of an ancient church as well. Finavon is also known as Fine Haven or Finhaven castle as well. Seeing the physical remains of the castle served as a testimony to the events that transpired there and the fruits which such passions produce.

The first earl to occupy the castle was a jousting champion. His formal title was "Earl of Crawford". He remained so steady in his saddle during jousts, that rumors began abounding that he had to have been fastened to it somehow. In order to disprove the rumors, at one tournament, he leapt down from the saddle. After having landed, he jumped back onto his horse, while wearing his armor. For any athlete to accomplish such a feat was extraordinary. From this feat, it is clear that the Earl of Crawford was exceptionally fit and talented. He also married the daughter of Robert the Bruce's grandson. This is the medieval equivalent of a sports superstar having a celebrity wedding to the national nobility or first family.

The Earl started a long line of occupation at the castle. His grandson, the third earl, was mortally wounded trying to prevent a family quarrel between the two families that were entitled to the castle. Many times, those who intervene trying to keep the peace between warring factions are the ones hurt. The fighting was severe, with many on both sides being wounded or killed. In those medieval times, disagreements were not limited to verbal abuse. Those who disagreed often engaged in physical violence against each other. In his wounded state, the third earl returned to the castle. His brother in law who fought against him, was also wounded and brought to the castle. When the earl died, his wife was so enragged at his death, that she went through the castle, found the brother in law who was recovering from his wounds and immediately smothered him to death.

The fourth earl also known as the "tiger earl" had been deeply involved in the black arts and was known for his pronounced cruelty. His disposition led to the wealthy monastery at Abroath to depose him as their justicair (judge). He had a ferocious appearance with a long beard, hence the other title of "Earl Beardie". He attended a dinner party where a fellow earl (The Earl of Douglas) was stabbed in the neck by his attacker. Those at the party soon joined in by stabbing and striking the lifeless earl. The episode led to bigger things and the tiger earl joined other nobles attempting to overthrow the rulers in favor of the house of York. He and other lords incited an uprising, which was routed at Brechin (1452). After the battle, he returned to Finavon, exclaiming the he would "gladly pass seven years in hell to gain the honor of victory. It was also as a result of this battle that the saying" A Lindsey in green, shall never be seen " had its origin.

In another instance of cruelty, he hung a minstrel outside his castle on iron spokes protruding from the castle walls. He also cut out the tongue of a local errand runner known as 'Jock'. The young man had made the mistake of cutting off a branch of the local chestnut tree the earl often used as a tree for hanging people. The episode led to the following rhyme being generated:

" Earl Beardie ne'er will dee,

Nor puir Jock Barefoot be set free,

As lang's there grows a chestnut tree " .

When King James II heard of his tiger Earl's attack on a fellow earl, and selective rebellion he took action. The enraged king threatened casting the castle, by making the highest stone the lowest. It is not know what transpired when the king arrived. What is known is that he went to the top of the tower, took a stone and dropped it to the ground, thereby fulfilling his pledge. Earl Beardie is also the subject of a legendary game of cards that he is reported to play through eternity. He reportedly lost his soul to the devil in the process of the game and continues playing at nearby Glamis Castle in a secret room. The legend has it that servants were killed who told about the room. During the course of the card game, the room was forever sealed off. Although the story makes for entertainment, and is kept alive by reported sightings of Earl Beardie at Glamis Castle, the reality is that he died and was buried in a nearby community. The tiger earl's son distinguished himself as a man of accomplishment. He earned several titles and the respect of the nation.

The ninth earl imprinted the eighth earl within the castle dungeon. He was known as "the wicked master" due to his cruel acts. His land, position and office were removed from him on accusations of attempted murder.

The castle served as the site for the marriage celebration of the daughter of Cardinal David Beaton to the 10th earl of the Castle. The cardinal kept his mistress at a nearby Meglund Castle. On one side of the story, Beaton was legally married to the woman staying there, but had demoted her status from wife to mistress in order to take a high position in the church, since a Cardinal was not allowed to have a wife. The reformers claim that Meglund Castle was home to not one, but several mistresses along with concubines associated with the Cardinal. The reformer John Knox often referred to the paramour / lady of the castle as Beaton's "chief lewd". Cardinal Beaton was determined to suppress was saw as heresy among the Scots for raising to question his authority and his interpretation of Holy Scriptures. Beaton's actions were often harsh and brutal as was the response to them.

The marriage of Beaton's daughter to a near earl added some social acceptability to his illic relations, although not enough to redeem his reputation. The earl's family, had their own reputations to be concerned with. So please the lavish wedding celebration and party, both the wife and husband had families with considerable baggage in their past. The picture of having a marriage feast on the same grounds where men had had their tongues cut out or hung is a hard one for my mind to wrap around. In many ways, it is a metaphor for many families. They try to make a new life and do the best they can to overcome the harsh histories of their families.

The castle was also immortalized by it being the subject of a passage from Thomas the Rhymer. Thomas was regarded as a Celtic seer or prophet. Thomas the Rhymer (who lived about 1200AD-ca 1298 AD) was reportedly a man with special powers. Contemporaries often compared him to the legendary Merlin of Arthurian legend. (Some legends have Merlin being buried in the same region of Scotland). Many of the prophecies of Thomas were quoted by reformers promoting Scottish independence in Scotland in later centuries. Many of his prophecies came to pass regarding people's lives, battles and other events. Legend has it that he never died, but was taken to fairyland. The location where he disappeared was an Eilden tree near the Eilden Hills of Scotland. Some legends claim that the hills are hollow and Thomas was taken to that location. The hills are located south of the city of Melrose, Scotland in the Borders region. He was known for telling the truth so much in his sayings, that one of his nicknames was "true Thomas". His rhyme concerned the castle was " When Finehaven Castle rinds to sand, the warld's end is near at hand ".

Wandering through the castle ruins, I considered what can be learned from the lives of those who lived here in previous generations. After all the lavish celebrations or harsh acts, all that remains are ruins and memories. The reputations of some people, like Cardinal David Beaton and the tiger earl live on through the ages.