Murder, Curses And Ghosts - Fyvie Castle in Scotland
Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland is not only one of the most famous but one of the most beautiful. It’s had a long and at times turbulent history
Surrounded by lovely parklands, the oldest part of the castle dates back to the 13th century. The location was originally chosen because of its defensive position - in a bend of the River Ythan. The rest of the land was surrounded by marsh giving a good protective boundary.
The name ‘Fyvie’ has probably changed since the earliest of times. Some researchers feel that the word is of ancient Pictish origin. Other sources claim its decadency from the Scots Gaelic, flodh abhuinn, meaning a 'wilderness by the river'. Others suggest that the name Fyvie means 'deer hill'.
Beginings of Fyvie Castle
There are many ancient charters still in existence marking the historical dates of the Scottish monarchs who stayed at Fyvie.
One of the earliest was William the Lion (William I), who may be responsible for the beginnings of Fyvie. He was followed by his son, Alexander II, and in the 1300's Robert the Bruce held court at Fyvie. In later centuries Charles I was also a visitor to the castle.
Once it passed from royal hands, after the Battle of Otterburn in 1380, the castle begins to take on a more familiar appearance. Over its 800 years of existence there is a tradition that states each of the five towers represents every one of the five families who have owned the castle. All built their own respective tower, namely - Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Forbes-Leith.
To witness the grandeur of this castle it’s hard to imagine that the history was at times far from romantic. Throughout the centuries we find curses, murder, intrigue and ghosts to name but a few of the fascinating stories surrounding Fyvie.
Murders Most Foul
Fyvie castle, as mentioned earlier, had its fair share of heartbreak over the centuries. Many claim that this is due to the curse put upon it by Thomas the Rhymer. Certainly death and murder are no strangers to Fyvie.
One of the most traumatic events as far as loss of human life goes, was a battle fought by Royalists and Covenanters at Fyvie on October 28th, 1644. The Royalist army, led by the Earl of Montrose, won the battle. The carnage was bloody and there is no telling how many men, from both sides, lost their lives in brutal fashion.
One of the strangest rooms within the castle is the library. Decorated in blood red wallpaper, with hundreds of books displayed around its magnificent walls, it holds a gruesome artefact. Among the wonderful old, rare books, is the bust of a head. However, it is no ordinary bust. It is the death mask of a murderer who was hanged. The noose mark can still be seen on the neck.
Moving on to another grisly secret we come to the main stairs. The stairs lead to one of the upper rooms, known as the Douglas Room. Many centuries ago, a Laird's wife was imprisoned here and starved to death. Although a valiant attempt was made by her kinsmen to rescue her, they were themselves caught, murdered and their bodies thrown from a top story window. Their blood is reputed to still stain the floorboards at Fyvie.
The staircase has not always had a dark history - sometimes it can be humorous. The Gordon family, with no respect for grand designs, used the staircase to ride their horses up and down as part of a wager.
Curses and Thomas the Rhymer
The most famous curse to have been inflicted on Fyvie Castle is attributed to the great Scottish Prophet, 'Thomas the Rhymer'. (1220-1298).
Sir Thomas was born as Thomas Learmont. He lived in the Scottish Borders in the village of Ercildoune, now known as Earlston.
Thomas, when a very young man, is said to have acquired his powers when he fell asleep under the Eildon Tree near to Melrose Abbey. While in the sleep state he is said to have met the Queen of Faery. She took him to her kingdom and Thomas arrived back into normal life after a few minutes - only to discover that he had been missing from his world for seven years.
From this time he is alleged to have had mystical powers. Many claimed that his knowledge and powers rivalled that of the famous mystic and magician, Merlin.
The place where Thomas fell asleep is now marked by the 'Rhymer's Stone' as the tree no longer stands. He was also known as 'True Thomas' because he could never tell a lie.
Thomas's encounter with Fyvie Castle happened when he was a very old man. He accepted an invite to visit the castle. On approaching the main gates, a freak wind suddenly blew up and slammed the great castle doors in Thomas's face. Enraged at the insult, Thomas cursed the castle:
"Fyvie, Fyvie, thou'se never thrive,
As lang's* there's in thee stanes* three :
There's ane intill* the highest tower,
There's ane intill the ladye's bower,
There's ane aneath* the water-yett,
And thir* three stanes ye'se never get".
(*As lang's = as long as); (stanes = stones); (ane intill - one inside); (ane aneath = one beneath).
This is famously known as 'the curse of the weeping stones'.
Basically the root of the curse stems from the fact that three stones were taken from either the local church or parish boundary and used in the building of Fyvie. Thomas's rhyme states that until all three stones are reunited and removed from the castle, Fyvie will continue to be cursed.
To date only two stones have been recovered. One of them is on display in the Charter Room. Interestingly, many people claim that this stone can be seen oozing water, as if weeping. However, there may be a natural explanation for this.
The second stone is said to be embedded in the Ladies Bower. The third was thrown into the River Ythan and will never be recovered; therefore the curse can never be lifted.
Thomas, on the whole, would seem to have been a genuinely benign character - a mystic, prophet and poet. What caused him to act so angrily against Fyvie? Perhaps the Seer, being very old, was basically just tired and grumpy on that particular day?
The curse itself manifests in the form of the male heir never being able to inherit Fyvie castle – and this does seem to be the case on a number of occasions. Certainly if we look at the numerous times that Fyvie has changed hands over the centuries, it does beg the question why? It would seem that the great families who took over the castle were less than happy with this beautiful abode.
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The Supernatural and More Curses
True Thomas was not the only person who laid a curse on Fyvie. A second curse has led to the manifestation of one of the ghosts of Fyvie - the Grey Lady.
A former occupant of the castle - Lady Meldrum - who lived at the castle in the 13th century, (the same time period as Thomas), had requested that her remains be buried within the walls at Fyvie. The reason for this odd request is not known.
However it seems that a secret room was created, her remains were placed inside and the space sealed off by a wall. It’s alleged that prior to her death she had placed a curse on anyone who violated the space where she was laid to rest.
In the 1920s workmen employed to renovate the south-west corner of the castle discovered the secret room. They informed the Laird of the find and Lady Meldrum's remains were carried to the churchyard and given a proper burial.
From the time the remains were removed the castle was plagued by ghostly noises and the figure of a 'grey lady' was frequently seen. The Laird was so frightened that he returned Lady Meldrum’s remains to the secret room and ordered the workmen to re-seal it. Nevertheless, the ghost of the Grey Lady still walks the castle passages today. The curse itself is reputed to cause the death of the Laird and/or blindness to his wife.
This curse is alleged to have manifested in the past causing death and blindness but cannot be fully verified. Today, the curse is taken so seriously that the secret room remains locked.
The most famous ghost at Fyvie Castle originates from the 17th century and is thought to be Dame Lillias Drummond. This unfortunate lady was treated cruelly by her husband - Sir Alexander Seton.
Some sources state that because Dame Lillias gave birth to a family of five girls, Lord Seton decided to be rid of her for a younger bride - Lady Grizel Leslie. He hoped she would give birth to a son. It’s also reported that he was having an affair with his future bride before Dame Lillias died. In order to speed up his marriage, he locked his tragic wife into one of the upper chambers and starved to death.
The wedding night of Lord Seton and Lady Grizel was far from romantic. They were awoken abruptly in the early hours by unearthly noises. They became terrified when ghostly sighs and scratching manifested in the master bedroom where they slept. They saw nothing at all.
However, in the morning a message had been left. On the stone windowsill, scratched deeply and raggedly into it was the name - D. Lillias Drummond. What is really mysterious about the name is that it’s written upside down as if someone was on the outside writing the name down. Therefore, in order to write it or read it properly you would have to be floating in mid-air outside the window or be on a scaffold. This part of the story is not legend - the scratched out name can still be seen today.
The ghost of Lillias Drummond takes the appearance of a green lady. She has been seen by a number of visitors as a reflection in one of the great mirrors. Witnesses also claim to have seen her walking the castle's hallways.
She is by all accounts a very benevolent ghost that has never harmed anyone. It may be that she simply wants her story to be told. Some witnesses claim that the green lady will appear as a normal and attractive woman in 17th century dress.
However, many others have been shocked, claiming that her face appears skeletal - as indeed would anyone who had been starved to death. There are other sources who feel she may have died of more natural causes or a broken heart.
Another ghost to frequent Fyvie Castle is a man called Andrew Lammie. He was sold into slavery in the West Indies simply because he fell in love with Agnes, the miller's daughter. Neither her parents nor the Lord of Fyvie - who was in love with Agnes himself - thought the match a proper one. Andrew did escape from the West Indies. However, when he returned home to claim Agnes, she had died several years earlier of a broken heart. Andrew cursed them and vowed that when a trumpet sounded it would signify the deaths of the Lords of Fyvie. It has been reported by a number of witnesses, over a long period of time, that a trumpet was heard to play several times when a lord of Fyvie was dying. An apparition has also been seen of a young man standing outside the boundary walls, dressed in fine tartans - could this be Andrew?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this hub about Fyvie Castle and if you ever get a chance it’s well worth visiting. In addition, if you have any of your own stories to share about Fyvie or any other location let me know in the comments.
© 2011 Helen Murphy Howell
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