A Memoir of Lady Anna Mackenzie
[pp. 1 - 16]
[p. 1] Anna Countess of Balcarres, and afterwards of Argyll, the subject of the following Memoir, was the daughter of Colin, surnamed Ruadh, or the Red, Earl of Seaforth, chief of the great Highland clan of the Mackenzies, by Margaret Seyton, daughter of Alexander Earl of Dunfermline, Chancellor of Scotland under King James I. She was the wife successively of Alexander Lindsay, Earl of Balcarres, the husband of her youth, who died in exile in 1659, and of Archibald, the virtuous but unfortunate Earl of Argyle, beheaded in 1685, whom she married when in the decline of life.
Born during the early and happier spring of the seventeenth century, her days extended over the stormy summer of the Great Civil War, the chequered autumn that succeeded the Restoration, and the Revolution of 1688; and she even survived that culminating epoch of the century for very nearly twenty years. She was actively concerned, through her two husbands and her children, in many of the important events which occurred during that long interval. And her noble qualities of head and heart rendered her the object of the admiration and attachment not only of her own family but of several of the wisest and [p. 2] best among her contemporaries, eliciting not only the praise of the illustrious nonconformist Richard Baxter, who esteemed her "the honour of" her "sex and nation," but the testimony of the Cavalier and classic Cowley, who in his elegiac verses "Upon the death of the Earl of Balcarres" does not hesitate to affirm that
"his virtues and His lady too
Alexander Lord Balcarres, the first husband of Anna Mackenzie, was also her cousin-german, and the marriage was one, not of interest, but of affection on both sides. A Scottish memoir is almost always preceded by a short genealogical notice, and such a preface is peculiarly requisite in the present instance in order to account for the various relationships and intimacies which will present themselves to the reader in the following pages.
These relationships are all primarily referrible to the friendship which subsisted between Lady Anna's and Lord Balcarres' respective grandfathers, Alexander Earl of Dunfermline above mentioned, younger son of George fifth Lord Seyton and brother of the first Earl of Wintoun, and John Lindsay of Balcarres, second son of David ninth Earl of Crawford, a Lord of Session under the title of Lord Menmuir," and Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State towards the close of the sixteenth century.
They were men, each of them, of great ability and noble personal character. Lindsay -- the father of the important enactments of 1587, by which the constitution of the Scottish Parliament was reformed, and the power of the great feudal nobles abridged, thus introducing the modern era of Scottish history -- is recorded by Archbishop Spotswood as a man "of exquisite learning and a sound judgment, held worthy by all men of the place he had in the senate both for his wisdom and integrity," and by the sterner and Presbyterian Melville as a man of the greatest learning [p. 3] and solid natural wit joined with that," "for natural judgment and learning the greatest light of the policy and council of Scotland." Seyton, on the other hand, is described by John Drummond Earl of Perth in his autobiography as "endued with most virtuous, learned, and heroic qualities," and as "having spent a great part of his youth in the best towns of Italy and France, where all good literature was professed," "a man most just and wise, deserving greater commendation than paper can contain." Lindsay died, comparatively young, in 1598, and bequeathed his son David, afterwards the first Lord Lindsay of Balcarres, to the "faithful friendliness" and guardianship of Seyton, then Lord Fyvie, but soon to be distinguished by his higher title of Earl of Dunfermline.
David thus became the companion and playmate of Lord Dunfermline's daughter Sophia Seyton, and an attachment sprang up between them which ended in their marriage in 1612. Nearly about the same time Margaret Seyton, Sophia's sister, married Colin Lord Kintail, afterwards Earl of Seaforth, above mentioned. Of these two marriages Alexander Earl of Balcarres and Lady Anna Mackenzie were respectively the issue, and thus, as has been stated, cousins-german. Isabel Seyton, a third sister, married the excellent and accomplished John Maitland, first Earl of Lauderdale; and their son was John, the celebrated Earl and Duke of Lauderdale subsequently to the Restoration.
The warmest personal affection united these families, thus closely allied by the ties of consanguinity: and an additional and common link connected them with John Leslie, sixth Earl of Rothes, who on the death of Lord Seaforth became the guardian of Lady Anna, still at that time unmarried. The Earls of Wintoun, of Perth, and of Southesk, and Lord Yester, afterwards Earl of Tweeddale, belonged to the same kindred group; and Jhan Lord Lindsay of the Byres, afterwards seventeenth Earl of Crawford, stood in near alliance towards most of its members.
[p. 4] The period during which the parents of Lady Anna and her husband flourished, and within which the first twenty years of their own lives fell, was one of almost unclouded national and domestic sunshine north of the Tweed. One such halcyon period lived in the memory of Scotland, and but one only, the period of tranquillity and prosperity which preceded the untimely death of Alexander III. in 1286, and the termination of which ushered in the war of independence against England under Wallace and King Robert Bruce. The intervening centuries had witnessed a perpetual struggle, not only external, against Scotland's southern neighbour, but internal, between the Crown and the great feudal barons contending for the supremacy, and between those barons themselves, constantly engaged in private feuds; and this state of things lasted with scarcely perceptible amelioration even to the accession of James VI. to the throne of England in 1603.
An additional element of discord had been introduced through the Reformation; and during the last half of the sixteenth century the country was distracted by the struggles of the adherents of the ancient Church and of the Kirk, or Presbyterian establishment, each endeavouring to extirpate the other. The victory remained with the Presbyterians, and, although modifications had been made in the constitution of the Kirk towards the close of the century which were destined to become the source of fresh dissension in after years, all for the present -- I am speaking of the period between 1603, or I would rather say 1610, and 1640 -- was upon the whole peaceful and serene.
It was a time of repose and refreshment, intellectual and moral, throughout the nation. Scotland had always, even in the midst of her wars, been addicted to letters and the arts of peace -- the sons of her aristocracy had for many generations been educated abroad -- Scottish merchants flourished in every commercial emporium in Europe -- Scottish professors lectured in every foreign university; and, at home, the feudal [p. 5] chiefs who waged relentless war against their private enemies not unfrequently studied law, wrote fair Latin, were familiar through continental travel with the modern languages and literature, appreciated the arts, and adorned their castles with architectural and sculptural embellishment. The contemporaries of James VI., who inherited these several influences in almost equal proportion, thus partook of the double character of feudal baron and accomplished gentleman -- a combination very picturesque, however incongruous, in its strangely harmonised attributes.
But the two characters became much more distinct in the sons of that generation of transition. Feudality receded into the wilder regions of the country, while civilisation and, in a word, the modern impulses of thought and life acquired a predominant influence over the more refined and cultivated branches of the Scottish aristocracy who were seated near the capital, almost in fact in proportion to the degree of such propinquity. The foundation for all this had been laid by the wise measures above alluded to, initiated by Secretary Lindsay (during his earlier years), curbing the abuses of feudal power; and the strongest possible encouragement was given to these elements of progress (and far beyond the narrow bounds just indicated) by the stern impartiality and peremptory decision of the Chancellor Dunfermline in enforcing the laws against all, high and low, who transgressed them.
The special and personal influence of this remarkable man was no less felt within the domestic circle of his intimates. The family of the Seytons had been peculiarly noted, even in purely feudal times, for the more graceful and liberalising tendencies of their age, and their impress, through Lord Dunfermline, was, if I mistake not, strongly marked on the whole family group of Lindsays, Mackenzies, Maitlands, Drummonds, and others, which I have above exhibited. Among these, David Lord Balcarres, Dunfermline's son-in-law, Lady Anna Mackenzie's "good-father" or father-in-law, was remarkable for his literary and [p. 6] scientific tastes and his well-stored and curious library. John Earl of Lauderdale, Lord Balcarres' most intimate friend, was in many respects of similar character; and his successor, the Duke of Lauderdale, was one of the principal book-collectors of his time. The instinct for such pursuits, the inherent love of knowledge and graceful accomplishment, may have descended both to Balcarres and Lauderdale from their fathers, Secretary Lindsay and Chancellor Maitland; but in either case, through the early loss of the parents, the development and direction of the youthful genius of the sons was due, if I mistake not, to the Seyton father-in-law. I must mention Sir Robert Moray also, Lord Balcarres' son-in-law, an accomplished natural philosopher, the founder and first president -- "the life and soul," as Evelyn calls him -- of the Royal Society, as sharing in the same intellectual inheritance.
These are but illustrations of the great change which had passed over the better spirit of Scotland; and this spirit was necessarily reflected in the manners of the time. During the whole of the thirty years, from 1610 to 1640, which I have above specified, these Scottish gentlemen lived a life as nearly as possible resembling (mutatis mutandis) that of their descendants in the present day -- dwelling in the country, maintaining kindly relations with their vassals, tenants, and followers; planting the hills on their estates with forest trees; opening quarries, sinking and working mines of every description from silver to coal; adding to and decorating their paternal residences; paying each other visits, more or less prolonged, at their respective abodes; gathering together their friends and neighbours occasionally for country sports; and meeting collectively once or twice every year in Edinburgh during the session of the Scottish Parliament, which continued to assemble and transact the whole affairs of the country down, as will be remembered, to the Union of Scotland and England into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.
The picture thus drawn would not, I readily admit, be correct, if understood [p. 7] of the entire kingdom; but with reference to the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, to East Lothian, and in a very peculiar manner, to the "kingdom" or county of Fife, it is. I think, in no wise exaggerated. I do not of course affirm that the age was not still an age of feudalism, even in the favoured regions in question, on the contrary, the ancient spirit would break out occasionally with startling independence; but it was feudalism veiled, as it were, and softened rather than eclipsed, its fiercer rays
The one grand exception, the per contra, the cloud in the sky which cast dark shadows over the general scene of comparative national happiness which I have attempted to delineate, consisted in the systematic depression, or rather persecution, to which the adherents of the older religious faith, the Roman Catholics, were subjected during the whole of this period, and indeed throughout the greater part of the century. But unhesitating conviction and uncompromising intolerance were the characteristics of the age; every church persecuted and was persecuted by turns; and it would be unjust therefore to blame one more than another where all were equally culpable in the light of our own age, although equally conscientious in that of their own. None however of the families above enumerated belonged to the persecuted church, or were themselves (so far as I am aware) concerned in the persecution; and I think therefore that we may acquiesce without hesitation in the pleasant impressions of the family life of Scotland in 1610-40 presented as above to our contemplation.
And, as a special example, a voice from the very actual past, is worth volumes of generalisation, I shall close these preliminary remarks by transcribing a letter addressed by David Lord Balcarres in 1635 to his son Alexander, Lady Anna's future husband, on his return, at the age of seventeen, to the [p. 8] University of St. Andrews after a vacation of unusually pleasant dissipation, -- there is nothing in it beyond the utterance of simple faith and homely wisdom, but it will illustrate the spirit which animated the social circle of which Alexander and the fair Anna were youthful members.
It is as follows:
[p. 9] These general observations premised, I shall now address myself to the immediate object of this memoir.
I cannot fix the date of Lady Anna's birth with exactness, but from various indications I think it must have been in the year 1621. The influences of her early childhood were, with one exception, everything that could be wished for; but that exception was indeed grievous. Her mother seems to have died early, -- she is described as "a wise and virtuous' lady" by Sir Robert Gordon, the historian of the Earldom of Sutherland; and the loss of such a friend and councillor must have been irreparable.
Lord Seaforth was however well competent to supply the privation in everything but mother's love. I have not as yet spoken of him particularly, but he was not unworthy of association with the band of friends assembled as sons-in-law round the kindly hearth of Lord Dunfermline. I gather this from the testimony of a contemporary who speaks of him as "a most religious and virtuous lord," "of a noble spirit," "much liked by his king, and all those that ever was with him," and who, besides erecting the Castle of Brahan, his principal residence, built and endowed churches "in every barony of his Highlands," and founded a grammar-school "in the town of Channorie, called Fortrose." Seaforth and his wife had but two children, both of them daughters; and of these Anna was the younger.
The name of the eldest was Jean, -- she married successively the Master of Caithness and Alexander Lord Duffus, and died still young in 1648, leaving but one child, (by her first husband), George sixth Earl of Caithness, who died without issue in 1676. She will not figure further in this narrative. I suspect the sisters seldom met after their lives' early springtime, when they passed their days together among their kinsmen of the clans of Mackenzie and Ross, in familiarity with the lovely scenery of their father's "country," speaking the language of the Gael, and free in spirit as the breezes -- Highland maidens in their beauty and [p. 10] simplicity.
But a further and unexpected blow fell on them in 1633; their father died in the April of that year; and, while Jean was probably taken charge of by the family of her future husband, Anna, the especial object of our interest, passed under the care (as already stated) of her cousin Lord Rothes, and removed to Leslie in Fife not to revisit her native Highlands for nearly twenty years, and then only as a wanderer, almost a fugitive.1
It was while resident at Leslie that she became acquainted with her cousin Alexander Lindsay, already more than once mentioned as the eldest son of David Lord Balcarres and Lady Sophia Seyton, and who bore the title during his father's lifetime of Master of Balcarres. He was one well qualified to attract her affection -- very handsome (judging by his portrait by Jamesone), with the fair complexion and auburn hair, and the general type of features, which run, with a constantly recurring tendency, in the different branches of the Lindsay family; while, in point of personal character, he was high-spirited but modest, accomplished and studious, and "brave enough to have been second in command to Montrose himself" (no slight eulogy from the enthusiastic biographer of that hero, Mr. Napier) -- in a word, in all respects such that, in the words of a contemporary biography, "he had the respect and love of all that knew him." I know not whether their attachment was of gradual or rapid growth, but certain it is that in the autumn of 1639 Alexander was deeply in love with his beautiful cousin; the regard became mutual; and the result was their marriage in April 1640, the bridegroom being then in his twenty-second, and the bride (if I mistake not) in her eighteenth or nineteenth year.
The entire correspondence that took place on the occasion [p. 11] is preserved in our family archives, and it is not a little curious to observe the lets and hindrances that impeded the course of true love -- how they arose and how they were surmounted -- more than two hundred years ago.
The whole of the friends on both sides warmly advocated the match with the exception of the lady's uncle, her father's brother and successor as Earl of Seaforth, who opposed it on the ground that he obtained no new feudal and family allance by it. It seems that, being on a visit at Leslie and observing, as he thought, marks of attachment between his niece and the Master, he expressed his wish to take her back with him to the Highlands, which she declined, and then, on being asked for the grounds of her refusal, "she told that the Master had made love to her." Seaforth expressed his disassent very strongly, and even threatened that her provision, or fortune, as her father's daughter, might be disputed.
John Lord Lindsay of the Byres, a kinsman and friend of both parties, was requested by Seaforth to interpose in his behalf and hint at this contingency; but the Master at once declared that he was indifferent to any such consideration, and wooed her for her own sweet self apart from all thought of fortune or alliance -- to the effect of converting Lindsay into a warm advocate on his behalf with Seaforth. His cause was strongly supported in the same quarter by the young Earl of Dunfermline, by Lord Wintoun, and by himself -- in letters so manly and straightforward that I have little doubt they contributed to win the reluctant chief's consent. I printed this correspondence long ago in the Lives of the Lindsays, and I wish that the proper object and necessary limit of this memoir admitted of the insertion of the entire series, were it only to exhibit the cordiality, honesty, unselfishness, and practical common-sense of our Scottish gentlemen of the seventeenth century.
I must however find room for two of the letters, selected as more especially witnessing to the prospects Lady Anna had to look forward to on entering [p. 12] her married life. The first is from her young lover to Seaforth, urging his consent; the second was addressed to Lady Anna herself, after her marriage, under her title of "Mistress of Balcarres," by her kind friend and guardian Lord Rothes.
To Seaforth the Master writes as follows from Edinburgh on the 18th January, 1640:
Lord Rothes' letter is conceived in a more homely strain. It is dated "Leslie, 15 May, 1640," about three weeks after the marriage:
In a letter written at the same time to her husband, the Lord Rothes enters more fully into the question of [p. 14] the accounts, giving him a slight warning that he must look after his wife's expenditure, she being "a little wilful in the way of her expences, and my wife could not so weill look to her, being infirm; but I hope in God," he adds, "she shall prove ane good wise woman, and sparing eneuch. And ye must even conform yourself to your estate."
The good-natured Rothes has erased the slight reflection upon her wilfulness and extravagance, but it maybe resuscitated here without any prejudice to her memory, as the fault, such as it was, was not long in vanishing away. A feminine taste for personal adornment and a love of having objects of grace and beauty around her lay, I suspect, at the bottom of it. It was balanced by a thousand noble qualities under the influence of which the marriage could not but turn out a happy one. Lady Anna proved a loving wife, a kind and judicious mother; and, although of the "mild nature and sweet disposition" praised by David Lord Balcarres in one of the letters of the correspondence, was (as he also affirms) wise withal," and capable, as events afterwards proved, of heroic firmness and undaunted resolution.
The engraving at the commencement of this volume, taken from a picture preserved at Brahan Castle, will give some idea of the personal appearance of Lady Anna, although at a period some years later than that of her marriage. It must have been very attractive. Dark brown hair, large brown eyes, a lively and animated expression, and a general regard full of force tempered by sweetness, were her characteristics. The picture seems to have been painted in Holland during the usurpation.
The lands of Wester Pitcorthie and those of Balmakin and Balbuthie, dependencies of the barony of Balcarres, were assigned to Lady Anna as her jointure, as well as the "East Lodging" and adjacent buildings "on the East side of the clois " or "clausura" (cloister, or court) "of Balcarres, on baith sides of the East gate, with free ishe (exit) and entry thereto," -- such is the description in the contract [p. 15] and the "instrument of seisin" by which she was given feudal possession of it. The "Lodging" in served in many subsequent generations the same purpose and was commonly known by the name of the "Dowager's" or "Dower House."
The marriage was followed in the ensuing spring -- in March 1641 -- by the death of Lady Anna's father-in-law, Lord Balcarres, and the succession of her husband to the estates and representation of his branch of the Lindsays. His uncle Lord Lauderdale, then at Whitehall, wrote to him on the occasion in terms of kindness and approbation which must have gratified him deeply, and his wife no less:
My most honourable Lord,
Lord and Lady Balcarres had but short benefit from the counsel and friendship of this good and able man. He [p. 16] died four years afterwards of grief at the miseries of his country, lamented by the poet Drummond of Hawthornden as "the last
"Of those rare worthies who adorn'd our North,
At the very moment, indeed, when the marriage-bells were welcoming the young Master and his bride to their home at Balcarres, the tocsin was sounding a deeper note throughout the land, summoning noble and simple, rich and poor, to the great war of opinions, political and religious, which, with brief intermissions during the alternations of supremacy, convulsed society and steeped the land in the blood of her best and bravest till near the close of the century.
1 The death of Colin the Red, Earl of Seaforth, was commemorated by a beautiful lament, or coronach, still handed down traditionally by the family pipers, and for a copy of which I am indebted to the kindness of the present Seaforth.
2 That is, sister-in-law's. This was the Master's sister, Sophia just past sixteen, afterwards the wife of Sir Robert Moray
3 Father-in-law and mother-in-law.