Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Legends surrounding Fyvie castle did not begin with the discovery of bones buried within its walls during the early Twentieth  Century. The following lines were popularized during the Thirteenth Century by the well-known prophet laird of Earlston, Sir Thomas Learmonth, known in Scottish history as Thomas the Rhymer, or True Thomas.  According to the ballad  True Thomas enjoyed a prolonged stay at Fyvie during his travels, developing a close friendship with its lady. Some legends propound that it was during his visit there that he developed some sort of second sight in an epiphany that rivaled that of Saul on the road to Damascus.  And in addition to expounding prophesies,  he  collected folklore.  The best known from Fyvie is the Legend of the Weeping Stones.

Before Thomas's time, three stones  were taken from a sacred burial ground and used in the construction of the castle.  No matter where they were placed, they were always wet and a legend evolved that they would remain so until returned to whence they had been taken. And along with the legend came a curse:  until they were  returned to the burial mound, no laird of Fyvie would beget an  heir at Fyvie who would live to inherit the castle.  Whether one believes in prophesy or haunting, that part of the prophecy apparently rings true. Over the years, hardly any  son of an owner of  Fyvie castle who was born within its walls has lived to inherit it, and many of the lairds remained childless.  For example, not a single heir inherited during the recent Leith-Forbes tenure, and the famous Seventeenth Century Chancellor of Scotland Alexander Seton had to marry three wives before a healthy son was producted and Charles  was born at Dumfermline, not at Fyvie.  He had three sons, none of whom survived him and the title when to his brother, who died childless.  The property is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, all private owners having given up the ghost, so to speak.
Fyvie, Fyvie, thou’s never thrive
As lang’s there’s in thee stanes (stones) three
There’s ane intill (one in) the oldest tower,
There’s ane intill the ladye’s bower,
There’s ane intill the water-yett (water gate)
And thir three stanes ye never get.

As to the stones, only two  of the three have been identified and only one has been recovered and is on display in the castle where it is placed in a bowl, and although it is sometimes dry,  at other times it is wet enough to fill the bowl with water.

Photo licensed and credited  © david sanger photography / Alamy

I first began my exploration of Fyvie Castle's hauntings when I was writing my debut novel, The First Marie and the Queen of Scots.  Those who have read the story know that the First Marie in my story is Lady Marie Flemying, the chief of the Four Maries, the four little girls  who accompanied the Queen of Scots to France in 1548 when they were  five or six.  Petite blonde Marie Flemying was rumored to be the only one of the group who dared call the queen to account when she was arrogant or cruel.  But in addition to her assertiveness, there was another reason why she ranked first among the Four Maries.  She was Marie Stuart's cousin. Her mother Janet Stewart, Lady Flemyng, was the bastard sister of James V, the little queen's father who died when she was six days old.  Lady FLemyng was Queen Marie Stuart's governess until she offended the French queen and the royal mistress by getting pregnant by the king.

Although Marie Flemyng was called the most beautiful blond woman in Europe by the scholar Bransom and the poet Ronsart during her thirteen years at the Court of Henri II,  there is no contemporary portrait of her or  any of the other Maries. Scenes depicting the queen and her ladies are for the most part Victorian in origin.  Historical novelists often describe her of having bright red hair, apparently relying on her nickname, La Flamina, which may have been shortened to Flamy by the queen when they were wee.  However, the moniker actually has nothing to do with her hair color, and refers to her family's origin, which traces back to Flanders. The first of the Flemyings had come to Britain with the Conquerer and Marie Flemyng's ancestors  had fought beside the Bruce at Bannockburn.
There is much inaccuracy in accounts of Marie Flemying's life after the Four Maries returned to Scotland with the widowed queen in 1561 and about her marriage to Sir William Maitland of Lethington, the most celebrated statesman of his day, whom Elizabeth called 'the flower of the wit of Scotland.' Contrary to reports on Wikipedia that the marriage was unhappy, Marie Flemyng, Lady Lethington, remained at her husband's side within Edinburgh Castle during the Lang Siege (1570-1573') and fought to keep his body intact after his enemy the Regent James Douglas, Earl of Morton, sought to have it posthumously tried and subjected to a traitor's grisly death. She plead her case to Cecil and Elizabeth and won, Elizabeth declaring that in England such punishments were reserved for the living, and that Maitland had died innocent before the law.  Many historians state  that Lady Lethington  never remarried after Maitland's death but that is not so. They just have not looked beyond the popular sources. Other sources mention that Maitland was her second husband, and that  George Meldrum who was a favored Scot at the court of Henry  VIII and present at the monarch's deathbed was her first husband. Any historian worth his salt can see the problem there, since Henry Tudor died in 1548  and his Scottish friend  died soon after. But using the name George Meldrum as a starting point, I began to search for a Meldrum-Flemyng connection that made sense, and with only  minor effort found that Marie Flemying, married George Meldrum, Lord Fyvie,  the laird of Fyvie Castle sometime after 1583, at least ten years after Maitland's death. Lord Fyvie was childless at the time of the marriage and remained so, and thus propagated the curse. He was also one of Scotland's most beleaguered  debtors.  On the surface it might appear as  if Marie Flemyng did  well for herself  by marrying an important baron, but such was not the case.  Records of the courts in Aberdeenshire indicate that she was often a party to lawsuits stemming from her husband's debts and spent considerable time in court until failing health excused her of further appearances.    One wonders if The Rhymer's curse was contagious, because during her short terms as Lady Fyvie, not only was Meldrum's  castle and his title sold to Alexander Seton , but Lethington Towers was lost to the Maitlands  when Marie Flemying's  brother in law John Maitland bought it from her son James 'on the cheap' and sold it outside of the family to pay a debt allegedly owed by young Maitland to his Seton cousin Alexander, who by then was the new Baron Fyvie.

 And that brings us to the story of the castle's most famous ghost, the Green Woman. who is believed to be a victim of Alexander Seton's ambition and greed.  She haunts the castle dressed in a diaphomous green gown, and leaves the scent of roses in her wake.  But is she Lilias Drummond?

Alexander Seton is an interesting character, one of the prominent Catholics who survived the Scottish Reformation in spite of his unwavering support of the Queen of Scots, and not just during the Douglas Wars, but as long as she lived.  Not only did he remain a prominent member of the government of James VI, but he became a Privy Counselor and the de facto guardian and tutor  of the king's second son, the slow developing Prince Charles, Duke of Albany, later ill-fated king Charles I. How much of  King Charles's  shortcomings may be laid at the feet of Alexander Seton is open to debate, but Seton obviously supported the king's Catholic leanings.  The Setons never were recusants. They were known Catholics throughout  the period when most of the Catholic aristocracy either fled to Europe or went underground. After the ascension of James VI to the English throne as James I, Seton continued in His Majesty'ms service and in 1605 was made Earl of Dumferline. He was very much a favorite of  the Danish consort, Queen Anne  who converted to Catholicism shortly after her husband James's ascension.  But if there was one disability that plagued Seton, it was that his wife Lilias Drummond had provided him with a chain of daughters, but not a single son. Like Henry VIII, his affection for Lilias  waned and he found himself another prospect.  And like Henry Tudor, the first wife made way for the second.  The controversy has to do with the means by which the switch took place.  Some stories have him sealing her into a small secret room and starving her to death,  but the more likely explanation is that he sent her off to one of his estates  in Fife and openly took up with the other  woman, Lady Grizel Leslie of Rothes.  In 1601, the formerly happy and healthy Lilas died quite suddenly and within six-months,   Seton married Grizel. But their  wedding night was less than blissful.  It seems there was a third party in attendance.  The newlyweds were kept awake by a cacophony of sounds coming from just outside the room. The next day the name D. Lilias Drummond was found etched on an outer sill at an inaccessible height. It is still faintly visible.

 From that time forward, there have been appearances of a female apparition called the Green Lady and there is  a recent recording of the sounds she makes on You-Tube and a photograph of a strange glow visible from the courtyard after dark. In keeping with the curse, Seton's second marriage yielded no son, but the third one was the charm. Although the second Earl of Dumferline was not born at Fyvie and was attainted for taking the losing side in the civil war, he did have two sons, neither of which left a male heir. Ownership of the Castle passed to the Gordons.  Adding to the  mystery, a painting that had apparently hung in the castle and which was said to be a portrait of Lilias Dummond, although not a contemporary one, has repeatedly gone missing only to reappear, and currently has disappeared again, without a trace as to its whereabouts.  Apparently a black and white photograph is all that remains.

There is another female apparition keeping the Green Woman company, a ghost known as the Grey Lady, and she is much more confrontational that the Green Woman. She is not as noisy as Lilias Drummond, but those who have seen her find her much more frightening. Some say she was the daughter of one of the early lairds and  was locked away to keep her from going forward with an unsuitable marriage. Others, including Helen Murphy Howell, whose post  Murder, Curses And Ghosts - Fyvie Castle in Scotland is more comprehensive than this one and is highly recommended, propounds the theory that the Grey Lady is the ghost of one of the  early Lady Meldrums, a contemporary of True Thomas, and that she had expressed a wish to be buried within the castle. Her spirit rested peacefully within a secret room until her bones were discovered and removed during the 1920's during a renovation by the Leith-Forbes owners.  The problem with the theory expounded by Ms. Howell is the fact that the Meldrums did not acquire the castle until much later.  There is no authoritative identification of the remains, but they are most certainly real. At the direction of the owners, the remains were removed and buried with dignity and care in a nearby cemetery, but the  Grey Lady was not happy, and it was then that the haunting began, and they were apparently disturbing enough to drive the workmen and servants to find employment elsewhere. The owners were sufficiently impressed with the credibility of the reported sightings that the bones were exhumed and reburied in the secret room where they originally had been discovered.  However, the cursing and the wailing of the Grey Lady did not stop and now the room has been sealed off.  In Michael Balfour's book  Mysterious Scotland: Enigmas, Secrets and Legends  he places the secret chamber  below the Charter Room where there is a sculpture of a turk's head apparently associated with Lord Byron,  and dating to  the period when the Gordon family held title to the castle.
 Below it there is a  sealed window that is generally believed to close off the secret room.  According to legend as  Balfour states it, if anyone dares to break into the room the intruder will perish and any surviving spouse will go blind.  At that point, the owners sold the property to the Trust.

There is yet another significant apparition associated with Fyvie Castle  dating to the Seventeenth Century,  and that one is male. He appears as a young man clad in tartans who stands outside of the castle walls in various locations on the grounds.  He is commonly linked to a tale of unrequited love in which a man named Andrew Lamb, who had been the laird of Fyvie's trumpeter plays a major role.  Unfortunate Andrew was sent into involuntary servitude because he had fallen in love with a miller's daughter, a comely lass named Annie, who was coveted by the laird, which in the eyes of the miller was a much more profitable match.  Thus, both the current Lord Fyvie and the miller sought to rid themselves of Andrew. By the time Andrew returned from the West Indies, his beloved Annie had died of a broken heart.  In retaliation, Andrew placed  a curse upon the castle and it's owners, declaring  that trumpets would sound to announce his presence whenever a laird of Fyvie lay dying. Over the years there have been numerous reports of the sound of a trumpet and the sighting of a young man dressed in tartans.  The tale has been propagated by the folk ballad The Trumpeteer of Fyvie, also know as the Ballad of Mil Tifty's Annie. The Annie in the folksong is alleged to be Agnes Smith, who died in January 1673 and is buried in the Kirkyard at Saint Peters in Fyvie. The statue atop the turret at Fyvie is believed to be that of Andrew blowing his horn at the mill.
Photo by Stanley Bruce (Bard of Buchan)

There is no explanation offered as to why a laird of Fyvie might have wanted to place a likeness of Andrew Lamb (Lamme) on the tower at Fyvie, except perhaps to appease the apparition and transfer blame to Annie's father.
To readers  interested in the haunting at Fyvie Castle, there is even a site where one can purchase items said to have magical powers and which  are fashioned from the heaps of  trinkets left as tributes to the ill fated lovers by visitors to the secret room where the Gray Woman's remains were reburied  before the laird had it sealed off.  There are several versions of the ballad  of the trumpeter available as CDs. There are many different versions of the story of the Green Lady, who generally is a rather benevolent ghost who appears as a well dressed beautiful woman dressed in fine clothes consistent with an  early Seventeenth Century aristocrat who leaves a scent of roses in her wake. She is a much less aggressive apparition than the one portrayed in my current work in progress, The Green Woman, who is the Guardian of  Ferniehirst Castle in Roxburgeshire on the Borders.  The first Countess of Roxburge was Marie Fleming's daughter Margaret Maitland.

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