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MUCHALLS HOUSE, KINCARDINESHIRE.
Tais quaint and interesting building is sufficiently accessible, in the literal sense of the term, since it is close to a station of the Aberdeen Railway, named after it; but there is scarcely a spot in Scotland more hopelessly secluded from the usual attractive lines followed by tourists. It is said that a Canadian, on the top of a coach passing along the road from Stonehaven to Aberdeen, was eloquent in his praises of the country as a “magnificent clearing,” in allusion to its utter bareness of tree or bush. Like the Farroe and some of the Shetland Isles, it is a broad heathy table-land, raised on a mass of granite which descends in abrupt precipices to the sea. On crossing a low hill or bank on this level track, one expects to find the bare heath, or the fields of which Dr Johnson said the hedges were made of stone, repeated to the boundary line of the horizon, and it is thus, with agreeable surprise, that the eye rests on the grey old mansion of Muchalls, surrounded by its rook-tenanted ancestral trees. The surrounding bleakness gives this small patch a solitude like that of an island in the ocean. The place has a melancholy half-decayed air, as if it were merely tolerated, not kept up. The trees, left to their fate, are many of them hoary in decay, and the outer walls are crumbling into dust. The house itself, with its grey stone slabbed roof, has neither been modernised nor permitted to fall to ruin; but, what is so rarely met with, stands a complete primitive mansion of the seventeenth century, with nothing making it different from what it originally was, save age. It is not very strongly fortified, though a low courtyard wall supports a row of formidable-looking turret bartisans, intended more for decoration than defence. On entering the gateway, as it is represented in the accompanying plate, and turning to the left, there is seen on a slab inserted in the low wall, the inscription of which the engraving contains a fac-simile. The abbreviations are whimsical and peculiar, three letters being merged into one. The tablet tells distinctly the history of the edifice, and shows that it was built by that family of Burnet, of whom the larger and stronger fortalice of Crathes, described in this work, was the principal seat. That Sir Thomas commenced his operations before 1624 is shown by this date accompanying his cipher over the chimneypiece of one of the apartments, accompanied by the motto“ Alterius non sit quis utile potest.” The large ball-unfurnished, but in excellent preservation — and another smaller room, have ceilings ornamented with that delicate white pargetted plaster-work found in so many Scottish buildings—such as Moray House, Winton, Craigievar, Pinkie, and Glammis. It is evidently of foreign workmanship, for it is worthy of notice that the decorations never bear a national character. The Roman Emperors, the classical heroes of antiquity, or the chief characters of Scripture, are the unfailing persons represented in the medallion portraits, which are so pleasing a feature in this style of work. We never find any of the popular heroes of Scotland, such as Wallace, John Knox, or any of the Scottish monarchs. Along with this species of work, full-length figures in high relief, or entirely detached, with other decorations on a larger and bolder scale than the rest, generally surround the chimney. Thus, on either side of the fireplace of the great hall at Muchalls, are two large Egyptian-looking figures with their arms crossed, and a fixed, solemn, mystic cast of countenance, which would seem more suitable for the shrine of some unhallowed devotion than the cheerful hearth.
The land of Muchalls was part of the barony of Cowie, conferred by King Robert the Bruce MUCHALLS HOUSE, KINCARDINESHIRE, 1—2.
MUCHALLS HOUSE, KINCARDINESHIRE.
on his Chamberlain, Sir Alexander Fraser. In the fifteenth century it became a possession of the Hays of Errol, and subsequently was acquired by the family of Burnet of Leys.
The fate of this pleasant mansion appears to have been in general serene and peaceful. No trace is to be found of it in the history of the conflicts of the seventeenth century—a circumstance which it is desirable to mention, as another Muchalls, not far distant, commemorated in this work by its later name of Castle Fraser, was, as a place of resort for the Covenanting party, the scene of many stirring events. In its other associations, the place is not without interest. The Alexander Burnet who commenced the edifice was the eleventh of the family of Burnet, or Burnard, commemorated in Douglas's Baronage of Scotland. The Sir Thomas who finished the work was made a baronet of Nova Scotia in the year before its completion (1626), receiving a patent terrarum baroniæ et regalitatis de Leys Burnet in Nova Scotia in America ; so that, had not the American territory been for a time lost to the British crown, the Scottish baron there would have held his lands by the same peculiar feudal usage as his estate in Kincardineshire, just as the French barons held, and still hold, American lands under the Coutume de Paris. A younger son of Alexander Burnet, and a brother of Sir Thomas, was Robert Burnet, who was bred to the bar, and became a judge, with the title of Lord Crimond. He was the father of Bishop Burnet, and it is not uninteresting to trace out, in this connection, genealogical reasons for some of the Bishop's predilections. Episcopalian by education and office, he was remarkable for his Presbyterian leanings. His mother was a sister of Johnston of Warriston, the great Covenanting leader. It appears that the judge had a sister married to “Mr Andrew Cant of Glendy,"* apparently the great northern clerical chief of the Covenanting party. The Laird of Muchalls belonged to the same party; and, though we have no warlike memorials of his house, it appears that a document of some importance in the ecclesiastical department of the great conflict was drawn up within its walls. When Henderson, Dickson, and Cant went on a mission from the Covenanting body to Aberdeen, they were met with certain queries by the “ Aberdeen Doctors," as they were called, which created a controversy of great celebrity in its day, and still interesting. A Cavalier historian states that, in dealing with the answers to these queries,—" Besydes shortnesse of tyme to answer, the Doctors beganne to lay hold upon the answers, (though the answers themselves were but declinators of categoric answers,) and had gott so much advantauge upon them as to starte furder doubtes and scruples wherewith in ther replyes they beganne to presse them. The three Covenanter ministers had now a wolfe by the eares. To be qwyett was to give up the cause ; to engage furder, the event was now growing mor doubtfull than ever ; but ther was a necessitaye to saye somewhat. Therfor they tacke the print replyes with them, and the next weeke, being the ende of July, having tackne ther journey towards the south againe, the two ministers, Mr Alexander Hendersone and Mr David Dicksone, who wer thought to have the learning, macke a stande for some dayes at the Castell of Muchalls in Mearnes, the dwelling-house is Sir Thomas Burnett of Lyes, some eight myles upon the roade southwards from Aberdeen. And in that convenyencie (he being one who was acqwally zealouse towards the puritye of the reformed relligion and the advauncement of the Covenant at that tyme) they tooke some dayes leisour for to draw up an ansuer to the Doctors' of Aberdeen's replyes." + * Douglas's Baronage, p. 42.
+ Gordon's Hist. of Scots Affairs, i. 88.