I’ve just finished the first phase of an enormous 3-day genealogy project: researching and compiling the family tree for the Scottish Highland Stewart Lairds. I’m related to these Lairds via my mother’s maternal Harlan, Bailey and Matthews lines – and through my father’s maternal West, Shelton and Roane lines.
I have a multitude of American Colonial Era European, mulatto, and black Stuarts (the spelling used by the royal branch of the this Scottish clan to distinguish themselves from their Stewart cousins) and Stewarts in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. They are the reason behind this massive project.
Phase 2 of this project will begin to place my European descended Colonial Stewart and Stuart ancestors and kin into this Scottish family tree. Not all of them will be relations of this family. However, judging by the families they married into on this side of the Pond, a number of them will be.
Phase 3, which will require a substantial amount of DNA testing and triangulation of male Stuart/Stewart descendants in the US, will place my mixed and African-descended Stuart and Stewart relations into the same family tree. If my family tree is any indication, quite a number of Americans of color descend from both sides of this Scottish House through Stewart/Stuart men having children by enslaved women and free women of color. This has come as something of a revelation to more than a few of my Scottish aristocratic mates back in Scotland.
Naturally, in the course of research, ancient Stewart/Stuart family stories came thick and fast. There is one that stands out above all others (so far). I can’t image it’s going to be surpassed. Forget being a scene from the television series Outlander. It’s too outrageous. It’s straight out of Game of Thrones. If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, think House Lannister. Definitely think Cersei. Perhaps Ramsay Bolton. Or think House Harkonnen from Dune if that’s more you’re cup of tea. Especially the Baron.
The story goes something like this:
17th century Scotland. One ancient cousin, Lady Margaret Drummond-Ernoch (c 1560-1618), married another ancient cousin, Alistair Stewart, 1st Laird of Ardvorlich (c 1560-1618). The Stewarts of Ardvorlich and the Drummond-Ernoch families had a common foe: the MacGregor clan.
Margaret’s brother, John, was in charge of the King’s forest in the region of Scotland where they lived. Part of his duties was to ensure the safety of the King’s hinds (deer) in the forest which he was charged with protecting.The MacGregors were fond of poaching said venison. which led to tensions between Margaret’s brother and the MacGregors. Poaching wasn’t just illegal. It was very illegal. Punishments were harsh, including death. Think of it like cattle rustling in 19th Century America.
John laid a trap to catch the poachers. He caught the perpetrators. And, instead of sending them off with a flea in their ears, he cut their ears off…and then sent the men back home.
The MacGregors clearly felt some kind of way about this. They plotted their revenge.
The MacGregors ambushed Margaret’s brother in the forest he was patrolling, and proceeded to enact a kind of one-upmanship. They had lost their ears. He lost his head. Literally.
The MacGregor men took his head back to their Laird, who offered them protection from their actions. The MacGregor’s revenge didn’t end there. This is where it turns pure Game of Thrones.
The MacGregor men made the journey to Margaret’s home when they knew that her husband, Alistair, would be away.
Remember, the MacGregors were the sworn enemies of both the Drummond-Ernochs and the Stewarts. The MacGregor men arrived in the middle of the night while a heavily pregnant Margaret sat alone in her dinning hall, eating a simple meal of bread and cheese. Scottish Highland rules of hospitality decreed that hospitality must be extended to foes as well as friends. A noblewoman of her times, she extended the hospitality of her house to these men.
She left the dining hall to arrange for more food and drink to be brought to her unexpected visitors. When she returned, there, placed on a platter in the middle of the table, was her brother’s head. That’s not the worst of it. The MacGregor men had stuffed the remnants of Margaret’s meal into his mouth.
Let that grisly picture sink in for a minute. Your beloved brother’s head. His mouth is filled with the remnants of your meal. There it is right in the middle of your dinning table. Placed there by the same men who had killed him.
Needless to say she legged it. While accounts differ, they agree one one thing: she fled her home, in the pitch black of night, into the surrounding woodland. Margaret eventually hid herself in the vicinity of a nearby loch, which is now named for her (Lochan na Mna, the Loch of the Woman, on the side of Beinn Domhnuill). It’s here that her husband, Alistair Stewart, found her a few days later. By the time he had found her, she’d gone mad from the shock and horror.
The child she carried when this occurred? That would be Major James Beag Stewart, 2nd Laird of Ardvorlich. He’s affectionately known as “The Mad Major” – a man worthy of his own article. He is one of the great historical figures from the Scottish storytelling pantheon of national figures.
Welcome to the world of medieval Scottish Lairds.