Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney and Lord of Shetland

Robert Stewart (1553-1593)
Robert Stewart, Earl of Caithness and Orkney (1553-93),  was a natural son of King James V of Scotland by Euphemia Elphinstone (b. 1509), daughter of Alexander, 1st Lord Elphinstone. He was half-brother to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and to James Stewart, Earl of Moray (1531-70), a prominent figure in Scotland’s Protestant cause.

Young Robert was raised with three other illegitimate (but acknowledged) sons of James V: James senior, son of Elizabeth Shaw; James secundus (the future earl of Moray), son of Margaret Erskine; and John, son of Elizabeth Carmichael.

Ruins of Holyrood Abbey
On December 30, 1534, Pope Clement VII agreed that the boys could be trained for careers in the Church, despite the circumstances of their birth. Therefore, on August 18, 1539, shortly before his sixth birthday, Robert was named the commendator of Holyrood Abbey, which had an annual income of £5,600, making it the fifth richest monastic foundation in Scotland. In June 1540, he joined his half-brothers at St. Andrews, probably to begin his education (2-5).

Then, in 1548, the three of them were sent to France to be educated, probably under the tutelage of the famed French humanist, Peter Ramus. He traveled to France with his half-sister, the princess Mary, who was betrothed to Francis, the dauphin of France. Robert returned to Scotland in 1557. (8)

Protestant Reformer, John Knox, returned to Scotland from exile in the winter of 1555-56. By this time, Robert’s father had been killed at the Battle of Flodden, and the power of the Crown rested in James’s queen, Mary of Guise, an ardent Catholic and regent of Scotland during the minority of her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Through his half-brother James secundus (later 1st earl of Moray), Robert was drawn to the Protestant faction. Present at parliament in November 1557, he probably played no serious role in the undertakings of the Lords of the Congregation, a group of Scottish Protestant noblemen, led by his brother James, who were arrayed against the queen regent. Stewart was at times present at gatherings of the Congregation, and though he did not play a major role, was in attendance when the Lords entered Edinburgh in 1559 to oppose the Catholic Scots and their French allies. When the French made a show of force, however, a number of the supporters of the Lords of the Congregation fled, and at this time Robert was put in charge of the counter-attack, though he submitted to the regent shortly after  (9-10).

When James Hamilton, 3rd earl of Arran, was tried for treason for his role with the Congregation, Stewart, siding with the regent, gave testimony against him, yet when the English invaded in March, Robert, perhaps seeing a renewed rise in Protestant power, wavered again and bolted to their side, signing the Treaty of Berwick between the English and the Lords of the Congregation on May 10. Though Robert’s vacillation may have been more political than religious in intent, he did renounce Catholicism at parliament in August. This vacillation is what biographer Peter D. Anderson called signs of Stewart’s “undoubted untrustworthiness” (10-11).

Mary, Queen of Scots
The political landscape changed in 1560 and 1561. First, the queen regent died in June, and Mary, now Queen of Scots, was suddenly widowed in December of the same year.  Upon her return to Scotland in January 1561, she landed at Leith, where Robert Stewart was, at first, the only Scottish noble present to greet her.   As Mary settled in, Lord James, though a staunch Protestant, did not object to the presence of her priests and asked Robert and their half-brother John to see to the protection of the priests, but a few weeks later one of them was beaten by one of Robert’s servants (42).
James Stewart, a forceful and competent man, was made 1st Earl of Moray in January 1561-2, and Anderson avers that Robert stood always somewhat in the shadow of James and their other brother John (42).  Even so, Robert remained prominent at court and is known to have participated in festivities in November 1561 when he agreed to join a “ride at the ring.” Robert, as it turned out, led the winning team, who were all dressed as women, against Mary’s uncle of Guise, Rene d’Elboeuf, who were dressed as “strangers in fancy dress” (Fraser 214). Robert’s relationship with Mary was a warm one. He offered her the gift of a horse, and she showered him with lavish garments of velvet, silk, and taffeta, and other gifts from the treasury (Anderson 43). Though the queen showed trust in Robert by employing him in various errands on her behalf, she never gave him a title, though she did grant him lordships, lands, and the sheriffdom of Aberdeen. More importantly, in December 1564, he was granted infeftment of the lands of Orkney and Shetland (44, 47).
Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley

When Mary made known her interest in marrying her first cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, it was Robert who greeted the nineteen-year-old dandy at Holyrood and hosted him for three days in February 1565. Despite their age difference (Robert was now 30), the two developed a friendship, and, along with Darnley’s father, Lord Lennox, gained a reputation for being the “greatest enemies of all virtue,” as English diplomat Thomas Randolph put it, adding that Robert was “vain and nothing worth, a man full of all evil, the whole guider and ruler of my Lord Darnly [sic]” (45).

On the same day that the wedding banns for Mary and Lord Darnley were announced, May 10, 1565, Darnley, having been made Duke of Albany, then knighted Robert Stewart. Being close to Darnley, however, did not long prove to be an advantage, as the queen’s original happiness with Darnley had soured by early 1566. In March, Lord Robert was seated with the queen and her Italian secretary David Rizzio, when Darnley and his followers burst into Mary’s chamber and murdered the man. Though present, Robert is deemed not to have been involved in the plot. After this, his relationships with both Darnley and Mary cooled, and he was not present at court for several months (47-49).

A year later, he may have been aware of Mary’s plot to assassinate Darnley, however. Though Lord Robert was not complicit, George Buchanan, writing in 1827, stated unequivocally that Robert knew of the conspiracy and, “moved by the atrocity of the action, or by pity for the youth,” warned the king of the queen’s plans for him. Darnley, “according to his custom,” says Buchanan, immediately reported Robert’s communication to the queen. When confronted, Robert “firmly denied it, when each giving the other the lie, they drew their swords.” Though no violence occurred that night, on the night of February 10, 1567, Darnley was assassinated (Buchanan 2:491).

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell
Events were moving quickly. First, the following May, Mary took the lands of Orkney and Shetland away from Robert and gave them to her lover James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, whom she elevated to the title Duke of Orkney just days before their marriage. Taken captive by Scottish peers who disapproved of the murder of Darnley and the marriage to Bothwell, Mary abdicated on July 24, 1567. At that time, Robert Stewart was inactive for about three months; then, on November 4, he suddenly appeared in Kirkwall, capital of Orkney, assumed the role of sheriff, and announced himself to be “feuar of the lands and lordship of Orkney and Shetland” (51). This set off a feud between Robert and Patrick Bellenden of Auchnoll, who had hitherto held the office of sheriff there. The earl of Moray, who was acting as regent to the infant King James VI, continued to trust in his brother, but, perhaps in response to complaints by Bellenden, did not immediately recognize his claim to Orkney.

Lord Robert, however, continued to throw his weight around and clashed with Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, forcing him to exchange the temporalities of the see of Orkney for Stewart’s abbacy of Holyrood House. The bishop described the arrangement, thus:

 “Lord Robert violentlie intruded himself on his whole living, with bloodshed, and hurt of his servants; and after he had craved justice, his and his servants' lives were sought in the verie eyes of justice in Edinburgh, and then was constrained, of meere necessitie, to tak the abbacie of Halyrudhous, by advice of sundrie godlie men” (DNB 5:444). 

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Stewart quickly earned a reputation on Orkney for being a conniver who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. An example of this is provided in a violent clash inside St. Magnus Cathedral in February 1568 when one Robert Brown, a servant of Lord Robert’s, did not leave the cathedral grounds after prayer but began to climb up on top of the cathedral’s arches. The bishop’s men shouted at him to come down, and, offended, Brown re-entered the cathedral and complained to Lord Robert’s men, who then went outside to quibble with the bishop’s men. Seeing them approach, one of the bishop’s men shot Brown in the head, killing him instantly. Robert’s men then returned to the cathedral and evened the score, as they might have said, by killing two of the bishop’s men, one of whom was kin to Patrick Bellenden. Lord Robert was not present at the time, and at first maintained that he had no part in the assault and sincerely regretted what his men had done in his name. However, some weeks later he admitted that he had planned all along to take the church in an effort to prove to Bishop Bothwell that he was in Orkney to stay. Perhaps in atonement for the killing Bellenden’s kinsman, Stewart bestowed the bailiary of Kers on Bellenden, though the peace between them was always tentative (Anderson 57-58).

For the next few years, Robert endeavored to consolidate his authority in the Northern Islands, mainly by confiscating lands and offices and handing them over into the keeping of his family members and friends. As for the inhabitants of Orkney, he undertook to arrange matters so that, to quote the old song, “They owed their souls to the company store,” or to put it in medieval terms, he “was establishing a quasi-feudal overlordship by taking the land on a pretext—charges of witchcraft and suicide occur as well as of theft and unauthorized departure from the islands—and then re-granting it to the same persons or close relatives,” who would then be beholding to Robert for their livelihood (73). Not long after his arrival in the Isles, Lord Robert began building a palace at Birsay near the old palace, long the residence of the bishops of Orkney, which he used as a quarry for his stone. It appears to have been built in two stages. The first, from 1569-75, saw the construction of a courtyard enclosed on three sides and protected by a wall on the north side. The second phase, which may have been undertaken by his son Patrick Stewart, saw the enclosure of the north side and the removal of the wall (73-74).
Earl's Palace, Birsay

In December 1575, Lord Robert’s position in Orkney was severely threatened when he was charged on four counts of oppression and usurpation of the king’s authority. The most serious charge, treason, was based on his offering Orkney and Shetland to the Danish king, a proposition he had no authority to make, though he was probably banking on the fact that Orkney had only belonged to Scotland for a little over a century. He was probably motivated by the desire to become the earl of Orkney under the authority of the Danish king, who declined, noting that Stewart was “scurra et praestigiator iprobissimus, Scotus natione, fuit,” in other words, a scoundrel and a cheat (87). As a result of the trial, Stewart was imprisoned first at Edinburgh castle, then in Linlithgow Prison near Edinburgh, for two years. When released in 1577, Robert did not return immediately to Orkney but remained in Edinburgh, attending council meetings and “networking,” as we would put it today. In particular, he used his time there to cultivate a friendship with the young king, who was now eleven years old. He returned to Orkney in 1580 but continued to build his friendship with King James in 1581 when he once again visited Edinburgh (106). Stewart had gained a reputation as a self-aggrandizer, so it is possible his friendship with an impressionable boy, who was, after all, his nephew, was calculated to win him his long-desired earldom, which he did, in fact, receive, along with the lordship of Shetland, on August 28, 1581. A year later, an anonymous essayist, purporting to describe the “present state, faction, religion and power of the nobility of Scotland,” sounded the familiar refrain: the Earl of Orkney was “a man dissolute in lyfe; lyttle sure to any faction; of small zeale in religion” (108). Apparently, his two years in the tank had not made him reflective on the direction of his life.
James VI, age 20

He definitely continued his oppression of the independent landowners on Orkney, and by 1586 the king, now twenty years old, was coming round to the consensus opinion of Robert Stewart, for the French ambassador recorded that James “does not much like the . . . Earl of Orkney, saying that he only serves his own ends” (111). No doubt, James was to some extent stepping away from Earl Robert, who had placed in his palace an inscription, in Latin, which, translated, read: “Robert Stewart natural son of James V King of Scotland constructed this building,” one possible implication being that Robert was calling himself the king! (114)

The Orcadians continued to bring their complaints to the king, and the earl began to feel the pinch in 1587, when parliament turned the lands of his earldom and lordship over to his foes, Sir Lewis Bellenden of Auchnoull, justice clerk, and John Maitland of Thirlestane, the chancellor (112), and it became increasingly possible that Orkney would once again be held directly by the king.

In 1589, two maneuvers of the earl suggested, if not reform, at least a sense of self-preservation. First, he granted Sir Lewis Bellenden the lands of Evie, which his old enemy Patrick Bellenden had once desired, and, second, he married his daughter Elizabeth to James Sinclair of Murkle, who was the uncle of William, Master of Caithness, who had been supporting Bellenden and Maitland against the earl (117).

Spanish Galleon
In the aftermath of the Spanish Armada’s defeat by the English in 1588, Robert Stewart flirted a bit with Spain, sometimes hosting Spaniards on Birsay. In July 1590, the earl “feasted” Spaniards who had arrived in Orkney with three English ships they had taken off Hartlepool in June. When they left, William Stewart, one of the earl’s illegitimate sons, left with them, and participated in their attack on four English fishing vessels off Fair Isle, one of the Shetland islands. These vessels were taken to Kirkwall, where one of them was swapped with Earl Robert for four cannon (124).

In 1589, the earl was one of the commissioners appointed by the privy council of the kirk to execute the acts against the Jesuits:

“Therefore the saids [sic] Lords of our Secreit Counsell at the humble and earnest desire of the Generall Assemblie of the kirk presentlie conveenned, have thought good, concluded, and ordeanned that our said commissioun and acts foresaid sall be putt in due and full executioun, by the persons respective after following, givin in by them in roll within the liberteis, shirefdoms, stewartreis, and bailliffereis, particularlie undermentiouned.  They are to say the proveists and bailliffes of everie citie and burgh, justicers and commissioners within the self and liberteis of the same. And for the countrie to landwart, Robert Erle of Orkney, within the bounds of our shirefdome of Orkney” (Calderwood 42). 

Interior, St. Magnus Cathedrdal
Of course, that he carried out the duties required of all the earls really tells us little of the man’s personal religious views (if any, for he seems to have been quite irreligious all his life and was willing to turn whichever way the wind was blowing), and upon his death on February 4, 1592, he was buried in the Stewart Aisle in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, according to the Roman Catholic ritual “with such service as the rampant Calvinism of the day permit[ted].” (Hossack 51; Tudor 253)

Robert Stewart was married to Lady Janet Kennedy (1537-98), daughter of Gilbert Kennedy, 3rd Earl of Cassilis [pronounced "castles"]. They had ten children:

Mary (1553-1644)

Henry (1566-90)
Patrick, 2nd Earl of Orkney (1568-1614)
Jean (1570-1642)
John, Lord Kincleven, Earl of Carrick in Birsay (1576-1643)
James (b. 1577)
Robert (b. 1578)
Barbara (b. 1580)
Christian (1580-1644)
Elizabeth (d. 1642)

                                                                     Works Cited

Anderson, Peter D. Robert Stewart: Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland, 1533-1593. Edinburgh, John Donald, 1982.

Buchanan, George. The History of Scotland. Vol. 2. Glasgow: 1827.

Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots. New York: Dell, 1969.
Hossack, Buckham Hugh. Kirkwall in the Orkneys. Kirkwall, William Peace, 1900.
Leslie, Stephen. Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 5. London: 1886.
 © Eileen Cunningham, 2017

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Somerled, King of the Isles and Man

Note: The name for the Isle of Man is spelled variously as Man” and Mann. I have elected to use the former in this essay.

Consider Scottish history in the shape of an hour glass, and name the narrow “waist” in the center Somerled after the great medieval hero of the Hebrides.  The top globe of the hour glass can then be considered Somerled’s Norse input; and the bottom globe, his Scottish output. 

For hundreds of years, scholars, antiquarians, and clan historians have debated as to whether or not Somerled was Norse, Celtic, or a mixture of the two.  DNA testing for clans known to have descended from Somerled—the MacDonalds, MacDougals, MacDonnells, MacRorys, and MacAllisters—show that Somerled’s DNA was, in fact, Scandinavian.[1] 

This has been a bitter pill for some to swallow—including me, as I have long identified with Scotland by way of my Scottish mother—but I think a Clan Donald writer has come to the proper conclusion: “No genetic discovery, or conclusions drawn from [the DNA study], can change the millennia of our ancestors’ Celtic culture” [emphasis mine].[2]

That said, my purpose here is not so much to look at genetics or culture, but simply to look at Somerled from a historical and genealogical point of view, since the man does show up on my family tree.  I must, however, remain humble about the presence of the great hero on my tree, since Professor Bryan Sykes, who did the DNA study, states that the “Genghis Khan effect” may be at play in Scotland’s genetic history.  Just as “a staggering 16 million” men alive today in Asia carry the Y-chromosome of the ancient Mongol emperor,[3]  Somerled’s Y-chromosome is also shared by many millions of Scotsmen and their kin who have migrated around the globe.  

I feel compelled to comment on Somerled’s name, as it also has been the subject of much dispute. Before DNA testing came along, those who argued about Somerled’s ancestry would ground their debate on the proper understanding of his name—especially in view of the fact that the writers of  ancient chronicles, sagas, and Latin histories have left a tangled and confused mess for the rest of us. 
Somerled's name in a Latin manuscript

The Clan Donald writer explains that the Gaelic spelling of the sea king’s name was Somhairlidh, which, on the basis of spelling alone, was romanized to Somerledo by the Latin writers of the Middle Ages. He explains the pronunciation of the Gaelic name Somhairlidh would more correctly be rendered in the Roman alphabet as Sorley and further insists that both the spelling and the principles of Gaelic pronunciation prove that the name is clearly Celtic, not Norse.  Indeed, some today do write the man’s name as Somhairle, to account for this pronunciation of the last syllable.  

On the other hand, in 1912, someone writing for those with Scandinavian  interests asserted unequivocally, “The name Somerled is Norse. Sumarlidi [in Old Norse, SumarliĆ°i] means “summer slider”—i.e., Viking but from a nickname; it had become a regular personal name at least a hundred years before our hero was born.”[4]  Each of us must decide, I suppose, which interpretation to embrace.

Since this story involves a lot of Norwegians and Celts roaming around and fighting in the northern seas, a quick look at a map of the region is in order.  The Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, while the Hebrides are located to the north of Ireland and to the west of Scotland. The Orkney Isles are located north of Scotland and west of Norway.  Imagine yourself sailing west from Norway in a Viking longboat on a somewhat gamma-shaped route (┌).  This sea path would lead you westward between the Orkneys and Scotland until you turned south and sailed down the west coast of Scotland past the Hebrides to Ireland and the Isle of Man.  It is this route that was the major conduit for Norse adventurers in the Early Middle Ages. 

The Hebrides first became an object of Norse ambition in 794 with the Viking raids on Iona and Skye.  Then, in 872, Harald Fairhair, who had been warring with other Scandinavians, managed to take control of all Norway.  This may have made Harald happy, but his Scandinavian enemies were forced to flee to the west, where they settled in Scotland and the isles.  When these folks later took to raiding their old stomping grounds, Harald Fairhair tried to put a stop to their high jinx by taking control of Orkney and the Hebrides himself. 

Men of King Magnus in Ireland
His mistake was in returning to Norway, allowing his enemies to re-gain their foothold there.  Harald then sent a fellow known by the colorful name of Kettil Flatnose to hold the islands on his behalf, though whether Kettil had lasting control is a matter of debate. 

About a century later, in 1098, Norway’s King Magnus III also responded to the siren call of power in the western islands in the Irish Sea.  After subduing them, he took Orkney on his way back to Norway. These victories ultimately forced King Edgar of Scotland to recognize Magnus as King of the Isles, officially ceding Scotland’s claim to the islands to Norway at long last.

This brings us close to the time of Somerled’s birth, which scholars believe was in 1113 or thereabouts.  Constant warfare had long plagued the Hebrides, and at the time Somerled came to manhood, things were no different. 

Somerled’s father, Gillebride, is traditionally considered by the Scots to be a valorous Gael working tirelessly to throw off the rule of the Norse in the Isles. Before Somerled’s birth, however, Gillebride had fled to the mainland, seeking refuge from the Norse on Morvern, a peninsula in Argyll.  Since Gillebride’s name comes down to us as Gillebride na h-uaimh (Gillebride of the Caves), he is naturally considered to have been hiding out in the caves that abound in the area, in much the same way as St. Columba had once inhabited the Keil Caves in the same region.
Keil Cave

At this time in his life, Somerled was yet untroubled by the life of a warrior king. As an ancient chronicle put it, he was “a well-tempered man in body, shapely, of a fair and piercing eye, of middle stature and quick discernment. . . . His looking glass was the stream; his drinking cup the heel of his shoe; he would rather spear a salmon than spear a foe; he cared more to caress the skins of seals and otters than the shining hair of women. At present, he was as peaceful as a torch or beacon unlit. The hour was coming when he would be changed, when he would blaze like a burnished torch or a beacon on a hilltop against which the wind is blowing.[5]

The hour the chronicler predicted arrived in 1153.  Few details are known regarding how Somerled was roused from his halcyon days, but the Chronicle of Holyrood records that on November 6 of that year, “Sumerled [sic], and his nephew, that is to say, the sons of Malcolm, having taken to themselves many associates, rebelled against king Malcolm, and caused grievous disturbances over the greater part of Scotland.”[6] 

So, what was that all about?  

Scotland’s king, David I, had naturally considered that his son Henry, Earl of Northumberland, would become the next king of Scots.  However, Henry died about a year before his father, causing David to name his grandson as his successor, and this lad took the throne as Malcolm IV at age twelve in 1153.  This is the “king Malcolm” named in the chronicle. 
David I and Malcolm IV

So, who was the other Malcolm, and what were his sons up to? 

The other Malcolm was Malcolm MacEth, an illegitimate son of King Alexander I (b. 1097).  He had married a sister of Somerled, which, of course, made the two brothers-in-law. Now, as the son of Alexander I, he was the nephew of King David I (c. 1083-1153), and David had never taken kindly to his illegitimate nephew.  Someone with royal blood was always a potential threat to the ruling monarch in the Middle Ages.  Malcolm MacEth, though illegitimate, would naturally have thought himself the rightful heir to the throne upon Alexander’s death, while David, viewing Malcolm through the cold eyes of the law, considered himself the rightful and legitimate heir of his brother Alexander.  In 1134, David captured Malcolm MacEth and imprisoned him at Roxburgh Castle. 
Reconstruction of Roxburgh Castle (15th century) by Andrew Spratt

As often happened amongst claimants to a medieval throne, Malcolm’s son, Donald MacEth, saw his opportunity for revenge when King David died and a boy-king came to the throne.  This Donald was the nephew of Somerled referenced in the Chronicle of Holyrood. He and Somerled rose up against King Malcolm late in 1153, as the Chronicle states, and continued their campaign until 1156, when Somerled was embroiled in the affairs of the Isles.  Donald was captured and imprisoned with his father around this time, though 1157 found them all friends again when King Malcolm released both of the MacEths from prison and made Malcolm MacEth the first Earl (or Moramaer) of Ross.

So, what was going on in the Isles at this time?
Lewis chessman

1153 was not only the year when King David died; it was also the year that Olaf Godredsson, King of the Isles, was killed.  Olaf was the youngest son of Godred Crovan, founder of the Crovan dynasty which held sway as Norse kings of Man and the Isles from late in the eleventh century to about the middle of the thirteenth century.  Olaf had two colorful nicknames: to the Scots, he was known as Olaf the Red; to the Norwegians, Olaf Bitling (or, as they might put it on the rodeo circuit, Olaf Little Bit—apparently he was short). 

Despite these affectionate names, he was not able to forestall an uprising on the part of his own nephews.  The Chronicle of Man narrates the tale:

Three sons of Harold, the brother of Olave [Olaf], who had been brought up in Dublin, assembling a large body of men, and among them all the refugees from the dominions of Godred, came to Man, and demanded from the king one half of the whole kingdom of the Isles for themselves. The king having heard their application, and being desirous to pacify them, answered that he would take advice on the subject. When the day and place for holding a meeting had been agreed upon, these most wicked men spent the interval in planning the death of the king. On the appointed day both parties met at the port called Ramsey, and sat down in order, the king and his followers on one side, and they with theirs on the other. Reginald, the second brother, who was to give the fatal blow, stood apart, speaking to one of the chiefs of the country. On being summoned to approach the king, turning to him as if in the act of saluting, he raised his gleaming battleaxe on high, and at a blow cut off the king’s head. As soon as this atrocious act was perpetrated they divided the country between them.[7]
Reconstruction of a Danish longboat
from this period

But this was not an end to the story.  Vengeance was on the horizon, as it almost always was among the warlords of the time. The chronicler continues:

In the following autumn Godred, his son, came from Norway with five ships, and put in at the Orkneys. All the chiefs of the Isles were rejoiced when they heard of his arrival, and assembling together, unanimously elected him for their king. Godred then came to Man, seized the three sons of Harold, and, to avenge his father’s murder, awarded them the death they deserved. Another story is that he put out the eyes of two of them, and put the third to death.

While ruling as King of Man and the Isles, Godred was asked by the Dublin men to come to be their king, which did not at all please Murrough, King of Ireland.  Godred  was able to triumph over Murrough, then returned to Man, where, the chroniclers say, he grew rather full of himself:

When he now found himself secure on his throne, and that no one could oppose him, he began to act tyrannically towards his chiefs, depriving some of their inheritances, and others of their dignities. Of these, one named Thorfinn, son of Oter, more powerful than the rest, went to Somerled, and begged for his son Dugald, that he might make him king over the Isles. Somerled, highly gratified by the application, put Dugald under the direction of Thorfinn, who received and led him through all the islands, subjecting them all to him, and taking hostages from each.

Once Godred got wind of Somerled’s scheme, the fight was on.  A naval battle was prepared and fought, but matters came to a draw apparently, as after only one day, Somerled and Godred agreed to divide the islands among them.  Now, the Chronicle of Man, which serves as historians’ main source of information about the history of the isles, was written by monks at Rushen Abbey, whose founder was Godred’s father.  Therefore, we can hardly be surprised that the monk who wrote the account, perhaps a hundred years later, clinched his narrative with this jab:  Thus was the kingdom of the Isles ruined from the time the sons of Somerled got possession of it.”
Rushen Abbey

Ruined, indeed, for two short years later, Somerled broke his truce with Godred, who fled to Norway, leaving Somerled the undisputed King of Man and the Isles.

The next we hear of Somerled in the chronicles is the narrative of his death. The Chronicle of Melrose reports, under the year 1164: 

Sumerled, the under-king of Eregeithel [i.e., Argyll], who had been in a state of wicked rebellion for twelve years against his natural lord, Malcolm, king of Scotland, landed at Renfrieu [Renfrew], with a large army which he had collected together in Ireland and various other places.” [8]

As before, we see that the monks don’t have much favorable to say about Somerled.  It isn’t that the man was a pagan or an atheist.  There was church building and support for monasteries in his regions, notably Saddell Abbey, a Cistercian center in Argyll (built probably by Somerled’s son Ranald, though some say by Somerled himself).  Moreover, his daughter Bethoc (Beatrix) was prioress of Iona, no small honor. Someone probably needs to undertake a study of Somerled’s religious leanings by comparing the places he supported with the places that seemed not to like the man at all. 
Ruins of Saddell Abbey

At any rate, the story of Somerled’s demise was written down in poetic form in “The Song of the Death of Somerled,” a Latin poem written by a monk who identifies himself as William at the end of the work.  The poem is an account of the Battle of Renfrew, which occurred in 1164, not far from Glasgow.  Alex Woolf of the University of St. Andrews has written a persuasive article which suggests that the first twenty-four lines of the poem are actually a narrative of Somerled’s 1153 invasion, depicting an attack on Glasgow in which Kentigern, the patron saint of the city, is dishonored by the Isleman’s sack of the place.[9]  If so, then we see the latter half of the poem as St. Kentigern’s long-awaited vindication.

The poem tells how Herbert, bishop of Glasgow, “venerable and praiseworthy,” hearing of Somerled’s return, “at once spurned his bed, and set out immediately on a journey, night and day, as if a young man . . . to free and save himself from the hand of hateful Somerled, repulsive with fraud, most savage of enemies. . . .”[10] 

Reproduction of Walter FitzAlan's Seal
It is known that Somerled had arrived with an army of 15,000 in a flotilla of 160 Hebridean birlinns. King Malcolm’s army was led by Walter FitzAlan, High Steward of Scotland, with Scoto-Norman knights and men-at-arms.  In the poem, however, Somerled is engaged by Bishop Herbert and his “innocent one hundred.”  Somerled falls “in the first crack of battle . . . wounded by a spear, felled by a sword.” With him falls his son, Gillecallum.  Though William’s statement that “none of those fighting against them was killed or wounded” stretches credulity, Somerled’s army did scatter once their leader’s death was known.  But William tells the ending  best:

And so with the troops of the enemy driven off and mocked,
the whole kingdom praised Kentigern with loud voices.
The cleric cut off the head of unhappy Somerled, and
gave it into the hands of the bishop:
as he was accustomed, he wept piously, when he saw
the head of his enemy, saying that the Scottish saints should surely be praised.
And he delivered the victory to blessed Kentigern:
Hold his memory always, and fittingly.

With Somerled's head in Herbert's hand, the balance of the universe had been restored, at least in the mind of the bishop and his beloved Glaswegians.

It was a vicious age, and men both won their kingdoms and lost them through conquest.  The Norse eventually re-established themselves in Somerled’s territories, wresting control from his son Dugald, but the history of Scotland became, in large part, the history of Somerled as so many of Scotland’s great men have had their origins in him.  Perhaps the great Scottish author Sir Walter Scott conveys Scotland's memory of Somerled best in his poem, “Lord of the Isles,” set 150 years after the fall of Somerled in the days of Robert the Bruce when Somerled’s descendant, Ronald, is to be wed:

The heir of mighty Somerled!
 Ronald from many a hero sprung,
The fair, the valiant, and the young,
LORD OF THE ISLES, whose lofty name
A thousand bards have given to fame,
The mate of monarchs, and allied
 On equal terms with England’s pride.—
 From chieftain’s tower to bondsman’s cot,
Who hears the tale and triumphs not?[11]

[1] Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. New York: Norton, 2006. 126. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[2] “It Began with Somerled: Origins (Part 3).” Clan Donald Heritage.  n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[3] Saxons. 126.
[4] R. L. B. “Somerled of the Hebrides.” American Scandinavian.  Mar. 1912. 5.143. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.
[5] James Henry Lee. History of the Clan Donald, the Families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell. New York: Polk, 1920. 15. Google Books. n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.
[6] The Chronicle of Holyrood in The Church Historians of England. Trans.  Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeleys, 1853.  73. Internet Archive. 24 July 2006. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.
[7] The Chronicle of Man and the Sudreys. Ed. P. A. Munch. Trans. Alexander Goss. Douglas: Manx Society, 1874. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.  (Note: Some of the dates in the chronicle were placed at 15 years or so before the actual date.)
[8] The Chronicle of Melrose in The Church Historians of England. Trans.  Joseph Stevenson. London: Seeleys, 1853.  130. Internet Archive. 24 July 2006. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[9] “The Song of the Death of Somerled and the Destruction of Glasgow in 1153.” Academia. n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[10] “Song of the Death of Somerled.” Trans. Helen Foxfall Forbes. Academia. n. d. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
[11] The Poems and Plays of Sir Walter Scott. Ed. Ernest Rhys. London: Dent, n.d.  2.297. 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.

(c) Eileen Cunningham, 2016

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fathers Friday - John Lanham, the Immigrant (1661-1745)

The County of Suffolk with Wortham at the center of the
northern border.
John Lanham, the immigrant, was born on May 18, 1661, in Wortham, England, which is located in the county of Suffolk.  He was the son of Jonathan Lanham (1630-1725) and Mary Marsh Lanham (1632-1705). 

The times were perilous.  King Charles II, having returned from exile on the continent, had been crowned less than a month before John Lanham’s birth.  Charles’s father, King Charles I, had been executed by the Puritan Parliament in 1649, and in the intervening years, the Puritan Oliver Cromwell had established a Commonwealth, making England a republic rather than a monarchy.  Following Cromwell’s death, the Commonwealth could not be sustained, and Charles’s son, with a heart bent on revenge, returned to England from exile on the continent to restore the monarchy and establish religious uniformity, requiring conformity to the Anglican Church.  The times were not propitious for the religious Dissenters of the country.

Little is known of John Lanham’s father or childhood, but it is a matter of record that young John found his way to London and emigrated to the New World as an indentured servant in 1678 at the age of only seventeen—not even old enough to have graduated from high school had  he been living today.  He arrived in Port Tobacco, Maryland, on the ship Dover, Captain John Harris commanding, as a servant indentured to Col. Benjamin Rozier (variously spelled as Rozer and Roser), who owned a plantation in Port Tobacco.

What exactly did it mean to be an “indentured servant”?  Persons who lacked the financial resources to pay passage to America could make their way to the New World by signing a contract, or indenture, with a landowner already in the colonies, who would pay for the emigrant’s passage in exchange for his or her agreement to work for a defined period (usually four to seven years) without pay.  During the period of indenture, in exchange for their labor, the land owner provided his indentured servants with food, clothing, housing, and the all-important training they would need when they struck out on their own.  When their term of servitude was complete, they were free to go their own way to fulfill their American dream of freedom and self-determination. 

To undertake an indenture was, to be sure, a risk, as life was harsh and uncertain, and persons striking out with indenture in hand could not know if they would even survive long enough to gain their freedom.  As depicted in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped, some unfortunates were unwillingly indentured, so for John Lanham to go willingly is a sign of a very strong desire to leave England.  What might have motivated him to put himself into the service of another person in a foreign land for perhaps up to seven years?  A look at the times in which he lived will give us a clue.
With John Lanham’s location being Suffolk and the year of his transportation to the New World, 1678, it is hard to neglect the possibility that the Lanham family were religious Nonconformists, a term applied to those whose religious views departed from the Church of England’s—folks such as Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians.  Suffolk had been the center of religious controversy before, when the famous Puritan leader John Winthrop had left England for the New World in 1630, twelve years before the beginning of the Civil War between the Puritan Parliament and the Anglican (some would even say Catholic) monarchy.
Coronation of Charles II, 1661
Cromwell’s Protectorate was, of course, Puritan in its outlook (meaning it wished the Reformation of the Church to continue in order to “purify” it of all non-biblical elements of medieval Catholicism).  However,  after Charles II took the throne in 1661, the Restoration began, a period when the philosophy “eat, drink, and be merry” was lived out at Charles’s court, and many who sought to practice a more serious way of life looked toward the New World as their hope for the future. 
Whether John Lanham’s motivation was religious freedom or an improvement in his economic condition, his decision to sign on for service in Maryland, in particular, is perhaps explained by the fact that his cousin, Josiah Lanham, had left for Maryland ten years earlier in 1668.  Josiah settled in Kent County, Maryland, and became a well-respected member of the community, marrying the daughter of Major James Ringold and serving as a justice of the peace. 
Indentured servants harvesting tobacco in
Tobacco Production by Sidney King
Once the indentured servant had finished his stipulated service, he would typically receive a new set of clothes along with his “freedom dues,” a pre-arranged termination bonus which could be land, money, or a gun.  John Lanham may have served a relatively short period of four years, as he appears in the records in 1682 as a debtor to John Watkins of Anne Arundel County.  Perhaps he had borrowed money as he set out on his life of independence. 
This loan and his own hard work apparently paid off as, by 1686, he was a cattle owner, which is known from the fact that he registered his cattle mark (brand) in Charles (now Prince George’s) County.
17th-century Bride
With stability within sight, he married a woman named Dorothy, and their first child, John, Jr., was born in 1690.  Genealogists have been unable to determine Dorothy’s surname with any certainty—some noting it as Burch (the name of a well-known Prince George’s County family) and others, as Shaw.  Dr. Howard G. Lanham in his work The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia favors the name Shaw for the following reason[1]:

On March 19, 1710/1, John Lanham was a party to an agreement between Prince George’s County resident Ralph Shaw, Sr., and the planter Edward Marlow, Sr., in which Marlow  agreed to provide life-long room and board to Shaw and his wife, presumably an older couple who were seeking retirement. In exchange for this room and board, Shaw signed over all his personal belongings to Marlow.  At the same time, Shaw gave Lanham two cows and calves and half of all the grain currently in his fields. Researcher Dr. Lanham believes that the equitable division of his assets suggests that Ralph Shaw may have been the father-in-law of both John Lanham and Edward Marlow.  Though this cannot be proved, it is probably as close as we can come to identifying the family of Dorothy (or Dorotha, as it appears in the records).

The children of John and Dorothy Lanham who survived to adulthood included the following:
1.  John, Jr., (1690-1763)                  
2.  Richard (1697-1750)
3.  William (1699-1750)
4.  Ralph (1701-1742) (twin?)
5.  Thomas (1701-1754) (twin?)

As the years passed after his marriage, John Lanham continued to advance and prosper.[2] 
 1694:  On October 3, he was able to purchase a tract of 219 acres of land called Oxmontown, originally patented to Lanham and another man named William Hutchinson.  However, on October 18, Hutchinson assigned the land to Lanham alone.  This tract was on the Piscataway Branch (or Creek), on the north side of which a town called Lanhams is depicted in a map of 1794, which is probably the same place of the current Lanham, Maryland, an unincorporated community with a population of just over 10,000 people.
Piscataway Creek with town of  Lannhams just north (lower left quarter)
from Map of the State of Maryland, 1794
1696:  On April 10, he was asked to serve as witness to a deed, on which he made his characteristic mark (see at right).  This request indicates that he was a man who had the respect of his neighbors.
1697:  In November, he recorded registered marks for cattle and hogs on behalf of his sons.[3]

1699: On May 15, John, Sr., was the administrator of the inventory of Michael Kersey of Prince George’s County, perhaps a neighbor.[4] In these last two documents, his name is recorded as Lannum and Lennam, respectively, not uncommon in the era before spelling was standardized and people wrote down what they thought they heard.

1705: On May 13, John Lanham, now age 44, was granted a patent for Lannin’s Addition, 200 acres in Prince George’s County, which had been assigned to him  by Luke Gardner, Jr., on October 13, 1704. The land adjoined Stony Harbor. 

The subsequent deeds that appear in the records of Prince George’s County show that at the age of 52, John was beginning to transfer his property to his sons.

1713:  On September 22,  John Lanham (now styled Senior) transferred the 100 acres of a tract called Lanham’s Addition to his son, John Lanham, Jr., for “love and affection.” Dorotha Lanham gave up dower rights to that property. About three weeks earlier, the records show that John, Sr., had transferred a 100-acre tract simply called Addition to his second son, Richard Lanham.  However, researcher Dr. Howard Lanham notes it is not clear if the Addition was a different tract or the same one given the following September to John, Jr. No other source mentions a Lanham-held tract simply called Addition. Four years later, on November 16, 1717, Lanham’s Addition was transferred to John, Jr., once again under the same terms: “for love and affection” with Dorotha Lanham giving up her dower rights.

1729:  On May 3, John Lanham, Sr., transferred Oxmontown, 95 acres, to his son Richard again for “love and affection” with Dorotha Lanham, wife of John Lanham, Sr. giving up her dower rights.

1744: On January 19, John Lanham, Sr., transferred the remaining section of Oxmontown to his son Richard.  In this case, the term “for love and affection” was specified, but there was no mention of his wife giving up her dower rights. The deed also mentioned that 45 acres were reserved for William Lanham, John Sr.’s, third son.

John Lanham died in 1745 at the age of eighty-four.  From the lot of a hungry lad of seventeen setting out on rough seas to an uncertain future to the status of a prosperous landowner with a large family and the respect of his community, John Lanham epitomizes the American ideal of hard work, determination, and an upright life.  Interestingly, if he were buried near Lanham, Maryland, in Prince George’s County, where his property was known to be, he lies interred just 19 miles northeast of the resting place of his sixth great-grandson, Patric Levi Lanham (1915-1954), a naval photographer of World War II who lies in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Robert Louis StevensonRequiem seems to capture the family bond:
Under the wide and starry sky 
  Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
  And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ’grave for me:
  Here he lies where he longd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
  And the hunter home from the hill.


 (c) Eileen Cunningham, 2015  www.geneabloggers.com

[1] “Controversies in Lanham Genealogy. Topic Three: Who Was the Wife of John Lanham?” http://www.angelfire.com/md3/howardlanham/controversies/controversy3.html
[2] The details in this section were discovered by Dr. Howard G. Lanham and presented in The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia. For complete documentation, see:  http://www.angelfire.com/md3/howardlanham/data/datalanhamj.html
[3] This document is problematic in my opinion in that Dr. Lanham states that the marks were made for John, Jr., Richard, and Thomas.  However, Thomas was not born until 1701.
[4] 1658-1758. Charles County, MD, Families “First 100 Years”: Wills, Court, Church, Land, Inventories, & Accounts.

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