Crichie—A family history

Part III. Stuarts

by Geordie Burnett Stuart 11th of Dens and Crichie

Now back to the Stuarts. I want to feature Captain John Stuart (of Brigadier Maitland's Regiment) 1st of Crichie, 1650-1730, thus living to the ripe old age of 80.

Captain John Stuart

He had bought the lands of Dens and Crichie off the last Earl Marischal George Keith between 1696-1709. I have his wooden hand here. He lost it at the seige of Namur in the Low Countries in 1689.

A friend of mine recently found himself spending the night in Namur. He claimed never to have slept a wink. All night a ghostly figure in a clanking suit of armour (minus an arm) lumbered about cursing and swearing and bringing him out in a cold sweat. His wife seems to have slept through all this excitement.

Mary Gray of Schivas

JS 's wife was Mary Gray of Schivas. It has been said you are always better to marry an heiress if you have an estate. She was not known for her beauty, and there is a famous story of the Bonny Earl of Moray (another Stuart) saying he would not marry her even if paid a 1000 Scottish merks (Scots money until 1707 ) to do so. This, of course, is the young earl who died in 1524 in a family feud with the powerful Huntly clan, and whose mother had his corpse with the 32 dagger wounds painted just as it was the hour he died. It is still to be seen (with 2 doors and a lock covering him) at Darnaway castle near Forres, The present Earl, Douglas Moray, is very proud of it and will show it, (unlock it) on demand. You need a strong stomach to survive the experience.

Scotland was a pretty frightening place in those days. Robbery, rape, burning your neighbours in their houses, anything went. Indeed one of the attractions of the Union of the Parliaments—104 years after the Union of the Crowns, brought the prospect economic growth and security/stability. Something—I suggest—threatened by today's Nationalist politics. Darnaway castle, where the terrifying painting hangs in the Great Hall, was recently dated (by terpene injection into the roof timbers) to the wet summer of 1280. This makes it 4 years older than the Great Hall of Westminster. It demonstrates once again that parts of Scotland were as modern as England - often with better relations with continental Europe. And yet what we shared with England was always more than what separated us—as today.

Theodosia Burnett-Stuart

You will forgive me a short digression. In 1688 John Stuart was 38 years old (this was 10 years before he acquired Crichie) and already on the staff of William of Orange, so he fully supported the Religious Settlement that created the Constitutional Monarchy whose benefits we still enjoy today. The Glorious Revolution enshrined the Stuart descendants as our monarchs through Elizabeth the Winter Queen (Charles I's sister). The necessity of a protestant monarch was the outcome that angered some, including Theodosia (daughter of JS 1st of Crichie) who had married John Burnett 1735.

John Burnett-Stuart

Their son John Burnett-Stuart (1739–1787) began the laying out of New Crichie in 1763. When it initially failed to sell he changed the name to Stuartfield (ie naming it after his grandfather JS), a marketing ploy that worked. His tomb in the Mither Kirk St Nicholas in Aberdeen is fantastic and I really hope they are going to display it properly in the great tidy up that has begun: a large black granite slab with raised skull and crossbones and sand hourglass signifying how fleeting life is—these symbols were much used in the C18. Until recently it has been much walked on and had piles of goods from the rather tacky Third World shop. St Nicholas, one of the glories of Aberdeen, is almost unique in having three different regular congregations in one building including the famous Piper Alpha memorial. Parts of this wonderful structure are unchanged since the C17.

Eustace Robertson Burnett-Stuart

My great grandfather Eustace Robertson Burnett-Stuart (1840–1927) was the first BS to live at Crichie for a century. He turned the original 1715 house into stables and in the 1870s built a new one. His brother Augustus was an accomplished watercolourist and traveller who lived on a family property in Somerset. Eustace must have been argumentative as I have a petition signed by many people asking him to keep a particular path open—these were the days when country people walked everywhere. I always think his lifetime saw the greatest change in one lifetime you can imagine. From coach and horses to railways to aeroplanes. His four sons had remarkable lives: his eldest son I will say more about shortly; his second son, George, was Home Secretary/Minister of the Interior in the Egyptian Protectorate from 1922–35. His son, Joe, who has just died in his 80th year was the first non-family Chairman and CEO of the famous Scottish Investment bank in London—Flemings.

I do not intend to repeat here any of the stories told in the splendid book edited by Bunty Penny for the Millennium, Stuartfield our place, but it seems to me my grandfather, General John Theodosius Burnett-Stuart, made quite a mark in the world for a lad fae Buchan. I have been working on his letters (he wrote every day to my grandmother, Nina, if he was apart from her). His mordant dry wit mixed with his plain north-east view of the world enabled him to survive the unequalled horrors of WWI followed by the rapid rundown of the empire he was serving at a senior level by the 1920s. Writing back from South Waziristan in 1897, aged 22, (this actually to his father at Crichie) he says : 'We have killed a few tribesmen, blown up their villages and they have scattered. They are ghastly people who think nothing of slitting a neighbour's throat and stealing his wives and cattle'. So what's new ? We are talking about the same bearded ones (as they are known in Pakistan today) who are giving the British, US, Nato, and Pakistan armies such trouble today. He fought in the Boer War 1902-4 where he met my grandmother. He had an extraordinary 1914–18 war. Like everybody else he was surprised he survived—he lost so many friends and acquaintances. The first year and a half, as he says, he spent on horseback managing troop movements: attacks, retreats, replacements etc. The next year and a half he spent in an armoured Rolls Royce trying to manage and control parts of a vast army spread over hundreds of miles of front and rear. Parts of the last year (when not planning for post-war—something they forgot to do in Iraq in 2003) he spent in the air, as this was by far the best way to see what was happening; this was very dangerous but he survived. He was very unhappy about the Treaty of Versailles in 1922. He thought it was foolishly hard on Germany—How right he was.

Southern India 1920-24, General Officer Commanding (GOC) was in theory a peaceful posting: it was anything but. A serious muslim uprising against the British (started by German subversives as part of WW2) turned into an outright attack on the ruling Hindu elite meant a fast learning curve in what is today called counter-insurgency, a complex story with no early happy ending. He brought Empire troops from Nepal (Gurkhas), Burma (Chins), and Garwhal to fight in the jungle terrain which meant months of serious unrest, murder, massacre and mayhem. He restored what is now called Kerala to the peace it still enjoys today. On the map of india we are 800 miles south of Goa and Bombay. The muslim majority which now governs this state of 110 million people—the most densely populated tropical country in the world—have interpreted this piece of history as a liberation struggle from the oppresive British Raj. Ah well! The eventual winners—notionally communist in this case—write the history they require. Suffice it to say the grandfather only had two battalions of British troops; and the only Britons living in Southern India at the time were a few tea planters and administrators. It is the most beautiful place, the people are warm and welcoming, the architecture and food (mainly vegetarian) fantastic. I highly recommend it.

From Cairo in 1932 he writes 'It is the sinfullest thing in the world to forsake or destitute a plantation once in forwardness for beside the dishonour it is the blood of many commiserable persons. 1600 Bacon Of Plantations'. This is his way of disagreeing privately with Great Britain's rapid withdrawal from her global obligations. 1933 was the year that saw the most pink on the map but really it was nearly all over. He could not say it out loud but we are talking decolonisation that really only got into its stride after 1947 and was over by the end of the 1960s. There was no money left and not enough troops, equipment, or administrators. Sounds familiar does'nt it ? Are we always doomed to make the same mistakes ? He took consolation in poetry—This is 1940—his own I guess.

Outside its face so plain and ugly no slightest touch of art reveals—
but inside—look—how snugly we live and sleep and take our meals.

Crichie I am sure. Also in 1940 standing under a magnolia tree he said to Jock Duncan the gardener 'Shall i give it this glass of whisky to make it flower or shall I drink it?' You can guess the answer. He would have been astonished to learn that the same tree has been covered in flowers each June since 2006.

Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, Geordie Burnett Stuart, and General Burnett-Stuart

I do not think he really enjoyed the company of famous or really well-known people. Monty—whose career he had saved in the 1930s in Egypt—took him up in the 40s and 50s. Monty was renowned for being very vain and only talking about himself. On Lloyd George he said 'His lies are quite astounding'. On Winston Churchill he said 'That damned fellow Churchill was here polluting the air at HQ today' and so on. But he agreed with WSC about not giving up India when we did in 1947. We can safely say with hindsight they were both wrong. Do I make him sound crusty? Put it this way :his juniors in the system loved and admired him—his seniors were distrustful of him, because he was not polite about them and teased them mercilessly. In the early 30s when he was in the running for being made Chief of the Imperial General Staff—the top job—aged 55 he sent a Christmas card to a lot of his friends with a picture of four old buffers on horses: senior generals all booted and spurred and covered in medals. His caption? 'Four reasons for mechanising the army'. He was prescient.

As I have recounted he was an early exponent of successfully dealing with guerrilla warfare. He was the first person to allow tanks to dominate army exercises. He was the first person to use aeroplanes to fly in troops to quell insurrection and take control in Cyprus in 1932. The germans captured Crete in 1941 using his methods. They had come to ask him how it was done in 1933. The War Office ( Ministry of Defence today ) their view? Sending him invoices for 10 years to make him pay personally for the disruption caused by his unofficial action in taking over civilian planes. I like the story of the bill he put in for having dinner with his boss: the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS). It was returned to him 'You cannot claim for pleasure. His reply 'If you imagine it was any pleasure having dinner with that old buffoon—send me the money. Guess where his reply ended up! We are talking expenses—Sorry about that—still a painful subject.

When my grandfather was given the Knight of the Thistle (the highest Scottish decoration/order) in 1950 he had to hang his banner in St Giles in Edinburgh. The Lord Lyon who was a pal of his—they shared an interest in heraldry old Tom Innes said 'Now Jock let's make your coat of arms more interesting. The Stuart—that's the fess chequy azure and argent (Old French for blue and silver ) the old royal checkerboard. The Burnett—three holly leaves proud with the Horn of Leys (Crathes). Let's remove one of the Burnetts and put in a Black Ship of Lorne'. Why on earth? This is a symbolic galleon that relates to a famous early ancestral piratical Stewart who terrorised the north and the northern isles in the 13th and 14 centuries. By and large most Scottish families have a bloody past if you go back far enough.

(Revision date: Wednesday 15th August 2012)