Crichie—A family history

Part IV. Burnetts

by Geordie Burnett Stuart 11th of Dens and Crichie

I now turn to the Burnetts—they go back just as far—to 1066 anyway. My kinsman James Burnett of Leys published a book in 2004 called From Crannog to Castle. This is stretching things a bit. The crannog certainly existed on the Loch of Leys but it surely would have rotted away below the waves before the first Bernard appeared. To those of you uncertain what a crannog is, it is a raft/island of stakes in a loch connected sometimes to the shore by a causeway. There is a good one (rebuilt I hasten to add) on the south side of Loch Tay. Original date approximatel 1500–200 BC. The Burnards or Burnetts were Norman. They would have percolated up here within a century of the Norman Conquest of 1066. They became useful to the Scottish Kings (not yet Stuarts) by imposing order. Crathes—as we see it today—was not built until 1596. To those of you who have wondered about the Normans—who were of Viking origin—I would just say this: They must have been utterly appalling. They spoke a foreign language, they were greedy, brutal and imposed their feudal system ruthlessly. Just looking at say Rochester castle—as I first did in 2004—unchanged approximately 950 years after it was built—is a scary experience: a tall fearful 7 story block of flint and stone with large gaping windows.

The Burnetts never put their heads above the parapet much. Their own greatest claim to fame is that they lived alongside the Irvines of Drum for 600 years without once quarrelling: most unusual—we are a very litigious and combative race. Next year both Irvines and Burnetts will be celebrating the 600th anniversary of the battle of Harlaw where the wild men from the west were sent packing. The most famous Burnett—for me anyway—was Gilbert Bishop of Salisbury in the 17 century. A contemporary of Charles I, son of Lord Crimond, born in Edinburgh, educated at Marischal College, he was a critic of both the Covenant and Charles I's legacy. He became a key player in the events of 1688 and a close adviser to Queen Mary after the death of William of Orange.

As you have read the Slessors and Stuarts were often soldiers and their fortunes ebbed and flowed. The Burnetts were the necessary consolidators: merchants, clerics, philanphropists. John Burnett Stuart—he who built Stuartfield— on his death in 1787 gave most of his fortune to the Universities and Hospitals in Aberdeen by his famous Mortification. They were all conscious of their family histories. From John Stuart who was no nostalgic: In the religious wars he was a Williamite (the winners) rather than a Jacobite (the losers). Unlike his daughter Theodosia and her husband John Burnett who seemed to have had Jacobite leanings as they ended up living in Paris in the 1760s and dying the same year in 1769. They are buried in the Scots cemetery of St Germain en Laye.

Another Stuart connection—one Frances Lewis—was Governor of New York in the 1760s and signed the declaration of Independence in 1776.

We Scots have great stories to tell and we should be ashamed of nothing. You cannot and should not judge the past by today's moral standards. Everywhere I have travelled in the world I have come across terrific stories of scots abroad.

(Revision date: Tuesday 12th October 2010)