Crichie—A Family History

Part I. Stuarts, Slessors, and Burnetts

by Geordie Burnett Stuart 11th of Dens and Crichie

Millennium bell

The history is a random list of the lives and views of some members of three families, the Slessors, Burnetts and the Stuarts.

Slessor would have begun as Slezer with a Z. Burnett as Burnard (being Norman/French ) and Stuart latterly with a ua—meaning some members of the family spent time in France between 1500–1800. (Mary Queen of Scots—that tragic but enduring figure—who will appear often in this story at the beginning spelt her name three different ways—just to show how unimportant spelling was in those days.)

You will forgive me if I weave backwards and forwards a lot in time and place. It is difficult to do it any other way. Quite a bit will be dedicated to my grandfather General Sir John Theodosius Burnett-Stuart General Sir John Theodosius Burnett-Stuart, Knight of the Thistle, who was born at Crichie in 1875 and died at Winchester in 1958.

General Sir John Theodosius Burnett-Stuart

He was a very famous soldier having trained many of the great generals of the Second World War, but his end befitted that of a famous dry-fly fishermen. He finally caught a giant pike that had been eating all his beloved brown trout where he fished on the Itchen. He caught it, ate it, and died soon afterwards aged 83. Not I hasten to add from eating the pike. He had two obituaries in the papers—one as a soldier, one as a fisherman.

Crichie is what unites all these stories. Essentially this is history—but with resonance for today I hope. A lot of them were soldiers—a very Scots occupation.

The Stuart ancestry goes back a long way. They came from Dol in Brittany in the 11th century. By the 1400s my lot were established at Kilcoy in the Black Isle from where John Stuart served in the Royal Household when Mary Queen of Scots—What a wonderful ring that title has—was living through her many vicissitudes, miseries, and triumphs. One of the more poignant mementoes of the period of her life when she was locked up in Oxburgh Castle in Norfolk is a small embroidery. Incidentally the castle is still just as it was in 1532 —a slightly eerie, imposing, wholly red brick tower with a moat—not very big— well worth a visit; and still occupied—I think—by the Earls of Oxburgh. They still keep some of these famous embroideries that she made and sent as messages to her friends and allies, foremost among them being the Duke of Norfolk, her most ardent admirer and co-conspiritor; but he lost his head, as did she. John Stuart (the ancestor) carried this embroidery (and secret messages we must assume) to the Duke: he did not lose his head. The friendship with the Fitzalan-Howards (Norfolks) continues to this day—we are all going on a trip to france together in 2012.

John Stuart's grandson Robert Stuart had the wee tower of Kilcoy that his grandfather had built in 1580.

Robert Stuart

He was a boon drinking pal of James I and VI, of whom I must write: Mary Queen of Scots's son of course. The wisest fool in Christendom they called him; one of the island race's most remarkable characters. He was ugly, bisexual and clever, the great unifier, and a survivor. After the kingdoms were unified at his accession the endless border quarrels gradually subsided. The Book of Common Prayer was very much his creation. The great Rubens ceiling in Inigo Jones's Banqueting hall in Whitehall was commissioned by Charles Stuart in homage to his father. Of course Charles Stuart, the Martyr King, walked out through a first floor window onto a scaffold to be beheaded on a freezing day, Tuesday January 30th 1649. He wore just a silk shirt and never shivered. One of the defining moments of our history. Back to Robert—who went bankrupt: he spent too well in anticipation of the rich life awaiting him in London; but James was too clever to bring his rough uncouth friends with him when he went south to meet his new subjects. Kilcoy had been sold in 1616—due to gambling debts. My grandfather nearly bought it back in 1936 from the Mackenzies—that robber clan—but there was no land to shoot on. I thought of it in 1982 when it was for sale again but there was no land to farm so we are still here at Crichie 300 years later.

(Revision date: Friday 14th January 2011)