History of Clan Strachan

History of Clan Strachan (Part 2)

 A charter by Waltheof de Strachan in c. 1230 to the Priory of St. Andrews gave the monks permission to hunt and cut wood in the barony of Strachan in order to build a church and a new hall within the parish. In 1242, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Strachan was consecrated by the bishop of St. Andrews, David de Bernham (Cowan, Parishes, p. 189). 

In 1980 and 1981, archeological excavations suggest that Castle Hill of Strachan was built "mid-thirteenth century", which coincides with the date the monks of St. Andrews Priory were to have completed the hall.   The excavations of the building suggest an Anglo-Norman design and a two-storey structure or hall. The ground floor would have contained the dining room, as well as space for stores and provisions, and could have provided shelter for a small number of servants and soldiers. Following the example of some medieval halls, the first floor, including the roof space, may have contained the solar or private quarters of the knight or officer in residence. In this case, it is likely where John de Strachan called home.

 Castlehill was fortified with palisades and a wall-walk, and was occupied continuously from c. 1250 until is was burned out and dismantled in the early 1300's.

Yeoman states, "It is entirely possible that this destruction was executed by King Robert's troops in early summer 1308 during the Wars of Independence, in the period immediately following the defeat of the earl of Buchan (Battle of Inverurie aka Battle of Barra) . After this battle Bruce probably captured Aboyne Castle 11 miles west of Strachan, which had been garrisoned by the English, and then travelled to take Aberdeen in May or June 1308 (Barrow 1976, 250). Whichever route was taken, the army would have passed close to Strachan, and the archaeological evidence of destruction would suggest that the castle had been held by supporters of the English king or at least by those loyal to the Balliol or Comyn causes."

As discussed in Part 1, Ranulf de Strachan was closely allied to the earls of Buchan (Bruce's competitor to the throne of Scotland), and the chartulary suggests with a high probability that Ranulf was related to Elizabeth de Quincy, the mother of John Comyn, earl of Buchan. Strachan of that Ilk were no doubt supporters of the Balliol and Comyn causes, which fits Yeoman's thesis.

Robert de Bruce had a nortorious reputation of burning out fortifications held by the English or those loyal to Comyn.  He would slaughter the garrison, including those who surrendered. Bruce would have also burned the crops and any animals, leaving the barony of Strachan in a devistated condition.  For this reason, Clan Strachan considers Castlehill of Strachan sacred ground given the many clansmen lives that were lost at this site. To be sure, Robert de Bruce executed a near-genocide on the race of Strachan.

Not wanting to leave a potential enemy in the rear, Robert de Bruce and his forces harried the earldom of Buchan, burning all farms, slaughtering all livestock, and harrassing its inhabitants.  No part of Buchan was left untouched.  As a result, the Bruce destroyed all support for the Comyn family in the North East.

John de Strachan

There seems to be little doubt that John de Strachan fought earlier at the Battle of Inverurie (1308) taking the field on the side of John Comyn, earl of Buchan.

Robert de Bruce and his forces routed John Comyn and his supporters, driving Comyn into exile in England, and scattering the rest.

About a year later, on 9 August 1309, John de Strachan granted a charter of donation to Sir Alexander Seton at an English encampment in Perth (Laing, ii, no. 927).  The blazon reads, "A stag courtant to sinister between three foils."  A drawing of the seal (see below) is made in Hutton's Sigilla.  The image is copyrighted, and presented herein with permission only to the Clan Strachan Society by the National Records of Scotland and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Five years later, 24 June 1314, was the Battle of Bannockburn.  Most medieval battles lasted only a few hours.  The Battle of Bannockburn is unique in that it last two days.  After the first day of battle, Sir Alexander Seton defected to the Scottish side informing Robert de Bruce of the poor English morale and encouraging the Bruce to continue the attack. It is unlikely Seton alone defected, but likely took his followers including Strachan of that Ilk.  King Robert I heeded Seton's advise, and won the battle, driving the English out of Scotland, thus defeating the last of his opponents and secured his place on the Scottish throne.

After Bannockburn, 6 November 1314, an Act of Parliament at Cambuskenneth, Robert de Bruce disinherited all lands and titles from noblemen who died outside the faith and peace of King Robert in the war, or otherwise, those who had not come to his peace and faith. King Robert I would next grant the lands of the disinherited to his faithful followers and supporters.

After the destruction of the barony of Strachan and Castlehill of Strachan, one of Robert de Bruce's first acts of legislation was to disinherit the Strachans from their lands and titles, and in 1316 he granted the barony of Strachan to Sir Alexander Fraser (Robertsons Index, 1-15). Fraser was a faithful follower of the Bruce, a close friend, would eventually marry King Robert's sister, and would later become Chamberlain of Scotland. 

Charter evidence seems to confirm the thesis that the Strachan family fought at Bannockburn, were followers of Alexander Seton, and did not flee to England with the rest of the Comyn's allies.

At Parliament 26 April, 1315, in Ayr, it would seem that many of the seals belonging to those who had previously disputed the Bruce cause are affixed to charter (RPS, 1315/1). At least 43 noblemen affixed their seals including Ranulphi de Straquhane from Aberdeenshire whose seal is affixed only two positions behind Seton. We believe that Ranulf Strachan was the young heir apparent of John de Strachan at this date. It is likely that Ranulf de Strachan accompanied Seton at Bannockburn, and that John de Strachan (his father) had prevously died. This would explain why King Robert disinherited the family from the barony of Strachan.  We know that Alexander Seton accompanied Edward de Bruce (Robert's brother) after the parliamentry meeting on an ill fated campaign to conquer Ireland from the English. If our thesis is correct, Ranulf de Strachan would have certainly accompanied Seton to Ireland.  Unfortunately, this is the first and last we hear of Ranulf de Strachan, and it is subsequently believed Ranulf died in Ireland in the service of Edward de Bruce.

 20 July 1315, Agnes, the daughter and heiress of John de Montfort, had a charter concerning the sale of part of her property of Slains, at the coastal parish of Kinneff in the Mearns. The witnesses to the Montfort charter included many local landowners and notably, three members of the Strachan family: John de Strathechyn (second son and namesake of John de Strachan), Duncan his brother (thought to be Strachan of Monboddo), and two witnesses later, Adam Strathechyn (RRS, volume vi, No 377; and confirmed: RMS, i, no.268, app.2, no. 1564).

A seal matrix was discovered in 2001 by a metal detectorist in Foulden, Berwickshire, in a field next to the Foulden parish church and tithe barn, and is shown below. 

The legend is in a Lombardic font and reads,S JOhIS DE STRAThEINE. Other spellings have also been suggested include "Stratugine"

Regarding the Foulden Matrix, a simple heraldic blazon (or description) would be, “A stag courant to sinister with two cinquefoils (rose with five petals) to the fore of the stag’s legs, and two sexfoils (rose with six petals) below the stag’s stomach. The pointed-oval or vesica-shape of the seal suggests the owner (John de Strachan) was a cleric (CDS, ii, 518, footnote 1). This was not an uncommon fate for second sons during the medieval period.

When pressed into wax, the seal matrix would leave the following impression:

John (the younger) of Strachan’s son and heir, Alexander de Strachan seems to have restored prominence to the family on or before 1325, the year following the Pope’s reconcilement with King Robert I.  Alexander Strachan had an arranged marriage and a return to prominence:  Henry of Maule, lord of Panmure, gave, granted and by this his present charter established to Alexander son and heir of John Young[er] of Strachan, and Christina, his daughter, and their heirs procreated between them in free marriage, all his land of Carmyllie, his whole land of Drumnadych, his whole land of Hacwrangdrom, half his land of Lochlair, the mill, the grain, Strathyis Copresille (ANG) … with all their just pertinents, correct bounds, etc. They are to provide the forinsec service of their lord the king, as much as pertains to the land by right, and they are to render to Henry and his heirs one penny as a blanch-ferme. The land is to be held in feu and inheritance, and Henry promises warrandice (Panmure Reg., ii, 158-9).