Strathard Heritage Archive

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The Tetrarch of Aberfoyle

By Louis Stott

Reproduced from The Voice with kind permission

John Graham of Duchray was known both as ‘Highland Hector, and as ‘Tetrarch of Aberfoyle’, a tetrarch being the ruler of a fourth part of a province (i.e. a quarter of Menteith). He became a brother-in-law of Alexander Colquhoun of Camstradden when his wife’s younger sister, Anne, married him, and, curiously, we learn more of Graham from William Fraser’s Chiefs of Colquhoun (1869) than from his Red Book of Menteith (1880).

Without comment, Fraser states that Duchray was ‘born in 1600, and died in 1700’, and, whether he lived to be a hundred or not, he certainly had a remarkable life. He is known to have loaned money to Charles II, and Fraser states that he fought with Montrose, who presented him with a silver pistol. ‘The souvenir, which is still preserved in the repositories of the Duchray family, John Graham would at no time part with, wearing it by day, and putting it under his pillow at night’.

In 1653-54 Graham played a key part in the Earl of Glencairn’s Rising. The ninth Earl of Glencairn came to Duchray in August, 1653 with the King of Scots’ commission to raise a rebellion in his pocket, and it was at Aberfoyle that he raised his first troops. Duchray accompanied the earl to the Highlands, and is said to have written the account of the campaign published by Scott.

Duchray was involved in the first successful skirmish at the Pass of Aberfoyle in early September, 1653. There was another skirmish in Menteith in April 1654, but this resulted in victory for the Republicans. This episode probably provoked a letter from General Monck, who had just arrived to rule Scotland on Cromwell’s behalf, desiring the Earl of Menteith to give an order for the cutting down of woods about Milton and Glassert which harboured “loose, idle and desperate persons.” The Earl failed to do this, and, towards the end of the Rising in August, 1654, Monck himself camped in the neighbourhood of Aberfoyle. “We are now destroying this place,” he boasted, “which was the chief receptacle for the enemy last winter”. However, there were press reports from Perth on 11th December, 1654 that there were a few moss troopers with Duchray on the braes of Menteith. John Graham of Duchray was the very last of the rebel lairds to lay down his arms, on 17th July, 1655, almost a year after the Rising was supposed to have ended. Duchray was described by a contemporary historian (Bailie) as ‘amongst the most honest, stout and wise of them all’.

During the campaign Duchray looked after the Marquis of Montrose’s son and heir, then a young man rising twenty, later known as ‘the Good Marquis. The Grahams of Menteith were distant relations of the Grahams who became Dukes of Montrose. Monck drew up a treaty with Duchray, as he had with such distinguished lairds as Tullibardine and Seaforth. By the treaty Graham gave up his arms, but was permitted to keep a small band of armed men to defend his land, provided that he ensured that rebels and thieves were not harboured there.

The forty-two soldiers raised by Duchray were never stood down, and became part of the Black Watch (the ‘forty-twa’). However, such companies as Duchray raised were called ‘Watches’, and their function was to guard against the depredations of cattle and sheep thieves, nowhere more prevalent than in West Perthshire. They were sustained by a rent – black mail or watch money – and it would be surprising if they were not referred to as the ‘Black Watch’. Thus the names the ‘Black Watch’ and ‘the Forty-twa’’ perhaps carry these significant echoes of Graham of Duchary.

After the Restoration, in 1661, Graham of Duchray played a prominent part in the true funeral of Montrose, and in 1671 he was involved in a notorious fracas at the Bridge of Aberfoyle with the then Earl of Menteith. Duchray and his son, Thomas Graham, were going to the baptism of a grandchild. The Earl perceived the ceremony as an opportunity to recover money from Duchray. The baby was set down on the ground and a skirmish took place. The Menteiths were driven off, but Duchray was cautioned to keep the peace at the Tollbooth in Edinburgh. In 1686 James VII recompensed John Graham of Duchray ‘for his loyalty, services and sufferings’.

It was Graham of Duchray (whether John, or his son Thomas, is not clear), who was also present at an even more famous baptism, that of Robert Kirk’s posthumous daughter, Marjorie. Kirk was, of course supposed to be captive in fairyland. It is said that when Kirk’s wraith appeared at the baptism Duchray was so surprised that he failed to cast a dagger at Kirk, to release him. This famous story was told by Rev. Patrick Graham in Sketches of Perthshire (1812), who says that Kirk’s wraith first appeared to ‘a mutual relation of his own, and of Duchray’, probably Thomas Graham, both he and Kirk having married Campbell sisters. However, it can be observed that Duchray senior would have been 92 years of age when this incident is supposed to have taken place.

Whether this is an accurate account of John Graham of Duchray’s life or not, we know enough of him for certain to assert that he must have been a remarkable man. Fraser reports that he was laconic, writing to his wife from London in the days of Charles I: “My dearest Marion, the King’s well, the Queen’s well, and if you’re well, all’s well, your affectionate husband, John Graham.” Fraser also states that, unlike some of his equals, he was literate, and could draw up documents himself, perhaps having been educated as a notary. We know that he was honest, wise, loyal and brave. He should occupy a respected place in the annals of the National Park.