Clan Leslie Society
Australia & New Zealand

(CLANZ)




Leslie House, Fife - The first mention of Leslie in Fife, in the family history, is when Bartholomew, on his historic ride from Dunfermline, made his first stop at Fythkill in Fife, later to be known as Leslie. Later in 1282, Norman de Lesly is said to have acquired lands at Fetkill, or Fythkill and a hundred years after that, Sir George Leslie and his new bride, Elizabeth Hay, the Kings niece, were granted the Barony of Fythkill in 1396. The annual rent was a pair of gloves!

In 1457 George, 1st Earl of Rothes, was granted the Barony of Leslie in Fife, the first mention of the place of Leslie. Undoubtedly the first Earl and probably some of his predecessors had a house of some note at Leslie. It is definitely stated in some sources that there was a house on the site, dating from the 14th century, but unfortunately there is no record of the building. It was John, 7th Earl and 1st Duke of Rothes who first built a grand palace on the site, about 1670, part of which is now the present house.

After the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, classical architecture started to appear in Scotland and for the first time country houses were being built that were not fortified in any way. Building grand houses was the fashionable way to display one's wealth and people vied with each other to build the biggest and best. John, 7th Earl had been a staunch supporter of King Charles against Oliver Cromwell and after the restoration [1660] the King rewarded him with several High Offices, including that of Lord High Chancellor of Scotland for life and also made him the Duke of Rothes. He was a highly cultured person with a good knowledge of art and architecture.

Now being wealthy, he could and did commission the building of a large and sumptuous country mansion. He employed a well-known Italian architect, Sebastian Serlio, to draw up the plans, which included a large formal garden. The house was to be after the style of the Royal Palace at Holyrood, in Edinburgh, and the gallery was to be three feet longer than the one at Holyrood. The contract was drawn up in 1667, building work started soon after and it was completed five years later, although completing the garden took another three years.

Since the Earl had to be away in London at Court much of the time, his wife Anne Lindsay, daughter of the Earl of Crawford and Lindsay, undertook much of the supervision, and as the surviving correspondence shows, she was intelligent, hardworking and very attentive to detail. Her husband's visits to London were of some benefit, however, since they ensured that he was up to date with the fashions for interior design and fabrics.

According to a contemporary description, one entered "the Palace" by two spacious courts, with a pavilion at each end of the first court; the house is a large square with a paved court in the middle. You enter it by a vestibule ballustraded with marble, into a large hall, paved with black and white marble, Above the hall was a huge salon extending the full length of the west side, set between two drawing rooms, one of which led to the 157 foot long gallery, hung with family portraits on one side and those of friends on the other. The whole including the furniture was most luxurious.

The main elevation of the house showed clearly the new architectural style with tall windows on all three floors and dormer windows above, although some relics like the protruding angle towers with spiral service stairs served as a reminder of the older Scottish style.

Editor's Note: It is interesting to note that this house was said to be the first country house in Scotland, to be built in the new mode of an undefended house of classical inspiration, surrounded by formal gardens and set in an agricultural estate. Whereas Leslie Castle, Aberdeenshire, begun before 1661, was said to be the last fortified house to be built in Scotland.

The glory lasted 91 years. On Christmas day 1763, a disastrous fire destroyed virtually the whole house. Previously it had suffered some damage by the Jacobites during the "fifteen", which was restored by the 9th Earl, and the 10th Earl had added some improvements. On that fateful Christmas day, the house had some 80 rooms, containing a fine collection of furniture and paintings and the library was said to be the finest in Scotland.

The fire broke out during the night in a bad snowstorm, which severely hampered any effective fire fighting, some pictures were saved but otherwise it was almost a complete loss. The library was destroyed, most of the furniture, the family silver and many important documents and old charters were lost forever. The 10th Earl, who was at home for the Christmas holiday, supervised the fire fighting efforts personally, but to little effect as the fierce wind fanned the flames. His aide-de-camp later provided an eyewitness account of the disaster.

The Earl determined to rebuild the house and the most practical solution seemed to be the renovation of the west side of the house, about one quarter of the original building, which had not been totally destroyed. Even this renovation, on a much smaller scale, was expensive and the Earl had to sell the Ballinbreich estates, which had been in the family since 1320, to finance the work. While the rebuilding was carried out, he lived in a small flat in Edinburgh for three years, however he did live to see the work completed and died there in 1767.

This is the house that stands to this day. It was sold in 1919 and is now the property of the Church of Scotland and is a retirement home for the elderly.

Courtesy Clan Leslie Charitable Trust. The Griffin Reprints. First Series, No 2.