THE CASTLES of FIFE


ancient ruin restored
ancient ruin restored
ancient ruin restored
BALGONIE CASTLE BY DAY

BALGONIE CASTLE AT NIGHT

BALGONIE CASTLE, FIFE

George Leslie, of Balgonie was the second son of George Leslie 1st Laird of Drummuir and his wife Margaret Stewart. The Leslie’s of Drummuir were descended from Sir William Leslie 4th Baron of Balquhain and his wife Agnes Irvine of Drum. George Leslie of Balgonie was Captain of the Castle of Blair Athol and was held in high esteem for his bravery. He married Sybil Stewart of Ballathan and had several children. He also had an illegitimate son, called Alexander who was later to become, Earl of Leven.

When his wife, Sybil Stewart died, he married Alexander’s mother to legitimate Alexander, who was by then a General. Alexander took to the profession of arms very early in life, and served as a Captain in the Regiment of Horatio, Lord Vere, in Holland, and served with the Dutch against the Spaniards. He was recognised as a very good officer and he then entered the service of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.

In 1628 he took command of the Swedish troops at Stralsund and withstood the siege of the Austrian General, Albrecht von Wallenstein, who was later killed by Walter Leslie, After the death of Gustavus Adolphus, he served Queen Christina, until in 1639 he was invited to Scotland to take command of the Scottish Covenanting Army. In 1639, General Alexander Leslie took the Castle in Edinburgh without the loss of a single man. He commanded the Scottish Army at Dunse Law in 1639 and the Scottish Army was then disbanded. However in 1640 another army had to be raised and General Alexander Leslie was appointed the commander. He marched into England and destroyed the Royal Army at Newburn.

In 1641, General Alexander Leslie was created Lord Balgonie and Earl of Leven by patent to him and his heirs, whomsoever, dated 11th March 1641. In 1642, Alexander, Earl of Leven was appointed General of the Scottish forces for suppressing the rebellion in Ireland from whence he was recalled in 1643, to command of the Scottish Army of 21,000 men, assembled at Berwick. The Scottish Army crossed the Tweed and defeated the Royalist Army at Marston Moor, 2nd July 1644. While at Dunbar 28th August 1651, Alexander, Earl of Leven was captured by the garrison and taken to London where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Due to the intercession of Queen Christina of Sweden he was released without penalty and returned to Scotland in May 1654.

Alexander, Earl of Leven acquired great landed property, but his favoured property was Balgonie in the Parish of Markinch on the river Leven in Fife. He spent much time and money on improvements to the castle. The property had formerly belonged to the Sibbald family. Sir Henry Sibbald of Balgonie, who died in the reign of James IV, left an only daughter, who married Robert Lundin, a younger son of the Baron of Lundin.

The ancient Baronial Castle of Balgonie stands on a steep bank, overhanging the river Leven. The basement story is dimly lit by a narrow slit in the massive walls; it and the story above are both vaulted. The summit has projecting battlements with turrets at each angle, the roof being flat and laid with slabs of freestone. On the roof is a lodge or watchtower, with a sloping roof. Besides the additions made to it by the 1st Earl of Leven, one of his successors added another wing on the foundations of the former structures, thus forming two sides of a quadrangle, the other two sides being formed by a strong wall.

The main entrance to the court is an arched gateway flanked by two towers. Over the arch was a chamber, which communicated with the main tower or keep, by a passage through the walls.The Castle was formerly surrounded on three sides by an earthen rampart and deep fosse, the inaccessible nature of the position on the side, next to the river, requiring no other defence.

In 1823, David, 10th Earl of Leven and 7th Earl of Melville sold Balgonie, to James Balfour of Whittingham, for £104,000.

The Castle was greatly damaged by vandals in the 1960s and was bought by David Maxwell, from Edinburgh in 1971, who restored the Tower and then in 1985 sold Balgonie to Raymond Morris, who, as the owner of Balgonie Castle, acquired the title of 30th Laird of Balgonie and Eddergoll.

BALLINBREICH CASTLE

BALLINBREICH CASTLE, FIFE

The Barony of Ballinbreich is in Fife and the first records show that in 1160 the land originally belonged to Orm, son of Hugh of Abernethy. Orm’s son Lawrence assumed the name of the lands of Abernethy as his family name about 1200. The name of Abernethy is derived from “Aber” meaning ford and “Nethy” being the name of the river on which the town is situated. When Sir Andrew de Abernethy died in 1312, the estate was divided between his two daughters, Margaret and Mary. Mary’s inheritance included the lands and Barony’s of Cairney in Forfar and Ballinbreich in Fife. The importance to the Leslie’s of the marriage is shown in the fact that Sir Andrew Leslie, 6th Dominus Ejusdem quartered his arms with those of Abernethy.

The Red Lion of Abernethy with a Riband sable through them, indicating that the arms of Abernethy are of equal importance as the arms of Leslie. The quartered arms of Abernethy and Leslie continue to this day through the Leslie family of Rothes. The battle cry of Clan Leslie is “Ballinbreich” and in some cases is pronounced Bam-bre-ich. In the Charter of the 7th Earl of Rothes and the Duke of Rothes he was created Maquis of Bambreich.

It must have been a magnificent sight in its day, three to four storeys high and the Great Hall 46 feet long and 17 feet wide. Sadly, the Barony of Ballinbreich was sold by John 10th Earl of Rothes, to Sir Lawrence Dundas, ancestor of the Earls of Zetland for just £20,000 and then Sir Lawrence Dundas cut down the trees in the Barony of Ballinbreich and sold them for £20,000. The Barony of Ballinbreich was sold to finance the rebuilding of Leslie House in Fife, which was burnt to the ground on Monday Christmas Day 1763. This was a terrible loss for all of Clan Leslie, as so many historic documents and artefacts were lost, but it was made even worse by the loss of the Barony Ballinbreich, which possibly could have been avoided.

The ruins of Ballinbreich Castle are situated on the north shore of Fife, approximately three miles east of Newburgh on the southern shore of the Firth of Tay. The ruins can be seen from the road, but if you wish a closer look, you will need to get the permission of the farmer, as they are on private property.

LESLIE HOUSE
(Front Gates)
LESLIE HOUSE

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.

For all enquiries, please contact Barrie Leslie, Convenor of CLANZ


Please contact our if links do not work