The Ghost of Frendraught House – a fire that killed several members of one fraction.
Frendraught House lies about 6 miles (9 kilometres) to the east of Huntly in the centre of the extensive Bognie estates. Its foundations date back to 1203, though additions were made to it as recently as the 1840′s. It’s main bulk – containing the inner walls is around 9 feet (2.7 metres) thick – was built between the 14th and 17th centuries when it was both a home and a fortress to the Crichton family.
During those three centuries the Crichtons, along with their cousins and neighbours the Gordons and Leslies, controlled the north-east of Scotland. They were often in embroiled in bloody feuds and disagreements.
In the spring of 1630 Frendraught was occupied by Sir James Crichton. He had made a good political marriage to Lady Elizabeth Gordon, eldest daughter of the Earl of Sutherland, and she took an active part in her husband’s continual disputes. As one Victorian commentator put it, she played a role somewhere between that of Medusa and Lady MacBeth.
The 1630 dispute over boundary lands was between Sir James Crichton and Gordon, Laird of Rothiemary. Sir James settled it in typical fashion by shooting Gorgdon dead. The Marquis of Huntly, the local High Sheriff who was himself a Gordon closely related to both sides, fined Sir James heavily. This ‘blood money’ was paid to the young John Gordon, the new Laird of Rothiemary, and honour seemed satisfied.
By midsummer, however, Sir James was fighting again, this time with Leslie of Pitcaple. Matters came to a head when Crichton shot Leslie through the arm with an arrow. Again the Marquis of Huntly heard the case and this time ruling in favour of Sir James. The wounded Leslie rode off in a fury, openly swearing revenge on the house of Crichtons. Sir James therefore took the precautions of assembling an armed party to escort him back to Frendraught. Surprisingly this armed party included young John Gordon of Rothiemary as well as the Marquis of Huntly’s son John Melgum Viscount Aboyne. The party arrived in the dusk of an October afternoon. Lady Crichton, perhaps relived to see her husband home safe and well, pressed even the unloved Gordon kin to stay the night. The guests were put in the old tower.
Lor Melgum was given a room separated from the upper story by a wooden staircase. John Gordon of Rothiemary was on the second floor, and the other guests and servants were above him. Spalding a contemporary chronicler , tells what happened: ‘ About midnight that dolours tower took fire in so sudden and furious manner, and in one clap, that noble Viscount, the Laird of Rothiemary, English Will, Colonel Ivat and others, servants, were cruelly burned and tormented to death’
Death by Design
An event of this magnitude cast shadows far beyond north-east Scotland, and the Privy Council in Edinburgh became involved, setting up a commission of bishops and neutral peers to investigate. The commission sat at Frendraught House on the 13th April 1631. The Bishops merely declared that the ‘fire could not have happened accidentally but designedly.’ There the mystery of the fire remains unsolved to his very day. However, local opinion of the time laid the blame squarely on Lady Frendraught. An anonymous ballad written a few months after the fire said of Rothiemary’s final moments.
When he stood at the wire window
Most doleful to be seen
He did espy the Lady Frendraught
Who stood upon the green.
And mercy, mercy Lady Frendraught
Will ye not sink with sin
For first your husband kilt my farther
And now ye burn his son.
Oh, then it spake Lady Frendraught
And loudly did she cry
It was great pity for Lord John
But none for Rothiemary
But the keys are sunk in deep
draw well, Ye cannot get away.
To the Marquis of Huntly there was only one way to avenge the death of his son. Laying aside his High Sheriff’s impartiality, he recruited a small army of highlanders and raided Frendraught, carrying off 60 cattle and several dozen sheep.
Crichton appealed to Edinburgh, and the privy council came down in his favour. Huntly was fined and Sir James received damages.
Despite their vindication by the Privy Council, both Sir James and his Lady seemed changed by the terrible fire. Three years afterwards he gave a silver chalice, said to have been one of 11 brought north by Mary Queen of Scots, to nearby kirk at Forgue. Today the chalice, the oldest know piece of hallmarked silver in Scotland, lies in a bank vault at Huntly.
Lady Frendraught, took her three daughters and went to live as a recluse at Kinnairdy on the River Deveron. Born a Catholic she was excommunicated when she signed the Solemn League and Covenant supporting the Presbyterian-ism. Turning back to her old faith, she was rebuffed ‘I refuse absolutely to see her’ wrote Father Blackhall, ‘because she was suspected to be guilty of the death of Lord Abboyne…’ When she died, it was without benefit of clergy, on an unrecorded date. She was buried with her husband in an unmarked grave.
‘According to local opinion and the direct testimony of tenants, guests Frendraught is haunted by Lady Elizabeth Crichton, who is bound there because of her guilt. The recorded sightings of a ‘dark woman in white dress’ at Frendraught go back at least to the 18th century when a Victorian clergyman-writer claimed that the ghost had been seen in the house and among the great beeches around it.
The first modern sightings on record occurred in 1938 when the house stood empty and locked The Late William Thomas, former manager of Glendronough Distillary on the boarders of the Bognie estate was in his early teens at the time. One autumn afternoon he was out shooting crows behind the house. Looking up, he saw a pale face surrounded by dark hair, watching him from a window overlooking the courtyard. He called a keeper who also saw the ‘intruder’. Armed with their shotguns, the two broke in through the kitchen window and made their way through the house, searching from top to bottom. There was nobody there, and no sign of forcible entry but their own.
Nearly 10 years later, Mrs Yvonne Morrision encountered the ghost. It was October 28th I remember the date because my husband was away with the Canadian reserve Army and left the day before. I was completely alone in the kitchens in the basement of the house, the oldest part. Suddenly in the silence I heard footsteps coming down the staircase from the top of the house. I was terrified, but something made me go to the bottom of the stairs where they eventually entered the kitchen. I peered up into the darkness and remember thinking very strongly ‘Well, come on then, if you exist show yourself’ I may have even spoken this aloud. The sound of the footsteps stopped at the top of the stairs kitchen stairs and i saw and heard nothing else.
The footsteps where to heavy and clear to be that of a mouse or rat, in fact Mrs Morrison claimed that rats had never been seen in the building. ‘I knew all the creeks and groans of the old place It was none of these.’
Twice the Morrisions had guest who cut short their visits because of mysterious disturbances. On both occasions the guests were level headed people. One was an old army colleague who had been in the thick of the fighting with Mr Morrision during the Italian campaign. In both cases the stories of the separate guests matched in every detail despite that both sets of guests had never met. Mrs Morrision explains.
‘It was quite funny at first. The guests were a bit embarrassed and it became clear as they thought that my husband and I had a furious fight during the night. When we pointed out that the walls between to the two bedrooms was at least 8 feet (2.4 metres) thick and totally soundproof, they became alarmed. They said that they heard the most dreadful cries for help, with the sound of crashing, like heavy furniture being moved thrown about, and screams. They had been too terrified to investigate.
Several guests and subsequent tenants at Frendraught had described seeing a dark lady in white dress edged and decorated in gold. She was usually standing or walking on the main staircase or the back of the stairs.