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Balveny Castle drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H. Le Keux. Source: The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland (1852). Note the people in nineteenth-century costume in the center forground and the homel;y touch of what seems to be sheets drying on a clothes line. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

This massive and quaint ruin stands on a high bank overlooking the Fiddoch — a stream unknown to fame, which tumbles from the mountains down to the lowlands of Banffshire. The parish of Marnoch, in which it stands, has many curious antiquities, traditionally connected with the Danish wars. These ancient, and mostly fabulous legends, have even embraced the object of these remarks, though the oldest portion of the building can be no older than the fifteenth century. A writer of the early part of the eighteenth says —

Balvanie (in Irish Bal-Beni-Mor, the house of St Beyne the Great, the first bishop of Murthlack,) the old castle of which, (though rebuilt by the Stewarts, Earls of Atholl, Lords of Balvenie,) having been built ('tis said) by the Danes, has a large parlour in it now called the Danes Hall. [ [View of the Diocese of Aberdeen, p. 619. emphasis in original]

In the plate, and between two of the quaint projecting windows, can be read the motto of the Atholl family, which, in its modernised shape, is "Furth fortune and fill the fetters."

It is right to mention that the accompanying woodcut does not represent a window of Balvenie, but one less dilapidated in a corner house of a street in Elgin. It shows what these small oriels were in. their more complete state. — author’s note.

When this estate came, as it must have done very soon after the castle was built, into the hands of a branch of the family of Innes, they took first the territorial title of Innermarkie from a portion of the territory acquired from the Atholl family, and subsequently changed it for Balveny (Historical Account of the Origine and Succession of the Family of Innes, collected from Authentick Writs in the Chartor Chist of the samen.— From an original manuscript in the possession of His Grace the Duke of Roxburghe, p. 47). From their alliances and their acquisitions, the Balveny branch of the family of Innes became so powerful that they aspired to the chiefship of the house. The method adopted for the accomplishment of this object involves a complex tragic history, worthy to be told at fuller length than these pages admit of. The Laird of Innes was advanced in years, and childless. He had executed an entail of his estates in favour of the nearest hereditary branch of the family — Innes of Cromy. Robert Innes, of Innermarky and Balveny, endeavoured to make a party among his kindred in opposition to this project; but they all approved of the entail; and the intriguer, sent back disappointed and baffled, in the bitterness of his heart resolved to revenge himself, and accomplish his original end by murdering Cromy, and getting possession of the deed of entail.

The Court Yard of Balveny Castle. drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H. Le Keux. Click on image to enlarge it.

A person situated as Cromy was had to keep his eyes about him, and when he left his fortalice seldom did so without an ample armed retinue. It chanced, however, that having a son attending college in Aberdeen, the youth fell sick, and his father went thither affectionately to attend his couch. In the sick-chamber the murderer resolved to accomplish his intention. He entered the town with his followers at dead of night. Cromy's house was within a close or court, the gate of which had been carelessly left open. When the murderers entered the cul-de-sac, however, they found that the house itself was shut up, and pretty strongly barred, so that they could not have stormed it without a more serious disturbance than it was expedient to raise in the heart of a town. There were then great feuds between the Gordons and their hereditary enemies, and as Cromy was a partisan of the Gordons, Balveny adopted the device of shouting their war-cry. The trick succeeded: the victim descended half-dressed, with his sword in his hand, and opened the door, when he was immediately shot by his enemy. There were some kinsmen of the assassin present who, probably, did not anticipate this tragical conclusion of the proceedings, for he took the brutal precaution of compelling them to bury their dirks in the body, that they too might be partners to the transaction. The efforts made to recover possession of the entail are another chapter in the romance. It can only be here said that the plotter succeeded in being, for a short time, the ostensible head of the house; but the son of the murdered man pursued him with hereditary hatred. He was forced to conceal himself; but his lurking-place was discovered. He was put to death without trial, and his head was cut off and sent to court.

Nearly a century later, the descendant of the murderer had a contest with the head of his family conducted in the courts of law, which had then begun to supersede the old methods of "speedy justice." The devices he adopted to strengthen his hands were, however, curious enough of their kind. The plan for the creation of Baronets of Nova Scotia having been started, Balveny endeavoured to obtain one of the patents, that he might have higher rank, and consequently greater influence than his chief; or, as the family historian expresses it, “having law for it, he would baffle his cheiff, and take the door of him, or put him to the necessity of being lord, which his circumstances could ill bear” (Historical Account, p. 62). He was, however, defeated by the equal, if not superior cunning of his rival, and became what was generally called a broken man — the ruiner of his house. “And to follow it out to the close," says the historian, " Sir Robert Innes of Balvenny, who broke his own estate, had a son, Sir "Walter, who succeeded him to the name, but not to the land. Sir Robert's circumstances were but mean, he left no heirs, and in his death the family extinguished, he being the eighth generation from the first Walter who founded it." And, mentioning some cadets of the family, he says, — “The last come of the house of Balveny, and nearest that family, (were there anything to represent) is Mr George Innes, a priest, who possesses a small interest in Angus called Dunnoine: what lawful heirs-male he can have I know not." (Historical Account, 63-64).

R. W. B.


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the Duke University Library. Web. 19 October 2018.

Last modified 19 October 2018