Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


23.2.10
  Birdoswald - The Timber Halls

I'm being very lazy with this post, because Carla Nayland has written such excellent essays about the Dark Age activity on the site of Birdoswald (the Roman Banna), one of the Hadrian's Wall forts, where excavations have brought to light traces of two large timber halls that made use of the Roman granary foundations.

I'm only going to add the illustrations. :)

Row of posts compared to the street and north granary foundations

The second timber hall has been excavated in 1987 and marked with timber posts in the ancient post holes so that visitors can get an image of size of the hall and its situation in relation to the granaries.

A somewhat earlier timber hall had been constructed over the south granary, but it was no longer use when the northern hall was built. This makes sense because a timber building had an average life span of 30 years and would then be rebuilt on a new place instead of undergoing repairs.

View from the other side, with the foundations of the second granary in the foreground

The style reminds of a Saxon long house, and according to the description and a drawing on site it looks like some sort of Meduseld. There are also some finds of Anglo-Saxon jewelry.

It would not be the first case where a local ruler saw the advantage of the Roman remains and the strategical situation of the place. The Norman keep in Cardiff is another example. What I'd like to know is whether the wall and trench fortifications at Birdoswald were still in maintained during the Dark Ages. Those times weren't exactly peaceful, after all.
 


18.2.10
  Beautiful Roman Daggers

I've collected virtual Roman military daggers, pugii (the singular is pugio), for some time now whenever a museum allowed taking pictures. Here are some pretty ones found in Germany, dating from Augustean and Tiberian times.

For some reason, daggers are more frequently found than swords of the short gladius or the longer spatha type (though some gladius fragments have been found in Hedemünden). Maybe those have been recycled more often.

Legionary dagger, Hedemünden

The iron pugio was found in Hedemünden main camp (camp 1), and cleaned and conserved by the company of H. Biebler in Mühlhausen / Thuringia. What you find isn't such a shiny item, but some caked mix of metal, rust and dirt. It takes lot of experience to see there's something cool hiding in such a lump.

The photo was taken at the exhibition of the Hedemünden finds in Hannoversch-Münden, 2009.

Roman dagger, Oberammergau / Bavaria

This one is from the Imperium Exhibition in the Seelandhalle, Haltern. The notched exemplar to the left is an original found in Bavaria; the right side one a reconstruction. The dagger has a burr along the middle of the blade; the handle was fixed to the blade with five iron rivets. The weapon dates between 15 BC and the first half of the first century AD (a loan from the Landesmuseum Munich).

The item in the background that looks like the Roman version of a computer mouse is a catapult bolt with a bent pin that would have fixed it to the short wooden shaft.

Decorated pugio, found near the Hedemünden camp

The second Hedemünden dagger, found on the way between the main camp and the recently discovered smaller camp on the Kring hill. The find is interesting because it had been carefully deposited under a stone, and not simply lost. It may have been a sacrifice. (Displayed in the Imperium Exhibition 2009, together with some sandal nails.)

The pugio is damasced, with a middle burr and fullers running along both sides of it. The handle is layered. Around the iron nucleus - a continuation of the blade - there's a layer of bone and another iron one, held together with wire and rivets of non-ferrous metal. The iron-sheeted pommel has a wooden nucleus. A rather elaborately made and pretty weapon.

Decorated pugio, LWL Museum, Haltern

A local find from the Lippe river where the Romans had several forts and camps until the Varus disaster (and maybe even longer, as is now discussed). This pugio has a decorative pattern of silver and brass wire. Another beautiful weapon that may have been the possession of an officer, a centurion maybe. The higher ranking officers probably had even more expensive ones.
 


14.2.10
  A Scottish Wedding

A special version for that Hallmark and Fleurop day, February 14th. *grin*

Lachlan Mhór Maclean's own marriage seems to have been a happy one. Neither did he need to kidnap his future father-in-law to get the bride, like another Lachlan Maclean in 1367 when he fell in love with Mary, the daughter of the Macdonald Lord of the Isles. Nor did he maroon his wife on a rock in the sea, as was the fate of Catherine Campbell, wife of the 11th Maclean chief (see here).

No, Lachlan fell in love with Margaret Cunningham, daughter of William Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, while he stayed in the house as guest (not as hostage, for a change). Margaret obviously was quite taken with the handsome young Highland chief, and her father agreed to the marriage which took place in 1576. King James VI may have been miffed, though, because he had arranged for Maclean to marry the daughter of the Earl of Atholl.

The silhouette of Duart Castle, seen from the ferry

A less happy fate befell Maclean's mother. She was the sister of the Earl of Carlyle and had a fortune in her own right, which made her a desirable match still. One of her suitors was John Mac Iain of Ardnamurchan (alternate spelling MacIan), a smaller clan related to the Macdonalds. Obviously, Lachlan Maclean hoped to break the Macdonald alliance by allowing the marriage of his mother and John MacIan to take place, though the MacIans of Ardnamurchan had a lost a lot of power to the Campbells at that time and were not the biggest fish in the pond of Maclean's enemies.

I could not find out anything about John MacIan, and I can only make a few guesses about Lachlan's mother. Maybe my genealogist readers can find more with what little information I can provide.

Lachlan was born in 1554 and had at least one surviving sister (who married Angus Macdonald and ended up in the middle of a fierce feud between her husband and her brother). Maclean's heir apparent was a cousin, Allan Maclean of Morvern, so there seems to have been no further surviving male offspring. One can assume that the lady was something between 16 and her mid-twenties at Lachlan's birth, which would make her between 50 and 60 at the time of her third marriage in 1588. I don't know how old the bridegroom was; a man of her own age, or a trophy boy bought with her money.

Duart Castle

The marriage was celebrated at Torloisk House on Mull, close to Duart Castle. There are several versions of the ensuing events. In one, Lachlan Maclean, angry that John refused to join the Macleans against Angus Macdonald, broke into the bridal chamber and dragged the bridegroom out of his mother's arms, while his men killed the Ardnamurchan retainers.

Another version has it that Maclean suspected that greed was MacIan's motive but gave in to his mother's wishes. When at the banquet following the ceremonies one of the MacIan men joked about gold being the true motive for the match, swords were out in seconds and while the Macleans happily butchered the MacIans, Lachlan himself went for John. Only his mother's pleas saved the life of her unfortunate husband.

The third is the most spectacular one. It has Lachaln Maclean burst into the reception at Torloisk and single-handedly kill several MacIan retainers, then dragging John away to the dungeons. The badass Scot version, lol. It also implies that Lachlan didn't agree with the marriage in the first place.

View from the peninsula to Mull

Whatever version is true, eighteen MacIan of Ardnamurchan were killed, and John was thrown into the dungeons at Duart where he suffered 'dailie tortour and panis.' Ouch.

The dungeons must have been quite crowded at the time, since the three Spanish officers were hanging out there as well. John MacIan was held in captivity for a year until he was exchanged for Maclean's son, then a hostage of Angus Macdonald. That John was still alive after a year of torture makes it clear that Scots are very difficult to kill. Or that the chronicles exaggerate. ;)

Lachlan Mhór Maclean died in a battle on Islay in 1598, aged forty-four. A befitting end for him; a straw dead would have been the wrong way to go for that adventurous and brave Maclean chief.
 


9.2.10
  A Clan Feud, a Spanish Galleon, and a Big Bang

Disclaimer: Since the 16th century is not my special interest and thus not represented in my private research library, I used the internet for this one *gasp* and mostly relied on older books avaliable online. Thus I won't guarantee that every fact is correct, though I assume the gist of the events is fairly accurate.

It started with some stolen cattle (which is pretty much the Scottish version of 'once upon a time'). Some outlaws with a grudge towards the Macdonald of Sleat chief lifted some Maclean cattle and made it look like the Macdonalds did it. Whereupon Lachlan Mhór Maclean attacked Donald Gorme Macdonald and killed some 60 Macdonalds, though Donald Gorme escaped on a ship. I'm not sure the version of Donald and Maclean being innocent victims of a trick is entirely true, but someone stole cattle, that much is clear. This is Scotland, after all. :)

Another Macdonald, Angus of Kintyre who was the brother-in-law of Lachlan Mhór, tried to reconcile both men. Against the counsel of his brothers, Angus visited Lachlan in Duart Castle, the seat of the Maclean chiefs. Lachlan welcomed his brother-in-law and retinue, but the next day fell upon them and took Angus captive.

Duart Castle

Lachlan Mhór Maclean had made himself known some years earlier when, upon coming of age in 1574 (or 1576) he left the court of King James VI at Edinburgh to claim the chiefship. His first deed was to shorten his stepfather Hector by a head. One source calls Hector 'wicked', so maybe he had it coming. The next to learn Lachlan Mhór was no easy target was Colin Campbell 6th Earl of Argyll. He'd plotted with the Macdonalds to snatch some Maclean lands which they invaded with several hundred fighting men. But Lachlan rallied his men and in turn invaded the Argyll lands until the earl thought the Maclean lands were too dearly bought and made peace. Part of sealing that peace was a marriage between Angus Macdonald of Kintyre and Maclean's sister. The arrangement worked until that unfortunate cattle incident in 1586.

Angus had to buy his release by giving the title to the Rhinns of Islay to Lachlan. His son James and his brother Ranald stayed as hostages in Duart castle. That didn't stop Angus from plotting revenge, though. Under the pretext of dealing with the formalities of the Rhinns of Islay transfer, Angus Macdonald invited Lachlan to his house of Mullintrae on Islay. Lachlan at first was mistrusting (heh, he had played the game himself before), but in the end Angus could persuade him of his affection and brotherly love - or at least his sincerity, since I doubt Lachlan believed in brotherly love at this point. But he was careful, left Ranald behind in chains at Duart and took James with him as sort of living shield.

Maclean and his kinsfolk and servants (86 people in all) were welcomed and invited to a sumptuous banquet, after which Maclean and his retinue were lodged in a long-house (the Macdonalds still lived a bit Viking style, it seems) some distance apart from the other buildings at Mullintrae. But Angus Macdonald had alterted his men to come to his house in secret at night, some 300-400 in all who now surrounded the long-house. Angus called upon Lachlan Mhór to receive the reposing cup, but Lachlan smelled a toad and came forth with his nephew James before him. The lad, beholding his father and other men with bare swords, cried for mercy to his uncle. Angus granted it, and Lachlan and his men surrendered.

To add fuel to the mess, Lachlan Mhór's heir apparent, Allan Maclean of Morvern (Lachlan's children being too young to succeed him) saw a chance to get the job. He spread a rumour that Ranald Macdonald, the hostage held at Duart, had been killed, in hope Angus would kill Lachlan in revenge. But Angus 'only' executed most of Lachlan's men. Clan feuds and dysfunctional families, oh my.

Interestingly, the Earl of Argyll who ten years before had a few chickens to fry with Lachlan Maclean now mobilised his influence to get the Maclean chief out of that predicament. Maybe he didn't want a too strong clan Macdonald, either. In the end, Lachlan was exchanged for Ranald Macdonald, and in turn had to give his son and 'divers other pledges' as hostages to Angus.

View from the castle battlements over the Sound of Mull, and Morvern

Angus Macdonald went to Ireland on business (no raiding this time), and Lachlan Maclean went to Islay and started the usual killing and burning, not caring for the hostages or the oaths sworn 'before the friends' at his delivery. This time Angus had enough. He didn't hurt the hostages, but he rallied not only his own Kintyre and Islay men, but also the Macdonald of Skye and Sleat, and fell upon Maclean's lands, cutting all the way to Ben More on Mull.

This same summer 1588, the Spanish Armada was defeated in the Channel. Some thirty galleons escapted across the North Sea and surrounded the Orkneys, but in the strait between Scotland and Ireland they met with a severe gale that drove most of the ships onto the Irish coast where the survivors of the wreckage were slaughtered. One galleon, the Florencia, escaped to the Bay of Tobermory on the outer end of Mull.

The captain of the Florencia, Don Pareira (his full name probably had a few 'y Insertplacename') at first thought he could demand assisstance because he had several hundred soldiers onboard. But Lachlan Maclean told him he'd better say 'please' because his clansmen weren't impressed by a ruffled galleon full of half starved soldiers, and the Maclean would repel any landing attempt. So Pareira offered to pay for the supplies and assisstance. Lachlan Mhór, considering the soldiers may come handy in his feud with the Macdonalds, struck a bargain to have one hundred Spanish soldiers accompany him on his foray into Macdonald lands as part of the payment.

So the Maclean clansmen and their Spanish additions went off ravaging Kintyre and the islands of Rum and Eigg and then laid siege to Mingary Castle, a Macdonald stronghold on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I'm not sure about the timeline here: Last we've seen Angus Macdonald, he'd been busy on Mull, but if a Spanish boat could sail, or row, from Tobermory to Duart, I guess the Macdonalds had already left. It is never said they laid siege to Duart Castle, nor is it mentioned that Lachlan Mhór needed the Spanish soldiers to kick the Macdonalds out of Mull.

View from the battlements towards Mull

Meanwhile, Captain Pareira had repaired and resupplied his galleon and asked for the soldiers to be returned to him. Maclean basically agreed but said that there was still an open payment since the inhabitants of Tobermory had provided the crew with grain and cattle. The Florencia was rumoured to carry a treasure and Lachlan wanted some of the shiny gold coins. Can't blame him, either, cattle and grain are valuable in the Highlands. He kept three of the officers prisoner in Duart to make sure Pareira stuck to his part of the bargain.

Maclean sent young Donald Glas, the son of Allan Maclean of Morvern (the man who'd tried to get Lachlan killed) to deal with the Spaniards. The moment he entered the deck of the Florencia, Donald was disarmed and thrown into a cabin below. Looks like Pareira had learned the Scottish way to handle things. Lachlan Maclean still refused to deliver the Spanish officers until the demands of his people were paid, while Pareira threatened to carry Donald to sea.

Of the following incident, the story that is still told today: When Donald Glas realised he'd been kidnapped by the Spaniards, he seeked to wreck revenge for the treason of his kinsmen (heh, when Scots do that to each other, it's ok, but when spme outlanders do it to a Scot, it's a crime). He found out that his cabin was separated from the powder magazine only by a bulkhead, and by some means never explained, cut a hole into the planking and laid a train to the powder. Donald was allowed on deck to take a last farewell of his beloved homeland when the Florencia set sail, but the moment he was pushed under deck again, he set fire to the trail and the galleon blew up 'with terrific violence' in Tobermory Bay. Pieces of timber and bodies were flung ashore, it is said. But no gold coins, obviously.

There is no sure proof for Donald Maclean's role in the affair, but fact is that the galleon did blow up.

The three Spanish officers are still held in the dungeon at Duart Castle. *grin* At least, life sized puppets are. (I didn't take photos, though, because cameras were not allowed inside the castle because of insurance demands.) Maclean set the officers free and sent them to Edinburgh where they lodged a complaint with the king about the destruction of their galleon 'with sulphurous powder', but it seems to no avail.

Duart Castle in the evening sun, seen from the ferry

Lachlan Maclean and Angus Macdonald continued to feud happily ever after - well, until King James VI, afraid that he would be out of Scots soon, summoned the chiefs to Edinburgh where they were imprisoned in 1591. After paying a fine, they made peace with each other and the king, but had to leave their oldest sons at court as hostages for their future obedience.

The legend of the treasure in coin and other valuables the Florencia led to several attempts at finding those shiny things. Divers went down shortly after the destruction. They used stones as weight which they dropped to resurface; an amazing feat with no other air but what they could pump into their lungs.

The Crown had assigned the treasure to the Campbell House of Argyll as part of its rights as admirals of the Western Seas, a fact that didn't sit well with the Maclean who claimed the first rights on the wreck. One Hector Maclean built a small fort overlooking Tobermory Bay and drove the divers off. The affair went to court and the Campbell rights were confirmed.

An attempt with a bell in 1665, commissioned by the 9th Earl of Argyll, led to locating the hull and some smaller items. I was suprised to learn that diving bells date that far back. Over the time, several more divings brought further items to light, among them a canon, but the big chest with the shiny gold coins remains hidden under the shifting sands in the bay. Or in legend. ;)

Most important books used:
Ralph D. Paine, The Book of Buried Treasure, 1911 (avaliable here)
Alexander MacGregor, The Feuds of the Clans, 1907 (avaliable in several versions online)
The Duart Castle Guidebook, 2000
 


4.2.10
  Guarding the Sound of Mull - Duart Castle

Duart Castle, the ancient Maclean stronghold on Mull, is situated where the Sound of Mull meets with the Firth of Lorn and Loch Linnhe. It sits atop a crag, in view of Dunstaffnage and Dunollie castles, and is part of a chain of eight castles that protected Mull and the mainland. Today, you can reach it by ferry from Oban and a short bus trip.

Back in 1367, you'd have needed to be on the right side of Lachlan Lubanach 5th chief of clan Maclean to get passage on one of his war galleys. Lachlan married Mary Macdonald, the daughter of the Lord of the Isles who gave her Duart as dowry. It was a love match, it is said, and old Macdonald not too happy about it. Relations between the two clans remained uneasy in the future.

Duart Castle

At that time, Duart Castle was a rectangular wall enclosing a courtyard (which, I suppose, held some timber buildings), and it was Lachlan Lubanach who built the stone keep outside the curtain wall but connected with it. It's an unusual structure to have the keep outside the wall, but it is protected by its situation on the crag and the peninsular structure of the site. On the landward side, the curtain wall was 9 metres high, and the castle was additionally protected by a deep ditch cut into the solid rock.

In the 17th century, vaulted cellars (some of them serving as dungeons) and a kitchen were built inside the walls, with a hall on first floor level and a chamber above it. A two storey gatehouse was added to defend the entrance into the courtyard.

The keep atop the cliff

Being a Scottish clan, the Macleans were involved in a lot of feuds and shifting alliances with other clans and the kings. The guidebook has some stories, like the one of Lachlan Cattanach (the Shaggy) Maclean and 11th chief who abandoned his wife Catherine Campbell on a rock that would be flooded at high tide. She was rescued by a fisherman and sought shelter with her brother who in turn had Lachlan 'dirked in bed' (1523).

The Maclean chose the 'wrong' side during the first Jacobite rising, and in 1691 Sir John Maclean 4th Baronet of Morvern surrendered the castle to Archibald Campbell 1st Duke of Argyll who fought for William and Mary. Despite being in bad repair, the castle was used as garrison for Government troops until it was abandoned in 1751.

Duart Castle - seen from the land side

Duart Castle was sold a few times, slowly falling into ruins. But in 1910 Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 26th chief of the clan fulfilled a dream he had since a childhood visit to the hereditary lands and bought the castle. He took up the enormous and costly task to restore the building.

The restoration by the architect Sir John Burnett stayed close to the original features. Judging by a photo in the guidebook, the remains were substantial enough to serve as guideline. Further repairs were performed in 1991-95 under the present chief, Sir Lachlan Hector Maclean, 28th chief of the clan. Duart Castle is open to the public.

Some Maclean stories can be found here and here.
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction and Fantasy author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.

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