The Campbells of Loudoun and the Kennedys of Carrick were at feud during the earlier part of the sixteenth century. There was no dissension then in the great family of southern Ayrshire. The Earl of Cassillis was the virtual monarch of his own country-side, and he rode whithersoever he listed, from the Doon into the heart of Galloway, amid vassals who owned his undisputed sway. The powerful collateral branch of Bargany yielded obedience to the King of Carrick. Its head may have been jealous of the overpowering domination of the Earl; but internal disputes wore as yet under check, and to all intents and purposes the Kennedys could be depended on to rally to the 'Standard of Lord Cassillis, when he upraised it either for Ayrshire feud, or to lead his men across the frontier of the shire in the national struggle or the factional fights which decimated Scotland. Cassillis sided with the Duke of Albany. Not so sir Hew Campbell of Loudoun.
From his ancestral home on the upper waters of the Irvine, in the miurland strength of the country, he led his retainers at the call of the Hamiltons and the Douglases. How far the frays which succeeded resulted from different views taken of Scotland's general weal, or whether, being hereditary enemies, the Kennedys and the Campbells naturally took different sides in the national controversy, it is beside our purpose to inquire. it is more to the point that they were at feud one with another; and that all along the first half of the sixteenth century they maintained an intermittent conflict which carried with it the most disastrous results to both families.
Sir Hew Campbell was from home when a messenger reached Loudoun to tell him that the Earl of Cassillis meditated a return to Ayrshire front Stirling. Lady Loudoun, however, was in residence, and gave the messenger interview. A Wallace of the Wallaces, she had been used to feudatory and predatory warfare since her girlhood. She had early been indoctrinated with the family history and the family hates ; and, transferred to Loudoun, she espoused the cause of her liege lord with all the ardour of one who never forgot or forgave. When the courier told his tidings she knew the suggestion that underlay them, and called in her husband's friends. At her bidding came, George Craufurd of Lessnorris, and William his brother, John Campbell of Cessnock, Bartholomew Craufurd of Kerse, and David and Duncan, his brothers, John Craufurd of Drongan, and John and William, his soils, all good men and true to the family cause, and all inflamed with the same unquenchable hatred of the Kennedys that filled the breast of the Lady herself. She gave them the message, and left them to interpret it for themselves. Nor were they long in coming to a conclusion. The result was that they resolved to collect a strong party of their followers and to meet the chief of the Kennedys as he was returning from Stirling.
All resident in the same locality, it did not take them long to assemble their men. The season was the autumn. Nature was in her kindliest and most benevolent mood, but she failed to cast her mellowing influences upon the men from Loudoun side. They were fixed of purpose and bent on retaliation. As they passed along the, road, horsemen armed, the inhabitants of the scattered parishes of Galston, and Mauchline, and Tarbolton, and St. Quivox wondered what their errand, and whither they were bound; but they returned no answer to the interrogations that met them, and jogged steadily on until they reached the neighbourhood of Prestwick. To this day the sandy knolls and the stretching links of Prestwick are well known ; in the sixteenth century, with the exception of the one straggling street of the ancient burgh, and the quaint, old-fashioned, high-gabled kirk standing on its sandy eminence, with its churchyard around it, the greater part of the parish in the vicinity of the coast was wind-swept and bare, and afforded in the depressions, of the knowes, excellent protection and secrecy for the wanderer or the waiter. The road from Glasgow to Ayr ran through a somewhat desolate and arid expanse. Here it rose above the hollows, and there it was overtopped by the hillocks; and there was little need to seek a hiding where every deep indentation was sufficient for the purpose. To one of these depression, the horsemen wended their way, and there they waited, ready at a moment's notice to remount their horses, and to do the deed which they were there to do.
Lord Cassillis was not amid his men as he came from the town of the Rock. He had no reason to anticipate danger, and he was attended only by a small retinue of body servants, armed indeed for defence, but armed rather against the ordinary dangers incidental to the highways of an unsettled country than to meet the shock of men-at-arms. He anticipated no danger. Ayr lay in front of him, not much more than two miles distant, and beyond the royal burgh he saw rise the brown heights of Carrick, which were all his own. In Ayr he would be, to all intents and purposes, in his own country; and once across the Doon, he would be a bold man indeed who would lay an angry finger upon the chief of the Kennedys. There were long miles behind him, there were but few in front of him. Half an hour's easy going at the outset would bring him to his residence in the county town.
But many a destiny has been met, though unforseen, in less time than half an hour. The Loudoun men were apprised of Lord Cassillis' approach and were instantly in readiness. They had few preparations to make. All they required to do was to see that in the first rush and turmoil the Earl did not escape.
Nor did he. Leisurely he came along, and the first warning he had of danger was the impetuous rush of the Campbells and the Craufurds. They were on him in an instant. Flee he could not, and to fight was all but unavailing. To supplicate mercy was useless, and he did not condescend to beg his life with the certainty of his petition being scorned. His followers, few as they were, closed around him, but the Campbells pressed on and overcame the feeble opposition. They were all men who knew how to wield their arms, men of great bodily strength and unmistakable courage; and strong indeed would have been the defence that they could not have beaten back. The combat was short and fatal to the small party of the Kennedys. One by one they fell to the ground, wounded and bleeding, the Earl in the midst. With him there were no half measures, no unsatisfied revenge. The sword and the dagger did their work; and satisfied that life was extinct, the men from Loudoun rode off. Their work was done, and back they hied them to their strongholds to wait the certain coming of the men of Carrick. "Revenge my cause, O Lord," was imprinted on the scroll of a banner borne once from Ayr all the way to Ballantrae in front of the bier of one of the chiefs of Bargany. The invocation was one the Campbells knew would be put into practical application; only, they were assured from experience that the Kennedys would not wait on the interposition of heaven, but would work out their own satisfaction, and that, too, without either fear or trembling.
The body of the slaughtered Earl was borne by reverent hands to Ayr, and thence it was carried in state to the house of Cassillis by the river Doon.
There was wailing and lamentations under the dule tree, which spread its giant arms over the mourners; but mingled with the weeping rose the demand for revenge. The body was interred in the College Church of Maybole, where so many generations of the Kennedys have been laid to rest, and the days of mourning gave place to preparations for the coming judgment.
But these Barons, hot and impetuous as they were, did not act either hastily or rashly in a matter of this kind. They knew just when and where to strike and they bided their time without the lapse of either months or years softening or allaying their passions. In this, case, the law was set in motion, and summonses to appear before the Court of Justiciary were issued, not only against the actual perpetrators of the deed but against Sir Hew Campbell of Loudoun as well. The Earl of Arran became surety for Sir Hew's appearance, but when the case was called, it was found that the chief of the Campbells and the Craufurds had disappeared, having evidently taken some measure of guilt to himself. It is certain he was not present when the Earl was slain, but there is some reason to believe that he may have connived at the deed. In any case, he failed to appear, and the Earl's bail bond for a hundred pounds was declared forfeited, Lady Loudoun was also summoned, but her chaplain, or curate, as he is called, deponed on oath that she was sick, and inasmuch as his testimony was corroborated by that of two other witnesses, the case against her was either departed from or adjourned sine die. The Craufurds of Lessnorris, Kerse, and Drongan, and Campbell of Cessnock, tougher with their followers, were included in the indictment. Like Sir Hew and Lady Loudoun, they failed to put in an appearance, and the whole batch were put to the horn, in other words were declared rebels, and outlawed. A watch was set upon their movements, and wherever they went the sharp eyes of the enemy seem to have been upon them. Sir Hew was compelled to seek shelter among his friends, and he had many who were not afraid to run. the risk of inter-communing with the rebel. At different times he was located with Cuninghame of Glengarnock Mure of Rowallan, Hamilton of Colinskeith, Wallace of Newtown, Fullarton of Crosbie the Master of Glencairn, Cuninghame of Caprington, Cuninghame of Aiket, Cuninghame of Bertonholm, Ross of Haining, Lockhart of Bar, and other allies of the common cause in North Ayrshire. All these named, and many more, were called to answer for their kindness to the knight of Loudoun, and in some cases were not only heavily fined but their goods were forfeited to the Crown. Withal, however, they did not abate their friendship for the prime sufferer from the tragedy done near Prestwick; and so far as can be discovered, no more serious consequences than, those indicated resulted from the law having been set in motion.
The Kennedys waited patiently on the Country's justice. Its pursuit was slow, and they had therefore, perforce, to take the judgment into their own hands. The fiery chief of Bargany undertook the work of revenge, and from his home by the banks of the Girvan he sent out his messengers to bid the Kennedys to the fray. They were never loath to come. The combat had no terrors for them. Nothing appealed more to them than a raid upon the territories of the enemy, and so they gathered in from far away Galloway and from the four quarters of Carrick. They came through the wild Glenapp and along the valley of the Stinchar; from the rock-girdled coast with its chain of castles, strongholds not to be despised; across the hills separating Ayrshire from its neighbouring shire on the southward; from the hills and plains by Girvan; front Maybole, where there were always good men and true ; from every point of the water of Girvan ; from the homesteads clustering on the braes of the Duisk; and from the southern banks of the river Doon; and they gathered amid the tall plane trees surrounding the historic house of Cassillis. Many a warlike scene that placid landscape has witnessed. It is quiet to-day with its bolts of trees, its fertile haughs, its outlook to the summit of the Downans; but when the world was younger than it is by two or three centuries, Cassillis gazed on different sights and scenes. Full often it has witnessed the gathering of the Kennedys on warlike errand bent; it has seen the shattered remnant of the force that rode gaily away beneath the streaming pennons, return broken and discomfited; it has heard the shouting of the victors; its walls have echoed to the wailing of the vanquished. It stands alone in its antiquity; there is nothing near it of equal age, save the friendly dule tree which stretches its hoary arm to the walls of the keep, and which stood where it stands to-day when the builders excavated for the dungeon, and threw out the soil to construct the fosse, now filled up and unrecognizable even in its outlines. Cassillis was the historic meeting place of the clan, and there the bold Bargany met with his men.
Five-and-twenty good miles lay between Cassillis and Loudoun, not miles of hard level road and good riding but miles over a rough country with many a moss and stretch of moorland to cross. The riders were hardened to exercise, and the horses they bestrode were wiry and accustomed to plod steadily onwards, making the maximum of distance on the minimum of rest and fodder. It was not Bargany's intention to give the men on the upper waters of the Irvine time to gather in their own defence, and therefore, as they passed in a north-easterly direction to their destination, they kept is far as possible clear of the castles which studded the country-side. If Loudoun, Castle was to be taken at all, it must be by surprise ; for its walls were thick and secure, and heavy were its battlements. Nothing save a regular siege could reduce the keep, and in feudal warfare such a thing was seldom if ever attempted. Bargany's intention was twofold, to kill and to destroy; to set fire to the castle, and to have retribution in kind for the life-taking of his hereditary chief, the Earl of Cassillis. He learned that Lady Loudoun was not resident in the house whither he was bent, but at the castle of Achruglen on the Galston side of the valley, and without wasting time he directed his course in that direction. It was late in the autumn and the country, clear of its harvest, was growing bare under the chilly airs which swept across its moorland solitudes. The trees were casting their leaves, and Nature's forces were beginning to rest from their summer and earlier autumn labours. Achruglen stood out a prominent feature in the landscape. It was a residence meet for the times, fit habitation for a feudal Baron. Not a formidable keep, but a house of refuge, built for the purposes of retiral under such a sudden emergency as that with which it was now face to face. Sir Hew was from home, but when Lady Loudoun heard the horse-hoofs of the Kennedys and saw Bargany and his men ride up the approach, she had the keep rapidly put into a condition for passive defence. She could not fight, but she could barricade. The heavy iron-studded door was accordingly fastened securely, and the upper floors of the castle were shut off from communication with the lower. With her son and her daughters she left the basement, and from one of the little windows of the tower, overlooking the approach at a considerable height from the ground, she watched Bargany and his ongoings.*
* What follows is taken mainly from an old ballad of the times. In the name of humanity the author expresses the hope that it may be but traditionary, though it has undoubtedly been accepted as in some, degree genuine ; and the ruins of Achruglen are pointed to in confirmation. Nor is the deed at all out of keeping with Ayrshire story of the sixteenth century.
Bargany surveyed the position. Achruglen, he saw, could not he carried by assault. If it was to fall at all it must be either by the agency of fire or by calling to his aid the treachery of some one within the building. Before proceeding to kindle the torch, he summoned Lady Loudoun to surrender. She spurned his offer. He told her that if she remained obstinate he would set fire to the building and that she would go down in the ruins or be burned to death. A woman of metal, even to death, she scorned to yield. Bargany then addressed himself to one of the house-servants who stood looking from the window. He promised him life and reward if he would deliver up the castle. The servant would fain have obeyed, for he bad no heart for perishing in a conflagration, but Lady Loudoun's eye was upon him and he returned no answer. Negotiation thus proving fruitless, Bargany ordered his men to collect a large store of brushwood and of tinder, and these they piled around the outer door. The pile was lit and the tragedy began. Up rose the smoke into the November air, and then the forked tongues of the fire. The door might have withstood the assaults of armed men, but a more potent weapon than the arm of man was raised against it. The timber was heavy and solid, but as the heat increased it caught fire, and soon, within the hall and without, the smoke rose in dense columns, half-stilling the inmates and preventing the Kennedys from seeing the progress of their handiwork. The crackling, splintering woodwork told its own tale. The man-servant who saw the destruction which he courted not, gaining fast upon him, earnestly besought Lady Loudoun to purchase life by yielding herself a prisoner, but, finding her still inexorable and calmly waiting, the issues, he left her to her fate, and, proceeding to the rear of the building whither the fire had not yet extended, he raised the door of a secret passage and made haste to flee. The Kennedys espied the exit and hastened to avail themselves of it. Bargany would gladly at this moment have saved the life of the gallant Lady, and he bade his men enter and bare her out. But when they reached the stairs, they found these heavily barricaded, and Lady Loudoun herself in a calm, steady voice told them that she was ready to die at her post of duty. They implored her to yield, but she answered them haughtily ; and finding that they must escape if they would save themselves, they returned to Bargany and told him their errand had been unsuccessful. He shouted to Lady Loudoun to throw herself from the battlement, assuring her that efforts would be made to break her fall ; but having made up her mind, she did not respond to his earnest pleading.
Pen cannot portray the scene in the house of Achruglen. Begirt with flame round its base, gradually and swiftly the fire rose from floor to floor. Within were wife, and daughters, and son. They clung around their mother. The poor little fellow, sitting upon the knee of the faithful nurse, who elected to end her days with her mistress, complained of the smoke getting into his eyes and hurting his throat. His mother cast a look of unspeakable anguish on the heir destined never to come, to his own, and it her little daughters doomed to accompany her in her furnace journey to the land beyond the gates of time; but the idea of yielding never crossed her mind. And if, ere the conflagration wrapped the tower in destruction, she regretted the doom which she had courted not only for herself, but for her bairns she regretted. it too late. Mercifully the swirling searching smoke filling the rooms and finding out every nook and cranny of the building, overpowered the senses of the suffering inmates, and prevented them enduring the agonies of the final havoc. The floors below that on which they stood gave way. There was crash upon crash, here an overhanging piece of masonry, and there heavy oaken beams burned in twain by the furious element. Up and still upward crept, swept, the flames until, rising from every window of the topmost tier, they met together overhead, and united in triumph above the desolation they had accomplished. In one common wreck and, ruin lay all within the four walls of Achruglen, the intrepid Lady Loudoun and her children, buried in funeral pyre, lit by the Spirit of revenge.
Bargany and the Kennedys stood by till all was over, and then they turned away from the smouldering record of their stern retribution. Was it not with chastened hearts that they retraced their going? Or as they thought of the deed they had done, was the predominant feeling in their breasts one of savage joy that they had wiped out the memory of the slaughtered Earl by one of the most cruel deeds recorded in Ayrshire story ?