Introduction and Prefactory Note

The Name

The Founding of the Abbey

The Building of the Abbey

A Peep within the Walls

Incidents in its History

The Abbot's Debate with John Knox

The Roasting of the Commendator

Present Condition



The Roasting of the Commendator


Commendator Stewart was taking his walk
   In Crossraguel woods one day,

Doing his lawful errands and work
   As any Commendator may;

"When, lo! a band of steel-clad men,
   Who all in ambush lay,

Have seized and bound him fast and sure,
   And carried him away.


They bore him off to the lone sea-shore,
   Where sits in sullen state

Dunure's strong hold—where many a carle
   Has met a gruesome fate.

And his fate, too, is fixed and sure
   As any fate can be,

Unless his lands to Cassillis's lord
   To sign he straight agree.


But Commendator Stewart is stiff and dour,
   And stands by his rights like a man;

And won't give in to Cassillis's chief,
   Let him argue as he can.

But Cassillis's chief has an argument strong,
   Which he keeps in his vaults so black;

And Commendator Stewart must give up his lands,
   Or answer on the rack.

Oh, dark are the vaults of grim Dunure,
   On its rocks by the sounding sea;

And deaf are its walls to mercy's calls,
   Or the prisoner's misery !

And so the poor Commendator now
   May well lose heart of grace,

When naked and bound before a fire
   They roasted him apace.

He signed the deed, with nervous dread,
   As still is plain to see ;

But signing by force is no legal bond
   In a land of liberty.

So the cruel Earl made nought by that deed
   Of violence, as you may be sure,

Except to wind this story dark
   'Bout the Castle of Dunure.

The ruins of the old Castle of Dunure* stand by the sea¬shore, about six miles from Maybole. Even in decay the building looks massive and strong; and the little fishing village named after it, clusters at its foot in much the same way that the retainers' huts in old times clustered round the feudal castle. The building, with the lands adjacent, now belong to the Kennedys of Dalquharran, but originally it was the seat of the Cassillis Kennedys, now represented by the Marquess of Ailsa. The Maybole Collegiate Church, where most of the old " Kings of Carrick " lie buried, was founded in 1371 by Sir John Kennedy of Dunure, for the purpose of celebrating Divine service " for the happy state of himself, his wife Mary, and their children." And we are glad to state this fact as some palliation at least of the story we have now to record.

* Dunure is said to mean the fort of the yew tree

It appears that after the death of Quintin Kennedy in 1564, Queen Mary bestowed the rents of Crossraguel upon the celebrated George Buchanan, as some recompense for the great services he had rendered to his country. This continued, however, only for a time, as in 1570, we find them in possession of one Allan Stewart, who, under the title of Commendator (or interim proprietor), took charge of all the revenues belonging to the Abbey. But a poor Commendator in Carrick in those days was about as helpless as a lamb by the side of a wolf. Earl Gilbert—the "very greedy man," who swallowed the Glenluce lands, as we have seen—now cast his eyes upon the Crossraguel lands, and resolved to have them. If he could not get them by fair means, he would get them by foul. And, first, he tried seemingly fair means—"Would not the new Commendator give him the lands in feu ? He would pay him a rent as well as any other man !" But the new Commendator did not care about this arrangement. He was afraid that the rents he would receive from his lordship would be of the smallest. He, therefore, declined the offer. But his lord¬ship had another plan in store. He inveigled him down to the Castle of Dunure, and there roasted him before a fire, until he gave in, and signed away his lands as desired. But I must give an account of the transaction in poor Stewart's own words, modernising, as usual, the spelling and grammar:—

"On the 29th day of August, 1570," he says, "I was within the Wood of Crossraguel, doing my lawful errands and business, when Gilbert, Earl of Cassillis, Thomas, Master of Cassillis, with their accomplices, to the number of sixteen persons or thereby, came to me, and persuaded me, by their flattery and deceitful words, to pass with them to his castle and place of Dunure; being always minded, if I had refused to pass with them, to have taken me perforce. And he, putting me within the same, that I should be in sure durance, commanded six of his servants to wait upon me, so that I escaped not; who took from me my horse> with all my weapons, and then departed; until the first day of September thereafter, that he came again, and required me to subscribe to him a feu charter, brought with him, made of parchment, of the whole lands pertaining to the said Abbacy, together with a nineteen and five year tack of the fruits, teinds, and duties thereof, as he alleged, of the whole kirks and parsonages pertaining thereto; whereof I, never having read a word, answered, 'it was a thing unreasonable, and that I could in no ways do.' Who, then, after a long bullying and threatening, caused toe to be carried by John Kennedy, his baker; John M'Leir, his cook; Alex. Ritchard, his pantryman; Alex. Eccles, and Sir William Tode,* his chaplain, to a house called the Black Vault of Dunure; where the tormentors denuded me of all my clothes perforce, except only my sark and doublet; and then bound both my hands at the shackle-bones with a cord, as he did both my feet, and bound my soles betwixt an iron grate and a fire; and being bound thereto, could no ways stir nor move, but had almost died through my cruel burning. And seeing no other appearance to me, but either to condescend to his desire, or else to continue in that torment until I died, I said I would obey his desire, albeit it was sore against my will. And for to be relieved of my said pain, I subscribed the forenamed charter and tacks, which I never yet read, nor knew what therein was contained; which being done, the said Earl caused the said tormentors of me to swear upon a Bible never to reveal a word of this, my unmerciful handling, to any person or persons.

* Clergymen had then " Sir" prefixed to their names instead of "Rev."

Yet he, not being satisfied with these proceedings, came again upon the yth day of the aforesaid month, bringing with him the same charter and tack, which he had compelled me to subscribe, and required me to ratify and approve the same before a notary and •witnesses, which, altogether, I refused to do. And therefore he, as before, bound me and put me to the same manner of tormenting, and I said, notwithstanding, ' he should first get my life or ever I agreed to his desire'; and being in so great pain as, I trust, never man was in with his life, I cried, ' Fye upon you ! will ye ding whingers in me and put me out of this world ! or else put a barrel of powder under me, rather than be used in this unmerciful manner'! The said Earl, hearing me cry, bade his servant, Alex. Ritchard, put a towel in my throat, which he obeyed—the same being performed at n o'clock at night—who then, seeing that I was in danger of my life, my flesh consumed and burned to the bones, and that I would not condescend to their purpose, I was relieved of that pain, by reason of which I will never be able nor well in my lifetime."

The end of the story was, that Kennedy of Bargany (a relative of his), hearing of the imprisonment, came to the rescue of the poor commendator, and, after some difficulty, succeeded in carrying off the poor half-roasted man to Ayr, where he told his story at the Market Cross to crowds of sympathising listeners. His case was laid before the Privy Council, but, as usual, nothing was done to the Earl. He was simply bound over to keep the peace towards Stewart during the rest of his days.*

* It would appear, however, that he had to pay Stewart a pension as solatium for his injuries. D

There is little to be added to this strange incident. Of the facts themselves there can be no doubt. In Richard Bannatyne's " Memoriales," it is said that Stewart signed the deed, "alsweill as ane half-rosted hand culd do it"; but the late Mr Dykes, factor to Lord Ailsa, assured me that this must be overstated, as the handwriting (which he had seen) was quite plain and firm. In Stewart's own account, however, which has been given above, it is implied that the hands and face were untouched; so that Bannatyne, in the words quoted, must have been drawing on his imagination. In defence of the Earl himself, nothing can be said, save that the times were rough, the Church lands seemed fair plunder, and, as chief proprietor of the district, he probably thought he had a right to resume his own, now that the old faith was being dispossessed of them.

"Gude, godlie Richard Bannatyne," mentioned above, was John Knox's secretary, and was a native of the town of Ayr. All readers of Knox's life are familiar with his quaint character and vigorous pen. The incident narrated in the foregoing chapter, is usually styled the " Roasting of the Abbot"; but it is needless to say that Allan Stewart was no abbot, nor could, indeed, well be at that time in Scotland. The days of abbots were over.




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