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A Tragedy in the House of Montgomery

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     The Highland clans of Scotland, as a rule, have been almost as warlike and turbulent as the Irish; the Lowlanders, as every reader of Sir 'alter Scott remembers, were not in the olden time remarkable for the mildness of their dispositions; and the chiefs of both the one and the other were not apt to endure provocation peaceably, but were rather ready to draw the sword upon one another, and to 'take the law into their own hands,' instead of carrying their personal grievances to Edinburgh, to be laid before and settled by the wise Lords Judges of Session.
     The Montgomeries--whose name is almost as well known in Ayrshire as that of the Campbells in Argyll and Perth-had held broad lands in the Lowlands from the day when their founder -a scion of the old Norman stock of the English and Welsh Montgomeries-married the fair heiress of the Eglintons, a niece of King Robert III of Scotland.
     The name of the Castle of Eglinton, or Eglintoun, the seat of their head, Lord Eglinton, was brought into public notice some forty years ago, by the revival, within its grounds, of a mediaeval tournament, in which Lord Alford, Lord Waterford, Sir Charles Lamb, and Prince Louis Napoleon were among the combatants, whilst the late Duchess of Somerset, then Lady Seymour, presided over the lists as the 'Queen of Beauty.' The Montgomeries have taken their place from generation to generation at the council board of Scotland; and the third Lord Montgomery, and first Earl of Eglinton, was one of the Scottish peers who met at Stirling Castle in 1513 to arrange the coronation of James V. They mated, in successive generations, with the Maxwells, the Drummonds, the Edmonstones, the Boyds, and the Setons, and they fought at Flodden, and also at Marston Moor, where we find a father and a son in opposite ranks.
     In 1586, I find a record of Hugh, the fourth Earl of Eglinton, being assassinated, in consequence of a private feud, by the Lairds of Robertland and Aiked, or Aiket, and others of the name of Cunningham. With the details of this murder I am not acquainted, and it is not to this event that the title of the present paper refers. The 'tragedy' which I have to relate happened just two centuries later, when George III. had been nearly ten years upon the throne of England. It happened on this wise.
     Alexander, the tenth Earl of Eglinton seems to have been a Scottish laird who had very high and exalted notions of the prerogatives of birth, station, and fortune, and a very rigid enforcer of the Game Laws, which, whether right or wrong in the abstract, have certainly been the occasion of many crimes and deeds of violence on both sides of the Tweed. In the neighboring town of Saltcoats there lived an exciseman, of good birth and fair education, named Mungo Campbell, who was as passionately fond of field sports as the earl himself, but who could not indulge his tastes upon his own lands for the simple reason that he had not an acre of woods or of moorland to shoot over. Accordingly, if the truth must be told, he was in the habit of carrying a gun over part of his lordship's estates, which stretched half across the county. This trespassing and poaching propensity had made him anything but a favorite at Eglinton Castle, and the earl had often been heard to speak of him in tones of aversion and contempt. This dislike was reciprocated in full. Of course some 'good-natured friend' was found to make the 'bad blood' a little worse, or rather to fan into a flame the embers of mutual dislike-such 'good-natured' friends are seldom or never far to seek. One fine afternoon, in the month of October, 1760, Lord Eglinton went out pheasant-shooting in his coverts along with his friend and neighbor, Lord Kellie, followed by a retinue of servants and keepers with horses, dogs, and guns. They bad not gone very far from the castle when they came upon two gentlemen, gun in hand, and accompanied by a brace of pointers or setters. One of the attendants having remarked to Lord Eglinton that he was sure that one of the scamps in the distance was Mungo Campbell, I am afraid that on hearing his name Lord Eglinton was very much excited, and swore rather roundly and emphatically that he would make him pay dearly for his day's sport; so, mounting one of the led horses, he galloped after the trespassers. Approaching the exciseman, he accused him of having broken his word by again trespassing and shooting on the castle grounds although he had so lately been detected in killing a hare, and had been let off from punishment on a promise not to repeat the offence.
    'I have not broken my word,' was Mungo Campbell's reply, ' for I have not fired off a gun to-day.'
     Lord Eglinton, however, was not satisfied with this assurance, but demanded of him at once to give up his gun, and to be off without any more words.
     'Deliver up my gun, indeed!' replied Campbell; 'I ask pardon for my trespass, for I know that I have no right to be here; but I certainly will not give up my gun to you or to any man alive!' 
     'I must and will have it, sir,' was Lord Eglinton's reply, for he could not brook being thus 'bearded' in his own park, and almost in sight of his own castle windows.
     'I have been to - on duty,' was Campbell's answer, 'and it is very hard that I may not carry my gun with me when I go from home. If I have infringed your rights, my lord, you can punish me by the law of the land; but two wrongs do not make a right; and, earl though you be, I will never submit tamely to the indignity of being robbed of my fowling-piece.'
     Lord Eglinton pressed on his horse as if he would ride over him; but the exciseman retreated backwards, keeping his face to the earl, pointing his gun at him at the same time, and warning him to keep his distance. The earl, however, would not give in. His pride was fairly roused, and he spurred or whipped his horse, charging at his opponent.
    'Keep off, my lord, or I shall be obliged to shoot you in self-defense.'
     Lord Eglinton then dismounted, and asked his servant for a loaded gun, saying, 'I can shoot, sir, as well as you.' 
     He then continued to advance as Campbell retreated; and the latter again and again bade him to keep his bands off, for no man should take his gun from him, and that he would repel force by force. At this moment Campbell, in stepping backwards, fell to the ground; and Lord Eglinton, thinking to seize the opportunity, made a wrench at the gun in the hands of his foe; but he was forestalled in his movements, and received the contents of the exciseman's gun in his breast. He had met with his death wound, and he expired before his attendants could do more than just lift him up.
    It was too late now to recall the act, whether it was intended at the moment or purely accidental. The servants, however, seized Campbell before he could escape or even fly; and flight would have been useless, for his face and his person were well known throughout half Ayrshire. He was bound and carried off to prison, to answer for his misdeed.
     Early in the year 1770 he was arraigned before the Justiciary Court at Edinburgh, and, after a long trial, in which he sought to show that the deed was unpremeditated and done in the heat of passion, and did not therefore amount to murder, but only to manslaughter at the roost, he was found guilty on the capital charge and sentenced to be hung at the Tolbooth. In vain was it urged by his counsel that, over and above the right of every freeman to carry arms, Mr. Campbell was expressly authorised to carry them by licence from the Earls of Loudoun and Marchmont, and that, for this reason, Lord Eglinton was not acting within his right when he endeavoured to seize and deprive him of his gun, and that, in the present instance, his lordship had no right to do more than to prosecute him for a trespass. At that time a private person, or a common exciseman like Menge, Campbell, or his near neighbour and acquaintance Robert Burns, had but little chance of even handed justice in a Scottish law-court, where the greatest indulgence was shown to the rich feudal lords, the sole owners of the soil, whose forefathers had owned and had exercised the right of life and death over their clansmen.
     The sentence, as a matter of fact, was never carried out; by no fault, however, of the law or the lawyers; for a day or two before that appointed for the execution poor Mungo Campbell managed to forestall the hangman's rope by suicide. Various opinions, however, were entertained as to the correctness of the finding of the jury, which produced a pamphlet of the celebrated Dr. Langhorne protesting against its correctness, and against the legality of the capital sentence. For the moat part, whilst members of the landed classes and the 'great families' to the north of the Tweed applauded the sentence of the court, there can be no doubt that this tragedy helped to open the eyes of the more enlightened legislators to the Draconian severity of the Caledonian lava, and in the end to bring about a mitigation of their severity analogous to that which was wrote in the English law by the exertions of Sir Samuel Romilly and other philanthropists. Happily, in our day a man who caused the death of another in a struggle for life, and in defence of his personal rights, real or imagined, would be in no danger of suffering the extreme penalty of the law.
     It only remains to add that the earl who met with this tragic fate was not actually an ancestor, but only a kinsman of the late popular Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and the reviver of the 'Tournament' above-mentioned. He had no child, and the brother who succeeded him in the earldom left only a daughter, from whom the present house of Eglinton is descended.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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