Spynie Palace, near Elgin drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by J. H.Le Keux. Source: Edinburgh (1852). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

The Episcopal dignitary whose see extended over the wilds of Invemess-shirej had need of substantial as well as spiritual powers and protections ; and hence the broad massive square tower, with its loopholes, its iron stanchioned windows, and its bartizaned battlement, remains the most conspicuous feature in the palace of the Bishop of Moray. Mixed with the square, abrupt architec- ture of defence, there is just enough of the Gothic to convey a slightly ecclesiastical tone to the mass of ruins. The edifice commands a fine fruitful country, on which the ecclesiastical dignitary could look forth with pride, as the substantial fruit of the industry he excited and fostered. It stands close to the edge of a placid lake, useful as a means of defence, and probably affording an immediate store of that food which the Romish ecclesiastics had strong reasons for cultivating to the highest perfection.

Spynie was at a very early period a place of importance. It appears that the bishop’s see was occasionally held here, and sometimes elsewhere. In the year 1203, during the episcopate of Bishop Bricius, the ambulatory system was abolished, and the cathedral was fixed at Spynie, whence it was afterwards transferred to Elgin. Its establishment at Spynie was by a bull of Pope Innocent, addressed to the Bishops of St Andrews and Brechin, and to the Abbot of Lindores, commissioning them to confer the cathedral honours on the Church of the Holy Trinity of Spynie. One of the reasons given for this selection, is, that the place would be easily approached by the friends of the church, but not very accessible to the wicked men in these parts who were its enemies (Registrum Moravieuse, 40); a view from which we may infer that a fortification then existed on the spot. The bull is followed in the Episcopal muniments by the "magna carta" of Bricius, in which, after alluding to the migratory character of the cathedral, and its evil effects on the ecclesiastical condition of the diocese, he erects and endows eight canonries, with a constitution appointed to follow the model of the cathedral of Lincoln. One of the canonries was to be an appanage of the archdeacon, on condition that he obeyed his vow to uphold the liberties and immunities of the Church of the Holy Trinity of Spynie. The archdeacon, it was specially stipulated, was to receive investiture in the same manner as a simple canon in the cathedral of Lincoln. It was appointed that each canon should have a vicar in attendance, unless he resided at Spynie himself, so that there should ever be eight priests doing duty in the Church of the Holy Trinity (Registrum Moravieuse, 42).

The bishop's fortified house would suit well as the keep of a temporal lordship after the Reforma-tion, and its fine rich fruitful acres were an object of ardent desire among the grasping nobility. The fortunate lord of erection in this instance was Alexander Lindsay, son of the tenth Earl of Crawfurd, and grandson to the person known in the annals of the house as "the wicked master"(Shaw's History of Moray, 103. Lives of the Lindsays, i. 32.). Alexander had advanced ten thousand gold crowns to assist King James to fit himself out for that celebrated journey, from which he returaed with Anne of Denmark. He, indeed, was one of the King's companions on that expedition, but he returned before his majesty, as we find him on a bed of sickness receiving the following characteristic letter from the undignified, dissipated Solomon of the age: —


Quliill youre goode happe furneis me sum bettir occasion to recompence youre honest and faithfull seruice uttcrid be your diligent and cairfuU attendance on me speciallie at this tyme, lett this assure you, in the inviolabill worde of your awin Prince and maister, that quhen God renderls me in Skotlande, I sail irreuocablie, and with consent of Parliament, erect you the temporalitie of Murraye in a temporal lordshipp, with all honouris thairto appartaining. — Let this serue for cure to youre present disease.

From the Castell of Croneburg, quhaire we are drinking and dryulng out in the auld manor. J. E,. [Lives of the Lindsays, I, 319]

Accordingly, on 6th May 1590 — the very day, we are told, when King James entered Holyrood with his bride — the temporalities of Moray were erected into a free barony, and conferred on Sir Alexander Lindsay 5 with the title of Lord Spynie. His good fortune did not exempt him from the peculiar dangers of the period, and he fell in a murderous encounter between rival branches of the "lightsome Lindsays." Though a man otherwise of fair repute, he had himself entered with a savage spirit into feudal disputes. Still more ruthless, however, was his relation the Master of Crawford, in whose ferocious will death was ever the doom of those who crossed his designs. He slew, with circumstances of great treachery — or "under trust," as the chronicles call it — his con- nection Sir Walter Lindsay of Balgawies, brother of Lord Edzell. The nephews of the murdered man determined to avenge themselves in the Master's blood. On the night of the 5th of July 1507, with eight followers, chiefly of the name of Lindsay, all "in gear," they lay wait for their victim at a corner of the High Street of Edinburgh. When he was attacked by them, he was in company with Lord Spynie and Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig, but he had no attendants. His companions naturally defended tbeir friend, and a furious combat took place in the midst of a darkness favourable to the weaker party, since no man could see his adversary, and the swords were wielded at random. All the three were wounded, and Spynie so desperately, that he died in eleven days. He was not the intended victim ; and it was admitted that his slaughter was "a pitiful mistake but it gave little immediate annoyance, for the perpetrator" passes his way in safety, and his folks with him." He locked himself up in the moimtain fortress of Invermark, and defied all the power of the Crown. In 1609 he was brought to trial, but the investigation broke down. In 1614 the matter was brought to a teimination, in a manner too characteristic of the age. A solemn contract was entered into between Alexander Lord Spynie, eldest son and heir of the slain lord, and David Lyndsay of Edzell, in which, on the latter solemnly protesting that he was not the author of the slaughter, and that it was purely accidental, and giving a very handsome sum, along with one of his estates, in way of " assythement," Lord Spynie and his kin " remit, forgive and discharge all rancour of their hearts and minds, with all action of displeasure competent to them." (Lives of the Lindsays, III, 386 et seq.; Pitcairn's Criminal Trials, iii. 61 et seq.)

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


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 University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 13 October 2018