Robert Durie - Fife Adventurer

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Robert Durie - Minister of Anstruther and Fife Adventurer

Son of the Reformer, John Durie, and therefore a first cousin once removed to Abbot George Durie and Bishop Andrew Durie, Robert had an interesting life.

Born probably in 1555, first or second son of John Durie, he studied at St Mary’s College, St Andrews. He accompanied his brother-in-law, James Melville to the Parliament at Linlithgow 1 December 1585, and also to Berwick in September 1586. He became assistant to the schoolmaster of Dunfermline, was admitted in 1588 to the parish of Abercrombie [St Monans in Fife], presented to the vicarage by King James VI, and transferred on 1 February 1592 to the office of portership of the outer port of the Abbey of Dunfermline for life. This may well have been an honorific title, which he held alongside his pastoral duties in Anstruther.

The Fife Adventurers

In October 1598 Robert Durie, then minister of Anstruther, accompanied the Fife Adventurers to Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides.

Prior to Union of 1603, James VI was chronically short of money and, as ruler of a small, peripheral European state next door to powerful England, had little real power. The turn of the 17th century was a time of great turmoil - the authority of the crown was more or less respected although the King or Queen could be hated, slandered, assaulted, kidnapped and controlled during their minority. The doctrine of Divine Right to rule was being questioned, along with the primacy of Catholic teaching as against the Protestants’ view that the Bible was the word of God and all the teachings anyone needed without the intercession of priests and bishops.

The Reformation had taken away not only power from the Catholic church but also land and revenues, and had given it to the nobles and (to a lesser degree) to the Protestant Church. The King's rule meant even less in the feudal and largely Catholic Highlands and Islands, where the local Lords of Estate and clan chiefs had absolute power of life and death over their chiels and tacksmen and commanded fierce loyalty. The King's Law meant very little in real terms.

This period has been called the time when Scotland moved from Lordship to Patronage titles, tribute in kind or as military service, letters patent and Royal Charters to trade and colonise. But all for a cut of the take going to the Crown.

The reasoning was straightforward enough   

bulletDecember 1597 May 1598 28June 1598 November 1598 December 1598 Winter 1598-99 Knowing this, Colonel Stewart and Spens of Wormiston tried to complete the provisioning mission, and in their absence Neil attacked the settlers with much killing and burning, to the King's fury.

bulletJuly 1599 1600 October 1600 December 1601 Here endeth the first chapter - the Fife Adventurers were routed, Tormod was Chief of Lewis with Neil as his captain. Robert Durie escaped the slaughter, and leaves the story at this point.
One-Nil to the Lewis men.

bulletJune 1602 March 1603 August 1605 Spring 1606 1607 Summer 1609 1610 1611 1613 Neil was found guilty of fire-raising, murder and theft and his head was spiked where Murdoch's had been 13 years previously. Later Mackenzie got his10,000 merks back by selling Spens and Hay the rights to woods in Letterewe for iron smelting. Hay ran it and Spens stayed in James VI's service, becoming General of the British mercenaries for the Swedish King Gustav Adolphus. Later, he was ennobled by a grateful James as Earl of Kinnoul (1633) having been High Chancellor of Scotland (1622).

Summary The whole episode can be seen as a tussle between the honourable, distinguished and well-meaning Spens; the hooligan with dynastic aspirations, Neil MacLeod; and the only person who really profited was the wily Mackenzie.

Game, set and match to Kintail!

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