The Burden family used to reside in Feddal Castle, Perthshire, one of the richest estates in its part of Scotland, dwelling there from the mid-1600’s until the mid-1800’s. At that time the family disposed of the estate for the tidy sum of 32,500 pounds sterling and emigrated to the colonies. The castle still stands, however, though now in a state of abandonment and disrepair.
Traditionally the pater familias of the Burden clan was known as the Laird of Feddal. At the time of the reign of famous Scottish outlaw Rob Roy, in and around the 1720’s, a certain James Burden was the incumbent laird if we are to believe the chronology of George W. Marshall’s 1879 volume, The Genealogist.
According to the John Monteaths’ 1835 book, Dunblane Traditions, the young Laird of Balhaldie, a contemporary of James Burden, fancied himself quite a broad swordsman. He could not brook the fact that the Laird of Feddal “…was reported the ne plus ultra of the district in the management of the Highland broad sword, so dexterously adept that he could… ‘cut the button from the shirt-neck of an opponent without injuring his person’”. In order to determine who the “better man” was Balhaldie challenged Burden to a duel on the “banks of the Allan, below Greenloaning”. Here a desperate combat ensued with both men slightly wounded but neither gaining the advantage until Burden’s sword snapped off at the hilt. The Laird of Feddal “expecting to be instantly stabbed to the heart, sprang back and bared his chest to his foe.”
Apparently the Laird of Balhaldie was so impressed by this show of bravery that instead of killing him, he warmly embraced his opponent and swore eternal friendship.
Now at this time, the outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor used to sell protection for the cattle of wealthy landowners. The Laird of Balhaldie , being the chief of Rob Roy’s clan, paid nothing, but the Laird of Feddal was subjected to a steep tax which he could not or would not pay. As a consequence, one Michaelmas, when Balhaldie and Burden were partying riotously, word came that the herd of cattle belonging to Burden had been driven off by outlaws. The Lairds of Feddal and Balhaldie pursued and overtook the rustlers and a bloody and violent battle ensued in which the rustlers were vanquished.
The outlaws were in the employ of Rob Roy and this incensed the bandit king who surrounded Feddal Castle that night, intending to punish Burden for his transgressions. The story goes that the Laird of Balhaldie convinced his kinsman to relent and “…the wrath of Rob Roy was appeased…and after a carousal which lasted until the following morning…Rob and his men again betook themselves towards their fastnesses”.
1. Burke’s Peerage Family Index p. 54
2. Dunblane Traditions-Being a Series of Warlike and Legendary Narratives, Biographical Sketches of Eccentric Characters by John Monteath, 1887
3. The Genealogist by George W. Marshall, London, George Bell & Sons, 1879 pp. 145-150
4. Wikipedia article: Rob Roy MacGregor
5. The Laird of Balahaldie at this time was Sir Alexander MacGregor who also went by the name Drummond as the clan name MacGregor had been outlawed due to its affiliation with the Jacobite rebels. Alexander was elected 17th Chief of the Clan Gregor in July 1714 and hence would have been Rob Roy MacGregor’s nominal superior.
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Photos of Feddal Castle – Public Domain from Canmore
1820’s engraving of Rob Roy – Wikipedia Public Domain