It was somewhat challenging, driving a 6 speed manual transmission on the left side of the road, but after renting a car at Glasgow Airport, we safely navigated our way to Braco—ancestral home of the Burden family. Mike and Rosemary, fellow history aficionados, offered to guide us through the nooks and crannies of the area to track down our ancestors. The Burden family goes back to the 13th century, apparently to an individual dubbed “the Black Man of the Black Burdens”. This is documented in Gaelic beneath the family crest, and hopefully refers to hair colour, not mood!
The Burdens are a sept, or subsidiary family belonging to the highland Clan Lamont, and highlanders often delineate themselves by such nicknames.
The Burdens first established themselves in the Barony of Easter (meaning easterly) Feddal in 1623 and by 1683 had a finely built baronial great house. There is a stone dating the badly ruined house from that time with interlocking mirror image “B’s” similar to a style we later noticed in Edinburgh Castle from the same period. Fine representations of the Burden family crest—a lion, rampant, holding an ax—are also visible on the old house. One of the earlier inhabitants was James Burden, Laird of Feddal, who enaged in a famous duel with the Laird of Balhaldie in the early 1700’s. After an hour of hacking and slashing, neither had gained an advantage until the sword of James broke off at the hilt. Instead of pressing his advantage, the Laird of Balhaldie (also the clan chief of the MacGregors) nobly threw down his sword and the two became fast friends.
Some confusion exists between Feddal House and Feddal Castle. The former has long been in ruins but the latter was built in the very early 1900’s, well after the Burden family sold the estate and emigrated. A fine, baronial style castle, it was blasted to pieces with dynamite in 1958, some say for tax purposes, while others speculate for other reasons.
Next stop on our tour, still ably guided by Mike and Rosemary, was Muthill. There is an 11th century church here whose cemetery was reputed to hold the graves of Robert and Agnes Burden. It was twilight and drizzling when we arrived and there were hundreds of tombstones. Our task of finding the appropriate headstone looked hopeless.
I have always joked that my partner Stella was psychic. On this occasion she closed her eyes for a moment and walked directly to the grave we sought within a minute of entering the cemetery. There we found the remains of Robert and Agnes Burden, who died respectively December 1823 and July 1812. We really wanted to spend more time searching for other members of the family but it was too late and too dark. We will have to return one day to do further research.
As an incidental note, this is area is a gem for visitors, off the beaten path but a gateway to the highlands.
Stella and I had discovered some fascinating family history and taken lots of cool photos but we were still unsure from where the nickname “Black Burdens” came.
Next stop was Edinburgh for a meeting of the Baronage of Scotland, a convocation of individuals holding Scottish titles of nobility. These are purely Scottish and though recognized by the British Crown, do not originate from that source. Holding a barony myself has proven a strong incentive to research my heritage and I will soon be visiting Scotland again. Stay tuned for details.
All photos courtesy of George Burden and Stella van der Lugt – All rights reserved.