Bios News Article

Cadder House, Scotland 

The estate of Cadder is about four miles north from Glasgow, on the road to Kirkintilloch, and a short way beyond Bishopbriggs. It has been the property of the ancient family of Stirling, (1) uninterruptedly, during nearly 700 years. A charter of the lands exists in the muniment room at Keir, in favour of Sir Alexander Strieuling, as far back as the reign of William the Lion, in the twelfth century.

The present owner is Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, Bart., of Cadder, Pollok, and Keir, who assumed the additional surname of Maxwell in 1866, on succeeding his maternal uncle, the last Sir John Maxwell, in the baronetcy and estate of Pollok.

From immemorial time there has been a manor house on Cadder estate. Previous to the erection of the present mansion, which has received several additions, an ancient castle stood near the site, and it is an interesting circumstance, that on one occasion John Knox dispensed the Sacrament in that old edifice.

Mr. Charles Stirling, leading partner of the once eminent West India firm of Stirling Gordon & Co., had a life-lease of Cadder House and grounds from his elder brother, the proprietor. He took possession in 1816, and made many improvements. Among these, he built the west wing of the mansion, formed a piece of ornamental-water from a bend of the river Kelvin which sweeps close behind the house, laid off additional gardens, and otherwise embellished this charming place. He also made a choice collection, in Italy, of paintings bronzes sculpture and antiquities, which remain in Cadder House, where he died on 30th January 1830, aged fifty-eight. (2)


How the Keirs got Cadder. - The above statement as to the ownership wants explanation. These lands have for 700 years been owned by Stirlings, but not by the same Stirlings.

In the beginning of the sixteenth century Andrew Stirling of Cadder, and Sir John Striveling of "the Keir" in Perthshire, were the heads of two distinct families. Andrew Stirling was the last of a long line of knights and lairds, the fibulati Strivelienses, or Stirlings of the Buckles, the undoubted chiefs of the name, or Stirlings of that Ilk. They trace certainly to Alexander, Vicecomes de Strivelyn, owner of Cadder and of other lands under William the Lion, and perhaps to Thoraldus, Vicecomes, said to have been a Saxon chief and one of the foreign favourites of David I. The Keir family claims to be a younger branch of Cadder, but cannot with certainty be traced beyond the end of the fourteenth century, when they held lands in Lorne. Next century we find them owning Keir (first one half and then the whole), and various lands in Perthshire and elsewhere. A pushing birsing-yont set they were, these Keirs. "Gang forward" was their motto, and none of them more faithfully acted up to it, nor cared less whom he trampled down, than Sir John Stirling, the contemporary of Andrew Stirling of Cadder.

Andrew Stirling died about 1522, followed soon after by his widow, Marjory Cunynghame, and leaving one little girl, Janet Stirling, sole heiress of Cadder, Uchiltrees, Lettyr, and other lands. Had Sir Walter touched with his wand the sad strange story of this unhappy girl, Cadder might have been a resort of pilgrims like Kenilworth and Cumnor. Sir John Gang-forward (who had already managed to acquire various new lands) resolved, cost what it would, to secure Cadder as well. His son, afterwards Sir James of Keir, entered heartily into the idea. And the Richard Varney of the plot, part henchman, part lover, was found in one Thomas Bischop, the family lawyer. It was a long game, and the stakes were high. But the Keirs were bold players, and before it was over, what with buying off this one and bribing that, what with wadsets and warrandices, (3) law costs and costs of one kind and another, nearly their whole estate lay on the table. To lose would have been ruin to them. But they won, and Cadder has been theirs ever since.

The chief moves in the game can be made out from extant documents. Between 1522 and 1524 Sir John procured from the various superiors the wardship of the orphan. Then in 1529 he had a crown grant of her marriage. And soon after her majority, in 1534, she became the wife of James, the son. A few months later, on 8th July 1835, she applied to the Lords of Council for protection against her father-in-law and her husband. Sir John, she said, having her and her lands in his power, had "causit ane pretendit matrimony to be made betwix the said James and hir, and sensyne the said Johnne has haldin and as yit haldis hir in subjection, and will nocht suffir her to speik with her friendis, and hes compellit hir to mak diuers alieniationnis and takkis of hir land, and tendis to gar her analie ye remanent or maist part yairof." And their Lordships, though Sir John, a man of parts and influence, pled his cause in person, decreed that all alienations made by Janet should be void, "ay and quhile scho be brocht befor ye saidis Lordis, to declare hir mynd anent ye premissis, and yat lettres be direct hereupoun in forme as efferis." So far all is plain enough.

Not so what follows. Six wretched years pass, and on 13th December 1541 Janet appears in person "before ye saidis Lordis" for a strange purpose. Six days before she had been before them "purposlie and of determit mynd to haif ratefyt and apprevit ane lettre of procuratore," (granted with the consent, no doubt not ill to get, of her husband, now Laird of Keir) for the conveyance "to him and his airis quatsumeuer" of all her lands, but "throw the terrouris geven to me in zour presens," she had "revoikt ze saidis lettres of procuratorie with all that followit thairupon, and revelit and schewin to zour Lordschipis sum secret wourd anent myself." Now, on this 13th day of the same month, she has come back to carry out her first purpose, and, "uncompellit, coactit, circumvenit, dissauit, or deffraudit," revokes the Revocation of six days before, passes over her little boy that should have been the care and the heir of both father and mother, and conveys to her husband and "his airis quatsumeuer," Cadder, Uchiltrees, Lettyr, and all the ancient heritage of her house. (4) 

How this deed was wrung from the hapless helpless girl : what long tale of cajolery or coercion those six years could tell : what sharper agony was compressed into these last six days : we can but guess. That "sum secret wourd anent herself" might have told us all. What we do know is, that this strange abdication was followed the month after (31st January 1542) by a divorce, or rather by a legal declaration that the marriage had been from the first null and void : James and Janet, it was now discovered, were within the forbidden degrees of blood. This Declaration of Nullity was a common device in those days for breaking the marriage tie, and the heiress of Cadder may have yielded at last to strip herself and rob her boy as the price of her freedom from a hated yoke.

But a few weeks after the divorce (23rd February 1542) Keir granted to Thomas Bischop, now styled "spouse affidat of the said Janet Stirling," a Deed that may furnish a key to the mystery of iniquity. By this Deed, for certain moneys he had had of Bischop, "and for his help and labour in soliciting and furthering the conveyanse made by her of her heritages to the said James," he assigns to Bischop her marriage, a chalder of oats and two oxen on Uchiltrees (the oldest of all the Cadder lands), and Uchiltrees itself (redeemable on Janet's death) : he promises Bischop 250 merks : and he binds himself "to use his diligence for getting a remission from the king to the said Thomas for his alleged lying with the said Janet while she was the said James' wife." (5)

The husband who could put his hand to such a bond may fairly be suspected of any baseness : and this deed is suspicious on the face of it. What could the king have had to remit to any one in the matter? Possibly Janet was innocent of the "alleged" lying, and may only have been entrapped into some compromising situation. More probably she was guilty. We know how cruelly the two Keirs had used her : Bischop, as his career showed, was a man of parts and address : and we cannot wonder if the poor wife yielded to professions and opportunities arranged between him and the high-spirited husband. But Janet was no nun to be

"Number'd with the dead
For broken vows and Convent fled."

She was, at most, a loose woman in a loose age, when ill lives in high places, lay and clerical, (6) were hurrying on the Reformation; and an offender of her sort was safe enough from His Majesty King James V. But she may have known nothing of all this. From a child she had been under the power of these Keirs : years agone they would "nocht suffer her to speik with her friendis" : and she may have yielded to vague terrors, which Bischop pretended to share till relieved by this Deed.

And so the long game was won at last, and this was "How the Keirs got Cadder" (7)

They have kept it ever since. Both estates passed on Sir James' death, not to John, his only son by Janet, who was the rightful heir of both, (8) but to Archibald, his son by Jean Cheesholm, who cannot be proved to have had one drop of Cadder blood in his veins.

The two estates have never since been parted. But they were both all but lost last century. Jacobite James, then laird, was forfeited for his share in the '15. And the family was only saved from disappearing, like their neighbours the Kilsyths and the Linlithgows, by the kindness of friends, who bought in the estates, and afterwards conveyed them to John, the eldest of Jacobite James' fifteen sons. John's grand-nephew was the late Sir William Stirling-Maxwell.

Whose the estates are to be now is uncertain. It is understood that Sir William has left all his lands to trustees, to be held till the elder of his two boys shall come of age, and shall make his choice between the Stirling estate of Keir-cum-Cadder and the Maxwell estate of Pollok. (9)

The Keir family has furnished many worthy gentlemen, but not many men of mark. We can only name these four:-

James Stirling, "the Venetian," a great mathematician, a friend of Newton's, and founder of the very curious and little known system of Tenant Right at Leadhills : (10)

Edward Sterling, the famous "Thunderer" of the "Times" :

John Sterling, his son, the subject of rival biographies by Hare and Carlyle :

And the late Sir William Stirling-Maxwell. The foremost of them all, and yet he disappointed us. From whatever cause, he never did what he showed he could have done. Those who saw his capacity for the conduct of affairs, his good sense, his fairness, his rare power of winning respect even from opponents, regretted that he did not make politics the serious business of his life. Those who, from the few works that were his occasional amusement, knew what learning, what power, what grace of style he had at command, would have been better pleased if the broad lands of poor Janet had not made him so independent of his pen.

(1) It is a curious fact that the name of Stirling is written in no less than sixty-four different ways.

(2) The lady of Mr. Charles Stirling was grand-daughter of the well-known John Erskine, author of "Institutes of the Laws of Scotland." Indeed, Erskine himself was married to one of the ladies of the Stirling family of Cadder and Keir.

(3) The Archbishop of Glasgow (James Beaton) had 2500 merks for assigning his share of the wardship, as superior of the lands of Cadder proper. The worthy churchman had only 1000 merks "in rady usuale money of Scotland in hand," and for the balance had to take a wadset of "the landis of Strowe and Balcarrus with thar pertinence."

(4) Janet's troubles did not end with her abdication of Cadder. She married Bischop, and was a faithful wife to him, which was more than he deserved. The man (whose strange after-career does not concern us) had been put to the horn, and was now furth of the realme. But his wife, at least, would serve him, love honour and keep him; and, for this offence (it may have offended Darnley's wife) Queen Mary, in 1551, granted "to Mattho Hamilton of Mylburn, and his airis and assignais, ye escheit of all gudis, soumes of money, actis, contractis, jowellis, gold, silver, cunyit and uncunyit, quhilk is partenit to [Janet] Striveling, sum tyme Lady Caldoure, and now ye spous of Thomas Bischop, and now partening to our Soveraine Lady, through being of the said [Janet] past in ye realme of Ingland, and yair remaining wyt ye said Thomas, hir spous, rebell and traitour to our Soveraine Lady, helping and supporting him." And so "Lady Caldoure," for being a faithful wife, was stripped of the poor remains of her fortune. It is pleasanter to find that Bischop was not left to enjoy the wages of iniquity. Whether or no Keir had had any hand in the horning, he profited by it and by Bischop's being furth of the realm. He, the granter of the deed of 23rd February 1542, raised an action against Bischop as "pretendit heritable possessor of the lands of Uchiltree," and he gained it. And so the Keir victory was complete : the one bit that had had to be yielded was recovered : Bessarabia was revindicated. It needed a long spoon to sup with the Keirs.

(5) In "The Stirlings of Keir" the Conveyance by Janet to James Stirling is dated December 1541, and he is therein designed her husband : the Divorce, which, of course, must have been after this Conveyance, is given as in January 1541 : and the Obligation by James Stirling to Thomas Bischop (which implies both Conveyance and Divorce) is said to have been in the following month. There is evidently some confusion here. Either the Conveyance was in 1540, or the Divorce and Obligation were in 1542. The latter is probably the truth.

(6) James Stirling married the year afterwards, and his wife was a daughter of the Bishop of Dunblane.

(7) It is some satisfaction to know that Sir John did not live to see the success of his Cadder scheme. He made a speciality of child-stripping. Among others he "ripit" were the children of Buchanan of Leny, after clearing the ground by the murder of their father. Shaw of Cambusmore was his helper in this matter; and Shaw, goaded by the widow's reproaches into a fit of compunction, murdered him in 1539. At this date the Lords of Council had declared all alienations by Janet to be null, and it seemed more likely that the plot would be the ruin than the making of the Keirs.

(8) By a rule of law the children of such a marriage were legitimate, unless it appeared that both parents had, from the first, known that it was void.

(9) By a similar arrangement the elder of Sir William's cousins-german (and next heirs failing his own boys) Stirling-Crawford, took Milton, and devolved Castlemilk on his half-brother Stirling-Stuart.

(10) Under the Company's Lease from Lord Hopeton each miner has a right to ground for a "house and yard" rent free. This has come to imply as much ground as the man and his family can cultivate. The miners build their own houses, and these and the ground attached, they or their families have a right to sell, but only to miners. The result has been that Leadhills, the highest village in Scotland, is a green bien settlement in the middle of a waste, and is inhabited by a sober, industrious, and comfortable race. A somewhat similar system exists at Wanlockhead, close by, on the Duke of Buccleuch's estate.

Source: "The Old Country Houses of the Old Glasgow Gentry" published in 1870 by James MacLehose & Sons