The Stirlings of Keir - Chapter III - The Lofty Brow of Ancient Keir
The Estate of Keir has had numerous dwellings, forts, towers, notable visitors and guest over the past thousand years. Kings, a Prince seeking refuge, Earls, Knights, poets and even Chopin have been guests at this famous estate.
Sir Walter Scott celebrated the Keir in his famous poem "The Lady of the Lake" -
Blairdrummond sees the hoofs strike fire,
They sweep like breeze through Ochtertyre,
The mark just glance and disappear,
The lofty brow of ancient Keir
One of the most frequently asked questions at Clan Stirling Online is where the different Stirling Houses are located in Scotland. The Keir estate is not visable from the roadway, and the highway that goes by is the M9, a major throughfare between Stirling and Endinburgh. On a clear day you can see the estate from Stirling Castle, unfortuneately the last time I was there the weather was anything but "clear". This photo was taken from the Douglas Garden at Stirling Castle - The Keir estate is just above the Title - as you pan towards the east you go across LeCropt (to the right of the estate) on over to Bridge of Allan (Just to the left of the University) and keep going over to the Wallace Monument. The Kippendavie estate is the cleared land above and to the left of the University - but it goes on over the hill and to the right a long ways.
Sheriffmuir were they fought in 1715 is above and to the right of the University.
Doune Castle is out of the picture to the left, but on the west side of the hill Keir is on - you can see Doune from Keir Lands.
The Keir House is a large and complex structure. The core or oldest portion of the house most likely dates from the middle of the 18th century. It is built on a magnificent site and enjoys an extensive prospect looking south over the carse of LeCropt, across the meanderings of the Forth to the impregnable rock on which Stirling Castle stands. (See Photo 2).
The house not specifically mentioned by topographer until John Stoddart, when travelling to Ochtertyre in 1799 described it simply as "a large modern building, on a commanding eminence."
John Macky, in his book Journey Through Scotland, which was published in 1723 described the atmosphere, at least of the enrirons in and around Keir when he visited Stirling. Macky wrote two vivid accounts of a Highland Fair and a "Consort of Musick" that he attended. This was just eight years after the Jacobite Rebellion and the Battle of Sherrifmuir, which many Stirling men fought in support of The Stewart cause.
He found the highland Gentleman "mighty civil, dressed in their slashed shirt, waistcoats, a toursing (which is breeches and stockings of one piece) with a plaid fo ra cloak and a blue bonnet." Their "ponyard, knife and fork in one sheath" took his fancy, as did the snuff mills and great broad sword that each man carried. Their attendants were "very numerous, all in belted plaids, girt like women's petticoats down to the knee; their thighs and half of their legs all bare". They too each had a broad sword and poniard.
Whether the Laird of Keir was in attendance at the concert or fair is unknown, but both by habit and political allegiance he was fitted to such gatherings, for he was James Stirling, the 10th Laird, and a very strong supporter of the house of Stewart.
The Stirlings have always been closely attached to the Scottish Royal Family. The Stewart Kings had bestowed knighthoods on eight of James Stirling's forebears, beginning with Sir William De Striveline of Ratherne and Keir who was knighted in 1460 and married to Margaret Cunninghame. His son Sir William Striveling of Kere supported the nobles against King James III and was knighted by James IV after the battle of Sauchieburn. The third Laird, Sir John Stirling of Keir was made along with Lord Erskine and Lord Fleming a guardian of the young James V.
The oldest family papers were burned at the Estate by order of King James II just prior to the Battle of Sauchieburn after his son James III lost a skirmish with the royal forces. The prince sought refuge in the tower at Keir, and it was burned to the ground by his pursuers. (Stirlings of Keir pg. 23)
In the Oldest surviving documents the house and estate is cited as "Auld Keir", but the type of house or estate is nowhere clearly described. The word Keir is a chain of stone and earth forts, each one described as a "keir' These Keirs run along the north face of the vale of Momteith, and Keir no doubt occupied the site or was near one of them.
One reference to the old house at Keir is in Sir George Stirling's will. Sir George was the head of the family during the Cromwellian times. In 1664 Sir George instructed his heirs to give "the virginells in the Laugh tour of the Keir" to the younger Lady Carnocke, from which it might be inferred that Keir was then a version of the usual Scottish 16th century tower house.
The plaster work in the house is outstanding, here are a couple of examples. (Originally Published in Country Life Magazine)
Sir George was the first of the Stirlings whose loyalty to the Stewarts was put to the test. In 1641 he was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for plotting with the Marquis of Montrose on behalf of Charles I, and in 1652 the commissioners for dwquestering estates threatened to comfiscate the Keir lands "for his having entered England with the King and army."
Sir George's defense and evidence was that he himself had not crossed the border and the confiscation was commuted to a fine. Sir George was married four times, but none of his wives bore him an heir, his only daughter Margaret died just two months after her mother Dame Margaret Ross. Sir George erected a monument in memory of his wife and daughter on the south side of the chapel. The momument has been removed, but the inscription was preserved in Monteith's Theatre of Martality.
"Here lyeth Dame Margaret Ross, dughter to James Lord Ross, and Dame Margaret Scot, daughter of Walter Lord Buccleugh, and sister to Walter Scot, Earl of Buccleugh. She was married to Sir George Sterline of Keir, knight, and chief of his name; and having lived a pattern and paragon, for piety and debonaritie, beyond her sex and age, when she had accomplished 17 years, she was called from this transitory life, to that eternal, 10 March 1633. She left behind her only one daughter, Margaret; who, in her pure innocency, soon followed her mother, the 11th day of May thereafter; when she had been 12 months showen to this world, and here lyeth, near unto her interred.
D. Georgius Sterline, de Keir, eques auratus, familiae princeps, conjugi dulcissimae poni curavit MDCXXXIII."
James Stirling the 10th Laird when John Macky visited Stirling had succeeded to the estate when just a boy of 14 in 1693. In 1704 he married the Honorable Marion Stewart, the eldest daughter of 5th Lord Blantyre. This must have been quite a couple, as this successful partnership lasted for 45 years, and Mrs. Stirling bore her husband the amazing number of twenty-two children, fifteen boys and seven girls, most of whom grew to adulthood.
James was a staunch supporter of the exiled house of Stewart, In 1708 he participated in the abortive attempt to land French troops with the Old Pretender in Fife and after failing had to answer a general summons. James failed to appear and later was taken into custody with some of his Stirling cousins and was sent to Newgate Prison in London.
1. The Stirlings of Keir