The tale begins with Janet, the Earl of Stair's (James Darylmple) daughter and her lover, Lord Archibald Rutherfurd. Not an overly wealthy man, Rutherford was an ardent Jacobite while Janet’s father was a staunch Whig, so this was never going to be a match made in heaven for Lord and Lady Stair.
The worldly success in life of her husband and of all her family was what Lady Stair constantly schemed and planned and worked for. A clever, hard, worldly woman, with a witty and unsparing tongue, but obviously not a popular member of the society in which she lived, and when her plans succeeded in spite of all obstacles, there were many who were ready to say that she belonged to the blackest sisterhood of her day, and that to be "worried at the stake" and burned would only be the fate that she deserved.
Janet, her daughter was very unlike her mother, despite her supposed beauty, she was known to be highly strung, but gentle and subservient and very much under her mother’s rule. Naturally when Archibald Rutherford came along, love made her blind to the idea that her parents would not approve simply due to his political differences, for surely he had enough money to keep her, make her a lady and that they were destined to be together till the end.
However love and sentiment were no reason for the hard Lady Stair to soften and it was made quite clear that he was an unsuitable suitor for Janet. Janet and Archibald continued to see each other secretly in the hope that time would change her parent’s attitude. They broke a gold coin in half to share and called God to witness them plighting their troth. They also swore dreadful evils upon the one who should prove faithless.
Meanwhile her mother was on the hunt for another suitor for her daughter to replace her lovelorn feelings swiftly. Her father took no time in finding a match that he and his wife both approved of, David Dunbar, younger, of Baldoon in Wigtonshire. David was thought to be a solid young man with a good, solid fortune and Lady Stair found no difficulty in getting him to see that her beautiful daughter was undoubtedly the right wife for him.
David Dumbar was supposedly a little red-faced man, ardently keen about agricultural pursuits, and deeply interested in the breeding of cattle and horses, so he may have not been such an attractive match for lovesick Janet. The scheme laid before her, and in spite of her sobbing protests, she was commanded to conform to the wishes of her parents.
The news of Lady Stair's triumph was not long in reaching her real love, Lord Rutherfurd's ears, he at once wrote to remind her she was pledged to him, but received no reply.
Lord Rutherfurd demanded an interview with Janet Dalrymple, and absolutely declined to accept any reply that did not come to him from her own lips. Lady Stair granted the interview, but took care that not for one moment was her daughter permitted to be alone with her lover.
The day he turned up he saw Janet as gaunt, white faced, silent with downcast eyes, terror stricken and broken hearted. With every impassioned word he spoke Rutherfurd hoped to bring some sign of life to her, to glean a look from her eyes that showed that her love was still his, but he pled in vain. Lady Stair was having none of it and spoke for her daughter saying her daughter acknowledged the wrongness of her conduct and desired to hold no further interaction with him. Meanwhile Janet who daren’t not anger her mother any further remained in stony silence.
Rutherford’s temper broke and the half a coin was thrown to the ground while he poured out furious words and accusations to the mother of his beloved. With irritation and fury, he turned to Janet and cast a curse "For you, madam, you will be a world's wonder” and strode from the room.
Rutherford moved abroad and died there sixteen years later, he was never married. However was this the last time he really did see his true love, or could he have been around on the fateful wedding night?
Preparations were made in haste for the wedding of Janet and David, and although she never showed any active dislike, neither were there any signs of any feeling at all. She remained distant, with a chilly politeness and never smiled even during the wedding day itself. The wedding day arrived on August 24th, 1669, attended by a large number of family and friends and a bride of a marble. David seemed oblivious to the icy cold behavior and carried on mingling with his guests.
While the guests continued with their merriment, and as standard procedure in the day, the bride and groom were led to the bridal chamber, the best man locked the door on the married pair and put the key in his pocket.
The laughter, dancing and sound of violins continued gaily on downstairs until the hideous shrieks and groans rang through the room, leaving everyone in silence, shock and confusion. There was no doubt where the sounds had come from. A crowd broke away to rush up the stairs pushing each other out their way in attempts to reach the bridal chamber, while the best man with shaking hands unlocked the door.
He stumbled at the body at his feet, seriously wounded, streaming with blood and apparently dead. The stare and horrified shocked silence of the crowd was broken by a sound. The sound came from the corner of a wide chimney, the sounds of laughter and muttering, the half naked bride, who was covered in blood, pointed to the apparent corpse, "Tak' up your bonny bridegroom!" she screamed, with hysterical laughter.
Just over 2 weeks later she was found dead, believed to be sick in mind and body.
David Dunbar of Baldoon recovered from his wounds and lived for another 13 years. Never in all those year did he reveal what happened on his wedding night, and refused point blank to answer any questions.
Many, of course, were the explanations given by the general public as to the real happenings on that tragic wedding-night. The majority inclined to think that the bride herself, crazed by grief at the loss of her lover, tried to kill her husband rather than be his wife in anything save legal formality. Others swore that the assailant was none other than the discarded lover, and that Lord Rutherfurd, having left Baldoon for dead, had escaped by the chimney where the unfortunate bride was crouching.
But in those days there was bound to be yet another factor brought into the tale. Witches were held responsible for many a crime in Scotland in the seventeenth century, and of course Lord Stair's "auld witch wife" was adjudged guilty of the whole tragedy.
In a sense, doubtless, she was probably was due to her manipulation and interference. Yet others there were who said that Janet who had sworn solemnly by all that was holy to keep her plighted troth with Archibald Rutherfurd, had obviously handed herself over, body and soul, to Satan when the troth was broken, and that he who would have slain David Dunbar was the Evil One himself.
"He threw the bridegroom from the nuptial bed, Into the chimney did so his rival maul, His bruised bones ne'er were cured but by the fall."
Whatever happened that fateful night in the 17th century has left its impression on Baldoon Castle. On several occasions, visitors have claimed they have seen the ghost of Janet Dalrymple Dunbar roaming the castle ruins, usually on the anniversary of her death. Still wearing her blood-stained night clothes, she wanders sadly, head hung low as if she is filled with deep regret.
Is it the burden of guilt or the memories of un-requited love that still haunt Baldoon Castle. Perhaps, only Janet’s ghost knows for sure and she’s not about to tell.
NB Baldoon Castle is open to the public. It is in a ruinous condition and care should be taken when exploring the site.
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