The Wolf of Badenoch: spoiled brat and merciless cad

Stewart in effigy at Dunkeld cathedral <em>Picture: Gil Campbell</em>
Stewart in effigy at Dunkeld cathedral Picture: Gil Campbell
By Elizabeth McQuillan

Placing himself firmly in the Hall of Historical Infamy, the dastardly deeds of the irreverent and petulant Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan (1343–1405), earned him the title Wolf of Badenoch.

The third surviving illegitimate son of Robert II of Scotland, born to a mistress who Robert later married – the Wolf had a silver spoon planted firmly in his snout.

With his parentage came the allocation of plenty of Scottish land and titles. The mollycoddled cub had policies in Strathspey and Badenoch to play with, as well as a place to party, with the gothic lair of Lochindorb Castle at his disposal. Like all spoiled brats, his unwillingness to share – and his generally aggressive tendencies – meant he had few folk to party with.

As the unruly cub grew into Scotland’s Wolf, he managed to alienate family, neighbours, religious leaders – and anyone who knew him – with his selfish ways.

Keen to acquire more land and titles, Alexander set about this task by first leasing Urquhart lands, south of Inverness, from his younger half-brother, and thereby obtaining possession of the Barony of Strathavon, bordering his Badenoch lands.

Aided and protected by his doting father, he was appointed Royal Justiciar in Perthshire and given Royal Lieutenancy further north. In effect, the Wolfman held crown authority from Inverness to the Pentland Firth.

Further opportunity presented itself with Euphemia, Countess of Ross, who had Ross, Lewis, Skye, Dingwall and part of Aberdeenshire to her name. This made her a most attractive proposition to the voracious Wolf. A swift marriage to the unsuspecting lady allowed him to add more titles – Earl of Ross and Earl of Buchan – to his collection, with further land to call his own.

Being overly greedy in his land-acquisition, and with an army of Highland clansmen to protect and help him, he managed to stamp on the toes of his neighbouring bishops and dignitaries with complete disregard.

It is suggested that Alexander regularly accompanied his men on missions to rape and pillage within villages in the surrounding countryside, and that he was merciless in his actions.

Alexander fathered no children with his wife, but did have seven with his longstanding mistress Mairead inghean Eachann, with whom he cohabited, further adding insult to injury. In 1389, with some prodding from Alexander’s brother Robert, Earl of Fife, Euphemia complained to the Pope, saying her marriage was a sham and that her husband was doing the dirty with someone else. Three years later the Pope annulled the marriage.

Great news for Euphemia, who could reclaim her lands from her cad of a husband, which must have been a sweet revenge. Fife was no fool, however, and had Euphemia’s son contracted to marry his daughter, so the land would be coming his way eventually.

The Earl of Fife was gaining title and political place, and was soon able to remove some of his brother’s royal titles and bestow them upon his own son. Upon the death of Robert II in 1390, the Earl of Fife remained Guardian of Scotland, which made his brother howl.

Angry, and hell-bent on revenge, Alexander had a fit of rage and went on the rampage. Death and destruction was meted out to the people of Forres, then onwards to Elgin where the Wolf torched the cathedral, the monastery of the Greyfriars, St Giles’ parish church and the Hospital of Maison Dieu.

Amazingly, and presumably because he had family in high places, Alexander was forgiven and absolved of his wrongdoings. He did keep a reasonably low profile thereafter, but in true chav style his sons continued the violence and intimidation. It is recorded that his three sons were imprisoned in Stirling Castle from 1396 to 1402.

According to the local Badenoch community website, legend has it that the Wolf’s death was the result of a game of chess with the Deil himself:

He had been visited at Ruthven Castle by a man, who was tall, and dressed in black. The man wished to play a game of chess with the Wolf. The game went on for several hours until the tall, darkly dressed man moved one of the chess pieces and called “check” and then “checkmate”. The man rose from the table. On calling these words there was a terrible storm of thunder, hail and lightning. The storm continued through the night until silence befell the castle in the morning. In that morning silence, it was then that the Wolf’s men were discovered outside the castle walls, dead and blackened as if they had all been struck by the lightning. The Wolf was found in the banqueting hall, and although his body appeared unmarked, the nails in his boots had all been torn out.

The funeral procession was held two days later, led by the Wolf’s coffin. Terrible storms started over and over again as the coffins were added to the procession. It was only after the Wolf’s coffin was carried to the back of the procession did the storms cease. The storms did not return.

The Wolf of Badenoch died in 1405 and his tomb, topped by a recumbent figure clad in armour, is at Dunkeld Catherdral.

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