From Carbisdale Castle to the Huhne case – a short history of revenge

Carbisdale Castle <em>Picture: Stuart Logan</em>
Carbisdale Castle Picture: Stuart Logan
What, one wonders, is going on in inside the head of Vicky Pryce, Chris Huhne’s ex-wife? Is she enjoying this moment, or ruing the day she claimed she had stood by her man and agreed to take the hit with his penalty points?

If it’s proven in court that she did the deed and spilled the beans, it’s just too delicious: a magnificent, soaring act of revenge for his alleged affair with a much younger woman. And let’s face it, when it comes to vengeance, we ladies can do it with spectacular imagination, dedication and panache.

Take as an example the glorious Mary Caroline, Duchess of Sutherland. She married the third Duke of Sutherland, much to the disappointment of his family, and was left somewhat exposed when her husband died in 1892. The family moved quickly to contest the will, which left everything to the duke’s beloved wife, and took her to court. She was found guilty of destroying documents and imprisoned for six weeks.

But this lady was determined to get the last word. On her release, the Sutherland family agreed to a generous financial settlement, part of which the duchess used to build Carbisdale Castle in the early 20th century. This baronial heap of over-the-topness quickly became known as the “Castle of Spite”. It was built just outside the Sutherland lands, but perched on a hill so as to be visible for miles.

Not only did it dominate the vista, but as it was built beside the main road and railway track, her Sutherland out-laws couldn’t move without seeing her castle. She cocked her snook further by ordering her builder to construct an enormous clock tower, which was to remain clockless on the side that overlooked the road and track. That way, everyone would know that she refused even to give the time of day to her husband’s relatives.

Anyone who has read their Scottish history would know that messing with a Scotswoman is a risky business. Holinshed’s Chronicle, written in 1577, depicts us as a paradoxical vision of “tenderness and barbarity, suckling and bloodshed.” Unusually for the time, Scottish noblewomen breastfed and nurtured their children, but also took to the battlefields where they “bathed” their swords in the “blood of firstborn” and drank their blood.

If you think this might remind you of someone, then you’re right. It is thought that Shakespeare’s inspiration for Lady Macbeth came from this source. And boy, that’s a woman who liked a bit of revenge. Her bloodlust, desire for status, power and wealth, and her sneering taunting of her husband to man up and kill the king in order to satisfy her needs is somewhat scary.

But then, Lady M is herself known historically as Gruoch, a descendant of Malcolm I, and a powerful woman. Having a legitimate claim to the throne, she would have seen revenge and murder as a positive motivator and a necessary part of power. She represents the very essence of Holinshed’s Scotswoman, who would be happy to bash her baby’s brains out and totally unafraid to call the spirits to “unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty”. You wouldn’t want to mess with this lady.

Another feisty woman who would have been a challenge to be married to (but also, I suspect, somewhat fun), was Lady Anne Mackintosh, wife of Angus, clan chief of the Mackintoshes. Their pillow talk must have been interesting. During the 1745 rebellion, the Lady Anne sided with the Jacobites, her husband with the Hanoverians. He took command of what would become known as the Black Watch.

Somewhat annoyed by her husband’s political allegiance, she raised the Mackintosh clan herself and, dressed in “a semi-masculine riding habit”, roused the rabble wherever she went. She was very hands-on, providing protection for Prince Charlie and a safe haven in her house in Moy. When she heard that 1,500 men from her husband’s company were riding north to capture the prince, she instructed the five members of her household to go outside, let off guns and yell battle cries. This clever ruse confused the government forces, who fled, thinking they were about to face the full Jacobite army.

When, a month latter, her husband and 300 of his men were captured near Inverness, Mackintosh was paroled into the custody of his own wife. She greeted him with the words “Your servant, Captain”, to which he replied, “Your servant, Colonel”.

Lady Anne’s luck ran out after the Battle of Culloden and she was hunted down and arrested. This time, it was she who was paroled into her husband’s care. It would seem, though, that they got over their differences, as she was thereafter often seen in his company. Indeed, she was with her husband at a dance in London when she met the Duke of Cumberland, who asked her to dance with him to a Hanover tune. She did, but only on condition that he then dance with her to a Jacobite song.

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