The Wolf of Badenoch - Scotland’s vilest man?

Lochindorb Castle near Grantown-on-Spey - the Wolf's secluded island home. PIC: YouTube.
Lochindorb Castle near Grantown-on-Spey - the Wolf's secluded island home. PIC: YouTube.
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He was known as the Wolf of Badenoch - or sometimes the Celtic Attila.

The cruel rampages of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, were deadly - and his appetite for destruction of his foes simply terrifying.

Depiction of the blaze at Elgin Cathedral which was lit by Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Buchan - otherwise known as the Wolf of Badenoch. PIC: Wikicommons.

Depiction of the blaze at Elgin Cathedral which was lit by Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Buchan - otherwise known as the Wolf of Badenoch. PIC: Wikicommons.

As he rampaged through the north, he set fire to the towns of Forres and Elgin, where the cathedral was torched and chaplains and canons burnt out of their homes.

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It is believed that Pluscarden Abbey was also lit by the Wolf as he fought back against the influence of the Bishop of Moray.

The driver for much of his rage was his marriage to Euphemia I, Countess of Ross, who was unable to bear him a legitimate child. It is said he fathered up to 40 offspring by other women.

The tomb of the Earl of Buchan at Dunkeld Cathedral. PIC: Contributed.

The tomb of the Earl of Buchan at Dunkeld Cathedral. PIC: Contributed.

His anger, combined with the gift of land and power from his father, King Robert II, who made him the Earl of Buchan in 1382 and the Crown’s chief law officer in the north of Scotland, made him a beastly threat - even by the standards of 14th Century Scotland.

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The Wolf’s territory stretched from Moray to the Pentland Firth - with much of its people to feel the full force of this “avarious and cruel” figure, according to Sir John Scott Keltie in his 1875 publication a History of the Scottish Highlands.

In 1389, by which time the Earl was bedding down with his mistress, Mariota Athyn, at his secluded island home of Lochindorb Castle, the Wolf’s touch paper was lit when the Bishop of Moray, Alexander Bur, refused to annul his marriage. He was later to excommunicate the Wolf.

The Earl was “exasperated....to such a degree of fury” that he was reduced key parts of his territoriy to ash.

“In the month of May 1390 he descended from his heights and brun the town of Forres, with the choir of the church and the manse of the archdeacon,” Keltie wrote.

“And in June following, he burnt the town of Elgin, the church of St Giles, the hospital of Maison-Dieu and the cathedral, with 18 homes of the canons and chaplains in the college of Elgin.

“He also plundered these churches of their sacred utensils and vestments which he carried off.”

It is likely that the Priory of Pluscarden was burned at the same time with traces of fire from around the 1390s still seen today in the building .

The Wolf, whose other homes incuded Drumin Castle near Glenlivet, Castle Garth near Glen Lyon, and Ruthven Castle near Kingussie, was prosecuted and punished by his father and was ultimately absolved of his crimes to be received back by the church.

Some records state the The Wolf of Badenoch died in 1394, although others maintain is was in 1406, when it is believed that he played chess with the devil at Ruthven Castle.

Legend has it he was visited by a tall man dressed in black and the pair played through the night, with a storm conjured when the visitor called “check” and “checkmate”.

In the morning, the Wolf was found dead in the banqueting hall and his men too found lifeless outside the castle walls. The tomb of the Wolf can be found in Dunkeld Cathedral.