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Monymusk House

Monymusk House in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, was built from the stones of a medieval Christian priory, was acquired by Duncan Forbes of Monymusk in 1560 who built the first mansion house in 1584, was sold to the Grants in 1712 who greatly expanded the house, and is now available for hire for events.

The derivation of “Monymusk” (or “Monimusk”) is most likely based on the Gaelic “monadh” meaning a moor or heath and “uisge” meaning water or river.

The Priory of Monimusk was founded by King Malcolm III (1031 –1093) in about 1080. This was a cell belonging to the Priory of Saint Andrews. The priory was comprised of an “oratory” or chapel, a dining hall, and one “dorter” or dormitory. (Robertson, Joseph, Editor. Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff. 1843. Aberdeen: Spalding Club.) The priory began as a Culdee enclave. The name is a modification of the Gaelic “Céilí Dé” or “spouses of God.” (D'Alton, Edward Alfred. 1908. "Culdees." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.)

During his reign as Mormaer of Mar from 1183 to 1203, Gille Críst (Gilchrist) constructed a Romanesque church that served as both parish and convent church. Around 1245, the enclave became an Augustinian priory with a prior and eleven canons. ("Monymusk Priory." National Record of the Historic Environment.) The priory suffered decline in the early 16th century and in 1554, a fire gutted the priory. (Ibid.)

Duncan Forbes, second son of Duncan Forbes of Corsindae, had advanced large sums on the Priory lands of Monymusk, having a charter from Pope Julius III to “set the Mains of Monymusk.” (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. 1937. House of Forbes. Edinburgh: Third Spalding Club.) After the Reformation Parliament that outlawed the practice of Catholic worship in Scotland, Forbes foreclosed on the mortgage. He therefore gained the estate by charter and founded the cadet branch Forbes of Monymusk. He built the central tower adjacent to the old Priory using stones and beams from the burned priory. (Monymusk Papers 1713-1755, edited by Henry Hamilton, page xi.)

Monymusk House
Monymusk House, sketched by Archibald Robertson in 1780, published in "Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland," volume 5, in 1842.

In 1589, his eldest son and heir, William Forbes, second laird of Monymusk, obtained a Crown Charter erecting the town and lands of Monymusk into a borough of barony. His heir, also named William, bought additional land and was created a baronet by Charles I in 1626. This was among the earlies baronetcies in Scotland. (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. 1937. House of Forbes. Edinburgh: Third Spalding Club.)

During the Scottish Civil War between the Covenanters and Royalists, Sir William, 4th Laird and 2nd Baronet, joined Covenanter Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyll, at Dunnottar Castle in April, 1644. He was still in the field when the opposing Royalist Commander James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, marched on Monymusk. However, Montrose spared the estate due to the hospitality of Sir William’s wife Jean Burnett of Leys: “Upone Setterday the 19 of October, he dynit in Monymufk with the ladie, the laird being absent, and upone fair conditionis he spairit him at this tyme.” (Spalding, John. 1792, reprinted 1829. The History of the Troubles and Memorable Transactions in Scotland and England from 1624 to 1645. Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club.) 

Monymusk House
Monymusk House, by James Williams Giles, 1848

Unfortunately, his grandson, Sir William Forbes, the 4th Bart. of Monymusk, was not likewise able to save the Monymusk Estate. In 1712, he became bankrupt and sold Monymusk to Sir Francis Grant, Lord Cullen, for £96,000 Scots (£9,600 sterling). (Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. 1937. House of Forbes. Edinburgh: Third Spalding Club.) The estate included the Monymusk Reliquary.

Cullen made his son Archibald the factor on his 20th birthday in 1716. Over the next 62 years, Archibald Grant, later Lord Cullen, 2nd Baronet, vastly improved Monymusk house and the estate. (“Monymusk.” Historic Environment Scotland. Sir Archibald's great-grandson Robert Grant remodeled the house and undertook improvements to the farm buildings.

Today, the Monymusk Estate is owned by Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk and Cullen, 13th Bt. The estate covers about 20 square miles and includes the village of Monymusk, farmland, forestry and Monymusk House. The Estate lets rental properties, land for grazing, tenant farms, runs a farming operation, and manages a cattle herd.


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