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Issue 83 - The Steekit Yetts

Scotland Magazine Issue 83
October 2015


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The Steekit Yetts

The story of the Bear Gates of Traquair

Traquair House, which stands close to the River Tweed at Innerleithen in Peeblesshire has been continually lived in for over 900 years and was originally built as a Royal hunting lodge in the reign of Alexander I of Scotland. At that time, wild cats, wild boar and bears roamed the Ettrick Forest in which it was located.

In 1491, the estate was gifted by Alexander Stuart, 2nd Earl of Buchan (third creation), a half uncle of James III, to his son James Stewart, who took on the status of 1st Laird of Traquair. In the following two centuries, the lairds of Traquair, with their connections to the Royal House of Stewart, became a centre of political power in the land. The house was visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1566 and in the early 1600s, the 7th Laird was appointed Chief High Treasurer of Scotland and created 1st Earl of Traquair.

So much of the vicissitudes of European and world history have throughout the centuries been governed by religion. The Stuarts of Traquair, the spelling of the surname altered in keeping with that of the Scottish monarchy, retained the Catholic faith, which did them no favours when it came to political advancement since they were excluded from sitting in the Scottish Parliament.

Nevertheless, for a period they kept their heads down and by 1695, the building of Traquair House was completed with the addition of two side wings and the wrought iron screen in the courtyard. Early on, the 4th Earl of Traquair (incidentally with two marriages the father of 17 children, all of whom survived) was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, suspected of involvement in a Jacobite plot. He was released and by 1715, aged 56, the best he could do was to encourage his brother-in-law, the Earl of Nithsdale, to participate. Lord Nithsdale was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London under sentence of death, but rescued by his wife and a maidservant.

In 1738, the Bear Gates were installed and the figures possibly carved by Charles Brodie, as estate worker, at the top of a fine avenue leading to the house. However, this approach was only to be in use for the following six years.

Having successfully routed Government forces at Prestonpans with his Jacobite army in September 1745, Prince Charles Edwards Stuart paid a visit to his kinsman Charles, 5th Earl of Traquair, who had by then succeeded his brother the 4th Earl.

Although unable, or knowing the dangers, unwilling, to offer the Prince anything other than nominal support, the 5th Earl vowed that the entrance gates at the top of what is now known as the Royal Avenue, would be opened until a Stuart king once again sat upon the throne.

Towards the end of the First World War in 1918, the estate was inherited by Frank Maxwell Stuart who passed it on to his son and daughter-in-law Peter and Flora Maxwell Stuart who transformed the house into a visitor attraction with its own domestic brewery. The estate is now run as a Charitable Trust by their daughter Catherine and her husband Mark Muller Stuart.

The imposing Bear Gates at the top of the Royal Avenue remain closed.

Traquair House
Innerleithen Peeblesshire EH44 6PW
Tel: +44 (0) 1896 830 323