This estate which comprises about eleven hundred acres, and lies contiguous to Kingcausie, extends from the river Dee southward the whole breadth of the parish. There also belongs to the estate the Inch of Blairs, lying between Murtle and the north bank of the river Dee, which was formed many years ago through the Dee leaving its natural course and cutting through several fields. A consider- able portion of the soil near the river is good and in a high state of cultivation, but towards the south it gets thin and coarse till it terminates in land altogether unsuitable for cultivation. Like most of the other properties in Maryculter, Blairs belonged originally to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, who, for the benefit of their tenants in the east end of their extensive property, had established a parsonage at Blairs where a priest resided. By charter dated 15th December, 1535, Gilbert Menzies (better known by the sobriquet of Banison Gibby then laird of Findon, acquired an absolute right from Sir Walter Lyndesay, Lord St. John, Preceptor of Torphichen, with the special license  and consent of the Master of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the estate of " Blairs, Estland, Tuliskeith, and Ester Tilboury, together with the Mill of Maryculter." This grant was subsequently confirmed by a charter under the Great Seal dated 2nd June, 1542. Menzies married Marjory Chalmers, daughter of Provost Alexander Chalmers of Murtle, and by her had the following family :—

Thomas, his heir, Alexander, Andrew, David, John Gilbert, and a daughter, who was married to John Dempster of Auchterless. He was provost of Aberdeen for twenty-four years, and, along with Baillie Collison, represented the burgh in the first Parliament of James V., receiving 6/8 per day of expenses, and eight horsemen to attend in their train, that they might appear at court with a splendour becoming the representatives of the opulent city.^ Menzies held several mortgages over the estate of Pitfodels, and it seems to have been his ambition to get the whole property into his family. An opportunity occurred during his lifetime, and he does not appear to have been slow to avail himself of it. Provost Alexander Reid of Pitfodels left an only child—Marion —who thus became his heiress. A prior compact had been entered into between Menzies and Reid that the daughter of the latter should wed Thomas, the son and heir of the former, so that thereby all the properties might become united. After Reid's death, his widow, Margaret Crawford, did her best to thwart Menzies in the implementing of the alleged agree- ment, and considerable litigation took place in the local courts over the custody of Marion Reid, who was at the time a minor. Menzies, 'however, appears to have got his way in the dispute, for he produced the King's letters in his favour, granting him the ward and marriage to his son Thomas of the young heiress, in terms of the prior compact with Reid. The marriage, which had been contracted under such singular circumstances, took place on 12th January, 15 20-1, and proved an eminently happy one. Thomas Menzies had an active and eventful career. At Michaelmas, 1525, he was elected provost of Aberdeen, and during the following fifty years he held the chair for the long period of forty years,only demitting office temporarily to allow some member of his family to enjoy it for a short period. He was on several occasions chosen to represent the burgh in Parliament ; in 1 538, he acted as Marischal Depute of Scotland ; and, in 1543, he was Comptroller of the royal household, an ofl[ice which he seems to have held for several years. He died at an advanced age in 1576. In the end of the sixteenth century the lands of Blairs belonged to Mr, Andrew Harvey, who would appear to have experienced much difficulty in de- fending his legal rights. On 21st April, 1587, it was complained to the Privy Council, " That the said Mr. Andro hes all and haill the salmond fisch- eing of that part of the Watter of Dee under the hauch of the Blairis pertaining to him, and, con- forme to his rychtis and titHs thairof, hes bene in possessioun of the same, be himselfif, his servandis, and fischearis in his name ther divers yeiris  igane ; quhill of lait, upoun the tent day of Julii last, that Johnne Irwing in Kingcoussy, Richard, Andro, Alexander, and Johnne Irwingis, his sons, Thomas, and Walter Irwingis his brethir, Alexander Irwing, sone to the said Walter, with uthiris,thair compliceis, came to that parte of the Watter foirsaid quhair the said complenaris coble wes lokkit at his lok stok, and maisterfuUie, and wranguslie brak the same coble and airis thairof, and be way of deid hes stoppit and debarrit the said complenare fra using of the said fisheing sensyne, tending be this forme of maisterfull oppressioun and bangstree to appropriate the said complenaris fisheing to thameselffis maist wranguslie. Like as the personis foirsaidis continualie molestis and troublis the said complenare, his saidis sones [James, Thomas, and William respectively], tennentis and servendis, in possessioun of thair landis and levingis, pyndis thair bestiall and guidis by all ordour of law, and haldis thame in houssis without meit, quhairthrow twenty of thame hes deceissit throw hunger. As alsua they continualie ly at waitt for the saidis complenaris, umbesettis thair hie wayes in thair ganging and cuming fra thair parroche kirk of Mary Culter ; quhairthrow they may not sauflie repair to the said kirk without thay be sufficientlie accumpanyed with their friendis, for fear of thair lyveis. Like as thai have avowit and affermed that, quhenevir the said James sail repair to thair pairtis, thay sal have his lyff, takand the gritare bauldness heirunto be ressoun of the resett, mantenance and allowance thay have of Alexander Irvving of Drum, being ane man weill clannit and allyed in the cuntrey."  

The defenders, having failed to answer the charge, were declared rebels, but upon their subsequently finding caution for good conduct, the sentence was recalled. Harvey's troubles were not over, however, for in September, 1589, a bond had to be taken that Mr. Menzies of Durn should not molest or injure him, nor his eldest son James, under the penalty of 2000 merks. Again on 30th January, 1590-91, caution was granted for ;^ic)00 on behalf of John Collison of Auchlunies, and for ICXDO merks each on behalf of John Gaw in Auchlunies, and William Cruick- shank in Newhall of Auchlunies, that they should not harm " Mr. Andrew Harvey his tenants or servants."

The estate again passed into the Menzies family, and in the end of last century Captain David Menzies, the proprietor, did much in the way of laying out and improving the property.^ Captain Menzies was succeeded by his nephew, John Menzies, who died in Edinburgh, a widower, on nth October, 1843, aged 87 years. Jervise says " he was a member of the Abbotsford Club and at his expense the volume entitled ' Extracta E Variis Cronicis Scocie' was printed for the members. He was one of the most accomplished gentlemen of his time, and his purse was open to the poor of all denominations."^ He was the last of his race, and by deed, dated in 1827, he conveyed the mansion house and lands to the Roman Catholic Bishops of Scotland for the establishment of a college for young men designed for the Roman Catholic priesthood. During the next two years extensive structural alterations on, and additions to, the mansion house were made in order to adapt it for a college. These being completed, it was formally opened under the title of St. Mary's College on the 2nd of June, 1829. The college, which had previously been established at Aquhorties, near Inverurie, was then closed, and its endow- ment incorporated with that of Blairs. Blairs has a special interest to the artist and to the literary antiquary—containing as it does several most valuable paintings and rare volumes, which fortunately were saved from the fury of the populace during the fierce struggles of the French Revolution. Among the historical MSS. there are two specially worthy of notice. One is the prayer book of Anne of Bretagne, wife, first of Louis XI., and then of Charles VIII. of France ; the other is the service book of the family of Beaton of Balfour—both being remarkable for beauty of execution and variety of illustrations. One of the rolls, written in vellum in the 14th century, contains a poem on the Instruments of the Passion of our Blessed Lord, or, as they are sometimes called, the Anns of Christ. The concluding lines are thus given :—

These armes of Christ, bothe God and man,Seint Peter the pope descrivyed hem ( = them); What man these arniis overseeth ( = despiseth). For here {i.e., their) sinnes sori and schrive beth. (i.e., there zvill be sorrow and penitence).^ Among the printed books are the catechism of John Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, dated in 1552, and a perfect copy of the works of Niniane Winzet printed in 1562.- The more remarkable of the paintings are those of Mary Queen of Scots, and of Cardinal Beaton, both of which were exhibited in the Stuart collection at the recent International Exhibition held in Glasgow. Of the former there are two portraits, one, a full length, measuring seven feet five inches in height, by four feet nine inches in breadth, the other, a three-quarter size, measuring five feet three inches high, by four feet three inches broad. There is a copy ofthe first in the possession of Queen Victoria, but it is understood to be inferior to that at Blairs. In the background of this picture the execution of the Queen at Fotheringay is repre sented, along with portraits of Jane Kennedy and Elizabeth Curie, the two maids of honour who were present on the sad occasion. The royal arms of Scotland are painted on the right-hand corner of the picture, and there are three inscriptions in Latin, the translations of which are as follow :—

(I.) MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTLAND, DOWAGER QUEEN OF FRANCE, TRULY LEGITIMATE SOVEREIGN OF THE KINGDOMS OF ENGLAND AND IRELAND, MOTHER OF JAMES, KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, OP- PRESSED BY HER OWN SUBJECTS, IN THE YEAR 1568, WITH THE HOPE AND EXPECTATION OF AID PROMISED BY HER COUSIN, ELIZABETH, REIGNING IN ENGLAND WENT THITHER, AND THERE, CON- TRARY TO THE LAW OF NATIONS, AND THE FAITH OF A PROMISE, BEING RETAINED CAPTIVE AFTER 19 YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT ON ACCOUNT OF RELIGION, BY THE PERFIDY OF THE SAME ELIZA- BETH AND THE CRUELTY OF THE ENGLISH PAR- LIAMENT, THE HORRIBLE SENTENCE OF DECAPI- TATION BEING PASSED UPON HER IS DELIVERED UP TO DEATH, AND ON THE I2TH OF THE KALENDS. OF MARCH—SUCH AN EXAMPLE BEING UNHEARD OF—SHE IS BEHEADED BY A VILE AND ABJECT EXECUTIONER IN THE 45TH YEAR OF HER AGE AND REIGN.

(2.) IN PRESENCE OF THE COMMISSIONERS AND MINISTERS OF Q. ELIZABETH, THE EXECUTIONER STRIKES WITH HIS AXE THE MOST SERENE QUEEN, THE DAUGHTER, WIFE, AND MOTHER OF KINGS, AND AFTER A FIRST AND SECOND BLOW BY WHICH SHE WAS BARBAROUSLY WOUNDED, AT THE THIRD CUTS OFF HER HEAD.

 

(3.) WHILE SHE LIVED THE CHIEF PARENT ANDFOUNDRESS OF THE SCOTCH* COLLEGE, THUS THE ONCE MOST FLOURISHING QUEEN OF FRANCE AND SCOTLAND ASCENDS THE FATAL SCAFFOLD, WITH UNCONQUERED BUT PIOUS MIND, UPBRAIDS TYRANNY AND PERFIDY, PROFESSES THE CATHOLIC FAITH, AND PUBLICLY AND PLAINLY PROFESSES THAT SHE ALWAYS WAS AND IS A DAUGHTER OF THE ROMAN CHURCH, The Queen is represented with a book in her left hand and a crucifix in her right. Of this and the other paintings, above referred to, the following account by the late Right Reverend Bishop Kyle, Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District of Scotland, will be read with interest. The learned prelate writes:—" The large picture of Queen Mary belonged once to Mrs. Elizabeth Curie, wife and widow of Gilbert Curie, one of the Queen's Secretaries during the last years of her life, and at her death. Mrs. Curie herself was one of the attendants at her execution. When, and by whom it was painted, I have never learned. The attire and attitude of the principal figure being the same in which, it is said, Mary appeared on the scaffold, seem to testify decisively that the picture is not what can be called an original—that is traced from the living subject under the painter's eye. The adjuncts were evidently added by an- other and an inferior artist, but when, I have no means of knowing. Mrs. Curie survived her mistress long, at least thirty years. She had two sons who both became Jesuits. Of one, John, little is known. He died in Spain. The other Hippolytus, was long Superior, and a great benefactor of the Scotch College of Douai. To that college he be- queathed the property, not inconsiderable, which he derived from his mother, and among the rest the very picture now at Blairs. The picture remained in that college till the French Revolution. At the wreck of the college it was taken from its frame, and being rolled up, was concealed* in a chimney, the fireplace of which was built up, and was so preserved. After the peace of 181 5, it was taken from its place of concealment, and conveyed first to Paris, but ultimately to Scotland, through the late Bishop Paterson and the Reverend John Farquharson, who being, the latter Principal, the former Prefect of Studies, in the Douai College at the time of the Revolution, identified it as the picture that had been kept there, according to the tradition mentioned above. Of the smaller picture of Queen Mary I have heard no history ; but from its inscription and appearance I am inclined to think that it must have been drawn when Mary was a young girl in France before the first of her marriages, so that, harsh and unartistic as is its execution, I look upon it as a real original, and perhaps the only one in existence. We have no account of the artist by whom, or the time when, the picture of Cardinal Beaton was done. It was preserved from time immemorial in the Scotch College at Rome, down to the invasion of that city by the French in 1798. It was then sold for a trifle, purchased off a stand in the street by a Scotch artist of the name of Morrison, and restored by him to Abbe McPherson, late rector of that college, who had known it as part of the college property, and by him brought to Blairs. Of the excellence of its execution as a work of art there can be no doubt."* There is another painting, that of the Chevalier St. George—James III. as he was called. "This portrait was originally the property of John, Earl of Middleton, and presented by him, along with some other memorials, to the Scotch College, Paris," from which it passed to Blairs. The painting measures sixty-eight by fifty inches, and represents the prince in armour and pointing with a scroll in his hand to a map of his ancestral dominions. By his side is a page, who is supposed to be a scion of the house of Middleton. This was a Kincardineshire family ennobled in 1660. The second earl was out- lawed by the high court of justiciary in 1694, and his estates were forfeited by act of parliament, 2nd July, 1695, on account of his adherence to the cause of the exiled James II. There are also portraits of Prince Charles Edward and the Cardinal Duke of York (the latter a very good painting), as also of several Scotch Catholic  bishops. With regard to the college itself, there are at present upwards of seventy students, with a presi- dent and staff of professors, all in residence. Candidates for the priesthood are sent here to begin their course, and after passing through the arts classes (in which particular attention is paid to the classics) they proceed for the study of Philosophy and Divinity to the Scots Colleges in Rome and Valladolid, to Paris, or to the Diocesan Seminary at Glasgow. An enlarged college is urgently required, as Blairs is now altogether in- adequate to the needs of the Catholic Church in Scotland, owing to its expansion during the last quarter of a century.

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