Friday, 5 July 2013

"Persewit with Fyre and Swerd" The Vendetta Picture in 16th Century Scotland (Part 7)

The End of the Vendetta Picture; The Forrester and Bargany murders

It's hard to say whether the surviving Vendetta pictures are representative of the genre as a whole both because there are so few of them and because it isn't clear how widespread the Vendetta picture actually was. What can be said for sure though, is that the pictures discussed were not the only Vendetta pictures made during this period. Until further examples or documentary references come to light though, our view of the genre will be fragmentary at best.

Two more examples now lost but, like the painting of Regent Moray, alluded to in the written record are those of two relatively minor figures, David Forrester and the Laird of Bargany. Because the subjects of the paintings were not prominent figures at court, their murders were not causes for national scandal and their political consequences were negligible. That said, these pictures do reflect the unstable situation among the nobility of Scotland throughout the closing years of the 16th century.

King James VI alluded to this volatile situation in his Basilikon Doron (1599). "For any displeasure that they [the nobility] apprehend to bee done unto them by their neighbour, they take up a plain feide [feud] against him and bang it out bravelie, hee and all his kinne against him and all his." After taking personal control of the government of the realm in 1578, one of James' key aims was to end the lawlessness which had been rife since the death of his grandfather James V over thirty years earlier. He largely succeeded in this, not least because his reign established a sense of stability and authority which had been lacking during the preceding series of short Regencies. The Forrester and Bargany murders, in 1595 and 1601 respectively therefore represent the tail end of a way of life which was dying out, and from their descriptions it seems that the visual works they produced still seem to have looked back to the format established by the Darnley pictures in the middle of the century for their inspiration.

The Forester Murder, 1595

The Forrester murder is an example of exactly the kind of feuding that James VI alluded to in his writings. David Forrester was a Baillie of Stirling in 'special service' to John Erskine, the powerful Second Earl of Mar (who had even served as guardian to the King during part of his minority). On 24th June 1595 Forrester was waylaid and slain near Linlithgow by a "party of Bruces and Livingstones" seemingly on the strength of his name only as a state of deadly feud existed between "all the Bruces and their friends and all the Forresters and their friends in those parts". The Bruces were dependents of Lord Livingstone, with whom Mar himself had been at loggerheads for several years.

the 2nd Earl of Mar

The murder of his servant therefore brought the Earl himself into the feud, transforming it from a local skirmish into a feud with possibly disastrous consequences for the country.                                                                  
As the feud escalated, the Earl of Mar "cawsit mak the picture of the defunct on a fayre cammes, payntit with the number of the shots and wounds, to appeare the maire horrible and rewthfull to the behalders." This was presumably the same picture shown at the funeral procession for Forrester; "a canvas picture of the bloody corpse". Mar also announced a 'day of law' where an inquest into the murder would be held. Here, however, James VI, despite his friendship with Mar, acted decisively in a way that he was unwilling to do in the Moray case in which he himself was implicated.

In December 1595, James issued a Royal Proclamation that "nane accompany THE ERLL OF MAR and LORD LEVINGSTANE to their day of law" as "it is to be feirit, that upoun the occsasioun of thair meiting, sum grite inconvenient sall fall oute, to the brek of his hienes peax." This was reinforced later in the month with a summons to Holyrood, at which the parties were commanded to remove the feud, on pain of being "persewit with fyre and swerd, as inemies to God, His Majestie and the common wele." Eventually, after pressure from Mar, the King allowed a trial to take place and though the situation remained delicate for some time afterwards, the matter was settled by the King's intervention, demonstrating the relatively strengthened position of the crown since the days of the Darnley murders.

Several facts help to give an idea of the Forrester painting's possible appearance. Firstly, the Earl of Mar was a friends and associate of the Bonny Earl of Moray, and was one of the group of friends who had called for revenge and planned his funeral in Edinburgh, a large public event which in the end, never took place.  This makes it almost certain that he had seen the painting which was probably made for display in the funeral procession.
Secondly, although there is no record of the artist employed to paint Forrester's corpse, the nature of the commission - a banner-like painting for a funeral procession - would naturally fall within the duties of a heraldic/decorative painting such as James Workman, possibly responsible for the Moray painting, who the Earl of Mar certainly employed himself in later years. If, as seems likely, Mar had seen the Moray painting, it is probable that he had this in mind when he planned the Forrester picture and therefore there is a strong likelihood that the two pictures were very much alike, perhaps even the work of the same artist.

The Bargany Murder, 1601

Towards the end of the century, James VI's policy of organising arbitration in private feuds, or as in the Moray/Huntly feud, arranging inter-dynastic marriages, began to have a real impact. These steps though, were less successful when faced with feuding within a family group. This was the case with the murder of the Laird of Bargany on the 11th of December 1601 at Carrick in Ayrshire, by his own Lord, the earl of Cassilis. Both men belonged to the Kennedy family and the murder was the culmination of several years of tension over land rights and the harvesting of crops. During the attack, the Laird and "sindrie utheris wer slayne, and diverse gentilmen hurt." In the Laird's funeral procession, a "Banner of Rewendge" was carried, which bore "his portratour with all his woundis, with his sone sittand at his kneyis, and this deattone written betuix his handis, 'JUDGE AND REWENDGE MY CAUS, O LORD'." This description, especially the position of the Laird's son, shows that more than thirty years on, the Darnley banner was still a potent source for this type of picture. In this case, the murder was avenged when "Thomas Kennedy, brother to the Laird of Bargany, slew Sir Thomas Kennedy of Colzeane, Knycht, quha had beine Tutor of Cassilis." Ultimately though, the bloodshed was ended by legal, though not honest, means when Cassilis had the Laird's murder declared legitimate by the Privy Council, bribing them to announce that he had acted under a commission to capture the Laird, who was claimed to have been 'at the horn' and therefore acting outside of the law, at the time.

The Bargany painting seems to be the last recorded Vendetta picture and its reliance on the Darnley prototype demonstrates the limited scope (or need) for artistic development within the genre. Tied to specific contemporary events, the task of the artist was to create a vivid record of them, intended to survive only for as long as the cause required such a reminder. It is highly unlikely therefore that the injured party would seek out an artist of any standing for the commission, which was probably entrusted to an artist in the employ of the household or local burgh. Several artists whose names are not recorded were active in Ayrshire at this time, fulfilling the usual wide-ranging functions. One named artist, William Cauldwell, is a typical example of the painter/craftsman of the period, and he is recorded in Ayr a few years later, "dressing and colouring the loftis of the kirk" among other tasks. There is no evidence to link him to the Bargany painting, but he is representative of the class to which the Bargany artist belonged and as such in the right area at the right time.

Given the circumstances of their making, it's hard to mourn the passing of the Vendetta picture, but elements of the genre were to live on, albeit in subtly (but importantly) altered form.

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