THE TRUE STORY OF THE DOONES?
(Ida Browne's story, reproduced and introduced by John Lerwill)

LORNA DOONE, by R.D. Blackmore, is regarded by many (or most) as pure fiction. However, there have been many debates on this matter, and much literature exists on the topic. The scene in which the drama unfolds is that of Exmoor, which overlaps Devonshire and Somerset, and has a mystique and rich history worthy of study by itself. The time of the drama is in the 17th c., again a period of romance and cavaliers. What a backcloth in which to write a story! However, Blackmore was not just a fiction writer, even if it is accepted that 'Lorna Doone' is fiction, for he was called to the Bar in 1852, and was a classical master at Wellesley House School, Twickenham. His childhood and youth, however, was spent in the cradle of 'Doone Country'.

The fact is that there were many 'Doone Relics' in the hands of a Mr. Beeton at Hunstanton, including a 'Journal of Rupert Doone'. However, many of these were lost in a fire at Mr. Beeton's premises in 1902. An antiquary, Mr. H. Snowdon Ward, was allowed to examine and photograph what was left, and he seems to have been of the opinion that they were indeed very old and connected with a Scottish Doone family. A gun, said to have been used to shoot one of the Doones, and called the 'Yenworthy Gun', can, apparently, be seen to this day.

The Scottish link is important, because it is held that the Doones returned to Scotland in 1699, they being reputed to have settled on Exmoor in 1620. There seem to have been many persons who claimed relations with the main families appearing in the book, who have given their own stories. Added to these are various stories of outrages that have been handed down by word of mouth, seemingly connected to the 'Doone' era.

An Ida M. Browne (Audrie Doon) wrote an article, in 1901, which she contributed to the West Somerset Free Press, and the publishers of that journal deemed the matter to be so important that they issued the article as a pamphlet. It goes:

PREFATORY NOTE Since my first visit to the West of England in 1899, it has occurred to me that it would be of no little interest to those visiting the neighbourhood, to have some idea as to who were, in reality, the original outlaws mentioned in Blackmore's charming romance, and it seemed that I, a member of the Scottish family from which they sprang, should be the one to write it. It occasioned me no small surprise, on perusing 'Lorna Doone' for the first time to find its author had embodied the traditions of my progenitors so correctly, and I was still further surprised and interested to discover on visiting the haunts of my ancestors, that the story of the Doone family was one of the best known legends of the locality. A considerable amount of mystery, however, will hang over them, and by many their real existence is regarded as entirely fictitious. My family may, or may not, have sprung from these, but the facts are plain that their name was Doon (subsequently spelt with a terminal 'E' for a few generations and originally written Doune), that they were exiled from Scotland in 1620, and that they settled in what is now known as the Oare Valley, and were more or less hated and feared by the country side until their return to Perhshire in 1699. Such is the story attached to our family, and I give it for what it is worth.

1

Anyone taking the trouble to look up in Burke the history and lineage of the line of Moray will see that in 1580 Elizabeth Countess of Moray - eldest daughter of the Earl of Moray who was murdered on January 23rd, 1570 - married Sir James Stuart of Doune, whose father was created Lord Doune on November 24th, 1581, and he assumed, thereupon, the title of Earl of Moray, being known in history by the appellation of the Bonny Earl of Moray. This Sir James Stuart of Doune was a twin, his brother Ensor - whose name Mr. Blackmore has made use of - being a man of vindictive, quarrelsome, and immensely proud disposition. From the age of eighteen, constant friction existed between the brothers as to the legal ownership of the title and estates of Doune Castle, situated near Stirling, in Perthshire. At this distance of time it is difficult to determine whether or no Sir James was the rightful heir, or if Ensor Stuart were indeed the elder. In those rough times, a mortal enmity naturally arose between the two, and the brothers grew to cherish for each other a hatred as strong as nursed by the famous families of Verona. On consulting Burke once again, the reader will see that on February, 7th, 1602, Sir James was murdered by his hereditary enemy , the Earl of Huntley, a friend of his brother, and it was commonly supposed on good grounds that Ensor had paid the impoverished Huntley a considerable sum to assassinate Sir James. So awful a deed, although no absolute proof was forthcoming, strengthened the hatred between the two families. James, second Earl of Moray, succeeded his murdered father, and through the King's mediation, was reconciled with Huntley, which seemed fresh evidence that, in reality, Ensor Stuart was the instigator of the outrage, and was more guilty than the man bribed. The Earl's hatred to his uncle increased, and, on Ensor Stuart's death, he became on no better terms with his cousin.

In 1618, this cousin, Ensor James Stuart, assumed the surname of Doune, and this apparently trifling act so enraged the Earl, as seeming to imply a claim on Doune Castle, that he determined to drive him from Scotland, and, assisted by a small band of some sixteen men, actually succeeded in entering his cousin's house at Stirling, and gave him the choice of leaving Scotland or being kept a prisoner with his wife in Doune Castle. Ensor (now Sir Ensor) resisted and he and Lady Doune were held in captivity for a week, but at the end of that time principally owing to his wife's entreaties, he consented to cross the border - an outlaw and exile. Attended by one faithful retainer, they went to London, hoping to obtain redress at the hands of the King, but this, after much weary waiting they failed to obtain. Sir Ensor, disgusted with mankind in general, thereupon resolved to shut himself away from the world in the most remote district they could discover, and, at the end of a long and toilsome march of thirteen days, they found themselves on the bare plains of Exmoor. In the valley of East Lyn, a short distance from Oare Ford, they halted, and took possession of a half-ruined farm-house, which they converted into a dwelling. As time went on, other sons were born to the outlawed knight, inheriting the stern nature of their father and growing up to regard all men as their common enemies. From this time onwards the four sons of Sir Ensor grew to be detested and feared by the country people of the district. They obtained, by threats and outrage, whatever they required, waylaid peaceful travellers on lonely roads, cajoled away the handsomest of the village girls, and became a source of constant terror to everyone in the neighbourhood from Porlock to Lynmouth Weir.

The history of the family during the seventy-three years in which they made the Lyn Valley their home is a constant succession of raids and robberies which I do not care to dwell upon. It is not very pleasant, even at this distance of time, to reflect while wandering down the lovely combes of Exmoor that one's own ancestors once made the district a place of murder and rapine.

2

The Doone Valley, so-called by local authorities, cannot, I think, have been the identical spot made use of by Sir Ensor and his family during their sojourn in England. The remains of the buildings there seen are probably those of cattle byres, or enclosures, and may possibly have been used for penning some of the stock commandered by the outlaws. Our own tradition point to the fact that the exiles made their home between Oare Ford and the rise of the East Lyn, in the wildest and loneliest part of the valley running to the right of the Oare road as you ascend to join the coach route across Exmoor.

An old pair of bellows, held together no longer by their original leather, and laid away for many years before being brought out and furbished up, bear the inscription, very crudely carved 'E.D. Oare 1627', which seems to indicate that Sir Ensor was living there at that time. In the records of a quaint old diary kept by one of our family during the eighteenth century, there are the following entries:

'September 3rd, 1747. Went to Barum (Barnstaple) on my way to the place they call Oare, whence our people came after their cruel treatment at the hands of the Earl Moray'.

'September 7th, Got to Oare, and then to the valley of the Lyn, the scenery very bonny, like our own land, but the part extremely wild and lonely. Wandered about and thought of the old days, and of the doings of the family while here, which I gather were not peaceable.'

In addition to these, I have before me an old flint-lock pistol, fairly well preserved and engraved midway between stock and barrel are the words 'C. Doone', in the handwriting of the period, and on the reverse side the word 'Porlock', which makes it somewhat doubtful as to whether the weapon was purchased there, or, as is more probable, a C.Doone resided in the village. If so, let us hope he was more peaceably inclined than his relatives in the valley.

I may here perhaps mention that the family name was spelt differently by different persons and at different dates. For some time after quitting Scotland, Sir Ensor preserved the original orthography, and spelt it as it is still spelt in maps and histories. This, in a few years, was changed into Doone, the 'u' being converted into an 'o'. Later on still, long after the family had returned to Scotland, the last letter was dropped, and this form my immediate ancestors preserved until the present day. The Christian name 'Lorna', which the novelist has given to his heroin, was never bestowed on any of our family, and I regard it as a pretty and original cognomen, invented by the author, as he has also invented the bygone history of the Doones before they inhabited Devonshire. The female name of 'Audrie' - my own - is spelt in the same manner as that of the patron saint of West Quantoxhead, giving foundation to the idea that the Doones crossed the Quantocks on their way home, and made a note of the name.

3

In 1699, on August 4th, a messenger arrived at Porlock bearing evident signs that he had travelled a long distance. He enquired if the Doones lived thereabouts, and was directed to the Oare Valley, where he sought an interview with the head of the family, Charles Doone, eldest son of Sir Ensor. The former owner of Doune Castle, Earl Moray, who had driven his cousin into exile, being dead (1638), and his successor, James, also having died, the present Earl (Alexander), in order to make amends to the outlawed family, had sent a retainer to invite them to return, when they should have ample compensation for the hardships they had suffered. At first, Charles Doone haughtily refused the offer but at length consented to set out for Scotland, in company with his three brothers and their families. The night before they set out a great fire was lighted in the beacon cradles of Dunkery and a farewell feast was given. Some of the country folk were invited, but for obvious reasons few ventured to come. The return to Scotland was accomplished in about a month, and the family were cordially received by Alexander, Earl of Moray, who made them presents of money and land. The old feeling of dislike, however, was never entirely stamped out from the hearts of the exiles, and they made their homes in districts many leagues away from the splendours of Doune Castle, never destined to be theirs.

The names of those living in the valley before their departure were as follows:

Charkes Doone, and his only son, Ensor, by a second wife, who had died at the boy's birth. Bruce Doone (second son of Sir Ensor), his wife, Dorothy, two sons, Angus and James, and a daughter. Nigel Doone (third son of Sir Ensor), his twin boys, Rupert and Charles, his wife, and two daughters. Rowland Doone (fourth son of Sir Ensor) and his sons, Stuart and Hugh. These, with four men-servants, sons of Jamie Beaton, who had followed the exiles to England, made up the community.

There is nothing specially noteworthy in the history of my ancestors after their return to Scotland. They were never disposed to be on friendly terms with their richer and more important relations, and gradually the two branches of the family drifted apart until, at the present day, I should consider it extremely doubtful if either branch would claim any kinship with the other.

The Doune tartan, since amalgamated with that of royal house of Stuart, is the same as that worn by thedescendants of that clan, with the exception of a broad black stripe. The rest of the family is described in heraldic language as follows: Or, a fesse, chequy, arg. and az. Stuart of Doune. (On a gold ground, a chequered fesse, chequered in silver and blue).

4

Such is the history as far as we can trace it over 250 years, of the Doones of Exmoor. Little doubt remains in my mind and those of my friends that they were the originals of the outlaws who figure in the traditions of the district. Everything certainly seems to point to the fact. In all probability Blackmore got his details from some Scotch family who knew our history, and proceeded to weave his romance from those facts. Precisely as to how he obtained them I am not privileged to know, and it is evident that he either did not know the reasons for my ancestors' leaving Scotland, or that, knowing particulars he wisely refrained from describing them verbatim and invented others instead.

(The story is corroborated by Charles Doone of Braemuir who, in a signed statement in 1804, gave his ancestry and the identical story of the exile as given by Ida Browne.)

(End of Ida Browne's Story)

Possibly the most complete version of a handed-down story of a Doone outrage was told by a Mrs Tucker, who, years ago, lived at Court Barton,Parracoombe. She says that it was told to her when she was a girl about the year 1857, by her grandmother. The story she writes used to be told to 'all children '.

". . . I remember my grand-mother telling me of a terrible robbery at Badgeworthy. She said: 'After they were gone to bed, robbers came and kicked the bullocks with pricks (prikes) and made them roar. The master sent the foreman down to see what was the matter with theln. When he went down the robbers killed him. Then the bullocks began to roar again, then another went down - they served him the same. They began to roar again, then the master went down in a rage and they killed him. 'l'he little boy heard the robbers coming. He crept into a hole in the chimney. She heard them coming and she jumped into a cask of feathers that was in the room. When they went upstairs they could only find the baby. The old woman belonging to the robbers said: "Kill the calf then the cow will mooe!" They then took what they wanted and went off. The next day, the ncighbours were told about it and a great dog came and licked up the blood, and they flung a chopping-hook at him and made him bleed, and they traced the blood to the place where the robbers were, and they were all taken.'"

(Mrs Tucker did not seem to have any knowledge of the name of the robbers, nor does she state whether they were hanged or not, andshe suggests that they were able to trace the dog's blood because of the snow on the ground. )

One of the characters in the Doone saga was Tom Faggus, whose guns can be seen in St. Anne's Chapel Museum at Barnstaple. He was born in North Molton and was a respected landowner, and earned his living as a blacksmith. He was to have married a local girl, but a few weeks before the wedding, he won a gold Jacobus for the best-shod horse in North Devon. This caused so much jealousy among some people that they conspired to use the intricacies of the law courts to cheat him out of his land and smithy, and succeeded. Upset, Tom went to see his girl-friend who promptly cold-shouldered him now that he was penniless. This made him so bitter that he vowed he would make the world pay for his maltreatment.

During his long career as a highwayman, he had several narrow escapes from the lawmen, but there is no record that he killed anyone. As with Dick Turpin's horse, Tom's horse is legendary and was known as the "Enchanted Strawberry Mare". Her fleetness of hoof was a marvel, and when in danger, she would get her master out of trouble using tooth and hoofs. The following folk-lore serve to illustrate the legend that became attached to Faggus and Winnie, his mare.

On one occasion, Faggus was recognized in Barnstaple and was hard pressed as far as Barnstaple's famous long bridge. When he was half-way across, constables appeared at both ends. Seeing his chances of escape rapidly dwindling, Faggus put his mare to the parapet, whereupon she jumped clear and swam with her master to safety. At the scene of this remarkable escape, Barnstaple Bridge crosses a tidal estuary, the water being some forty feet below the parapet.

On another occasion, information leaked out that Faggus was heading for Exford, and the authorities placed men in different parts of the village to 'ensure' that they caught him. Faggus heard of these plans and later rode boldly into the place in disguise. Seeing the crowd he called:

"Pray my good friends, for what purpose are you waiting here in such numbers?"
On being told that they were waiting for the villain Faggus, he promptly offered to join in and help them in their quest. After a while, he asked them what firearms they had available and suggested that, since the morning was very damp and the priming would be injured, the weapons should be discharged and reloaded. His companions agreed; immediately they had done so, Faggus drew his pistols! With the crowd disarmed, he had the situation in his own hands and promptly proceeded to rob them of anything of value before galloping away!

At a later date, Faggus' mare is reputed to have again helped her master with more than human intelligence. He was suddenly overpowered when drinking in an alehouse in Simonsbath. Whistling loudly with his accustomed call, he attracted the attention of his mare which was waiting outside. In she rushed, kicking and biting at her master's assailants, whereupon Fergus jumped on her back and made good their escape!

Legends abound concerning Faggus and his mare. What finally and truthfully happened to Tom is uncertain, although Blackmore had him pardoned by the King.

REFERENCE: "The Doones", published by The Cider Press, 1971.

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