Heading east out of St. Fillans towards the golf course, you'll come to St. Fillans chapel. It is believed that our saint built the chapel after converting the picts at nearby Dundurn castle. However, the influence of Catholicism waned with the Reformation, and since 1586, the chapel has been the resting place of the clan Stewart of Ardvorlich.
There is a local story associated with the birth of their most famous chief, Major James Stewart - or the Mad Major, as he came to be known. The story is as follows.
In 1598, James VI married Anne of Denmark. As was the custom, a feast was put on, with exotic fruits from Spain, fine brandy from France, and venison from the royal deer forest of Glen Artney (to the northeast of the chapel). Now, the deputy forester, John Drummond of Drummondernoch, was out hunting venison for the King, when he encountered a band of MacGregors. Whether it was the product of a blood feud or their trespassing is unclear, but the MacGregors set upon Drummond, murdered and decapitated him, before taking his head in their plaids and leaving his body for the wolves.
Hungry after their afternoons work, the MacGregors called in at the Stewarts of Ardvorlich to be fed.
Nothing unusual about this - it was the ancient Highland custom to feed a passerby in need, friend or foe. However, a little less usual, was the fact that Margaret Stewart, who as lady of the house of Stewart of Ardvorlich now hosted the MacGregors, was, before taking her wedding vows, Margaret Drummond - sister to the murdered John! Tasteless, you might think. Not compared to what follows.
In high spirits after the day's kill, the MacGregors decided to play a wee joke on their host. When Margaret was out of the room, the MacGregors placed the severed head of John on a silver platter in the centre of the table, before stuffing his mouth with bread and cheese.
Seeing this ghastly sight upon her return, poor Margaret ran as fast as she could for the hills of Glen Vorlich behind (on the southern shores of Loch Earn). For several days she hid at the side of a small lochan, which is known to this day as Lochan na Mna (Lochan of the Woman). Now, Margaret was heavily pregnant through all of this, and by the time she was found she had given birth to a baby boy. And whether it was due to the physical strain of her journey, or perhaps the psychological strain of its cause, her son grew into a man with a terrible rage. Never leaving a MacGregor alive when he could help it, and a ruthless weapon on the side of the Royalists during the Covenanting Wars, the warrior came to be known as Mad Major James Stewart.
He is the hero of Sir Walter Scott's "A Legend of Montrose" (under the name of Allan M'Auley). And his is the second inscription on the Ardvorlich headstone at St. Fillans chapel.
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