Church Monuments Society


The Wolf of Badenoch

Month: February 2021
Type: Effigy  
Era: 15th Century

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Dunkeld Cathedral
10 Cathedral St, Dunkeld PH8 0AW

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The Effigy of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Lord of Badenoch

I and others have published extensively on medieval monuments in England & Wales, but regrettably the same cannot be said about Scotland.  The area of Western Scotland, above Glasgow and beyond, has a series on monuments known as the “West Highland Style”.  This series of monuments have been extensively published by a fine book in 1977 by Steer & Bannerman[1].  The other areas of Scotland where monuments exist are known as “Lowland Effigies”.  The difference between these two categories is that the “West Highland Style” monuments are carved in low-relief and dressed in quilted gown’s for highland warfare, whereas the “Lowland Effigies” are carved in-the-round or three dimensionally and armoured in plate.  The “West Highland” effigies/monuments are very similar in style and are extremely difficult to date with most being produced by one workshop over a number of centuries.  While some of these are cared for by Historic Scotland and under-cover a vast amount are left in the open air, covered by vegetation, moss and grass: a deplorable way to treat Scottish history by their own custodians.  While some “Lowland Effigies” have been published, no overall survey has been produced to date[2].  For this blog I am looking at the military effigy at Dunkeld known as “The Wolf” [3].  Dunkeld is a town in Perthshire, known as the “Gateway to the Highlands” and situated on the banks of the River Tay.

The effigy lies on a tomb-chest surrounded by twenty two weepers all dressed in armour, and resides at the east end, behind the choir screen of the parish church formerly Dunkeld Cathedral.  The effigy is badly damaged and is broken in four pieces, with the loss of the left shoulder, left arm, right foot and left foot’s toes.  The head rests on two tasselled cushions with the upper placed diagonally.  The head is protected by a great basinet with visor pivots on either side of the temples: a bevor is riveted to the basinet, with the addition of gorget plates and a mail fringe.  Below the face-opening of the basinet the sculptor has shown a fringe of hair, which is very rare.  While it is not tied around the neck the Wolf lies on a cloak.  He wears a six lame pauldron extending well down the arm; fan-shaped couter with two articulated lames above and below; the vambrace has two hinges on the outer-plates; a single breastplate; plates-skirt with two down-ward pointing plates hinged to the lowest lame of the skirt.  Below the plate-skirt is the lower part of a mail skirt; cuisses are strapped around thighs, poleyns; greaves with two hinges on the outside and buckled straps on the inside, sabaton.  Around the waist is a wide hip-belt decorated with square plaque and large studs.  The sword on the left has straight quillons and a water-guard.  On the edge of the slab is an inscription “HICJACET ALEXANDER SENESCALUS, FILIUS ROBERTI REGIS ET ELIZABETH MORE, DOMINUS DE BUCHAN ET DNS DE BADENACH QUI OBIIT VINGESIMO QUARTO DIE JULII (part of the inscription is a replacement)”.

While I have recorded a number of “Lowland Effigies” I have not seen all for comparison; however two can be related to Dunkeld for example Corstorphine (Mid Lothian) and Kilmun (Argyll).  Unlike England where effigies are easier datable these Scottish examples remain problematic but Dunkeld would appear to date from c.1410/40.  Alexander was the third surviving son of King Robert II of Scotland and was born in 1343 and died 1404/5.  It is thought he obtained the nickname “The Wolf” due to his cruelty but there is no proof of his crimes.

Mark Downing FSA

[1] K. A. Steer & J. W. M. Bannerman, Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands, (Edinburgh, 1977).

[2] A general introductory account has been published by R. Brydall, ‘The Monumental Effigies of Scotland from the Thirteenth to the Fifteenth Century’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 29, (1894-95), pp. 329-410 at pp. 376-78, fig. 36.  See also T. E. Capwell,’ Observations on the Armour Depicted on Three Mid-15th-Century Military Effigies in the Kirk of St. Nicholas, Aberdeen’, Journal of the Armour Research Society 1, (2005), pp. 5-22.

[3] A. V. Norman, ‘The Effigy of Alexander Stewart. Earl of Buchan and Lord of Badenoch’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 92, (1958-59), pp. 105-113, pl.18.