I was going to write about clothing this week, but my plan came undone when I was distracted by a story I read online regarding Muriel Calder of Cawdor. It seems that at her birth, in 1498, Muriel inherited the lands of Cawdor, an estate near present day Inverness. Most of Scotland’s high and mighty seemed to covet these lands. She was kidnapped as an infant by Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, who held who held her captive for years. When she was old enough, some sources say twelve years, she married John Campbell, Archibald’s son. This was done to ensure the Cawdor lands would come into possession of the Campbells.
This story raised many questions for me. It seems that Muriel had uncles, at least four of them. Why didn’t they inherit? In Medieval England a woman rarely owned property until she became a widow, but in Scotland things were obviously different.
I know that in Medieval Ireland women had much greater rights than their counterparts in the rest of Europe. They had the right to own property, address a court of law, lead their clan, and divorce their husbands. Was it the same in Scotland? Maybe.
It seems that in Highland Scotland if there were no male heirs the land passed to the daughters instead of male relatives, and so Muriel became a very rich little girl. I’m amazed she wasn’t murdered by her family to prevent her wealth going to whomever she married.
So what happened to this poor, little, rich girl? Well by all accounts Muriel and John had a happy marriage. Some say they had eleven children, others say they only had three. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Despite being married Muriel stayed in procession of her lands until her death in 1575, when they passed to her grandson also named John Campbell, her eldest son being already dead by this time.
On reflection, I think I’m most surprised by how compliant she seems. She was taken as a baby, and forced into marriage as an adolescent. I can’t imagine going along with that. By Scottish law all she had to do was object to the marriage and that would have been the end of it. Did she really love John Campbell? Did he love her? That truth has been lost in the sands of time, but I like to think they did care for each other and despite her terrible childhood Muriel led a very happy life.
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