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Chapter X

Chapter IX: The Interregnum—John Baliol, 1286-1292


We may note here, from one of our oldest chronicles, [27] an account of an event which must have caused as great a sensation among the inmates of the Abbey as the summons of the persecuting Earl or the English King. This was no less than the return from the other world of one of their brethren, or at least a ghost who wore the dress of their Order. The terror caused by this spiritual visitation was widespread, and tidings of the apparition were carried to the English monastery of Lanercost, where it was chronicled by the monks among the grave transactions of Church and State. The house which was chiefly visited by the apparition is that of the family of Lyle or De Insula, afterwards Lord Lyle. It was a strongly-fortified castle on the confluence of two streams, not far from the present village of Kilmalcolm. Little more than the site of the mansion is visible now. The “auld house” and the powerful family to whom it belonged have passed away. Alanus de Insula, Alexander de Insula, Radulph de Insula, and others of the family are frequently men-tioned in the Paisley Chartulary. The story shows the great lord seated beside the hearth, with his family and domestics around him, after the fashion of the time. We shall give it in the words of the chronicle, as nearly as they can be translated from the very crabbed monkish Latin in which the tale is told :—

AT this time,
[28] in the west of Scotland, in the valley of the Clyde, about four miles from Paisley, there happened in the house of a knight, Duncan de Lyle, [29] an event at once dreadful and wonderful, which may fill the wicked with fear, and show the appearance of the damned on the day of the final resurrection. Under cover of our holy religion, a certain man had lived in wickedness and died in sin, with the ban of excommunication upon him for sacrilege committed in his monastery. Having long after his burial frightened several in the same monastery by appearing to them in the shades of night, this son of darkness went to the house of the said knight to try the faith of the simple and scare them by contending with them in daylight, or rather to indicate in this way, by a mysterious judgment of heaven, who were implicated in his crime. Assuming a bodily form, whether natural or aerial, is uncertain, but foul, gross, and palpable, he used to appear in broad daylight in the dress of a black monk, and to take up his position on the top of the houses or granaries. [30] If anyone attacked him with arrows, or sought to transfix him with pitchforks, whatever pierced that accursed mass, was on the very instant reduced to ashes, and all that wrestled with him he shook and mauled as if he would break every bone in their bodies. In these contests the young squire, the knight's eldest son, was specially troublesome to him. One evening, as the head of the family [31] was sitting at the fireside with his domestics, the spectre appeared among the crowd and terrified them with missiles and with blows, and when the rest fled, the young squire alone stayed to fight ; but, sad to tell, was found next day slain by the ghost. Now, if it is true that the dead receive power over none but those that live like swine, we may easily infer why that youth met with his death in such a manner.


[27] Chronicon de Lanercost. Bannatyne Club.
[28] 1296.
[29] Duncani do Insula.
[30] Thesauros bladii.
[31] Paterfamilias.