Leuchars St Athernase

People and events through the ages

The de Quinci family

Saieur de Quinci was succeeded by his son Roger, who held the titles and estates for 45 years. He married a rich heiress, Helen or Elena, daughter of the Lord of Galloway, gaining him considerable estates in Galloway and the title of Great Constable of Scotland. 

Having no sons, Roger's estate was divided between his three daughters. His property at Leuchars was left to Elizabeth, his second daughter; her husband, Alexander Comyn, 2nd Earl of Buchan, inherited the title of Great Constable of Scotland. 

The family found itself with divided loyalties at the time of Robert the Bruce, and Leuchars Castle was attacked by the English in the 1300s. lsobel Duff, sister of the Earl of Fife and daughter-in-law of Alexander Comyn, crowned Bruce at Scone Palace in 1306; she was subsequently captured and imprisoned in a cage on the walls of Berwick Castle for many years.

Robert Carnegie of Kinnaird

A famous "son" of St Athernase is Robert Carnegie of Kinnaird, who was Ambassador of Mary Guise and subsequently of her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Carnegie was party to the negotiations with Queen Elizabeth I of England with regard to Mary's marriage to Darnley. 

Carnegie himself had eight sons and eight daughters. He arranged for his second son, David, to marry the orphaned Elizabeth Ramsay of Leuchars Castle, on payment of a large sum to her guardian, the Archbishop of St Andrews. 

Carnegie died at Leuchars Castle in 1565. St Athernase houses his memorial stone, just to the right of the pulpit. The Earls of Northesk and Southesk are descended from him.

The Bruce family

The Bruce family, a branch of the same family as Robert the Bruce, was responsible for the building of Earlshall Castle. The project was begun in 1546 by Sir William Bruce, a trusted counsellor to successive Scottish Monarchs and a survivor of the Battle of Flodden (1513) in which large numbers of his fellow nobles were killed by the English. Memorial stones to members of the Bruce family, including those of Sir William and Dame Agnes Lindsay (second wife of another Sir William Bruce, great grandson of the above) can be seen in the vicinity of the south door to the church.

Royal and noble visitors, such as Mary Queen of Scots and King James VI, would ride from Falkland to hunt on the Earlshall lands and dine at the castle.

Alexander Henderson

The most famous minister of St Athernase was Alexander Henderson, a graduate of St Andrews University who had latterly held the Chair of Rhetoric and Philosophy. He was presented to the Living by Archbishop Gladstanes of St Andrews in 1612. 

Much of the 17th century was characterised by unsettledness and antagonism in the Church of Scotland. It appears that the congregation of St Athernase was disinclined to accept the Archbishop's appointee and barred his entry. Undeterred, Henderson climbed in through a window and over time proved himself worthy of his calling. 

Henderson plaqueAlso during this period the Church itself was divided between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism. A turning point came for Henderson when, a few years after his appointment to St Athernase, he went to nearby Forgan Church to hear for himself the preaching of a Presbyterian, the Rev. Robert Bruce. The text for the sermon was this verse from John's gospel (10:1): "...he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in another way, is a thief and a robber..." Recalling his entry to St Athernase, Henderson was converted to the Presbyterian way of church government and in the years following became a champion of the rights of the Church of Scotland. In 1637 he challenged, before the Privy Council, the Bishops’ order that the new Service Book preferred by King Charles I should be used in Scotland. 

At the historic General Assembly in Glasgow Cathedral in 1638, Henderson was unanimously elected Moderator, and was involved in stormy scenes with Lord Southesk, representative of King Charles I, who was trying to impose Bishops and the Prayer Book upon the Scottish Church. The signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh followed shortly after the 1638 Assembly effectively a proclamation of civil war – with Alexander Henderson championing the Protestant cause and going on to help frame the National Covenant in London.

A figure of national importance, Henderson was prevailed upon to leave St Athernase in 1639 and he became minister of the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh. Correspondence and interviews with Charles I became a feature of the following years and it is said that the king was truly impressed by Henderson's learning and piety. His efforts secured the independence of the Church of Scotland and the fact that he was Moderator three times in all demonstrates the high regard in which he was held. 

In Leuchars, Henderson is also remembered as the man who provided the means to establish a village school, and though the original building is no longer standing, his name is recorded in Henderson Terrace, close to St Athernase, and Henderson Hall (once a church) on the main street going towards St Michaels. He also provided a house and croft for the schoolmaster and endowed the library at St Andrews University. 

Henderson died of marsh fever in 1646 and was buried in the churchyard of Greyfriars, Edinburgh. A marble memorial stone was erected in St Athernase in 1876 and can be seen in the porch on the south side of the church.