At the beginning of this book an account is given of the tradition of the Laird of Muirhead of That-ilk, de Muirhead (apparently referring to Willielmo de Muirhead dating to the time of the reign of King Robert II), killing and cutting off the head of Bartram de Shotts in the company of “a few of his company, to whose courage and valor he could well trust”. This account is one which can be believed without much effort.
There is another legend, though, which has come down to us from our ancestors concerning the killing of Bartram de Shotts, which is a little more fantastical.(7.1)
Bartram was a robber, and a large one at that. He was styled as a giant; though his height might have been no more than six and one-half feet, it must be remembered that the average man’s height in the Medieval Ages was five and one-half feet(7.2) and therefore even a six feet tall man would have towered over his fellow men.
Bartram was associated with the parish in Lanarkshire known by the name of Shotts. The parish, according to a tradition, acquired its name from the Anglo-Saxon word shot, which meant a plot of ground. The particular area in Lanarkshire which acquired the name of Shotts is claimed to have been a tract of land which Bartram, a pioneer in the wilderness began to cultivate. The tract, which by the Nineteenth Century had dwindled to the space occupied by the Church and cemetery of St. Catherine’s, therefore was known by the name of Bartramshotts, and the man became known as Bartram de Shotts.
Being tall, Bartram outmatched any rival and became the terror of the region. He took to robbing his neighbors and his exploits became so outrageous that the something had to be done to stop him. The local governmental officials placed a reward on his head, promising a hawk’s-flight of land in exchange for the actual head of the terror. The Laird of Muirhead, perhaps being one of those neighbors who had experienced the robber’s depredations, decided to make the attempt to gain the reward. The Laird of Muirhead knew that, to quench his thirst, Bartram frequented a well that sprang forth in a glen near the place known as Shottsburn. The Laird arranged a number of cart-loads of heather close by the well so as to provide a place of concealment. From behind the pile of heather, the Laird of Muirhead might watch the approach of Bartram, the giant. Bartram, coming upon the pile of heather by the well, considered it with a bit of suspicion, but eventually accepted it as non-dangerous, and resumed his use of the water of the well with ease. When the Laird of Muirhead saw that Bartram was not bothered by the heather pile, he hid himself behind it and waited for the next approach of the giant.
Bartram came to the well and stretched himself out flat on his belly upon the ground, as he was accustomed to do, so that he could place his lips on the surface of the water and drink. Stealthily, the Laird of Muirhead crept from his place of concealment, and with his broadsword gave the giant a blow across his hamstrings, rendering him unable to walk in a split second. Bartram immediately knew the misfortune that had befallen him, but gave an involuntary and spasmodic laugh as he twisted around to see who had crippled him.
“Will ye laugh-up yet?” Muirhead exclaimed. It was said that, when the prize was to be presented to the Laird of Muirhead, and the hawk was set loose to mark out the tract of land as the reward, the place where it alighted was given the name of Lauchope in reference to the phrase uttered by the Laird.
In 1922 Robert Dangster wrote a poem commemorating the end of the robber, Bartram de Shotts.(7.3) Mr. Dangster’s information adheres rather accurately to the legend, and therefore is presented here in its entirety.
| Now her is a tale o’the bold Bartram Shotts
Wha robbit the Lairds o’their sheep and their stotts
Wha rived frae the rich a’ the gear they could spare
To feed, claithe and gledden, the needy and puir
He first saw the light in the year thirteen ten
Awa mang the hills in a wild lanrick glen
Wi’ natures’ ain music the soun in his ears
To lull him to sleep in his tenderest years
Bread weel tae the chase we the arrow and spear
Nane bolder when huntin the wild boar and deer
He kent every haunt whaur they drank frae the rills
That cannily wimpled amang the Shotts hills
Although cad a robber he lookit wee faurt
As shy as a lassock but no easy scaurt
He stood in his shoon mair six feet and ten
And great was the pith o’ this wall o’ big men
The lassies a’ looed him when inbye at hame
And hearts dunted sair when they spake o’ his fame
But oot on the mainland or spielen a hill
The creatures were frichted he’d dae them some ill
Had they but a kent. a’ their fash was in vain
For deil haet a value was Bartram he tae’n
At maist, he’d hae stou’n frae their mou’s a bit kiss
A thing he thocht muck o’ an’ they neer could miss
Then Robbie the King pit a price on his head
Tae be played tae wha’d bring him in leevin or deid
The price was a hawksflight o’guid lanrick land
Tae be gifted tae them frae King Robbie’s hand
Ae day to the east o’ the bonny lade knowe
The bridle path there, was the scene o’ a’ row
For Bartram met in wi’ the Laird o’ Muirheid
Took frae him his siller and left him for deid
But Muirhead was made o’ that gude solid stuff
The mair ye lay on tilt, the mair it grows tough
So shakin his neive at Bartram the foe
He swore by St. Katie he’d yet lay him low
The laird he was canny and laid his plans weel
For Bartram he kent was a desperate deil
So kennin that Bartram came o’er by the hirst
Tae drink at the burnie, and slochen his thirst
The laird coupit heather, whaur heather neer grew
At apart the glen whaur the burnie ran thro’
Neist day there cam Bartram as aye was his wont
Tae tak his cool draught at the clear rinnin font
He saw the strange birn, but thocht withoot fear
T’was some huntin chiels thicket, tae hide frae the deer
He stood for a moment, sae prood o’ his strength
Then stoopit fu’ laigh, tilt he steekit his length
He took his cool draught frae the burn rinnin clear
And thocht na o’ danger was near
For oot frae the heather whar he hid lain low
Sprang Muirheid the crafty and dealt him a blow
Fu’ thrice wi his braidsword, he struck micht and main
Till baith Bertrams legs were maist severed in twain
Ae deep throated groan Bertram gaed in despair
For wee/ kent the lad, that he ne’er could walk mair
Then throwin his body, till hauf turned roon
He lookit we scorn at his foe up and doon
"Man Muirhead" quo he "yer braidsword is keen"
Tis sharper than mine, tho a doot no sae clean
For never was mine we sic treachery drawn
It has aye faced a foe wi a blade in his haun
I look for no mercy for nane can I trace
Then saying this Bertram lauched up in his face
This arrogant speech played the deil we the laird
He swore by St. Katie and pu’d at his beard
"Lauch up in the face o’ a Muirheid" quo he
Tis the last look and lauch up ye ever will gie
Then roon swung his braidsword, wi lichtnin like speed
Clean thro Bertram’s neck bane, and aff rowed his heid
Twas thus that a hawksflicht o’guid lanrick Ian
Came gifted tae Muirhei frae King Robbie’s haun
The laird ca’d it laudhope, a sign o’ his grace
For brave was the loon, that lauched up in his face
And Bertram De Shotts has for lang been the name
O’ the place in braid lanrick that gaed him sic fame
7.1 History Of Shotts, by William Gibson 1999 (website).
7.2 A History Of Private Life, Volume I, edited by Philippe Aries and Georges Duby 1987, p 459.
7.3 Additional information on the publication of this poem could not be located.