A Drowned Lad

A history mystery.

The first mention of Innerleithen in historical records concerned a tragedy that occurred over 850 years ago in the reign of Malcolm IV, King of Scots.

King Malcolm is the first personage of note to be connected with Innerleithen’s past. Born in 1141, he succeeded to the throne at the tender age of 12 following the death of his grandfather, David I, at Carlisle in May 1153. Malcolm’s father and David’s only son, Henry Earl of Northumbria, had died in the previous year.

Known to history by the soubriquet “The Maiden”, Malcolm may well have had boyish good looks but he appears to have been neither weak nor effeminate. A believer in chivalric virtues, he was intensely religious and outwardly chaste. His greatest desire was to obtain a knighthood, which, because of his royal blood, could only be bestowed by another monarch such as the king of England. His grandfather, who had profited from civil unrest south of the Border, had been able to annex Northumbria and Cumbria (including Carlisle) to the Scottish crown. Malcolm, however, had to deal with the powerful Henry II as his royal neighbour.

In 1157 the two kings met at Chester where Malcolm did homage for land held in England. From his position of strength, Henry, who ruled over England, Wales, Ireland and much of France, decreed that Northumbria and Cumbria would return to the English crown. As a sop Malcolm was granted the earldom of Huntingdon, which was his due inheritance in any case, having belonged to his grandfather. There was no knighthood, however, and again when they met in 1158 Malcolm failed to elicit the coveted prize. The following year, however, Malcolm and a small retinue joined the English king at the siege of Toulouse where, able to display his skill at arms on Henry’s behalf, at last he received his precious knighthood.

Returning to Scotland in 1160 Malcolm was confronted by what appeared to be widespread unrest, possibly because of the unpopularity generated through his dealings with Henry resulting in the loss of territory. He was besieged in Perth by rebellious nobles but the dispute was resolved without bloodshed. Malcolm then led an expedition to the south-west where he defeated Fergus, Lord of Galloway. In 1163, he again did homage to Henry then, despite taking ill at Doncaster, he hurried north to put down a rebellion in Moray. The last great threat to Malcolm’s reign evaporated the following year when Somerled, Lord of Argyll and the Isles, was murdered during a raid on Renfrew, the clansmen subsequently withdrawing without a fight.

The remainder of the king’s short life was spent in governing the country, formulating laws and, in the tradition of his grandfather, endowing churches, particularly in Fife and Angus. He died only 24 years of age at Jedburgh, possibly from Paget’s disease, which causes bone deformity. He was buried at Dunfermline Abbey. Malcolm was succeeded by his brother, William the Lion.

The earliest written reference to Innerleithen belongs to this era - 1159, the year the king went to France. In an account of local church history serialised in the St. Ronan Standard in 1909, John A. Anderson quotes a deed granting the right of sanctuary to the small religious establishment overlooking Leithen Water in the Kirklands area of the village. This church was confirmed to the Abbey at Kelso to be held as freely “as any church in my kingdom is held and possessed. I command also that the church in Innerleithen, in which the body of my son rested the first night after his death, shall have such sanctuary as either Wedale or Tynningham has and that no one shall be so rash as to dare to violate the peace of the said church or my peace under penalty of life or limb.”

The long accepted account of how this document came into being can be found in Smail’s Guide in Innerleithen and Traquair (1867 edition).

It appears that the illegitimate son of Malcolm the Maiden – who derived his surname from his pale, effeminate appearance – had been hunting in the neighbourhood of Innerleithen, and was attempting to return home to the Castle of Traquair, where he was at the time residing. The river being in high flood, he was carried down by the stream, and was drowned. His body was recovered, and taken out of the water near to the foot of Leithen, immediately opposite the steep hill, called Caddon Bank. It was conveyed by the country folks to the Church of Innerleithen, which was situated about a mile farther up the vale, and lay there the whole of the next night. In return for this act of kindness and respect, the King granted the Church of Innerleithen to the monks of Kelso, and bestowed upon it the right and privilege of sanctuary, the same as that enjoyed by Wedale or Stow, and Tynningham in East Lothian.

The stretch of the River Tweed where the unfortunate lad is supposed to have met his end appears in Smail’s Guide under the name of the “Droun Pouch”, and thus is it still known to local anglers today. It is a long, slow, deep pool just to the east of the Tweed Bridge. Upstream are the shallows where the river was forded prior to the building of the earlier wooden bridge in 1830 – at one time known as the Cowford. Several hundred yards downstream where Leithen joins Tweed is supposedly the spot where the body was recovered.

There is no description of the little medieval church where the corpse lay. Nothing remains and its location can only be surmised. In the 19th century a few stones on the hill two or three hundred yards to the north-east of Manseley Lodge (formerly an 18th century manse) were thought to mark the site of that church. While it is reasonable to speculate that this was the site of the 12th century religious establishment there are no traces left today. At some stage the place of worship was moved and when that building deteriorated it was replaced in 1786 by the kirk that once stood at the north end of the Kirklands graveyard.

Given the time that has elapsed since the event and the sparsity of detail it is not surprising that the tale throws up a conundrum or two. The present course of the Tweed, from Howford to the foot of Leithen, is not quite what it may have been in 1159. In the 17th century the first Earl of Traquair diverted the river to prevent it undercutting the foundations of Traquair House. The topography and present boggy nature of the ground suggests that the Tweed ran close to the original tower, below the banking of Satyr Sykes and along the base of Caddon Bank to its present course beyond the foot of Leithen. So where was the actual “Droun Pouch”?

The other anomaly concerns what little is known of Malcolm the Maiden. The soubriquet might even have referred to his chastity. Malcolm wished to become a knight within the strict tenets of medieval chivalry, remaining spiritually pure and celibate in order to achieve his goal. He was never married, left no heirs and, apart from the charter concerning the church at Innerleithen, no record of any children exists. It also seems highly unlikely that an eighteen year old man could have fathered a son who was old enough to participate in a hunt, apparently on his own, and strong enough to attempt the crossing of a swollen river.

Despite vows of chastity had Malcolm the Maiden encountered a willing maid? He appears, according to the document mentioned above, to have had no qualms about acknowledging his paternity. Could the son have been the child of a female member of the King’s retinue temporarily housed at Traquair? A toddler could easily have wandered off and fallen unnoticed into the nearby Tweed.

Such are the musings of one who enjoys mystery. 850 years on people still inhabit Innerleithen and they remain as kindly and considerate as their medieval predecessors. The right to sanctuary, I believe, no longer exists, but neither does the “penalty to life or limb”!