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May 4th 1620

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Roy of the Hens

Major Menzies has a strange nickname, Roy of the Hens, which dated back to his childhood. It appears that he was an orphan and as a boy he was one of the servants at Castle Menzies, being it is thought remotely related to the Chief. He served in the kitchen but was particularly responsible for the poultry, hence his nickname. It was a hard upbringing, being at everyone’s beck and call, but he was befriended by a childless couple who owned the local inn where he was always assured of sympathy and help for his problems.

He grew up to be a fine looking young man and departed from Weem to become a soldier of fortune in Europe. He was away in Germany for several years but around 1640 he returned to Weem, riding on horseback through the village. He stopped at the inn where his horse was stabled, but his benefactors were no longer there. They had fallen on hard times and lived in a small hut nearby. The story is told that he entered the hut and asked for supper and a bed for the night. The wife, not recognising him, apologised saying that they had but a pot of kale for supper and no suitable bed for a gentleman like him. “Never mind appearances,”  said Roy, “I have supped off that ere now and I shall do so tonight. You fed me in my need, now I shall feed you and support you in your time of need. I am James Roy of the Hens come home at last to Weem.”  He kept his word to the old couple and thereafter treated them as if they were his own parents.

Later he joined the Covenanting army and affected the capture of the Marquis of Huntly in 1647. His men had been searching Dalnabo House in Strathdon with frustrating results. Major Roy did not even bother to take part in the search but stayed outside standing by a large stack of peats. Eventually his men came out to report their failure. He seemed unpurturbed. “It is of no matter,”  he said. “But you look cold. Set the peat stack on fire then we shall all be warm.”  On hearing this, the Marquis who had been hiding among the peats, came out and was captured. Whether or not this is the true story of the event, Roy certainly received £1,000 Stirling for the capture.

In the troubled times of the period James Roy Menzies fought both for the Royalists and the Covenanters and still continued to prosper. Eventually he bought the estate at Culdares near Fortingall and settled down to more peaceful pursuits. He had no sons from his marriage but two daughters. His elder daughter married but had only one child, also a daughter, who was brought up at Culdares and made heiress to all the estate.

In the course of time she was sought in marriage by the Duke of Atholl’s son but was already in love with Roy’s nephew, a Captain Archibald Menzies. Unfortunately he had no money but in spite of this James Roy Menzies gave his blessing to the marriage and aided the couple. He did not however tell the Atholls of this new development, as he had a certain score to settle with the Duke. The marriage plans were allowed to proceed and on the day of the marriage the Atholls came in force to Culdares to find a magnificent wedding feast awaiting then. In the midst of the proceedings a servant brought in a letter for Roy which he read and jumped to his feet in feigned surprise. ” My Lord,”  he exclaimed to the Duke, “we have all been cheated. This is a letter from my grand-daughter telling me that she loves my nephew more than your noble son and that she has run off with him. Ah well, she was always a self willed girl. You are well rid of her Lord James.”  He sat down to an astonished silence which then gave way to a furious outburst by Lord James Murray, the Duke’s son. But his father, who had practical experience of Roy’s devious ways, restrained him. He stood up and proposed a toast to the happiness of the runaways and the continued success of Sir James Roy. This was drunk with enthusiasm and the banquet continued though with no bride for Lord James.

James Roy Menzies died in 1695. His grand-daughter and her husband succeeded to the property.

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