Secrets of Jacobite wife held captive on St Kilda for seven years to be unravelled

The secrets of a kidnapped Jacobite wife who was sent by her husband to live in captivity on St Kilda are set to be unravelled after a storm destroyed a tiny stone shelter reportedly built on the spot where she was hidden away for seven years.

Lady Grange was the wife of James Erskine, Lord Grange, a lawyer with Jacobite sympathies, who arranged for the kidnap of his wife from her Edinburgh lodgings in January 22, 1732, two years after their acrimonious marriage finally broke down.

Using a network of her husband’s associates, Lady Grange was taken to various locations before being transported to the Monach Isles off North Uist and then St Kilda, where she arrived in 1734.

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She lived on Hirta for the next seven years – miserable, alone and unable to understand the island’s Gaelic speakers. It is believed the house where she lived, possibly a two-room cottage, was destroyed in the mid 19th Century with a cleit – a small circular stone structure with a unique St Kildan turf roof – later built on the site.

Lady Grange and the cleit on St Kilda - known as Lady Grange's House - which is believed to have been built on the site of the house where she lived in captivity. PIC: NTS/CC
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The cleit, known as Lady Grange’s House, collapsed during recent storms with the repair work to lead to a deeper survey of the structure.

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Susan Bain, Western Isles Manager for the National Trust for Scotland, said: “This is a fascinating structure, with a really interesting history and we now have an unparalleled opportunity to discover so much more about it. Over the coming months, we’ll not only be investigating the cause of the collapse, but we’ll also be able to analyse the building techniques and materials.

“We’ll also be able to get a really good look at the roof and take soil samples that will help us understand so much more about how the St Kildans created these unique buildings.

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The cleit pictured before the storm. PIC: NTS.

“We hope too to discover whether there are any elements of the earlier structure, where Lady Grange spent her time on Hirta incorporated into this cleit.”

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Repairing the damage to Lady Grange’s House will be one of the most challenging tasks faced by the Trust in over half a century of conservation work on St Kilda, according to archaeologists.

Lady Grange was sent to St Kilda given her husband feared she would expose his sympathies to the UK Government with Lord Lovat, who was later found guilty of high treason for his role in the 1745 Jacobite uprising and executed in 1747, reportedly involved in her banishment.

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While on St Kilda, Lady Grange wrote a series of letters to her lawyer in Edinburgh.

Lady Grange's House collapsed last month after a storm with a detailed survey of the structure now to take place. PIC: NTS.
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One piece of correspondence, held by Edinburgh University, describes how she was beaten and seized from her home by several men including Roderick McLeod, writer to the signet, and several servants of Lord Lovat.

Lady Grange claimed that her hair and her teeth were “torn out” by the mob.

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In a further letter, she described Hirta as a “vile, neasty (sic), stinking poor isle" where she was unable to communicate with the locals.

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Later, she was moved to Skye where she died in 1745, aged 64.

NTS is fundraising to repair storm damage on St Kilda, home to more than 1,200 cleits and a collection of blackhouses and cottages, as well as a school and a manse. The highest wind speed recorded on the island is 144mph.

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