The Horrible History Of The Maggie Fair

The fair officially entered the calendar on the 30th of June 1587, when
Garmouth, or ‘Garmoch', as it was known, was raised in status by Crown
Charter to a Burgh of Barony. This Charter gave the village the right
to create free burghers, erect a Cross, and construct a harbour. Also,
the right to hold two annual fairs, one in June, the other on the 20th
of September. The second fair seems to have disappeared, but the first
continued as the ‘Margaret Fair' or ‘Maggie Fair'. The 30th of June was
almost certainly chosen for the Charter because it was already a
significant date in the local calendar, perhaps related to pagan
ritual. At about that time, Garmouth had a reputation for witchcraft
and general debauchery. Indeed, as late as 1731 Margaret Hay was
charged at the Kirk Session of Essill with ‘convening young people to
unseemly and indecent dancing in a manner peculiar to Garmouth in a
dance called "Gillatrypes"'. So, nothing much changes in Garmouth and
the Kirk was clearly responsible for issuing the olden day equivalent
of the ASBO!

So where does the connection with the Merry Monarch
come from? Charles I, King of Scotland and England, was an unpopular
king, given to frittering away money on fine arts. The English Civil
War had, in part, been triggered by the rebellion of the Scots after he
attempted to force a modified prayer book upon them. Eventually, in
1649, Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads beheaded him for treason.
After his execution, onlookers, after a small payment, were invited to
dip their handkerchiefs in his blood!

Upon his execution,
Scotland failed to recognize the new English Republic of Oliver
Cromwell. Instead, it insisted that Charles II was his father's
rightful successor. However, this support came with strings attached.
It was under the condition that Charles sign the ‘Solemn League and
Covenant'. This was basically a promise not to remodel the Church of
Scotland, governed by Presbyterian principles, along Anglican lines.
Charles II was proclaimed King of the Scots in February 1649. This
happened in his absence, since he had been exiled in France and the
Netherlands since his father's death. He did not arrive in Scotland
until the 23rd of June 1650. His landfall was the River Spey and

The journey from The Hague had been uncomfortable. The
king had passed 22 days avoiding Cromwell's navy and only narrowly
missed four Parliament ships in the Moray Firth. The tide must have
been out and the king had to be carried ashore on the back of a boatman
called Milnes; his descendants were known thereafter as ‘King Milnes'.
Apparently, the king bestowed a kiss on the boatman's pretty daughter
(also called Maggie?). The king was met by Sir Robert, Laird of Innes,
and his wife, Lady Grizel, and after an early dinner in Garmouth, slept
the night at Gordon Castle. The Maggie Fair was probably held on
Saturday the 29th that year, so the level of excitement must have been

So where does the name ‘Maggie' come from? None of the
Ladies who received the king were named Margaret. In fact, the name
almost certainly comes from Lady Margaret Ker, daughter of the first
Earl of Roxburghe, who became the wife of Sir James Innes in 1666. This
lady did much to endear herself to Garmouth, not least by choosing to
live in the village, at Dipple, rather than the traditional family seat
at Innes. This was the period of the Restoration, when Cromwell had
been consigned to the dustbin. The annual Maggie Fair must have been a
glorious occasion for those few years, simultaneously celebrating the
arrival of the Merry Monarch and the long-established fair. The young
couple would surely have graced the fair each year. When Lady Margaret
died in 1681 (short life expectancy back then!) historians refer to
‘the woeful, dismal, lamentable tidings of the loss of this fresh,
worthy, virtuous young Lady Innes'.

Charles II was finally
crowned King of the Scots at Scone, on the 1st of January 1651. After a
failed attempt to restore himself to the English Crown in 1651,
followed by a famous series of narrow escapes from the Roundheads,
including hiding in the ‘Royal Oak' after the Battle of Worcester
(1651), Charles II was finally restored to the English throne in May
1660. He promptly reneged on a deal to pardon those involved in his
father's execution, variously hanging, drawing and quartering them
(think Mel Gibson and Braveheart). Oliver Cromwell suffered the
indignity of a posthumous execution, which can't have been pleasant for
the executioners!*

Much of this information has been rehashed
from the comprehensive account of ‘The History of Garmouth and Maggie
Fair' by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney (Moray and Nairn Newspaper Co.
Ltd; Elgin). Errors are my responsibility!

One thought on “The Horrible History Of The Maggie Fair

  1. A very interesting article, I was born in Elgin and really enjoyed this bit of local history. thank you

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