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REPLY TO MR RIDDELLS INSINUATION THAT THE EVIDENCE FOR THE ANCIENT ARMORIAL SEALS OF MERCHISTON MAY NOT BE GENUINE ANTIQUITIES OF RACES OF NAPIER DISTINCT FROM MERCH1STON.
Upon the memorable occasion when Captain Charles Napier, Count Cape St Vincent, took the fleet of Portugal, the legend, that his family surname was derived from a warlike ancestor having been complimented by a King of Scotland with an appellation equivalent to non-pareil, appeared in the London newspapers. That story had been put on record by some heraldic writers, but the history of its first publication was unknown. The author of the Memoirs of Merchiston happening to trace the original promulgation of it into connection with a characteristic scene that occurred in the presence chamber of James VI., considered the anecdote as fairly belonging to the antiquities of the domestic history he was illustrating. The legend might indeed, as the Quarterly Review somewhat testily observed, be but an old woman's tale, yet it was better once for all to give the version as now published in the Memoirs, than to leave its vague statement to the Globe or Courier.
But while laying no stress upon the more fanciful part of this tradition, namely, the punning, or, as heralds would say, the canting transition to a new surname; and classing the particular derivation of Napier (which certainly may be otherwise accounted for) with that of Douglas, or Hay or Forbes, the author was bound to point out more seriously a very curious heraldic- corroboration, of that part at-least of the immemorial family tradition which asserted for Merchiston a male descent from the old Earls of Levenax, long prior to the female descent indisputably acquired through Elizabeth Menteith. So far back as the line of Merchiston can be traced, between four and five centuries, the original armorial seals of the heads of the family are extant, and those seals are invariably found to bear the shield or* Levenax, with a mark of cadency. This circumstance can by no means be held to found an unanswerable modern argument of descent; and both the Quarterly Review and Mr Riddell were under misapprehension in supposing that it was so adduced.* When, however, in confirmation of the tradition that Merchiston was originally a male cadet of the Levenax, (a tradition which was immemorial in the year 1625,) it was recently discovered that the most ancient charter-seal of the family, belonging to one who must have been born about the year 1370, was Levenax, with a mark of ca
* Mr Riddell (Tracts, p. 126,) alludes, with a sneer, to a discovery of his own in the Cumbernauld charter-chest, of one William Pertus of the county of Peebles in 1439, who, he says, "actually displays upon his seal the simple arms of Lennox." But there was no claim or tradition of cadency, nor are the simple arms a proper indication of cadency, and, moreover, Mr Riddell appears to be not very well informed as to what the simple arms of Lennox were. The Ragmanroll records a Napier of the county of Peebles, so we recommend our learned antiquary to look again into the Cumbernaud charter-chest, as he may have misread Pertus instead of Perlus, the old spelling for Peerless, i. e. Napier.
dency, and that these bearings were not otherwise explained or accounted for, this adminicle (for it is no more,) gave a value to the family tradition, which even the apocryphal seeming legend of the change of surname could not destroy.*
But this evidence had been lost in the errors of our best heraldic writers. Sir George Mackenzie and Mr Nisbet understood the bearings in question to indicate a Lennox descent, and both those celebrated authors recorded, as a fact, that they were first assumed by John Napier of Merchiston, to the oblivion of his paternal coat, upon his marriage with the heiress of Lennox
* Father Hay, in his manuscript memoirs, mentions a charter dated 1150 to Sir Thomas de la Haye de Locharward; he adds, that he had married, " Montfiguett, heretrix of Locharwart, and of this marriage had Sir William, who succeeded him, and Margaret married to Donald, sone to the Erle of Lennox, of whom is come the family of Naper."—MS. Advocates' Library. It is to be remarked that the writer who here strengthens the Merchiston legend by recording a fact not contained in Ike family version of it, had, a few pages before, refuted the legend of his own family surname (Hay), which he treats as a fable. Father Hay inspected charters which are not now extant, and the above, which I had not seen when compiling the Memoirs of Merchiston, is at least worthy of notice.
Sir Archibald (afterwards Lord Napier) in the year 1625 declared in writing, to the Garter of England, that the undoubted tradition from father to son in his family, that it was a male cadet of Len . nox, was then immemorial. But he does not found upon, nor attribute this tradition to, the armorial bearings; indeed, if those bear- ings had some other origin than a Lennox descent, it is difficult to understand why they should not rather have transmitted the true tradition than a false one. The Merchiston seals are quoted, not (as the Quarterly Review supposed) that similar arms infallibly indicate the same descent, but because the seal of a Napier of Merchiston who must have been born about 1370, being found to display Lennox with a mark of cadency, was curiously corroborative of the family tradition. So the interesting case of Sir Richard Scrope and Sir Robert Grosvenor, instanced by that journal, is not in point.
about the year 1455. Now it happened that the respective seals of John's father and grandfather, before the date of that marriage, could be produced, and they carried the very same insignia, said to be derived by John from his Lady.
Mr Riddell at one time entertained the theory of these authors. And even now he will not yield a gracious or unqualified assent to the most direct and unequivocal refutation their theory could receive. "Nesbit and Sir George Mackenzie (says he) account for the Napiers of Merchiston carrying the Lennox arms by the marriage of John Napier with Elizabeth Menteith, who they think disused his own arms on the occasion, and assumed those that accrued to her as a Lennox coheir. This of course is redargued by the evidence of the seal—holding it to be genuine; had it not been for the latter the thing would have been extremely natural," &c.
Our learned antiquary had not well weighed the effect of this vague insinuation. The person who first observed the seal that refutes Sir George Mackenzie and others, was the late Francis Lord Napier, in compiling the genealogy of his family, published in Wood's Peerage, where the refutation is recorded. The seal and relative deed had been always in his charter-chest with the other parchments; if it be not held to be genuine, it must be held to have been concocted, and for the special purpose of supporting a heraldic theory comparatively of no importance, which imputation would rest with that nobleman, or some one of his equally honourable ancestors,—a reductio ad absurdum that cannot have occurred to Mr Riddell, or it would probably have made him ashamed of the sceptical expressionhehas published. Long before the publication of the Memoirs of Merchiston, the author had heard the very same expression drop from the author of the Tracts, and though heconsidered thedubietyas an accidental shadowpassing across a cautious mind, and certainly never expected to see it in print, he determined not to leave the point unfortified, and was so fortunate as to obtain another seal of the family distinct from that of John of Rusky, and the one doubted. This rendered the proof conclusive, for it was the seal of John's father, Alexander Napier, (comptroller of the household, and designed of Philde,) and carried precisely the Lennox bearings of the seal Lord Napier observed, which belonged to Alexander Napier of Merchiston, (designed burgess of Edinburgh) John's grandfather. Moreover, it was discovered, not in the family charter-chest, but among the manuscripts of the Advocates' Library. The following is a tolerably accurate delineation of the three seals, numbered chronologically in reference to the owners.
Now all these seals are engraved and explained in the memoirs of Merchiston, though the author of the Tracts is silent upon that fact, and takes no more notice of the intermediate seal,—affording so unanswerable a reply to his scepticism, ridiculous as that is,—than if it had not been produced. No work, whatever may be its research and accuracy, is independent of a fair consideration of the proofs and materials that compose it. Without attempting further to refute the doubt in question, I must take the liberty to amend the reading of it thus ; " This