Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Wizard of Yester

by | August 14, 2012 | 10 comments

Yester Castle (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

The Borders of Scotland have always been the inspiration of superstition. The Catholic Church and its successor, the Presbyterian one, never had strong influence there and commanded even less obedience.  These are fertile grounds for tales of necromancers, long thought to be dead, easily resurrected by the fire of Romanticism.

Sir Walter Scott loved tales of magic almost as much as he loved the Lothians. After he published the Lay of the Last Minstrel in 1805 (see Wizard Lady of Branxholm), he published Marmion (1808). In it, readers are seduced to descend to an underground vault beneath the castle of Yester called Goblin Hall:

Of lofty roof and ample size, Beneath the castle deep it lies;

To hew the living rock profound, The floor to pave, the arch to round,

There never toiled a mortal arm; It all was wrought by word and charm.

The hero of the poem is transfixed by the legend of Goblin Hall’s lord. He listens eagerly to the old tale of a wizard, summoned by Alexander III who must do battle with invaders from the North. The necromancer cannot tell his liege how the battle will come out. Instead, he directs the king to a nearby hill where a demon will appear in disguise, his appearance revealing the monarch’s true enemy. 

The fiend does indeed appear. Yet he looks nothing like a Norwegian, but English, and quite tall:  

Alike his Syrian courser’s frame, The rider’s length of limb the same:

Long afterwards did Scotland know, Fell Edward was her deadliest foe.

Goblin Hall vault – (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

Although England’s king was supposedly on Crusade at the time, the warning could not be more clear. The story of Marmion, after all, is also the tale of Flodden Field, the tragic future of Scotland.

Hugh de Giffard did indeed enjoy the reputation of a wizard and King Alexander had good reason to trust this lord of Yester. De Giffard had once been his guardian. Oddly enough, another Hugh Giffard was the guardian of Edward I. Those Normans do get around.

De Gifford supposedly employed his magic on another occasion, to facilitate the marriage of his daughter Marion to Sir David Broun of Colstoun in 1270.  The father had no dowry for her, but something rather more dear. He gave her a pear at her wedding and promised that as long as it was kept safe, her husband’s family would prosper. For generations the pear was kept intact until 1692, when a future bride of a Broun, Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie, laughed at such superstition and bit into it. Gambling debts mounted and the estate had to be sold to a younger brother, who died, along with his sons, crossing a nearby stream.

They say the Colstoun Pear is still kept by the Broun family, preserved along with its two teeth marks. 

Let us hope it is secured under lock and key. Colstoun House is now a hotel, where there is bound to be at least one guest who does not believe in superstition, or wizards.



  1. Ella Quinn

    Great job, Angelyn. Um, that tale has the sound of Adam and Eve, bringing the fall of Eden.

    • Angelyn

      Thanks, Ella. Naturally the legend has a woman biting into the thing this time. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  2. Joy Smid

    Love this post. Would love to stay at the hotel.

    • Angelyn

      Colstoun House is really lovely. There’s horseback riding and lots of trails around. It’s a perfect spot for those interested in Border history. Haddington is nearby–the site of Bothwell’s infamous adultery with Bessie Crawford. In a church, of all things!

  3. Ally Broadfield

    Great story! Even without the legend, who would want to bite a 400 year old pear?

    • Angelyn

      Pears must have been very dear when Liz married her Sir Broun. Thanks for stopping by, Ally!

  4. Lacey Falcone

    Very interesting!! I have to wonder what the pear looks like today… How could they preserve it for so many years? I love the photos of the castle…have you actually visited it? Great re-telling of the legend – thank you!

    • Angelyn

      The Colstoun House site is rather obscure on the exact location and appearance of the pear, leading one to think it might have gone missing (or eaten!) I haven’t visited Yester but I most certainly will the next time I get there. The last time I was in the Borders I spent an inordinate amount of time at Crichton castle, another ruin not far away. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Barbara Monajem

    Fascinating stuff! I wonder by what magical means the pear remained edible (or appeared to be) hundreds of years later. Is the vault really under that crumbling castle? All very spooky and fun…

    • Angelyn

      Spooky stuff I like. I’m glad you do, too, Barbara! I can’t think the pear was edible–all indications are that it sports two teeth marks, but no further damage such as a chunk missing and the like. There is a vault under the castle and its entrance is quite spooky. There are many images taken by intrepid photographers of it. Apparenlty it takes at least an hour hike through Yester Estate to get to the ruin.



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