Susan Cochrane was the second daughter of the 4th Earl of Dundonald and Lady Anne Murray. Her parents married in April 1706 and her mother died in November 1710; she was one of four siblings. Susan was the second daughter, but it is not clear if she was the second or third child. Her eldest sister Anne was born in February 1707, and she also had a brother, William, and a younger sister Catherine. We don’t know much about her childhood, but she was born into one of the wealthiest families in Scotland, and when her father died in 1715, she inherited at least £30,000 Scots – a massive sum for the period.
On the 25th July 1725, when Susan was around 16, she married Charles Lyon, 6th Earl of Strathmore. It was a stressful time for her family. Her brother, William, now the Earl of Dundonald, had been ill for a number of years and finally died in January 1725. This created a crisis of inheritance as it was disputed whether a woman could succeed to the Dundonald estates. Her elder sister, Anne, had married her second cousin, the Duke of Hamilton, in 1723 and died in childbirth in 1724, at age 17. The Hamiltons claimed the estate for Anne’s son, James, but they eventually went to a distant Dundonald cousin, Thomas. So, it was in a context of death and property disputes that Susan was married to the 26 year old Earl. Her marriage and person were described in detail by Ann Stuart, niece to the Earl of Moray in 1725, highlighting the fineries allowed by her wealth:
Lest you have not got a particular account of my Lord Strathmore’s marriage, I will give you the best I can. He was the fondest lover ever I saw, and I believe as fond a husband. He has got a very fine woman, I am persuaded, and I think extream handsome; she has a mighty prity face, but indeed the siklyest pale one that can be; she is tall, well shaped, and has a graceful easie genteel air. In my opinion, take her altogether, she is not inferiour to her sister, Lady Katherine, the famous beauty; but the men are not of that mind, but many of the ladys are and they are certainly nicer judges. My Lady Strathmore had a blue and silver rich stuff gown and petecoat; a blue silk, trimmed to the pocket-holes with silver net; and a pale yellow, trimmed with two rows of open silver lace, about three nails deep each; a green satin, trimmed with close and open silver lace, which she had before her marriage. She was married in white; her fine Brussels lace she got from London, and she bought a great deal of lace at Edinburgh. She made no appearance after her marriage, except seeing the archers, for their coach was not come down from London, and they staid but a few days in town. Her necklace is a very fine one as I have seen this great while, but her earring and other jewels were not come from London at this time.
Their marriage is said to have been happy and one writer has attributed her to saying of this period in her life that “”I never thought that life could be so sweet. The days are all too short to crowd my happiness into.” On her marriage, she became mistress to the beautiful Glamis Castle, which had undergone major modernisation in the decades before her arrival. Yet, her marriage was short-lived.
Her husband Charles died in May 1728, after only 3 years. On the day of his death, he attended the funeral of a family friend and afterwards the all-male funeral party went to a public house to drink. Later that day, Charles left the pub with his friends and distant relatives, Mr Lyon of Brigton and James Carnegie of Finhaven and went to visit Finhaven’s sister. During the visit, Lyon and Carnegie started to quarrel, so Charles helped them out of the house. Once they were outside, Lyon pushed Carnegie into a ditch; Carnegie, now angered, felt this was an insult to his honour and drew his sword to seek revenge. As Carnegie lunged forward, Charles stepped into the brawl and was stabbed in the stomach. He died a few days later with his wife at his side. Carnegie was devastated by the death of his friend and later tried for his murder. The trial was one of the most famous in Scottish legal history, as the jury introduced the verdict of ‘not guilty’, rather than proven or not proven which were previously in use, to indicate that while the death could be proven, he was ‘not guilty’ in law.
As the couple had no children, Charles was succeeded by his brother James, who also died without heir in 1735. He was succeeded by another brother Thomas, who died in 1753. As Susan was now the dowager countess, she was no longer expected to live in the main family home, and moved to Castle Lyon (now HMP Castle Huntly), just west of Dundee, the family’s dowager house. Perhaps foretelling her own future, the Castle was said to be haunted by a White Lady, the daughter of an earlier Lyon ancestor, who was banished to a tower in the Castle after falling in love with one of the servants. After learning of her beloved’s death, she is said to have jumped to her death from the window, but continued to haunt it for succeeding generations.
For Part Two, tune in next week.
Katie Barclay is fascinated by this ill-fated family, who spent several generations in court working out the details of their complex sexual and marital relationships. She is a historian at the University of Adelaide.