Reader’s letter: Lady Grange deserves a better memorial
A reader writes in response to our article from the Friday 21 August edition of Scottish Legal News: Our Legal Heritage: The adulterous judge who had his troublesome wife kidnapped and exiled to St Kilda.
Following the harrowing tale of Rachel Chiesley’s (Lady Grange) assault, abduction and imprisonment your article concludes that “Ultimately, like her murderous father, Rachel Chiesley’s downfall was her inability to control her temper”. I read that last line in disbelief. Her father’s downfall was the murder he committed which he was ultimately hanged for. Lady Grange was the victim of her husband, his influence and his displeasure.
We are told in your article that Lord Grange was somewhat afraid of his “troublesome” wife (not so terrified as to prevent him having nine children by her of course) and that her outspoken and erratic behaviour and disapproval of his numerous affairs led to him ultimately arranging her kidnap and imprisoning her. Your team and I are clearly not aligned in thinking that a wife is entitled to be a bit miffed if her husband and father of her nine children is playing away, but surely we can agree that did not justify her treatment?
Your article paints a picture of Lady Grange as a woman who should control herself and remember her place: “After putting up with his wife’s aggressive and irate behaviour for nearly 25 years, Lord Grange decided it was time to take action”. That Lord Grange had ‘put up with’ a lot may have been the feeling of the day, but considering his wife’s aggressive father was hanged when she was 10, she was stuck in an unhappy marriage bearing children for more than a decade and subject to constant reports of her husband’s adultery perhaps we can consider what Lady Grange ‘put up with’.
Lord Grange was an interesting figure for many reasons, not least politically. His brother owned Braemar Castle and was the head of a failed Jacobite rebellion just a few years after the Act of the Union. This was an incredibly volatile time politically, and Lord Grange had to play his cards right in both social and political circles to avoid his own ruin. Contemporary reports of Lady Grange speak to her being outspoken, politically engaged and not afraid to rock the boat. Her husband’s political actions and beliefs made him vulnerable to exposure as a Jacobite sympathiser, she no doubt knew that and the difficulty she could have caused. Lady Grange was not afraid to wield that power and Lord Grange may well have known that he was at risk of being exposed. That exposure would have caused his life to come tumbling down. I do not doubt it was a volatile and stressful relationship, but Lord Grange’s vulnerability was because of who he was and what he supported. His actions are his to bear responsibility for and not his wife’s to suffer for.
Lady Grange’s downfall was that in the 1700s women had few rights, and little control over their homes, finances, and families. They were all too often at the mercy of their husbands and men in their lives. At the time, it may have been said that Lady Grange’s downfall was her temper – she did not please her husband and dared to have her own ideas. She was cast away to a place where she could not speak the language, and no support and no care and saw out the last of her days alone, for daring to displease her husband. Lady Grange deserves a better memorial than the one you have provided today.