On Lorna Doone

One of the interesting opportunities of writing a Blog Post is finding on the Athenaeum Catalogue Search inconspicuous books and pamphlets which you might bypass when looking at a row of books on the shelf.

Under the reference Miscellaneous Pamphlets D040PAP number 24 is “The Original Doones of Exmoor” by Ida Brown [Audie Doon].

Having performed in a production of “Lorna Doone” in 2017 at Valley of the Rocks in Lynton Devon I was interested that Audie Doon believed that R. D. Blackmore had embodied her ancestors in his characters in the book.

She wrote after her visit from Scotland to Exmoor in 1899, an article published in the West Somerset Free Press 12th October 1901 p7 1901, later published as the pamphlet named.

She wrote that Ensor Doone was the twin of Sir James Stuart of Doune, the future Earl of Moray by marriage, and that Ensor contested his brother’s ownership of the title and estates of Doune Castle, situated near Stirling, in Perthshire, leading to a feud between them.

Ensor, which is an unusual name, equals the name Iain, which is An t-ainm in Scottish Gaelic.

In 1602 Lord Moray was murdered by the Earl of Huntley and his son, James, the second Earl of Moray but the crime was believed to be instigated by Ensor Doone. She follows the story of exile from Scotland and coming to live in the Oare Valley where their four sons, Charles Stuart, Bruce, Nigel and Rowland McGregor Doone and their sons, were born and grew up to become outlaws who preyed upon the locals in raids, robberies and murder.

Her family have some artefacts relating to the Doones time on Exmoor: Some bellows, marked E.D. Oare 1627, the Journal of Rupert Doone 1747, which mentions his return to the Oare Valley, and a flint-lock pistol engraved C. Doone and “Porlock”.

Audie Doon quotes from the Journal of Rupert Doone:

 “September 3rd, 1747. Went to Barum [Barnstaple] on my way to the place they call Oare, whence our people came after their cruel treatment at the hands of Earl Moray.”

“September 7th Got to Oare and then to the valley of the Lyn, the scenery very bonny, like our own land, but the part extremely wild and lonely. Wandered about, and thought of the old days, and of the doings of the family while here, which I gather were not peaceable”

She sites Burk’s Peerage as evidence for the history and lineage of the line of Moray with Elizabeth Countess of Moray marrying Sir James Stuart in 1580.

Entry from Burke’s Peerage

In 1699 Charles Stuart, Ensor’s eldest son was invited back to Scotland by Alexander, the then Earl of Moray, great-grandson of James Stuart, Earl of Moray with whom Ensor had had the original violent quarrel.

In the same Miscellaneous Pamphlets number 25 is another small gem written by Rev. J. F. Chanter, who was described in an Obituary by The Devonshire Association as the foremost historian in Devon, known for his painstaking research and sound judgement in weighing evidence. The Pamphlet is titled “R. D. Blackmore and Lorna Doone” which he wrote for the Devonshire Association in 1903.

Rev. Chanter recalls that before the date when Lorna Doone was published in 1869, the Doones exploits were recounted in traditional stories of Exmoor.

He endorses Audie Doon’s belief that the Doones were her ancestors.

Local records such as Countisbury Churchwardens’ Accounts 1678 confirm that other characters were accurately portrayed in Lorna Doone.

John Ridd was a farmer from a nearby farm and renown wrestler, the Snows lived at Oare, John Fry, churchwarden and Jasper Kebby were from Countisbury.

He also had access to a manuscript entitles “The Lineage and History of our Family from 1561 to the Present Day” written by Charles Doone of Braemuir 1804 provided by Audie Doon. Charles Doone is the grandson of Rupert Doone and had a son called Charles Ensor.

The Doones were accompanied from Scotland by a retainer called John Beaton who had four sons born on Exmoor.

The fact that Doone baptisms and marriages were not recorded in Local Parish Registers because the Doones were Catholic.

From oral tradition of Audie Doone’s family, Sir Ensor’s son Charles Stuart Doone, nickname in Scotland was the “The Flesher”, Scottish for “The Butcher”, so “Carver Doone” as a more literary version is not far removed.

Rev. Chanter states that he can recall as a boy at boarding school in 1863, stories recounted of the Doones of Exmoor and had read of them in old manuscripts dated 1842, in his father’s possession, well before the book’s publication.

So, two sources where they both endorse the opinion that the Doone’s in Lorna Doone were authentic.

With my own experience of performing in “Lorna Doone”, and my husband playing both John Ridd Senior and Counsellor Doone, I was pleased to think that they were based on real characters rather than just being fictitious.

In the first pages of Rev Chanter’s pamphlet he mentions a recent publication [1903] of Edwin John Rawle’s Annals of Exmoor.

Rawle Annals of Exmoor

In Rawle’s foreword he states that it has been written “To consider the value and veracity of assertions made in support that they were a family of outlaws who infested Exmoor during the last half of the seventeenth century.”

Rawle is scathing regarding Audie Doon’s genealogical direct descendance claims to the Exmoor Doones. He regards her pamphlet as pretentious fabrication.

He quotes that Barnstaple records, as the “nearest town of any size adjacent to Exmoor”, bear no allusion to the Doone outlaws. Rawle contests that John Ridd and the Snows are not found until much later it the Oare area. He quotes Rev Chanter, as believing that the characters were founded more on a fertile imagination than on actual historical details and not that Chanter later revised his opinion in 1903, after Chanter examined Audie Doon’s family records.

Rawle believes that the existence of the “Doones” in Devon originate much earlier and is a corruption of the marauding Danes.

Dr David Blackmore, a second cousin of R.D. Blackmore and a keen family historian, has gathered extensive information on the Blackmore family and writings of R.D. Blackmore and has published several booklets on the subject. [ Newly donated to the Athenaeum Collection]

In “Lorna’s Author: some questions about Lorna Doone” David Blackmore writes that Sir James Doone was nicknamed “chosen dusky man” in Gaelic or Iain Ciar Duine and as I have mentioned before the name Iain equates to the name Ensor.

In his booklet “Lorna’s Author: Annotated references to RD Blackmore and his works” he describes Rev Chanter’s “Blackmore’s Lorna Doone” as a well informed and judicious verdict to the controversy. Edwin Rawle’s “The Doones of Exmoor” he describes as “The strongest argument against historicity of the Doones, marred by some vagaries and errors.”

A modern link to the Doone heritage is the use of Doune Castle in Scotland for the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Winterfell in Game of Thrones and Castle Leoch in Outlander.

Many arguments rage for and against the existence of the Doones of Exmoor but myth or fact, it is still a question for debate.

…Sandi, Assistant Librarian

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