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House of the Binns, Scotland

Tam Dalyell and a Deal with The Devil

Tam Dalyell was notorious. It was said that musket balls would simply bounce off of him. He was not well-loved either by the common folk of Scotland. He was born at the turn of the 17th century. These were turbulent times. It was the time of the Scottish Protestant Reformation. A time of Civil War. The time of the Scottish Witch Trials. A time when it was whispered that ruthless men had come to power by making deals with the devil. Tam was one such man.

Who was Tam Dalyell?

Dalyell was born in Linlithgowshire, the son of Thomas Dalyell of The Binns in West Lothian. He was a staunch royalist and the General and Commander-in-Chief of the king’s forces in Scotland. Dalyell first entered the army as a teenager, when he went to France in support of the Huguenot cause, before serving in Ulster.

He was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. But walls could not hold such a man! Thinking that the Royalist cause looked doomed, he fled to Russia, where he served Tsar Alexis I, father of Peter the Great, in the Russo-Polish War. While he was there, he earned a terrible reputation as it was said that he roasted some of the prisoners.  As a result, he earned the epithet of the ‘Muscovite De’il’.

He returned to Scotland after the restoration of Charles II and became the commander of forces in Scotland from 1666 to 1685. During this time, he introduced thumbscrews to Scotland after having seen them being used in Russia. He led the government forces at the Battle of Rullion Green.

The Battle of Rullion Green

The Battle of Rullion Green took place on 28 November 1666, near the Pentland Hills, in Midlothian, Scotland. This was revolt led by Covenanter dissidents against the Scottish government and Charles II.

It was sparked by opposition to the restoration of Episcopalianism in the Church of Scotland. The Covenanter army under Colonel James Wallace was defeated by a government force led by the infamous Tam Dalyell. It was here that the rumours began that musket balls aimed at Tam bounced off him without harming him.

While casualties of the battle were relatively light, between 40 to 50 Covenanters were killed, it was the brutal treatment of the prisoners that resulted in Tam Dalyell’s other epithet, ‘Bloody Tam’. Over 1,200 captured Covenanters were tortured and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. There may have been ulterior motives behind the capture of some of these men for the General obtained several of the forfeited estates of his opponents.

Tam Daylell’s Death

No man can cheat death forever, but Tam Dalyell lived to a ripe old age, dying in 1685 at the age of 85. It was then that the rumours began. How could such a man’s spirit rest in peace?  The tales include accounts of the General’s cavalry boots marching round the House of Binns on their own at night. Then there were stories of a ghostly rider on a white stallion galloping along the road towards The Binns. But the most famous tale concerns a marble-topped table in the entrance hall.

Tam Dalyell Plays Cards with the Devil

In a tale reminiscent of that of the Wolf of Badenoch, it was said that Tam would enjoy an occasional hand of cards with the Devil. On one occasion Dalyell allegedly used a marble-topped table when he played with the Devil. During the game, in order to finally beat his fiendish opponent, Dalyell placed a mirror behind the table so that he could read the Devil’s cards.

Angered by the cheating and at being bested by a mere mortal, Auld Nick threw the table at the General. Tam ducked and the table sailed passed him, ending up in the Sergeant’s Pond outside. The table was assumed missing, and its existence was soon forgotten in the mists of time. However, almost two centuries later, during a summer drought in 1878, the table was rediscovered at the bottom of the dried-up Sergeant’s Pond and restored to its rightful place inside the house.

Strangely, the table was left with a distinctive feature- the back corner has a semi-circular stain. Could this be a satanic hoof mark seared into the table? Is this the mark of the Devil?

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