ARTICLE IN EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS
View from Tantallon Castle
The island was a retreat for early Christian hermits; St Baldred is said to have lived there in 600 AD.
The Lauder family
The earliest recorded proprietors are the Lauder of the Bass family, from whom Sir Harry Lauder is descended. According to legend, the island is said to have been a gift from King Malcolm III of Scotland. The crest on their heraldic arms is, appropriately, a gannet standing upon a rock.
The family had from an early date a castle on the island. Sir Robert de Lawedre is mentioned by Blind Harry in The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace as a compatriot of William Wallace, and Alexander Nisbet recorded his tombstone in 1718, in the floor of the old kirk in North Berwick: "here lies Sir Robert de Lawedre, great laird of the Bass, who died May 1311". Five years later his son received that part of the island which until then had been retained by The Church because it contained the holy cell of Saint Baldred. A century on Wyntown's Cronykil relates: "In 1406 King Robert III, apprehensive of danger to his son James (afterwards James I) from the Duke of Albany, placed the youthful prince in the safe-custody of Sir Robert Lauder in his secure castle on the Bass prior to an embarkation for safer parts on the continent." Subsequently, says Tytler, "Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass was one of the few people whom King James I admitted to his confidence." In 1424 Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass, with 18 men, had a safe-conduct with a host of other noblemen, as a hostage for James I atDurham. J J Reid also mentions that "in 1424 when King James I returned from his long captivity in England, he at once consigned to the castle of the Bass, Walter Stewart, the eldest son of Murdoch Stewart, Duke of Albany, his cousin. The person who received the payments for the prisoner's support was Sir Robert Lauder", whom Tytler further describes as "a firm friend of the King".
Hector Boece offers the following description (original spelling):
- "ane wounderful crag, risand within the sea, with so narrow and strait hals [passage] that na schip nor boit bot allanerlie at ane part of it. This crag is callet the Bas; unwinnabil by ingine [ingenuity] of man. In it are coves, als profitable for defence of men as [if] thay were biggit be crafty industry. Every thing that is in that crag is ful of admiration and wounder."
In 1497 King James IV visited the Bass and stayed in the castle with a later Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass (d.bef Feb 1508). The boatmen who conveyed the King from Dunbar were paid 14 shillings. George Lauder of the Bass entertained King James VI of Scotland when he visited the Bass in 1581; the king was so enamoured that he offered to buy the island, a proposition which did not commend itself to George Lauder. The King appears to have accepted the situation with good grace. George was a Privy Counsellor - described as the King's "familiar councillor" - and tutor to the young Prince Henry.
During the 15th century James I consigned several of his political enemies, including Walter Stewart to the Bass. In this period, many members of the Clan MacKay ended up here, including, Neil Bhass MacKay (Niall "Bhas" MacAoidh), who gained his epithet from being imprisoned there as a fourteen-year-old in 1428. He was kept there as a hostage, after his father, Aonghas Dubh (Angus Dhu) of Strathnaver in Sutherland was released, as security. According to one Website
- " Following the murder of King James at Perth in 1437 Neil escaped from the Bass and was proclaimed 8th Chief of the Clan Mackay."
Cromwellian invasion and after
After almost 600 years, the Lauders lost the Bass during Cromwell's invasion, and the castle subsequently (in 1671) became a notorious gaol to which for many decades religious and political prisoners, especially Covenanters such as Prophet Peden, were sent. John Blackadder, one of the Covenanting martyrs, died on the Bass in 1686 and is buried at North Berwick, where aUnited Free Church was named after him.
Charles Maitland, 3rd Earl of Lauderdale held the Bass for James VII for a brief period after the Scottish parliament declared his abdication. The fortress was destroyed by the government in 1701, and on 31 July 1706 the President of the Court of Session, Hew Dalrymple, Lord North Berwick, acquired the Bass by charter (ratified by Parliament in March 1707), for a purely nominal sum, and the island has been ever since in the uninterrupted possession of the Dalrymple family.