I originally wrote the ballad Lady Finella for a project called ‘Sense of the Place’ ran by Stonehaven Folk Club.
The ballad tells the story of Lady Finella, who assassinated King Kenneth II of Scotland, to avenge his killing of her son. Lady Finella, born in the year 950 AD, was the daughter of Cuncar, Mormaer of Angus, a descendant of Pictish royalty. Finella was said to have lived southwest of Fettercairn at the Castle of Greencairn, the supposed seat and stronghold of the Mormaer of Angus.
The ballad, as ballads tend to, begins “in media res”, which means that we miss the epilogue…
King Kenneth wanted to tame rebellious subjects, refine their behaviour, and wanted peace in the land after years of battles with the Danes. Finellas’ son, Cruthlint quarrelled, theived and raided up and down the land. Kenneth ordered Crunthlint to appear at Scone within fifteen days to answer for his conduct. Cruntlint fled to the Highlands. Kenneth pursued and captured him in Lochaber and brought him to the Castle of Dunsinane, where he was executed. Fenella held a deep hatred toward Kenneth and planned his death.
According to John Fordun’s chronicles, King Kenneth II attempted to change succession rules in order to secure the thrown for his own descendants and introduce primogeniture. This excluded Constantine III and Kenneth III, named as Gryme in the chronicles. The two men opposed Kenneth’s attempted changes to succession and jointly conspired against him, convincing Lady Finella to assassinate the King.
Finella, a keen huntress, pretending to forgive the monarch invited Kenneth to hunt and lodge at her castle. Kenneth accepted the offer and went with his men to hunt with her. During the hunt, she gained his trust by exclaiming that she had information about a conspiracy to kill him and promised to unmask traitors. She proclaimed her loyalty to him by pretending to agree with his act of killing her son. Finella gave Kenneth and his men a hearty reception. After dining, she invited him to her chamber. In the chamber was a statue that resembled a King, on one hand a golden ring set with precious stones. If anyone removed the ring from the statue, they’d trigger the crossbows and fall victim to arrows. Finella exclaimed that the ring is a gift – a gesture of peace. Kenneth removes the ring and triggers the cross-bow and is fatally wounded. Finella flees and makes her way towards the coast. The Kings men, find Kenneth dead and pursues Finella. Cornered, she leaps over a waterfall to her supposed death. Some accounts of the story claim that she was captured, brought back to Fettercairn and burned in her castle. Some accounts claim that Finella was a shape-shifter; a witch who grew wings and flew to Ireland. Some accounts claim that Constantine III and Kenneth III aid Finella in her escape and secure safe passage to Ireland for her.
Although the tale is in part based on true events chronicled by John of Forduns’ 14th century “Chronicle of the Scottish Nation” based on local folklore and feud sagas, Alan Orr Anderson considered the story of Finella as semi-mythical. Nevertheless, her namesake remains in the
Mearns – Strathfinella Hill between Fordoun and Fettercairn, Den of Finella near St Cyrus, are said to have their name from Lady Finella. Ruins of Greencairn Castle, the reputed residence of Finella are still seen upon a hill about a mile to the west of Fettercairn.
Lady Finella © Iona Fyfe 2021