A Curious Coincidence

Skye Sporting Estates Sponsors Bard of TweedaleI have been scratching my head all week. Not an infestation picked up from the grubby carriages of the Western Railway Company that took me to Oxford and back, but from the dim recollection that I had heard the name of Belshade in association with Tamburlaine MacGregor. Enlightenment dawned yesterday evening: I had heard it but the reason it did not come quicker to memory is the association did not occur till after MacGregor’s death when Lady MacGregor became the friend and confidante of Mrs Delta Harnoncourt. Mrs Harnoncourt, nee Belshade, was the elder sister of Epsilon Belshade (naturally, this eccentric family included an Alpha, Beta and Gamma Belshade) and prior to her marriage was a noted society beauty and the mistress of James, Prince of Wales (son of King Charles VII and later King James IX of Scotland and III of Anglia): a liaison which allegedly continued long after her marriage to George Harnoncourt and his to Princess May of Saxony.

Delta Belshade, allegedly. Painted by Cecil Gascoygne in 1846Once I recalled this connection a second connection naturally followed for it appears that when young Lorcan MacGregor, MacGregor’s eldest son, was of age, Mrs Harnoncourt persuaded Lady MacGregor that the best schooling was to be had at Oxford, and where better than at Belshade College, recently established by her brother, Epsilon Belshade.

Lorcan MacGregor, age ten, shortly before he enrolled at Belshade College. Painted by John Bartholemew in 1870Quite what talent young Lorcan had that suited him to Belshade’s eccentric curriculum, I do not know. The college has received a great deal of green ink in its one-hundred and fifty year existence, but it was not then and is not now a school for witchcraft and magick, albeit its interest in aspects of the Old Craft was well known and perhaps ensured that few of its alumni ever achieved high office in church or politics or other aspect of public life. However, to its great and lasting credit it has always been an establishment open to all levels of society, where even the son of an ordinary artisan or labourer who showed some talent might make the very best of his abilities, whatsoever they may be. This point may be pertinent to young Lorcan’s acceptance at Belshade, for, in the decade following Tamburlaine MacGregor’s death, Lady MacGregor’s finances were not secure – Arbinger Abbey was ever a  money pit – and perhaps Lady MacGregor’s friendship with Delta Harnoncourt secured reduced fees. 

In any event, regardless of any inducements and whatever talent young Lorcan might have possessed, the effect was not long lasting and within three years he had left, if not in disgrace then at least with insufficient achievement to satisfy Lady MacGregor who promptly enrolled him at King James University, Edenborough, whose fees were paid through an endowment from the Edenborough Merchant Adventurers.

Edenborough King James University supports Bard of TweeddaleI do not know the circumstances that led to young Lorcan’s removal from Belshade College, but it brought on a cooling of relations between Lady MacGregor and Mrs Harnoncourt to the point where neither woman spoke to the other for some twenty years until the funeral of Mrs Harnoncourt’s husband, following his death in a bizarre and macabre mountaineering accident in the Swiss Alps.

It is a curious coincidence that I, some one hundred and forty or so years later, am to be a tutor at the college once attended by MacGregor’s eldest son, and, as a researcher and chronicler of MacGregor’s life and works, I cannot but hope that surviving report of young Lorcan’s schooling remains in the college archives. Not least an explanation for why Belshade was thought appropriate for his talents and why he was so abruptly removed from its influence. 

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