the disappearance of the last baronet

Sir James Balfour was knighted by Charles I in 1630 and created a baronet of Denmiln three years later. As Lord Lyon-King-at-Arms, he was often employed by the king with public affairs. After he had retired from life at court and Falkland, he prosecuted his favourite studies in antiquities and heraldry in the parish of Abdie. He had been deprived of his office of Lord Lyon during the usurpation of Cromwell. So he had enough time on his hands in Abdie.

During his retirement, he collected many manuscripts on heraldry and composed several original treatises on the subject, several of which are still preserved in the Advocates’ Library. He also wrote various treatises on the history, geography, and antiquities of Scotland. He died in February 1657.

the issue with the issue

The descendants of Sir James continued to possess property in the area for centuries but by the 19th century the family was entirely extinct in the male line. This was even more remarkable, as Sir Michael lived to see 300 of his own issue, while Sir Andrew, his youngest son, saw 600 descendants from his father.

In the aisle of the old church of Abdie, there are mural tablets, erected to the memory of Sir James Balfour, and his father Sir Michael; and here, or in the adjoining churchyard, they were both interred.

The mystery of the last baronet’s disappearance

The fate of the last baronet of Denmiln is equally remarkable. He set out on horseback from his own house to pay a visit in the neighbourhood, and neither man nor horse were ever seen again. Did they suffer an accident? Was he murdered? Or taken? Did he disappear intentionally?

All these questions were never answered.

Abdie churchyard, Fife

The churchyard itself is well worth a visit and there is more to see outside the churchyard walls.

The roofless ruins of St. Magridin’s church stand to the east of a farm lane on a small knoll, surrounded by a graveyard and boundary wall. The site is at the north west of Lindores Loch, where the loch has silted up and become boggy ground.    Its east end looks over a gentle slope towards wooded and agricultural land.    The church lies east-west and is a long, narrow medieval building. It was built in the 13th century and consecrated in 1242 by Bishop David de Bernham, and then received significant additions in the seventeenth century.   It was abandoned in 1827 but restored in 1856.    It was eventually replaced by the church at Abdie (site 4674).    It is surrounded by a graveyard in which. in common with most medieval churchyards, the majority of memorials are to the south and east of the church.    A small building built into the boundary wall was a mort-house   which currently contains many carved stones, including ‘Lindores Pictish Stone’ which was moved to the churchyard in 1970. (

Liked the read? There’s more here…

The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for my blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Find treasure all over Scotland with my latest book. I am Nellie Merthe Erkenbach, journalist and author.The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

My main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. 

This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share my passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps. 

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