It’s a rare family where there is never any conflict. Some times family stories contain hints or details of fallouts, other times there is documentary evidence. That’s the case for Robert Moncrieff, my x4 great uncle.

Robert Moncrieff (1757- between 1827 and 1839)

Robert was the oldest son of Robert Moncrieff of Houton, Orphir, Orkney, and Barbara Flett’s five children. Barbara died sometimes after 1 January 1766 and in 1772 Robert senior remarried, to Janet Stove from Deerness, Orkney. They went on to have five children between 1773 and 1780. Robert senior died in January 1801.

By 1814, Robert junior and his stepmother Janet were at loggerheads. In fact, the dispute probably started much sooner for that is when the case reached the Court of Session in Edinburgh, Scotland’s highest civil court. The papers are preserved at the National Records of Scotland and are the main source for this blog.

The root of the issue was the pre-nuptial agreement Robert senior had entered into with Janet. He had granted her one third of the rent of all his property along with one third of the value of the kelp harvested, each year of her life, if she survived him. She was also to have the use of a house (which they would agree) and a third of all his house contents. Robert junior was delaying or refusing to make payment hence the recourse to the Court of Session.

Court of Session case

Janet wanted to see the estate rentals along with the accounts for kelp and was claiming payment of £500 plus £200 for expenses in the meantime.  Robert, in his defence, stated that he had paid her considerable sums of money since his father’s death and given her “a great quantity of meal”. He further held that Janet had somehow gained possession of his late father’s “escrutoire”. (The word is actually escritoire, a writing desk.) As this contained the title deeds and rent books it was impossible for him to calculate what she might be due, he maintained. She retorted that he had had ample opportunity and her daughters needed the desk to store their own goods!

The Court of Session made four interim decrees between 1815 and 1817 requiring Robert to pay Janet £500 in total while the case rumbled on. Things then went silent for a time while they attempted to settle matters out of court. This was unsucessful, being merely a delaying tactic in Janet’s estimation, and she re-opened the case with a Summons of Wakening in February 1823. Robert failed to provide any defence or a detailed rental so the Court Accountant set about calculating what this might be worth. His notes and calculations show that Janet and Robert were even squabbling over the the value of the bed and board Janet had provided to Robert for the first three years after his father died. The final overall award was £622.


Janet died on 10 January 1825, possibly without ever seeing the full sum that Robert owed her. Sadly there is evidence of ongoing conflict for Jean Moncrieff (Mrs Robert Sinclair) Janet’s daughter and Robert’s half sister, had to go to Kirkwall Sheriff Court in February 1825 for a warrant to view her late mother’s moveables. This implies Robert may have taken possession of the house, probably Houth, the main house of Houton, for that was where Janet lived In the 1821 census. His keenness to recoup the rent owed for Sorpool from his late nephew’s widow in 1827 is one indication that things were perhaps none too rosy in the Houton finances, hence his reluctance to part with either money or goods.

A post on the theme “Conflict” for the #52Ancestors challenge.

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