The Colstoun Pear and the Brouns of America


To me, one of the most interesting bits of the family history is the Colstoun connection - partly because it's still an open question, and in part because there is such a fascinating story of magic and human frailty involved.

The story begins with Sir Hugo de Gifford, the third Lord Yester, who was considered to be a powerful warlock and necromancer. It was in the undercroft of the castle that he was thought to practice his sorcery. 14th century chronicler John of Fordun mentions the large cavern in Yester Castle, thought locally to have been formed by magical artifice. Legend supposed that Hugo was able, via a pact with the Devil, to raise a magical army to his aid, and use them to carry out his will. It is this army of hobgoblins that was considered the builders of Yester Castle. Sir Walter Scott, in the epic poem, Marmion, Canto III, vividly describes Hugh Giffard being summoned by King Alexander III to join in the battle against Haco of Norway's invasion of Scotland in 1263.

"A clerk could tell what years have flown since Alexander filled our throne third monarch of that warlike name, and eke the time when here he came to seek Sir Hugo, then our lord: A braver never drew a sword, a wiser never, at the hour of midnight, spoke the word of power; the same, that ancient records call the founder of Goblin hall"----"Lord Gifford deep beneath the ground heard Alexander's bugle sound, and tarried not his garb to change, but, in his wizard habit strange, came forth, a quaint and fearful sight: His mantle lined with fox-skins white; His high and wrinkled forehead bore a pointed cap, such as of yore Pharoh's Magi wore; His shoes were marked with cross and spell, upon his breast a pentacle"----"and in his hand a naked sword without a guard". Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto III 1808.

There are several versions of the "Colstoun Pear" story, but this is the one we were told by the family. The precious pear was given before 1267 by Sir Hugo to his daughter on her marriage to George Broun of Colstoun, and at the same time he informed his son-in-law that, good as the lass might be, her tocher (dowry) was still better, for while she could only be of use in her own day and generation, the pear, so long as it continued in the family, would cause it to flourish till the end of time. The pear was accordingly preserved with great care in a silver case by the fortunate recipient and his descendants. And it was preserved for about 400 years, reportedly remaining as fresh and luscious as the day it was picked..

In 1692, Sir George Broun of Colstoun, 2nd Baronet, was to marry the highlander, Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie, daughter of George Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Cromarty. On their wedding night, Elizabeth dreamed of taking a bite of the pear (this was considered a bad omen by her father-in-law). When she was pregnant, the story goes, she developed a craving for the pear and ultimately couldn’t resist taking a bite. The pear immediately turned brown, hard and shriveled up like a walnut. Following the infamous "bite" of the pear, George fell into gambling and eventually lost so much money that he had to sell Colstoun to his brother, Robert. Sir George reportedly died penniless in Spain in 1718.

Additional family tragedies occurred. In 1703, Robert and his family were returning to Colstoun in a rainstorm after attending the last independent meeting of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Colstoun Water, a small stream that runs through the estate, had flooded out of its banks, the carriage driver missed the ford, and the carriage overturned, drowning Robert and his two sons. His wife and daughters survived because their hooped skirts held enough air to act as life-preservers and keep them afloat. His eldest daughter, Jean, inherited Colstoun and married a cousin (they did a lot of that!), Charles of Cleghornie.

Robert Broun (of Colstoun) married Margaret Ballantine, daughter and heiress of James Ballantine of Newhall, and was designed of Newhall. He obtained a Crown Charter of the lands and barony of Colstoun to himself, and Margaret Ballantine, his spouse, for her liferent security of 2000 merks, and to the heirs male procreat betwixt them, whom failing to the heirs female, but always bearing the name and arms of Broun of Colstoun, on the resignation of Sir George Broun of Colstoun, his elder brother, dated 7 July, 1699. He was drowned 31 May, 1703, along with his sons, Patrick and George, in a stream on the Colstoun estate, leaving four daughters :

(i). Jean, who inherited Colstoun, and m. Charles Broun of Cleghornie.


David Marshall, Genealogical Notes Anent Some Ancient Scottish Families, published privately 1884, pp. 72-74.

The pear has for generations been as hard as a stone, and is still in perfect preservation. It has been justly remarked that, apart from the superstition attached to it, this curious heirloom is certainly a most remarkable vegetable curiosity, having existed for upwards of seven centuries. The current laird of Colstoun, Ludovic Broun-Lindsey, says the pear is still in the family, hidden away in a small silver chest. He claims you can still see the teeth marks of the bite on it - assuming you were allowed to view it at all. It is a closely kept treasure - Ludovic's wife had never even seen it.

Early in the 20th century, Elizabeth Mackenzie Broun's portrait was found hanging in the attic at Colstoun, turned facing the wall. Currently her portrait hangs in the dining room. The ornate frame of the portrait is decorated with a golden pear. The pear motif also decorates a window railing on Colstoun house.

Now, the question is, how does the story of the pear relate to the descendants of William Broun and Robert Broun in the United States? The two Broun relatives who actually "published" their family history research back in the 1970's were Philip Broun, descendant of William and Janetta Broun from Virginia, and Robert Broun, descendant of William's older brother, Robert and his wife Elizabeth Broun from South Carolina. They both believed that the family is descended from Colstoun Brouns - the question is which Colstoun Brouns. I don't know what Philip thought about that particular question, but Robert felt sure that William and Robert were grandsons of Sir George Broun and Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie Broun through a daughter, Margaret who married her cousin, George Broun of Eastfield. He reported that the Robert Broun South Carolina branch of the family had (at least at one time) possession of a signet ring that had belonged to George Broun, 2nd Baronet. And he said he had found references to “Lady Margaret Broun” attending social events in Charles Towne at the time.

If you search Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, you will find that 2nd Baronet George Broun died "without issue". However, it also says that Lady Elizabeth Mackenzie Broun died "with issue". Burke's Peerage does have mistakes in it and, with regards to George, "without issue" may just mean that he died without leaving a male heir to the title - since that's what's important to the Peerage. I have yet to find anything in the Scottish Old Parish Records confirming the birth of a daughter (or son!) to George and Elizabeth - but of course I can't find such confirmation for lots of Brouns for whom I know the names of the parents. Apparently there was a monetary fee to get the birth listed at the local church, so Scots being Scots often skipped the formalities. Robert Broun said he hired a genealogist in Scotland to research the question and the researcher found correspondence indicating that Elizabeth had a daughter named Margaret, wife of George Broun. The Gentleman's Magazine (1847) includes a discussion about claims to the Broun Baronetcy making reference to a daughter (not named) of George and Elizabeth Broun, the 'heiress', who had married beneath her station in marrying George Broun of Eastfield, a tradesman.

Sir George, the son of the patentee, died (it is said) in 1718, leaving a daughter, who married one George Broun, of Eastfield, an estate which he inherited from his grand-uncle Thomas, an Edinburgh tradesman who attained the civic rank of bailie, and who entailed the estate 12 Sept. 1701. Now, so far as probabilities warrant an inference, this family of citizens might be supposed to be nearly related to Sir George, as otherwise it is most improbable that a genuine baronet would have united his only daughter and heiress to the representative of an Edinburgh bailie.

. . .  We dare say a little research would prove this to have been the fact and explain this otherwise unequal alliance.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, April, 1847, p. 361

The assumption in the article was that the Sir George and Lady Elizabeth’s daughter had inherited Colstoun. She could not have as we have seen, since George sold it to his brother in 1699, but that was probably not commonly known, nor would the family have wanted it discussed! But Sir George’s having lost all the family’s wealth and property would explain why Lady Margaret might have married a man so beneath her station. The Colstoun estate was indeed inherited by an heiress as we have seen, Jean Broun, daughter of Robert Broun, who also married a Broun cousin, Charles Broun of Cleghornie, this being a more appropriate match.

The upshot of all this is, if Robert Broun, the 1970’s family history recorder, is correct and William and Robert were indeed grandsons of Sir George and Lady Elizabeth, then all descendants of George and Margaret Broun are ‘children’ of the (in)famous Colstoun Pear!