Death of Gunn Coroner (Crowner)
The most useful way to think about Gunn Coroner’s death is like this -
Consider the earliest account of it by Sir Robert Gordon who died c1650. Robert Gordon was writing a history of the Earldom of Sutherland – he didn’t have an axe to grind about Gunns, he was writing a real history. Now, his account is written 150 / 200 years after the death of Coroner Gunn so we can question what he wrote as the event will have been ‘shaped’ by retelling, but the later accounts which appear three hundred years and more after the Coroner’s death with ‘information’ which did not appear in Gordon’s account have to be rejected as no-one gets new information that much after an event.
Worth noting, as it seems to be forgotten, is Gordon’s comment about the ‘Cruner’ –
This Cruner was a great commander in Catteynes, in his tyme, and wes one of the greatest men in that cuntrey; because when he flourished there was no Earle of Catteynes
This clearly gives the time the Coroner existed – before the Earldom of Caithness was recreated. This supports the idea that the Coroner died around the mid 1450s given the Earl of Caithness was appointed in 1455, but unlikely to have made Caithness for a couple of years …
Gordon’s account of the Coroner’s death, in summary -
Now, key points –
Problems with Gordon’s account
A local attack on Coroner Gunn and his party around 1450 is probable, the event most likely happened near St Tayre’s Church. In it all Gunns (including the Coroner) were killed and the attackers suffered heavy losses.
Gordon gives no consequences for this event, which seems unusual. Why did the Keiths – if they were the attackers - get away with it? Perhaps because the Keiths were a very powerful family and could hush the event up especially if Gunn Coroner had become very unpopular. But Keiths were very important in Scottish history; the Chief of the Clan Keith was Earl Marischal of Scotland at this time. I find it awkward that such an event concerning a senior branch of his family does not appear in any record. And the records of the Keith family are large and accessible. Also, Gunn Coroner was about arresting rogues and criminals; the Keiths of Inverugie would be unlikely to be part of those Gunn Coroner was involved with on a ‘professional’ level, so why would Keiths kill a servant of the King given that they were also serving the King? Keiths and Gunns were neighbours and both families were of importance; they would be more inclined to support each other than kill each other.
It makes more sense that it was not Keiths but a random band of Caiths, people of Caithness, who killed the Gunns. If Gunn Coroner and the other Gunns were killed by a random group of Caithness people who had grown to hate Gunn Coroner then it would explain the reason for the attack, and provide a reason for lack of any known consequence as without knowledge of who the murderers had been, no action could have been taken.
Local Keiths or local Caiths are both possibilities for killing the Coroner around 1450…
Concerning Gunn Coroner’s death
I’ve always had trouble accepting the stories attached to how Gunn coroner died.
1. There was meant to have been a long lasting Gunn feud with the Keiths.But the feud looks very questionable and will be a separate entry here another time…
2. The Gunns were meant to be randomly in a church in the middle of nowhere and did not hear anyone approaching – and no Gunn lookout was posted.
But it seems odd for Gunns to be randomly hanging around / in an empty church; it’s not as if a Minister was there with a congregation. And if the Gunn / Keith mythic feud was happening you would have posted a lookout if you had any intelligence, and Gunn coroner was meant to have had brains.
3. The Keiths and Gunns supposedly had a battle which the Gunns lost by trickery as the Keiths rode two men on each horse according to most accounts. Of course Gunns could never have lost in a fair battle, that’s not how Clan mythic history works…
Overall it seems likely Gunn Coroner and some of his family were attacked near the Church of St Tayre; the Coroner’s death meant the attack stopped. The Gunns may have been attacked by Keiths but that is unlikely as the Keiths could easily have removed Gunn from his Coroner’s position due to the their power at the King’s court. The death of Gunn Coroner seems more like a revenge killing by a bunch of ‘Caiths’ – people of Caithness - not Keiths. (Note how both Caiths / Keiths sound the same and that the 1450s is before spelling is fixed.)
No record of the Coroner’s appointment, death or appointment of a new Coroner appears in history texts although much else from this time is known. Did his death have any impact on the greater Caithness world? Perhaps not…
St Tears, the Coroner and more…