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Hidden History in Edinburgh: Lady Stair and the Fortune Teller

by robcarr00032

Hidden History of Edinburgh

The Story of Lady Stair and the fortune teller

Welcome to our first edition of the Hidden History of Edinburgh blog. Here we will unravel some of the most interesting tales of Edinburgh’s Old Town. 

Part 1 sees us in Makar’s Court looking upon the beautiful Lady Stair’s House which most people now know as the Writer’s Museum. This commemorates the lives of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson who are three of Scotland’s most prestigious and influential writers. Today though we are going to turn back the clock further and talk about a real intriguing story regarding the first Lady Stair, Eleanor Campbell who the building is named after. 

In the early 18th century Eleanor had her first marriage with James, Viscount Primrose. Who had an extremely bad temper, and despite Eleanor’s strong character, his cruelty became completely unbearable. One fateful morning she was getting dressed and as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror she could see her menacing husband withdrawing his sword behind her. Shocked, she immediately bolted and jumped out of the window escaping to the house of her mother-in-law. 

After a week their issues remained unresolved so the couple separated and Lord Primrose fled overseas. During his absence Lady Primrose decided to visit a fortune teller in the Canongate to locate his whereabouts. The fortune-teller welcomed her in and stood her in front of a large mirror. She didn’t see her reflection but instead a strange moving painting which portrayed a wedding ceremony. Before wedlock a gentleman, whose arrival seemed to have been long awaited, entered the church. However, when he saw the groom his demeanour abruptly changed, like a raging bull he charged towards him. At this point, the scene entirely vanished from the mirror. What had this been? 

Confused Lady Primrose rushed home and she set herself down to write a detailed account of all she saw in front of a witness. She added the date, sealed and placed it securely in a drawer. Sometime after, Eleanor’s brother returned to Edinburgh from his travels. She inquired whether by chance he had seen her husband. He grunted that he never wanted to speak of the man again. Curiously, Eleanor pressed for more information. Finally, he confessed while in Rotterdam he had become on good terms with a wealthy merchant. This gentleman had only one child, a daughter who was the sole heiress to his huge fortune. One day the merchant announced to him that his daughter was to be married – to a Scotsman!

On the wedding day, believed to be because of his lack of knowledge of the city he quickly became late. Frantically, he marched around the city trying to find his way when eventually he found the church. Hoping to sneak in unnoticed he slipped through the door but as he peered at the altar he saw the young girl hand in hand with no other than his brother-in-law, Lord Primrose! Disgusted he charged to the front and was in sufficient time to stop the wedding save her from the awful wretch. 

Lady Primrose couldn’t believe her ears and went straight to her drawer to extract the sealed account. Before the seal was broken her brother confirmed the date it took place. The brother opened the envelope and read in Lady Primrose’s own writing of what she had seen in a mirror in the house in Canongate. The note was precisely what he experienced in a church in Holland on precisely the same date hundreds of miles away. Vision and reality had come together.

If you have enjoyed this blog leave us a like, comment or share with your friends! You can meet us again in part 2 of the series or join us for more fascinating Edinburgh history on our walking tours.

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