Helen McFarlan and her Unborn Baby – Who is the Father?

All of the records we hold here at Stirling Council Archives tell a story. While some require a bit more digging and research in order to bring them to light, other stories are presented to us more clearly with a full narrative of their own.

Stirling Council Archives holds a number of Kirk Session records that detail the meetings, decisions, and transactions of the Kirk Sessions in our local area. A Kirk Session was the lowest court in the Church of Scotland and comprised of the minister and elders of an individual parish or congregation. Many of the records in these Kirk Sessions tell a variety of stories about the people and events of the parish. There are twists and turns, scandals, happy endings and some less so.

In the parish of Killearn in the early 1700s, Helen McFarlan was an unmarried woman who worked as a servatrix to Alexander Lerkie of Croy. On 18th April 1714, it was reported that she was pregnant and gave up Malcolm McLen, an unmarried man, as the only one who could be the father of her unborn child. The two were brought before the Kirk Session on a number of occasions between 18th April 1714 and 1st May 1715 as the Session attempted to get to the bottom of this. It was a classic he-said-she-said tale and would have been quite the scandal at the time.

The Kirk Session rebuked Helen McFarlan and ordered both her and McLen to appear in front of the session together. Although the two behaved well, McLen vehemently denied that he was the father of this child just as strongly as McFarlan insisted he was. The Kirk Session deliberated and took advice from the Presbytery on the matter.

CH2/468/1: Killearn Kirk Session, page 112, 18 Apr 1714

While appearing in front of the Session, McLen continued to deny any wrongdoing and insisted that he was not the father of this unborn child. On 15th August 1714, Helen McFarlan appeared in front of the Session with her child, now born, seeking the baby to be baptised. However, the session rebuked her and refused to allow a baptism to take place until she could procure a man to be her sponsor. Helen was new to the parish and feared this would be impossible and adhered to her former confession insisting that Maclolm McLen was the only man who could be her child’s father. She was rebuked as a fornicatrix and accused of having her child with a married man, the Session threatened McFarlan that she would be proceeded against and labelled as an adultress if this was the case; most likely ostracizing her further.

CH2/468/1: Killearn Kirk Session, page 115, 15 Aug 1714

By 12th September 1714, Helen McFarlan had appeared before the Kirk Session three separate times, during which she was rebuked for her sin of fornication and allowed to have her baby baptised. Meanwhile, it was revealed that Malcolm McLen had fled to the parish of Kippen in the Laird of Buchlyvie. McLen returned on 30th January 1715, nine months after Helen McFarlan’s first Session appearance, to confess his guilt to the local Minister; he admitted that he was the baby’s father after all. The Session rebuked McLen sharply for his continued denial of guilt and appointed him to appear in public to repent after which he was absolved.

Helen McFarlan’s ‘scandal’ is by no means the only one of its kind and the Kirk Session records held at Stirling Council Archives are home to a wealth of stories that provide us insight into the lives of those from an earlier time. We will continue to explore these stories throughout the year.