Archaeologist with a passion
Wednesday August 28, 2002
Nicholas Bogdan, who has died aged 55 from a heart attack, was an archaeologist
and architectural historian whose passion was castles and whose work at
Fetternear, a medieval palace in north-east Scotland, has attracted European
Since 1995, Bogdan, and his partner Penny Dransart, of the University of
Wales, Lampeter, have demonstrated through archaeological excavation and
research that Fetternear is one of the more important medieval sites in the
British Isles, with significant links to Hungary, Austria and Slovenia.
Fetternear includes the remains of a 14th-century palace, home of Bishop
Alexander Kininmund who, in 1320, drafted the Declaration of Arbroath, the
letter sent to Pope John XXII in Avignon declaring that the Scots would never be
subjected to English rule. It also incorporates the remains of even earlier
palaces and sites of settlement dating back 4,000 years.
After the Reformation in Scotland in 1560, Fetternear became the principal
Scottish seat of the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear. It had been granted to
the family as a reward for saving St Machar's cathedral, Aberdeen, from
destruction. In the 17th century, the family became successful mercenaries,
acquiring through might, diplomacy and marriage a string of properties in
central and eastern Europe. Their strong Catholic faith helped sustain
Fetternear as a centre of recusancy, as evidenced by a religious plaque carrying
IHS and MRA monograms set into the facade of the existing 17th-century palace,
now only a shell. Given Leslie links with central Europe, it is significant that
the combination of monograms, extremely rare in Scotland, is characteristically
used in the Alps.
Bogdan's research and that of Penny Dransart resulted in invitations to
London to present papers to the Royal Archaeological Institute at the Society of
Antiquaries. Earlier this year they travelled to Slovenia to trace ge nealogical
links with Fetternear Leslies. Having worked on the site, Bogdan found that he
himself was distantly related to the Leslies of Balquhain and Fetternear.
European by vision, with an interest across all periods of history, Bogdan
seized on learning. Castles, architecture, heraldry, history and genealogy
formed some of the many planks in his platform of knowledge
Tall, bustling and energetic, he would fire off questions as much as
supplying answers to them, all the time expounding any one of a dozen theories.
Although he was an excellent lecturer and presenter, his cheerful disdain for
administration gave nightmares to those seeking funding for some of his
Not that he was merely a theorist; he helped pioneer urban rescue
archaeology, where remains are carefully excavated and recorded during
redevelopment of town centres. His experience was recognised when, in 1975, he
was appointed director of the massive dig in the centre of Perth, the largest
and most complex urban site in Scotland ever to be excavated. He was closely
involved in the formation of a number of archaeological bodies, notably the
Scottish Castles Survey. With Penny Dransart, he formed and was co-director of
the Scottish Episcopal Palaces Project.
Nicholas Bogdan was educated at Gordonstoun. His Russian emigré father,
Andrew Bogdanovich, was a doctor at London's Great Ormond Street hospital, who
altered his surname after anti-Russian attention. After Gordonstoun, Bogdan read
archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast, later undertaking postgraduate
research on the origins of Scottish castles at St Andrews. Castellated
architecture was in his blood, for his grandmother, who married into the family
of Straloch and Barra, became a major force in the restoration of Barra Castle
in Aberdeenshire, his home throughout his life.
His active and forceful mind never let a fact go unrecorded, though his
written output never matched his prodigious notes. Passionately interested in
castles and their relationship within the wider history of Scotland, his
genealogical expertise knitted a living fabric for his researches, wherever
possible placing people into context. With his friend Ian Bryce, Bogdan wrote,
and nearly completed, the manuscript of a definitive work on the heritage of
castles and historic houses in north-east Scotland.
He is survived by his mother, Mhairi, his brother, Robert, and his partner
· Nicholas Quentin Bogdan, archaeologist and architectural historian,
born June 18 1947; died August 16 2002.