The origins of the village you see today date back to 1712, when Sir Francis Grant, Lord Cullen, purchased Monymusk House and its estates from a close friend, Sir William Forbes, for the sum of £116,000. The main aim of the transaction was to help clear the Forbes family debts, and the Grants had not actually seen the Monymusk estate before buying it.
What they found when they first came to see their new property was something of a shock. The House of Monymusk was little more than a run-down ramshackle old mansion very much in need of repair.
The estate lands were of extremely poor agricultural quality with no enclosures and very few trees, and the estate buildings were all old and at most were semi-derelict. The existing village of Kirktoun of Monymusk was home to around 100 tenants of the estate, and comprised rough stone-built and turf-roofed dwellings.
In 1716, Sir Francis Grant appointed his 20 year old son, Sir Archibald Grant, as estate factor with authority to run Monymusk on his behalf. On Sir Archibald's marriage in 1719 his father handed ownership of the estate to him. Amongst Sir Archibald's early improvements was clearing the land of stones and using them to build enclosing walls. Over the decades that followed he introduced new farming methods and planted literally millions of trees.
Sir Archibald also laid out a plan for a rebuilt and greatly improved village at the heart of the estate. This surrounded a central square designed to allow cattle drovers en route to market in Aberdeen to rest their cattle overnight in relative security. Most of the buildings in the first new village were replaced in the 1800s, and it is mainly their replacements that you see today. The Grant Arms Hotel dates back to 1810; the cottages around the square to the 1830s and 1840s; the village hall to 1826; and the manse to 1850.
But not the church. Compared to the rest of the village it stands in, the origins of the church are ancient, and in many ways it forms the most important part of the story of Monymusk until the moment the estate was purchased by the Grants. Accounts differ slightly, but it seems that Malcolm III of Scotland passed through Monymusk while en route to defeat Lulach, son of Macbeth, an encounter which took place on 17 March 1058. While here, he stopped to pray at an already ancient Celtic church in the village and promised that, if successful in battle, he would build a tower for the church. He was, and he did.
Later the church formed the heart of an Augustinian Priory founded here, a fact which helps explain the enormous length of what was originally the chancel (but is now a burial enclosure). The priory continued in being until much of it was damaged in a fire in the early 1500s. The Prior, John Elphinstone, was subsequently tried in Aberdeen on a range of charges including murder and arson. After the Reformation in 1560, what was left of the priory was acquired by the Forbes family together with the surrounding estates. They built the nearby House of Monymusk in 1584 and lived there until the sale of the estate to the Grants in 1712. Meanwhile, the priory church was restored and rebuilt as a parish church, a role it continues to fulfil today, albeit in a form that has seen many changes over the centuries.
When the Grants purchased the estate from the Forbes, one of the items included in the sale was a small wooden box decorated in silver stored in the House of Monymusk. The Monymusk Reliquary is believed to have been made by monks on Iona in about 750, and is believed to contain one or more of the bones of St Columba. As a sacred battle ensign of Scotland, the Monymusk Reliquary is believed to have been shown to the Scottish troops before their victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The Grants put the Reliquary on sale in 1933 and it was purchased for the nation. It is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland.