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1615: Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney

February 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1615,* the tyrannical Earl of Orkney was beheaded in Edinburgh for treason.

Not this Patrick Stewart.

Ultimately a footnote in the sweep of Scottish history, the earl was — and remains — locally infamous for his decadence and cruelty. He persecuted “witches” gleefully. In fact, we have already met one in these pages: Alison Balfour, speciously accused of attempting to murder him. Stewart said that absent vigorous prosecution his subjects “wald all have becommit witches and warlockis for the people ar naturally inclynit thairto,” though the property forfeiture accompanying a witchcraft conviction might also have had something to do with it.

None of this had aught to do with the noble’s fall, although it was cited against him in passing; a treason charge for usurping royal authority arising from parochial jockeying for power did him in.**

It’s almost certainly just a scurrilous rumor — one of those stories of more Truth than truth — that the beheading had to be stayed a few days to let the savage earl bone up on the Lord’s prayer.

The headless lord does have a latter-day biography all his own, an out-of-print 1992 tome called Black Patie: The Life and Times of Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland. The same author has also written a volume about the earl’s equally despotic father, Robert Stewart.

* What would be 1615 to a modern reader, but what was then 1614 by the delayed onset of the legal new year. The specific month and date is courtesy of worldroots.com.

** They did in his son, too, whom Patrick Stewart instigated to press an uprising while the old man was awaiting the block; after the now-tourist-friendly Stewart castle succumbed to a siege, the boy was (separately) executed as well, extinguishing the noble title.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Infamous,Nobility,Scotland,The Worm Turns,Treason

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