Themed Set: The Ballad 1840: Francois Benjamin Courvoisier, for the murder of Lord Russell

1600: Jean Livingston, Lady Waristoun

July 5th, 2009 Headsman

At 4 o’clock in the morning this day — as a favor to her powerful father to limit the public spectacle — Jean Livingston lost her head for arranging the murder of her husband just three days before.

Provoked by one beating too many, Lady Waristoun (or Lady Warriston) got a servant to murder him in his bed on the night of July 1.

Robert Weir blew town — he wouldn’t be apprehended until 1604, whereupon he suffered one of the very few instances of execution on the breaking-wheel to occur in the British Isles — but the Lady and her nurse Janet Murdo were “caught red-handed”, an actual juridical concept in Scottish law which means what it says on the tin.

They were condemned to death by burning, which dad’s pull was able to mitigate for his daughter (but not the nurse), so

scho wes tare to the Girth Crosse upon the 5 day of Julii, and her heid struk fra her bodie at the Cannagait fit; quha diet verie patiently. Her nurische wes brunt at the same tyme, at 4 houres in the morneing, the 5 of Julii.

In the exceedingly brief time — about a day and a half — between sentence and execution, Lady Waristoun was reported to have undergone a wonderous transformation. The not-uninterested report* of her confessor offers these mournful final words, a stark contrast to her defiant state just after condemnation.

The occasion of my coming here is to show that I am, and have been, a great sinner, and hath offended the Lord’s Majesty; especially, of the cruel murdering of mine own husband, which, albeit I did not with mine own hands, for I never laid mine hands upon him all the time that he was murdering, yet I was the deviser of it, and so the committer. But my God hath been always merciful to me, and hath given me repentance for my sins; and I hope for mercy and grace at his Majesty’s hands, for his dear son Jesus Christ’s sake. And the Lord hath brought me hither to be an example to you, that you may not fall into the like sin as I have done. And I pray God, for his mercy, to keep all his faithful people from falling into the like inconvenient as I have done! And therefore I desire you all to pray to God for me, that he would be merciful to me!

Then, she had her head lopped off by the maiden while at the same hour Janet Murdo, much less wept for, was burnt alive at Castlehill.

This sudden and sensational fall of an elite, and allegedly beautiful, woman obviously made quite a splash, with printed accounts feeding almost inevitably into the Scots ballad tradition.

My mother was an ill woman,
In fifteen years she married me ;
I hadna wit to guide a man,
Alas! ill counsel guided me.

O Warriston, O Warriston,
I wish that ye may sink for sin;
I was but bare fifteen years auld,
When first I enter’d your yates within.

I hadna been a month married,
Till my gude Lord went to the sea;
I bare a bairn ere he came hame,
And set it on the nourice knee.

But it fell ance upon a day,
That my gude lord return’d from sea;
Then I did dress in the best array,
As blythe as ony bird on tree.

I took my young son in my arms,
Likewise my nourice me forebye;
And I went down to yon shore side,
My gude lord’s vessel I might spy.

My lord he stood upon the deck,
I wyte he hail’d me courteouslie;
“Ye are thrice welcome, my lady gay,
Wha’se aught that bairn on your knee?”

She turn’d her right and round about,
Says, “Why take ye sic dreads o’ me?
Alas! I was too young married,
To love another man but thee.”

“Now hold your tongue, my lady gay,
Nae mair falsehoods ye’ll tell to me;
This bonny bairn is not mine,
You’ve loved another while I was on sea.”

In discontent then hame she went,
And aye the tear did blin’ her e’e;
Says, “Of this wretch I’ll be revenged,
For these harsh words he’s said to me.”

She’s counsell’d wi’ her father’s steward,
What way she cou’d revenged be;
Bad was the counsel then he gave, –
It was to gar her gude lord dee.

The nourice took the deed in hand,
I wat she was well paid her fee;
She kiest the knot, and the loop she ran,
Which soon did gar this young lord dee.

His brother lay in a room hard by,
Alas! that night he slept too soun’;
But then he waken’d wi’ a cry,
I fear my brother’s putten down.

O get me coal and candle-light,
And get me some gude companie;
But before the light was brought,
Warriston he was gart dee.

They’ve ta’en the lady and fause nouriee,
In prison strang they hae them boun’;
The nouriee she was hard o’ heart,
But the bonny lady fell in swoon.

In it came her brother dear,
And aye a sorry man was he;
“I wou’d gie a’ the lands I heir,
O bonny Jean, .to borrow thee.”

“O borrow me, brother, borrow me–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
For I gart kill my ain gude lord,
And life is nae pleasure to me.”

In it came her mother dear,
I wyte a sorry woman was she;
“I wou’d gie my white monie and gowd,
O bonny Jean, to borrow thee.”

“Borrow me, mother, borrow me,–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
For I gart kill my ain gude lord,
And life’s now nae pleasure to me.”

Then in it came her father dear,
I wyte a sorry man was he;
Says, “Ohon! alas! my bonny Jean,
If I had you at hame wi’ me.

“Seven daughters I ha’e left at hame,
As fair women as fair can be;
But I would gie them ane by ane,
O bonny Jean, to borrow thee.”

“O borrow me, father, borrow me,–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
I that is worthy o’ the death,
It is but right that I shou’d dee.”

Than out it speaks the king himsell,
And aye as he steps in the fleer,
Says, “I grant you your life, lady,
Because you are of tender year.”

“A boon, a boon, my liege the king,
The boon I ask, ye’ll grant to me.”
“Ask on, ask on, my bonny Jean,
Whate’er ye ask, it’s granted be.”

Cause take me out at night, at night,
Lat not the sun upon me shine;
And take me to yon heading hill,
Strike aff this dowie head o’ mine.

Ye’ll take me out at night, at night,
When there are nane to gaze and see;
And ha’e me to yon heading hill,
And ye’ll gar head me speedilie.

They’ve ta’en her out at nine at night,
Loot not the sun upon her shine;
And had her to yon heading hill,
And headed her baith neat and fine.

Then out it speaks the king himsell,
I wyte a sorry man was he;
“I’ve travell’d east, I’ve travell’d west,
And sailed far beyond the sea,
But I never saw a woman’s face
I was sae sorry to see dee.

“But Warriston was sair to blame,
For slighting o’ his lady so;
He had the wyte o’ his ain death,
And his bonny lady’s overthrow.”

* Snappily titled, “A Worthy and Notable Memorial of the Great Work of Mercy which God wrought in the Conversion of Jean Livingstone Lady Warristoun, who was apprehended for the Vile and Horrible Murder of her own Husband, John Kincaid, committed on Tuesday, July 1, 1600, for which she was execute on Saturday following; Containing an Account of her Obstinacy, Earnest Repentance, and her Turning to God; of the Odd Speeches she used during her Imprisonment; of her Great and Marvellous Constancy; and of her Behaviour and Manner of Death: Observed by One who was both a Seer and Hearer of what was spoken.”

Part of the Themed Set: The Ballad.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Maiden,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Women

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2 Responses to “1600: Jean Livingston, Lady Waristoun”

  1. 1
    ExecutedToday.com » Themed Set: The Ballad Says:

    [...] 1187: Raynald of Chatillon, by Saladin 1600: Jean Livingston, Lady Waristoun [...]

  2. 2
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Second Annual Report: Once Bitten, Twice Die Says:

    [...] about the tuneful legacy of the ultimate sanction; its constituent posts found poetry about a Scottish murderess, a Victorian celebrity criminal and Oscar Wilde’s immortal Ballad of Reading Gaol … but [...]

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