1605: Niklaus von Gulchen, Nuremberg privy councillor 2010: An Iranian crack trafficker

1715: William Ainslie, Edinburgh Castle betrayer

December 24th, 2013 Headsman

Edinburgh, Scotland held a Christmas Eve 1715 hanging of a soldier for abortive plot in the abortive Jacobite rising of 1715

The plot was a bold conspiracy of Highlanders to seize Edinburgh Castle itself, which would have been every bit the coup it sounds like. Sergeant William Ainslie and two other soldiers of the garrison had been bribed to admit the plotters via a sally port.


(cc) image from Stephanie Kirby.

Once there, the Highlanders meant to seize the castle’s ample stock of weapons and cash, and also “fire three cannon; that when this signal should be heard by some men stationed on the opposite coast of Fife, a fire should be kindled on the heights; and that these beacons, continued northward from hill to hill, should, with the speed of a telegraph, apprise Mar of his advantage.”

One minor problem: the whole enterprise depended on the ability of at least 83 people to keep a secret, but “they were so far from carrying on their affairs privately, that a gentleman who was not concerned told me that he was in a house that evening, where eighteen of them were drinking, and heard the hostess say that they were powdering their hair to go to the attack of the Castle!” Even so, the word only barely got out in time, the conspirators self-defeating by showing up late (too much time powdering?) and with ladders that were too short.

William Ainslie, the sergeant who was planning to open the gate for the Highlanders, had to shout the alarm and play it off that way once he realized that the dawdling had wasted the opportunity, but he was soon found out and spectacularly hanged over the castle wall for his trouble. The inevitable hanging-ballad broadside (“The Lamentation, and Last Farewell, Of Serjeant William Ainslie, who was executed over the Castle-Wall of Edinburgh for High Treason and Treachery, on Monday the 24th of December, 1716″*) emphasizes the pecuniary motive at the expense of the patriotic, but maybe it should have been dedicated to the principle that loose lips sink ships.

Let all Bold Soldiers far and near,
That sees my dismal Fall,
Lament my sad and wretched End,
That’s brought my self in Thrall;
Here to the World I do declare,
The Castle to Betray.
Full Fifty Pounds I was to have,
for which I’m doom’d to Die.

My Name is William Ainslie,
A Serjeant Stout and Bold,
In Flanders I the French have Fought,
And would not be Control’d:
And Loyal was to King and Crown,
my Trust did ne’re Betray,
Till I was tempted with that Gold,
For which I’m Doom’d to Die.

While I did in the Castle ly,
In Irons close Confin’d
For my Dear Wife and Children all,
My Heart no Ease could find,
To GOD I did for Mercy cry,
As I in Fetters lay.
Both Night and Day to him I’le Pray,
Since I am Doom’d to Die.

Ah! wo be to that cursed Gold,
That did my Heart intice,
To act such a gross Treachery,
The Castle to Surprise;
But wo’s me, for my Treachery,
My Hour is drawing nigh.
For I most hang out o’re the Wall,
Most Just Deservedly.

Good People, pray do not revile,
My Wife and Children dear;
Whom I so dearly lov’d on Earth,
Lord to my Soul draw naer: [sic]
I hope in Mercy he’l appear,
For still to him I’ll cry;
Since I most Justly, am condemn’d,
Over the Wall to dy.

They told me a must hang some Days,
Over the Castle-Wall;
Until the Rope takes Fire and breaks,
Then to the Ground I fall:
But since that I must suffer here,
Unto the Lord, I’ll pray;
Take Warning by my shameful End,
I just deserve to dy.

Since many People here is come,
This Day to see me dy;
I hope their Prayers to God they’l send,
For me, before I dy:
My vital Breath will soon be gone,
With a strong Rope and Tree;
But yet I hope my Peace is made,
With God who lives on high.

Those that did cause my dismal End,
I do forgive them here;
For now my Life lyes at the Stake,
Oh! Lord, to me draw near:
My precious Soul I pray receive,
For unto Thee I’ll fly;
For I have acted Treason great,
And for it I must die.

I wish all People Warning take,
That’s come to see me die;
The World unto you I’ll leave,
For all Eternity:
I must away, farewel, adieu
My Wife and Children all;
For I must hang into the Air,
Over the Castle Wall.

All you that sees me here this Day,
I desire you all to pray;
That all my Sins God would forgive,
Since I am brough to die:
Let every one both far and near,
Take Warning now by me;
Your Trust, I pray, never betray,
For which you see me die.

FINIS.

* I believe this is misdated since the plot was clearly set for September 9, 1715

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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One thought on “1715: William Ainslie, Edinburgh Castle betrayer”

  1. Admin says:

    We noticed this item and the date, so did some digging.

    The hanging seems to have taken place a year later than the ballad document suggests.

    One of our number has access to newspaper archives, and came up with the following – you might be able to do some more digging to check the finding, and perhaps add to the story, if verified:

    It is reported in the newspaper of Thursday, December 27, 1716 that on 19th December 1716 that he was court martialled with two other soldiers on ‘Monday last’. He was sentenced to be hanged over the castle walls. The 19th December 1716 would be Wednesday so Monday would be 17th December.

    On Saturday, January 5, 1717 it was reported that the gallows had been erected for his execution on ‘Monday next’ which would make it 7th January 1717.

    On Saturday, January 12, 1717 it was reported that the body of the Sergeant hanged on the castle wall on Monday last was found lying at the foot of the rock, the rope having broken in the excessive wind.

    So that seem to confirm that he was hung on 7th January 1717.

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