1928: Ben “Two Gun” Fowler, cinema shooter 1868: Three Italian bandits

1681: Isabel Alison and Marian Harvey, Covenanters

January 26th, 2014 Headsman

We turn today to William Crookshank’s (certainly partisan) narrative of the hanging of two Scottish Covenanters on this date in Edinburgh, as told in his The history of the state and sufferings of the Church of Scotland.


On the 25th of December some of the students in the College of Edinburgh brought to the head of the Cowgate the effigy of the pope in his robes, with his keys, mitre, and triple crown; and, when they had excommunicated him, they carried him about in a chair, like that wherein he is elected at Rome, to the foot of the Blackfriars’ Wynd. The students, knowing the thing had taken air, gave out that they were to carry his holiness in procession to the Grassmarket, the place of the execution of criminals; whereupon the guards marched thither. Meanwhile the boys marched in procession by the Black-friars’ Wynd to the High-street, three of them going before with lighted torches. Being come thither they condemned his holiness to be burnt: accordingly the torchmen blew up the effigy with gun-powder, notwithstanding their being attacked by some soldiers commanded by Linlithgow and his son; whom they warned to beware whom he struck, since he had relations among them.

The Duke of York’s [the future James II -ed.] being now in Scotland sharpened the edge of the persecution; so that no less than twenty were executed in the course of this year 1681.

The sufferers had, it is true, declared against the king’s authority, for which many of them were hanged, and otherwise persecuted by their enemies, and’censured by their friends. They branded them as madmen, enemies to government and civil society; but it is very plain that they never opposed government or monarchy as such, but only wicked, perjured, and persecuting governors. These they did oppose, and that for the very same reasons that brought about the Revolution and the protestant succession.

I cannot express this better than in the words of the author of the Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, when speaking of the Torwood excommunication. Says he,

I desire the impartial reader to compare it with the memorials above-mentioned, [to wit, the memorial to the Prince of Orange from the people of Great Britain, to invite him to come to their assistance] and see if it be posible for any British protestant, who owns the justice of the Revolution, to reflect upon the zeal of these people, without blushing for himself and the whole nation, that they did not see and abhor the tyranny of those reigns sooner; then they had joined with those people instead of censuring their zeal; the Revolution had then been brought about without sovereign help at all; the Prince of Orange had then been called over, as peaceably as King George, to take possession of the crown; and the blood of near 20,000 people, who were one way or other murdered and destroyed by that now abdicated race of tyrants, had been saved. What a shame is it, says he, to us, and how much to the honour of these persecuted people, that they could thus see the treachery and tyranny of those reigns, when we saw it not; or rather, that they had so much honesty of principle, and obeyed so strictly the dictates of conscience, as to bear their testimony early, nobly, and gloriously to the truth of God and the rights of their country, both civil and religious; while we all, though seeing the same things, yet betrayed the cause of liberty and religion, by a sinful silence and a dreadful cowardice.

But suppose, through the treatment, the unacountable treatment they met with, they had gone a little beyond due bounds, and though sometimes their expressions were not so well chosen, can that either condemn the principles of religion and liberty upon which they acted; nay, or their actual disowning those tyrants, who, for nothing but the matters of their God and Saviour, had declared them outlaws, rebels and traitors? Besides, the blood of many was shed, against whom they could prove nothing, but what they extorted from them by their ensnaring questions. Nay, even some of the weaker sex were hanged or drowned on this score. But I shall relate the matters of fact as they happened in the order of time.

It was a dreadful affront to the Duke of York to find his holiness treated in such a manner, on that grand festival the 25th of December; and therefore the sycophant managers must not overlook such an indignity.

Accordingly, on the 4th of January, the masters of the college declared their abhorrence of what their scholars had done; and on the 6th, the council commanded the magistrates to order the college gates to be shut, and the classes to be dissolved. About this time several of the students were imprisoned, besides Mr Ridpath, which so exasperated the rest, that it is said, they threatened to burn the provost’s house at Priestfield, because the magistrates, who were patrons of the college, instead of protecting them, had acted violently against them; and in a few days the house of Priestfield was burnt.

Whereupon the council, on the 17th, issued a proclamation, offering 2000 merks and a remission, to any who should discover the actors: but it does not appear that any discovery was made …

The order of time leads me to the case of Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey, two young women, who were executed this month, to the perpetual disgrace of the bloody managers, who could have no acts of what they called rebellion, in the least, to lay to their charge.

When they were taken, I know not. Isobel Alison was apprehended at Perth, where she lived, only for speaking against the severity used to sundry good people there; for they could accuse her of nothing else. Marion Harvey was seized while going one day from Edinburgh to hear sermon in the fields, and was last year before the council. But though they had nothing against these two young women, they were resolved to shed their blood: and therefore upon what they owned at their examination they founded their indictment, and took away their lives. That the reader may have a specimen of the injustice of this period, that afterwards became common, I shall here insert the substance of their examination first before the council, and next before the lords of justiciary.

When Isobel Alison was before the council, she was interrogated as follows:

Q. Can you read the Bible?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you know the duty we owe to the civil magistrate?

A. When the magistrate carrieth the sword for God, according to what the scripture calls for, we owe him all due reverence; but when they overturn the work of God, and set themselves in opposition to him, it is the duty of his servants to execute his laws and ordinances on them.

Q. Do you own the Sanquhar declaration? [a speech disavowing Presbyterian allegiance to the government]

A. I do own it.

Marion Harvey’s examination before the council was upon the same points with that of her fellow-sufferer … Only, among other tilings, they said, Will you cast away yourself so? To which shy replied, I love my life as well as any of you, but would not redeem it upon sinful terms. They said, the rock, the cod and bobbins, were as fit for her to meddle with as those things. They offered her the assistance of ministers, but she would have none of their pro. vidiug

On the 17th of January they were brought before the Lords of Justiciary; for it was the constant practice at this time, the one day to bring such as fell into their hands before the council, and there by ensnaring questions, to bring them into a confession of such things as they accounted treason, and next day to prosecute them before the criminal court. These two women were accused for hearing at field-conventicles, harbouring Messrs Cargill, Cameron, &c. owning the Rutherglen and Sanquhar declarations, &c.

When Isobel Alison was before them, she was examined as follows:

Q. Do you abide by what you said the last day?

A. I am not to deny any thing of it. She owned she had converged with David Hackstoun, and disowned their authority.

Q. Do you disown us and the king’s authority in us?

A. I disown you all because you carry the sword against God, and not for him, and have, these nineteen or twenty years, made it your work to dethrone him, by swearing, year after year, against him and his work, and assuming that power to a human creature which is due to him alone, and have rent the members from their Head, Christ.

… Then they said, Your blood be on your own head, we shall be free of it. She answered, So said Pilate, but it is a question if it was so; and ye have nothing to say against me, but for owning of Christ’s truths and his persecuted members. They made no reply, but desired her to subscribe what she had owned, and, upon her refusing, did it for her.

Marion Harvey, before the justiciary, owned the Sanquhar declaration, &c. and then protested that they had nothing to say against her as to matter of fact; but only that she owned Christ and his truth, his persecuted gospel and members; of which she said, Ye have hanged some, others you have beheaded and quartered quick. To this they said nothing; but called those who were to sit on the jury, who appeared with reluctance. One of them said, He did not desire to be engaged in this matter; but he was obliged: then he desired that the confessions of the two prisoners might be read, because he knew not what they had to say against them. When he was ordered to hold up his hand and swear, he fell a-trembling. The jury being fixed, the confessions were read, and the advocate in a speech, aggravated every particular, in order to prove them guilty of treason. Some of the jury urged that there was no fact proved against them. The advocate said, But treason is fact; and taking himself again, he said, It is true, it is only treason in their judgment, but go on according to our law; and if you will not do it, I will proceed. The jury brought them in guilty on their own confession; however, the passing of the sentence was deferred till the 21st, when they were both condemned to be hanged at the Grassmarket on the 26th.

Meanwhile, on the 20th, the council enlarged the powers of the laird of Meldrum for apprehending those who were in the rebellion. The many searches which were made in consequence of this were most oppresive. The same day the magistrates of Edinburgh were ordered to call all the masters of coffee-houses before them, and obliged them to come under a bond of 5000 merks, to suffer no news-paper to be read in their houses, but such as are approved of by the officers of state.

Next day all the students in the college of Edinburgh were ordered to retire fifteen miles from that place, within twenty four hours, and not to come within these bounds without leave from the council, under the pain of being treated as seditious persons. A fine protestant government, to make such a splutter about burning the pope! But it was decent to compliment his Royal Highness the Duke!

On the 26th, Isobel Alison and Marion Harvey were executed according to their sentence. The reader will find what passed between them and Mr Riddel in the Cloud of Witnesses, together with their respective testimonies. When they were brought from the prison to the council-house, in order to be carried from thence to the place of execution, Marion Harvey said, with a surprising chearfulness and heavenenly transport, Behold, I hear my Moved saying unto me, Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. When in the council-house, Paterson bishop of Edinburgh (such was the spirit of the man!) said, Marion, you said you never would hear a curate, now you shall be forced to hear one; and immediately ordered one of his suffragans, whom he had prepared for the purpose, to pray. When he began, she said to her fellow-prisoner, Come, Isobel, let us sing the 23d Psalm; which they did, and thereby drowned the curate’s voice, and confounded their persecutors.

Their behaviour on the scaffold is not to be omitted. Isobel having sung the lxxxiv Psalm, and read Mark xvi, cried over the scaffold, and said, Rejoice in the Lord ye righteous; and again, I say, rejoice. She was not suffered to pray till she came to the foot of the ladder. As she went up, she cried out, ‘O be zealous, sirs, be zealous, be zealous! O love the Lord, all ye his servants! O love him; for in his favour is life!’ And added, ‘O ye his enemies, what will ye do? Whither will ye fly in that day? for now there is a dreadful day coming on all the enemies of Jesus Christ. Come out from among them, all ye that are the Lord’s people.’ Then she concluded, ‘Farewell all created comforts; farewell sweet Bible in which I delighted most, and which has been sweet to me since I came to prison; farewell Christian acquaintances. Now into thy hands I commit my spirit, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’ Then the executioner threw her over.

Marion Harvey likewise sung Psal. lxxxiv. and having read Mal. iii, she said, ‘I am come here to-day for avowing Christ to be Head of his church and King in Zion. O seek him, sirs, seek him and ye shall find him: I sought him and I found him; I held him, and would not let him go.’ Then she rehearsed briefly the heads of her written testimony. Going up the ladder she said, 0 my fair one, my lovely one, come away. And, sitting down on the ladder, she said, ‘I am not come here for murder; for they have no matter of fact to charge me with ; but only by judgment. I am about twenty years of age: at fourteen or fifteen I was a hearer of the curates and indulged; and while I was a hearer of these I was a blasphemer and Sabbath-breaker, and a chapter of the Bible was a burden to me; but since I heard this persecuted gospel, I durst not blaspheme nor break the Sabbath, and the Bible became my delight.’ Upon this the commanding officer called to the executioner to throw her over, which he did accordingly.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Women

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