Posts filed under 'Scotland'

1620: Thomas Dempster condemned

Add comment April 20th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1620, Thomas Dempster was condemned by a Scottish assize to execution for counterfeiting. No documentation specifying the execution date appears to be available but such sentences were commonly implemented almost immediately — either directly from the courtroom or within a couple of days.

The Dempster family of Muresk were baronial landowners who owed both privilege and surname to the hereditary rank of dempster. This curious office of “dooms-man” connects etymologically with judging (“deem”), the successor to a Gaelic position called the judex that once projected royal authority into the courtroom.

Over the centuries-long term, this pre-Norman holdover was on a downward trend towards obsolence; the dempster transitioned to being the pronouncer of the court’s sentences and “ultimately became the common hangman.”* (Source)

Nevertheless, in our man’s time the Muresk Dempsters had estate enough to squander, and the quarrelsome Thomas did yeoman work in that respect, blowing the family fortune on clan feuding that extended even to a violent rivalry with his own son, James.** The assize record would note him “altogidder sensles of that his miserable cairage, nawayis being movet thairwith, bot rather resolveing to rwn heidlongis in all godles and cruiket courses.”

Having been found in this degraded state guilty of forgery, he was condemned by the court “to be tane to the Castell-hill of Edinburgh, and thair his heid to be strukin frome his body; and all his moveable guidis and geir pertening to him to be escheit to his Maiesteis use, &c.”

* The office of the dempster was abolished in 1773.

** James and his team ambushed and injured the father in a rivalry over a woman, driving James to a life of banditry. Another son — James’s younger brother, confusingly also named Thomas Dempster — was snatched away from this noxious family atmosphere by a kindly uncle who gave him a continental education; this other better-favored Thomas Dempster grew up to become a noted ecclesiastical historian.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Pelf,Public Executions,Scotland,Uncertain Dates

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1830: Robert Emond

Add comment March 17th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1830, at Libberton’s Wynd in Edinburgh, Scotland, Robert Emond or Edmond was hanged for the brutal murders of his sister-in-law, Catherine Franks, a fifty-year-old widow, and her teenage daughter, Magdalene. They had lived in a village called Abbey, near Haddington.

The story of the killings is told in Martin Baggoley’s book, Scottish Murders. It’s a sad but familiar tale of family trouble and domestic violence.

The victims had been discovered by concerned neighbors on the afternoon of October 28, 1829. Neither of them had been seen for days, and Catherine’s pig was squealing continually from hunger in its sty.

Two men went to the Franks cottage to investigate and found Catherine’s body lying in the pigsty. Her throat had been slashed and, as the Newgate Calendar records, her rings, earrings and watch were missing. The neighbors’ first thought was for Magdalene, and they rushed inside the cottage through the open back door and found her in the bedroom. The girl had been beaten to death; there were eight distinct injuries to her head and her skull had been fractured several times.

The doctor who examined the bodies determined Catherine and Magdalene had probably been killed on either Sunday night, October 25, or early Monday morning. The house had been ransacked, drawers had been pulled out of and their contents dumped on the floor, and the floor was covered with blood, including distinct bloody footprints.

The police didn’t have to look far for a suspect: a neighbor told them Catherine had recently accused her brother-in-law of stealing from both her and his wife, the latter also named Magdalene. Robert had then obliquely threatened her, saying, “If you won’t keep away from here and your sister, who are you are making as cross-grained as yourself, I won’t answer for the consequences.”

Although Robert Emond was of “respectable” parentage, had a good education and had been honorably discharged from the Army, he had a reputation for violence even as a youth and the neighbor kids called him “the fiend.”

The Emonds had been married for less than three years by the time Catherine and Magdalene Franks were murdered, but already the relationship was breaking on the rock of Robert’s violent temper and dissatisfaction with his life.

Unusually for that time, Magdalene Emond owned her own successful business and was of independent means, but Robert had had several financial failures and resented his wife’s success. He also resented Catherine because he felt she was continually criticizing him to everybody and making his marital problems worse.

A broadside about the crimes and Emond’s execution noted,

He seems to have brought himself to think that he was utterly despised by Mrs. Franks and his wife, and on being opposed by them in any of his foolish speculations in trade, although for his own ultimate good, was considered by him as resulting from that deep-rooted [antipathy], as he thought, they treated him with.

Guy B. H. Logan, in his 1928 book Dramas of the Dock: True Stories of Crime, described Robert as “a morose, sullen man, given to brooding over real or fancied wrongs, which, in his warped mind, became intolerable injuries,” and suggested he might have been mentally unbalanced, pointing out that there was a history of mental illness in his family.

When police went to Emond’s home in North Berwick, neighbors there told them Robert and his wife had had a violent, screaming argument after she refused to lend him money, and he’d beaten her and tried to throw her down the garden well. During their quarrel, the witnesses said, Magdalene had screamed that she knew Robert had taken money from her and her sister.

When questioned, Robert’s wife admitted the argument had taken place. Magdalene said they’d slept in separate rooms since their fight, and she kept her bedroom door locked from the inside at night.

Catherine Franks’s younger daughter, who was also named Catherine, lived with her aunt and uncle to maximize the reader’s confusion: we’ve got Catherine and Magdalene as victims, survived by Magdalene and Catherine in the killer’s household. The latter Catherine reported that she’d tried to go into Robert’s room at eight o’clock on Monday morning to give him a cup of tea, but found the door shut from the inside.

Magdalene became worried that her husband had “done himself some mischief” and summoned two men, who got a ladder and looked in the bedroom window. Robert wasn’t there and the bed had not been slept in. When he returned several hours later, he was dishelved and agitated.

The little girl would later testify at the trial, “He was wild-like, and trembling a lot. His eyes were fixed and staring.” He wouldn’t say where he’d been. His boots and stockings were wet and little Catherine saw him cleaning them later.

Suspicious, police searched the house and found Robert’s vest and pants, which were damp and bloodstained. They also found a shirt which had a bloody handprint on the fabric in spite of someone’s attempt to clean it. They also confiscated his boots.

Under arrest on two counts of murder, Robert Emond steadfastly maintained his innocence. He wrote the following letter to his wife while in custody:

My dear wife,

I am now confined in Calton Jail charged with the murder of your sister and daughter, of which I declare to you I am perfectly innocent, though I have done as much as deserves the gallows.

My dear Magdalene, I am sorry and even wish to take my own life when I think upon what I have done to you. I can’t rest night or day. I can’t rest night or day. I confess that I am a great sinner and nothing hurts me more than to think that I am suspicion of the crime of murder. I assure you that I am perfectly innocent of the crime laid to my charge and I hope God Almighty who sees into all things will be my advocate on the day of the trial.

I am aware the people are inveterate against me, because the proof, in their opinion, is so much against me. I again, my dearest Magdalene, declare I am innocent, although at this time my mind is so much affected that I hardly know what I say.

I have been examined before the Sheriff of Edinburgh several times but I think they can’t prove nothing against me. The public are aware I understand of the iron heels of my shoes corresponding with some marks at Mrs. Frank’s [sic] house and with a bloody shirt found in my house, which you can prove was occasioned by the bleeding of my knows, or you know better by the blood that flowed from your head the Sunday preceding that most horrid murder. I understand that the authorities in Edinburgh are anxious to discover my old coat, but I hope they never shall.

My dearest wife, my name has been branded in Edinburgh by illiterate stationers and I suppose that even in North Berwick is held in as much dread as the notorious murderers Burke and Hare. I must allow suspicions are against me that is nothing. I again implore you to banish from your mind the idea [that I am] a murderer of your sister and niece.

My love to all your friends, for friends I have none. Would that God take me to himself.

Robert Emond

Robert was tried in February. The prosecution argued that he’d killed Catherine Franks to get revenge, and Magdalene Franks because she was a witness, and then tore the house apart and stole Catherine’s jewelry to make it look like a robbery.

Some local witnesses who saw Robert on October 26 testified, reporting that he had “blood about his mouth, both above and below,” and that he complained that Catherine Franks was ruining his marriage and said, “This is a terrible business. I am so confused I don’t know what I am doing.” He told a friend that “the devil had been very busy with him.”

Robert pleaded not guilty and claimed the blood on his clothes came from a nosebleed, the injuries his wife sustained when he beat her, or a chicken he’d killed. The coat he mentioned in his letter never did turn up, but one witness testified that he’d seen Robert wearing it shortly after the murders and it had a “wet, reddish stain” on the sleeve.

But there wasn’t a lot he could say about the bloody footprints at the crime scene: a local cobbler testified and said he’d compared the prints to Robert Emond’s boots and “it was a most unusual design and they matched the heels of Emond’s boots perfectly.”

The jury deliberated an hour before convicting him, and after his conviction he finally confessed. In spite of several attempts at suicide while in jail, Robert lived to be hanged five weeks later. On the scaffold he admitted his crime and said he deserved to die. His body was dissected at the University of Edinburgh, as per the custom.

* Line breaks have been added to this letter for readability.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions,Scotland

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1663: Alexander Kennedy, forger of false bonds and writts

March 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1663, Alexander Kennedy was hanged at the Cross of Edinburgh for forging false bonds and writs, whose particulars we discover in The Records of the Proceedings of the Justiciary Court, Edinburgh, 1661-1678.


Edinbr. 24 feb. 1663. Deput Cuningham pt.

Alexander Kennedy, sometimetime Porter in the Castle of Edr., now prisoner, dilated and accused for the crime following, viz. for that notwithstanding of the common, municipall Laws and constant practise of this kingdome, the forgers, Counterfeiters and Devisers up and Users of false Bonds, obligations and other Writts, are to be punished be tinsell of their lives and moveable estate and especially by the 22d Act, 23 Parl. Ja. 6, it is statute and ordained, that whosoever makes any false writ or is accessory to the making thereof shall be punished with the pains due to the Committers of falsehood, which by the constant practise of this kingdome is the pain of Tinsell of Life and moveable estate, and that it shall not be but that after Tryall of the Writt quarrelled it be found false the passing from or Declaration of the Party that he will not use the same shall no ways free him from the punishment due to the committers of falsehood as at more length is contained in the said Acts whereupon it is subsumed that the Pannell has forged, feinzied, counterfeited and made up the six Bonds, Obligations, and Contracts under written, four of the which Bonds are alledged granted by the decast John Renton of Lamberton, therein designed Constable of the Castle of Edinbr., to the deceast Dame Agnes Renton, Countess of Levin, all dated 17 Octor. 1648, by each of which four Bonds, the said umq John Renton granted him to have borrowed (here follows the contents of the Bonds as they are made payable to the Lady and her Daughter, then follows the tenor of a Contract made up by the Pannell betwixt himself and Lamberton, be which he is obliged to pay 3000£ to the Pannell upon his delivery of him of the forsaid six Bonds by the Lady Leven’s warrand, and Alexr. upon receipt of the forsaid sum is obliged to deliver tye Bonds and the Lady’s warrand, and subsumes that the Pannell is the forger of all these Writts, or airt and part, and that the Lo: of Session has found so by a Decreet of Improbation, dated 22 July last, and finds that the Pannell is an infamous and perjured person, and has remmitted him to be criminally tryed, and ordained the King’s Advocate to process him, which being found by an Assize, he ought to be punished with the Tinsell of Life and moveables, to the terror and example of others.

Mr. And. Birnie, Pror. for the Pannell, alledges the Dittay is not relevant, because it does not condescend wherein the Pannell is forger of the Writts lybelled, whether in the Subscription of the principall party, granter, or Subscriptions of the Witnesses, or date, or some other substantiall head. 2d. Nonrelevat accessory or user because by the Act of Parliat. the User of a false Writte unless he byde by it is not liable to the punishment of falsehood. Neither is Accession relevant unless the way of his accession be condescended upon, frae which Condescendance a Defence may result. 3d. The Lybell non relevat in so far as it concludes Tinsell of Life and Goods, because the Act of Parliamt. lybelled on does not express the Punishment, but referrs to prior Acts, and it is clear both from K. Jas. the 5th and Q. Mary‘s Acts that the Punishment is restricted to Imprisonment, Banishment, etc. which is placed in Arbitrio Judicis.

My Lo: Advocate to all this oppones the Dittay as it is lybelled, and the Act of Parlt. whereupon it is founded bearing the punishment of falsehood to be inflicted on such as are forgers and users of false Writts, or art and part thereof, and both the Act of Parliament and custom of the Justice Court has determined the pain to be loss of Life and Moveables.

Duplys Birnie to the last part of the Advocate’s Alledgiance, that it is to be understood only as to falsifying Writts that can proceed only from authority, and oppones the Act of Parliament.

The Justice Depute ordains the Dittay, notwithstanding of the Answer, to pass to the Tryall of an Assize. The Assize being sworn, the King’s Advocate produces the Lo: of Session’s Decreet of Improbation per modum probationis, and thereupon the Assize finds the Pannell guilty as art and part, accessory and user of the false Writts mentioned in the Dittay, conform to the Decreet of Session. Vide sentence 12th instant.

I repeat here my Observe which I made on Birnie’s sentence day of 1662. [I’m unsure what this alludes to -ed.]

Edinbr 12 March 1663. Deput Cuningham.

Alexr. Kennedy convict ut supra of falsehood, sentenced to be hanged at the Cross of Edinburgh.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Pelf,Public Executions,Scotland

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1591: Agnes Sampson, North Berwick witch

1 comment January 28th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1591, Agnes Sampson, the “Wise Wife of Keith”, went to the stake at Edinburgh during the North Berwick Witch Trials.

Perhaps Scotland’s most notorious witch hunt, the 1590-1591 sweep caught up something approaching 70 supposed sorcerers thanks to the king’s security panic after dangerous North Sea storms had beset the sea voyages uniting King James VI of Scotland and his new wife Queen Anne of Denmark. An inquisition in Denmark had made witches the culprit, and the young James — amusingly described by one commenter as “a superstitious and distrustful poltroon”* — opened an inquiry of his own as soon as he returned to native heather. His subsequent obsession with witchcraft is one of the signal characteristics of his reign, immortalized in literature via Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

James turned 24 in the summer of 1590, his short life already buffeted by fratricidal court politics (his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, lost her head; the regents who subsequently jostled over control of James had a frightening tendency to violent death). However misplaced upon magicians, his fear was well-founded; James’s cousin Lord Bothwell, himself escaped from arrest during the North Berwick scare, openly plotted against James throughout the early 1590s — one occasion coming “with fire to the king’s door, with hammers to the queen’s door” and on another surprising him in a vulnerable position during his morning toilet, causing the king to exclaim, “Came they to seek his life? let them take it — they would not get his soul.”

Peril to life and soul everywhere stretched into James’s world from the world beyond. “Our enemie is over craftie, and we over weake,” James would write in his remarkable 1597 disquisition on black magic, Daemonologie: Satan’s earthly minions so mighty that “They can rayse stormes and tempestes in the aire, either upon Sea or land.”


In an illustration from Daemonologie, James personally interrogates witches.

A woman named Geillis Duncan, maid to the deputy mayor of a small town near Edinburgh, was the fountainhead of the the North Berwick trials, when her suspicious master tortured her into admitting to witchcraft. King James personally joined the ensuing interrogations which saw her denounce several dozen Edinburghers as fellow necromancers, among them our day’s principal — a matronly widow named Agnes Sampson, who was a respected “wise woman” and folk healer much in demand among Edinburgh’s elites.

In Duncan’s involuntary narration, this woman “was the elder Witch” and when she “stood stiffely in the deniall of all that was laide to her charge” they dragged her to prison and put her to torture, also shaving her hairless in search of the inevitable small disfigurement that would be prejudicially construed her witches’ mark — “and forasmuch as by due examination of witchcraft and witches in Scotland, it hath latelye beene found that the Deuill dooth generallye marke them with a priuie marke, by reason the Witches haue confessed themselues, that the Diuell dooth lick them with his tung in some priuy part of their bodie, before hee dooth receiue them to be his seruants, which marke commonly is giuen them vnder the haire in some part of their bodye.”

We’re quoting here the 1591 pamphlet Newes from Scotland, one of the key primary sources (and justifications) of the witch trials which was issued from a pen very near to the king’s own hand. Having endured the cruel torture of having her hair wrenched (“thrawn”) by ropes for an hour, Newes from Scotland reports, Sampson broke down when an incriminating wart was discovered upon her bared pudenda.

the said Agnis Tompson confessed that the Divell being then at North Barrick Kerke attending their comming in the habit or likenes of a man, and seeing that they tarried over long, he at their comming enjoyned them all to a pennance, which was, that they should kisse his Buttockes, in signe of duetye to him: which being put over the Pulpit barre, everye one did as he had enjoyned them: and having made his ungodly exhortations, wherein he did greatlye enveighe against the King of Scotland, he received their oathes for their good and true service towards him, and departed: which doone, they returned to Sea, and so home againe.

At which time the witches demaunded of the Divel why he did beare such hatred to the King, who answered, by reason the King is the greatest enemy he hath in the worlde: all which their confessions and depositions are still extant upon record.

Item, the saide Agnis Sampson confessed before the Kings Majestie sundrye thinges which were so miraculous and strange, as that his Maiestie saide they were all extreame lyars, wherat she answered, she would not wishe his Maiestie to suppose her woords to be false, but rather to beleeve them, in that she would discover such matter unto him as his majestie should not any way doubt off.

And therupon taking his Majestie a little aside, she declared unto him the verye woordes which passed betweene the Kings Majestie and his Queene at Upslo in Norway the first night of their mariage, with their answere eache to other: whereat the Kinges Majestie wondered greatlye, and swore by the living God, that he beleeved that all the Divels in hell could not have discovered the same: acknowledging her woords to be most true, and therefore gave the more credit to the rest which is before declared.

One can see the work this tract — circulated as its title implies in England, where James was already being set up to inherit rule from the aging Queen Elizabeth — effects as propaganda: James as “the greatest enemy [the Devil] hath in the worlde”; James as the savvy and thorough interrogator too worldly to be taken by Agnes Sampson’s crazy stories until she proved them with a conveniently unfalsifiable private conference. Definitely no superstitious poltroon! Why, it was only by his superlative faith that James earned the divine favor required to overcome his adversaries’ weather machinations.

She confessed that she tooke a blacke Toade, and did hang the same up by the heeles, three daies, and collected and gathered the venome as it dropped and fell from it in an Oister shell, and kept the same venome close covered, untill she should obtaine any parte or peece of foule linnen cloth, that had appertained to the Kings Majestie, as shirt, handkercher, napkin or any other thing which she practised to obtaine by meanes of one John Kers, who being attendant in his Majesties Chamber, desired him for olde acquaintance betweene them, to helpe her to one or a peece of such a cloth as is aforesaide, which thing the said John Kers denyed to helpe her too, saying he could not help her too it.

And the said Agnis Tompson** by her depositions since her apprehension saith, that if she had obtained any one peece of linnen cloth which the King had worne and fouled, she had bewitched him to death, and put him to such extraordinary paines, as if he had beene lying upon sharp thornes and endes of Needles.

Moreover she confessed that at the time when his Majestie was in Denmarke, she being accompanied with the parties before specially named, tooke a Cat and christened it, and afterward bound to each parte of that Cat, the cheefest partes of a dead man, and severall joynts of his bodie, and that in the night following the saide Cat was conveied into the midst of the sea by all these witches sayling in their riddles or Cities as is aforesaide, and so left the saide Cat right before the Towne of Lieth in Scotland: this doone, there did arise such a tempest in the Sea, as a greater hath not beene scene: which tempest was the cause of the perrishing of a Boate or vessell comming over from the towne of Brunt Iland to the towne of Lieth, wherein was sundrye Jewelles and riche giftes, which should have been presented to the now Queen of Scotland, at her Majesties comming to Lieth.

Againe it is confessed, that the said christened Cat was the cause that the Kinges Majesties Ship at his comming foorth of Denmarke, had a contrary winde to the rest of his Ships, then being in his companye, which thing was most strange and true, as the Kings Majestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the Shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarye and altogither against his Majestie: and further the saide witche declared, that his Majestie had never come safelye from the Sea, if his faith had not prevailed above their ententions.

Moreouer the said Witches being demaunded how the Divell would use them when he was in their company, they confessed that when the Divell did receive them for his servants, and that they had vowed themselues unto him, then he would Carnallye use them, albeit to their little pleasure, in respect of his colde nature: and would doo the like at sundry other times.

The History of Witchcraft podcast does a deep dive on the North Berwick trials in episode 9 which indulges detail (from about 25:40) on the logistics of witch-burning executions. This episode is part of a whole series on witchy King James that also compasses episodes 7, 8, and 10.

* Ray Defalque and A.J Wright, “In the Name of God: Why Agnes Sampson and Eufame McCalyean were burned at the stake” in Bulletin of Anesthesia History, July 2004. The interest in the case from this unusual-to-Executed Today source is that the charges against Sampson included those of witcherous midwifery, to wit, “remov[ing] Lady Hirmestone’s pain and sickness the night of her labor” and doing the same for Eufame McCalyean. As a result, “several authors have suggested that obstetrical analgesia started in Edinburgh in 1591,” an interpretation that Defalque and Wright, both anesthesiologists, reject.

** Newes from Scotland puts this part of the confession into the mouth of a more historically elusive woman called “Agnis Thompson”: many scholars believe that Sampson and Thompson are the same person.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Scotland,The Supernatural,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1679: Five Covenanter prisoners from the Battle of Bothwell Bridge

Add comment November 25th, 2017 Headsman

From The Original secession magazine, Volume 15 (1878), reprinting a public letter that had previously appeared in The People’s Journal:

Sir, —

Our boasted freedom is not so highly prized as it ought to be because we have always enjoyed it; but our forefathers struggled hard for it, in many cases even unto death. In the long array of Scottish patriots the Covenanters in many respects stand preeminent, as they wrestled both for religious and civil liberty; and though the line of duty was often made sharp as a razor’s edge, they refused to cross it by a hair’s-breadth, lest in doing so they should deny their Master. Five of the prisoners taken at Bothwell Bridge, though they had no connection with Bishop Sharp’s death, were executed at the place where he had been killed six months previously in order to terrify others. Their lives were offered them if they would sign the bond acknowledging their appearance at Bothwell Bridge to be rebellion, and binding them not to rise in arms against the King; but they chose rather to be crushed under the iron heel of despotism than to save their lives by a sinful compliance. Their joint and individual testimonies, and also their dying speeches, breathing the fragrance of heaven, are in Naphtali, and are a spirited defence of that covenanted work of reformation which they soiled with their blood. Though unlearned, and occupying a humble sphere in society, they were indeed Christ’s nobility, and their dying words have been quoted to shew what Christianity cau do for man; but, as your space is valuable, I only crave room for one extract from the dying speech of John Clyde, who was about 21 years of age. When at the foot of the ladder, while his four brethren were hanging before him, to the assembled crowd of spectators he said —

I bless the Lord for keeping me straight. I desire to speak it to the commendation of free grace, and this I am speaking from my own experience, that there are none who will lippen to God and depand upon Him for direction but they shall be kept straight and right. But to be promised to be kept from tribulation, that is not the bargain; for He hath said that through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom. He deals not with us as Satan does, for Satan lets us see the bonniest side of the temptation; but our Lord Jesus lets us see the roughest side and the blackest. After that the sweetest thing comes, and He tells us the worst thing that will happen to us. For He hath not promised to keep us from trouble; but He hath promised to be with us in it, and what needs more? T bless the Lord for keeping me to this very hour, for little would I have thought a twelvemonth since that the Lord would have taken a poor ploughman lad, and have honoured me so highly as to make me first appear for Him, and then keep me straight, and now hath kept me to this very hour to lay down my life for Him.

These five martyrs were hung in chains to rot, but the greatest risk did not deter an aged couple from taking them down and burying tbem; and 49 years afterwards, when a gravestone was set up to their memory, some of their bones and clothes were found unconsumed. Fully 70 years ago this gravestone was broken, and for a long time the only thing to mark the place was the uncultivated bit of sward where they are resting. Yesterday a handsome and durable stone, designed from the former cue, and bearing an exact copy of its inscription, was erected by John Whyte Melville, Esq.,* the worthy and respected Convener of the County, and is enclosed by the substantial wall which he built this spring. The inscriptions are: —

Here lies Thos. Brown,
James Wood, Andrew Sword,
John Weddell, & John Clyde,
Who suffered martyrdom on Magus Muir
For their adherence to the word of God
And Scotland’s Covenanted work of Reformation.

Nov. 25, 1679.

On the reverse side: —

‘Cause we at Bothwel did appear,
Perjurious oaths refused to swear;
‘Cause we Christ’s cause would not condemn,
We were sentenc’d to death by men
Who raged against us in such fury,
Our dead bodies they did not bury,
But up on Poles did hing us high,
Triumphs of Babel’s victory.
Our lives we feared not to the death,
But constant proved to our last breath.

Restored 1877.

Andrew Gullan‘s stone, which had long been illegible, but which Mr. Melville caused to be renewed, was also re-erected yesterday in the little copse at Claremont. Mr. Melville’s munificence in this matter deserves the highest praise, and every true Scotchman must feel grateful to him.

Can Scotland e’er forget that cause, F
So dear in times long fled,
When for Christ’s Covenant, Crown, and Laws
Her noblest blood was shed?

No! — Buried memories shall arise
From out each hallowed spot, where lies,
‘Neath turf or heath-bell red,
Her martyr’d worthies. And, again,
Her Covenanted King shall reign.

Let the community show their gratitude to Mr. Melville by protecting these gravestones from thoughtless and malicious persons.

I am, &c.,

D. Hay Fleming.
St Andrews, 11th Dec. 1877.

* I believe the writer alludes to the father of novelist George John Whyte-Melville.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Gibbeted,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason,Volunteers

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1306: Simon Fraser, William Wallace comrade in arms

Add comment September 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1306, Scottish patriot Simon Fraser was drawn and quartered in London.

This Norman-descended lord was one of the side-switching nobles during the wars of William Wallace, but after completing the full circuit from Wallace to Edward I and back again, he unexpectedly decided to lash himself to St. Andrew‘s cross for good.

Perhaps he could tell where the wind was blowing, and not just for his historical reputation: Fraser’s former ally, “Red” Comyn, went down the other fork in the road, submitting himself to an irresistible English invasion the better to devote his energies to his longshot horse in the confusing Scottish regnal derby.

Comyn’s reward was to be personally daggered to death at the altar of Greyfriars Church by Robert the Bruce.


The murder of John Comyn.

But no amount of royal sacrilege could arrest the popular fad for cutting a deal, and as celebrated in this History of the Frasers,

Every man of influence in the Kingdom, except Sir Simon Fraser, Sir William Wallace, and the band of patriots who comprised the garrison of Stirling, followed the example of Cumming [Comyn] … The patriots were proclaimed outlaws and their estates forfeited, and they ultimately sacrificed their noble lives in the undying service of their country. The redoubted Sir William Wallace continued most deservedly to be the idol of his countrymen for the glorious part which he took in establishing the independence of his fatherland, but “if to him be due the glory of being the first to awaken Scotland from her ignominious slumber, his efforts were nobly seconded by Sir Simon Fraser, who alone of the aristocracy was disposed to view with envy the merit which called his hero to command.”

Fraser outlived Wallace by a year, persisting in the field “bold as Caesar” which supposedly led a couple of Scottish knights imprisoned in the Tower to cockily wager their heads that the English would never corral him.*

Fraser suffered the torment of being hanged and cut down still alive for beheading, the spectacle of a double death (with the disemboweling part mercifully saved for posthumous application). His head was set on a spike on London Bridge beside Wallace’s, and his mangled trunk hung in chains under guard lest any soul sensitive to Scotch nationalism or mephitis should undertake to cut it down.

For all that he’s not even the most famous Simon Fraser to be executed by the English.

* Edward collected his prize; you can read all about it as an aside in this ballad on the execution of Fraser.

Sire Herbert of Morham, feyr knyht ant bold,
For the love of Frysel ys lyf wes ysold.
A wajour he made, so hit wes ytold,
Ys heued of to smhyte yef me him brohte in hold,
Wat so bytyde.
Sory wes he thenne,
Tho he myhte him kenne
Thourh the toun ryde.

Thenne seide ys scwyer a word anon-ryht:
“Sire, we beth dede; ne helpeth hit no wyht!”
(Thomas de Boys the scwyer wes to nome.)
“Nou Ychot oure wajour turneth ous to grome,
So Y bate!”
Y do ou to wyte,
Here heued was ofsmyte
Byfore the Tour gate.

Sir Herbert of Morham, a fair and bold knight,
For the love of Fraser his life was sold.
A wager he made, as it was told,
To have his head cut off if they captured Fraser,
Whatever betide.
Sorry was he then,
When he might see him
Ride through the town.

Then his squire spoke a word immediately:
“Sir, we’re dead; there’s no creature to help us!”
(Thomas de Bois was the squire’s name.)
“Now I know that our wager brings us to harm,
So my courage ends!”
I give you to know,
Their heads were cut off
Before the Tower gate.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1746: Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino, Jacobites

Add comment August 18th, 2017 Horace Walpole

(Thanks to prolific litterateur and Whig M.P. Horace Walpole for the correspondence we repurpose here as a guest post on the beheadings of Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino. Both men were captured upon the great wreck at Culloden of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. In the service of readability we’ve taken the liberty of adding line breaks and eliding Walpole’s observations on general news and society gossip not touching the Jacobite trials.)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 1, 1746.

I am this moment come from the conclusion of the greatest and most melancholy scene I ever yet saw you will easily guess it was the trials of the rebel Lords. As it was the most interesting sight, it was the most solemn and fine: a coronation is a puppet-show, and all the splendour of it idle; but this sight at once feasted one’s eyes and engaged all one’s passions.

It began last Monday; three parts of Westminster-hall were inclosed with galleries, and hung with scarlet; and the whole ceremony was conducted with the most awful solemnity and decency, except in the one point of leaving the prisoners at the bar, amidst the idle curiosity of some crowd, and even with the witnesses who had sworn against them, while the Lords adjourned to their own House to consult.

No part of the royal family was there, which was a proper regard to the unhappy men, who were become their victims.

One hundred and thirty-nine Lords were present, and made a noble sight on their benches frequent and full! The Chancellor was Lord High Steward; but though a most comely personage with a fine voice, his behaviour was mean, curiously searching for occasion to bow to the minister that is no peer, and consequently applying to the other ministers, in a manner, for their orders; and not even ready at the ceremonial. To the prisoners he was peevish; and instead of keeping up to the humane dignity of the law of England, whose character it is to point out favour to the criminal, he crossed them, and almost scolded at any offer they made towards defence.

I had armed myself with all the resolution I could, with the thought of their crimes and of the danger past, and was assisted by the sight of the Marquis of Lothian in weepers for his son who fell at Culloden — but the first appearance of the prisoners shocked me! their behaviour melted me!

Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Cromartie are both past forty, but look younger.

Lord Kilmarnock is tall and slender, with an extreme fine person: his behaviour a most just mixture between dignity and submission; if in any thing to be reprehended, a little affected, and his hair too exactly dressed for a man in his situation; but when I say this, it is not to find fault with him, but to show how little fault there was to be found.

Lord Cromartie is an indifferent figure, appeared much dejected, and rather sullen: he dropped a few tears the first day, and swooned as soon as he got back to his cell.

For Lord Balmerino, he is the most natural brave old fellow I ever saw: the highest intrepidity, even to indifference. At the bar he behaved like a soldier and a man; in the intervals of form, with carelessness and humour.

He pressed extremely to have his wife, his pretty Peggy, with him in the Tower. Lady Cromartie only sees her husband through the grate, not choosing to be shut up with him, as she thinks she can serve him better by her intercession without: she is big with child and very handsome; so are their daughters.

When they were to be brought from the Tower in separate coaches, there was some dispute in which the axe must go — old Balmerino cried, “Come, come, put it with me.” At the bar, he plays with his fingers upon the axe, while he talks to the gentleman-gaoler; and one day somebody coming up to listen, he took the blade and held it like a fan between their faces. During the trial, a little boy was near him, but not tall enough to see; he made room for the child and placed him near himself.

When the trial began, the two Earls pleaded guilty; Balmerino not guilty, saying he could prove his not being at the taking of the castle of Carlisle, as was laid in the indictment.

Then the King’s counsel opened, and Serjeant Skinner pronounced the most absurd speech imaginable; and mentioned the Duke of Perth, “who,” said he, “I see by the papers is dead.”

Then some witnesses were examined, whom afterwards the old hero shook cordially by the hand.

The Lords withdrew to their House, and returning demanded, of the judges, whether one point not being proved, though all the rest were, the indictment was false? to which they unanimously answered in the negative. Then the Lord High Steward asked the Peers severally, whether Lord Balmerino was guilty! All said, “guilty upon honour,” and then adjourned, the prisoner having begged pardon for giving them so much trouble.

While the lords were withdrawn, the Solicitor-General Murray (brother of the Pretender‘s minister) officiously and insolently went up to Lord Balmerino, and asked him, how he could give the Lords so much trouble, when his solicitor had informed him that his plea could be of no use to him Balmerino asked the bystanders who this person was and being told, he said, “Oh, Mr. Murray! I am extremely glad to see you; I have been with several of your relations; the good lady, your mother, was of great use to us at Perth.”

Are not you charmed with this speech? how just it was as he went away, he said, “They call me Jacobite; I am no more a Jacobite than any that tried me: but if the Great Mogul had set up his standard, I should have followed it, for I could not starve.” The worst of his case is, that after the battle of Dumblain, having a company in the Duke of Argyll‘s regiment, he deserted with it to the rebels, and has since been pardoned. Lord Kilmarnock is a presbyterian, with four earldoms in him, but so poor since Lord Wilmington’s stopping a pension that my father had given him, that he often wanted a dinner.

Cromartie was receiver of the rents of the King’s second son in Scotland, which, it was understood, he should not account for; and by that means had six hundred a-year from the Government: Lord Elibank, a very prating, impertinent Jacobite, was bound for him in nine thousand pounds, for which the Duke is determined to sue him.

When the Peers were going to vote, Lord Foley withdrew, as too well a wisher; Lord Moray, as nephew of Lord Balmerino — and Lord Stair — as, I believe, uncle to his great-grandfather. Lord Windsor, very affectedly, said, “I am sorry I must say, guilty upon my honour.” Lord Stamford would not answer to the name of Henry, having been christened Harry — what a great way of thinking on such an occasion! I was diverted too with old Norsa, the father of my brother’s concubine, an old Jew that kept a tavern; my brother, as auditor of the exchequer, has a gallery along one whole side of the court: I said, “I really feel for the prisoners!” old Issachar replied, “Feel for them! pray, if they had succeeded, what would have become of all us?”

When my Lady Townshend heard her husband vote, she said, “I always knew my Lord was guilty, but I never thought he would own it upon his honour.” Lord Balmerino said, that one of his reasons for pleading not guilty, was, that so many ladies might not be disappointed of their show.

On Wednesday they were again brought to Westminster-hall, to receive sentence; and being asked what they had to say, Lord Kilmarnock, with a very fine voice, read a very fine speech, confessing the extent of his crime, but offering his principles as some alleviation, having his eldest son (his second unluckily was with him,) in the Duke’s army, fighting for the liberties of his country at Culloden, where his unhappy father was in arms to destroy them.

He insisted much on his tenderness to the English prisoners, which some deny, and say that he was the man who proposed their being put to death, when General Stapleton urged that he was come to fight, and not to butcher; and that if they acted any such barbarity, he would leave them with all his men. He very artfully mentioned Van Hoey’s letter, and said how much he should scorn to owe his life to such intercession.

Lord Cromartie spoke much shorter, and so low, that he was not heard but by those who sat very near him; but they prefer his speech to the other. He mentioned his misfortune in having drawn in his eldest son, who is prisoner with him; and concluded with saying, “If no part of this bitter cup must pass from me, not mine, O God, but thy will be done!” If he had pleaded not guilty, there was ready to be produced against him a paper signed with his own hand, for putting the English prisoners to death. Lord Leicester went up to the Duke of Newcastle, and said, “I never heard so great an orator as Lord Kilmarnock; if I was your grace, I would pardon him, and make him paymaster.”

That morning a paper had been sent to the lieutenant of the Tower for the prisoners; he gave it to Lord Cornwallis, the governor, who carried it to the House of Lords. It was a plea for the prisoners, objecting that the late act for regulating the trial of rebels did not take place till after their crime was committed. The Lords very tenderly and rightly sent this plea to them, of which, as you have seen, the two Earls did not make use; but old Balmerino did, and demanded council on it. The High Steward, almost in a passion, told him, that when he had been offered council, he did not accept it. Do but think on the ridicule of sending them the plea, and then denying them council on it! The Duke of Newcastle, who never lets slip an opportunity of being absurd, took it up as a ministerial point, in defence of his creature the Chancellor; but Lord Granville moved, according to order, to adjourn to debate in the chamber of Parliament, where the Duke of Bedford and many others spoke warmly for their having council; and it was granted. I said their, because the plea would have saved them all, and affected nine rebels who had been hanged that very morning; particularly one Morgan, a poetical lawyer.

Lord Balmerino asked for Forester and Wilbraham; the latter a very able lawyer in the House of Commons, who, the Chancellor said privately, he was sure would as soon be hanged as plead such a cause. But he came as council to-day (the third day), when Lord Balmerino gave up his plea as invalid, and submitted, without any speech.

The High Steward then made his, very long and very poor, with only one or two good passages; and then pronounced sentence!

Great intercession is made for the two Earls: Duke Hamilton, who has never been at court, designs to kiss the King’s hand, and ask Lord Kilmarnock’s life. The King is much inclined to some mercy; but the Duke, who has not so much of Caesar after a victory, as in gaining it, is for the utmost severity.

It was lately proposed in the city to present him with the freedom of some company; one of the aldermen said aloud, “Then let it be of the Butchers!” (…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 5, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

(…) Lady Cromartie presented her petition to the King last Sunday. He was very civil to her, but would not at all give her any hopes. She swooned away as soon as he was gone.

Lord Cornwallis told me that her lord weeps every time any thing of his fate is mentioned to him. Old Balmerino keeps up his spirits to the same pitch of gaiety. In the cell at Westminster he showed Lord Kilmarnock how he must lay his head; bid him not wince, lest the stroke should cut his skull or his shoulders, and advised him to bite his lips.

As they were to return, he begged they might have another bottle together, as they should never meet any more till –, and then pointed to his neck. At getting into the coach, he said to the gaoler, “Take care, or you will break my shins with this damned axe.”

I must tell you a bon-mot of George Selwyn‘s at the trial. He saw [Anne] Bethel’s sharp visage looking wistfully at the rebel lords; he said, “What a shame it is to turn her face to the prisoners till they are condemned.” If you have a mind for a true foreign idea, one of the foreign ministers said at the trial to another, “Vraiment cela est auguste.” “Oui,” replied the other, “cela est vrai, mais cela n’est pas royale.”

I am assured that the old Countess of Errol made her son Lord Kilmarnock go into the rebellion on pain of disinheriting him. I don’t know whether I told you that the man at the tennis-court protests that he has known him dine at the man that sells pamphlets at Storey’s Gate; “and,” says he, “he would often have been glad if I would have taken him home to dinner.” He was certainly so poor, that in one of his wife’s intercepted letters she tells him she has plagued their steward for a fortnight for money, and can get but three shillings.

Can any one help pitying such distress? I am vastly softened, too, about Balmerino’s relapse, for his pardon was only granted him to engage his brother’s vote at the election of Scotch peers. My Lord Chancellor has got a thousand pounds in present for his high stewardship, and has got the reversion of clerk of the crown (twelve hundred a-year) for his second son. What a long time it will be before his posterity are drove into rebellion for want, like Lord Kilmarnock! (…)

To GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 11, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

I have seen Mr. Jordan, and have taken his house at forty guineas a-year, but I am to pay taxes. Shall I now accept your offer of being at the trouble of giving orders for the airing of it? I have desire the landlord will order the key to be delivered to you, and Asheton will assist you. Furniture, I find, I have in abundance, which I shall send down immediately; but shall not be able to be at Windsor at the quivering dame’s before to-morrow se’nnight, as the rebel Lords are not to be executed till Monday. I shall stay till that is over, though I don’t believe I shall see it. Lord Cromartie is reprieved for a pardon. If wives and children become an argument for saving rebels, there will cease to be a reason against their going into rebellion. Lady Caroline Fitzroy’s execution is certainly to-night. I dare say she will follow Lord Balmerino’s advice to Lord Kilmarnock, and not wince. [The wag refers to Caroline‘s Aug. 11 wedding night, with the Lord Petersham -ed.]

(…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 12, 1746.

(…)

We know nothing certainly of the young Pretender, but that he is concealed in Scotland, and devoured with distempers: I really wonder how an Italian constitution can have supported such rigours! He has said, that “he did not see what he had to be ashamed of; and that if he had lost one battle, he had gained two.” Old Lovat curses Cope and Hawley for the loss of those two, and says, if they had done their duty, he had never been in this scrape. Cope is actually going to be tried; but Hawley, who is fifty times more culpable, is saved by partiality: Cope miscarried by incapacity; Hawley, by insolence and carelessness.

Lord Cromartie is reprieved; the Prince asked his life, and his wife made great intercession. Duke Hamilton’s intercession for Lord Kilmarnock has rather hurried him to the block: he and Lord Balmerino are to die next Monday. Lord Kilmarnock, with the greatest nobleness of soul, desired to have Lord Cromartie preferred to himself for pardon, if there could be but one saved; and Lord Balmerino laments that himself and Lord Lovat were not taken at the same time; “For then,” says he, “we might have been sacrificed, and those other two brave men escaped.”

Indeed Lord Cromartie does not much deserve the epithet; for he wept whenever his execution was mentioned. Balmerino is jolly with his pretty Peggy. There is a remarkable story of him at the battle of Dunblain, where the Duke of Argyll, his colonel, answered for him, on his being suspected. He behaved well; but as soon as we had gained the victory, went off with his troop to the Pretender; protesting that he had never feared death but that day, as he had been fighting against his conscience.

Popularity has changed sides since the year ’15, for now the city and the generality are very angry that so many rebels have been pardoned. Some of those taken at Carlisle dispersed papers at their execution, saying they forgave all men but three, the Elector of Hanover [i.e., King George II], the pretended Duke of Cumberland, and the Duke of Richmond, who signed the capitulation at Carlisle.

(…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 16, 1746.

(…) I have been this morning at the Tower, and passed under the new heads at Temple Bar, where people make a trade of letting spying-glasses at a halfpenny a look. Old Lovat arrived last night. I saw Murray, Lord Derwentwater, Lord Traquair, Lord Cromartie and his son, and the Lord Provost, at their respective windows.

The other two wretched Lords are in dismal towers, and they have stopped up one of old Balmerino’s windows because he talked to the populace; and now he has only one, which looks directly upon all the scaffolding. They brought in the death-warrant at his dinner. His wife fainted. He said, “Lieutenant, with your damned warrant you have spoiled my lady’s stomach.” He has written a sensible letter to the Duke to beg his intercession, and the Duke has given it to the King; but gave a much colder answer to Duke Hamilton, who went to beg it for Lord Kilmarnock: he told him the affair was in the King’s hands, and that he had nothing to do with it. Lord Kilmarnock, who has hitherto kept up his spirits, grows extremely terrified.

It will be difficult to make you believe to what heights of affectation or extravagance my Lady Townshend carries her passion for my Lord Kilmarnock, whom she never saw but at the bar of his trial, and was smitten with his falling shoulders. She has been under his windows; sends messages to him; has got his dog and his snuff-box; has taken lodgings out of town for to-morrow and Monday night, and then goes to Greenwich; forswears conversing with the bloody English, and has taken a French master. She insisted on Lord Hervey’s promising her he would not sleep a whole night for my Lord Kilmarnock, “and in return,” says she, “never trust me more if I am not as yellow as a jonquil for him.” She said gravely t’other day, “Since I saw my Lord Kilmarnock, I really think no more of Sir Harry Nisbett than if there was no such man in the world.”

But of all her flights, yesterday was the strongest. George Selwyn dined with her, and not thinking her affliction so serious as she pretends, talked rather jokingly of the execution. She burst into a flood of tears and rage; told him she now believed all his father and mother had said of him; and with a thousand other reproaches flung upstairs. George coolly took Mrs. Dorcas, her woman, and made her sit down to finish the bottle: “And pray, sir,” said Dorcas, “do you think my lady will be prevailed upon to let me go see the execution? I have a friend that has promised to take care of me, and I can lie in the Tower the night before.”

My lady has quarrelled with Sir Charles Windham for calling the two Lords malefactors. The idea seems to be general; for ’tis said Lord Cromartie is to be transported, which diverts me for the dignity of the peerage. The ministry really gave it as a reason against their casting lots for pardon, that it was below their dignity. I did not know but that might proceed from Balmerino’s not being an earl; and therefore, now their hand is in, would have them make him one. (…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Windsor, Aug. 21, 1746.

(…)

I came from town (for take notice, I put this place upon myself for the country) the day after the execution of the rebel Lords: I was not at it, but had two persons come to me directly who were at the next house to the scaffold; and I saw another who was upon it, so that you may depend upon my accounts.

Just before they came out of the Tower, Lord Balmerino drank a bumper to King James’s health. As the clock struck ten they came forth on foot, Lord Kilmarnock all in black, his hair unpowdered in a bag, supported by Forster, the great Presbyterian, and by Mr. Home, a young clergyman, his friend. Lord Balmerino followed, alone, in a blue coat turned up with red, his rebellious regimentals, a flannel waistcoat, and his shroud beneath; their hearses following.

They were conducted to a house near the scaffold; the room forwards had benches for spectators; in the second Lord Kilmarnock was put, and in the third backwards Lord Balmerino; all three chambers hung with black. Here they parted! Balmerino embraced the other, and said, “My lord, I wish I could suffer for both!” He had scarce left him, before he desired again to see him, and then asked him, “My Lord Kilmarnock, do you know any thing of the resolution taken in our army, the day before the battle of Culloden, to put the English prisoners to death?” He replied, “My lord, I was not present; but since I came hither, I have had all the reason in the world to believe that there was such order taken; and I hear the Duke has the pocketbook with the order.” Balmerino answered, “It was a lie raised to excuse their barbarity to us.” –Take notice, that the Duke’s charging this on Lord Kilmarnock (certainly on misinformation) decided this unhappy man’s fate! The most now pretended is, that it would have come to Lord Kilmarnock’s turn to have given the word for the slaughter, as lieutenant-general, with the patent for which he was immediately drawn into the rebellion, after having been staggered by his wife, her mother, his own poverty, and the defeat of Cope.

He remained an hour and a half in the house, and shed tears. At last he came to the scaffold, certainly much terrified, but with a resolution that prevented his behaving in the least meanly or unlike a gentleman. He took no notice of the crowd, only to desire that the baize might be lifted up from the rails, that the mob might see the spectacle.

He stood and prayed some time with Forster, who wept over him, exhorted and encouraged him. He delivered a long speech to the Sheriff, and with a noble manliness stuck to the recantation he had made at his trial; declaring he wished that all who embarked in the same cause might meet the same fate.

He then took off his bag, coat and waistcoat with great composure, and after some trouble put on a napkin-cap, and then several times tried the block; the executioner, who was in white with a white apron, out of tenderness concealing the axe behind himself. At last the Earl knelt down, with a visible unwillingness to depart, and after five minutes dropped his handkerchief, the signal, and his head was cut off at once, only hanging by a bit of skin, and was received in a scarlet cloth by four of the undertaker’s men kneeling, who wrapped it up and put it into the coffin with the body; orders having been given not to expose the heads, as used to be the custom.

The scaffold was immediately new-strewed with saw-dust, the block new-covered, the executioner new-dressed, and a new axe brought. Then came old Balmerino, treading with the air of a general. As soon as he mounted the scaffold, he read the inscription on his coffin, as he did again afterwards: he then surveyed the spectators, who were in amazing numbers, even upon masts of ships in the river; and pulling out his spectacles, read a treasonable speech, which he delivered to the Sheriff, and said, the young Pretender was so sweet a Prince that flesh and blood could not resist following him; and lying down to try the block, he said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would lay them all down here in the same cause.”

He said, if he had not taken the sacrament the day before, he would have knocked down Williamson, the lieutenant of the Tower, for his ill usage of him. He took the axe and felt it, and asked the headsman how many blows he had given Lord Kilmarnock; and gave him three guineas. Two clergymen, who attended him, coming up, he said, “No, gentlemen, I believe you have already done me all the service you can.” Then he went to the corner of the scaffold, and called very loud for the warder, to give him his periwig, which he took off, and put on a nightcap of Scotch plaid, and then pulled off his coat and waistcoat and lay down; but being told he was on the wrong side, vaulted round, and immediately gave the sign by tossing up his arm, as if he were giving the signal for battle. He received three blows, but the first certainly took away all sensation. He was not a quarter of an hour on the scaffold; Lord Kilmarnock above half a one. Balmerino certainly died with the intrepidity of a hero, but with the insensibility of one too.


Detail view (click for the full image) shows London crowds thronging the twin beheading of Jacobite lords on August 18, 1746.

As he walked from his prison to execution, seeing every window and top of house filled with spectators, he cried out, “Look, look, how they are all piled up like rotten oranges.” My Lady Townshend, who fell in love with Lord Kilmarnock at his trial, will go nowhere to dinner, for fear of meeting with a rebel-pie; she says, every body is so bloody-minded, that they eat rebels! The Prince of Wales, whose intercession saved Lord Cromartie, says he did it in return for old Sir William Gordon, Lady Cromartie’s father, coming down out of his death-bed to vote against my father in the Chippenham election. (…)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Martyrs,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason

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1635: Sawney Cunningham, an abandoned Villain

Add comment April 12th, 2017 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

SAWNEY CUNNINGHAM

An abandoned Villain who inveigled and murdered his Wife’s Lover, murdered his Uncle, terrorised the Country-side, and was executed at Leith, 12th of April, 1635

This person had no reason to say he was come of mean parents, or that good education or tuition was denied him, whereby he might have avoided the several pernicious actions and villainies he committed, as will presently be shown in the sequel. His family lived in tolerable good repute at Glasgow in Scotland, where he was born; but, in spite of all the learning his parents had given him, or good examples they had set before him to regulate his passions and direct his conduct right, he abandoned himself, from his earliest acquaintance with the world, to little shuffling and pilfering tricks; which growing habitual to him as he advanced in age, he increased in his wicked practices, till at last he became a monster of profaneness and wicked living.

However, these (which one would take to be) great disadvantages hindered him not from making a very honourable match in wedlock. As his parents could not be blamed with any misconduct, but still kept up an honest and genteel character in the neighbourhood where they lived; and as it would have been infamous to have reproached them for those miscarriages in the son which they had strove all they could to root out of his mind, and could not help, so an old gentleman, who had preserved for a long time an inviolable friendship for the family, entered into an alliance with Mr Cunningham the elder, which at last terminated in giving his daughter to Sawney, and an estate in portion with her of above one hundred and forty pounds per annum, thinking that marriage might be a means to reclaim our adventurer from his ill course of life, and at last settle his mind, to the mutual satisfaction of both families, for which he thought his daughter’s portion would be a good purchase, and well laid out.

But how are mankind deceived, and, in short, all our foresight and consultation.

Sawney no sooner found himself in possession of an estate able to support his extravagances but he immediately gave a more violent loose to his passions than he had hitherto done.

He made taverns and alehouses the frequent places of his resort; and, not content idly to waste the day in debauches and drunkenness, the night too must come in to make up the reckoning.

These destructive steps could not be attended but with hurtful consequences, and he was too soon an eye-witness of some of them; for not having always wherewithal to indulge his usual expenses and method of living, he was forced to have recourse to indirect measures, which ended in pawning everything he had, not only of his wife’s but of his own. Melancholy things were unavoidably to follow, if some redress or care was not taken to put a restraint on this destructive course.

Sawney laughed at his follies, and could not bring himself to believe he should ever want while he had either hands or heart to support him. He was determined to enter upon business as soon as possible —- I mean such business as generally brings so many unhappy men to the gallows. His wife, who was vastly beautiful and handsome, saw this, but with a prudence that became her sex stifled her uneasiness so long, till, no longer able to bear the torment upon her mind, she first began with kind entreaties, since all they had in the world was gone, to fall into some honest way of livelihood to support themselves, for it was much and more commendable to do so than for him to give his countrymen every day so many instances of his riotous and profuse living.

Had Sawney been so good to himself as to have given ear to this remonstrance, without doubt things had succeeded well, and we should never have read the miserable end he suffered. But all admonition was lost on a man abandoned to wickedness, and determined to support his usual extravagances at any rate.

The poor young gentlewoman, instead of being answered civilly for her love and affection to him, met with nothing but harsh and terrifying words, attended with a thousand oaths and imprecations. The parents on both sides, observing this, were in extreme grief and concern, and determined, after a serious consultation, to dissolve the couple; but the young and handsome wife would never consent to part from her husband, though so base to her.

Before we enter upon the first remarkable transaction of Sawney’s life, we think ourselves under an obligation to lay before our readers some account of this young bride’s rare qualifications. In the first place, as I have taken notice above, she was extremely beautiful, not only in a perfect symmetry of features, but likewise to these were joined an exquisite person. She was tall, finely shaped, full-breasted, and had all the other exterior ornaments of her sex. For her temper and the qualifications of her interior part or soul, she was sincere in her love to the last, ever patient under the greatest difficulties, and ready at all times to extricate her husband out of the misfortunes he involved himself in, by lawful and justifiable methods; she had a nice conduct, and an extraordinary restraint upon every passion that might betray her into unforeseen miscarriages.


In Glasgow, where a university was, and consequently young gentlemen of fortune and address, it was impossible for Mrs Cunningham to hide the charms of her face and person so as not to be taken notice of. Several immediately offered their respects, and money was not wanting to promote their suits; but all were below the prudent sentiments of her mind. She could not endure to think of dishonouring the bed of her husband by a base compliance with the richest man in the kingdom, and always she put off her suitor with a frown and a seemingly disdainful air.

But this only served to animate her lovers the more, who now seemed to attack her with a resolution not to quit the siege till she had either capitulated or surrendered herself. Amongst the rest was a certain lawyer, who was so frequent in his importunities that she was quite tired out. However, she was so discreet all the while as to conceal from her husband Sawney the importunities of her several lovers; but their solicitations increasing, and being determined to be delivered of them as soon as possible, she one night, as she lay in bed with her husband, began to discourse to him in words to the following effect:

You are sensible, my dear, of the inviolable love I have, from the first day of my marriage to you, preserved for you, which shall still, let whatever will happen, be as chastely maintained; for the infernal regions shall sooner open and receive me alive than I will dare to break the laws of your bed, or bring dishonour to my person, by a shameless prostitution of my person in the embraces of any man alive. As a proof of what I tell you, you need only be acquainted that for these several months I have been strongly importuned by Mr Hamilton the lawyer to consent to his embraces, but still I have warded off from his addresses, yet cannot be free from him; which makes me now discourse thus, in order to hear your opinion in the matter, and see which will be the safest and best expedient to be delivered of his company.

Here she ended, and Sawney, being thoroughly convinced of his wife’s loyalty and fidelity, first answered her with a desire she should forget all his irregularities, confessing their present poverty had been the immediate consequences of his too liberal and profuse livings but that for the future she should see a good alteration in his conduct, and he would make one of the best of husbands.

“As for Mr Hamilton,” said he,

it is my advice that you do not give him an absolute refusal, but pretending a kind of love at a distance, make him think that a considerable sum of money will finish his expectations, and gain him what he so much longs for. You have youth and beauty on your side, and you may, consequently, command him as you please: for I am not so much a stranger to Mr Hamilton’s temper and inclination but that I know love will influence him to perform generous things. My dear, I have no occasion to acquaint you with our poverty at this time, which, to my extreme grief, has been the consequence of my irregular and profane living; but our wants and necessities may be amply made up by dextrously managing this adventure, the prosecution of which I leave to your own prudence and conduct; and for my part, I shall take effectual care to extricate you and myself out of any consequences that may happen upon it.

Mrs Cunningham, after this conference with her husband, had a thousand thoughts in her head how to manage this scheme so as to make the most advantage of it. She saw that the want of money in her family must oblige her to it, though never so much against the bent of her inclination to the contrary, and therefore, determining to put it in execution as soon as possible, she composed herself to rest for that night.

The next day Sawney got purposely out of the way, but not without a longing expectation of receiving extraordinary matters from his wife’s conduct. Hamilton appeared as usual; and, protesting his love for her was the sincerest in the world, said that it was impossible for him to enjoy a moment’s rest without tasting those joys she could so easily afford him.

Mrs Cunningham at first reproved him for such a bare declaration of his desires, and said that so long as her husband lived she could not, without the most manifest breach of conjugal fidelity, and an eternal infamy to herself, give way to comply with his demands.

“Your person, Mr Hamilton,” said she, “is none of the worst, neither is your sense to be despised; but, alas! heaven has decreed it that I am already another man’s wife, and therefore deprived from gratifying you as I would were the case otherwise. And I have apprehensions of my husband, who is a choleric person, and presently urged into a passion upon the most trifling affairs, which either he doth not like, or squares not with his happiness or interest.”

“Interest!” replied Hamilton. “Why, if that be the case, neither your husband nor you shall have any reason to complain; for, let me tell you once and for all, I do not require a gratification from anyone without making a suitable return. Your circumstances, madam, are not unknown to me; and I am sorry to think that, after having brought Mr Cunningham so plentiful a fortune, I should have a just occasion to say that you are poor. But mistake me not, I scorn to make a handle of your circumstances; neither do I believe Mrs Cunningham would ever consent to my desires on such servile terms.”

Upon this madam answered him with a great deal of prudence and art: she told him that he pleaded handsomely for himself, and if she was not a married woman there should be nothing to obstruct their desires.

Mr Hamilton, finding this, made her a long harangue, in which he endeavoured to show how weak her objection was, with respect to her husband, concluding that what they did might be so artfully contrived that neither Mr Cunningham nor the world should know anything of it. In fine, the lawyer pleaded as if it were for life for her consent, which madam observing, and not caring to prolong the time too far, but dispatch a great deal of business in a little time, she artfully told him that since her stars had so directed the actions of her life that she had no power of herself to contradict them, she resigned herself to him, and said that it was to no purpose to stifle her inclinations for him any longer; for, to be plain with him, she had loved him from their first acquaintance together, before all the men she had ever seen, and that she hoped there was no transgression in an affair which her destiny overruled; and if the world proved censorious, she did not care, and left her cause to be determined by the stars, who, together with Mr Hamilton’s fine person, had influenced her to it.

To be short, an assignation was made, and a porch of one of the churches in Glasgow designed to be the place where these two lovers were to meet. Nothing in the world gave the lawyer so much satisfaction as the thought of having obtained the consent of his fair mistress, who had declared her love to him, and resigned herself up to his arms.

Hamilton promised to make her a present of a purse of a hundred pounds sterling before anything was done, and she on her side assured him she would please him to the utmost, and acquainted him that he might expect all the kindness she was able to afford him. Here they parted, and the lawyer thought the time contained a thousand days till the hour appointed was come, and he in the arms of his mistress.

It arrives, and both appear in the porch; they caress and toy, but no further than the laws of modesty permitted. Hamilton wants to know where Mr Cunningham, her husband, is, and is acquainted that he has gone a short journey into the country, which, however, will take him up eight days; whereas madam has posted him, or he has done it himself, in a private place in his chamber at home. Hamilton seems extraordinarily pleased at his success, and the repose he should find in humouring his appetites now his antagonist was out of the way, as he thought.

In a little time both these lovers come to Sawney’s house, and having entered his bed-chamber, where he was concealed, and a good fire burning, Mr Hamilton pulls out two purses of gold and gives them to her; and then, going to undress himself, Sawney springs out from his secret place, and with one stroke lays Mr Hamilton flat on the floor with a club he had in his hand; for, not contented with his wife’s having received the two purses of gold, he must have the lawyer’s clothes too; and therefore, to make sure of them, he redoubles his blows, till the poor gentleman gave up the ghost at Mrs Cunningham’s feet.

This was a sacrifice to love with a witness.

The lawyer had contributed handsomely before for a night’s lodging, and must he give his life into the bargain? I know not how mankind may think on it; but the affair was carried to a desperate length.

Now Mrs Cunningham, not dreaming her husband would have carried matters to such an issue, seemed frightened to the last extreme at what had been done; but Sawney endeavoured to give her ease by telling her that he would work himself out of the scrape immediately, and, so saying, hoisted the body on his shoulders and went out at a back door which led directly to Hamilton’s house, which easily opening, as a profound sleep in the family and the darkness of the night favoured him, he carried the lawyer to the vault, and placed him upright upon the seat, to the end that the first who found him there might conclude he had died in that place and posture.

Now it seems Mr Hamilton, the day before, had acquainted a particular friend who lived in his house with his success, and how he was to have a meeting with Mrs Cunningham that night. This friend had had the gripes upon him for three or four days, which made him have a very violent looseness, and being obliged to untruss a point about midnight, rises in his night-gown and steps down to the vault, where, opening the door, he spies Mr Hamilton sitting, as he supposed; and taking it that he was come there on the very same errand as himself, stays without a while to let him have a quiet play.

But finding he made no motion to stir, after having waited a considerable time, to his own uneasiness, he opens the door again, and taking him by the sleeve of his coat was surprised to find him fall down. He stoops to take him up, but finds him dead; at which, being in a thousand perplexities, and fearing to be thought the murderer, he brings to mind his acquainting him with the assignation between him and Mrs Cunningham; upon which he concludes his friend had found no fair play there, knowing the husband to be none of the easiest of men.

What should this lodger do in this case? Why, he takes up the body, throws it upon his shoulders, and carries it to Sawney’s house door, where he sets it down. Madam, a little after midnight, having occasion to discharge, gets out of bed and, opening the door, lets the body of her late lover tumble into the house, which putting her into a fright, she runs upstairs into the chamber and tells Sawney how that the lawyer has come back.

“Aye, aye,” says he (just waking out of his sleep), “I’ll warrant he shall come back no more, I’ll secure him presently”; and so saying, gets immediately out of bed, puts on his clothes, and hoists the dead lawyer once more on his shoulders, with a design to carry him to the river and throw him in; but seeing some persons at some distance coming towards him, he steps up to the side of the street till they were got by, fearing his design might be discovered, and consequences were dangerous.

But what should these persons be but half-a-dozen thieves, who were returning from a plunder they had made of two large flitches of bacon out of a cheese-monger’s shop, and as they came along were talking of a vintner hard by, who sold a bottle of extraordinary wine.

Sawney was somewhat relieved from his fears (for fears he could not miss from having) at hearing this conversation. He had not been in his post long before he had the satisfaction of seeing this company put their bacon, which was in a sack, into an empty cellar, and knock the master of the tavern up to let them in.

The coast being now clear, Sawney conveys the dead lawyer into the cellar, and taking out the purloined goods, put his uneasy cargo in the room, and then marches home. Meanwhile the thieves were carousing, little dreaming what a change they should presently find in their sack. Little or no money was found amongst them, and the flitches were to answer the full reckoning, so that they continued drinking till they thought the bacon was become an equivalent for the wine they had drank. One of them, who pretended to be spokesman, addressing the landlord, told him that he must excuse him and his comrades for bringing no money in their pockets to defray what they had expended, especially at such an unseasonable time of night, when he had been called out of his bed to let them in; “but, landlord, in saying this, we have no design of doing you any wrong, or drinking your wine for nothing. For if we cannot answer the shot with the ready cole, we will make it up by an exchange of goods. Now we have got two flitches of bacon in a cellar hard by, which will more than answer our expenses, and if you care to have them, they are at your service; otherwise we must be obliged to leave word with you where we live, or you lie under a necessity of trusting us till the morning, when, on sending anybody along with us, you may depend on receiving the money.”

“Gentlemen,” says the vintner, “you are all mere strangers to me, for to my eyes and knowledge I cannot say I ever saw one of you before; but we will avoid making any uneasiness about my reckoning. I do not care to purchase a commodity I never saw, or, as the saying is, to buy a pig in a poke. If the flitches of bacon you say you have are good, I’ll take them off your hands, and quit scores with you so they but answer my demands.”

Immediately one of them, who had drunk more plentiful than the rest, said he would go and fetch them, and accordingly coming into the cellar, strove to hoist the sack up. “Zounds,” says he, “why, I think the bacon’s multiplied, or I am damnably deceived. What a pox of a load is here to gall a man’s shoulders! Tom might well complain they were heavy, and, by gad! heavy and large ones they are, and the vintner will have a rare bargain of them; much good go along with them!”

And, so saying, he lugs the corpse on his shoulders to the tavern. On coming to open the mouth of the sack, lord! what a surprise were all in to see a man’s head peep out. Mr Dash presently knew the lineaments of the deceased’s face, and cried out: “You eternal dogs! did you think to impose a dead corpse on me for two flitches of bacon? Why, you rascals, this is the body of Mr Hamilton the lawyer, and you have murdered him, have you, you miscreants! But your merits shall soon be soundly rewarded, I’ll warrant you.”

At this all the six were in the saddest plight that could be imagined; nothing but horror and dismay sat on their looks, and they really appeared as the guilty persons. But the vintner, observing them bustling to get away, made such a thundering noise of murderers, murderers, murderers, that immediately all the family were out of their beds, and the watch at the house door to know the reason of such an alarm. The thieves were instantly conveyed to a place of durance for that night, and in the morning were sent to the main prison, when after a little time they took their trials, were found guilty (though innocent) of Mr Hamilton’s death, and executed accordingly.


Sawney came off very wonderfully from this matter, though neither his wife’s admonitions nor his own frequent asseverations to her to leave off his irregular course of life were of any force to make him abandon it. The bent of doing ill, and living extravagantly, was too deeply rooted within him ever to suppose now that any amendment would come; nay, he began to show himself a monster in iniquity, and committed every wickedness that could exaggerate the character of a most profane wretch. For it is impossible to enumerate, much more to describe, the quantity and qualities of his villainies, they being a series of such horrid and incredible actions, that the very inserting them here would only make the reader think an imposition were put upon him in transmitting accounts so shocking and glaring.

The money he had obtained of Mr Hamilton was a dear purchase; it was soon played away with and consumed, which made him throw himself on other shifts to support his pockets; to which end he visited the highway, and put those to death who offered to oppose him.

His character was too well known in the west of Scotland to want any further information about him, which obliged him to retract towards Edinburgh, where, meeting with a gang of his profession who knew him to be most accomplished in their way, he was constituted generalissmo of their body, and each man had his particular lodging in the city.

But Sawney, who ever chose to act the principal part in all encounters, industriously took lodgings at a house noted for entertaining strangers, where he was not long in insinuating himself into their acquaintance, by making them believe that he was a stranger as well as they, and was come to Edinburgh on no other account than purely to see the city, and make his observations upon its public buildings and other curiosities; and that his ambition has been always to procure honest and genteel acquaintance.

Sawney, indeed, had a most artful method to conceal the real sentiments of his mind and hide his actions, which in a little time so gained upon the belief of these strangers, that they could not help taking him for one of the sincerest men breathing. For it was his custom sometimes to take them along with him two or three miles out of the city to partake of some handsome dinner or supper, when he was sure never to let them be at a far thing expense, but generously discharge the reckoning himself.

The design of all this was to make his advantage of them, and force them to pay an extravagant interest for the money he had been out of pocket in treating them. For constantly were persons planted in one place or other of the road by his immediate direction, who fell upon them as they returned to the city, and robbed them of what they had. But the cream of all was, that to avoid suspicion they always made Sawney their first prize, and rifled him, who was sure in the morning to obtain his own loss back again, and a considerable share of the other booty into the bargain.

Some time after this our adventurer, with two of his companions, meeting on the road with three citizens of Edinburgh, affronted them in a very audacious manner, and threw such language at them as plainly discovered that either death or bloodshed was near at hand. He had the impudence to tell the person who seemed the genteellest and best dressed of the three that the horse he rode on was his, and had been lately stolen from him, and that he must return it to him, or else the sword he wore should do him right. Sawney’s companions began with the others after the same manners and would needs force them to believe that the horses they rode upon were theirs. The citizens, astonished at this gross piece of impudence, endeavoured to convince them the horses they rode on were their own, and they had paid for them, and wondered how they durst pretend to dispute an affair which was so essentially wrong; but these words were far from having any effect on Cunningham, and the citizens, in the conclusion, were forced to dismount and give them their horses, and money into the bargain, being somewhat satisfied they had suffered no worse consequences, for Sawney, by this time, was drenched in all manner of villainy, and bloodshed was now accounted a trifle, so little value did he set on the lives of any persons.

Sawney having run a merry course of roguery and villainy in and about Edinburgh for some time, where he made a considerable advantage to himself, so that fortune seemed to have requited him for all the poverty and want he had before endured, determined now to go home to his wife, and spend the remainder of his days agreeably with her, on the acquisitions and plunder he had made on his countrymen.

Accordingly he came to Glasgow, where, among a few acquaintances he conversed with, for he did not care to make himself too public, he gave signs of amendment, which struck those who knew him with such astonishment that at first they could hardly be brought to believe it.

One night, being in bed with his wife, they had a close discourse together on all their foregoing life, and the good woman expressed an extraordinary emotion of joy at the seeming alteration and change in her husband; she could not imagine what reason to impute it to, for she had been so much terrified from time to time with his barbarities that she had no room to think his conversion was real; neither, on reflecting on the many robberies and murders he had committed, could she persuade herself that he could so soon abandon his licentious and wicked courses; for she supposed, if his altered conduct (as she thought) was real, it was miraculous, and an original piece of goodness hardly to be met with.

The sequel will prove that this woman had better notions of her husband than the rest of his acquaintance and those who knew him, and that she built all her fears on a solid and good foundation. The proverb says: “What is bred in the bone wiIl never be out of the flesh”; and this will be remarkably verified in Cunningham, as we shall endeavour to show in its proper place.

For all the signs he gave of an altered conduct, and all the plausible hints to rectify his former mistaken steps, were no other than only to amuse the world into a good opinion of him, that so he might make his advantage, through this pretended conversion, with the greater freedom and impunity. And he was not out in his aim; for it seems, whenever he committed anything sinister, or to the disadvantage of any of his countrymen, and he was pitched on as the transgressor, the town would say: “It could not be, for Mr Cunningham was too much reclaimed from his former courses ever to give in to them again.”


I shall insert a very notable adventure Sawney had with a conjurer, or fortune-teller, to which end I shall trace it up from the fountain-head, and give my readers the first cause that induced him to it. When Sawney was an infant, he was put out to nurse to a poor countrywoman in a little village a mile or two out of Glasgow. The woman, as the boy grew up, could not help increasing in her love for him, and he being an exceeding snotty child, would often say to her neighbours: “Oh, I shall see this lad a rich man one day!” This saying coming to the ears of his parents, they would frequently make themselves merry with it, and thought no more of it than as a pure result of the nurse’s fondling.

Sawney, having enriched himself with the spoils about Edinburgh, actually thought his old nurse’s words were verified, and sent for her to give her a gratification for her prediction. She came, but Sawney had changed his clothes, so that the poor woman did not know him at first. He told her that he was an acquaintance of Mr Cunningham’s, who, on her coming, had ordered him to carry her to Mr Peterson the astrologer’s, where she would be sure to see and speak to him; for he was gone there to get some information about an affair that nearly concerned him.

The nurse and her pretended conductor went to the fortune-teller’s, where, desiring admittance, Peterson thought they were persons who wanted his assistance, and bade them sit down when Sawney, taking a freedom with the reverend old gentleman, as he was known to use with all mankind, began to give a harangue about astrology, and the laudable practice of it.

“I and this old woman,” said he,

are two of the most accomplished astrologers or fortune-tellers in Scotland; but I would not, reverend sir, by so saying, seem to depreciate from your knowledge and understanding in so venerable a science. I came to communicate a small affair to you, to the end that, not relying on my judgment and this woman’s, I might partake of yours.

You are to know, sir, that from six years of age I have led a very untoward life, and been guilty of many egregious sins, too numerous to tell you at present, and what your ears would not care to hear; for my employment has been to lie with other men’s wives, make a share of other people’s money, bilk my lodging, and ruin the vintners; for a whore and a bottle I have sold the twelve signs in the zodiac, and all the houses in a horoscope; neither sextile, quartile, nor trine ever had power over me to keep my hands out of my neighbours’ pockets; and if I had not a profound respect for the persons of my venerable order and profession, I should call Mercury the ascendant in the fourth house at this minute, to lug half-a-score pieces of yours.

By my exceeding deep knowledge in astrology I can perfectly acquaint all manner of persons, except myself, with every occurrence of their lives; and were it not to frighten yourself, I would conclude, from the appearance and conjunction of Saturn and Vulcan, that your worship would be hanged for your profession. But, sir, though destiny hangs this unfortunate death over your head, it is at some distance from it, and may be some years before it strikes you.

Is it not surprising that a man shall be able to read the fates of mankind, and not have any preknowledge of his own? And is it not extremely afflicting to think that one who has done so much good in his generation, and assisted so many thousands to the recovery of things that would have been inevitably lost, without his advice, should come at last to meet with an ignominious halter, as a fit recompense for his services? Good heavens! where is the equity of all this? Certainly, sir, if we are to measure the justice of things by the laws of reason, we must naturally conclude that laudable and good actions deserve a laudable and good recompense; but can hanging be said to be this good recompense? No: but the stars will have it so, and how can mankind say to the contrary?

Sawney Cunningham with the astrologer

Cunningham paused here a while, and the astrologer and old nurse wondered who in the devil’s name they had got in company with.

Mr Peterson could not help staring, and well he might, at the physiognomy of our adventurer, And, in spite of himself, began to be in a panic at his words, which so terribly frightened him.

The nurse was in expectation of seeing Sawney come in every minute, little dreaming the person she was so near was the man she wanted.

Cunningham’s harangue was a medley of inconsistencies and downright banter. It is true the man had received tolerable education in his youth, and consequently might obtain a jingle in several sciences, as is evinced from the foregoing.

“Well, venerable sir,” says he,

do not be terrified at my words, for what cannot be avoided must be submitted to. To put you out of your pain, I’ll tell you a story.

A gentleman had a son who was his darling and consequently trained up in all the virtuous ways that either money could purchase or good examples teach. The youth, it seems, took to a kind and laudable course of life, and gave promising signs of making a fine man; nor indeed were their expectations deceived, for he led a very exemplary life of prudence, excellent conduct and good manners, which pleased the parents so much, that they thought everything they could do for him too little.

But the mother, out of an inexpressible fondness for him, must needs go to an astrologer, and inquire how the remaining part of his life must succeed.

Accordingly the horoscope is drawn, but a dismal appearance results from it; it acquaints the mother that her son shall remain virtuous for two and thirty years, and then be hanged.

“Monstrous and incredible,” says she, “but I’ll take care to secure him in the right way; or all my care will be to no purpose.”

Well, the family are all soon acquainted with this threatening warning. The person determined to be the sacrifice is already nine and twenty years old, and surely they suppose they can easily get the other three years, when all shall go well with their kinsman.

But what avails all the precaution of mankind? This same son obtains a commission of a ship, goes to sea, and, acting quite contrary to his orders, turns pirate, and in an encounter happens to kill a man, for which, on his return to his native country, he is tried, condemned and hanged.

What think you of this, venerable brother? Is not he a sad instance of an overruling influence of the stars? But, not to prolong too much time on a discourse of this nature, let us come to the purpose. You are now, as I cannot do it myself, to tell me my fortune, and this old woman is to confront you if you tell me a lie. There is no excuse to be made in the matter; for, by heavens, on your refusal, I’ll ease this room of your damnable trumpery,* and send you packing to the devil after them!

These words were enough to frighten any man out of his senses; nor could Peterson well discover the intention or drift of his talkative and uneasy visitant.

“What would you be at?” says the astrologer. “Why, do not you see what a terror you have put that good woman into, who trembles like an aspen leaf? I am not used, friend, to have persons come into my house and tell me to my face that I am to be hanged, and then to confirm it, as you pretend, tell me an old woman’s cock-and-bull story of a young man who went to sea, and was hanged for robbing, for which he certainly deserved the punishment he met with. As for telling your fortune, I’ll be so plain with you, that you’ll swing in a halter, as sure as your name is “Sawney Cunningham.”

“Sawney Cunningham!” quoth the mawk, who straight way throwing her arms about his neck, began to kiss him very eagerly, and then, looking earnestly in his face, cried aloud: “O laird! and art thou Sawney Cunningham? Why, I thought thou wouldst come to be a great man, thou wast such a Scotty lad!”

“Do you see now,” says Sawney, “what a damnable lie you have told me, in impudently acquainting me that I shall be hanged, when my good prophetess here tells me, I am a great man; for great men can never be hanged.”

“I do not care for what she says, nor you neither, for hanged you’ll be, and that in a month’s time, or else there never was a dog hanged in Scotland.”

“Pray, brother, how came you to know this, without consulting my horoscope?”

“Know it! Why, your very condition tells me you have deserved hanging these dozen years, but the laws have been too favourable to you, else Mr Hamilton’s death had been revenged before this time of day. Now, to convince you of my superior knowledge in astrology, I mean in telling how far their influence extends over any man’s actions, I will point to you the very action and persons that will bring you to the gallows. This very day month you shall go, in spite of all your foresight and endeavour to the contrary, to pay a visit to Mr William Bean, your uncle by the mother’s side, who is a man of an unblamable character and conversation. Him shall you kill, and assuredly be hanged.”

Was there ever such a prophetic or divining tongue, especially in these modern days, heard of? For the sequel will presently discover how every circumstance of this prediction fell out accordingly.

Sawney, having observed the air of gravity wherewith Mr Peterson delivered his words, could not help falling into a serious reflection about them, and thinking the place he was in not convenient enough to indulge the thought he found rising within him, abruptly left the fortune-teller, and giving his old nurse five shillings returned home.

But what does he determine on now? After having seriously weighed on the several particulars of Peterson’s words, he could not for his heart but think that the old man, in order to be even with him for telling him of being hanged, had only served him in his own coin; so that, after a few hours, every syllable was vanished out of his mind, and he resolved to keep up to his usual course of life.


King James I, sitting on the throne of Scotland at this time, and keeping his Court at Edinburgh, the greatest part of the Scottish nobility resided there, when our adventurer used frequently to go to make the best hand he could of what spoil he found there.

The Earl of Inchiquin, having a considerable post under the King, and several valuable matters being under his care, had a sentinel assigned, who constantly kept guard at this lord’s lodgings’ door. Guards were not much in fashion at this time, and about two or three hundred in the same livery were kept only on the establishment.

Cunningham having a desire of breaking into this minister’s lodgings, and having no way so likely to succeed as by putting on a soldier’s livery, went in that dress to the Sentinel, and after some little talk together they dropped accidentally into some military duty and exercise; which Cunningham so well displayed that the sentinel, seeming to like his brother’s notions, and smile extraordinarily, it made Cunningham stay a considerable time, till in the end he asked the sentinel to partake of two mugs of ale, and put sixpence into his hand to fetch them from an ale-house at some distance from his post, giving some reason for it that it was the best drink in the city, and none else could please his palate half so well as that. Hereupon the sentinel acquainted him that he could not but know the consequences that attended leaving his post, and that he had rather enjoy his company without the ale, than run any risk by fetching it. “Oh!” says our adventurer, “I am not a stranger to the penalties we incur on such an action, but there can no harm come of it if I stand in your place while you are gone.” And with that the sentinel gives Cunningham his musket, and goes to the place directed for the drink; but, on returning, he must needs fetch a pennyworth of tobacco from the same place, during which some of our adventurer’s companions had broken into the lord’s apartments, and rifled the same of three hundred pounds’ value. Cunningham was, however, so generous as to leave the sentinel his musket. The poor soldier returns in expectation of drinking with his friend, and enjoying his company some time longer; but alas! the bird has flown, and he is taken up to answer for his forthcoming, and committed to the Tolbooth Prison, where he was kept nine months in very heavy irons, and had only bread and water all the while allowed him to subsist on. At length he is tried, condemned and hanged. Thus did several innocent persons suffer death for that which ought to have been the portion of our adventurer.

We draw on to his last scene now, which shall be dispatched with all the brevity we are masters of.

Sawney having thus escaped so many dangers, and run through so many villainies with impunity, must needs go to his Uncle Bean’s house, who was a very good Christian, and a reputable man, as we have before observed, to pay him a visit, with no other design than to boast to him of his late successes, and how fortune had repaired the injuries his former misconduct and remissness had done him.

He went, and his uncle, with his moral frankness, bade him sit down, and call for anything his house could afford him. “Nephew,” says he, “I have desired a long time to see an alteration in your conduct, that I might say I had a nephew worthy of my acquaintance, and one to whom I might leave my estate, as deserving of it; but I am acquainted from all hands that you go on worse and worse, and rather than produce an amendment, abandon yourself to the worst of crimes.” The good old man followed this with a long exhortation, after which he issued a flood of tears, which pity and compassion had forced from his eyes; nor could Sawney forbear shedding a tear or two at hearing.

But it was all pretence, and an imitation of the crocodile; for he was determined to take this reverend old gentleman out of the world to get possession of his estate, which, for want of male issue, was unavoidably to devolve upon him after his death.

With this view, after he had made an end of his exhortation, he steps up and, without once speaking, thrusts a dagger to his heart, and so ends his life. Thus fell a venerable old uncle for pronouncing a little seasonable advice to a monster of a nephew who, finding the servant maid come into the room at the noise of her master’s falling on the floor, cut her throat from ear to ear, and then to avoid a discovery being made, set fire to the house, after he had rifled it of all valuable things in it.

But the divine vengeance was resolved not to let this barbarous act go unpunished; for the neighbourhood, observing a more than ordinary smoke issuing out of the house, concluded it was on fire, and accordingly unanimously joined to extinguish it, which they effectually did, and then going into the house, found Mr Bean and his maid inhumanly murdered. Our adventurer was got out of the way, and no one could be found to fix these cruelties upon; but it was not long before justice overtook Cunningham, who being impeached by a gang of thieves that had been apprehended, and were privy to several of his villainies, was taken up and committed a close prisoner to the Tolbooth, where so many witnesses appeared against him that he was condemned and hanged for his tricks at Leith, in company with the same robbers that had sworn against him.

When he went to the place of execution he betrayed no signs of fear, nor seemed any way daunted at his approaching fate. As he lived, so he died, valiantly and obstinately to the last, unwilling to have it said that he, whose hand had been the instrument of so many murders, proved pusillanimous at the last.

* An apposite contribution from the annals of old-tyme English slang, “trumpery” denotes Old Ware, old Stuff, as old Hats, Boots, Shoes,’ etc. (B. E.); goods of no value, rubbish (Grose): also trash and trumpery, and (proverbial), For want of good company, welcome trumpery. Whence (modern) generic for showy trashiness, and as adj., meretricious, worthless (1574).

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1437: Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl

Add comment March 26th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1437, the Earl of Atholl finally reached the end of a three-day carnival of public tortures and lost bowels, heart, and head for assassinating the King of Scotland.

When Atholl’s grandson Robert exploited the family’s familiar proximity to the king to admit a team of assassins on the night of Feb. 20-21 1437, it ended a strange run for James I.* James had been melodramatically kidnapped by pirates at age 12 and sold to the English — who held the Scottish king** for ransom for 18 years.

By the time James returned to native soil in 1424, he had had quite enough of being some other lord’s shuttlecock and irritated Scotch magnates — who had formerly enjoyed the run of the place and therefore dragged their feet when it came to repatriating their hostage king — by his overweening grabs at land, money, and power. One prime example that would come back to haunt him in the events of this post was the 1425 destruction of the Albany Stewarts, which netted the crown the forfeiture of three earldoms. Clients of the Albany Stewarts, like Sir Robert Graham, delivered a fair fraction of the 28 stab wounds that shuffled King James off this mortal coil.

But even James’s allies had to look sharp when it came to any demesnes not nailed down.

Our principal for today’s post, Walter Stewart by name, was one of these. James’s uncle and supporter, and the son of King Robert II, Stewart/Atholl had pushed for the magnates to ransom James.

Putatively seen as the king’s ally, Atholl’s complicity in regicide made him a byword for treachery to outraged Scottish chroniclers; the apparent grab for the throne led his captors to put a “corone of papir … upon his hed, the which was all abowte depaynetid with jubettes, and for the more dispite and shame to hym was writyne with thes wordes, TRAITOUR, TRAITOUR, TRAITOUR,” according to The Dethe and False Murdure of James Stewarde, Kyng of Scotys.

In a 1992 article on events† historian Michael Brown noted that what Atholl had added to his holdings through his nephew the king was the earldom of Strathearn, and it was but tentatively held: granted for Walter Stewart’s lifetime only, it would revert to the king with the septaugenarian’s death, leaving his heirs no better off than Walter’s own efforts had made them circa 30 years before.

Brown depicts the aging lord as a savvy operator who “would increasingly have despaired of keeping the earldom of Strathearn in his family … [as] a consequence of James’s general opportunism when it came to increasing the revenues of the crown.” A couple of specific adverse interventions that trimmed Atholl’s estates might have presaged — in the earl’s mind, at least — a potential royal move against his position, a move that Atholl would be best advised to check preemptively or never at all. Who could say in February of 1437 whether the Stewarts would by March or April still be royal confidantes in any position to have “left the Kynges chamburs doore opyne; and … brussed and blundird the lokes of hem, yn such wise that no man myght shute hem”?

If we’re not sure of exactly why they did it, we do know very clearly that the plot failed as a coup attempt. Both the queen and the six-year-old heir James II survived that evil night, and James’s violent deposition met not support, but horror. Within weeks the conspirators were hunted to ground. Atholl, for his part, protested his innocence of the regicide all the way to the end, a protest that neither contemporaries nor historians have much credited.

And his death declar’d that there is nothing more popular than justice, for they who were wont to detract from him whilst he was alive, now he as dead had most flagrant desires after him, insomuch that the Nobles, as soon as they heard he was murder’d, came in of their own accord from their respective countries and before a tryal was appointed they voluntarily sent out into all parts to apprehend the murderers and bring them to justice.

Very many of them were taken. The principal of them was put to new and exquisite kinds of death. The rest were hang’d. The chief heads in perpetrating the wickedness were reckon’d to be Walter Earl of Athole, Robert his nephew by his son, and their kinsman Robert Graham.

The punishment of Walter (because he was the chief author and instigator of the whole plot) was divided into three days suffering. In the 1st he was put on a cart wherein a stork-like swipe [crane] or engine was erected, and by ropes let through pullies was hoisted up on high and then, the ropes being suddainly loos’d, he was let down again almost to the ground with grievous pains by reason of the luxation [stretching] of the joints of his body. Then he was set on a pillory that all might see him, and a red-hot iron crown set on his head with this inscription, that he should be called King of all Traitors. They say the cause of this punishment was that Walter had been sometimes told by some female witches (as Athole was always noted to have such) that he should be crown’d king in a mighty concourse of people. For by this means that prophecy was either fulfill’d or eluded, as indeed such kind of predictions do commonly meet with no other events. The day after, he was bound upon a hurdle and drawn at an horse-tail thro’ the greatest street in Edinburgh. The 3rd day he was laid along upon a plank in a conspicuous place and his bowels were cut out whilst he was alive, cast into the fire, and burnt before his face. Afterwards his heart was pulled out and cast into the same fire. Then his head was cut off and expos’d to the view of all, being set upon a poll in the highest place of the city. His body was divided into four quarters and sent to be hang’d up in the most noted places of the best cities of the kingdom.

After him, his nephew was brought forth to suffer, but because of his age they would not put him to so much pain; and besides, he was not the author, but only an accomplice in another man’s wicked design, as having obey’d his grandfather therein, so that he was only hang’d and quarter’d.

But Robert Graham, who did the deed with his own hand, was carried in a cart thro’ the city, and his right hand was nail’d to a gallows which was set up in the cart, and then came executioners which did continually run red-hot iron spikes into his thighs, shoulders, and those parts of his body which were most remote from the vitals, and then he was quarter’d, as the former. After this manner was the death of James vindicated.

‘Tis true, ’twas a cruel one, but ’twas reveng’d by punishments so cruel that they seem’d to exceed the very bounds of humanity. For such extreme kinds of punishment do not so much restrain the minds of the vulgar by the severity as they do make them wild to do or suffer any thing; neither do they so much deter wicked men from committing offences by their acerbity as they lessen their terror by often beholding them, especially if the spirits of the criminals be so hardened that they flinch not at their punishment. For among the unskilful vulgar a stubborn confidence is sometimes prais’d for a firm and stable constancy.

-Rerum Scoticarum Historia (1582)

* James’s successors handed down the throne, father James to son James, right down into the Stuart dynasty that came to rule England as well. This makes our James I an ancestor of such scaffold worthies as Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I.

** James was kidnapped in March 1406. His father Robert III died in April of the same year.

† “‘That Old Serpent and Ancient of Evil Days': Walter, Earl of Atholl and the Death of James I,” The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 71, No. 191/192, Parts 1 & 2 (Apr. – Oct., 1992).

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture,Treason

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1702: David Myles, incestuous

2 comments November 27th, 2016 Headsman

Broadside via the National Library of Scotland:

THE LAST
Words and Confession
of
DAVID MYLES

Who was Executed for Incest, at Edinburgh, on the 27 Day of November, 1702.

David Myles, having commited Incest with his Sister Margaret Myles, both were Condemn’d to be Hanged: the Woman upon the Twentieth and the Man upon the twenty Seventh of November; She Dyed very obduredly [sic] and Obstinately, and gave little or no satisfaction to the Spectators; But he (a young man, not 20 years) dyed very Seriously and Christianly; for when he was brought to the place of Execution, Mr. James Heart Exhorted to Repentance, and now at his last Hour to confess, what he had to say, concerning his Crime before the People.

Whereupon he went to the Eastern end of the scaffold, and said, Good People, give ear a while, I now confess before you all, That I was a very bad Liver, and a great Sabbath breaker, and not only a Sabbath breaker, but also a Swearer and Blasphemer of the Holy Name of GOD; and Guilty both of Incest and Fornication. I got a very ill Example from my Parents; Therefore I desire all you that are Parents to give a good Copy to your Children and desire that you would all pray to GOD for me; Whereupon the Auditors cryed out, Lord have Mercy upon his Soul; And Mr. Heart Prayed to this purpose, viz. That God would give him a sight of his Sins, and open a Door of Mercy to him and that the infinit [sic] Goodness might speedily prevent him, &c. Then he sung the first 4 Verses of the 51 Psalm: which being done, he went to the Western end of the Scaffold, and earnestly prayed to GOD, to pardon all his sins, to wash him, and cleanse him from all his Iniquities, thro’ his mercy, and with the Blood of Jesus Christ his Saviour: and that he was unworthy to come before so holy a GOD, for he was a great Sinner and Transgressor: His Sins were great and many, but tho’ he was weary and heavy laden, yet hoped he would find Rest; and tho’ his Body suffered upon the Gibbet, yet he hoped his soul would go to Glory, &c.

Then he went up the Ladder, and weeping sore, entreated the Spectators to take warning by him, and avoid Sin, lest they fall in the same snare. Then he said, O ye that are Parents of Children, God grant ye may cast them a better Copy than ever I got; And all ye that are young folk, who have your Years before your hands, seek God, and fly all Sin, for one Sin brings on another.

O all of you that see me this day, Take warning by me, and put up your petitions to God for me. Then Mr Heart prayed earnestly for him again; who, when be had done, enquired at him if he was willing to dye? He answered, Ay, ay, I am very willing: my Offence is great, very great: I do not deserve nor desire to live, for I deserve both Torment here, and Torment hereafter: I am very weary of my Sins.

Being enquired at, if he thought his Sentence just? or if he pardoned the Judges? He answered, My Sentence is very Just, I forgive the Judges, and all the World, and God forgive them. Mr. Heart asked him, what hope he had of his going to Heaven, or which of the promises of the Bible he could lippen to, or rely upon. He answered, many, many, but the particular places do not Strik [sic] me in the mind, at present.

Mr. Heart said, you told me in prison, of that in the 11 of Matthew, Came unto me all ye that Labour, and are heavy Laden, and I will give you rest. Whereupon he said, I indeed am in Labour, and am heavy laden, but I hope God will give me rest, and receive my Soul in Glory. He confessed again, that he had been a great Sabbath breaker: After which Mr.Heart recommended him to GOD.

A podcast about the trial — and the subsequent dissection — is available from BBC Radio Scotland, here.

Part of the Themed Set: Sexual Deviance.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Scotland,Sex

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