January 23rd, 2010
On this date in 1685, Robert Pollack and Robert Millar (or Pollock and Miller) were hanged in Edinburgh as Covenanters.
An East Kilbride shoemaker and a Rutherglen mason, respectively, they were a tick and a tock in the Killing Time — lost like tears in rain amid the torrent of Presbyterian martyrs.
These adhered to James Renwick‘s subversive doctrine of Scottish presbyter control against the overweening Anglican Episcopacy, a conflict of characteristically comingling religious and political characters.
Since most of the Covenanter-killing was being done summarily by soldiers in the field, these Roberts were actually the rare gallows-birds to be condemned in civil court, for which trouble they strangled at the Gallowlee on the road from Edinburgh to Peith.
Their last testaments can be read here, along with those of many other such martyrs.
Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, and employ your strength in the holding up of the fallen-down standard of our Lord, and if ye be found real in this duty, ye shall either be a temple, which shall be a glorious sight, or else ye shall be transported, and be a member of the Church triumphant; so ye shall be no loser, but a noble gainer either of the ways.
Though not up to the fame of having their own statuary, Pollack/Pollock has a place on the Covenanter monument in East Kilbride … where the martyrs’ spiritual descendants recently held the movement’s first open-air Conventicle since the 1680s.
Part of the Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration.
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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason
Tags: 1680s, 1685, edinburgh, james renwick, january 23, leith, robert millar, robert miller, robert pollack, robert pollock, the gallowlee
September 2nd, 2009
On this date in 1685, an infamous judicial bloodbath claimed its first and most controversial victim.
Dame Alice (or Alicia) Lisle (or Lyle) was beheaded in Winchester for harboring fugitives from the Battle of Sedgemoor, where pretender and fellow execution-fodder Monmouth was defeated.
The aged woman had evidently taken in the fugitives John Hickes and Richard Nelthorpe as a humanitarian gesture when they happened to show up at her door; despite her late husband’s part in the regicide of Charles I, Alice Lisle doesn’t seem to have been the political type.
So the fact that Lisle was charged with treason was a national (indeed, transatlantic) controversy … and the fact that she was the first of the thousand-plus rebel prisoners tried set the tone for the legal circuit this month that became remembered as the Bloody Assizes.
In an attainder later reversed under William and Mary, Lisle was convicted and condemned to burn (the sentence was commuted to beheading) by notorious hanging judge Lord Jeffreys.
Macaulay describes this infamous landmark case.
If Lady Alice knew her guests to have been concerned in the insurrection, she was undoubtedly guilty of what in strictness is a capital crime … [t]he feeling which makes the most loyal subject shrink from the thought of giving up to a shameful death the rebel who, vanquished, hunted down, and in mortal agony, begs for a morsel of bread and a cup of water, may be a weakness: but it is surely a weakness very nearly allied to virtue … no English ruler who has been thus baffled, the savage and implacable James [II] alone excepted, has had the barbarity even to think of putting a lady to a cruel and shameful death for so venial and amiable a transgression.
Odious as the law was, it was strained for the purpose of destroying Alice Lisle … [T]he witnesses prevaricated. The jury, consisting of the principal gentlemen of Hampshire, shrank from the thought of sending a fellow creature to the stake for conduct which seemed deserving rather of praise than of blame. Jeffreys was beside himself with fury … He stormed, cursed, and swore in language which no wellbred man would have used at a race or a cockfight …
The jury retired, and remained long in consultation. The judge grew impatient. He could not conceive, he said, how, in so plain a case, they should even have left the box. He sent a messenger to tell them that, if they did not instantly return, he would adjourn the court and lock them up all night. Thus put to the torture, they came, but came to say that they doubted whether the charge had been made out. Jeffreys expostulated with them vehemently, and, after another consultation, they gave a reluctant verdict of Guilty.
Lisle was the only victim of the Assizes at Winchester, but her death would preview the wholesale slaughters to follow.
Jeffreys reached Dorchester the next day and his pitiless tribunal began its work of sentencing hundreds to the various modes of English execution, or else to convict transportation — a fate more lucrative for the crown, but little less terrible to its victims.
“More than three hundred prisoners were to be tried,” Macaulay noted. “The work seemed heavy; but Jeffreys had a contrivance for making it light. He let it be understood that the only chance of obtaining pardon or respite was to plead guilty.”
For all that, the Assizes greatly injured the Stuart cause, precisely because of indiscriminately butchering the likes of Alice Lisle.
Judge Jeffreys’ reputation as a vicious, politically-motivated jurist landed him in the Tower of London by 1689, when he, er, injudiciously stuck around after James II fled the country; reportedly, Jeffreys was lucky to make it to the Tower under guard from the mob that wanted to tear him apart.
Though posterity has the luxury of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand assessment, he remains a villain to most accounts … like the vengeful verse to his memory that prefaces this Victorian text on the Assizes.
To Tyburn thee let carrion Horses draw,
In jolting Cart, without so much as straw;
Jaded, may they lye down i’ th’ road, and tyr’d,
And (worse than one fair hanging, twice bemir’d)
May’st thou be maul’d with Pulchers Sexton’s Sermon,
‘Till thou roar out for Hemp-sake, Drive on Car-man.
Pelted and Curst i’ th’ road by every one,
E’ne to be hang’d may’st thou the Gauntlet run.
Not one good Woman who in Conscience can
Cry out,–’Tis pitty,–Troth, a proper Man.
Stupid and dull, may’st thou rub off like Hone,
Without an open, or a smother’d groan;
May the Knot miss the place, and fitted be
To plague and torture, not deliver thee;
Be half a day in Dying thus, and then
Revive like Savage, to be hang’d agen.
In Pity now thou shalt no longer Live,
For when thus satisfy’d, I can forgive.
Yikes. Jeffreys actually succumbed to a kidney disease a few months into his captivity. Close enough.
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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Public Executions,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1680s, 1685, alice lisle, battle of sedgemoor, bloody assizes, duke of monmouth, hanging judge, james ii, john hickes, lord jeffreys, regicide, richard nelthorpe, william and mary, winchester