1615: Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney

3 comments February 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1615,* the tyrannical Earl of Orkney was beheaded in Edinburgh for treason.

Not this Patrick Stewart.

Ultimately a footnote in the sweep of Scottish history, the earl was — and remains — locally infamous for his decadence and cruelty. He persecuted “witches” gleefully. In fact, we have already met one in these pages: Alison Balfour, speciously accused of attempting to murder him. Stewart said that absent vigorous prosecution his subjects “wald all have becommit witches and warlockis for the people ar naturally inclynit thairto,” though the property forfeiture accompanying a witchcraft conviction might also have had something to do with it.

None of this had aught to do with the noble’s fall, although it was cited against him in passing; a treason charge for usurping royal authority arising from parochial jockeying for power did him in.**

It’s almost certainly just a scurrilous rumor — one of those stories of more Truth than truth — that the beheading had to be stayed a few days to let the savage earl bone up on the Lord’s prayer.

The headless lord does have a latter-day biography all his own, an out-of-print 1992 tome called Black Patie: The Life and Times of Patrick Stewart Earl of Orkney, Lord of Shetland. The same author has also written a volume about the earl’s equally despotic father, Robert Stewart.

* What would be 1615 to a modern reader, but what was then 1614 by the delayed onset of the legal new year. The specific month and date is courtesy of worldroots.com.

** They did in his son, too, whom Patrick Stewart instigated to press an uprising while the old man was awaiting the block; after the now-tourist-friendly Stewart castle succumbed to a siege, the boy was (separately) executed as well, extinguishing the noble title.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Infamous,Nobility,Scotland,The Worm Turns,Treason

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1594: Alison Balfour

5 comments December 16th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1594, Alison Balfour was burned as a witch on the strength of a confession extracted under the hideous torture of her family.

Balfour had been implicated in a plot — probably entirely fictitious — to poison the tyrannical young Earl of Orkney, with some misshapen blob of wax appearing as evidence of her communion with the infernal.

She was tortured, but she denied the charges.

Her 81-year-old husband was tortured in front of her, but she denied the charges.

Her son’s feet were crushed in front of her, but she denied the charges.

When at last her seven-year-old daughter was put to thumbscrews in front of her, she broke down and “confessed.”

Before her execution, she renounced her confession in heartbreaking words to be read in the original records:

sche … declarit and tuik upoun hir saull and conscience, as sche wald ansuer att the day of judgement … that sche wes als innocent and wald die als innocent on ony point of Wichcraft as ane barne new borne … the tyme of hir first Depositioun sche wes tortourit diverse and severall tymes in the Caschielawis, and sindrie tymis takin out of thame deid,* … as lykewyis hir guidman being in the stokis, hir sone tortourit in the Buitis, and hir dochtir put in the Pilliewinkis, quhairwith sche and thay wer swa vexit and tormentit, that pairtlie to eschew ane gretar torment and pwneischement, and upoun promeis of hir lyffe, and guid deid be the said Personne, falslie, aganis hir saull and conscience, sche maid that Confessioun, and na uthirwyis.

Just two years later, another supposed perpetrator of this same plot was acquitted in Edinburgh — the evidence of Balfour’s case thrown out as unreliably obtained under torture.

* “taken out of them dead” — i.e., unconscious

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Innocent Bystanders,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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