The History of Leith

May 13, 2004

Bothwell Brig, Leith, and Sacrifice

On the 22nd June 1679 the covenanters were defeated by the Duke of Monmouth at the Battle of Bothwell Brig and the survivors where held in the Inner Greyfriar Yard which was an extension of the famous Churchyard of Greyfriars in Edinburgh. This part of the Churchyard was later to be called the Covenanters Prison.

After having been confined in their exposed prison for five months two hundred and seven of the Covenanters were marched to Leith and put abroad the “Crown” to be carried as slaves to the Plantations. The Captain of the ship was a “cruel and profane man” and the prisoners were treated badly however their suffering didn’t last long as the ship was lost at sea of the Orkney’s and over two hundred drowned.

However before they boarded the “Crown” before their ill fated voyage as they marched down Easter Road and looked to what in later years was to become Leith Walk they would have seen the “Gallow Lee” which was one of the Leith Gallows, the area where it was is now called Shrub Hill, and hanging in chains they would have seen the body of David Hackston of Rathillet who held the bridge at Bothwell for hours against the Royalist troops.. Later after the Kites and crows had pecked away Hackston’s remained another five Covenanters were hanged. After which the corpses were buried under the Gallows and their heads spiked above the city gates.

The story doesn’t end there because later James Renwick and a number of his friends dug up the bodies at night and transferred them to St Cuthberts Churchyard. They then removed the spiked heads. But as it was getting lighter and morning was fast approaching the heads were quickly buried under a couple of Rose Bushes near to what was to become the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. After forty-six years the heads were rediscovered and re-buried in Greyfriars Churchyard beneath the Martyrs Monument.

Leith has seen many horrors it is long, long history but this episode must be counted among the worst.

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