The History of Leith

December 14, 2006

The Bonnie Earl of Moray

From the South Leith Commemoration Lecture 1920.

There are many people who worship in this ancient and beautiful church (South Leith Parish Church) who are quite ignorant of the historical associations which cluster around it. Some, perhaps cannot be awakened to take any interest in such matters; but it was in hope that others may be susceptable to the charm of the past that this Commemoration Lecture delivered annually was instituted.

The remors which went from end to end of the Church and country when the Reformation period commenced did not subside for several generations. It was a matter of immense difficulty to initiate and carry through the Reformation in face of determined opposition of Queen Mary who had fallen under the thumb of her bigoted Uncles, the Guises, while she lived in France. It was hardily less difficult to consolidate the work then begun when her son James VI was on the Throne. He shared to the full the idea that a King had a divine right adhereing to that position and was very sensitive to the possible influence of any form of church government which might weaken the Royal Perogative. His first idea evidently was not “what is most in harmony with the spirit of Christianity and the teaching of Scripture” but rather ” what has been in existence for long and proved itself compatable with absolutist notions of government”.

In 1591-92 however James was compelled by the pressure of Scottish public opinion to grant to the Church of Scotland its great charter. Which put the Presbyterianism on a firmer fooring than it had formerly occupied. Roman Catholicism was overthrown and the national religious life was loosened not only from from the control of the Pope but even from the “hankering” after such longings for an alliance with Rome which James now and again revealed that he could cherish.

There is a connection of this tendency with the “Bonnie Earl of Moray” which at first sight might not be evident. But his untimely end was undoubtly linked up withthe many intriques which James and his friends entered into either to restore or to retain as much of the ancient regime in Church and State as possible. When shortly after the tragedythe Earl of Argyle was in the North seeking vengence on the Earl of Huntly for the murder of the Earl of Moray he made the startling discovery that a “Band” or agreement had be completed between Huntly, Errol, and Maitland against Moray, Cawdor, and Argyle in order to bring about about their deaths by assassination if need be so that the conspirators might obtain possession of the lands and possessions of those whom they hated. He found good reasonto believe the King James was acquainted with the plan and approved of it. Huntly was the leading Catholic in the North and there had been a family feud with the Morays ever since the time of the murder of the “Good Regent Moray”.

With the hope of succeeding to the throne of England. James could only afford to forsake Protestantism if a successful alliance could be arranged between the Catholics of both countries and with what aid the Pope and the Continent could give. But on the other hand the more settled England came to be on the side of the Reformation the less forcible was the appeal of such a scheme to James. After the defeat of the Armada in 1588 it must have become more and more unlikely.

But James and Maitland were, as unfortunately most of the politicians of the day were also, adepts in the game of duplicity and prevarication and at the time of the secret “Band” was framed they had strong personal motives for trying to get rid of the leading Reformation earls and of annexing their possessions or bestowing them on other favourites.

It is now necessary that I should say something about the ancient Earldom of Moray. It was held by Randolph who became famous by the capture of Edinburgh Castle during the time of Robert the Bruce and his valour during the Battle of Bannockburn. The family only came of note again with the coming of the Regent who was the son of James V and was born in 1531. He was thus half brother to Mary Queen of Scots. He became to the Reformation early and his relations with Queen Mary were difficult. With his murder in 1571 the family became extinct in the male line but was continued in the female. On the marriage of his eldest daughter to the son of Lord Doune the rarldom was revived in her favour and her husband and this was the “Bonnie Earl of Moray” and so he was the son-in-law and not the son of the Regent Moray..

The feud between Huntly and Moray started in 1561 when the Regent Moray harried the lands of Huntly who at one time also borne the title of Moray. This lead to years of bitterness and strife and Huntly passed the feud down to his grandson who was a contemporary of the “Bonnie Earl”.

An accusation was made that Moray had helped Bothwell mainly because of his hatred of Thirlstane the Chancellor. James took the step of entrusting the arrest of Moray to Huntly a step which was bound to led to trouble. The order was given that Moray was to leave his castle in the North at Darnaway and he was to go to Donibristle near Aberdour where he could be watched.

On the night of the 8th February 1592 when he had no suspicion of trouble the castle was attacked by Huntly. Moray refused to surrender and the house was set on fire. First the Sheriff of Moray. Dunbar tried to escape but he was cut down. Afterwards Moray escaped as far as the shore. He almost escaped in the dark but was spotted and was hacked to death.

It is well known that the bodies of the Earl and Dunbar were brought over the Forth to Leith the following day and it is believed that the intention of his mother was for the Earls coffin to be carried through Edinburgh, accompanied by a banner showing the naked Earl and the wounds he had received. This banner still exists at Donibristle. Finally the body was to be delivered to the King as Lady Doune was convinced that the King was involved in the Murder. The King became very frightened and ordered Magistrates to arrest the bodies to prevent them being carried through Edinburgh. In a panic James left Edinbugh with the Council and fled to Glasgow.

The bodies were then placed in South Leith Church and they were left until the crime was punished unburied. It is known thousands of people came to the church to pay their last respects. It is said that the body lay in South Leith for six months. However where the burial took place is not known. The proper place would have been St Giles. However it may have been at South Leith since the body lay for many months within its walls also the King would have refused permission to move it to Edinburgh.

Later James atoned for the murder by helping to reconcil the two families and the subsequent marriage of the second earl of Moray to Lady Anne Gordon the daughter of Huntly. Moray House came into the family when the son of this union married the Eldest daughter of Home. The present Earl of Moray is descended from this union.

After the execution of Lord Balmerino in 1746 the Barony of Leith passed to the Moray family who held until 1920 when the property passed to the then Edinburgh Corporation.

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