The History of Leith

February 26, 2011

The Tolbooth

This edifice, which measured, as Kincaid states, sixty feet by forty over the walls, had a large archway in the centre, above which were two windows of great height, elaborately grated. On the west of it, an outside stair gave access to the first door; on the east there projected * corbelled oriel, or turret,’ lighted by eight windows, all grated. Three elaborate suing mouldings traversed the polished ashlar.front of the building, which was surmounted by an embrasured battlement, and in one part by a crowstcpped gable.
Few prisoners of much note have been incarcerated here, as its tenants were generally persons who had been guilty of minor crimes. Perhaps the most celebrated prisoner it ever contained was
the Scottish Machiavel, “Maitland of Lethington, who had fallen into the merciless hands of the Regent Morton after the capitulation of Edinburgh Castle in 1573, and who died, as it was said, “in
the old Roman fashion,” by taking poison to escape a public execution.
This was on the 9th of July, as Calderwood records, adding that he lay so long unburied, “that the vermin came from his corpse, creeping out
under the door where he died.”

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