The History of Leith

August 25, 2011

The Black Dinner

The great house of Douglas had now reached the zenith of its baronial power and pride. The earl possessed Annandale, Galloway, and other extensive dominions in the southern counties, where all men bowed to his authority. He had the dukedom of Touraine and lordship of Longueville in France. He was allied to the royal family of Scotland, and had at his back a powerful force of devoted vassals, trained, to arms, led by brave knights, who were ripe at all times for revolt and strife. ” The Regent and the Chancellor are both alike to me,” said he, scornfully ; ” ’tis no matter which may overcome, and if both perish the country will be the better ; and it is a pleasant sight for honest men to see such fencers yoked together.” But soon after the potent Douglas died at Restalrig—in June, 1440—and was succeeded by his son William, then in his sixteenth year ; and now the subtle and unscrupulous old Chancellor thought that the time had come to destroy with safety a family he alike feared and detested. In the flush of his youth and pride, fired by the flattery of his dependents, the young earl, in the retinue and splendour that surrounded him far surpassed his sovereign. He never rode abroad with less than two thousand lances under his banner, well horsed, and sheathed in mail, and he actually, according to Buchanan, sent as his ambassadors to the court of France Sir Malcolm Fleming and Sir John Lander of the Bass, to obtain for him a new patent of the duchy of Touraine, which had been conferred on his grandfather by Charles VII. Arrogance so unwonted and grandeur so great alarmed both Crichton and Livingstone, who could not see where all this was to end.
Any resort to violence would lead to civil war. He was therefore, with many flatteries, lured to partake of a banquet in the Castle of Edinburgh, accompanied by his brother the little Lord David and Sir Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld. With every show of welcome they were placed at the same table with the king, while the portcullis was suddenly lowered, the gates carefully shut, and their numerous and suspicious train excluded.
Towards the close of the entertainment a black bull’s head—an ancient Scottish symbol that some one was doomed to death—was suddenly placed upon the board. The brave boys sprang up, and drew their swords; but a band of Crichton’s vassals, in complete armour, rushed in from a chamber called the Tiring-house, and dragged forth the three guests, despite the tears and entreaties of the young king.
They were immediately beheaded—on the 24th of November, 1440—according to Godscroft, “in the back court of the Castle that lyeth to the west” (where the barracks now stand); in the great hall, according to Balfour. They were buried in the fortress, and when, in 1753, some workmen, in digging a foundation there, found the plate and handles of a coffin all of which were pure gold, they were supposed to belong to that in which the Earl of Douglas was placed. Singular to say, Crichton was never brought to trial for this terrible outrage. “Venomous viper!” exclaims the old
historian of the Douglases, ” that could hide so deadly poyson under so faire showes ! unworthy tongue, unelesse to be cut oute for example to all ages ! A lion or tiger for cruelty of heart—a waspe
or spider for spight!”

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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