The History of Leith

August 26, 2011

Reserved for the King’s pleasure.

In those days, whatever flag was borne, piracy was a thriving trade in Scottish and English waters, where vessels of various countries were often captured by daring marauders, their crews tortured,
slaughtered, or thrown ashore upon lonely and desolate isles. Long Island, on the Irish coast, was a regular station for English pirate ships, and from thence in 1609 a robber crew, headed by two
captains named Perkins and William Randall, master of a ship called the Gryphound, sailed for Scottish waters in a great Dutch vessel called the Iron Prize, accompanied by a swift pinnace, and for months they roamed about the Northern seas, doing an incredible deal of mischief, and theyeven had the hardihood to appear off the Firth of Forth.
The Privy Council upon this armed and fitted out three vessels at Leith, from whence they sailed in quest of the pirates, who had gone to Orkney to refit. There the latter had landed near the castle
of Kirkwall, in which town they behaved barbarously, were always intoxicated, and indulged “in all manner of vice and villainy.” Three of them, who had attacked a small vessel lying in shore, belonging to Patrick Earl of Orkney, were captured by his brother, Sir James Stewart (gentleman of the bed-chamber to James VI.), and soon after the three ships from Leith made their appearance,
on which many of the pirates fled in the pinnace. A pursuit proving futile, the ships captured the Iron Prize, but not without a desperate conflict, in which several were killed and wounded. Thirty English prisoners were taken and brought to Leith, where—after a brief trial on the 26th of July—twenty-seven of them, including the two captains, were hanged at once upon a gibbet at the pier, three of them being reserved in the hope of their giving useful information. The Lord Chancellor, in a letter to James VI., written on the day of the execution, says that these pirates, oddly enough, had a parson ” for saying of prayers to them twice a day,” who deserted from them in Orkney, but was apprehended in Dundee, where he gave evidence against the rest, and would be reserved for
the King’s pleasure.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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