The History of Leith

January 16, 2012

The ghastly roll of all

Close by St. Giles’s church, where radii in the causeway mark its site, stood the ancient cross ‘ of the city, so barbarously swept away by the ignorant and tasteless magistracy of 1756. Scott, and other men of taste, never ceased to deplore its destruction, and many attempts have been vainly made to collect the fragments and reconstruct it.
In ” Marmion,” as the poet has it:—
” Dunedin’s cross, a pillared stone,
Rose on a turret octagon;
But now is razed that monument,
Whence royal edicts rang,
And the voice of Scotland’s law went forth,
In glorious trumpet cJang.
Oh, be his tomb as lead to lead
Upon its dull destroyer’s head !—
A minstrel’s malison is said.”
A battlemented octagon tower, furnished with four angular turrets, it was sixteen feet in diameter, and fifteen feet high. From this rose the centre pillar, also octagon, twenty feet in height, surmounted by a beautiful Gothic capital, terminated by a crowned unicorn. Calderwood tells us that prior to King; James’s visit to Scotland the old cross was taken, down from the place where it had stood within the memory of man, and the shaft transported to the new one, by the aid of certain mariners from Leith. Rebuilt thus in 1617, nearly on the site of an older cross, it was of a mixed style of architecture, and in its reconstruction, with a better taste than later years have shown, the chief ornaments of the ancient edifice had been preserved ; the heads in basso-relievo, which surmounted seven of the arches, have been referred by our most eminent antiquaries to the remote period of the Lower Empire. Four of those heads, which were long preserved by Mr. Ross at Deanhaugh, were procured by Sir Walter Scott, and are still preserved at Abbotsford, together with the great stone font or basin which flowed with wine on holidays. The central pillar, long preserved at Lord Somerville’s house, Drum, near Edinburgh, now stands near the Napier tomb, within a railing, on the north side of the choir of St. Giles’s, where it was placed in 1866. A crowned unicorn surmounts it, bearing a pennon blazoned with a silver St. Andrew’s cross on one side, and on the other the city crest—an anchor. From the side of that venerable shaft royal proclamations,
solemn denunciations of excommunication and outlawry, involving ruin and death, went forth for ages, and strange and terrible have been the scenes, the cruelties, the executions, and absurdities,,
it has witnessed. From its battlements, by tradition, mimic heralds of the unseen world cited the gallant James and all our Scottish chivalry to appear in the domains of Pluto immediately before the march of the army to Flodden, as recorded at great length in the ” Chronicles of Pitscottie,” and rendered more pleasantly, yet literally, into verse by Scott—

” Then on its battlements they saw
A vision passing Nature’s law,
Strange, wild, and dimly seen ;
‘ Figures that seemed to rise and die,
Gibber and sign, advance and fly,
While nought confirmed could ear or eye
Dream of sound or mien.
Yet darkly did it seem as there,
Heralds and pursuivants prepare,
With trumpet sound and blazon fair,
A summons to proclaim ;
But indistinct the pageant proud,
As fancy forms of midnight cloud,
When flings the moon upon her shroud
A wavering tinge of flame;
It flits, expands, and ,hifts, till loud
From midmost of the spectre crowd,
The awful summons came!”
Then, according to Pitscottie, followed the ghastly roll of all who were doomed to fall at Flodden, including the name of Mr. Richard Lawson, who heard it. ” I appeal from that summons and sentence,” he exclaimed, courageously, ” and take me to the mercy of God and Christ Jesus His Son.” “Verily,” adds Pitscottie, “the author of this, that caused write the manner of this summons, was
a landed gentleman, who was at that time twenty years of age, and was in the town at the time of the said summons, and thereafter when the field was stricken, he swore to me there was no man escaped that was called in this summons, but that man alone who made his protestation and appealed from the said summons, but all the lave perished in the field with the king.”
Under the shadow of that cross have been transacted many deeds of real horror, more than we can enumerate here—but a few may suffice. There, in 1563, Sir James Tarbat, a Roman Catholic priest, was pilloried in his vestments, with a chalice bound to his hands, and, as Knox has it, was served by the mob with ” his Easter eggs,” till he was pelted to
death. There died Sir William Kirkaldy, hanged “with his face to the sun” (as Knox curiously predicted before his own death), for the execution took place at four in the afternoon, when the sun was in the west (Calderwood) ; and there, in time to come, died his enemy Morton. There died Montrose and many of his cavalier comrades, amid every ignominy that could be inflicted upon them; and
the two Argyles, father and son. An incredible number of real and imaginary criminals have rendered up their lives on that fatal spot, and among! the not least interesting of the former we may mention Gilderoy, or ” the red-haired lad,” whose real name was Patrick Macgregor, and who, with ten other caterans, accused of cattle-lifting and many wild pranks on the shores of Loch Lomond, when brought to Edinburgh, were drawn backwards on a hurdle to the cross, on the 2jth of July, 1636, and there hanged—Gilderoy and John Forbes suffering on a higher gallows than the rest, and, further, having their heads and hands struck off, to be affixed to the city gates. Gilderoy, we need scarcely add, has obtained a high ballad fame. There is a broadside of the time, containing a lament to him written by his mistress, in rude verses, not altogether without some pathos ; one verse runs thus :—
” My love he was as brave a man
As ever Scotland bred,
Descended from a highland clan,
A catheran to his trade.
No woman then or woman-kind
Had ever greater joy,
Than we two when we lived alone,
I and my Gil(Jferoy !”
Here culprits underwent scourging, branding, earnailing, and nose-pinching, with tongue-boring and other punishments deemed minor

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