The History of Leith

January 26, 2012

The Escape of Albany

AFTER the royal marriage and coronation of James III. with Margaret of Oldenburg—both of which ceremonies took place with great pomp at Edinburgh in 1476, he unfortunately contrived to
disgust his-proud nobility by receiving into favour many persons of inferior rank. Thus, deep and dangerous intrigues were formed against him, and by those minions he was soon made aware that his
brothers—Alexander Duke of Albany, and John Earl of Mar—were forming a conspiracy against him, and that the former aimed at nothing less than wresting the sceptre from his hand, and getting himself, with English aid, crowned as Alexander IV., King of Scotland and the Isles—a fact since proved by authentic documents.
Instead of employing his authority as Warden of the Marches in the repression of outrage, Albany broke the truce and burst into England more than once; he slew John of Scougal in East Lothian; and surrounded himself with a band of desperadoes, who at his behest executed the most nefarious crimes.
The dark accusations under which he lay roused at length the suspicions of the king, who ordered the arrest of both him and Mar. Over the latter’s fate there hangs a strange mystery. One historian
declares that he died of fever in the Canongate, under the spells of witches who were burned therefor. Another records that he was bled to death in Craigmillar Castle; and the singular discovery
there in 1818 of a man’s skeleton built erect into the north wall was thought to warrant the adoption of the last account. In 1482 Albany was committed to the Castle of Edinburgh, a close prisoner in the hands of those who knew well that his accession to the throne would ensure their total destruction, yet he escaped them. Aware that a day of trial was coming, and terrified by the unknown fate of Mar, some of his numerous friends contrived to acquaint him that in the Roads of Leith there lay a small vessel laden with Gascon wine, by which he might escape if he made an effort. It is supposed that he was confined in David’s Tower, for we are told it was one that arose from the northern verge of the rock, where the height of the precipice seemed to preclude the possibility of escape. He had but one attendant (styled his chalmer-chield) left to wait upon him, and to this follower he revealed his intention. From the vessel there came to him two small runlets said to contain wine, and they were carried to his apartment unexamined, The duke found that they contained malvoisie, and also a strong rope, with a waxen roll enclosing an unsigned letter, urging, ” that he should lose no time in escaping, as the king’s minions had resolved that he should die ere the morrow’s sun set,” but that the boats of the French vessel would await him at the harbour of Leith.

To lull suspicion, Albany invited the captain of the guard and three of his principal soldiers to sup with him, and all these he succeeded in partially intoxicating. They sat drinking and gaming until the hour grew late; and then the royal duke found that the moment of fate had come.Snatching the captain’s long dagger from his baldrick, Albany buried it again and again in his glittering breast; he despatched the intoxicated soldiers in the same fashion, and, in token of his hostility, with the assistance of his chalmer-chield he barbarously threw the bodies on a great fire
that blazed in the fireplace of the tower; “and there in their armour they broiled and sweltered like tortoises in iron shells.” Locking the doors, the fugitives hurriedly and stealthily reached the tower-head unseen. The attendant lowered himself down first over the abutting crag, which there is more than 200 feet in height, but the cord proving too short it slipped from his hands, and he fell to the bottom senseless.
This must have been a terrible crisis for the blood-stained Albany ! Hurrying back to his now horrible apartment in the tower, he dragged the sheets from his bed, added them to the rope, looped it round an embrasure, and lowered himself safely down over rampart and rock to the bottom, where he found his attendant lying helpless, with a broken thigh. Unwilling to leave him to perish, Albany, with a sentiment that contrasts singularly with his recent ferocity, raised him on his shoulders, and being a man of unusual strength and stature, he actually conveyed him to Leith, a distance
of two miles; and, when the sun rose, the ship, with Albany, was out on the German sea.
Daylight revealed the rope and twisted sheets hanging over the rampart of the tower. An alarm was given, which the dreadful stench from the locked chamber must have increased. The door was opened. Albany was gone, but the half-consumed corpses were found in the fireplace; and James III. refused to believe in a story so incredible till he had visited the place in person.Albany fled to England, the king of which refused to deliver him up. Thus war was declared, and James marched from the Burghmuir with 50,000 men and a train of guns, under the master of the ordnance, a stone-mason, whom, with great impolicy, he had created Earl of Mar. At Lauder the nobles halted; hanged all the king’s minions over the bridge in horse-halters, and disbanded the troops ; and then the humbled and luckless James returned to the Castle, where for many months, in 1481, he remained a species of prisoner in the custody of its commanders, the Earls of Athol and Buchan, who, it has been supposed, would have murdered him in secret had not the Lord Darnley and other loyal barons protected him, by never leaving his chamber unguarded by night or day. There he remained in aspecies of honourable durance, while near him lay in a dungeon the venerable Earl of Douglas, who scorned to be reconciled, though James, in his humility, made overtures to him.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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