The History of Leith

February 4, 2012

Superstitious feelings in blinding justice.”

The World’s End Close was the curious and appropriate name bestowed upon the last gloomy,and mysterious-looking alley on the south side of the. High Street, adjacent to the Netherbow Port,
when it lost its older name of Sir John Stanfield’s Close.
At the foot of it an ancient tenement has a shield of arms on its lintel, with the common Edinburgh legend—”Praisze. the. Lord. for.all.His.giftis,M.S.;”
but save this, and a rich Gothic niche, built into a modern ” land ” of uninteresting aspect, nothing remains of Stanfield’s Close save the memory of the dark tragedy connected with the name of the knight.Sir James Stanfield was one of those English manufacturers who, by permission of the Scottish Government,had settled at Newmills, in East Lothian.
He was a respectable man, but the profligacy of Philip, his eldest son, so greatly afflicted him thathe became melancholy, and he disinherited his heir by a will. On a day in the November of 1687 he was found drowned, it was alleged, in a pool of water near his country house at Newmills. Doubts were started as to whether he had committed suicide, in consequence of domestic troubles, or had
been murdered. The circumstances of his beinghastily interred, and that Lady Stanfield had a suit of grave-clothes all ready for him before his death, seemed to point to the latter; and two surgeons were sent from Edinburgh to examine the body and report upon it.
It was raised from the grave, after it had lain there two days, and the surgeons having made an incision near the neck, became convinced that death had been caused by strangulation, so all supposition of suicide was abandoned. This examination took place in a church. After the cut had been sewn up, the body was washed, wrapped in fresh linen, and James Row, merchant in Edinburgh,
and Philip Stanfield, the disinherited son, lifted it for deposition in the coffin, when lo! on the side sustained by Philip an effusion of blood took place, and so Snple as to defile both his hands. ” Lord, have mercy on me !” he exclaimed, and let the body fall. He then rushed horror-stricken into the precentor’s desk, where he lay for some time groaning in great anguish, and refusing to touch the corpse again, while all looked on with dismay. The incident was at once accepted by the then Scottish mind in the light of a revelation of Philip’s guilt as his father’s murderer. “In a secret murther,” says King James in his ‘ Deemonology’—” if the dead carkasse be at any time thereafter handled by the murtherar, it will gushe out of blood, as if the blood were crying to heaven for revenge of the murtherar.”
Accordingly, on the 7th of February, 1688, Philip was brought to trial at Edinburgh, and after the household servants had been put to torture without eliciting anything on the strength of the
mysterious bleeding, according to Fountainhall, save that he was known to have cursed his father, drunk to the king’s confusion, and linked the royal name with those of the Pope, the devil, and Lord Chancellor, he was sentenced to death. He protested his innocence to the last, and urged in vain that his father was a melancholy man, subject to fits; that once he set out for England, but because his horse stopped at a certain place, he thought he saw the finger of God, and returned home ; and that he once tried to throw himself over a window at the Nether Bow, probably at his house in the World’s End Close.
Philip Stanfield was hanged at the Market Cross on the 24th of February. Inconsequence of a slip of the rope, he came down on his knees, and it was necessary to use more horrible means of strangulation. His tongue was cut out for cursing his father; his right hand was struck off for parricide; his head was spiked on the East Port of Haddington, and his mutilated body was hung in chains between Leith and the city. After a few days the body was stolen from the gibbet, and found lying in a ditch among water. It was chained up again, but was a Second time stolen; and in the strangulation on the scaffold, and the being found in a ditch among water, the superstitious saw retributive justice for the murder of which he was assumed to be guilty. ” It will be acknowledged,”
says the author of the ” Domestic Annals,” ” that in the circumstances related there is not a particle of valid evidence against the young man.
The surgeons’ opinion as to the fact of strangulation is not entitled to much regard; but, granting its solidity, it does not prove the guilt of the accused.
The horror of the young man on seeing his father’s blood might be referred to painful recollections of that profligate conduct which he knew had distressed his parent, and brought his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave—especially when we reflect that Stanfield would himself be impressed with the superstitious feelings of the age, and might accept the haemorrhage as an accusation by heaven
on account of the concern his conduct had in shortening the life of his father. The whole case seems to be a lively illustration of the effect of superstitious feelings in blinding justice.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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