The History of Leith

February 16, 2012

The humiliating procession which conducted the great Marquis of Montrose to his terrible doom.

OF all the wonderful and startling spectacles witnessed amid the lapse of ages from the windows of the Canongate, none was perhaps more startling and pitiful than the humiliating procession which
conducted the great Marquis of Montrose to his terrible doom.
On the i8th of May, 1650, he was brought across the Forth to Leith, after his defeat and capture by the Covenanters at the battle of Invercarron, where he had displayed the royal standard; and it is impossible now to convey an adequate idea of the sensation excited in the city, when the people became aware that the Graham, the victor in so many battles, and the slayer of so many thousands
of the best troops of the Covenant, was almost at their gates.
Placed on a cart-horse, he was brought in by the eastern barrier of the city, as it was resolved, by the influence of his rival and enemy, Argyle, to protract the spectacle of his humiliation as long as possible, by compelling him to traverse the entire length of the excited and tumultuous metropolis, by the Canongate and High Street, ” overlooked by the loftiest houses in Europe, with their forestairs, balconies, bartizans, and outshots, that afforded every facility for beholding the spectacle. On this day the whole length of that vast thoroughfare was one living mass of human beings ; but for one who had come to pity, there were more than a hundred whose hearts were filled with a tiger-like ferocity, which the clergy had inspired to a dangerous degree, and for the most ungenerous purpose.” The women of the kail-market and the ” saints of the Bowhead” were all there, their tongues trembling with abuse, and their hands full of stones or mud to launch at the head of the fallen Cavalier, who passed through the Water Gate at four in the afternoon, greeted by a storm of yells. Seated on a lofty hurdle, he was bound with cords so
tightly that he was unable to raise his hands to savehis face; preceded by the magistrates in their robes, he was bareheaded, his hat having been torn from him. Though in the prime of manhood
and perfection of manly beauty, we are told that he ” looked pale, worn, and hollow-eyed, for many of the wounds he had received at Invercarron were yet green and smarting. A single horse drew the hurdle, and thereon sat the executioner of the city, clad in his ghastly and sable livery, and wearing his bonnet as a mark of disrespect.”
He was escorted by the city guard, under the notorious Major Weir—Weir the wizard, whose terrible fate has been recorded elsewhere.
In front marched a number of Cavalier prisoners,bareheaded and bound with cords. Many of the people now shed tears on witnessing this spectacle; but, says Kincaid, they were publicly rebuked by the clergy, ” who declaimed against this movement of rebel nature, and reproached them with their profane tenderness;” while the ” Wigton Papers ” state that how even the widows and the mothers of those who had fallen in his wars wept for Montrose who looked around him with the profoundest serenity as he proceeded up the Canongate, even when he came to Moray House—
” Then, as the Graham looked upward, he met the ugly
Of him who sold his king for gold, the master-fiend
Argyle !”
On the broad stone balcony which there projects into the street was Argyle, with a gay bridal party in their brave dresses. His son, Lord Lome, had just been wedded to the Earl of Moray’s daughter
Lady Mary Stuart, and the young couple were there, with the Marchioness, the Countess of Haddington, Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston, and others, to exult over the fallen Royalist. ” Their
malice was not confined to that,” says Monteith of Salmonet, ” they caused the cart to be stopped for some time before the Earl of Moray’s house,where, by an unparalleled baseness, Argyle, with
the chief men of his cabal, who never durst look Montrose in the face while he had his sword in his hand, appeared in the balcony in order to feed merrily their sight with a spectacle which struck
horror into all good men. But Montrose astonished them with his looks, and his resolution confounded them.” Then with broad vulgarity the marchioness spat full in his face! Argyle shrank back at this, and an English Cavalier who stood among the crowd below reviled him sharply, while Lome and his bride continued to toy and smile in the face of
the people. (” Wigton Papers.”)
So protracted was this melancholy spectacle that seven o’clock had struck before the hurdle reached the gate of the Tolbooth, where Montrose, when unbound, gave the executioner a gold coin, saying
—” This is your reward, my man, for driving the
On the following day, Sunday, the ministers in their pulpits, according to Wishart, rebuked the people for not having stoned him. One declared that “he was a faggot of hell, and that “he already
saw him burning,” while he was constantly taunted by Major Weir as “a dog, atheist, and murderer.”
The story of Montrose’s execution on the 2ist of May, when he was hanged at the Cross on a gibbet thirty feet high, with the record of his battles suspended from his neck, how he died with glorious magnanimity and was barbarously quartered, belongs to the general annals of the nation ; but the City Treasurer’s account contains some curious items connected with that great legal
tragedy :—
1650. Ffebruar. To making a scaffold at ye Cross
for burning ye Earl of Montrose’s papers . 2 8 0
May 13. For making a seat on a cart to carry him
from ye Water Gate to ye Tolbooth . 12 16 o
,, For making a high new gallows and
double leather, and setting up a galbert 12 8 4
„ Pd. 6 workmen for carrying ye trunk of
his body and burying it in ye Burrowmuir
„ Pd. the Lockman for making sd. grave
deeper and covering it again . . I 16 o
„ Pd. for sharping the axe for striking
away the head, legs, and arms from
the body O 12 o

The marquis was interred amid great pomp in the Church of St. Giles at the Restoration: but when a search was made for his remains in the Chepman aisle, in April, 1879, no trace of them whatever could be found there.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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