The History of Leith

October 25, 2012

Death at the Old City Cross (Now re-built 1885 by William Gladstone (1809-98))

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
1 stone font or basin which flowed with wine on
‘ holidays. The central pillar, long preserved at
Lord Somerville’s house, Drum, near Edinburgh,
I now stands near the Napier tomb, within a railing,
1 on the north side of the choir of St. Giles’s, where
I it was placed in 1866. A crowned unicorn surmounts
it, bearing a pennon blazoned with a silver
1 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,’r
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 .-tufts, 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 ayth of July, 1636, and
there hanged—Gilderoy and John Forbes suffering
on a higher gallows than the rest, and, further, having
their heads and hanifc; 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 Gilderoy !”
Here culprits underwent scourging, branding, ear*
nailing, and nose-pinching, with tongue-boring and
other punishments deemed minor. As a specimen
of these exhibitions we shall take the following
from the diary of Nicoll verbatim:—
”Last September, 1652. Twa Englisches, for
drinking the King’s health, were takin and bund
at Edinburgh croce, quhair either of thame resavit
thretty-nine quhipes on thair naiked bakes and
shoulderis; thairafter their lugs were naillit to the
gallows. The ane had his lug cuttit from the ruitt
with a raZ’or, the uther being also naiilit to the gibbet
had his mouth skobit, and his tong being drawn
out the full length, was bound together betwix twa
sticks, hard togedder, with an skainzie-thrid, for the
space of half one hour thereby.” Punishments of
this cruel kind were characteristic of the times, and
were not peculiar to the Scottish capital alone.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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