Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine

The following is from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine:

The Execution of Montrose

The most poetical chronicler would find it impossible to render the incidents of Montrose’s brilliant career more picturesque than the reality. Among the devoted champions who, during the wildest and most stormy period of our history, maintained the cause of Church and King, “the Great Marquis” undoubtedly is entitled to the foremost place. Even party malevolence, by no means extinct at the present day, has been unable to detract from the eulogy pronounced upon him by the famous Cardinal de Retz, the friend of Condé and Turenne, when he thus summed up his character:—“Montrose, a Scottish nobleman, head of the house of Grahame—the only man in the world that has ever realized to me the ideas of certain heroes, whom we now discover nowhere but in the Lives of Plutarch—has sustained in his own country the cause of the King his master, with a greatness of soul that has not found its equal in our age.”

But the success of the victorious leader and patriot, is almost thrown into the shade by the noble magnanimity and Christian heroism of the man in the hour of defeat and death. It is impossible now to obliterate the darkest page of Scottish history, which we owe to the vindictive cruelty of the Covenanters—a party venal in principle, pusillanimous in action, and more than dastardly in their revenge; but we can peruse it with the less disgust, since that very savage spirit which planned the woful scenes connected with the final tragedy of Montrose, has served to exhibit to the world, in all time to come, the character of the martyred nobleman in by far its loftiest light.

There is no ingredient of fiction in the historical incidents recorded in the following ballad. The indignities that were heaped upon Montrose during his procession through Edinburgh, his appearance before the Estates, and his last passage to the scaffold, as well as his undaunted bearing, have all been spoken to by eyewitnesses of the scene. A graphic and vivid sketch of the whole will be found in Mr Mark Napier’s volume, “The Life and Times of Montrose”—a work as chivalrous in its tone as the Chronicles of Froissart, and abounding in original and most interesting materials; but, in order to satisfy all scruple, the authorities for each fact are given in the shape of notes. The ballad may be considered as a narrative of the transactions, related by an aged Highlander, who had followed Montrose throughout his campaigns, to his grandson, shortly before the splendid victory of Killiecrankie:—

I

Come hither, Evan Cameron,
Come, stand beside my knee—
I hear the river roaring down
Towards the wintry sea.
There’s shouting on the mountain side,
There’s war within the blast—
Old faces look upon me,
Old forms go trooping past.
I hear the pibroch wailing
Amidst the din of fight,
And my old spirit wakes again
Upon the verge of night!

II

’Twas I that led the Highland host
Through wild Lochaber’s snows,
What time the plaided clans came down
To battle with Montrose.
I’ve told thee how the Southrons fell
Beneath the broad claymore,
And how we smote the Campbell clan
By Inverlochy’s shore.
I’ve told thee how we swept Dundee,
And tamed the Lindsays’ pride;
But never have I told thee yet
How the Great Marquis died!

III

A traitor sold him to his foes; [A]
O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meet
With one of Assynt’s name—
Be it upon the mountain’s side,
Or yet within the glen,
Stand he in martial gear alone,
Or back’d by armed men—
Face him, as thou would’st face the man
Who wrong’d thy sire’s renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,
And strike the caitiff down!

IV

They brought him to the Watergate [B]
Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
And not a fenceless man.
They set him high upon a cart—
The hangman rode below—
They drew his hands behind his back,
And bared his lordly brow.
Then, as a hound is slipp’d from leash,
They cheer’d the common throng,
And blew the note with yell and shout,
And bade him pass along.

V

It would have made a brave man’s heart
Grow sad and sick that day,
To watch the keen malignant eyes
Bent down on that array.
There stood the Whig west-country lords
In balcony and bow,
There sat their gaunt and wither’d dames,
And their daughters all a-row;
And every open window
Was full as full might be,
With black-robed Covenanting carles,
That goodly sport to see!

VI

But when he came, though pale and wan,
He look’d so great and high, [C]
So noble was his manly front,
So calm his steadfast eye;—
The rabble rout forbore to shout,
And each man held his breath,
For well they knew the hero’s soul
Was face to face with death.
And then a mournful shudder
Through all the people crept,
And some that came to scoff at him,
Now turn’d aside and wept.

VII

But onwards—always onwards,
In silence and in gloom,
The dreary pageant labour’d,
Till it reach’d the house of doom:
But first a woman’s voice was heard
In jeer and laughter loud, [D]
And an angry cry and a hiss arose
From the heart of the tossing crowd:
Then, as the Græme look’d upwards,
He caught the ugly smile
Of him who sold his King for gold—
The master-fiend Argyle!

VIII

The Marquis gazed a moment,
And nothing did he say,
But the cheek of Argyle grew ghastly pale,
And he turn’d his eyes away.
The painted harlot at his side,
She shook through every limb,
For a roar like thunder swept the street,
And hands were clench’d at him,
And a Saxon soldier cried aloud,
“Back, coward, from thy place!
For seven long years thou hast not dared
To look him in the face.” [E]

IX

Had I been there with sword in hand
And fifty Camerons by,
That day through high Dunedin’s streets
Had peal’d the slogan cry.
Not all their troops of trampling horse,
Nor might of mailéd men—
Not all the rebels in the south
Had borne us backwards then!
Once more his foot on Highland heath
Had stepp’d as free as air,
Or I, and all who bore my name,
Been laid around him there!

X

It might not be. They placed him next
Within the solemn hall,
Where once the Scottish Kings were throned
Amidst their nobles all.
But there was dust of vulgar feet
On that polluted floor,
And perjured traitors fill’d the place
Where good men sate before.
With savage glee came Warristoun [F]
To read the murderous doom,
And then uprose the great Montrose
In the middle of the room.

XI

“Now by my faith as belted knight,
And by the name I bear,
And by the red Saint Andrew’s cross
That waves above us there—
Ay, by a greater, mightier oath—
And oh, that such should be!—
By that dark stream of royal blood
That lies ’twixt you and me—
I have not sought in battle field
A wreath of such renown,
Nor dared I hope, on my dying day,
To win the martyr’s crown!

XII

“There is a chamber far away
Where sleep the good and brave,
But a better place ye have named for me
Than by my father’s grave.
For truth and right, ’gainst treason’s might,
This hand has always striven,
And ye raise it up for a witness still
In the eye of earth and heaven.
Then nail my head on yonder tower—
Give every town a limb—
And God who made shall gather them.—
I go from you to Him!” [G]

XIII

The morning dawn’d full darkly,
The rain came flashing down,
And the jagged streak of the levin-bolt
Lit up the gloomy town:
The heavens were speaking out their wrath,
The fatal hour was come,
Yet ever sounded sullenly
The trumpet and the drum.
There was madness on the earth below,
And anger in the sky,
And young and old, and rich and poor,
Came forth to see him die.

XIV

Ah, God! That ghastly gibbet!
How dismal ’tis to see
The great tall spectral skeleton,
The ladder, and the tree!
Hark! hark! It is the clash of arms—
The bells begin to toll—
He is coming! he is coming!
God’s mercy on his soul!
One last long peal of thunder—
The clouds are clear’d away,
And the glorious sun once more looks down
Amidst the dazzling day.

XV

He is coming! he is coming!
Like a bridegroom from his room, [H]
Came the hero from his prison
To the scaffold and the doom.
There was glory on his forehead,
There was lustre in his eye,
And he never walk’d to battle
More proudly than to die:
There was colour in his visage,
Though the cheeks of all were wan,
And they marvell’d as they saw him pass,
That great and goodly man!

XVI

He mounted up the scaffold,
And he turn’d him to the crowd;
But they dared not trust the people,
So he might not speak aloud.
But he look’d upon the heavens,
And they were clear and blue,
And in the liquid ether
The eye of God shone through:
Yet a black and murky battlement
Lay resting on the hill,
As though the thunder slept within—
All else was calm and still.

XVII

The grim Geneva ministers
With anxious scowl drew near, [I]
As you have seen the ravens flock
Around the dying deer.
He would not deign them word nor sign,
But alone he bent the knee;
And veil’d his face for Christ’s dear grace
Beneath the gallows-tree.
Then radiant and serene he rose,
And cast his cloak away:
For he had ta’en his latest look
Of earth, and sun, and day.

XVIII

A beam of light fell o’er him,
Like a glory round the shriven,
And he climb’d the lofty ladder
As it were the path to heaven. [J]
Then came a flash from out the cloud,
And a stunning thunder roll,
And no man dared to look aloft,
For fear was on every soul.
There was another heavy sound,
A hush and then a groan;
And darkness swept across the sky—
The work of death was done!

W. E. A.

[A] “The contemporary historian of the Earls of Sutherland records, that (after the defeat of Invercarron) Montrose and Kinnoull ‘wandered up the river Kyle the whole ensuing night, and the next day, and the third day also, without any food or sustenance, and at last came within the country of Assynt. The Earl of Kinnoull, being faint for lack of meat, and not able to travel any further, was left there among the mountains, where it was supposed he perished. Montrose had almost famished, but that he fortuned in his misery to light upon a small cottage in that wilderness, where he was supplied with some milk and bread.’ Not even the iron frame of Montrose could endure a prolonged existence under such circumstances. He gave himself up to Macleod of Assynt, a former adherent, from whom he had reason to expect assistance in consideration of that circumstance, and, indeed, from the dictates of honourable feeling and common humanity. As the Argyle faction had sold the King, so this Highlander rendered his own name infamous by selling the hero to the Covenanters, for which ‘duty to the public’ he was rewarded with four hundred bolls of meal.”—NAPIER’S Life of Montrose.

[B] “Friday, 17th May—Act ordaining James Grahame to be brought from the Watergate on a cart, bareheaded, the hangman in his livery, covered, riding on the horse that draws the cart—the prisoner to be bound to the cart with a rope—to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and from thence to be brought to the Parliament House, and there, in the place of delinquents, on his knees, to receive his sentence—viz., to be hanged on a gibbet at the Cross of Edinburgh, with his book and declaration tied on a rope about his neck, and there to hang for the space of three hours until he be dead; and thereafter to be cut down by the hangman, his head, hands, and legs to be cut off, and distributed as follows—viz., His head to be affixed on an iron pin, and set on the pinnacle of the west gavel of the new prison of Edinburgh; one hand to be set on the port of Perth, the other on the port of Stirling; one leg and foot on the port of Aberdeen, the other on the port of Glasgow. If at his death penitent, and relaxed from excommunication, then the trunk of his body to be interred, by pioneers, in the Greyfriars; otherwise, to be interred in the Boroughmuir, by the hangman’s men, under the gallows.”—BALFOUR’S Notes of Parliament.

It is needless to remark that this inhuman sentence was executed to the letter. In order that the exposure might be more complete, the cart was constructed with a high chair in the centre, having holes behind, through which the ropes that fastened him were drawn. The author of the Wigton Papers, recently published by the Maitland Club, says, “the reason of his being tied to the cart was in hope that the people would have stoned him, and that he might not be able by his hands to save his face.” His hat was then pulled off by the hangman, and the procession commenced.

[C] “In all the way, there appeared in him such majesty, courage, modesty—and even somewhat more than natural—that those common women who had lost their husbands and children in his wars, and who were hired to stone him, were upon the sight of him so astonished and moved, that their intended curses turned into tears and prayers; so that next day all the ministers preached against them for not stoning and reviling him.”—Wigton Papers.

[D] “It is remarkable, that of the many thousand beholders, the Lady Jean Gordon, Countess of Haddington, did (alone) publicly insult and laugh at him; which being perceived by a gentleman in the street, he cried up to her, that it became her better to sit upon the cart for her adulteries.”—Wigton Papers. This infamous woman was the third daughter of Huntly, and the niece of Argyle. It will hardly be credited that she was the sister of that gallant Lord Gordon, who fell fighting by the side of Montrose, only five years before, at the battle of Aldford!

[E] “The Lord Lorn and his new lady were also sitting on a balcony, joyful spectators; and the cart being stopt when it came before the lodging where the Chancellor, Argyle, and Warristoun sat—that they might have time to insult—he, suspecting the business, turned his face towards them, whereupon they presently crept in at the windows: which being perceived by an Englishman, he cried up, it was no wonder they started aside at his look, for they durst not look him in the face these seven years bygone.”—Wigton Papers.

[F] Archibald Johnston of Warristoun. This man, who was the inveterate enemy of Montrose, and who carried the most selfish spirit into every intrigue of his party, received the punishment of his treasons about eleven years afterwards. It may be instructive to learn how he met his doom. The following extract is from the MSS. of Sir George Mackenzie:—“The Chancellor and others waited to examine him; he fell upon his face, roaring, and with tears entreated they would pity a poor creature who had forgot all that was in the Bible. This moved all the spectators with a deep melancholy; and the Chancellor, reflecting upon the man’s great parts, former esteem, and the great share he had in all the late revolutions, could not deny some tears to the frailty of silly mankind. At his examination, he pretended he had lost so much blood by the unskilfulness of his chirurgeons, that he lost his memory with his blood; and I really believe that his courage had been drawn out with it. Within a few days he was brought before the parliament, where he discovered nothing but much weakness, running up and down upon his knees, begging mercy; but the parliament ordained his former sentence to be put to execution, and accordingly he was executed at the cross of Edinburgh.”

[G] “He said he was much beholden to the parliament for the honour they put on him; ‘for,’ says he, ‘I think it a greater honour to have my head standing on the port of this town, for this quarrel, than to have my picture in the king’s bedchamber. I am beholden to you, that, lest my loyalty should be forgotten, ye have appointed five of your most eminent towns to bear witness of it to posterity.’”—Wigton Papers.

[H] “In his downgoing from the Tolbooth to the place of execution, he was very richly clad in fine scarlet, laid over with rich silver lace, his hat in his hand, his bands and cuffs exceeding rich, his delicate white gloves on his hands, his stockings of incarnate silk, and his shoes with their ribands on his feet; and sarks provided for him with pearling about, above ten pund the elne. All these were provided for him by his friends, and a pretty cassock put on upon him, upon the scaffold, wherein he was hanged. To be short, nothing was here deficient to honour his poor carcase, more beseeming a bridegroom than a criminal going to the gallows.”—NICHOLL’S Diary.

[I] The Presbyterian ministers beset Montrose both in prison and on the scaffold. The following extracts are from the diary of the Rev. Robert Traill, one of the persons who were appointed by the commission of the kirk “to deal with him:”—“By a warrant from the kirk, we staid a while with him about his soul’s condition. But we found him continuing in his old pride, and taking very ill what was spoken to him, saying, ‘I pray you, gentlemen, let me die in peace.’ It was answered, that he might die in true peace, being reconciled to the Lord and to his kirk.”—“We returned to the commission, and did show unto them what had passed amongst us. They, seeing that for the present he was not desiring relaxation from his censure of excommunication, did appoint Mr Mungo Law and me to attend on the morrow on the scaffold, at the time of his execution, that, in case he should desire to be relaxed from his excommunication, we should be allowed to give it unto him in the name of the kirk, and to pray with him, and for him, that what is loosed in earth might be loosed in heaven.” But this pious intention, which may appear somewhat strange to the modern Calvinist, when the prevailing theories of the kirk regarding the efficacy of absolution are considered, was not destined to be fulfilled. Mr Traill goes on to say, “But he did not at all desire to be relaxed from his excommunication in the name of the kirk, yea, did not look towards that place on the scaffold where we stood; only he drew apart some of the magistrates, and spake a while with them, and then went up the ladder, in his red scarlet cassock, in a very stately manner.”

[J] “He was very earnest that he might have the liberty to keep on his hat; it was denied: he requested he might have the privilege to keep his cloak about him—neither could that be granted. Then, with a most undaunted courage, he went up to the top of that prodigious gibbet.”—“The whole people gave a general groan; and it was very observable, that even those who at his first appearance had bitterly inveighed against him, could not now abstain from tears.”—Montrose Redivivus.

The Heart of the Bruce


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