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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter II. The Lord High Treasurer


The family of Grange appear at an early period to have embraced the principles of the Reformers: yet they lost not the favour of royalty, though the fifth James was a most rigid Roman Catholic.

Sir James Melville of Halhill describes his brother-in-law, the treasurer, as “a stout man, who always offered by single combate, and at point of the sword, to maintain whatever he said;” from which we may fairly infer that the old laird must have been somewhat dogmatical and irascible in temper. For some political misdemeanour, he, together with his three brothers, George, John, and Patrick, his father-in-law Raith, his kinsman William Berclay of Touche, Melville of Wester Touche, and others, fell under the serious displeasure of the king, but received two formal pardons, under the royal hand, in 1538.

Melville the memorialist quaintly relates several anecdotes, descriptive of the friendly familiarity with which the good King James treated his treasurer, and the high trust he reposed in his sincerity and secrecy. On one occasion he is said to have shown him a roll, containing the names of three hundred and sixty nobles and barons who were to he burnt for heresy. This daring document, which had been drawn up by the unscrupulous Cardinal Beatoun, was quite sufficient to set all Scotland in a flame, and to cause the unfurling of those pennons which had been displayed so fatally before James III. on the field of Sauchieburn, where sixty thousand Scottish warriors bent their spears against each other.

On beholding the ominous roll, which contained Ms own name, and the names of Learmonth of Dairsie, Mowbray of Barnehougal, Drummond of Camock, and many others his immediate friends and adherents, the treasurer gave a hitter and significant smile. Drawing his sword in jest, the king said “merrily,”—“I will slay thee if thou speakest against my profit! ” He then demanded his advice upon the matter, on which Grange freely gave his opinion against the overweening insolence of the priesthood and dignitaries of the Homan Church, and their daring in aiming at the destruction of so many men of family and estate; expatiated on the richness of their benefices, and the profligacy of their lives : then solemnly, but respectfully, warned James of the imminent danger of prosecuting any of his proud and martial noblesse on such a charge as heresy, and earnestly advised him to maintain a friendly intercourse with his Protestant kinsman the King of England, “or great war and trouble” would assuredly ensue. Well pleased with this advice, the king promised to abide by' it, and in his first interview with certain prelates of rank, who attended a conference at Holyrood, on church matters;—

“Wherefore, sirs,” exclaimed James sternly, after many bitter reproaches,—“wherefore did my predecessors give so many lands and rents to the kirk? Was it to maintain hawks and hounds, and lady-minions for a number of idle monies? Away, ye javells! (jail-birds.) Begone to your charges, reform your lives, and seek not to be instruments of discord between my nobles and me. King Henry of England bums, King Frederick of Denmark beheads ye, and I will slay ye with this whinger!” In the excitement of the moment he unsheathed his poniard, and, abashed and dismayed, the churchmen “fled from his presence, in great fear.”

As may be supposed, the haughty Cardinal Beatoun and his holy colleagues were considerably alarmed and enraged on receiving such a furious and unexpected rebuff; and the more so, as they knew well whose counsels were influencing James against them. By splendid bribes they caused Bosse of Craigie, and other minions about the court, to traduce the treasurer, who stood too high in his sovereign’s favour to be without many and powerful enemies. Dread of his vengeance and “the single combate,” kept all silent while he was near James’s person; but on his departure from Edinburgh, to attend the marriage or betrothal of his second son, James Kirkaldy, on whom the king had bestowed the hand and estate of the fair and false Helen Leslie, daughter of the Laird of Piteaple, and heiress of Kellie, near Aberelliot in Angus, (a ward of the crown, and possessor of a beautiful castle situated on a steep rock washed by the river Elliot,) his enemies could no longer restrain their malice and envy, and openly reviled him to the king.

“The Laird of Grange,” said one, “has become a heretic, and has always an English New Testament in his pouch”—the same crime for which Henry Forrest, a Benedictine friar, had been burned at St Andrews, ten years before. Others added, “That Grange had become so vain and arrogant with the royal favour that no man could abide him; that, withal, he was become so avaricious, it was unmeet he should be treasurer; and so bold and grasping that he had obtained for his younger son the rich ward of Kellie, worth twenty thousand pounds.”

“I esteem him as a plain, frank gentleman,” replied the king; “and love him so well that I would again give him the said rich ward for one word of his mouth.”

“Sir,” replied the Prior of Pittenweem, who was a cunning monk of St Augustine, “the heiress of Kellie is a fair damsel; but I dare pledge my life that, if you send for her, the treasurer will refuse to yield her unto you.”

Knowing well his treasurer’s honour and faith, the king maintained the contrary, but was so much wrought upon by the prior, and those about him, that he resolved to put the old knight’s loyalty and obedience to a severe test; and, by advice of his priestly enemies, a royal mandate was forthwith drawn out and placed in the hands of the Prior of Pittenweem, empowering him to bring to the palace of Holyrood the Lady of Kellie, and present her to the king. Very naturally, the bluff old Fifeshire laird stormed on beholding the missive borne by the wily prior, whom he knew to be his deadly enemy, and bluntly refused to deliver the young lady; adding many biting taunts against the messenger’s reputation for want of sanctity, and as being one who, from his immoral character, was altogether unfit to have the charge of a noble maiden.

Delighted with the refusal he had anticipated, the prior recrossed the Forth, and proceeded without loss of time to court, where, by exaggerating his interview with Grange, “his associates kindled up the king into so great a choler,” that they obtained from him a warrant to commit his favourite to ward in the castle of Edinburgh, as a prisoner of state—a measure which was soon put in force after his return to the city. During his absence, Cardinal Beatoun, the prior, and their faction, had done more serious mischief, by inducing James to abandon the intended conference at York with his uncle Henry VIII. —an affront which so greatly exasperated that proud and fierce despot, that neither fire nor sword could ever avenge it to his satisfaction.

Grange came back to Holyrood with all speed, bringing with him the young lady of Kellie Castle. He arrived when the king was at supper, a meal then taken about six in the evening; and, aware that his enemies had been busy in his absence, passed boldly into the presence of the king, who gave him a very cold reception.

“Why did you refuse me the maiden for whom I wrote?” asked James sternly; “and wherefore gave you despiteful language to him I sent for her?”

The treasurer answered firmly,—

“There are none about your majesty who will dare avow such a thing to my face!”

“Hast thou brought the gentlewoman with thee?”

Sir James Kirkaldy replied in the affirmative.

“Alas!” continued the king, touched by this proof of his explicit obedience, “they have uttered so many leesings against thee that they have obtained a warrant to commit thee to ward.”

"Sir,” replied the treasurer sadly, "my warding or my life are trifling matters; but it grieves my heart that the world should hear your majesty is so facile,”—referring to the promises which he had broken to Henry of England, by the advice of the priests who were ever around him.

The imprisonment must have been very brief; and Sir James Kirkaldy was not deprived of his important office in the government until after the death of James V., whose untimely end was hastened by the troubles of the dawning Reformation, the discontents of his turbulent nobles, and grief for the rout of his insubordinate army at the Moss of Solway. He was at the old royal castle of Lochmaben, in Annandale, when tidings of that disastrous affair reached him; and his health, which had long been failing, sustained a shock from which it never recovered.

Overcome with shame, indignation, and despair, on Saint Katherine’s day the good king departed for Edinburgh, from whence he instantly set out for his palace of Falkland, a prey to the deepest dejection,—a strong proof how intensely he had at heart the interests, honour, and welfare of his subjects.

In passing through Fife he visited the house of Halyards, where he was received with all honour by Lady Janet of Grange, that "auncient and godlie matron,”

Knox styles her, who, in absence of her husband the high treasurer, desired her son William Kirkaldy, and others, to attend the king in the apartments assigned to him and to his suite.

Situated on high ground, amid varied and irregular scenery, the ancient castle or Place of Halyards lies at the eastern end of the parish of Auchtertool. In later times it became the patrimony of the Skenes; hut, prior to the period of which I write, had been gifted, with much of the land about it, to the Kirkaldys of Grange. It was a strong edifice of fully a hundred feet square, entered from the westward by a low-browed archway, which opened upon a spacious court-yard, and possessed all the requisite appurtenances of an old Scottish manor-house— a hall for the revellers, a vault for the refractory beneath it, a mighty bakehouse, an ample brewery, stabling for a squadron of horse, a dove-cot, a grange or home-farm, and windows all securely grated. Its ruins yet show what it must have been when King James and all his train rode down its winding avenue, some of the venerable trees of which are yet remaining among the adjacent fields. To the southward, secluded in a pastoral valley, lies Kirkaldy’s barony, the village of Auchtertool, with its thatched cottages and whitewashed walls, its rustic mills turned by little cascades pouring in foam over mossy wooden ducts, or rushing from yawning fissures in the freestone rocks. The ancient parish church, peeping above a thicket of old Scottish firs, appears on a lofty knoll; and far beyond towers up the whin-covered peak of Dun-eam, on whose dark summit a deep loch occupies a crater, which in unknown ages had been charged with volcanic fires. To the northward and east lie bare and rugged mountains, dotted by sheep cropping the scanty herbage on their scaured sides. In some places jut out masses of basaltic rock; and between them lies the blue lake of Camilla, a lonely and sedgy tam, the calm surface of which is only broken by the rising trout, or the dash of the solitary heron, and reflects only the clouds above and the knowes of whin and long yellow broom that surround it. A fertile valley stretches away in dim perspective to the westward, and is terminated by the curved ridges of the Gray Craigs, the green Saline hills, and the beautiful Ochils, undulating afar off in blue and undefined masses.

At their baronial house of Halyards the family of the treasurer received the king with all the honour and hospitality the simple yet stately manners of those kindly days required.

At supper, Lady Janet, perceiving him to be very pensive and melancholy, assumed upon her age and sex, and endeavoured to administer comfort, praying him “to take the work of God in good part.”

“Lady,” replied the poor king, “my portion of this world is indeed short. Believe me, I will not be among ye many days.”

To change the subject, one of the gentlemen who attended him, asked at which of his palaces he meant to pass the Christmas, which was then approaching but James could not be diverted from the intense sadness and mortification which preyed upon him.

“I cannot tell, sirs,—I know not,—choose ye the place,” he replied, with something of disdain in his manner: "but this I can tell ye, that ere Christmas ye will be masterless, and the realm of Scotland without a king.” To that no one replied; but a chill fell upon them all as he spake.

Like all his family, James V. was a man of great elegance of person and manner: his eyes were dark, and his rich brown hair curled in natural ringlets over his shoulders; while the curve of his mustaches, and the slouch of his blue velvet bonnet and white feather, imparted additional grace to the contour of his head. His voice was sweet and persuasive; his manner gentle, winning, and commanding; his form strong and vigorous. Like his brave sire, he was all that a king should be in mind and person.

That night he rested at Halyards, and next morning, bidding the Lady of Grange adieu, accompanied by her eldest son, who had remained in immediate attendance upon him, set out with his train for Falkland, visiting by the way the castle of Cairnie, belonging to David earl of Crawford.

William Kirkaldy remained with him until the hour of his demise.

His father, on hearing of King James’s illness, hastened without delay to the palace, or old tower of Falkland, (as it was then familiarly named,) where, with Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, (son of the famous admiral,) Cardinal Beatoun, the master of Rothes, and other courtiers, he stood by the couch of the dying monarch, and beheld his last moments. The news of a daughter’s birth (how little could he have anticipated her misfortunes and her fate!) was a fresh source of disquiet to him, as he had anxiously wished for a son, to replace those of whom death had so recently deprived him, and who, in time to come, might lead the Scottish hosts against their old hereditary enemies. His prophetic remark is well known : his last words were indicative of his thoughts, which were still running on the shameful mutiny and disorder at Solway, where his army had refused to obey the general, Sir Oliver Sinclair, and were routed by their own misconduct.

"Fy! fy!” he muttered; His Oliver fled—and taken? Then all is lost—all is lost!”

Then, beholding the nobles standing around his bed, he kissed his hand to them, and smiled; after which he raised his eyes, and uplifting his hands, yielded his spirit to God on the 13th of December 1542, in the thirtieth year of his age; so that, as he had prophesied, ere Christmas, Scotland was really without a king.

Possessed of that mysterious power which charmed and won the hearts of all who knew him, and which seems to have been hereditary in the house of Stuart, he was deeply regretted by the nation, with whom his innate sense of justice and mercy, the gallantry and affability of his manner, his strong love of daring and romantic adventure, together with the whole tenor of his life, won for him those soubriquets which gave more lustre to his crown than a thousand gems—"The good King James, the King of the Poor.”


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