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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter III. The Conspirators


On the death of the king, the father of William Kirkaldy, being esteemed one of the wisest and worthiest men of the time, was continued in office by the regent; and Henry VIII. of England depended much upon his efforts and influence for bringing about his favourite and ambitious project—the marriage between Mary, the infant daughter of the late king, and his own son, afterwards Edward VI.

The treasurer had been one of the most active of the Scottish barons in raising to the regency James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, and afterwards Duke of Chatelberault, who first authorised in Scotland the use of the Bible in the vulgar tongue.

For a time Sir James was one of his steadiest and most zealous adherents; but, the great hopes he had formed of his administration being to a considerable extent disappointed, he, with Sir David Lindesay of the Mount, and Balneaves of Halhill, Avas among the first to abandon him, and withdraw his influence from the Hamilton family.

Cardinal David Beatoun, though but a younger son of the Laird of Balfour, by his talent, craft, and ambition, having obtained a complete ascendency in the councils of Arran, broke all the treaties with England, which he justly deemed no less injurious to the interests of Scotland than to those of the Romish Church; and, to he revenged upon the high treasurer as the promoter of them, he was deprived of his gold staff, and dismissed from office; the unfortunate prelate John Hamilton, Abbot of Paisley, (afterwards Archbishop of St Andrews,) being appointed in his place.

Having thus lost his important and lucrative office by the influence of the primate, Sir James Kirkaldy felt all his wrath and animosity roused keenly against that celebrated churchman; and it is hut too probable that, believing no means unlawful to accomplish his revenge, he was easily drawn into that renowned conspiracy which, by ending in the murder of Beatoun, struck a deadly blow at the very foundation of the Romish Church in Scotland, and found an echo in every nation of civilised Europe.

The first important appearance of young William Kirkaldy, in the pages of Scottish history, is as a conspirator against the cardinal primate, the head of the church in Scotland. He joined this desperate faction when quite a youth, influenced no doubt by the powerful incentive of avenging the insult offered to his father, and urged by the fanatical sophistry of his stem grandfather, Melville of Raith, the fierce knight of Parkhill, and many others, who will soon he introduced to the reader.

He had not yet attained the years of manhood, but was versed already in all the arts of war and intrigues of politics, and possessed all those high attributes of head and heart which form the basis of chivalry, and the character of a perfect gentleman; skilful in the use of his sword and bridle, and accustomed, like every Scotsman of his time, to arms, and to regard a hostile broil as an everyday occurrence, he was inured to war and danger from his childhood. His uncle, Sir James Melville, acquaints us that he was of a strong, lusty, and well-proportioned person; distinguished for courage in an age when all men were brave; wise and eloquent in council; magnanimous, secret, and prudent in enterprise; daring in battle, hut merciful in victory; a foe to all avarice and ambition, and the friend of all men in adversity. a Albeit,” continues the quaint memprialist, “he was humble, gentle, and meek like a lamb in the house, hut like a lion in the field.” Upright and candid in all his measures, “he fell frequently into trouble, when protecting innocent men from such as would oppress them.”

This was particularly the case in the affair of his friend Sir William Maitland of Lethington. The hold manner in which he protected him from the vengeance of the earls of Murray and Morton, as shall be shown more fully in its place, was generous, knightly, and noble; and to that affair, perhaps, must he ascribed his full conversion to the cause of his injured queen—a cause to which he remained faithful in the most desperate extremity, even when all the princes of Europe had abandoned her, and, by shedding his blood in it, amply atoned for any of his former demerits.

Some readers may deem it difficult to reconcile the above very high character for gentleness with his participation in that ferocious adventure, which marks his first appearance in our annals; but the manners of the time, the mode of education, of thinking, and of acting then, cannot he judged of by comparing them with these our own days.

From the circumstance of the treasurer procuring the ward of Kellie for his youthful second son, it is not improbable that William had already, at that early period of his life, become enamoured of the fair Margaret Lear-month, to whom he was afterwards to he united, on his return from the wars of France and Germany.

For a time we must return to Cardinal Beatoun.

On the rocky shore, to the northward of the venerable city of St Andrews, stand the ruins of the ancient Episcopal palace, in other years the residence of the primates of Scotland. Those weather beaten remains, now pointed out to visitors by the ciceroni of the place, present only the fragments of an edifice erected by Archbishop Hamilton, the successor of Cardinal Beatoun, and are somewhat in the style of an antique Scottish manor-house; but very different was the aspect of that vast bastille which had the proud cardinal for lord, and contained within its massive walls all the appurtenances requisite for ecclesiastical tyranny, epicurean luxury, lordly grandeur, and military defence—at once a fortress, a monastery, an inquisition, and a palace.

The sea-mews and cormorants screaming among the wave-beaten rocks and bare walls now crumbling on that bleak promontory, and echoing only to drenching surf, as it rolls up the rough shelving shore, impart a peculiarly desolate effect to the grassy ruins, worn with the blasts of the German Ocean, gray with the storms of winter, and the damp mists of March and April—an effect that is greatly increased by the venerable aspect of the dark and old ecclesiastical city to the southward, decaying, deserted, isolated, and forgotten, with its magnificent cathedral, once one of the finest gothic structures in the world, but now, shattered by the hands of man and time, passing rapidly away. Of the grand spire which arose from the cross, and of its five lofty towers, little more than the foundations can now be traced, while a wilderness of ruins on every hand attest the departed splendours of St Andrews.

In the year 1546, the city, with its archiepiscopal castle, must have presented a very different appearance.

Founded by Eoger, an Englishman, (son of Robert earl of Leicester,) bishop of the diocese, the residence of the primates occupied a rock washed by a stormy sea on its north and eastern sides, from which, every whiter, great masses are torn down by the encroaching waves. It endured many a tough siege during the Scottish wars, and many a ponderous rock, shot from the catapultag, has rung on its solid walls, and many a bow and arblast have twanged around them; but they owe their principal celebrity to the fate of Cardinal Beatoun. When garrisoned by the vassals of that haughty prelate, when his banner floated on its crenelated ramparts, when his sentinels, in purple and polished steel, watched them with pike and caliver—when his brass cannon, peeping from the guarded walls, overlooked the deep fosse and portcullis, that frowned its iron terrors to the fearful Reformer—it was vested with more real and more imaginary terror and importance than any edifice in Scotland.

Beneath it were constructed dungeons so deep, that the cries of lamentation and despair were never heard from the unfortunates immured in their profound abyss; and during the brief reign of the Scottish Inquisition, doubtless these were numerous enough. The oubliette, or bottle-dungeon, still exists beneath the ruin of what is called Beatoun’s Castle. At the north-west angle of a strong rampart, where the sea-tower stood, hewn down through a seam of coal, and increasing in circumference as it descends, it is shaped like a bottle, and totally dark, having no other outlet than its narrow mouth. This hideous subterranean funnel is hollowed like a tub at the bottom, and reaches far beneath the lowest foundations of the edifice, to the depth of five-and-twenty feet, forming a pit, the horrors of which no imagination can conceive, no pencil can portray, and no pen describe. In a dungeon within a prison, (one horror within another, when once a miserable human being was thus entombed, all hope vanished with the light for ever. He rotted there, "and human justice called it forgetting. Between mankind and himself the condemned felt weighing upon his head an accumulation of stones and jailors; and the whole prison, the massive bastille, was but one enormous and complicated lock, that barred him out from the living world!”

A poor friar, named John Roger, accused of being a Reformed preacher, once miraculously effected an escape from the Cimmerian vault in which the cardinal had confined him. He reached the summit of the sea-tower, but only to he dashed to pieces on the steep and surf-beaten rocks below, being baffled in all his attempts to descend the giddy height in safety. But, with all his faults and tyranny, the cardinal was far from being that matchless monster of iniquity our old theological historians are so fond of representing him. He seems, however, especially to have forgotten the precept, that “he who persecutes another because he is not a Christian, is not a Christian himself ” and the gallant cardinal’s ideas were the very antipodes of St Jerome’s, when that holy personage said that “no man could serve God with all his heart, who had any transactions with a woman.” According to tradition, the mistresses of Beatoim were innumerable, and their castles frown from every crag and hill in Fife and Meams.

After remaining eight weeks in the vault of the sea-tower—that den, dark as the pit of Acheron—and perhaps amid the bones of former victims, the hapless George Wishart was burnt before the castle of the unyielding primate, on the 28th March 1545, under circumstances of the utmost barbarity. Banners floated from the ramparts, which bristled with arms and pointed cannon; the front of the donjon-tower was hung with the richest tapestry, as for a festival; cushions of the softest velvet were laid in the recesses of the lofty windows, for the cardinal and other prelates of rank to recline on, while viewing the revolting spectacle of a fellow-being expiring amid the torments of fire. Suffering his cruel fate with the most Christian meekness and fortitude, Wishart is said to have prophesied, while pointing to the cardinal, who thus fearfully avenged his having conspired against his life—

“He who now so proudly looks down upon me from yonder lofty place, shall ere long be as ignominiously abased as he is now exalted, in opposition to the true religion.

This prophecy, though it is to be found in all the old histories of the time, has been deemed by some modern writers as merely a popular addition to the melancholy story of Wishart, whose last words went through the land as a cry for vengeance upon his destroyers—a cry which soon found a terrible echo in the enthusiastic hearts of his passionate converts. The memory of his execution exists vividly at St Andrews, which, a tradition asserts, shall yet be destroyed by the encroaching sea, in expiation of the horrors of that event.

Wishart was consumed to ashes, and the cardinal and other prelates, filled with rage and hatred against the growing spirit of heresy, forbade any one to pray for him under the most severe penalties. But the avenger of blood dogged them close.

Originally organised by the equally cruel and rapacious King of England, Henry VIII., of unworthy memory, to whose grasping projects against the honour and liberties of Scotland the cardinal was an avowed enemy, this conspiracy had been formed at an early period, and included George Wishart the martyr, the Earl Marischal, the Earls of Glencairn and Cassillis; Sir George Douglas, Sir James Kirkaldy of the Grange, and his four sons, William, David, Thomas, and James, all of whom had probably been often fired by the discourses of Wishart, Knox, and Rough ; Norman Leslie, Master of Rothes, a young knight, who had fought with the most distinguished valour at the recent battle of Ancrum, where he led three hundred lances of Fife; the profligate Crichton of Brunstane, and many other men of influence.

On Wishart’s death, one of the conspirators, John Leslie of Parkhill, openly declared, "My hand and dagger will have blood for blood!”

This fierce and unscrupulous warrior had recently been released from captivity in England, having been taken prisoner at Solway, and ransomed for two hundred merks sterling. With many other noble and more influential prisoners, Henry VIII. had completely won him over to his interest. His nephew, the Master of Rothes, and the Kirkaldys of Grange, now entered into a secret and close correspondence with that monarch and his ministry; and must have maintained it at considerable expense and trouble by special messengers, to whose care alone their letters were committed.

Beatoun was aware of the odimn Wishart’s death had brought upon him; he was also aware, perhaps, of the plots forming against his life; but, supported by France and the most powerful of the Scottish peers, he disregarded the deep murmurs of the people, and deemed himself above the reach of danger. He had six natural daughters, (besides sons,) all by different mothers, whose residences are yet pointed out in many of the ruined castles of the old shire of Angus ; in the tower of Criech the peasantry allege that he maintained quite a seraglio of young beauties. By Lady Marion, (daughter of Sir James Ogilvie of Lintrathen, first Lord Ogilvie of Airly, whom he is said to have married prior to entering-holy orders, he had several children, who were all contracted in marriage to the heirs of powerful families—a strong proof of their legitimacy. Margaret, one of their daughters, was married to David lord Lindesay, afterwards eighth Earl of Crawford; and Beatoun increased his influence by procuring bonds of feudal service from several gentlemen who were in avowed hostility to him; more particularly from the proud Norman Leslie, for the estate of Easter Wemyss, in Fifeshire. This fiery young-cavalier, having been treated by Beatoun with marked injustice and contempt, nourished the deepest resentment against him; and it was neither consonant to the temper of such a gallant, or the spirit of the age, to submit tamely to insult or wrong; so he resolved to take with his sword that satisfaction which he could not demand.

Peter Carmichael, (Laird of Kilmadie,) a gentleman of Fife, another conspirator, had also a dispute with the cardinal concerning some lands; and, hating him bitterly, joined the plot: while the Kirkaldys were drawn into it by their old zeal for the Reformed religion, mingled with a spirit of revenge (characteristic of the time rather than the men) for the high office their family had lost by the primate’s influence. John Leslie of Parkhill daily avowed himself Beatoun’s deadly foe; so did the Melvilles of Raith; and, like James Melville of Carnbee, the most active and determined of all the conspirators, they made the execution of their friend, George Wishart, the sole excuse for joining this daring combination against the most powerful man in Scotland. Sir James Kirkaldy, like a thorough and unscrupulous old baron of those days, appears to have had designs against the life of Beatoun so early as 1544. A letter from the Earl of Hertford to Henry VIII., dated 17th April of that year, contains the following passage:—

"The Laird of Grange, late Treasurer of Scotland, the Master of Rothes, (the Earl of Rothes’ eldest son,) and John Charters (of Kinfawns,) would attempt either to apprehend or slay the Cardinal as he shall go through the Fifeland, as he doth sundrie times, to St Andrews.” Vague rumours of the treasurer’s plot reached Beatoun from time to time, but he is reported to have said— "Tush! a fig for the fools, and a button for all bragging heretics and their assistants in Scotland! Is not the Regent Arran my friend, France my ally, and the queen at my devotion?”

But now, aware of a coming storm, he was increasing the fortifications of his archiepiscopal mansion with the utmost expedition; and though the days were then long, the season being summer, the masons worked on the rising walls during the whole night. His additions to the castle were carried on at a vast expense and labour, till, in the opinion of the age, it was deemed impregnable, and tauntingly called Babylon by the Reformers. His retinue was equally splendid and numerous; the city of St Andrews, with a population (then) of fifteen thousand souls, was at his devotion, and the surrounding country was filled with his kinsmen, friends, and dependents. The regent appeared to be sincerely his friend; he had solemnly abjured the Protestant faith in his presence, and delivered up his eldest son to be kept in the Cardinal’s castle as a hostage for his sincerity, Beatoun was now completely the influencer, the overruler of the regent and of all his measures; he was the custodier of the infant queen—the Catholic legate—a man whose power in Scotland was unbounded as his hostility to England and his friendship to France. Yet against this potent spiritual and temporal leader the Kirkaldys of Grange feared not to draw their swords.

From the splendid bridal of his daughter Margaret, at the castle of Finhaven, where, with a dower of four thousand merks, he had bestowed her on the young Lord Lindesay, the cardinal was compelled to repair hurriedly to St Andrews, by intelligence that the hostile fleet of England was off the coast: the report proved unfounded, but he continued his fortifications with renewed energy.

At this crisis Norman Leslie, who had resigned to him the estate of Easter Wemyss, on the promise of an equivalent, now visited him, and demanded—perhaps unnecessarily, to provoke a quarrel—the complete fulfilment of the compact. Beatoun is said to have refused or equivocated. The fiery young noble burst out in a fury ; high words ensued, bitter taunts .were exchanged, and they abruptly separated. The Master, who had only five followers in his train, rode into the city, and repaired to the inn or lodgings of his uncle John of Parkhill, full of wrath at being circumvented, and bent on some dark deed of vengeance. He bad an interview with his uncle, who required no fresh incentive to rouse his fanatical enmity; and the result of their meeting was the death of Beatoun, which they deliberately resolved to accomplish without further delay.


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