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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter IV. The Death of Cardinal Beatoun


Trusty messengers were forthwith despatched westward to the Grange, to our hero, (who, I fear, the reader will suppose has been lost sight of,) to the Melvilles of Raith, and James of Carnbee, calling them to hold themselves in readiness for an enterprise which was to strike all Catholic Europe with horror.

On Thursday, the 27th of May 1546, William Kirkaldy came to St Andrews from his father’s house, which was twenty-six miles distant. He was well armed, and attended by six followers of trust. The Master of Rothes rode thither next day with five only, lest numbers should excite suspicion, and repaired to Ins usual inn or residence; his uncle, John Leslie, came into the city that night, fearing to excite suspicion by appearing in the vicinity of Beatoun’s residence, when all men knew him to he his avowed foe.

Next morning, at the early hour of three, the conspirators, sixteen in number, assembled in knots of three or four about the castle-rocks, the abbey churchyard, or its vicinity; and when the warder unfolded the great gates of the archiepiscopal mansion, and lowered the bridge to let out those workmen who had been working all night on the walls, and usually issued forth every morning to breakfast, two men, whom the Master of Rothes had placed overnight in ambush close to the fosse, rushed upon the porter and secured the passage. So says Buchanan, who wrote of those affairs from hearsay or memory; hut other and more detailed accounts state, that when the warder lowered the bridge to let out the artisans, and receive in lime and stones, the young Laird of Grange and Peter Carmichael entered with six chosen men. As it was very early, Kirkaldy made a pretence of inquiring "when my lord the cardinal would be stirring, and when he would be seen—if he was awake yet?”

The porter answered No; "and so indeed it was,” adds Knox, "for he had been busy at his counts with Mistress Marion Ogilvie that very night; and, therefore, quietness after the rules of physic, and a morning sleep, were requisite for my lord.”

During this colloquy with William Kirkaldy, the warder, who probably was ignorant of the late altercation between his Lord and Norman Leslie, whom he knew perfectly, permitted that bold conspirator, with his fierce followers, to enter also. In those days all men went abroad well armed—a breast-plate, a jack or pyne doublet, were usual parts of everyday attire, and every gentleman of rank was followed by a train of swash-bucklers or stout jackmen—so that the retinue of armed servants attending those two gallants, probably created no surprise in the mind of the gate-ward; but his suspicions were instantly roused when the fierce John of Parkhill, the known enemy of his lord, appeared near the fosse with his drawn rapier in his hand, and others well armed behind him.

The warder rushed to the counterpoise to raise the bridge, but the strong and active Leslie sprang across the widening gap, and, ere the poor man could save himself, drove his long sword through his body, with one tremendous lunge; then, seizing the corpse with his left hand, he hurled it into the deep fosse, tearing away the keys from it as it fell, and, at the head of his retainers, burst into the castle, sword in hand, with a shout of triumph. Some workmen, who were yet lingering within the walls, were expelled by a private postern: not a citizen was stirring: to shut the gates and raise the bridge was the work of a moment; and the boasted Babylon, the dreaded Inquisition, the famous stronghold of the hapless Beatoun, was in the possession of his deadly enemies.

William Kirkaldy, being well acquainted with the castle, now seized the mos't important post—the private postern through which the cardinal could alone have escaped. As he approached it, Marion Ogilvie of Lin-trathen was seen hurriedly to leave it, closely muffled. This fair and unfortunate lady is said to have perished, like her lover, by a violent death. Her cipher is yet to be seen on the walls of her ruined castle, near Aberlemno. William Kirkaldy appears to have guarded the postern while his companions were busy in other parts of the vast bastille they had so boldly and adroitly captured.

Upwards of one hundred and fifty individuals, gentlemen of the household, servants, workmen, &c., were threatened severally with death, if they spoke, and were successively compelled to dress and depart. Every person within the walls was turned out at the point of the sword, save the eldest son of the Regent Chatelherault, (or Arran, as the Scots usually prefer to style him,) whom the cardinal had been keeping in a kind of durance vile, for political purposes of his own.

The fate of Beatoun was sealed.

His band of kirk vassals or paid jackmen must have been quartered in the city during the repair of the castle, as there is no mention made of them in any account of this desperate enterprise.

Roused from slumber by the unusual noise and uproar, the unhappy prelate leaped from bed, threw on a rich morning-gown, and raised the easement of his apartment. The disordered aspect of the court, the absence of his own dependents, and the appearance of strange and armed men, filled him with amazement and dismay. A terrible light broke upon him.

"What meaneth this noise?” he demanded. "The Master of Rothes hath taken your castle! ” answered some exulting vassal of the house of Leslie.

Alarmed to excess by this intelligence, he endeavoured to escape by the private stair; but the postern door at the foot of it was already secured by William Kirkaldy and his vassals. The cardinal returned despairing to his bed-chamber, where, assisted by a little boy, his page, (or chamber-chield,) he barricaded the door with chests and other heavy furniture; then, hiding a casquet of gold under some fuel that lay in a corner, he grasped a two-handed sword, resolving to die with honour to his name. These hasty preparations were scarcely completed, before the tread of the conspirators rang in the gallery, and a loud knocking shook the chamber door.

“Open!” cried John of Parkhill.

“Who calleth?” inquired the agitated cardinal.

“My name is Leslie,” was the brief and ominous response.

“Leslie!” rejoined the cardinal; “which of the Leslies?—is it Norman?”

“Nay, my name is John.”

“I must have Norman,” replied the poor man, attempting to touch the heart of that relentless noble. “I must have Norman,—he is my friend.”

“Content yourself with those that are here, for you shall have none other,” was the dubious answer; and again they commanded him sternly to undo the fastening of the door, which, no doubt, like all others in those days, was secured by a complication of locks and bars. Upon his refusal, they attempted to force it; but it was strong as a wall, and their efforts were in vain.

Remembering the relentless and fanatical ferocity of these men, and how much he had to dread at their hands, all the danger and horror of his situation seem to have flashed vividly on the mind of the unfortunate cardinal. The window,—alas ! it was barred, and in the court below were those who longed to wash their hands in his very heart’s blood. Overcome for a moment by the sudden prospect of a terrible death, he is said to have sunk into a chair, exclaiming in imploring accents,—

“Sirs, l am a priest! I am a priest!” and conjured 1 Knox’s Historie. Lives of the Reformers.

them, by the safety of their souls, to spare him, and have mercy. But could mercy be expected from men whose hearts were fired by the most furious fanaticism, by the basest mercenary motives, and most implacable revenge?

The sole reply to his entreaties was the voice of Park-hill calling loudly for “ fire! fire! ” to burn down the strong oaken barrier : burning coals were heaped against it with the utmost deliberation; and then Beatoun, seeing the utter futility of resistance, on receiving a solemn promise of life, proceeded to remove the fastenings.

“ Sirs,” said he, “ will ye spare my life? ”

“ It may be that we will,” replied a voice.

“ Swear, then, unto me by the wounds of God, and I will admit ye.”

Some doubtful promise was given, and, throwing open the door, he stood before his destroyers.

Beatoun was a man in the prime of life, of noble aspect and most commanding stature: the dignity of his air, the fire of his eye, and the remembrance of his exalted rank,—Cardinal of St Stephin in Monte Coelio, Bishop of Mire-poix, Legate of Paul III., Commendator of Arbroath, and Lord High Chancellor of the kingdom of Scotland,—all seem to have awed the fierce conspirators for a time, and he calmly demanded their purpose.

There was no reply.

“I am a priest!” he again urged ; “I am a priest,— surely ye will not slay me?” The two-handed sword was in his grasp; he manifested no disposition to use so unclerical a weapon, but watched them with a pale and agitated countenance. For an instant, but an instant only, they were irresolute; then simultaneously they rushed with their gleaming weapons upon him. John Leslie of Parkhill first drove his long arm-pit dagger into him; and then Peter Carmichael struck him repeatedly with his sword; hut the wounds inflicted appear not to have been severe. Then the “gentle and modest” James Melville of Cambee, [not of Paitli, as it is often erroneously stated,) a fanatic of a milder though a sterner mood, and one who professed to do murder as a religious duty, struck up their weapons.

“Reflect, sirs,” said he, u that this sacrifice is the work of God, and, as such, ought to be executed with becoming deliberation and gravity.” Then pointing his weapon (which was a stag-sword, with a sharp-pointed blade, calculated only for thrusting) at the breast of the bleeding and sinking primate, he thus addressed him with steady ferocity of purpose :—

"Pepent thee, thou wicked cardinal, of all thy sins and iniquities, but especially of the murder of the pious Wishart, that instrument of God for the conversion of these lands. Though consumed in flames of fire before men, his death now cries for vengeance upon thee, and we are sent by God to inflict the deserved punishment. Remember that the stroke I am about to deal thee is not the mercenary blow of a hired assassin, but that of a most just retribution. And hear me protest before the Almighty Power, that it is neither hatred of thy person, nor fear of thy power, nor love of thy riches, which moves me to seek thy life; but only because thou remainest an obstinate enemy to Christ Jesus and his most holy gospel! ”

Having spoken these words, without permitting his victim to make that repentance to which he exhorted him, he thrust the stag-sword into his breast. Again and again the same vengeful blade was plunged into his body, and the cardinal sank backward upon a chair, with the blood gushing from his wounds.

"I am a priest! ” he murmured; “fie! fie!—all is gone!” and instantly expired.

He was in the fifty-second year of his age.

William Kirkaldy appears not to have put forth his weapon; but, from the part he acted in the enterprise, he fully shared in the odium which so deservedly fell to the lot of those who enacted that cool and barbarous murder.


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