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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XX. Kirkaldy Governor of Edinburgh Castle


As a reward for his important services, on the 5th September Kirkaldy was appointed governor and captain of the castle of Edinburgh—a fortress every way of the first rank in the kingdom.

Sir James Balfour, of Pittendreich had received that office from his patron Bothwell, and until the battle of Langside had retained it in his hands ; but for a sum of money, and a gift of the Augustinian priory of Pittenweem, and on Kirkaldy pledging his word for his safety, he gave up the fortress with its stores to the regent. Kirkaldy with his family immediately repaired to the important stronghold, where they continued to reside during the remainder of his troubled career.

Strong at all times from its lofty situation, the castle of Edinburgh, by the height of its towers and number of its cannon, was fully a place of as great strength in the days of Kirkaldy as it is now. The non-military compilers of topographical accounts are very careful to inform their readers that, before the invention of gunpowder, this castle was impregnable, but forget to add that, by all tacticians it has been considered still more so since Friar Bacon’s notable discovery. Perched on the western rock, which, hy a precipice nearly three hundred feet high, terminates the ridge of the ancient city, the walls of that magnificent fortress rise from steep and abrupt precipices of black whinstone, perpendicular in many places, and inaccessible on all, save where, to the eastward, a narrow bank or passage, cut through by a deep fosse, communicates, hy a drawbridge, with the town below.

In the days of Kirkaldy, as now, strong batteries of cannon frowned over this only approach; hut the grand features of the fortress were markedly different. Instead of square barracks and storehouses of homely aspect, a series of tall towers or bastel-houses—each like the fortlet of a lesser baron—reared up their lofty outlines from every angle of the jagged cliffs, massive battlements crowned, and strong curtain-walls connected them.

On the highest part of the rock stood, and yet stands, the square tower where Mary of Guise died, James VI. was born, and where the regalia have been kept for ages. On the north a massive pile, called David’s Tower, built by the second monarch of that name, and containing a spacious hall, rose to the height of more than forty feet above the precipice, which threw its shadows on the loch two hundred feet below. Another, named from Wallace, stood nearer to the city; and where now the formidable half-moon rears up its time-worn front, two high embattled walls, bristling with double tiers of ordnance, flanked on the north by the round tower of the Constable, fifty feet high, and on the south by a square gigantic peel, opposed their faces to the city. The soldiers of the garrison occupied the peel, the foundations of which are yet visible. Below it lay the entrance, with its portcullis and gates, to which a flight of forty steps ascended. The other towers were St Margaret’s, closed by a ponderous gate of iron, the kitchen tower, the laich-munition house; the armourer’s forge, the bakehouse, brewery, and gun-house, at the gable of which swung a sonerous copper bell, for calling the watches and alarming the garrison. Between the fortress and the city lay a strong round rampart, called the Spur, and another, named the Well-house tower, defended a narrow path which led to Cuthbert’s Well. The castle then contained a great hall, a palace, the regalia, a church and an oratory, endowed hy St Margaret, who, five hundred years before, expired in a room which the tradition still named u the blessed Margaret’s chamber.”

Such was the aspect of this ancient fortress in the sixteenth century. Its walls mounted only thirty pieces of cannon, including Mons Meg; but, during the command of Sir William Kirkaldy, its defences were greatly increased and strengthened. (Note E.) Immediately after his taking upon him the office of governor, he entered into a curious league, offensive and defensive, with the citizens of Edinburgh. (Note F.)

Soon after' Langside, three gentlemen of the name of Hamilton, viz., Alexander of Innerwick, James of Kin-cavil, and the famous Bothwellhaugh, were by the regent committed to Kirkaldy’s garrison and custody. They had fought valiantly in Mary’s van at Langside, and, having been captured in their armour, were ordered for immediate execution by Murray; but, dreading to exasperate too much the adherents of his sister, and being, perhaps, seized by a sudden qualm of conscience, or wrought upon by Knox’s intercessions, after they had been led out to die on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh, he remanded them to close prison. While Bothwellhaugh remained in the ward under Kirkaldy, his wife was inhumanly treated by an adherent of Murray.

On the confiscation of her husband’s estate, she had retired to her own patrimony of Woodliouselee; but that, too, the regent gifted to a favourite, the Justice-Clerk Bellenden, a wretch whose rapacity freed him from all scruples. Eager to obtain possession, he turned out the lady, stripped naked, and recently delivered of a child, in a cold and stormy night, to perish among the woods and rocks at the foot of the bleak Pentlands. Ere day dawned she became furiously mad. Who could wonder that Bothwellhaugh, in the spirit of the age, made a solemn vow to avenge her? Bage and despair endued him with spirit to achieve an escape from his place of confinement, and he fled to his kinsmen, the Hamiltons, among whom he wandered long in secrecy, waiting a favourable opportunity to deal his vengeance with a deadly hand.

During the time that the regent, by the intrigues of Mary’s friends, had to attend the conferences at York, Kirkaldy was intrusted with the principal management of affairs at home; but, from the moment he became clearly convinced that those nobles who had dethroned Mary and driven her into exile, were actuated by a spirit of avarice and ambition, rather than love of good government, he became colder in their cause, and distrustful of Murray; and the cordial friendship which had so long subsisted between them gave place to a jealousy which the subtle, restless, and changeable Lethington— the Scottish Machiavel, who had now become the avowed partisan of Mary—resolved to turn to the best advantage.

His friendship for Kirkaldy, which was one of long standing, enabled him to bend the unsuspecting nature of the soldier to his purpose—first by enticing him into a doubtful state of neutrality, which was soon to have a formidable effect on the king’s cause, and to end most fatally for that of Mary, by the destruction of both himself and Kirkaldy. Mary was now in close captivity in England; but, whether by the result of a long and deep-laid plot of Murray and the confederates, by Elizabeth’s merciless treachery, or the hand of retaliative Providence for the yet unproven crimes so often laid to her charge, I pretend not to say, but leave those deep points of history to wiser heads and more subtle casuists to determine. Her impatience, her despair, together with the false promise of being restored to her throne, had induced her to comply with the degrading proposition of sending commissioners to York, where the accusations against her were to be put to the issue of a trial, the result of which is well known. Again deceived, she made an attempt to raise her adherents in Scotland, where a strong party against Murray was formed by the Duke of Chatelherault, whom the queen vested with a commission as lieutenant-general of the kingdom. The regent marched suddenly against him, and compelled him to accept a truce, the fulfilment of which he endeavoured to evade; and was, in consequence, committed prisoner of state, with Lord Herries, to the custody of the already wavering governor of the castle of Edinburgh, who remonstrated with Murray on the severity of this measure. Upon this, Mr John Wood, a pious friend of the regent’s, observed to Kirkaldy, in the true spirit of his party,—

"I marvel, sir, that you are offended at these two being committed to ward; for how shall we, who are the defenders of my lord regent, get rewards but by the ruin of such men?”

"Ha!” rejoined Kirkaldy sternly, "is that your holiness? I see nought among ye but envy, greed, and ambition, whereby ye will wreck a good regent and ruin the realm!” a retort which made him many enemies among the train of Murray.

Prior to this, in the parliament of August 1568, the relations and executors of Cardinal Beatoun had suddenly brought an action of assythement for his death against Kirkaldy, but the estates discharged the plea, a because the cardinal’s slaughter was done for the commonweal and preservation of the faithful; and because the whole goods in his castle had been seized by the French at my lord governor’s command. Immediately upon this, Kirkaldy, before the assembled estates, took out a protest, that nothing done by him in the castle of St Andrews should ever again be brought forward to his prejudice by the heirs or executors of the cardinal. In the next month he was unanimously chosen provost of the city of Edinburgh, and obtained from the Estates a gift of the valuable church lands of Auchtertool in Fifeshire.

As already related, during the conferences at York, and after they were broken up, the secretary, William Maitland of Lethington, either from a constitutional instability of mind and purpose, or—as some writers aver— from a secret consciousness of the deep wrongs he had done the unhappy queen, and pitying the sad state to which she had been reduced—a state to which he had so fatally contributed by his talents to hurry her—now touched by sentiments of remorse, he became inclined to serve her, when her cause was sinking to the lowest ebb. Maitland was certainly the greatest statesman of his time; and, notwithstanding the unsteady and vacillating nature of his mind, his spirit of political enterprise, his deep penetration, his knowledge of all the craft and mystery then requisite for a thorough Scottish politician, had gained him alternately the hatred and admiration of both parties. He attended Murray to York, where his fruitful invention first conceived the great project of a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk, as a very favourable means of restoring her to liberty and a sceptre; but, like many of his plots, this one ended beneath the axe of the headsman. Norfolk was executed; and Elizabeth, enraged to the utmost degree against Lethington, on discovering that the marriage scheme originated in his fertile brain, applied to Murray, who, to please his patroness and supporter, was compelled, like a true victim of ambition, to consent to the destruction of his old friend and political associate, a measure to which his recent defection the more inclined him. Too well knew Maitland that the projected marriage and intended restoration would never he forgiven, either by the Scottish regent or the English queen; and he soon felt their vengeance.

Murray resolved to accuse him of participation in the murder of Darnley, then a fertile and fatal charge for the heads of both parties; but this charge required the utmost circumspection and address, Lethington having been so long his confidential minister, that violent measures might have brought forth disclosures which Murray had no wish should be made public. It was, therefore, arranged that the accusation should come from an unexpected quarter; and consequently, Captain Thomas Crawford of Jordan-hill, a vassal of the house of Lennox, on being prompted, entered the council-chamber, and before Murray and the lords boldly accused the secretary of being accessory to the murder of King Henry. Upon this he was immediately made a state prisoner, while Sir James Balfour was arrested at his own mansion, and committed to the castle of Stirling, on suspicion of disloyalty to the young king.

About the same time, James lord Doune, commendator of St Colme, wrote to Kirkaldy concerning the distrust and severity of the regent’s measures, and recommended him “to be upon his guard, for Murray was resolved to take the castle of Edinburgh from him, and make the Laird of Drumwhazel captain thereof.”

Kirkaldy suspected Murray to be the original framer of the accusation against the secretary, and bluntly told him so; and so great was his disgust, that he would willingly have given up the castle, and retired for ever from court, but a secret wish to serve Mary, his friendship for Maitland, and his honour, which he had pledged for the safety of Sir James Balfour, when that false knight surrendered the castle to him in the preceding year, all made it absolutely necessary that he should save their lives, which he saw were now basely aimed at by men who wished to succeed them in office and estate. To his firm remonstrances Murray replied by saying, “that it was not in his power to save Lethington from prison—that the accusation was against his wish—but that he should learn his real intentions at a future meeting.”

This answer failed to convince Kirkaldy of his sincerity, and he boldly sent him a message, requiring that the same formidable charge should be brought against James earl of Morton, and Master Archibald Douglas,— a demand which filled the former with rage, and kindled in his breast that intense hatred of Kirkaldy whicb blood alone sufficed to quench.

From the fortress of Stirling Maitland was brought to Edinburgh, and placed in close confinement in a house of the Castlehill Street, where a party of troopers, commanded by Alexander, the young Lord Home, were appointed to guard him until the time of his trial—and execution, which was sure to follow. Alarmed for the safety of his friend, certain of the issue of an assize if he were subjected to it, and distrusting Murray’s fair words, Kirkaldy, about ten o’clock that night, marched a party of his garrison to the place of Maitland’s confinement, and, presenting Home with a counterfeited order, demanded the person of the Laird of Lethington. Home, aware of Kirkaldy’s civil and military authority, and that he stood high in the regent’s favour, readily obeyed, and Maitland was quietly carried off to the strong fortress of which his friend was governor.

The regent and his well-beloved councillor, Morton, were thunderstruck by the intelligence of Maitland’s rescue by Kirkaldy’s intervention. This double calamity involved them in perplexity, by the supposition a that all their councils would be disclosed to Kirkaldy. They knew not how to help the matter; but the regent was advised to conceal his anger until a fit opportunity—for he durst trust Grange, though Grange would no more trust him.” Alarmed by the prospect of his defection, with so important a fortress in his hands, garrisoned by soldiers devoted to him, and dreading the evils that might ensue from a coalition between him and Maitland, whose skill as a diplomatist was not inferior to Kirkaldy’s as a warrior, the regent became doubly distrustful of those about him; but, dissembling his resentment, he ordered a process of high treason to be served against Maitland, which confiscated his barony of Lethington, if it could not reach his head. This proceeding only made the horizon darker.

Following up the bold avowal of his old suspicions of Morton’s participation in that crime for which, eleven years afterwards, he lost his head, Kirkaldy, carried away by the ardour of his friendship for Maitland, and feeling renewed sentiments of loyalty to the exiled Mary glowing in his breast, sent a trumpeter from the castle into the city, again demanding that a process for regicide should instantly he commenced against the Earl of Morton and Master Archibald Douglas; and, remembering the precepts of the stout old knight his father, who always offered “the single combate ” in maintenance of his assertions, he offered himself, body for body, to fight Douglas on foot or horseback, while his prisoner, the Lord Herries, (whom, with Chatelherault, he had set at liberty within the fortress,) sent, as a peer of the realm, a similar cartel to the Earl of Morton. The challenges bore, u that they were in the council, and consequently art and part in the king’s murder.”

Though offered to descendants of the u Flower of Chivalry,” no answers were returned to these defiances; but the young Lord Home, who had so unwittingly permitted the secretary to be rescued from his wardship, was that night, with his train of lances, commanded to retire from the city—an insult which completely cooled his warmth in the cause of the confederates.

The defection of Kirkaldy could not have occurred at a worse time for Murray, who seemed to be menaced on all hands. Intrigues for restoring the queen were being carried on in England, where the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, two powerful peers, had espoused her cause, and hoped, by her restoration to the throne, to overturn the Reformation, while Philip of Spain and the great Duke of Alva encouraged them with liberal promises of troops and money. La Mothe, the governor of Dunkirk, had sounded the coast, to ascertain landing-places, and Chiapini Vitelli, a distinguished cavalier, was secretly negotiating in England, while Mary’s numerous and devoted adherents in Scotland were all ready to rush again to arms, on the first ray of hope lightening the horizon of her fortunes. Nothing tended more to raise their exultation than a party suddenly springing up for her in the citadel of the metropolis: "Kirkaldy and Maitland were equal to a host.” The regent saw all the menacing future at a glance, hut this coalition between the two greatest men of the time sank deepest in his heart.

Fearing that Maitland might reveal state secrets, which would have a powerful effect on Kirkaldy’s keen sense of honour and blunt military honesty—when "all their councils would he disclosed,” the true source of the last letter to Bothwell explained, and the gross invalidity of an abdication extorted under terror of the block, were all laid before him in the strongest colours with which Maitland’s eloquence and indignation could array them, Murray found that he had every- thing to fear, and resolved not to leave any attempt untried to recover the castle, and the friendship of its commander.

The day after Maitland’s rescue he sent a message to the castle, requiring the attendance of the governor; but that wary soldier knew better than to trust the confederate lords, and refused to attend the summons. Offensive as the imputation contained in the refusal must have been to a man of Murray’s spirit, he was compelled to pass over the affront, and next day visited the castle, where he had a long interview with Kirkaldy, endeavouring to regain his influence over him; hut in vain. Though he conversed with him as “a friend on all his affairs, with a merry countenance, and casting in many merry purposes, minding him of the many straits and dangers they had been engaged in together—so far was he instructed to dissemble—yet the violence he did himself was easily perceived by those who had been acquainted with him before.'” His dissimulation was practised in vain on Kirkaldy, whom Maitland had warned to be on his guard against any snares to draw him beyond the castle gates, as he had the worst to dread from the vengeance of Morton.

Perhaps Murray merely wished to get the castle quietly into his hands, that he might bestow the governorship upon the Laird of Drumqhasel; but Morton’s hatred aimed at human blood. Filled with rage at being branded as a regicide, and the unanswered gage of battle the charge had brought before him, that cruel and unscrupulous earl had formed a base plot for Kirkaldy’s destruction, by suborning four private sentinels of the name of Douglas to assassinate him, on the first opportunity, if they found him in the city ; and those bravoes were lying in wait at the entrance of the regent’s mansion, to poniard him, if he could have been decoyed thither from the castle. Many other snares were laid for him ; but, prudent as he was brave, he knew how much he had to dread from the powerful confederates, and kept close within that strong fortress, which was now to become the last bulwark of the cause of Mary.

Murray now applied to the magistrates of Edinburgh, to have him removed from the civic chair; but, proud of their provost, and punctilious in their ideas on the freedom of election, the stout bailies briefly declined to have their choice interfered with.

Kirkaldy, who secretly had been wavering in his .politics ever since the field of Langside, required only Lethington’s powerful rhetoric to point out the errors of his course, and confirm his hatred of Morton, his hostility to the confederate lords, and his loyalty to Mary, who had ever honoured and esteemed him. As soon as the change in his opinions was known and confirmed, the castle of Edinburgh became the general rendezvous of all who were opposed to the regent’s administration, and was soon considered the grand rallying-point of the loyalists, or queen’s men, who, though the king’s standard yet waved over it, flocked from all quarters to pay their court to the head of the new faction. Kirkaldy was now the rising star of Mary’s fortunes in Scotland. Thither came that powerful noble Lord Home, the barons of Drylaw, Pitarrow, Buccleuch, Wormistoun, and Parbroath; John Maitland, the prior of Coldingham, Kirkaldy’s three uncles, Sir Robert, Sir Andrew, and Captain David Melville; the young Sir Thomas Kerr of Fernihirst, who, in Kirkaldy’s young daughter Janet, was soon to find an additional incentive to loyalty and courage. Many others of the queen’s faction went there on all occasions, and were ever ready for instant service. The Duke of Chatelherault, and Lord Herries, whom, by warrant from the lords of council, Kirkaldy had previously set at full liberty, were always there still, and greatly strengthened the party, which grew apace; while Murray’s adherents, disgusted by many acts of falsehood, oppression, and treachery, were leaving him by degrees, until, when in public, he appeared with a very slender retinue of his immediate dependants only.

With a heart burning for vengeance, and spurred on by faction, Bothwellhaugh, since his escape, had been lurking in various places for the purpose of sacrificing Murray to the manes of his injured wife, whose wrongs had made a deeper impression upon him than that momentary clemency to which he owed his life. But instead of pouring out his wrath on the base minion Bellenden, on the 23d February 1570 he shot the regent in the streets of Linlithgow, with four tempered bullets, from a caliver.

Thus, by the retributive hand of an assassin, fell the great Earl of Murray, from a supremacy won amid the troubles of those stormy times; but whether the great eminence he attained was by the mere force of circumstance, or by a steady adherence to a deep and subtle plan, formed at an early period, for the destruction of his sister and benefactress, the queen, need not be entered upon here. Though he had long been the enemy of her peace, the usurper of her power, and the blighter of her name and fame, Mary sorrowed long for him, when the tidings of his fate reached her dreary English prison.

In Edinburgh, the utmost consternation prevailed when news of his fall reached the city. The ports were closed, the' town-guards doubled; and when his body was borne in, the vast concourse who thronged the streets bewailed his fate with tears, and muttered vengeance on the destroyer of "the good regent.” But Bothwellhaugh, the moment he committed the act, had fled to Hamilton, the district of his clan, hy whom he was triumphantly received. The whole faction of Chatelherault rose in arms, and, under Lord Arbroath, resolved immediately to join their chief at Edinburgh, and place themselves under the standard of Sir William Kirkaldy.

The latter mourned deeply the untimely fate of Murray: they had been old comrades in the field, stanch friends in many a rough political broil; and though they had quarrelled of late, he had too much of the frankness of his profession to maintain hostility to the dead, and so came to see him laid in his last resting-place. Eight lords bore the body up St Anthony’s lofty aisle, in the great cathedral of St Giles; Kirkaldy preceded it, bearing the paternal banner of Murray with the royal arms; the Laird of Cleish, who bore the coat of armour, walked beside him. Knox prayed solemnly and earnestly as the body was lowered into the dust; a splendid tomb was erected over his remains, and long marked the spot where they lay.


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