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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XXII. The Exploits of Captain Melville


By the influence of Elizabeth, the two months’ truce was continued until the month of April in the succeeding year: neither of the factions, however, observed the armistice very strictly, and many minor fortresses were taken and recaptured on both sides.

In the mean time Kirkaldy, like a prudent soldier, was preparing for the storm which he foresaw was sure to burst when the armistice ended. While Morton was intriguing in England, and the regent was engaged in the west country, he secretly enlisted a number of new soldiers; upon which a royal proclamation was issued by sound of trumpet, on the 19th March, warning them all, under pain of treason, to abandon the standard of this desperate soldier, who prepared for a war against all Protestant Scotland, and England too, the regent’s ally. Regardless of the mandate, the new levies were, by beat of drum, assembled on the Castlehill by Captain Melville, who formally arrayed, attested, and paid them, in the name of Queen Mary.

On the 13th of April, the attention of the crowds who in the forenoon promenaded the High Street and Lucken-booths was attracted by the following paper, which Kirkaldy desired a gentleman of his garrison to affix to the battlements of the ancient city cross: —

"To all and sundry nobles, barons, gentlemen, and other lieges throughout the realm of Scotland.

“I, Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, Knight, captain of the castle of Edinburgh, make it manifest and declare, that forsaemeihle as Mathew earl of Lennox, having unlawfully intruded himself in the regency of this realm, hath lately caused publish sundry letters in divers burghs of the same, full of calumnious, injurious, and untrue reports of me, commanding and charging my friends, servants, and soldiers, levied for the preservation of the said castle, to leave and abandon my service, that he may the more easily surprise the castle, and thereby continue in his detestable tyranny.....I have hazarded my life for Scotland when he was against it; and if any gentleman undefamed, of my quality and degree, of his faction and belonging to him, shall assert to the contrary that I am a true Scottishman, I will say that he speaketh untruelie, and lieth falsely in his throat; and I shall be ready to fight him on horseback or on foot, at time and place to be appointed according to the law of arms.—Proclaimed at the market-cross of Edinburgh, 13th April 1571.” To this cartel, in which Lennox was taunted with his former malpractices and exile, no answer was returned, and the untouched gage of battle hung on the city cross till the wind blew it away.

On the last day of the truce, the strong castle of Dunbarton was taken by surprise by a party under Captain Crawford of Jordanhill. Lord Fleming, by a boat, effected a narrow escape alone; his lady and soldiers were made prisoners, together with the Archbishop (Hamilton) of St Andrews, whom Lennox ruthlessly hanged over Stirling bridge.

Alarmed by the fall of this important fortress, Kirkaldy made every possible preparation for a long and desperate defence. He repaired the walls and towers of Edinburgh castle; mounted more cannon; every prominence that might have assisted an escalade to ascend the cliffs was carefully cut away, and the steep banks of the hill, under the guns of the Spur, were carefully scarped and smoothed for the same purpose. Mary, who kept up a secret intercourse with her supporters, sent him ten thousand crowns: his brother, Sir James Kirkaldy, who was governor of Blackness, had gone to France, where he disposed of certain valuable jewels of the queen, and bought for her service “some murrions, corslets, hagbuts, and wine, whilk were conveyit saiflie from Leyth by the horsemen and soldiers of the town.” Sir William Kirkaldy broke into the town-house, and carried off all the arms and armour of the citizens; he next seized all the victual laid up in the stores of the Leith merchants, and made strenuous exertions to endure a long blockade. His preparations were conducted upon a scale never before witnessed in Scotland; and he boasted of them in a long and rather clever ballad published at the time. (Note G.)

In disciplining the new levies, he had recourse to an expedient that is often adopted hy more recent tacticians,—a mock fight; which is quaintly described by Calderwood and the gossiping journalists of the day.

In the afternoon of the 2d March, a party of his soldiers were marched from the castle, which they again approached at eight in the evening; and, having donned white English surcoats over their armour, "tuike upon them to scarmis in manner of ane assault.” On approaching, they were challenged from the ramparts of the Spur.

"Who are ye that trouble the captain in the silence of night?”

“The army of the Queen of England,” replied the mock assailants, with a discharge from their harquebusses. They were promptly answered by a blank volley from the walls; and while the firing continued, they bestowed on each other all the scurrility and taunts which the Scots and their southern neighbours used in battle as liberally as hard blows.

"Begone, ye lubbards! Away, Bluecoat!”

“I defy thee, Whitecoat!—dyrt upon your teith!— Hence knaves—to your mistress—her soldiers shall not come here—we lat you to wit that we have men, meat, and ordnance to last these seven years to cum.” The cannon were then discharged, upon which the mock Englishmen took to flight after an hour’s skirmish, which filled the peaceable portion of the citizens with wonder and dismay.

“I could expound, if I chose, the mystery of these cannon-shots,” said Knox, who, with two other clergymen, had been listening with astonishment to the din and clamour; "yet this much will I say, ante ruinam prceit fastus, as sayeth Solomon,—before destruction goeth pride. I once saw as great bravadoers in the castle of St Andrews, and yet in a few days they were brought low enough.” But Kirkaldy’s soldiers had soon enough of more serious encounters, as the civil war had now commenced in earnest.

Hearing of his great preparations, the regent became alarmed, and ordered Ramsay and Hume, two of his captains, to beat up for recruits. He furnished them with ample powers to impress those who would not volunteer for King James; and, to enforce these arbitrary measures, they were attended by two troops of a hundred and thirty lances.

On the sunny forenoon of a Sunday in May, these cavaliers, with their horsemen, rode from Dalkeith, and passed the capital by the deep ravine at the foot of Salisbury Craigs. They discharged several calivers in at the eastern gate, and, after killing and wounding many citizens, galloped to Leith untouched by the castle guns.

Kirkaldy resolved to avenge the insult; and, as they returned southward next day, ordered fifty pikemen, and a hundred and fifty harquebusses, with a body of armed citizens under the Earl of Huntly and Captain Cullayne, to intercept and attack them. These came up with them a mile distant from the city, near a ruined chapel of St John the Baptist, among the fields at the east end of the extensive Boroughmuir, and a brisk skirmish ensued amid the thatched cottages and green hedgerows of a little hamlet called the Powburn. The king’s squadron of lances fought gallantly, and drove hack Kirkaldy’s soldiers, who fought every rood of the way, until they were close to the blackened ruins of the House and Kirk of Field, the tall square tower and ivied buttresses of which formed then a prominent object to the southward of the city. Huntly and his band were driven headlong through the Potterrow Port, an arch between two bastel houses; and there a captain named Moffat had a spear driven through his body, as he was endeavouring to close the ponderous barrier on the victors.

On this, Kirkaldy ordered a fresh band to sally forth, and these compelled the king’s troopers to retire as fast as they had advanced; but, on reaching the margin of the muir, once more they made a rally, and a desperate charge—horse by horse with their levelled spears—and freed themselves of the citizens, who retired in disorder, leaving their slain behind them.

The Regent Lennox now issued a summons for the whole forces of the kingdom to assemble at Linlithgow, on the 19th of May, while Morton mustered a body of troops in and about his patrimonial castle of Dalkeith; but the little influence possessed by the former is shown by the small number who attended his standard.

On the arrival of the old Duke of Chatelherault, and his spirited son Lord Claud Hamilton, with three hundred horse and seventy harquebussiers, whom they marched up to the castle gate on the 4th May, Kirkaldy, and the lords his companions, held a solemn council in the great hall. Overlooking the almost perpendicular cliff to the south, this spacious apartment exhibited features very different from those it possesses in the present day. A massive iron grate occupied the ample fire-place at one end; two great tables, and a dresser, or buffet, were its principal furniture, while a chamber opening off it contained the amrie. Now it is an hospital.

Indefatigable in the cause of Maiy, anxious hy energy and courage to efface the memory of his former services against her, Kirkaldy still continued the most vigorous preparations. He loopholed the spacious vaults of the great cathedral, for the purpose of sweeping with musketry its steep churchyard to the south, the broad Lawn-market to the west, and High Street to the eastward; while his cannon from the spire commanded the long line of street called the Canongate—even to the battlements of the palace porch. He seized the ports of the city, placed guards of his soldiers upon them, and retained the keys in his own hands. He ordered a rampart and ditch to he formed at the Butter Tron, for the additional defence of the castle ; and another for the same purpose at the head of the West Bow, a steep and winding street of most picturesque aspect. His soldiers pillaged the house of the regent, whose movables and valuables they carried off; he broke into the Tolbooth and council chamber, drove forth the scribes and councillors, and finally deposed the whole bench of magistrates, installing in the civic chair the daring chief of Femihirst, (who had now become the husband of his daughter Janet, a young girl barely sixteen;) while a council composed of his moss-trooping vassals, clad in their iron jacks, steel caps, calivers, and two-handed whingers, officiated as bailies, in lieu of the douce, paunchy, and well-fed burgesses of the Crainas and Luckenbooths. Meanwhile, so great was the hatred of the queen’s party against Knox—her most bitter and implacable enemy—that the situation of the preacher became very critical, after Kirkaldy received the Hamiltons into the city, and effected- so great a change in the administration of civic affairs—a change which closed for ever the hearts of the citizens against their former favourite. So intense was the animosity of the Hamilton clan against the great Reformer, that his anxious friends watched his house in the night, and even proposed to form a guard for the defence of his person— a measure almost requisite in a city thronged with the half-desperate soldiers of a ruined cause, and the ferocious mosstroopers of the Border chieftains. Kirkaldy, actuated by a proper spirit of duty, instantly interdicted the formation of a guard, but offered to send his kinsman Captain Melville to conduct the venerable Knox to and from church. Feeling interest in his safety, notwithstanding their late quarrel, and influenced by the importunity of the citizens, as much as by the innate generosity so natural to a brave man, he applied to the Duke of Chatelherault, and the gentlemen of his house, for a written protection for Knox. But they refused to pledge even their words of honour for his safety ; alleging as a reason that u there were many bold rascals among their retinue who loved him not, and might do him harm without their knowledge.” Of that a serious instance occurred, when the Reformer narrowly escaped the fate of martyrdom. The ball of a caliver being one night shot through»his window, it lodged in the ceiling of the apartment he occupied.1 Alarmed by this circumstance, the very day after the Hamiltons entered Edinburgh he retired to St Andrews; and, during his absence, many ridiculous stories, suited to the superstition of the time, were circulated concerning him—that he had gained the love of Margaret Stuart of Ochiltree by sorcery, and other reports which honest Richard Bannatyne 'records with ludicrous indignation. John Low, a carrier of letters to St Andrews, being in the "Castell of Edinburgh, the Ladie Home would neids threip in his face, that Johne Knox was banist the toune, because in his yard he had raisit some sanctis, amangis whome their came up the devill with homes, which when his servant Richart saw he ran wud, and so deid.”

By this time the brother of the secretary, John Maitland, had joined the queen’s party. A loyal subject, and steady in his adherence to Mary, he was appointed lord privy-seal in 1567, on his father’s resignation; but now, that office having been given to the celebrated Buchanan, and his commendatory of Coldingham to Home of Manderstone, and being sensible that the regent was his enemy, he retired into the castle of Edinburgh, where he was kindly received by the governor and Lady Grange.

Four days after Knox’s departure, the Earl of Morton and his troops, having formed a junction with those of the regent, encamped at Leith, and threw up a battery on the southern part of the Calton Hill, where a bluff black precipice, then called the Doo Craig, or Pigeons Rock, opposes itself to the city. This sconce they hoped would command the Canongate and protect their parliament, which, that its proceedings might be dated from the capital, sat around the cross of St John, in the middle of the street; while a strong force under Crawford of Jordanhill was drawn up between the place of meeting and the round towers of the Netherbowport, (the Temple Bar of the city,) to prevent any sudden sortie of the soldiers of Kirkaldy, who, to disturb this strange Assembly of the Estates, fired eighty-seven shot of the heaviest calibre from the eastern curtain. But the great strength and vast height of the intervening houses protected the lords from this cannonade, which otherwise would considerably have discomposed their proceedings.

Meanwhile the sconce on the Doo Craig continued to fire at the upper part of the city; but was answered by a platform of guns erected at Leith Wynd, where Boisin, a famous French corporal, and a soldier named Kirkaldy, were slain. The latter had often danced on St Giles’s steeple, exposed to the harquebusses of the foe—for dancing on dangerous and exposed places was a favourite bravado of the martialists of those days, when aims were less deadly than now.

King James’s parliament sat on the 24th May, and three succeeding days. Sir William and Sir James Kirkaldy, Maitland of Lethington, his brother the com-mendator, Gavin abbot of Kilwinning, Chatelherault, and all the queen’s adherents, were again solemnly declared to be forfeited rebels and traitors, after which the meeting broke up and retired. Immediately upon this, Kirkaldy  Calderwood, (Woodrow Society Edit.) sallied forth, burnt their place of assembly, and destroyed several houses belonging to them. On this occasion the ponderous Mons Meg was brought from the castle by the Earl of Huntly, who fenced her round with fascines and a gabionade, in the Blackfriars Yard; but so great were the exertions required for dragging her, that the operation is said to have cost “ two or three poore men their lyves.” Four-and-twenty of her enormous stone bullets (each three hundredweight) were on this occasion discharged in two hours and a half, against the mansion of a certain obnoxious kingsman, John Lawson, whose household must have been considerably disconcerted by such a cannonade!

“It is impossible,” observes Tytler, u to conceive a more miserable spectacle than that presented at this moment by the Scottish capital: the country tom and desolated by the straggles of two exasperated factions, whose passions became every day more fierce and implacable, so that the very children fought under the name of king’s and queen’s men; the capital in a state of siege, whilst the wretched citizens, placed between the fires of the castle and the camp of the regent, were compelled to intermit their peaceful labours, and either to serve under the queen’s banner, or to join Lennox and have their property confiscated.” While the treacherous interposition of Elizabeth’s ministry served but to make matters worse, “fanaticism added her horrors to the war; and the .Reformed clergy, by a refusal to pray for the queen, inflamed the resentment of her friends, and gave an example of rancour to the people.”

All business was at an end, and all confidence between men had ceased; the bells rang no more for public worship they tolled only the signal to arms; and the ceaseless din of the artillery thundered above the desolate capital from the dawn to the sunset of each long summer day. Skirmishes and conflicts ensued daily, even hourly; and the citizens soon learned, without emotion, to behold the dead and the dying home through their guarded harriers.

One morning in May, Sir Thomas of Fernihirst, the interim provost, with the Lords Lochinvar and Herries, two hundred lances, and one hundred and twenty harquebussiers, marched out by the long straggling street of the West Port; and, passing the chapel of the Virgin, made a circuit round the castle, and engaged a hand of the regent’s soldiers near the loch at the ancient village of Canonmills. The castle batteries opened to cover their advance — the shot came booming over the waving corn-fields; several of the king’s men were slain, and Sir Arthur of Myrrin-toun was run through by a lance at Fernihirst’s side.

It was a common bravado of the cavaliers of Lennox, to gallop their horses to and fro on a level park called Halkerston’s croft, near the castle, firing their petronels and brandishing their weapons, while exclaiming,—

“Traytouris to God and man, come forth and break a spear!” A cannon-ball was the usual reward of this “pricking on the fields.”

Once a party of glittering horsemen were seen caracoling their chargers near the old hamlet of Broughton, and waving handkerchiefs from the points of their brandished swords, as a defiance to the castle; Kirkaldy ordered a culverin to be discharged against them, and though fully a mile distant, one well-directed shot slew Henry Stuart lord Methven, and seven troopers.


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