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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XXVII. The Last Efforts of Valour and Despair


In January next year, the marriage of John lord Maxwell with Lady Elizabeth Douglas, daughter of the Earl of Angus, was celebrated at Dalkeith; and in honour of the nuptials of his fair young kinswoman, Morton resolved to give a splendid banquet, in his baronial castle of Dalkeith, to the lords of the king’s faction. A long train of sumpter-horses, bearing his rich household plate, a quantity of venison, wines, and other viands, on their circuitous way from Leith, were intercepted and earned off by a party of horse despatched by Kirkaldy for that express purpose; and some of the earl’s valets, who were foolhardy enough to draw their swords, were speared and slain by the foraging mosstroopers.

Morton cared little for the loss of his men, hut that of his plate he could never forgive. At the head of a body of infantry, he entered Fife and overran Kirkaldy’s barony and estates, laying waste with fire and sword the lands of Grange, of Tyrie, Balbairdie, Pitkennie; and, after destroying the houses and slaying three of the principal vassals, returned, as d’Oisel had done before, laden with booty. But he gained nothing by this revengeful raid; for on the 8th of February, the same day on which his property in Fifeshire was destroyed, Kirkaldy, who had received tidings of Morton’s intentions, rode to Dalkeith at the head of a party of horse. He entered it at four o’clock on a dark winter morning, and destroyed the whole township by fire, slew ten of Morton’s retainers, captured nine, and retired to Edinburgh, having lost only a single trooper, and leaving the whole of Dalkeith in smouldering ruins, from the crofts to the gate of the Lion’s Den. The estates of his son-in-law, Femihirst, were afterwards overrun in revenge; and these raids were popularly known as u the Lord Maxwell’s hand-fasting.”

In the same month Mr Carie, son of Lord Hunsdon, had arrived at the castle, envoy from Elizabeth to its governor, craving that the city might u he free to the king’s subjects but Kirkaldy and the loyalists would know of no king. No pen can adequately describe the miseries endured hy the peaceful portion of the citizens during the storm of civil war which raged around them,*and the peculiar spirit of the time is evinced by the fact of a drummer being sent to Leith, challenging fifty men from that town to meet and fight an equal number from the capital—a defiance never answered.

Kirkaldy’s soldiers made terrible havoc on the estates of their enemies ,* and now came those atrocities which, from being introduced by Morton, were named The Douglas Wars—scenes of death and horror, in which both parties were so lost to the principles of humanity, and the laws of honour, that they appear to have become insane. It was not in the field alone that their implacable vengeance was displayed; but for two months, after every engagement, both parties banged their prisoners without regard to mercy, age, rank, or justice. Morton strung up bis by fifties on a gigantic gallows at the Gallowlee, midway between Leith and the city; and the loyalists invariably displayed an equal number on a gibbet which reared its ghastly outline on the Castlehill, in view of the regent’s camp.

The brave Kirkaldy deplored this barbarous practice, as a reproach to humanity and to Scotland: he wrote many letters to the Regent Mar, expressive of his abhorrence for such proceedings ; but, ruled as that good earl was by the ferocious Morton, his remonstrances were in vain, and this war of terror continued until both parties, by the thinned aspect of their ranks, began to feel severely the havoc they were making.

Meanwhile the distresses of the hapless citizens increased. During the severities of an inclement winter, the poor were driven from its closed and hostile gates, where the pike glittered and the cannon ever frowned; the houses of foes and fugitives were demolished, and their elaborate fronts of ornamental oak torn down and sold for fuel at an exorbitant price; a stone-weight of wood was bartered for a peck of meal; the arts of peace were utterly abandoned; in the city and around it, the Sabbath bell was heard no more, or rang only the call to arms; the fields lay untilled, while the plough rusted in the grass-grown furrow; the farm-horse was bestrode by the mailed trooper, or yoked to the clanking culverin. The surrounding hamlets and villages had all been given to the flames, and women and children fled from the bloody hearths where fathers and husbands had perished beneath the sword of the destroyer—if not dragged away to the wheel, the rack, or the gibbet. The poor peasant who dared with his stores to approach the desolate and unused market-place, was branded with hot iron like a slave, or hanged; and even women, whom necessity forced on the same perilous errand, were scourged, burnt on both cheeks, and hanged or drowned. Men heard even the voice of the preacher and the word of God in fear and trembling; for daily and nightly the galloping troopers, the booming cannon, and the volleying harque-busses, the clash of armour, and the war-cry of God and the Queen! rang among the dark wynds and desolate streets of the capital. At one time, a hundred of its citizens fled to Leith, but were driven back with blows and opprobrium, threatened with the cord as spies and adherents of Mary, and returned to find the gates closed and their houses demolished. Such were the horrors of the Douglas Wars, which (save the butcheries of Cumberland) form the blackest chapter in our Scottish annals.

Amid all this national misery, the cruel Elizabeth and her subtle ministry continued their deep intrigues, and played off each fierce faction against the other. By a secret pension she had secured the adherence of Morton, who vowed never to furl his banner until the loyalist cause was rendered hopeless by the fall of Edinburgh castle, and the destruction of its governor. After the execution of the unfortunate Norfolk, Elizabeth resolved, by every means, to destroy the faction of her beautiful rival. Her innate avarice and caution prevented her sending an army into Scotland, thus risking a defeat and a national war; hut by her orders, Sir William Drury, the marshal of Berwick, and Lord Hunsdon, entered into a correspondence with Kirkaldy, for the purpose of shaking his loyalty; while Cecil, Lord Burleigh, wrote to his old correspondent Lethington, with the same view.

Elizabeth proposed that Kirkaldy should formally yield the castle to the Earl of Mar, promising that she would see him maintained in office as its governor, with one hundred and fifty soldiers of his choice, in addition to the ordinary garrison; but the honourable and prudent soldier knew too well with whom he had to deal, and was not to be deluded thus.

“To be guided by Elizabeth, or her councils,” said he, “would be to prejudice my sovereign and my country;” and well would it have been for Mary had he always held that opinion. The high tone he assumed intensely disgusted and irritated the haughty Elizabeth against him. While she was concerting plans of vengeance, there ensued a tedious correspondence, which ended by Kirkaldy rejecting her offers, and openly despising the threats of her envoys.

To enter into a detail of the battles, raids, skirmishes and outrages of the four regencies, would require as many volmnes, and be rather foreign from the present Memoirs, which are intended to be descriptive only of the scenes in which the hero or his immediate friends were concerned. Suffice it to say that the Highlanders—ever loyal and true—triumphed in the north; Fernihirst and Buccleuch, with their bold mosstroopers, rolled the whole fury of border war on the queen’s rebels in the south ; Lord Semple was defeated in the west; Kirkaldy’s cannon held the capital in complete subjection, while his soldiers overawed all Lothian, and so by mid-summer 1572 the affairs of the captive queen were in a victorious and flourishing condition. Kirkaldy received money, arms, and ammunition repeatedly from the courts of France and Spain; and by his orders a goldsmith of Edinburgh coined in the castle silver pieces of ten, twenty, and thirty pence Scots, for the payment of the garrison and queen’s troops.

During May and June there were many severe conflicts around Edinburgh, but of these a brief notice will suffice.

Kirkaldy had released his kinsman Sir Archibald Napier, and permitted him to retire to his estates in the province of Lennox; but his fortalice of Merchiston, which stands about half a mile south of Edinburgh, had been for some time previous occupied by a garrison of king’s troops, who cut off all supplies coming to the city in that direction. The tall outline of this old gray tower of the fourteenth century, with its steep slated roofs and projecting battlements, is just visible from the castle of Edinburgh, rising above the dark-green copsewood, at the west end of the Burghmuir. From its lofty situation, it overlooks the whole of that spacious common, the ancient muster-place and campus Martins of the Scottish hosts; it commands a complete view of the country spreading southward to the base of the heath-clad Pentlands, as well as of the magnificent valley extending to the west—a far-stretching landscape, where the smoke of Glasgow rises between the faint blue bills of Stirling and Dumbarton. Altogether, its reduction became of the utmost importance to the queen’s party.

Accordingly, on the 5th of May, a Captain Scougal, with a body of pikemen and harquebussiers, marched against it; while Kirkaldy from his south-west ramparts discharged forty pieces of cannon to cover the attack. This cannonade, together with the fire of Scougal’s band, soon drove the defenders of Merchiston from their outworks; the barbican wall was stormed and demolished. Captain Scougal fell mortally wounded—but his pikemen pressed bravely forward, driving the enemy into the donjon-tower, from the loop-holes and battlements of which they shot securely on the assailants. These, finding it impossible to dislodge them, fired the stables and outhouses of the court-yard, to smoke them forth.

At this crisis, a strong party led from Leith by the Laird of Blairquhan rushed to the rescue. Disheartened by the death of their commander, on their flank being assailed the harquebussiers retired towards the city, furiously pressed by the enemy. Retreating by the quarries of Bruntsfield, they skirted the great sheet of water called the Burgh Loch, firing as they retired until they reached the hamlet of the Sciennes, which they gave to the flames, and, favoured by the smoke and confusion, escaped in safety. Blairquhan’s horse was shot under him, and it was afterwards carried into the city—which, observes an old journalist drily, “was no tocken of gude cheir theirin.”

On the 10th of June following, the Regent Mar laid siege to the castle of Nidderie-Seaton, near Edinburgh, upon which Kirkaldy and the loyal lords sent a strong force against Merchiston, for the double purpose of gaining it and causing a diversion of the regent’s intentions. Led by George Earl of Huntly, this party, with two heavy culverins, approached Merchiston in the forenoon; and from two until four in the afternoon these ordnance battered the square keep, till several breaches yawned in its massive walls. Mean time the active troopers were scouring the adjacant fields, from which they collected forty head of cattle ; while cannon and caliver were plied against Merchiston with such success that its occupiers beat a parley, and, as their captain was absent, offered to surrender to the earl if he would permit them to march out with the honours of war.

Glad to obtain possession of this obnoxious little fort-let on any terms, Huntly assented; but unluckily, at that moment, the approach of some peasants, drawn there by curiosity and the noise of the fire-arms, startled his half disciplined soldiers, some of whom called aloud that Morton and the king’s men from Nidderie were upon them ! Seized by a panic, they began to retire ; and the undecided earl sent off his cannon instantly to the city, among the southern suburbs of which his retreating band were assailed by a party from Leith, who rushed upon them with the utmost fury, and by one tremendous charge completed their discomfiture. For a moment there was a shock and a conflict; the earl had his horse killed under him by a shot from the walls of Holyrood Palace, and then all became confusion. His soldiers threw down their arms and fled to the city gates, which received them. Fifteen were slain in cold blood after surrender. Many were taken prisoners, and driven towards Leith in a close column—but goaded like a herd of cattle with swords and pikes, beaten by staves and truncheons until they reached the foot of the great gallows, where Morton instantly hanged them all! In reprisal, fifty-six of his men, who were prisoners in the castle, were gibbeted at the west end of the city by the loyalists, and this last scene of atrocity closed the cruelties of the Douglas wars.

As the wretched citizens were now enduring the greatest misery, by want of the most common articles of food, Kirkaldy sent Captain Hamilton with a squadron of one hundred and fifty lances to forage. He succeeded in collecting one hundred sacks of meal, and eighty head of oxen; but on approaching Edinburgh with the valuable booty, the garrison of Merchiston made a sudden sortie on one flank, while Sir Patrick Hume of the Heugh, at the head of eighty horse, assailed them on the other. Rendered desperate by danger and starvation, Hamilton’s little troop fought bravely to secure both their retreat and their much-prized booty. Deadly was the struggle that ensued, and they must have lost the fight had not a party sallied from the city, and turned the fortune of the day against the king’s men, who were compelled to retreat, leaving fifty prisoners and twenty-seven slain behind them. Among these were two brave knights of the name of Hume, Patrick of the Heugh, and Sir Patrick of Polwarth, ancestor of the Earls of Marchmont. Of the loyalists one only was slain ; he fell by a shot from the walls of Merchiston.

On the 5th of the same month (July) Kirkaldy suffered a great loss by the death of John lord Fleming, a firm partisan of the queen : he was struck by a random shot from the castle wall, and died a short time afterwards at Biggar. As he was borne from the garrison in a litter, he was nearly killed outright by the sudden descent of the portcullis, an iron spike of which entered the head of a gentleman named Henry Balfour, and slew him on the spot.

It was about tbis time that Elizabeth, who watched with increasing alarm the success of Kirkaldy and his brothers in arms, proposed an armistice for two months, which should secure the safety and honour of Mary’s adherents. Accordingly her envoy Sir William Drury, who by old writers is always accused of endeavouring to blow the flames instead of quenching them, arrived at Edinburgh on the 18th of July. He halted for a night at Bestalrig, and sent a trumpet to the city to announce his arrival to the venerable Le Crocq, his diplomatic brother from France.

Weary of the horrors he had witnessed, and feeling for the starving people, Kirkaldy was willing that—if possible—the war should cease until Mary’s restoration, and the re-formation of a government on a solid basis, affording peace and security to all. According to Melville, the loyalists, u for their parts, desired no man’s goods, but only liberty peaceably to enjoy their own livings. Grange desired that the regent would pay certain debts contracted for repairing the castle and artillery,” which debts he promised, in the presence of the Laird of Tullybardine, to disburse.

Historians have considered it strange that so able a statesman as Lethington should have consented to those peaceable measures, which were ultimately to prove the ruin of his party, the destruction of himself and of his friends. But he and Kirkaldy had long been branded by their opponents as men of bbod, who obstinately refused even a breathing-time to their bleeding and exhausted country; and it was to refute the aspersion that they agreed to the “ abstinence,” just when famine in all its gaunt horror was stalking among them, and gradually reducing both parties to the utmost extremities. There was to be an entire cessation of hostilities for two months, commencing from the 1st of August; and it was expressly stated that, as soon as possible, the nobles and barons of the realm should meet to deliberate on a general peace. It was signed on the 30th of July, amid the acclamations of the people, and under a joyous salute from the long-dreaded batteries of the castle. Immediately afterwards, Chatelherault and Huntly, with other loyalist leaders, and their forces, marched from the city, which was entered by the Earls of Mar, Morton, and their troops from Leith. Contrary to the truce, they placed a strong guard in the church of St Giles, disarmed all citizens suspected of being queen’s men, and billeted soldiers at free quarters every where. But Kirkaldy maintained a strict neutrality for the time, and, aware of treachery, remained close within his formidable garrison, which was ever on the alert, with closed gates and loaded cannon.

He and his skilful adviser, Maitland, were not permitted to remain long ignorant of their sad mistake in agreeing to a truce. Mar, though sincere in his wishes for Scotland’s peace and welfare, was completely ruled and guided by the avaricious Morton, who longed greedily for the rich estates of the queen’s adherents to maintain him in his career of private and political profligacy,—in the intrigues with Mistress Cullayne, Lady Helen Kirkaldy, and others. The former was so notorious, that the bishop of Galloway feared not to reprehend him severely in his discourses. The affair with Lady Helen will, to a considerable extent, explain that deep-rooted inveteracy which existed between Kirkaldy and Morton. The former was too punctilious and high-spirited to forgive such an injury done to his family: Morton knew that well; and having obtained the superiority of the lands of Grange in Fifeshire, he resolved by every political wile, by every kind of legal and illegal duplicity, openly or secretly, to accomplish the destruction of his gallant enemy and the attainder of his family. Now, when too late, Kirkaldy began to find the toils of the snarer closing around him.

Elizabeth’s late alliance with France had considerably cooled the political interest of that false and fickle nation in Mary’s cause, which was fast declining even at home— for nothing could be more distasteful to the proud and jealous Scottish nobles than the correspondence carried on by Kirkaldy, Huntly, and other loyalist leaders, with the persecuting Duke of Alva and the Catholic court of Madrid,* and fearful of a Spanish yoke, the English parliament, participating in the same feeling, had severely voted the unhappy queen of the Scots the greatest enemy to their nation.

Matters between the factions were in this state, when all Protestant Europe was overwhelmed with consternation hy tidings of the barbarous massacre at Paris on the 23d of August—the eve of St Bartholomew—when thirty thousand French subjects were slaughtered in cold blood by their kindred and countrymen—an event which, while it exhibits in strong light the stern principles and dark intrigues of the Roman church, is unmatched in the annals of religious atrocity.

The miserable Mary, pining in her English prison, was a Catholic, and the terrible massacre of Bartholomew’s eve had the most fatal effect upon her interests : it terrified the irresolute, and staggered her adherents,— gained her the enmity of many, and cooled the warmth of all. Horror and pity, grief and rage, animated the people by turns ; and, participating in the general feeling of the nation—perhaps, too, feeling the old prejudices of other days, which his stern father had instilled into his mind, and recalling something of the spirit that animated him when he drew his sword beneath the banner of the Congregation—Kirkaldy is said to have been completely paralysed in his movements, to have wavered in his adherence to Mary, and to have become still more anxious that a happy peace should succeed the truce of the first of August.

According to agreement, the Estates, on the 27th September, met in the old Tolbooth (the Heart of Mid-Lothian) in solemn council, to devise measures for the restoration of peace and prosperity.1 John of Mar, the regent, presided at this meeting, which, by the wicked artifices of Morton, had been thus delayed until near the expiry of the second month. On the second day of the assembly, Kirkaldy sent a gentleman of his garrison with a document containing nine articles necessary for the personal security of his officers, his soldiers, and himself, in case they came to terms, (note H.) The seventh item required the Earl of Morton to resign his superiority acquired over the estates of Grange. The good Regent Mar was willing to accede to all Kirkaldy’s terms; but his overruler Morton, to whom the seventh was particularly distasteful, and who foresaw in the happy end of civil discord his own downfall, and the probable rise of Maitland, bent his whole soul, energy, and interest, against the threatened peace.2 His hand numbered fully five spears for every one of the regent’s, and when his pride, wrath, and avarice, were engaged, he became a most formidable ally or enemy to a weak government. All who were in temporary possession of the estates of queen’s men warmly concurred with him, and the good and pious intentions of Mar were completely frustrated. Impeded thus, instead of restoring peace to his distracted country, he was only able to procure a further truce till the first day of the ensuing year.

A discovery of such avarice and ambition on the part of his friends and advisers, had a powerful and fatal effect on the temper of this patriotic and estimable noble; his spirit became broken, a settled melancholy preyed upon his mind, and aggravated an illness under which he had long been labouring. He attended a grand banquet given hy Morton, at the castle of Dalkeith, after which he immediately became worse, and departed hurriedly to Stirling, where he expired on the morning of the 29th October; and the popular voice loudly accused Morton of having administered poison to him during dinner. Indeed, when we consider the boundless ambition, insatiable avarice, and deliberate cruelty of this wicked peer, the suspicions arising from the sudden death of Mar are not to he wondered at.

All the worst qualities of Morton were eminently displayed in his treatment of the unfortunate Earl of Northumberland, his friend and benefactor when exiled in England, and whom (when in turn a fugitive) he so basely sold to Elizabeth, who executed him at York. Kirkaldy was very wroth with Femihirst and Buccleuch that they did not save the English earl, when Morton had him at Jedburgh, in their immediate neighbourhood.

In November this year died the celebrated John Knox, who during his long illness often bewailed, touchingly, the defection of Kirkaldy from the party of the young king. As one of his oldest friends he sent him a solemn message, which, coming from such a man, was in those days of superstition considered prophetic. Calling Master David Lindesay, minister of Leith to his bedside,—

“Go,” said the dying Reformer—“go to yonder man in the castle—he whom ye know I have loved so dearly— tell him that I have sent ye once more to warn him, in the name of God, to leave that evil cause, for neither the craigy rock in which he so miserably confides, nor the carnal prudence of that man Lethington, whom he esteems even as a demigod, nor the assistance of strangers, shall preserve him; hut he shall be disgracefully dragged forth to punishment, and hanged on a gallows in the face of the sun, unless he speedily amend his life, and flee to the mercy of God! ”

Lindesay related this to Kirkaldy, who at first was moved by the solemn message, and the tidings that Knox lay on his death-bed but the hauteur of the soldier resumed its sway, and, at Maitland’s instigation, he returned a scornful answer, for which he afterwards expressed regret.

"Begone,” said he, "and tell Master John Knox he is but a dirty prophet,” and dismissed the messenger.

Knox expired on the 24th of the month; according to Bannatyne and others, his last moments were disturbed by the constant din of war.


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