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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XXVIII. The Gibbet and the Setting Sun


On the death of Mar, no competitor appearing for the precarious office of regent, the Earl of Morton, supported hy Elizabeth and the spears of his numerous vassals, was appointed governor of the realm, notwithstanding the fears of the people, and the murmurs of the nobility. He was the fourth regent within five years! Merciless, hypocritical, profligate, and crafty, nothing could have been more fatal to the cause of Mary, and the operations of her champion, than Morton’s elevation. To all the power, pride, and inborn bravery of the noble house of Douglas, he united such opposite qualities that he soon became more than ever feared and detested.

Though still retaining a mortal enmity to Kirkaldy and Maitland, he pretended to have a desire for peace, and even offered to give them the terms proposed to Mar,1 being well aware of the insecurity of his power, while so many brave men continued in arms against him; and Elizabeth was now quite anxious that the flame her intrigues had kept so long alive should be extinguished, and for ever—so her ambassador, Henry Killigrew, arrived in Scotland soon after Morton’s being proclaimed regent.

For the latter he brought with him a handsome sum in gold, and had in his train Bowland Johnson and John Fleming, two skilful engineers, who secretly and dishonourably reconnoitred and examined the towers and defences of the castle of Edinburgh, and reported to Elizabeth that, with proper forces, and cannon of sufficient weight, it might be reduced in twenty days; and she, therefore, resolved on a siege, when the opening of summer would be more favourable for such operations. (Note I.) On his way to visit the court of the young king at Stirling, Killigrcw, to enable his engineers to make their observations, made a pretence of visiting Sir James Melville, who was then residing with his nephew; and, on his departure, the knight of Halhill accompanied him so far as Cramond, reasoning with him on such matters as he had in commission.

It was Morton’s wish that the queen’s faction should, by detail, fall victims to his avarice and tyranny, His first line of politics was to treat separately with the city, and then with the country party of the loyalists,— for the purpose of detaching the one from the other. He first, as before stated, applied to Kirkaldy, but that high-spirited soldier refused to have aught to do with a treaty which did not secure the safety of the provincial lords. They, however, were not so careful of his. Morton had employed Sir James Melville to "travail” with his friends in the castle of Edinburgh, to effect a peace or coalition with him, offering to Kirkaldy the splendid revenues of the archbishoprick of St Andrews as a bribe. Neither party were sincere in these negotiations; each only sought to gain time for overreaching and crushing the other. Kirkaldy hoped, by aid from Charles IX. or the Duke of Alva, to restore poor Mary to freedom and her throne, and at the same time to avenge signally his own and his brother’s wrongs on Morton ; the latter thirsted only for the possessions of the queen’s men, from whom he wished to separate Kirkaldy, so as to have him fully at his mercy —a piece of deep and skilful villany which he was fated soon to accomplish.

The great Duke of Chatelherault was now weighed down by age and infirmities ; Huntly, Argyle, and their followers were weary of the war, and the hardships and poverty to which it subjected them ; and, not possessing the indomitable ardour of Kirkaldy, they were desirous of peace. Morton sent a messenger to bring about an accommodation which would exclude Kirkaldy, with his officers and soldiers. "This they accepted of,” according to Melville, “without making any ceremonies; whereof they, by their letters from Perth, instantly advertised the Laird of Grange, lamenting that the straits they were redacted to had compelled them to accept the agreement offered them by the regent, praying him not to take it in evil part, as they had no house of strength to retire themselves to. They gave him many thanks for the help and assistance he had given them, which they said they would never forget so long as God would lend them their lives. This was all the recompense this good gentleman obtained for the great aid he had given these lords, and the hazards he had run upon their account.”

The tidings of this secret coalition must have fallen like a thunderbolt upon him, and his friends and soldiers, who, in all, mustered barely two hundred men fit for service. Enraged at Morton’s duplicity, and the cowardly perfidy of the queen’s lords, he resolutely refused to he in any away comprehended in the treaty of Perth, a grand deed of peace which was formally signed on the 23d day of February 1573. This was the finishing-stroke to his fortunes, and a deathblow to the cause of Mary.

Wounded pride, the memory of a thousand wrongs, together with the idea that he was now an outlawed and deserted man, whose sovereign was detained a captive in a foreign land, contrary to every rule of equity and honour as known among civilised nations, hurried Kirkaldy on to the desperate course he now meant to pursue. The insidious councils of the Englishman Killigrew acted like spurs on his irritated mind, and urged him on the current of fate. He secretly informed him and Lord Home that his mistress Elizabeth would not assist either of the Scottish factions, and Kirkaldy appears to have believed him, although he had experienced for twenty years the perfidy of the English court. Hostile, exasperated, and suspicious, he remained within his strong fortress aloof from all; and, from the day the treaty was signed, the exulting Morton would permit no more offers of conciliation to he thought of.

The grand object for which he had protracted a desolating war was at last about to he accomplished.

Herries, Seaton, and many of the loyal nobles, had, hy the express desire of Mary, (who abhorred the civil strife, and bewailed its victims1) transferred their allegiance to her infant son; and while by death, the fortune of war, the horror excited by the massacre of St Bartholomew, and principally by the fatal treaty of Perth, Kirkaldy found himself abandoned by all save Lord Home, the Melvilles, Maitland, and his garrison. Successively Chatelherault, the earls of Argyle, Huntly, Errol, Crawford, the earl Marischal, the earls of Caithness, Cassilis, Sutherland, and Eglinton; the Lords Ogilvie, Posse, Borthwick, Oliphant, Yester, Fleming, Boyd, Somerville, Invermeith, Forbes, Gray, two-and-twenty lesser barons of the surname of Hamilton, Sir Adam Gordon of Auchindown, the commenda-tors of Arbroath and Paisley, the bishops of Aberdeen and Galloway, the lairds of Buccleuch, Johnstone, and innumerable other knights and gentlemen, had all abandoned the fortunes of Mary; yet Kirkaldy viewed their desertion and the coming storm with a bold and undaunted heart, and a resolution to die, but never to yield his sword to the Earl of Morton. His situation was now peculiarly embarrassing and desolate. Save the solitary rock of that castle, which his brave band were soon to defend until nearly buried by its crumbling towers, the whole of Scotland had submitted to Morton’s tyrannical sway. From its gray and time-wom ramparts the banner of Mary still waved in defiance, though in every other part of the country, save^ the tower of Blackness, it had sunk to rise no more. Deserted at home, and all but hopeless of succour from abroad ; inspired by the presence of his wife, and the devotion of his kinsmen ; careless of his safety, and feeling the most intense hatred to Morton and Elizabeth; conscious of the rectitude of his course, and brave even beyond the bravest of a martial age and people, he resolved—if his soldiers stood firm—that many a heart should pour forth its best blood ere he became the captive of the regent of Scotland. To Ivilligrew, who advised him to yield, he replied with composure, —

“No! though my friends have forsaken me, and the city of Edinburgh have done so too, yet I will defend this castle to the last!”

Disasters followed each other in rapid succession, yet his spirit remained unsubdued; and the mind of the wise Lethington never faltered, even when their cause was brought to the utmost verge of ruin. Monsieur le Yerac, who again had been unexpectedly sent with succours to them from friends in France, was driven by a tempest on the coast of England, and there made prisoner, while a misfortune nearly similar befell Sir James Kirkaldy in Scotland.

He had travelled to Paris hy the way of Flanders, and, after an interview with Charles IX. and the Duke de Guise, had received from the French treasury a year’s revenue of Mary’s jointure, to be employed in her service in Scotland. On his arrival in the river Forth, finding it impracticable to reach the castle of Edinburgh, through a city swarming with the regent’s troops, he sailed his pinnace up the Forth to Blackness, supposing that the lieutenant-governor, and the garrison of that place, still obeyed his brother Sir William.1 With his treasure and military stores he landed at the ancient fortress—a vast and desolate edifice situated close to the water on a rocky promontory, from which its lofty keep and ramparted outworks throw a dark shadow on the broad blue river that sweeps around them. Then, a busy and hustling seaport nestled close hy it; hut the blight of the Union has fallen there heavily, and the town which could once boast of its merchants, its ships, and its quays, has dwindled down to a desolate village straggling along a ruined pier, and a choked-up harbour, which the high towers of the deserted fortress still overlook, with an aspect unchanged, as in the days when Scotland was a kingdom.

Its governor, Sir James Balfour of Pittendriech, received Sir James Kirkaldy with due honour and pretended welcome. Balfour, one of the most faithless and corrupt men of the age, owed a considerable debt of gratitude to Mary and her partisans ; he was then, though under the immediate protection of Sir William Kirkaldy, and in the closest intimacy with him, secretly plotting with Morton to place the castle of Blackness in his hands. The very night after his guest’s arrival, he placed him in a dungeon heavily chained, robbed him of Mary’s dowry, and departed for Edinburgh, to place it in the hands of his new master. Three days Sir James lay a prisoner in the vault at Blackness ; but rage and chagrin lent him eloquence, and he wrought so successfully on the warders and soldiers that they (being still favourable to Mary) restored him to liberty, and made prisoner in his place Bobert Balfour, whom the perfidious Laird of Pittendriech had left in charge of the fortress. Declaring Sir James their governor, they again displayed the banner of Mary; but the valuable treasure and warlike munition, which he had so carefully conveyed from France, was lost to her partisans for ever. He immediately provided the garrison with all things necessary for enduring a siege, by laying the neighbourhood under military contribution.

Annoyed by gaining and losing so important a fortress within three days, and knowing well the determined spirit of the younger Kirkaldy, Morton resolved to gain the place by stratagem rather than force. Sir James was still ignorant of the seduction of Helen Leslie, his lady, by the Earl, who made her still further the wicked instrument of completing her husband’s misfortunes. She was still beautiful and witty ; her secret intrigue had taught her well how to dissemble, and, having broken her marriage vow, she resolved that no lingering traces of affection or honour should restrain her from obliging her insinuating lover, who held out to her, Heaven only knows what hopes of future greatness!

Fully instructed how to play her part, on the 10th of February she visited the gloomy stronghold of Blackness, and was received by her unsuspecting husband with every mark of tenderness, respect, and joy. Until evening darkened on the shores of the broad and noble river, she remained with him conversing about his late adventures, and listening with well dissembled fondness to the narrative of his journey to Paris, and his reception by the king ; but the increasing darkness of the spring evening warning her of the time for his betrayal, she started from his side, and pretending that she was obliged to return to their children, rose to leave him, easily withstanding the touching entreaties of her husband, who wished her to remain. Her whole aim was to draw him beyond the gates into an ambuscade which, as darkness closed over the town and castle, took post behind a little hill to the southward of the promontory. While insisting on retiring, she expressed fears for the disorderly state of the country, and begged he would accompany her a little way with a small escort.

The knight armed himself, ordered a party to attend, and, leading his fair but treacherous Helen, left the castle under the shadow of a cloudy night. On passing the little knoll without the gates, a body of the king’s pikemen, led by Captain Lambie, rushed upon his party, surrounded, disarmed them, and Sir James became a prisoner in a moment. Now the whole truth of this dark plot, the regent’s craft, and his false wife’s perfidy, broke at once upon the unhappy husband, who was hurried away in fetters, amid the biting taunts of his captors. A body of these burst into the castle in the confusion, gained it in the name of the regent, and released Sir Robert Balfour, (brother of Pittendriech,) who hanged five of the garrison from the battlements of the keep.

Captain Lambie—he of the taffety standard celebrity —hurried his prisoner to Linlithgow, and from thence to Morton’s castle of Dalkeith, in the solitary dungeons of which he had ample time given him to reflect on the multiplicity of his misfortunes, and the perfidy of his beautiful wife.

Darkly and horribly does this tale of female treachery conclude.

By some means unknown—either assisted by despair or favoured by the compassion of his keepers—Sir James Kirkaldy escaped from the noisome dungeons of Dalkeith, and safely reached his brother’s garrison at Edinburgh.

On the eighth day after his escape, Lady Helen Kirkaldy was found strangled in her bedchamber.


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