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


On Trinity Sunday the 17th of May, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the five batteries opened a simultaneous discharge upon the walls of the castle. Bravely and briskly its cannoneers replied to them, and deep-mouthed Mons Meg, with her vast bullets of black whin, the thundering carthouns, basilisks, serpents, and culverins, amid fire and smoke, belched their missiles from the old gray towers, showering balls of iron, lead, and stone at the batteries; while the incessant ringing of several thousand harquebusses, calivers, and wheel-lock petronels, added to the din of the double cannonade. From the calibre of the great Mons Meg, which yet frowns en barbe over the ramparts, one may easily imagine the dismay her enormous bullets must have caused in the trenches so far below her.

For ten days the furious cannonade continued, on both sides, without a moment’s cessation. On the 19th, three towers were demolished, and enormous gaps appeared in the curtain walls; many of the castle guns were dismounted, and destroyed by the falling of the ancient masonry: a shot struck one of the largest culverins fairly on the muzzle, shattering it to pieces, and scattering the splinters around those who stood near. A very-heavy battery was discharged against King David’s Tower, a great square bastel-house, the walls of which were dark with the lapse of four centuries. On the 23d a great gap had been beaten in its northern side, revealing the arched hall within; and as the vast old tower, with its cannon, its steel-clad defenders, and the red flag of defiance still waving above its machicolated bartizan, sank with a mighty crash to shapeless ruin, the wild shriek raised by the females in the castle, and the roar of the masonry rolling like thunder down the perpendicular rocks, were distinctly heard at the distant English camp.1

Next day the round tower of the Constable fell down in masses from the half cliff on which its rugged front had for ages faced the storms of war and of the elements.

Then Wallace’s Tower, the great curtain to the eastward, with its six gross-culverins, the strong gate-tower, with its portcullis and harriers, all fell crashing down in succession, burying the living and the dead, laying hare the steep rocks, and choking with lime, stones, and rubbish the deep draw-wells, one of which had already dried up. Their loss added greatly to the accumulating miseries of the besieged, who were without other water than the summer dews which descended by night on their unsheltered heads, and on the bloodstained ruins of the stronghold they were so bravely defending.

Kirkaldy never for a moment left the walls, either by day or by night.

His cannon were now becoming rapidly silenced, and his ranks thinned by wounds and death; hut his soldiers still continued to make u great slaughter among the English cannoneers, sundry of whom had their legs and arms torn from their bodies and whirled into the air, by violence of the great shot.” The cannoneers of Berwick worked their culverinswith great intrepidity, being told by their captains that, until the brave band of Kirkaldy was subdued, the influence of their queen in Scotland was insecure, and that she was resolved, as her secretary Walsingham expressed it, "to pull the garrison out by the ears.” Sir William Drury’s battery was only fifty yards distant from the western walls and St Margaret’s Tower, from which so sharp a fire was poured upon it that his gunners forsook their cannon in disorder, but were rallied by his example, when, taking a match, he discharged the five pieces with his own hand. Animated by courage, patriotism, and revenge, rather than by terror or despair, Kirkaldy defended himself with the most resolute bravery, amid dead and dying soldiers, falling towers, and failing camion, without water, and without provisions, of which the demolition of the storehouses had deprived him.

Captains Hume and Crauford of Jordanhill, two leaders of the regent’s Scottish companies, headed their pikemen and a band of English in an escalade. A dull old ballad, the Sege of the Castell,* says—

“That Hume and Craford to the lave were gyde,
With certain soiours (i. e. soldiers) of the garysoune;
Four Captanis followit at their back to byde,
Semphill and Hector, Ramsay and Robesoune.”

They advanced to storm the Spur at seven o’clock on the morning of the 26th, while their allies made an attack to the westward, and disconcerted the measures of the garrison, whose strength ought to have been ten times greater for the perfect defence of such a fortress. Though an outwork of great strength, in the form of a halfmoon, the Spur was poorly manned, and a desperate hand-to-hand conflict ensued for three hours; but by ten o’clock the ravelin was stormed, with the loss of eight men killed and twenty-eight wounded—for corslets, and morions of proof, were a great defence against sword-blades and pike-heads. The standard of James VI. was immediately hoisted upon it. Sir Francis Russel, an English knight who betrayed marked cowardice in the assault, was, in consequence, afterwards sent under arrest to Berwick.

The steep and rugged mass of black whinstone on which the castle stands, defied all attempts at an escalade. Rising in many parts, almost perpendicularly, to the height of three hundred feet, with massive though ruined walls, defended hy brave soldiers, whose inherent courage, the dawning of despair, love of life, and dread of an ignominious death, and the thought of having their wives and little ones to defend from the lusts and swords of an infuriated enemy, had altogether endued with a determined ferocity that seemed to border on martial insanity. To time, starvation, misery, and death, Drury and Morton trusted for a surrender—a successful assault could not be thought of. The attack of the English on the westward, though favouring the stormers of the Spur, proved otherwise futile ; they were repulsed, leaving thirty of their best men dead among the rocks.

The greatest privation of the besieged was caused by the loss of their wells, and the sufferings of the wounded were greatly increased by the want of water. A small supply was obtained by lowering a soldier over the frightful precipice to the north, with a cord long enough to enable him to reach St Margaret’s well, far down beneath the lower fortifications. Favoured by the darkness and his own daring, he made several such perilous visits, which were soon discovered by the besiegers—who, to their infamy, poisoned the well, thereafter permitting the bold water-carrier to be lowered down by his unsuspecting comrades, and to be drawn up unmolested with his vessel filled with the drugged liquid. Some authors accuse Morton, and others Drury, of committing this piece of savage barbarity; but its consequences were soon fearfully visible among the little band of braves. Many whom the shot had left unscathed, expired in the greatest agonies that poison can produce; while the rest became feeble, sickly, and totally unfitted for working their ponderous cannon, and manning in complete armour, by day and night, the exposed and crumbling walls. A scarcity of provisions increased the horrors which were thickening fast around them; and Lady Kirkaldy, who appears to have taken charge of their little store, was accused by the soldiers of “skanting the victuals, which were skant eneugh alreadie.” Maddened by the miseries they underwent, and rendered desperate by all hopes of escape from torture and death being utterly cut off, a frenzy seized the soldiers ; they broke into a dangerous mutiny, and threatened to hang Lethington over the walls, as being the primary cause of all these dangers, from the great influence he exercised over Kirkaldy their governor. But even now, when amid the sick, the dying, the dead, and the mutinous—surrounded by crumbling ramparts and dismounted cannon, among which the shot of the besiegers were rebounding every instant—with the lives, honour, and safety of his wife, his brother, and numerous brave and faithful friends, depending on his efforts and example, the heart of the brave governor appears never to have quailed even for an instant!

On beholding certain movements in the trenches, and perceiving by the arrayal of the different divisions beneath their several standards, that his foe, the unrelenting Morton, exulting in the near prospect of laying hands upon his victims, was about to lead the Scottish bands to a general assault, by the great breach in the eastern wall— which, in the mutinous and sickly state of the weakened garrison, could now never he defended—Kirkaldy, with sensations which may easily be imagined, presented himself above the shattered ruins of the gate-tower, bearing a white rod in his hand in token of peace, while his drums heat a chamade in sign of parley. An English cavalier went up within speaking distance, to whom he expressed a wish to converse “ with his old friend and fellow-soldier the marshal of Berwick.” This was on the afternoon of the 28th May.

Morton consented, and thereupon Kirkaldy and his uncle, Sir Kobert Melville of Murdocairnie, were lowered over the ruins by cords, as there was no other mode of egress, the flight of forty steps being completely buried in the same ruin which had choked up the archways, and hidden both gates and portcullis. The Castle-liill at that time (says Melville of Kilrenny, in his Diary) was covered with stones, “rinning like a sandie bray", but behind the breaches were the men-at-arms drawn up in firm array, with their pikes and helmets gleaming in the setting sun.

In the dusk the meeting with Drury took place, near the battery or bulwark in the Lawnmarket. The English knight courteously extolled the bravery of Kirkaldy, but advised him u to surrender, as it was impossible for him to receive the least assistance, either from France or Spain, the whole coast being vigilantly watched.” The unfortunate soldier, in the same tone of courtesy, acknowledged the value of his advice, and obtained an armistice for twenty-four hours, preparatory to a capitulation. Another meeting immediately took place between Kirkaldy and Sir Robert, on their own part, Killigrew and Drury for the queen of England, and Lord Boyd for the regent.

Kirkaldy’s requests were to have surety for their lives and lands, and that they should not be pillaged of any property they had within the castle; to have leave for Lord Home and William Maitland of Lethington to retire into England, and he (Kirkaldy) to be permitted to reside unmolested on his estates in Fifeshire. These conditions, which his valour so richly merited, Drury—who was altogether indifferent about the matter—might have agreed to, but Morton rejected them with undisguised scorn. He had in his own possession the whole barony of Grange, and the only terms he would grant were these:—

That if the soldiers marched forth without their armour, and submitted to his clemency, he would grant them their lives ; but there were ten persons who must yield unconditionally to him, and whose fate he would leave to the decision of their umpire, Elizabeth. The unfortunate exceptions were—the governor, Sir James Kirkaldy, Lethington, Alexander lord Home, the Bishop of Dun-keld, Sir Robert Melville of Murdocaimie, Logan of Restalrig, Alexander Crichton of Drylaw, Pitarrow the constable, and Patrick Wishart.

Convinced by this stern and dubious answer of their ultimate doom, they refused to capitulate on such terms ; and the governor returned once more to his ruined hold, and, with a courage now gathering fresh energy from desperation, he undertook to defend it by standing in the breach of the eastern curtain, with eight knights whose rash valour was equal to his own. Among these were his brother, Lord Home, his kinsmen the Melvilles —Sir Robert, and Sir Andrew of Garvock, master of the household to Queen Mary—the Constable Pitarrow, and Patrick Wishart his brother. While those brave men were resolving thus, and arming, Robert Colville, laird of Cleish, and Mathew his brother, approached the breach, under pretext of making fresh offers, but in reality to examine the state of the ruins, and secretly to tamper with the soldiers, which they did so successfully that several deserted, and escaped down the rocks.

The undaunted example of Kirkaldy now completely failed to animate his sickly, famished, and diminished band, who threatened, unless he capitulated in six hours, to hang his friend Lethington from the walls by a cord, and to deliver himself up to Morton. Thus stood matters on the expiry of the two days’ truce. In this dreadful dilemma, menaced without and within, there remained but two alternatives—to surrender, or to die by his own sword.

The English captains were very anxious that the castle should be delivered to them in form; but Kirkaldy, who possessed all the enthusiasm of a true Scotsman, could not brook the humiliation of surrendering the citadel of his native capital to Englishmen, the ancient hereditary foes of his country. Therefore, when compelled to adopt the expedient (which is supposed to have originated in Lethington’s fertile brain) of admitting a party of the besiegers within the outworks, or at least close to the walls, he sent privately in the night a message to Hume and Jordanhill, to march their Scottish companies between the English batteries and the fortress, lest the old bands of Drury should have the honour of entering first.

On the next morning, the 29th of May he came forth and gave up his sword calmly, to the Marshal of Berwick, (rather than yield it to the hated Morton,) and on thus personally surrendering, received the most solemn assurances of being restored to his estates and liberty at the intercession of the Queen of England. In the name of his mistress, Drury pledged word for the safety of his adherents; and immediately the survivors of the siege, embracing only about one hundred soldiers, marched from the silent and desolate ruins, where the blood and the corpses of their comrades, and a chaos of stones and broken culverins, attested the fury of the siege and the energy of the defence. Clad in then* armour, girt with their swords and bandoliers, and with their old banner displayed, they marched through the barricaded streets of the city, escorted by a guard of Morton’s harquebussiers, to protect them from the animosity of the exasperated burghers, who had not forgotten the conflagration of the Portsburgh, and the incessant cannonading they had endured for six months past. The whole of the prisoners were supposed to be under the charge of the English ambassador, and for several days they were all at liberty on parole.

Drury conducted Sir William and Lady Kirkaldy, with other ladies and gentlemen of distinction, to his temporary residence, where, like a brave English knight, (notwithstanding Morton’s remonstrances,) he treated them with the kindness and courtesy their sufferings and constancy deserved. The resentful regent was determined not to be cheated of the blood he had thirsted for so long, and wrote instantly to Lord Burleigh, warning him that the “authors of all the mischief” were now unconditionally in the hands of Elizabeth’s ambassador; he therefore requested that they might be delivered up to him, to receive the reward of their crimes. The barbarous Killigrew urged their immediate execution ; but Drury, who, as a soldier, possessed more generosity, rejected the advice of the cold-blooded politician, and anxiously awaited his next despatches from London.

Meanwhile the castle had been taken possession of by Morton’s Scottish companies, and his brother, Sir George Douglas of Tods’ Holes and Parkhead, was appointed successor to Kirkaldy. This savage knight, who was popularly known as “ George the Postulate of Aber-brothwick,” was one of the slayers of Rizzio, into whose spine he wedged his long dagger with such force that it could not be withdrawn without violence. He was a natural son of the Earl of Angus, and, consequently, uncle of Darnley. He immediately commenced the restoration of the ruined fortress, and some of its present batteries are the result of his exertions.

The regalia of Scotland, the crown, sword, and sceptre, with many valuable private andcrown-jewels, were found in Kirkaldy’s own apartment. They were all contained in a great oak chest, probably the same which is yet preserved in the crown-room. Many letters in cipher were also discovered, but the prudent Maitland committed all his papers to the flames before the capitulation.

Many of the English cavaliers, and officers of the old bands of Berwick, ascended into the castle by the great breach in the eastern wall, which they were fond of passing and repassing, that they might on their return boast “they had won the maiden castle.” But after the appointment of the stem Douglas to the governorship, the Scottish companies would not permit their allies—of whom, no doubt, they were sufficiently jealous—to enter in any great number.

By a computation made by the Marshal of Berwick, it appears that not less than three thousand cannon-balls were discharged against the castle, between the 17th and 29th of May, inclusive. The most of these were recovered, says the Marshal, by paying “the Scottish people a piece of their coin called a bawbee for every bullet, which is in value English one penny and a quarter.” The cannonade must have averaged fully two hundred and thirty rounds for each of the thirteen days, which, all things considered, was veiy good gunnery.

Kirkaldy and Maitland, though prisoners at large in Drury’s temporary residence, on learning the purport of Morton’s communications with Elizabeth, became alarmed for their safety, and intreated Killigrew the ambassador to remove them to England. But Master Killigrew knew too well the wishes and intentions of his queen towards them, and continued to urge their immediate execution. In a letter to Lord Burleigh, they condescended to acknowledge that he might blame their obstinate resistance to Morton ; hut promised in future to he obedient to his mistress, and hoped they might become useful if permitted to enter her service—now that every hope of residing in Scotland had passed away. Their doubts and dangers were increasing fast. With this loyal soldier of Mary, nothing hut the disgrace ancK horror with which he contemplated a public and ignominious execution, under Morton’s eye, could have made him affix his name to so humble an appeal as the following, which was no doubt penned and conceived by Maitland, and which I quote from Tytler’s History:—

“My Lord,—The malice of our enemies is the more increased against us, that they have seen us rendered unto the queen’s majesty’s will, and now seeking refuge at her highness’s hands; and, therefore, we doubt not hut they will go about by all possible means to procure our mischief; yea, that their cruel minds will lead them to crave our blood at her majesty’s hands. But whatsoever their malice he, we cannot fear that it shall have success, knowing with how gracious a princess we have to do, who hath given so many good proofs to the world of her clemency and mild nature (?) that we cannot mistrust that the first example of the contrary shall be shown upon us. We take this to be her very natural parcere subjectis et debellare superbos.

“We have rendered ourselves unto her majesty, which to our own countrymen we would never have done in any extremity that might come. We trust her majesty will not put us out of her hands, to make any others (especially our mortal enemies) our masters. If it will please her majesty to extend her most gracious clemency towards us, she may be assured to have us perpetually at her devotion as any of this nation—yea, as any subject of her own—for now with honour we may oblige ourselves to her majesty farther than we might before, and her majesty’s benefit will bind us to her perpetually.

“Your lordship knoweth what our request is, we pray your lordship to further it.

“There never was a time wherein your lordship’s friendship might stand us in such stead. As we have oftentimes before tasted thereof, so we humbly pray you will not let it inlack us now, in time of this our greatest misery. Let not the mis-reports of our enemies prevail against us. When we are in her majesty’s hands, she may make of us what pleaseth her.

“From Edinburgh, 1st of June, 1573.”

Considering the subtle statesman and noble warrior from whom this artful letter came, a painful air of humility pervades it, which probably nothing but the cause before mentioned, together with the intense mortification of finding themselves at the mercy of Morton—he whom they detested and abhorred—could ever have drawn from Maitland of Lethington and Kirkaldy of Grange.

Notwithstanding its earnestness, it was productive of no effect. Elizabeth, though naturally cruel and enraged against the champions of Mary, did not immediately decide ; hut the Earl of Morton, and Killigrew her ambassador, so strongly and vehemently advised their execution, that she ordered her general to deliver them up to the former to he treated as he pleased, an order which she knew was equivalent to signing their death-warrant. Morton had delivered up the unhappy Northumberland to her insatiable vengeance and pride; and could she be less liberal in infamy?

Drury, who now pitied the fallen state of Kirkaldy, and respected his valour and worth, must have experienced deep mortification on receiving this final and fatal order from one he dared not disobey, and in obedience to whom he placed Sir William, Lady Kirkaldy, and the whole of the prisoners, noble and of humbler rank, in all one hundred and sixty-four men, thirty-four women, and ten hoys, in the hands of the exulting and triumphant regent, who by some means had previously secured Sir James Kirkaldy in fetters and a dungeon.2 As a gloomy earnest of what their superiors were to expect, the whole of the private soldiers were thrown into the vaults of Craigmillar, Merchiston, and Blackness. Sir William Kirkaldy was committed to the palace of Holyrood, where a hand of Morton’s men guarded him day and night.

Lord Home was committed to the castle of Edinburgh, where he remained till the hour of his death. Carte, from Fenelon’s despatches, relates that Home paid Morton £10,000 to be put in possession of bis patrimonial fortresses of Fastcastle and Home; but the regent took the money with admirable coolness, and troubled himself no further in the matter. Home died in August 1575.

The bishop of Dunkcld was sent to Blackness ; John Maitland, the prior of Coldingham, to the castle of Tantallon, where he remained until 1584 ; his brother, the secretary, to the ancient Tolbooth of Leith. Sir James Kirkaldy, with Mossman and Cockie, two goldsmiths of Edinburgh, who had coined money in the castle by the governor’s order, were placed in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. Sir Robert Melville of Murdocairnie was sent to the castle of Lethington, in charge of David Hume of Fishwick, its captain. His life was spared at the intercession of his brother, Sir James of Halhill, and by the interest of Killigrew. Alexander Crichton of Drylaw was afterwards liberated. Morton dared not proceed against the life of Lord Home, who was chief of a bold mosstrooping clan; and the threats of his vassals, the Laird of Manderstone, the Knight of Cowdenknowes, the Goodman of North Berwick, and other Homes, were not to be trifled with. The faithful Sir Andrew Melville of Garvock, was also spared, and lived to attend Mary at the scaffold in Fotheringay, fifteen years after. Of the ultimate fate of Lady Kirkaldy, and the other noble dames who were with her, few notices can be discovered; but none suffered either death or imprisonment.*

Immediately on giving over his prisoners, Sir William Drury, with all his forces and artillery, marched back to Berwick, leaving these, the last of the unfortunate loyalists, utterly at the mercy of Morton. He complained bitterly that this breach of faith and lack of charity on the part of his sovereign had covered him with shame and dishonour, and compelled him to act so inconsistently with his feelings and profession; but the Scots, who in those days were never inclined to think very favourably of an Englishman, loudly accused him of the vilest duplicity. Morton at the same time exclaimed against him, for having promised conditions of peace to Kirkaldy of Grange and his friends, expressly against the first article of the convention of Lamberton, which provided that neither of them should transact or compound with the besieged without the consent of the other. It is considered certain that Drury acquainted him, on the 29th of May, with the conditions on which Kirkaldy and his soldiers capitulated. Morton, being intently resolved on their destruction, cared little what the public thought.

Victorious at home, and supported abroad by his powerful ally Elizabeth, he determined to give full scope to his tyrannical disposition, and his grand ruling passions of avarice and revenge. Of those whom fate and the fortune of war had placed so completely at his mercy, he was not long in disposing.

William Maitland of Lethington, by swallowing poison, escaped the ignominious death he anticipated, and to which he would assuredly have been brought by Morton, whom some writers have accused of administering the potion; but it is much more probable that the stem regent would have reserved him for the shame of those judicial shambles which awaited his brethren in misfortune. .Resolved, however, not to he cheated of his prey, the moment he became aware of the desperate deed, he ordered Lethington to he dragged from the Tolbooth of Leith to his own house in Edinburgh, where on the 9th of July he expired in great torment. Something peculiarly ignominious appears to have been intended for his body, which was allowed to lie so long unburied, “that the vermine came creeping out under the doore of the hous where he was lying.”

Such was the miserable end of this great and accomplished statesman. There is yet extant a pathetic letter from his lady, the once famed and beautiful daughter of Malcolm lord Fleming, praying that his “ poor remains might suffer no shame,” hut he committed to the tomb. An original portrait of him is still preserved in the castle of Thirlestane. Mary Fleming, one of the four Marys of the queen, was his second wife, and by her he left a son, James, on whose death the line of the family was carried on by the prior of Coldinghame, who thus became progenitor of the Duke and Earls of Lauderdale. Mary, the daughter of the unfortunate secretary, became countess of Robert third earl of Roxburgh. The estates of Lethington were afterwards restored to the heirs, in whose favour the ninth parliament of James VI. passed an act in 1584.

After suffering a close confinement in the gloomiest chambers of old Holyrood, where Morton’s armed vassals kept constant watch and ward, Sir William Kirkaldy, and his brother Sir James, were brought to trial on the 3d August. James Mossman and James Cockie, who had served in the castle of Edinburgh, and coined silver therein in the queen’s name, were arraigned at the same time, charged with murder, rebellion, and treasonably defending and withholding a fortress of the king. Pitcairn, in his scarce and valuable “Criminal Trials,” remarks that, in the case of Sir William Kirkaldy, “there appears to have been considerable debate on the relevancy of the indictment on which he was tried”—but he was soon found guilty of treason against King James by a court overawed hy the regent, and predisposed to bring in a fatal verdict.

Unfortunately, from the 3d of August 1573, until the close of 1576, there occurs a blank in the records of the Scottish High Court of Justiciary, and in consequence the trials of Kirkaldy and his brother cannot he given at length.

Of the latter’s case the following brief memorandum alone appears, and no further particulars of it are preserved.

“August 3d.—Mr James Kirkaldye, and James Cockke, goldsmythe, burges of Edinburgh, dilatit of certane crymes of treasoune committit against our souerane lord, and his heines auctoritie.” On the margin of the record appear the words convict, et suspenand from thence is the blank of three years.


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