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


Though proud in spirit, high in courage, and now growing gray in arms, the unfortunate Kirkaldy did not disdain to plead for life; and the stern and aged Lord Lindesay of the Byres, who, during the civil war, had been his most inveterate enemy, was now the only man of Morton’s faction who appeared his friend, and inveighed loudly against the unworthy treatment of the vanquished warrior.

Kirkaldy’s kinsmen, to the number of one hundred barons and gentlemen of rank and fortune, offered, if he should be spared, to hind themselves and their heirs, by bond of manrent, to the house of Angus and Morton as vassals and servants for ever.

To the regent they offered a large annuity of three thousand merks yearly, two thousand of them to he paid instantly down.

Even the splendid jewels of the helpless Mary were offered to the gloating eyes of the avaricious earl; but revenge triumphed, and, for once in his life, as a judge he was inaccessible to bribery. Stern, inflexible, triumphant, eager to glut his hatred, and secure for ever the estates of him whom he feared and envied for his spotless fame and warlike talent, he would hear of nothing hut death, and the church urged him blood. The whole Christian ministers of the Scottish Reformed Kirk, aware of Knox’s deathbed prediction, which then was remembered and repeated aloud with all the emphasis that malice and bigotry could lend it, were resolved that nothing should mar its fulfilment, and continued to exclaim from all their pulpits that£< God’s plague would not cease till the land were purged with blood!

Others cried to "bring down the pride of that giant who boasted to be another Wallace!” and all, exulting in the fulfilment of the prophecy, opposed every intercession for mercy.

According to the barbarous custom of that time, the instant that the sentence was passed upon them, the unfortunate brothers and the two burgesses, their adherents, were ordered forth for immediate execution.

As the sands of existence ebbed, Kirkaldy of Grange acquitted himself to the last moment like the true knight he had proved through fife. He who in youth had won his spurs in the wars of Picardy, and been the brother-in-arms of Henry of Bourbon—who had shone so victoriously in the tournaments of Diana of Yalentinois, and led the Chevaux Legers of France through the carnage of Renti and Cambray—who in manhood had fought in the fierce wars of the Congregation, been the vanquisher of Evers, and the victor of Langside—he whose sword had never been sheathed, when his country or his honour required it to be drawn, and who had been, in the years of her greatest extremity, the last champion of the injured and beautiful Mary—though dragged like a felon to the gallows, was not, hy shrinking in the last hour, to forfeit that high reputation for courage which was now the only hereditary right of his race.

On sentence heing passed, he was immediately visited by a former friend, David Lindesay, minister of Leith—a famous clerical martialist, whose hands were, perhaps, more accustomed to the use of the sword and caliver, than the Bible and book of prayer.

Kirkaldy bade adieu to his wife, and, moved probably by her tears, as a last appeal for his brother and himself, sent David Lindesay to Morton with the bond of manrent, and an offer of his whole heritage, his patrimonial baronies of Grange, Auchtertool, and Friartoun, all he possessed in free gift, if he would permit him to leave his native country and die in exile, with no other inheritance than his sword and his untarnished honour. Better was that alternative than a felon’s doom—but Morton was inflexible. After a brief and affected consultation with Kirkaldy’s foemen, David Durie of that Ilk, commen-dator of Dunfermline, and with the lord clerk-register, who happened to be with him at the moment, Morton replied with coldness and hauteur,—

"The people will only be satisfied by the exemplary punishment of this man, Kirkaldy, whose death is necessary to crown our cause and the good minister who, having borne arms, was more merciful than his brethren, was forced dejectedly to retire. On his returning with the rejected offers and Morton’s final answer—

“Then, Master David,” replied Kirkaldy firmly, “for the love of Christ, and the memory of our old friendship, do not leave me now!”

Immediately afterwards, with his brother Sir James and the two burgesses, he was hound with cords and brought forth from the palace. They were placed upon conspicuous hurdles, as spectacles to the dense concourse which thronged the Abbey Close, and thus were slowly drawn backwards up that long and steep street called the Canongate. The pious Lindesay remained in the hurdle of Kirkaldy, who listened to his earnest exhortations and discourse with deep attention, and acknowledged the value of his ministrations with sincere gratitude.

Calderwood and others give brief but graphic notices of his last moments on the scaffold.

Through streets crowded to excess by scowling and vindictive citizens, by railing churchmen and pitying loyalists, he was drawn to the ancient market-cross, surrounded by the mailed soldiers of Morton. When the bright sunset of the summer evening streamed from the westward, down the crowded and picturesque vista of that noble and lofty street, and "when he saw the day faire and the sunne shyning cleere" on the vast gothic facade of St Giles, the high fantastic gable of the old Tolbooth, grisly with the bleaching skulls of traitors, and the grim arm of the fatal gibbet, with its cords dangling near the tall octagon column and carved battlements of the cross, u then his countenance changed,” and so markedly, that Lindesay asked why.

"In faith! Master David,” he replied, "now I well perceive that Master Knox was a true servant of God, and that his warning is about to he accomplished. Repeat unto me his last words.”

The minister then rehearsed Knox’s prediction, which was in every man’s mouth, and in all men’s memory. “The soul of that man,” Knox said, “is dear to me—I would fain have saved him; hut he shall be dragged forth and hanged in the face of the sun!” Lindesay added, that Knox had been “earnest with God for him— was sorry for that which should befal his hodie, for the love he bore him; but was assured there was mercy for his soule.”

"May his words prove true!” rejoined Kirkaldy, fervently, and requested Lindesay to repeat them over to him once more. Knox had been one of his oldest and ear-liestfriends, and now the strong spirit of the stately soldier was so subdued that he shed tears while Lindesay spoke. He expressed regret for the answer he had sent to Knox’s friendly message, and added, with humility, that he was sincerely penitent for any sins of which he had unwittingly been guilty. To the last he expressed the most devoted and unshaken attachment to his country and its unhappy queen.

John Durie, another clergyman of Leith, attended him on the scaffold.

"Master David,” said he with an unaltered manner, as Lindesay was about to descend from the fatal platform, “I hope that, after men shall think I am dead and gone, I shall give them a token of assurance of mercy to my soul, according to the words of Knox, that man of God.” The ministers retired.

Exactly at four in the afternoon, he was thrust off the ladder hy which he had ascended the scaffold.

“The sun being about the north-west corner of the steeple (of St Giles,)” continues the superstitious Calderwood, “as he was hanging, his face was set towards the east, but within a prettie space, turned about to the west against the sunne, and so remained; at which time Mr David marked him—when all supposed he was dead—to lift up his hands, which were bound before him, and to lay them down again softlie, which moved him with exclama-tioune to glorifie God before the people!”

Then the people cried aloud that the prophecy of Knox was fulfilled.

Kirkaldy must have been about forty-five years of age only. James Mossman was hanged at the same time, and, when the evening was further advanced, Sir James Kirkaldy and James Cockie were executed on the same scaffold; and then the four bodies were quartered.

The head of Sir William was placed over the ruined gate of that castle which had been the scene of his last and most brilliant achievements. The heads of Sir James and the two burgesses were placed on high spikes on the most conspicuous parts of the walls; while their mangled remains were all consigned to some obscure place of burial.

Such was the melancholy fate of Kirkaldy of Grange, the most accomplished cavalier of his time; a soldier as much distinguished for his unaffected modesty as for his undaunted bravery and unblemished honour. Though ignominious his end, the cause for which he died shed a halo round that scaffold, to which his intrepid valour in the cause of a fallen queen and desperate faction, together with his chivalric friendship for a crafty and volatile statesman, had hurried him. Though sometimes inconsistent as a politician, he was at all times a steady adherent to the cause of religious reform : wise in council, eloquent in address, amiable in temper, distinguished for ability as for courage, a well-wisher to mankind in general, and to Scotland in particular, he united all the virtues of the man, the hero, and the Christian; and it is to be regretted that he died not as he had lived, with his sword in his hand, and his face to the enemy.

The tidings of his death, and of the fall of Edinburgh castle, was a sad blow to poor Mary in her dreary captivity; and the Earl of Shrewsbury failed not to communicate them to her in a very unfeeling manner, and expatiated on Elizabeth’s generous protection of the infant James VI.

“How,” exclaimed Mary, “ can your queen expect that I will thank her for depriving me of my only friends? Alas! henceforth I will neither hear nor speak of Scotland more!” She remained long afterwards in the most profound melancholy.

With Kirkaldy’s life the reign of Mary ended in Scotland, and the hopes of her adherents for ever died away; but, soon after his death, the ministry of Elizabeth regretted that they had not preserved him as a political counterpoise to the vast power attained by Morton. Sir William Drury, like a generous English soldier, is said to have deeply deplored the executions of the 3d August, and to have been so exasperated against his sovereign for the part she had made him act after the siege— a part which so greatly injured his reputation as a knight and man of honour—that he resigned his office as Marshal of Berwick, and retired from her service, (until his nomination to the lord-presidency of Ulster;) while all the captains and soldiers of the old bands, on healing of Kirkaldy’s fate, with one accord "lamented the loss of so worthy a captain.”

To conclude, the wars being now over, Mitchel and ’other Scottish captains, and their companies, who had been so long kept in pay by the lords of both factions, went over to Sweden and the Low Countries, where, by their valour and good conduct, they maintained the old military reputation of the Scottish people.

The valiant Crawford of Jordanhill, who so greatly distinguished himself in many conflicts against Kirkaldy, survived till the 3d of January 1603, when he died full of years and honour; and was laid among his fathers in the old kirkyard of Kilhirnie, where his moss-grown effigy may yet be seen. On his tomb is inscribed, God shaw the Richt—a motto given him by Morton, in memory of his bravery in the fight of the Gallowlee.

Captain Lambie ended his days on Crawford Muir, where he was slain in a feudal conflict.

Sir James Melville retired from public life on the king’s accession to the English throne, and died in November 1607.

Sir Thomas Kerr of Femihirst, after six years of wandering through France, Spain, and Holland, during which he was probably accompanied hy his wife and Lady Kirkaldy, was permitted to return home in 1579, and afterwards died in captivity at Aberdeen, where he had been sent by James VI., for making a hostile inroad on the English Border. He survived Janet Kirkaldy for many years.

I know not how long Lady Kirkaldy survived her husband; but poor Mary appears to have remembered with gratitude his services and worth. In a letter addressed from her prison at Sheffield, (2d September 1582,) to Monsieur Castelnau de Mauvissikre, peer of France, the following passage occurs:—

"Let the sum of forty crowns be given to the daughter of the Laird of Grange, who is over there, to enable her to return into Scotland, as her mother has refused my proposal of sending her to France, and getting her an appointment, and I see no likelihood of having her about me ; and let them not wait longer over there for answer, if they have no other occasion for staying.” From this somewhat confused passage, it would appear that, by the confiscation of the estates, Lady Margaret and her daughter were then residing in poor circumstances at Fontainebleau, whither they had probably retired after the capitulation at Edinburgh.1 The barony of Grange was held by Morton; Halyards passed into possession of a family named Skene; Friartoun to the Lord Damley; and the castle of Kinghorn was given as a gift to Melville of Murdocaimie: all had passed away from them.

I am unable to discover where the remains of Kirkaldy were at first interred, by order of the Regent Morton—probably in the corner of the (then new) Gray-friars’ Churchyard, appropriated for the burial-place of malefactors. Eight years afterwards, when King James assumed the regal power, and became old enough to understand how matters had been conducted in his minority, he restored the barony of Grange to William, son of Sir James, and nephew of the ill-fated Sir William Kirkaldy, whose remains he ordered to be taken up and conveyed to Kinghorn, where they were honourably interred in the ancient burial-place of his forefathers—the Eglise de Marias of Grange. This must have been about the year 1581, at the very time that his mortal foe the Regent Morton fell from his high estate, and was arraigned on charges of treason and regicide, for which his honours were attainted, his head stricken from his body, and affixed to the gable of the Heart of Mid-Lothian, where for many a day it bleached in the summer sun and winter storm.


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