The First Blow of a Revolution: The Felling of Mauchline’s Gallows in 1688

•September 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

Breugel Magpie on Gallows

Almost every revolution begins with an attack on the unpopular or hated symbols of the authority of the state. In Scotland, the felling of the gallows at Mauchline in Ayrshire probably signalled the beginning of the so-called ‘Glorious’ Revolution in 1688 in which a Dutch invasion led by William of Orange overthrew the regime of James VII & II…

On Thursday 8 November, 1688, ‘Jon Wilsone, [in] Spannoach.’ wrote from Kirkconnel close to the Ayrshire/Nithsdale boundary to James Johnstone of Westerhall, an official worried about the state of the kingdom after the Scottish Army had been sent into England:

‘As for that bussines at Machlleine anent the taking doun of the gallowes and that their sould have bein fourscore of armed men at the doing of it, I have spoken with verie honest men who was in Machline at that time and declares that their was noe armed men thair, and that the gallowes was sawen doune in the night time with a saw when no bodie knew of it, and that it is beleivit that it was some of thes peoplls friends who was hangit upon it that did saw it doun.’. (RPCS, XIII, 343-4.)

Westerhall appears to have been concerned by the events at Mauchline.

Map of Mauchline

There is no precise date for the felling of Mauchline’s gallows, but from Wilson’s tone it appears that the incident had taken place not long before 8 November, 1688. Wilson mentioned in the same letter that Alexander Shields, a leader of the Society people, had field preached at Upper Dalveen on 4 November.

It is clear that initial reports had blamed the Society people, aka. the Covenanters, the only group in opposition to the Restoration regime that could put 80 armed men into the field. The timing of the event and the mention that a large armed party had carried it out suggests that the felling of the gallows may have been linked to the movements of the Society people either before, or after, their forty-forth convention at Glengaber near Wanlockhead on Wednesday 24 October. A date for the felling in late October broadly fits with the implicit chronology of when the event took place in Wilson’s letter, as it suggests that Westerhall had requested information about it based on reports that armed Society people had carried out the attack.

However, Wilson offers a second explanation for the felling of the gallows. According to Wilson’s sources, ‘honest men’ who had been in Mauchline, ‘the gallowes was sawen doune in the night time with a saw when no bodie knew of it’.

Wilson’s ‘honest men’ link the Society people to the act for a second time: ‘it is beleivit that it was some of thes peoplls friends who was hangit upon it that did saw it doun.’

That is a remarkable piece of testimony, as it may reveal the full significance of what took place at Mauchline gallows.


Who were the people ‘hangit’ upon the gallows?
Mauchline was not a place where the circuit courts of justiciary, which tried capital cases, met, as it was not the head burgh of Ayrshire. The circuit courts could, on rare occasions, order executions to be carried out at a different location from where they sat.

However, it is almost certain that those who were hanged at Mauchline were the five men condemned and executed there by Lieutenant-General William Drummond and a military assize on 5 to 6 May, 1685. They are the only recorded hangings at Mauchline in the Killing Times of the 1680s.

The five men hanged in May, 1685, were Peter Gillies, John Bryce, Thomas Young, William Finnieson and John Brounen, some of whom certainly were Society people.

Wilson’s report offers a degree of corroboration from an official government record that the gallows at Mauchline were connected to the execution of the Society people. The only Society people known to have been executed there are the five men listed above. Their deaths in the Killing Times are only directly recorded in Presbyterian sources. To some extent then, Wilson’s account of the felling of the gallows corroborates the Presbyterian version of events, which some historians have claimed were fabricated due to the lack of corroboration in government sources.

According to Patrick Walker, the five men at Muachline were ‘hang’d … all up upon one Gibbet’ with no time for prayers, bible reading or speeches. All five were then buried below the gallows, when ‘no coffins were allowed them, nor dead clothes; but the soldiers and two country men made a hole in the earth near by, and cast them all together in it.’ (Walker, BP, I, 260.)

Walker’s account, which was published decades after the hangings, probably indicates that the men were buried soon after their execution, rather than left on the gallows as a symbolic warning against treason.

Mauchline Martyrs

Gravestone of the Mauchline Martyrs

The site of the gallows and their execution was later marked by a gravestone and monumental obelisk, which still stand in Mauchline. Today, the gravestone to them is located in a covered shelter close to the obelisk.

Street View of the monuments to the Mauchline Martyrs

Mauchline Martyrs Obelisk 1885

The site of Execution

Who were the ‘friends’ of the Martyrs?
None of the executed men were from Mauchline or the surrounding locality, as they had been brought there as prisoners from either Muirkirk parish, Lanarkshire or beyond. That suggests that their ‘friends’ had political, rather than personal, motivations for carrying out the act. Mauchline parish was the setting for some activities by the Society people, but probabilty would suggest that those that sawed down the gallows did not personally know the martyrs.

According to Wilson’s letter, over three years after their execution and burial, their “friends” in the Society people had appeared at night and sawed the gallows down. Why did they cut down an empty set of gallows? And why then?

The Society people had previously attacked symbols of royal authority. In 1679, 1680 and 1685, they had imitated the theatre of royal proclamations when they proclaimed their declarations at Rutherglen and Sanquhar prior to military encounters. In 1682, they has burnt acts of parliament and smashed the mercat cross at Lanark with hammers when proclaiming their Lanark Declaration. Their attacks on symbols of authority were relatively rare, compared to their attacks on the more tangible expressions of the authority of the Restoration regime such as government forces and prisons. It is notable that their attacks on the symbols of royal authority took place prior to conflicts, such as before the Bothwell Rising in 1679, Cameron and Cargill’s open campaign of field preachings in 1680 or the Argyll Rising of 1685.

Was there a similar context in 1688? There was. The Societies’ forty-fourth convention at Glengaber on 24 October was where they had decided to assist, but not join, the expected invasion of William of Orange.

That William was about to invade had been known for well over a month and there was considerable expectation that his invasion force would set sail for somewhere in Britain when the prevailing westerly wind changed direction. Prior to the forty-fourth convention, Alexander Shields recorded in his manuscript memoirs that ‘the wind continoued westerly, contrary to the Prince of Orange expedition, for soe long as the like was rarely ever heard of.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 180-1.)

The expectation that William would sail led some Protestants to become amateur weathermen desperate to know which way the wind blew. As ever, the Lord’s hand was seen in the changing weather patterns. Protestant winds were prayed for. Popish westerlies were cursed.

Dutch Naval Port

The naval port of Hellevoetsluis

The battle of the “Popish” and “Protestant” Winds
Had the winds shifted direction when the gallows were felled? As there is no precise date for when the gallows were cut down there is no way of knowing for sure whether they had changed direction. The evidence suggests that the gallows were attacked, either in the latter half of October, or very early in November, which was when the prevailing westerlie winds that Shields complained of had changed direction. Ten days before the Societies held their forty-forth convention, the wind, which had been from the south-west, turned favourably for William of Orange. His fleet departed on the 19 October, only to find that the wind changed again to the north-west and forced his invasion force back to the heavily-fortified port of Hellevoetsluis a couple of days later.

The failure of the initial attempt at invasion was almost certainly not known to the Societies when they met on 24 October, as any information about events in the United Provinces took at least several days with favourable winds to reached Scotland across the North Sea. Finally, on 1 November the wind shifted again in favour of William and the Glorieuze Overtocht, the ‘Glorious Crossing’, was underway. Four days later, he landed at Torbay.

William of Orange Landing Torbay

William of Orange landing at Torbay

The felling of the gallows was probably a symbolic act on the eve of William’s invasion connected with his expected landing. However, it may not have been a straightforward signal of support for William and his Scottish moderate presbyterian allies.

It is possible that Mauchline was deliberately chosen by the Society people for other reasons than that the gallows were a hated symbol of royal authority and the site of martyrdoms. Mauchline had also been the location for the battle of Mauchline Moor in 1648. Today, the battle site can be found in the fields next to the cemetery.

Map of Site of Battle of Mauchline Moor           Street View of Battle Site

In that encounter, the moderate and militant factions of the Covenanters had clashed with each other over the Engagement by the Scottish Parliament to send an army in support of the Charles I. For the Society people, the militants at Mauchline Moor were the first of their people to decisively turn their backs on the authority of the Stewart kings and fight for their Covenanted Reformation. The felling of the gallows at Mauchline may have been designed to send a broader signal to the Society people of the struggle that would ensue after William landed, to arm themselves, and to hold fast to their Covenanted Reformation.

Westerhall was right to be concerned over the felling of Mauchline’s gallows.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

A Rain of Blood in Scotland, October 1688.

•September 27, 2014 • 1 Comment

Rain of Blood

A reign of blood ended with a rain of blood…

It seems too neat that the downfall of James VII, the king in whose reign the Killing Times had taken place, would be preceded by a blood rain. However, that is, apparently, what happened, but that was not how the rain of blood was interpreted at the time. Such prodigies were seen, by some, as warnings of impending events. What they foretold could only be guessed at, but in October, 1688, the blood rain was linked to the forthcoming conflict between King James and the invading William of Orange.

As the time of William’s invasion drew nearer, the kingdom was ‘full of commotions and rumours of war; everyone looking for changes and revolutions, some hoping for, and others fearing the same; and almost all were expecting the ensuing of these calamities that attend war, as its inseparable companion’. (Shields, FCD, 360.)

In the month of October, Alexander Shields, a leader of the Society people, recorded the blood rain in his diary:

‘A shouer of blood seen at Langhome on the Border, while the soldiers wer there going into England. They took away some of stones with the blood on them.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 181.)

Langholm parish lies in Dumfriesshire bear the Border.

Map of Langholm

It does not really matter whether the blood rain actually happened or was a rumour. What matters is that people believed that it had happened and that it was a sign, a portent, of things to come.

The phenomenon of a rain of blood was occasionally recorded in different locations in the seventeenth century. It has also been recorded in the last few years. It is interesting that Shields uses the term shower, rather than rain, which presumably indicates it was believed to have been a short, relatively localised event. What caused it, if it ever took place, is not known, as there are different theories about the causes of such events.

Even aurora, the Northern Lights, have been linked in seventeenth-century sources and in modern journals to blood rain. For example, the Reverend Law who was based near Dumbarton records that ‘in Ireland, upon the 8th or 9th of January 1681, appeared a vision of men fighting in the air, and thereafter a showr that turned to lapered blood.’ (Law, Memorialls, 179.)

The soldiers crossing into England were the standing forces of the Scottish Army, as they headed south to boost the forces available to King James in defence of his kingdoms. Their removal left the unreliable militia forces in place to deal with any organised action by the Society people in Scotland.

Colonel James Douglas William of Orange

The Scots Army, under General James Douglas, a notorious figure of the Killing Times who soon switched sides to William of Orange, began to march south from near Edinburgh for Carlisle on Wednesday 3 October. On Thursday 11 October they were leaving Penrith and reached London at the end of the month and prior to William’s landing on Monday 5 November at Torbay. (Dalton, Scots Army, 81-2.)

The chronology of the march would suggest that the army covered the march to Penrith in about a week. That suggests that the main body of the Scots army crossed the border about four or five days after the march began, i.e., on about 7 or 8 October. If the soldiers belonged to the main body of the army, as seems likely, then the shower of blood probably took place on around those dates, as the soldiers are said to have taken some of the stones with them in England.

The entry in Shields diary is only dated to October, but presumably it was written a few days or a week or so after the shower, as his next entry on the forty-fourth convention can be securely dated to on, or just after, 24 October.

Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden is also said to have preached in the Langholm parish.

For other wonders in Scotland of the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

On the Eve of the Glorious Revolution: Alexander Shields’ Field Preaching at Upper Dalveen

•September 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

On Sunday 4 November, 1688, Alexander Shields held a field preaching at Upper Dalveen in Durisdeer parish…

Upper Dalveen Covenanters

Upper Dalveen © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The preaching is recorded in a letter sent on Thursday 8 November, 1688, from ‘Jon Wilsone, [in] Spannoach.’ to James Johnstone of Westerhall.

Kirkconnel, Thursday 8 November, 1688.
‘Right honnourabil, If I had found aney thing worthie of your troubell or Sir John Dalzells anent the saf[t]ie of his Majesties peace yow may assure your selfe I would have given you and Sir John [Dalyell of Glenae] nottice therof, for I did promise at pairting with Sir John to doe the samyne. One Sunday last [i.e., 4 November] thair was a conventiekell at Upper Dalweine within the Dewk of Queinsberies bounds, quhich is within fyve mylles of Thornhill; one Mr [Alexander] Sheills preacht; their was noe peopell thair of aney quallite and the most pairt of them that was thair was weomen; as for armed men thair was very few; they doe noe trowbill to aney bodie, but calls for meat in mure houses amongst the mountaines, and imediatlie after their preachings are over they dispers and are noe more sein.’ (RPCS, XIII, 343.)

The field preaching took place at Upper Dalveen, which lies in Durisdeer parish in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire.

Map of Upper Dalveen

The field preaching followed soon after Shields had attended the Society people’s forty-fourth convention, which was held at Glengaber near Wanlockhead on Wednesday 24 October.

Shields’ preaching probably took place in the hills immediately behind Upper Dalveen. It is not known what Shields preached on, but his preaching took place immediately before a day of ‘fasting, prayer and supplication’ to the Lord among the Society people on 6 November for direction over whether they should join with William of Orange’s forces when they landed. William’s “invasion” force landed in England on the 5 November. (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 184.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Covenanter’s Secret Tunnel Discovered in Lanarkshire

•September 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Popular tradition is littered with stories of secret tunnels used by the Covenanters to escape capture in their houses. However, there is precious little evidence for them, except in one case, that of Major Joseph Learmont of Newholm captured in 1682…

Thirty years War Siege

Learmont appears to have been a veteran soldier, given the recognition of his rank of ‘Major’ by all of the sources.

He had been a tailor, who through ability, had forged a successful military career before he commanded the Covenanter’s horse on the left at the battle of Rullion Green during the Pentland Rising of 1666.

Since he was in his late seventies when he was captured in 1682, it is almost certain that he had served in the wars of the 1640s or 1650s, either in Britain, or on the Continent. However, his name does not appear either in Edward Furgol’s exhaustive list of the officers involved in the Scottish regiments during Covenanting Wars of 1639 to 1651, or in the documents relating to Scots Brigade in the United Provinces. Perhaps less surprising, is that his name also does not appear in the list of officers involved in the Scottish Army after the Restoration. The lack of evidence for Learmont’s presence in Scottish forces may indicate that he served elsewhere.

It is possible that Learmont had served in the Thirty Years’ War for a Continental power like Sweden. His apparent knowledge of tunnelling techniques may suggest that he was familiar with military mines used in siege warfare.


He purchased the compact estate of Newholm in Dolphinton parish, Lanarkshire, possibly after 1644. The estate lay by the boundary of Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire, and the sources occasionally confuse where the estate was as it lay in both jurisdictions. He was fined £1,200 under the title ‘of Newholm’ in 1662 for having complied with Cromwell’s occupation, which may indicate that he had served, like some other Scots, in the Cromwellian army in the late 1650s. (RPS, 1644/6/317.; History of Peeblesshire, 191; The Upper Ward of Lanarkshire Described and Delineated, I, 369-70.)

Map of Newholm            Aerial View of Newholm

Learmont was forfeited for his part in the Presbyterian Pentland Rising in August, 1667, and his sentence confirmed by Parliament in 1669. However, thanks to the efforts of his “brother-in-law”, William Hamilton of Wishaw, his family managed to regain his former estate from 1673, even though Learmont remained forfeited.

‘By an attested account under his son’s hand, I find that major Joseph Learmond was under a continued tract of hardships since his forfeiture after Pentland, and was sometimes obliged to go to Ireland, and other times was under hiding at his own house, which was frequently rifled and spoiled. This year he was taken prisoner.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

In 1679, he was a senior officer in the Covenanters’ army at Bothwell Bridge and is said to have led efforts to defend the bridge. (McCrie (ed.), Memoirs of Veitch and Brysson, 480n; History of Peeblesshire, 195, 195n.)

After the battle, Learmont was identified as a ringleader of the Bothwell rebels. He appears to have returned to hiding with his family at Newholm. The surrounding area of Lanarkshire did see several field preachings in the following years, one of which, by Donald Cargill, took place very close to Newholm on 10 July, 1681. It is not known if Learmont attended Cargill’s preaching, as his later statements suggest that he may not have agreed with the Society people.

The Secret Tunnel
He was captured by Lieutenant Adam Urquhart of Meldrum of the King’s Regiment of Horse in March, 1682.

The timing of his capture is significant, as it came immediately after the killing on 3 March of a Trooper Francis Gordon, who belonged to the same troop of Horse as Lieutenant Urquhart. Gordon was shot near Mossplat in Carstairs parish. Urquhart and his troop were based at Lanark. It appears that Learmont was captured in the searches conducted as a result of the trooper’s death.

Secret passages and tunnels are a standard feature of popular culture in Scotland, although there is little or no evidence of them. Even the tunnel at Loudoun Castle, found in 1942, may well be a drain or water conduit. However, in the case of Learmont, writers of the 1680s did mention his use of a purpose-built tunnel specifically designed for his escape.

According to Lord Fountainhall:

‘On the 10 of March 1682, was Major Joseph Lermont apprehended at his oune house, neir Peibles, by [Lieutenant Adam Urquhart] the Laird of Meldrum; he had been a commander of the rebells both at Pentland Hills and Bothuel bridge. Many attempts had been made to take him formerly, but he had frustrated them all by a secret subterranean cove he had digged under his house, which, like a mine, did lead him under the ground of his yairds, and thence away to a mosse, out at which passage he formerly escaped, but was discovered this tyme.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 63.)

A second source, recorded the tunnel in greater detail:

‘March 1682, Major Learmont, an old soldier, and now about 77 years, and a taylor to his trade, who was at Pentland Hills in the insurrection, 1666, and at Bothwell-Bridge insurrection, 1679, was taken in his own house within three miles of Lanerk, in a vault which he diged under ground, and penned for his hiding; it had its entry in his own house, upon the syde of a wall, and closed up with a whole stone, so closs as that non would have judged it but to have been a stone of the building; it descended below the foundation of the house, and was in length about 40 yards, and in the far end, the other mouth of it, was closed with faill, having a faill dyke [i.e., a wall of turf] builded upon it, so that with ease when he went out he shutt out the faill, and closed it again. Here he sheltered for the space of 16 years, by taking himself to it at every alarum, and many times hath his house been searched for him by the soldiers; but where he sheltered non was privy to it but his own domesticks, and at length he is discovered by his own herdsman.’ (Law, Memorialls, 216-17.)

A local tradition recorded in the New Statistical Account claimed that the Learmont was betrayed by a maid servant:

‘Tradition says that the man-servant was three times led out blindfolded to he shot, because he would not betray the secret. Learmont having again taken the field at Bothwell Bridge, exposed himself anew to the fury of the persecutors. By the treachery of a maid-servant, he was at last apprehended’. (NSA, VI, 57.)

The entry on Dolphinton parish in the New Statistical Account, which was written by the local minister in 1840, described the tunnel as running to an ‘abrupt bank’ of the South Medwin:

‘For sixteen years every endeavour was made to secure the major’s person,—but he had a vault dug under ground, which long proved the means of safety to him. It entered from a small dark cellar which was used as a pantry, at the foot of the inside stair of the old mansion-house, descended below the foundation of the building, and issued at an abrupt bank of the [South] Medwin, forty yards distant from the house, where a feal dike screened it from view. When the noise of the cavalry reached the major’s attentive ear, the blade of the tongs was applied to a small aperture fitted for the purpose of raising a flat stone, which neatly covered the entrance to the vault; and before a door was opened, the Covenanter was safe.’ (NSA, VI, 57n.)

The minister’s description of the tunnel appears to be based on Law. It is clear that the minister had no physical evidence for the tunnel in 1840:

‘As these accounts, handed down for a century and a-half, had become confused, this detail was submitted to an intelligent lady, who was born at Newholm upwards of ninety years ago [i.e., in the 1740s]. She states, that the stones of the vault were, at an early period, taken to build the garden wall; therefore no trace of the retreat was found when Newholm house was last rebuilt.’ (NSA, VI, 57n.)

Is the Tunnel Still There?
Although the New Statistical Account claimed that the tunnel had been removed, it appears that some elements of the tunnel might remain in situ.

The wider landscape around the house appears to been the subject of agricultural improvements at some point in the eighteenth century, which included altering the course of the South Medwin, but it is not clear how significant the changes to its course were near the house.

Learmont’s seventeenth house was either incorporated into, or replaced with a new house, probably in the eighteenth century. That house was, in turn, replaced by a further house. However, it is not clear from comparing Roy’s map of the 1750s with the first OS Map a century later, if Learmont’s house and the later houses shared the same site.

There are also reports that elements of the tunnel were discovered: “In the late 1960s a secret passage or hideaway was discovered at Newholm, believed to have been used by Learmont when hiding from the dragoons.” If anyone has any information about the discovery of the tunnel in the 1960s, it would be fascinating to hear.

The Trials of Joseph Learmont
On 13 March, three days after his capture, Learmont was brought before the council:

‘The Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill, considering that Joseph Leirmont is by sentence of the Justice Court, pronounced upon the fifteen of August, 1667, found guilty of high treason for being in the rebellion in the year 1666, which sentence is ratified in Parliament upon the fifteen of December, 1669, and the said Joseph Leirmont being brought to the Councill barr did judicially confess his being in the said rebellion, as also the last rebellion at Bothwell Bridge, doe therefore give order to the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary to meet and appoint a day for execution of the said sentence’. (RPCS, VII, 361.)

On 30 March, 1682, ‘The Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill, considering that Majour Leirmont, [Robert] McClellan of Barscobe, [Robert] Fleeming of Auchinfin, ———– Haddock of Easterseat [in Carluke parish] and [Hugh] McIlwraith [in Auchenflower] are brought in prisoners as being in the rebellion, against whom there are standing sentences, doe hereby give order and warrand to the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary to call the saids persons before them and to give order for execution of the saids sentences against the forsaid persons according to law’. (RPCS, VII, 373.)

Three of the four men mentioned with him were also forfeited lairds: Robert McClellan of Barscobe in Balmaclellan parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, Robert Fleming of Auchenfin in Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire and Hugh MacIlwraith of Auchenflower in Ballantrae parish, Carrick. The fourth, Haddow of Easterseat, was almost certainly brought in by Urquhart for suspected harbouring of some of those who killed Trooper Gordon.

‘When ever any of the forfeited persons were catched in their wanderings, the old sentence in absence took effect on them, and the lords of the justiciary named a day for their execution. Thus April 7th I find four gentlemen before the justiciary, and a day named for their execution; and it seems, in these cases, a warrant was necessary from the council, who at this time assumed the powers of parliament, justiciary, and every thing which made for the carrying on of the persecution. Thcir sentence runs.

“By virtue of a warrant from the lords of council, the lords commissioners of justiciary, having considered the dooms of forfeiture already passed on Robert Fleming of Auchinfin, Hugh Macklewraith of Auchinfloor, major Joseph Lcarmond, and Robert M’Clellan of Barscob, for crimes of treason and rebellion; and having examined them they acknowledged they were the same persons forfeited in absence, and against whom the sentence is pronounced, by which they are ordered to be executed to death, and demeaned as traitors when apprehended: ordain Robert Fleming, and Hugh Macklewraith to be hanged at the Grass-market, Wednesday next the 12th [of April] instant, and major Learmond and Barscob to be hanged on the 28th [of April] instant, and the heads of major Learmond and Robert Fleming to be affixed upon the Nether-bow Port, and that the magistrates of Edinburgh see to the execution.”’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

The sentences of execution were not carried out. Robert Gray, a fellow prisoner who was executed on 19 May, takes up the story in his letter to John Anderson, a prisoner in Dumfries:

‘P.S.—Barscob and Major Learmont got their sentence on Friday last [i.e, 7 April], to die on the 28th, and Hugh Mucklewraith and Robert Fleming had their sentence that day too, and should have died this last Wednesday [i.e., 12 April]. But they got a remission to the 28th; and it is reported that Barscob and the rest have offered to take the Test, and they have sent up to the tyrant upon that account to save their lives. As for John M’Clurg [, smith in Minnigaff,] and Robert N., there is no word yet what is to be done with them. I shall give you an account afterwards. My soul is grieved to see the treachery that is used in the matters of God among the prisoners, and their seeking sinful shifts to shun the cross of Christ. Oh! dear friend, seek to be kept steadfast in the day of trial.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 228-9.)

According to Lord Fountainhall, Learmont:

‘ouned before the Privy Counsell all his actings, but seimed to disclaime the wild ungoverneable Cameronian principles. A little after this, another of the ringleaders of that party, on[e] [] Macclellan of Barscobe, was also seized and sent in prisoner to Edenbrugh. Being both sentenced in the criminall court to be hanged, they ware repreived; as also on [Robert] Fleeming [of Auchenfin], who was condemned for the same.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 63.)

Law claimed that Learmont was ‘carried before the council, and examined; confesses he was at Pentland Hills, and at Bothwell-Bridge fight, but came only there [to Bothwell] to advise the people to accept of the Duke of Monmouth’s offers he made them in the king’s name.’ (Law, Memorialls, 216-17.)

Learmont had in fact appeared among the Covenanter army with a body of Tweeddale men on 15 June, which was several days before discussions began in the council of war over whether to agree to Monmouth’s terms.

On 20 April, 1682, the council granted Learmont and the others a reprieve:

‘The Lords having considered the petitions of Robert McClellan of Barscobe, Robert Fleeming, sometime of Auchinfin, Major [Joseph] Lermonth, [Hugh] McIlvraith, sometime in Auchinflour, prisoners in the tolbooth of Edinburgh and under sentence of death for treason, they reprieve and continue in prison until 19 May next,’ (RPCS, VII, 394.)

According to Wodrow:

‘None of these four were executed, as far as I hear. Interest was made for them, and some of them got remissions, and Barscob made compliances, and was of some use to the managers afterwards. … April 20th I find a petition presented to the council, by Robert M’Clellan of Barscob, Robert Fleming some time of Auchinfin, Hugh Macklewraith sometime of Auchinfloor, and major Learmond, prisoners in the tolbootli of Edinburgh, and under sentence for treason and rebellion, for a reprieve. And the council reprieve and continue the execution of the sentence till May 19th.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

Unlike the three other prisoners before the council, Learmont failed to take the Test oath. It would also appear that the council suspected that Learmont was more deeply involved in the rebellion than he had confessed, as they did not return him to an ordinary prison.

Bass RockThe Bass Rock

On 13 May, 1682, the council sent word to General Thomas Dalyell to transport Learmont from Edinburgh Tolbooth to the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth ‘to keep him in sure firmance till further order’. At the same sitting, the council also read the petitions of Barscobe and Fleming of Auchenfin and granted them a remission. Learmont remained on the Bass until his release in 1687. (RPCS, VII, 427.)

According to Wodrow:

‘May 13th major Learmond is sent to the Bass, and reprieved till further orders. Barscob and Auchinfloor appear at the council-bar. The duke of York declares his majesty hath pardoned them. … By interest made for him [i.e., Learmont], at this time near eighty years of age, his sentence of death was turned to a perpetual imprisonment in the Bass, though, if he would have taken the test, he might have prevented this. There he was close prisoner five years, till falling indisposed, upon the declaration of physicians that he was in a dying condition, he was let out on bail. Next year the happy revolution came about, and he returned to his own house of Newholm, where in a little time he died in peace, in the eighty eighth year of his age.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

Learmont was ordered to be set at liberty from the Bass on 9 December, 1686, after giving bond under the penalty of 5,000 merks to re-enter prison on 9 March, 1687. The bond by John Hamilton W. S. for him was received on 18 December. Learmont was almost certainly immediately released. (RPCS, XIII, 65.)

After the Revolution, Learmont was an elder in Dolphinton parish. He died, aged eighty-eight, in 1693 and is almost certainly buried at Blacklaw Church, formerly Dolphinton parish church: According to the New Statistical Account, ‘near the door of our church, under a rustic flat stone, without even the initials of his name, the mortal remains of the pious soldier now sleep’. A modern plaque was erected at the church by the Scottish Covenanter Memorial Association in 2007.

Map of Dolphinton/Blacklaw Churchyard    Street View of Dolphinton/Blacklaw Churchyard

His estate passed to his son, ‘John Learmonth of Newholm’, who was a commissioner of supply in 1704. (RPS, 1704/7/69.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Edinburgh’s Hangman Executed, January, 1682

•September 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hangings Alison and Harvie

Lord Fountainhall recorded the end of Edinburgh’s hangman in January, 1682:

13 January, 1682. ‘Alexander Cockburne (Cowban), hangman of Edinburgh, killed on[e] John Adamson, alias M’Keinzie, a blew-goun beggar, in the hangmans oune houfe, and under night laid him at his door. The magistrates of Edinburgh judged him within three suns as Shirefs within themselfes. The probation resulted upon strong presumptions against him of his guilt, as his denying that the beggar was in his house that day, the contrare wheirof was proven; the finding bloody cloaths in his houfe; the hearing groans from that place, &c. The Assise found him guilty, and he was hanged up in chains [at the Gallowlee] between Leith and Edinburgh; but never confessed the fact. He was peffimæ famæ, and had perpretrat it for greed of the poor beggar’s money. On Mackeinzie (whom Cowburne had undermined at Stirling, and got him thrust out of his place of hangman at Stirling), officiated bourreau [as executioner] upon him. It was reported, that the hangman of London having murdered his wife, was execute to death for it about the same very tyme with our’s.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 58-9.)

In his law manuscript, Fountainhall also noted the fate of Cockburn’s wife, Bessie Gall:

‘The Provest and Bailzies of Edinburgh, as Shireffs within themselves (having called me as ther Assessor, to sit with them, and assist them), doe judge Alexr Cowburne, ther hangman, or lockman, within 3 suns (the Earle of Errol as Constable, nor his deputs entring no protestation, on the pretence of its being a current Parliament), for murdering in his oune house one of the licenced blew-goun beggars, called John Adamson, alias Mackeinzie. The probation was slender, and most of it by weemen; (which is not so usuall, unlesse it be in some excepted priviledged crimes, and that they be domestick servants: …;) and was only presumptions against him. Yet the Assise found him guilty, and referred his wife, Bessie Gall, to the Judges. The Bailzies caused hang him in chains, betuen Leith and Edinburgh, on the 20 of Januar; for it leimes they are not bound to execute, but only to pronunce sentence within 3 suns after the delict; his wife they banished.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 346.)

Cockburn had been responsible for the executions of several Covenanters in Edinburgh. His duties, however, went well beyond hanging the condemned. He had mounted Richard Cameron’s head on a halberd in July, 1680.

He was also responsible for torturing prisoners suspected of treasonable plots in the boots: ‘Then the hangman put his foot in the instrument called the boot, and, at every query put to him, gave five strokes or thereby upon the wedges.’

At the execution of Donald Cargill and four others in July, 1681, Cockburn had ‘hash’d and hagg’d off all their Heads [upon the Scaffold] with an Ax.’.

And in October, 1681, he had officiated at the Gallowlee where he was alter executed at the execution of five Covenanters. According to Patrick Walker:

‘The never to be forgotten Mr. James Renwick told me, that he was Witness to this publick Murder at the Gallolee, betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, where he saw the Hangman hash and hag off all their Five Heads, with Patrick Foreman’s Right-hand: Their Bodies were all buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with Patrick’s Hand, were brought and put upon five Pikes on the Pleasance-port. Some honest old Men told me of late, that they were Witness to the same, and saw the Hangman drive down their Heads to the Foot of the Pike, and thereby broke their Sculls.’

The Gallowlee lay beside Shrub Place Lane, just off Leith Walk and on the boundary between Edinburgh and Leith.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Fox in the Snow (and Other Strange Portents), February, 1682

•September 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Nor Loch Edinburgh 1690

Lord Fountainhall records tales of terror in Edinburgh in 1682…

‘In Februar[y] 1682, a servant woman in Edinburgh, about ii at night, throwing over a tub of foull water from a window 4 stories hy, followed the fame, and fell over the window into the street, and broke her skull, and expired some few howers after with lamentable sobs. O Lord! grant we may be ready whensoever thou shalt call, tho’ at midnight.

The 11 of Februar[y] 1682. Sundry peeple being on the North Loch of Edinburgh, the ice broke, and they fell in, 3 wheirof ware drouned; on[e] a wryter, Mr. David Fergusson, the other 2 ware fleschers; ther bodies ware not found till the nixt day. We have a proverb, that ‘The fox will not set his foot on the ice after Candlemaffe,’ especially in the heat of the sun, as this was, at 2 a cloak; and at any tyme the fox is so sagacious as to lay his ear to the ice, to see if it be frozen to the bottom, or if he hear the murmuring and current of the water.— See [David] [L]Loyd’s Fair Warnings to a Careles[s] World, page 146, wher ther is a pretty story of the Persians terror in flying over the river Strymon when frozen, tho they ware before hectoring, and rufling against a Deity.

This same 11 of Februar[y], ther was, about ii at night, a great ecclipse of the moon, it being near the plenilunium: about 19 digits (points) of it was obscured, and the night being otherways clear, I saw it verie distinctly.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 59-60.)

For other ‘wonders’ observed in Scotland see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Hidden: Fugitive and Rebel Covenanters in Minnigaff in 1684

•September 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Minnigaff Parish

Minnigaff parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, bears a distinctive footprint of Presbyterian dissent.

Five landowners in the parish were forfeited for their part in the Bothwell Rising of 1679: Patrick Dunbar, younger of Machermore, Patrick Herron of Little Park, Patrick Murdoch of Cumloden, Anthony McKie of Glencaird, who hid at the White Cairn in the parish, and John Mackie of Larg (after his death).

In 1680, Minnigaff parish was one of the parishes interrogated for information about the whereabout of the traitors behind the Sanquhar Declaration.

In January, 1685, it was the scene of the killings at Caldons. The Edward McKean summarily executed in Carrick in 1685 was probably from the parish.

Alexander Peden preached there in 1685 and the Earl of Hume’s militia were present at Minnigaff in the middle of that year.

Tradition indicates that James Renwick may have preached at the Preaching Howe in the parish and that the Society people may have killed an intelligencer from the parish.

The summons to the circuit court held in Kirkcudbright in October, 1684, mentions two men who were accused of either being at Bothwell, or hearing preachers connected to the rising.

Alexander Heuchan in Bardrochwood.
‘Alexander Heuchan in Bardrokott for being in the rebellion at Bothuell in July seventie nyne;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list of October, 1684, as ‘Alexr Heuchan, there’ possibly under Strathmaddie to the south of Bardrochwood.

Map of Bardrochwood                    Street View of Bardrochwood

Anthony Dunbar in Craignell.
‘Anthon[y] Dunbar in Craignell for hearing Mr Samuel Arnot and Mr Patrick [or Thomas] Vernor [preach] since Bothuell [in 1679];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list as ‘Antony Dunbar in Craignew’.

Craignell was a remote location in the parish. It now lies beside Clatteringshaws Loch, a reservoir created in the 1930s.

Map of Craignell                 Street View of Craignell

The summons to the Kirkcudbright court also offers a fleeting glimpse into the networks of kin, friends and neighbours who hid or assisted fugitives either from the parish, or who lived nearby. The following is listed by the fugitive first, in bold, and then those who were accused of converse with them:

1. & 2. James Gordon, younger of Craiglaw, and James Martinson in Glenhapple.
James Gordon was a forfeited fugitive from Kirkcowan parish and James Martinson a fugitive rebel from Penninghame parish. Both parishes lie in Wigtownshire and directly to the west of Minnigaff.

‘Mr James Algeo, wrytter in Moneygalf, for converseing with James Gordone, younger, of Craiglaw, and James Mertinsone in Glenkapell, rebells, about two yeirs since or therby [i.e., in 1682];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Algeo appears on the parish list of late 1684 under the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

Map of Minnigaff

3. William Stewart, son to the Wadsetter of Larg, Minnigaff parish.
He appears on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684, as ‘William Stuart, son to —— Stuart wadsetter of Larg’ under Wigtownshire. The fugitives in Minnigaff parish were listed under Wigtownshire, rather than Kirkcudbrightshire, on the published roll. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

‘John Macqhannell in Gleckmallock for converseing with William Stewart, rebell, about two yeirs since [i.e., in late 1682];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list of late 1684 in Gleckmalloch in the Barony of Gerlis.

Map of Gleckmalloch              Aerial View of Gleckmalloch

‘Patrick McKie in Gleckmallock for converseing with William Stewart, rebell, about two yeirs since [i.e., in late 1682];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

McKie also appears on the parish list in the same household as the above.


‘William Cunninghame in Clauchrie for converseing with William Stewart, rebell, in July, 1681, and with William Kennedie [No.4, below] in January or February last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Cunningham appears on the parish list as ‘William Cunningham in Clauchre’.

Clauchrie lay to the west of Torbain and close to the home of Patrick Murdoch of Cumloden.

Aerial View of Clauchrie

The William Kennedy that Cunningham was accused of converse with was another fugitive from Wigtownshire.

4. William Kennedy in Barnkirk, Penninghame parish.
He appears on the Fugitive Roll of mid 1684 as ‘William Kennedy, in Barnkirk’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 214.)

Barnkirk lies in Penninghame parish, which is located on the western boundary of Minnigaff parish. In the late 1670s, John Welsh, the former minister of Irongray, field preached at Barnkirk.

Map of Barnkirk

‘Mr William McGill, wrytter in Moneygalf, for converseing with William Kennidie, sometyme in Barnkirk, rebell, about the moneth of June last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list as ‘William McGill’ under the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

‘John Roxbrugh in Moneygalf for converseing with William Kennedie, rebell, in January last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list of late 1684 with Robert Roxburgh at the top of the list for the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

‘James Kennedie in Moneygalf for converseing with William Kennedie, rebell, about the moneth of July last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

‘Andrew Herron in Larg, for converseing with William Kennedie, rebell, in May last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

He appears on the parish list under the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

5. Anthony Stewart, son to the Wadsetter of Larg, Minnigaff parish.
He appears on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684, as ‘Anthony Stuart, his son [of ------ Stuart wadsetter of Larg]’ under Wigtownshire. Anthony was the brother of William Stewart (No.3) and probably the brother of Archibald Stewart (No.6). (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

‘Robert Walker, violer in Moneygalf, for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, about tuo yeirs since [i.e., late 1682], and with William Kennedie [No.4, above], rebell, about January or February last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Walker appears on the parish list under the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

‘Anthon[y] McMillane in Kirrochtrie for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, in January or February last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

McMillan appears on the parish list under the Barony of Gerlis.

Kirrochtrie is Kirroughtree. A later house built in 1719, which is now a hotel, stands on the site.

Map of Kirroughtree

DalnawNear Dalnaw © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

‘Alexander Maktaggart in Dalnae for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, in September, 1683;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

MacTaggart appears on the parish list under the Barony of Gerlis.

Dalnae is Dalnaw.

Map of Dalnaw                  Aerial View of Dalnaw

‘Archibald McHarg in Minnivick for converseing with Archibald Stewart, rebell, in January last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

McHarg appears on the parish list in ‘Miniwiek’, i.e., Minniwick.

Minniwick lies to the south east of Glentrool Village.

Map of Minniwick                Aerial View of High Minniwick

Minniwick lies near Glenvernoch, the home of one of the Wigtown Martyrs.

The next entry is fascinating, as Caldons/Caldons Wood was were several killings took place a few months after the summons.

‘John McQhirter in Caldone for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, in March or Apprill last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

McWhirter appears on the parish list under ‘Caldeens’ in the household of Archibald McWhirter and Janet Gordon.

Map of Caldons                Aerial View of Caldons

‘Alexander Thomson in Wood of Crie and Alexander Gibson and William Ker his servants, for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, in March or Apprill last [1684];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

All three of the people mentioned appear on the parish list. Thomson is recorded as ‘Alexr Thomson in Cardorcan’.

Map of Wood of Cree                 Aerial View of Wood of Cree

‘Andrew McMillane in Glenmalloch for converseing with Anthon[y] Stewart, rebell, in March or Apprill, 1682;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

McMillan appears on the parish list.

Glenmalloch stands beside the Preaching Howe in Minnigaff parish.

Map of Glenmalloch              Aerial View of Glenmalloch


‘John Stewart in Tarchreggan, John McTaggart and Robert Stewart for converseing with Anthon[y] and Archibald Stewarts, rebells, in July, 1683;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

They appear on the parish list of late 1684 as ‘John Steuart in Tarregan’ as do ‘Rott Steuart’ and ‘John McTaggart’.

Today, Terregan is an unmarked ruin near the Washing Burn

Map of Terregan

6. Archibald Stewart, son to the Wadsetter of Larg, Minnigaff parish.
The Archibald Stewart that was conversed with at Terregan, see above, was almost certainly the brother of Anthony (No.5) and William Stewart (No.3). He is probably recorded on the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, as ‘——- Stuart, his son’, i.e., the son of ‘——– Stuart wadsetter of Larg’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

He, too, was mentioned in the summons as a fugitive who had conversed with others:

‘James McGie, cottar in Palgavin, and Michael Maktagart in Buricastle for converseing with Archibald Stewart, rebell, about tuo yeirs [ago, i.e., 1682];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

They appear on the parish list as ‘John McKie in Palgouen’ and ‘Michael McTagart in Kirkcastle’ in the Barony of Buchan.

Palgowan lies beside Gleckmalloch, see above.

Map of Palgowan                Aerial View of Palgowan

‘Alexander Watsone in Moneygalf for converseing with Archibald Stewart, rebell, about two yeirs since [i.e., c. late 1682];’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Watson appears on the parish list under the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

‘Alexander Roxbrugh in Moneygalf for converseing with Archibald Stewart, rebell, in July, 1683;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Roxburgh appears on the parish list at the top of the list for the Barony of Larg and town of Minnigaff.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine