Alexander Russell, A Covenanter Martyr for Falkirk
Until now, the origin of Alexander Russell, who was one of five Covenanters executed outside of Edinburgh on 10 October, 1681, has remained buried in the historical sources.
However, according to the registers of the Privy Council, Russell was from Randiford in Falkirk parish, Stirlingshire. The farm of Randiford has vanished, but it lay a little to the north-east of Falkirk. Today the site lies close to Falkirk Stadiium, the home of Falkirk FC, near the A904 where Thornhill Gardens meets Grangemouth Road and near Randyford Street. Beyond the street name, the site is unmarked. The area now lies in Falkirkshire, but in the seventeenth century lay in Stirlingshire.
According to reports of his martyrs’ testimony, he had heard the Episcopal “curates” for fourteen years and lived a licentious life ‘keeping company with the profane, drinking, swearing, Sabbath-breaking, and reproaching the people of God.’ However, after he attended a field preaching, he was converted to the Presbyterian cause.
Tragedy led him to join the Bothwell Rising in June 1679, after the ‘extraordinary providence’ of the death of three of his children within ten days ‘impressed his heart so, that he durst not sit God’s call, to that work’. At Bothwell, Russell would have been one of the East Stirlingshire men who deposed their captain due to his failure to represent their militant views and elected a new one. (M’Crie (ed.), Memoirs of Veitch, 465.)
He was captured at some point after he attended Donald Cargill’s Torwood conventicle in September, 1680. On 9 December, 1680 the register of the Privy Council reported that:
‘The case of Thomas Jarvey and Alexander Russell who have been apprehended for being at the Torwood conventicle and are content to live orderly and not goe to conventicles hereafter is remitted to the [Privy] Councill’.
It appears that Russell had agreed to take the bond to live orderly and not go to conventicles at some point after his capture and prior to his initial appearance before the Council. However, Russell was either unable or unwilling to fulfil the conditions for his release and he continued in prison.
On 25 August 1681 he was listed alongside David Farrie, James Stewart, Patrick Foreman as among those ‘suspected as guilty of conventicles’ who were to be set at liberty due to a lack of witnesses against them provided that they agreed to ‘live orderly’ and find caution to appear before the Council when called. In his martyrs’ testimony, Russell confessed that he had taken the bond to live orderly ‘with great remorse’ and regretted not having publicly recanted his actions. (RPCS, VI, 602; VII, 189-190; Thompson (ed.), CW, 224.)
Russell was executed at the Gallowlee outside of Edinburgh with James Stewart, David Farrie, Robert Garnock and Patrick Foreman on 10 October, 1681. A full account of the circumstances of their execution will follow in a later post.
If you are in the area, a memorial drinking fountain to Sir John de Graham, who was killed in William Wallace’s defeat at Falkirk in 1298, lies nearby.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.