The Covenanters’ Prison, Edinburgh, 1679 #History #Scotland

After the Covenanters were defeated in the battle of Bothwell Brig on 22 June, 1679, at least 1,184 prisoners were delivered to Edinburgh.

They were held in Inner Greyfriars’ Yard.


What is today called The Covenanters’ Prison in Greyfriars’ churchyard only covers a small portion of the area where the prisoners were actually held. At that time, The Covenanters’ Prison was not part of the graveyard, but part of a considerably larger enclosure – the Inner Yard – which ran east from the Covenanters’ Prison through the houses, across Forest Road and through the buildings there, to Bristo Place. Today, the pub called Sandy Bell’s lies approximately in the centre of what was the Inner Yard. It was a grass park of over three acres surrounded on all sides by high walls and accessed via a single gate by the Society Port. There was no access via the present-day gate to the Covenanters’ Prison. Instead, a continuous dyke ran across the north side of the Yard, that was built by Heriot’s school in 1662.

george-heriots-schoolHeriots School

Other prisoners, presumably the wounded, were held at Heriot’s Hospital, a school that lies next to the yard.

We can tell how many prisoners there were in Greyfriars Yard and Heriot’s school from the daily ration of penny-loaves they received. On 1 July, the first day that the loaves were delivered, 1,184 penny loaves were required. For the next few months their diet was pretty unrelenting, penny loaves and biscuits (without sugar).

The number of prisoners on 1 July was probably a little lower than the figure for those captured at, or near, the battlefield on 22 June due to escapes and the wounded dying. Under the supervision of Captain Strachan’s dragoons and two regiments of the Lothian militia, they had reached the city on the evening of 24 June, a week before the first loaves were delivered. It is also clear that around 100 more prisoners were taken, as other parties of prisoners arrived in mid July. In total, probably around 1,300 prisoners were taken after the battle.

Early Presbyterian sources indicate that between 300 to 400 were killed either in the battle, or in the rout afterwards. A large number of moderate presbyterians who had escaped from the battlefield, presumably accepted the offer of the King’s peace at the regional circuit courts established later in 1679. Exactly how many accepted the King’s peace is not clear due to the fragmented nature of the records, but many must have, and did, make peace. Five years after the battle, the published fugitive roll of May 1684 lists about 1,800 individuals who were accused of being present at the battle and who had failed to take the King’s peace. Around 230 were forfeited for their part in the rebellion, some of whom also appeared in the Fugitive Roll. In total around 3,700 individuals were certainly in the rebellion, excluding the large group of moderate presbyterians that escaped immediate capture and later came into the King’s peace. No doubt many others entirely evaded the authorities endeavours to identify rebels, either by keeping a low profile, or slipping into exile. Presbyterian and historical estimates that around 6,000 men were in the rebel army at Bothwell appear to be fairly sound. That indicates that about six per cent (c.350) of the rebel army were killed, about twenty-two percent (1,300) were captured and around seventy-two percent (c.4,350) escaped the field.

With 1.184 prisoners on 1 July, 1679, the Restoration justice system in Edinburgh would have been quickly overwhelmed unless solutions to “the numbers problem” were not rapidly adopted. For example, after the Argyll Rising in 1685, the government struggled to cope with housing around 400–500 prisoners across Edinburgh and Leith. Most of them were banished within two months. The use of the Inner Yard as an outdoor prison was a matter of necessity in late June, 1679.

In the immediate aftermath of Bothwell, the Privy Council had suggested that they banish about 300 to 400 hundred to the Plantations. However, by the start of July they had a far greater number of prisoners than that in the Yard, with more on the way and existing conventicle prisoners already filling the tolbooths.

The solution the authorities seized on was to quickly release those prisoners who were willing to take the terms of King’s peace:

‘I being apprehended for being at the late rebellion; and whereas the lords of his majesty’s privy council, in pursuance of his majesty’s command, have ordained me to be set at liberty, I enacting myself to the effect underwritten: therefore I bind, oblige, and enact myself in the books of the privy council, that hereafter I shall not take up arms, without or against his majesty, or his authority. As witness my hand, &c.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 126.)

If prisoners took the oath to never to rise in arms again and obtained a bond for their good behaviour, they were released. It is clear that in this first “crisis” phase, that the majority of the prisoners, encouraged to submit by moderate presbyterian ministers, availed themselves of the government’s offer. By 10 July, the number of loaves had dramatically dropped to only 338.

From then on, a second phase began in which the authorities began to manage “the numbers problem”, perhaps with the target in mind of banishing 300 to 400. The number of loaves continued to decline to 300 until 16/17 July, when the arrival of new batches of prisoners raised the number back up to 400. Is it a coincidence that those numbers of 300/400 exactly match how many they wanted to banish? However, three weeks later, on 6 August, the number of prisoners/loaves had reached more manageable levels again at 250. Had the practicalities of banishment dawned on the Council?

After that, a third phase began in which the number of prisoners stabilised, only gradually declining in the Yard and Heriot’s school until 14/15 November, the eve of their banishment, when it stood at 210. The decline to 210 in the Yard has to balanced against the fact that 257 prisoners were banished a few days later. In large part, the decline after 6 August appears to have been achieved by removing prisoners to Edinburgh Tolbooth from the Yard or Heriot’s school. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 109-113.)

The fact that few prisoners were prepared to take the King’s peace after 6 August could indicate that those who remained were a hard core of militant presbyterians. However, that is only partially true. According to the Memoirs of John Blackadder, many of those who remained had in fact taken the ‘black bond’ not to rise in arms again. Blackadder was in a position to know, as he was possibly the only preacher in contact with the prisoners who actively encouraged them not to accept the King’s peace and he wrote a paper to them on the unlawful nature of it. According to the Memoirs:

‘It was found, by some who examined those that escaped [from the ship banishing them to the Plantations when it was wrecked], that many of them had refused to take the bond. Yet a few of those who had not taken it were drowned’. (Blackadder, Memoirs, 231-2.)

Robert Garnock, a prisoner brought in mid July who was executed in 1681, also led a campaign against taking the ‘black bond’. He, too, reports that many took the bond.

It was during that final, third, stable phase, that the authorities adopted a tougher judicial approach. Two field preachers that were considered as militant ringleaders, John Kid and John King, were executed. On 15, 22 August and 10 November, 1679, some of the Bothwell prisoners were selected for trial, apparently on the grounds of their obstinate refusal to take bonds and oaths, and encouraging other prisoners not to do so. A further document of 15/16 November recorded the names of 31 prisoners sent from Edinburgh Tolbooth to Leith for banishment. On the same day, Garnock was removed to a different part of the Tolbooth.

The four documents can be found here:
15 August. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 97.)
22 August. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 98.)
10 November. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 99-100.)
15/16 November. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, VI, 136-7.)

When the documents from those four dates are compared, 51 prisoners (other than Kid or King) are named in one or more of them. Who were they? And what happened to them?

Magus Muir

The Covenanters’ Graves at Magus Muir © Jim Bain and licensed for reuse.

For ease of comparison I have modernised some names/place names in the list below.

Of the fifty-one named prisoners, six faced trial for their lives. Five of them were hanged at Magus Muir in Fife where Archbishop Sharp was assassinated, although they had nothing to do with the killing. The sixth, David Hardie, was acquitted and released. The executions took place on either 18, or 25, November:

1. Thomas Brown, Shoemaker in Edinburgh (15 Aug., ‘Shoemaker’ 22 Aug., 10 Nov.)
2. John Clyde in Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire (10 Nov.)
3. Andrew Sword in Borgue parish, Kirkcudbrightshire (15 Aug., 10 Nov.)
4. John Waddell in Shotts parish, Lanarkshire (15 Aug., ‘in Clidesdale’ 10 Nov.)
5. James Wood in Loudoun parish, Ayrshire, (15 Aug., ‘in Air’ 10 Nov.)
6. David Hardie in Leslie, Fife, Released (15 Aug., 10 Nov.). (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 100-101.)

Croune of London 1679

The Croune of London

A further 35 of the named prisoners were ordered to be banished. Of them, 32 were transported, another was perhaps transported, one took bonds and was released, and the last one escaped.

1. James Lileburn, in Kinross (15 Aug. 22 Aug. 10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
2. Robert Bogie [i.e., Boig], ‘in Newbigging’ Strathmiglo parish?, Fife (15 Aug. 15 Nov.)
3. Robert McGill, webster in Galashiels (15 Aug. 22 Aug. 10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
4. Thomas Williamson, ‘in Over Cranstoun’ (15 Aug. ‘Over-Waristoun’ 22 Aug. Nether Cranstoun 10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
5. John Scott, ‘in Ettrick Forest [parish]’ Selkirkshire (15 Aug. 15 Nov.)
6. John Govan, in Kirkliston parish (15 Aug. ‘Givane’ 15 Nov.)
7. Thomas Pringle, in Stow parish (15 Aug. 15 Nov.)
8. James Gray, in West Calder parish (15 Aug. 15 Nov.)
9. John Thomson, in Shotts parish (15 Aug. ‘in Bothwelmuir’ 10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
10. Patrick Keir, in Kincardine parish (15 Aug. ‘Kein’ 15 Nov.)
11. William ‘Anderson’, in Livingston parish (15 Aug. ‘Henryson in Linlithgowe Shyre’, 10 Nov. ‘hendirsone’ 15 Nov. )
12. Robert Russell, in Shotts parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
13. William Brown, in Kilmarnock parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
14. Thomas Crightoun, in Carnwath parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
15. Andrew Newbigging, ‘in [Bowden parish] the Merse’ (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
16. William Grindlay, in [Old or New] Monkland (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
17. Patrick Wilson, in Livingston parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
18. William Younger, in Livingston parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
19 Robert Young, in Galasheils parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
20. William Hardie, in Kelso parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
21. Robert Kirk, ‘cottar in Burghlie’ i.e., Burleigh, Orwell parish (10 Nov. 15 Nov.)
22. John McBraickney, in Kirkcudbright parish (10 Nov.)
23. Andrew Thomson in Sauchie, St Ninians parish (22 Aug., 10 Nov.)
24. David Somerwel [i.e., Somerville], in East Calder parish (15 Aug.)
25. Andrew Wallace (15 Nov. In Cloud: Wallet in Irongray parish)
26. John Kirk (15 Nov. In Cloud: in Ceres parish)
27. Thomas Miller (15 Nov. In Cloud: in Ceres parish)
28. David Cunningham (15 Nov. In Cloud: Daniel, in Drummond parish)
29. James Waddell (15 Nov. In Cloud: in New or Old Monkland parish)
30. James Corsan (15 Nov. In Cloud: in Kirkcudbright parish)
31. Wallter McDichmaye (15 Nov. In Cloud: Walter McKechnie?)
32. Jon mcCleikeraye (15 Nov. In Cloud: John McBraickney?)

John Richardson, a tenant of George, Lord Ross, had his petition for release accepted on 7 November, provided that his brother, who was also in the list of names, boarded The Croun of London for banishment.

33. John Richardson in Stenhouse, (15 Aug. 15 Nov.) Took bonds and was liberated on 18 December.
34. William Richardson in Stenhouse, (22 Aug., 10 Nov.) There is no evidence that he was actually banished. He is not listed among those who died in, or escaped from, the sinking ship. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, II, 105-6; RPCS, VI, 355-6.)

When The Croune of London sailed from Leith Roads on 27 November, one prisoner was not on board:

35. Robert Miller in Waterford (15 Aug. 22 Aug. 10 Nov. 15 Nov.) Escaped.

Six of the named prisoners from Greyfriars on the lists of militants were not banished. They took bonds/oaths and were liberated on 18 December. (RPCS, VI, 355-6.):

1. Alexander Steven, in Bothwell parish (15 Aug.) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.
2. William Cameron, in Dalmellington parish (15 Aug.) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.
3. James Findlay, in ‘balyrie of Cuninghame’ (10 Nov.) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.
4. Adam Allan in Ayrshire (10 Nov) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.
5. William McKime in Galloway (10 Nov) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.
6. Richard Thomson in Shotts parish (10 Nov) Took bonds/oaths. Liberated.

Two of those named, who were taken before the Bothwell Rising in connection with Sharp’s assassination, were continued in the Tolbooth on 18 December to face trial:

1. Alexander Balfour, tenant in Gilston, Fife (22 Aug., 10 Nov.) Continued.
2. James Balfour, in Gilston, Fife (22 Aug., 10 Nov.) Continued

The fate of two of the named prisoners is not known:

1. James Paton, in Inverkeithing (22 August, 10 Nov)
2. ‘James Carsell, in Malmaghie’ [Balmaghie parish?] (10 Nov)

What is not clear is what happened to the other prisoners. In all 257 prisoners were loaded on to and transported by The Croune of London in November, 1679. Who the other 222 banished prisoners were is covered here.

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

~ by drmarkjardine on December 5, 2016.

15 Responses to “The Covenanters’ Prison, Edinburgh, 1679 #History #Scotland”

  1. With regard to those transported on The Crown of London, your list seems to be incomplete. You don’t for instance have Drafin George of Lesmahagow there although he does appear in the list in the attached file from Bob Miller. Furthermore this file lists 248 prisoners aboard the ship. My interest here is that my great grandfather James Currie Draffan was born in Lesmahagow in 1846, as was Alicia Draffan a grandmother of William Wallace. Also interested to see a John Aitkin on the ship, from Shotts, a Greenshields and a David Currie from Fenwick.

    Best regards, Malcolm Hutton, Melbourne, Australia

    • Hi Malcolm,
      the list from the wreck of the Croun off Orkney is the subject of my next post. It is quite a big list and takes time to write, order and post. Was planning that for tomorrow, the anniversary of the shipwreck. George is, of course, on it.

      Any further information you have on George, would be very welcome. As I am trying to pin some (or at least more than one!) back to specific farms etc., rather than just to the parish of origin. I know the story of George is in Wodrow, so I will be digging that out.

      Best regards,

    • Or was George’s story in Cloud? Checking!

    • This might interest you. 31st July 1679, Privy Council order liberate prisoners from Greyfriars on condition they do not rise against the King’s authority as they have signed the bond:
      John Balnamoon in Glasgow
      George Weir in Carmichaell
      William Millar in Barrony of Glasgow
      William Picat in Bridgeend of Glasgow
      Thomas Wylie, tenant to the earl of Lowdoun
      Robert Willson in Douglas
      George Draphan [Draffan] in Lesmahago
      William Syme in Leny
      Robert Wallace in Phinnick
      George Rutherford in Ancrum
      Andrew Snodgrasse in Bridgeend of Glasgow
      Andrew Mitchell
      Alexander Findlay in Kilmarnock
      Andrew Foulis in Stewartoun
      James Young in Stewartoun
      Patrick Gilchrist in Kippen
      William McCulloch in Dalie
      Thomas Oliver in Jedburgh Forrest
      William Younger in Bathgate
      David Curry
      John Givan, tailor in Neilstoune
      RPCS, VI, 296-7.

      Clearly some of those prisoners were banished.

  2. […] The Croune was carrying 257 prisoners of war that were being banished to the American Plantations. They were all Covenanters who had been captured at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June and endured imprisonment in Edinburgh. […]

  3. […] William Rodger, who were all from Maybole parish, were captured at the Battle of Bothwell Brig and held prisoner in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. They were among those who refused to take the bond of peace and were banished aboard The Croune of […]

  4. […] Jardine, Mark,… […]

  5. […] Next, I here as a dying man do declare, that if the blotting of paper to them would save my life, I would not do it at that rate; for I see they are setting themselves to ensnare poor things, and I see neither ministers nor professors to give their advice in this matter, if it be not to make them take the Bond, as they did to these poor things in the churchyard [of Greyfriars, to the prisoners taken at Bothwell Bridge.] […]

  6. […] was a miller in Linlithgow, who had been wounded and captured at Bothwell, but somehow either escaped or was liberated under bond from Greyfriars. According to Wodrow’s account of him, ‘he had a real change wrought on him by the Gospel […]

  7. […] the defeat, Miller was captured and held prisoner in Greyfriars yard in Edinburgh, however, he managed to escape and took ship for France. He remained there for ‘the matter of […]

  8. […] Foreman’s reference to his ‘wanderings’ and ‘imprisonments’ alludes to the possibility that he had failed to take the bond of peace issued after Bothwell and perhaps hints that he may have joined the Rising of 1679 and been imprisoned at Greyfriars. […]

  9. […] were marched to Edinburgh under a guard of ‘red coats’ and put in Greyfriars Kirkyard where around three-hundred out of over one-thousand prisoners captured at the battle of Bothwell Bridge re…. (Howie, Lives, […]

  10. […] away in the far left corner of the main kirkyard is the Covenanters prison. Locked to the public since 1990, the site is now only accessible either during the day […]

  11. […] access to the Covenanters Prison. This is a section of a former field where around three hundred Covenanters who had been defeated in the Battle of Bothwell Brig (1679) had been kept prisoner. The […]

  12. […] away in the far left corner of the main kirkyard is the Covenanters prison. Locked to the public since 1990, the site is now only accessible on a City of the Dead Haunted […]

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