The Execution of Richard Rumbold in Edinburgh, 1685 #History #Scotland


Rumbold Executed

After Richard Rumbold was captured in Lesmahagow and dragged through the streets of Edinburgh, he faced trial and execution on 26 June, 1685.

The day before the assize, the privy council decided how he was to be executed:

‘And June 25th, before the justiciary meet, the council make the following act and recommendation.

“The lords of his majesty’s privy council do hereby recommend to the lords justice-general, justice-clerk, and remanent commissioners of his majesty’s justiciary, to meet to morrow [26 June] by ten o’clock in the forenoon, and to call the dittay of high treason against Rumbold, commonly called colonel Rumbold, or the Maltster; and, after he is found guilty of the said crimes, do recommend to the said lords, to cause him, the said Rumbold, to be immediately taken from their bar, to the laigh council-house, to be examined by the magistrates, and hear prayer in the ordinary way; and that order may be given by them to the said magistrates, that a scaffold and a high gibbet be erected above the [mercat] cross, towards the west, and that after he is examined, and prayer heard, they cause him to be led down by the hangman, with his hat on to the scaffold [above the mercat cross], and there to be hoised up the gibbet, with a rope about his neck, and immediately to be let down, and the rope being about his neck, his heart to be cut out by the hangman, and shown to the people upon the point of a bayonet or dagger, round about on the scaffold, who is to express these words, “here is the heart of a bloody traitor and murderer,” and which thereafter the hangman is with disdain to cast in a fire prepared on purpose on the scaffold, and thereafter his head is to be cut off, and shown to the people by the hangman, in manner foresaid, and expressing the former words; and then his body is to be quartered,”’

There is a sense that the Scottish privy council detailed what had to happen to Rumbold in accordance with English traditions of execution because they knew that it would be widely reported there.

His body was to be distributed to locations in the South of Scotland. In practice, quartering meant his body being cut into five parts (including the head):

“and one part thereof to be affixed at the port or tolbooth of Glasgow, another at Jedburgh, a third at Dumfries, and a fourth at the Newton of Galloway [in Kells parish], his head being to be affixed at the west-port of Edinburgh, on a high pole; and do ordain the magistrates of Edinburgh to see this order put in execution accordingly.”

The selection of Jedburgh, Dumfries and Newton of Galloway for his body parts probably reflected a desire by the privy council to send a message to areas where there were indications that they might rise in support of Monmouth, rather than reflecting where Rumbold’s crimes took place.

His appearance before the privy council prior to execution was another opportunity to make a point:

‘I am well informed, that when examined by the council he was basely insulted, which did not much move him, but with great calmness he owned the cause he had appeared for, and his joy in his sufferings. Whereupon one of them railed on him, calling him ‘a confounded villain.’ With the utmost sedateness he replied, “I am at peace with God through Jesus Christ, to men I have done no wrong, what then can confound me?”’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 314.)

The Trial, Morning, 26 June
Rumbold was tried and executed on the same day, as Scotland had adopted the French mode of single-day trial and execution to deal with militant Covenanters since mid 1684. According to Fountainhall;

‘On the 26 of June, being Friday, [he] got a fair tryall and was execute that day; […] Being told, in the Court, that Monmouth, in England, was assuming the title of King, Rumbold sayd, James Stewart [of Goodtrees] had indeid advised him to assume that title, but that his best men ware republicans, who would never fight for him in that quarrell; and that James Stewart [of Goodtrees] had cast the horoscope of Argile’s affair, (which he said he might easily forsee, without ather the spirit of prophecy or divination,) viz.: that he would ruin all by lingring in the Iies [i.e., Isles], and not marching into the Inne country and landing in Galloway, and he beleived that might be the reason why James S[tewart of Goodtrees]. would not come alongs. As to the stock with which Argile furnished his ships and armes, Rumbold said, he thought it did not exceid 12,000lb. sterling: how he got it, some said, ane English widow in Amsterdam, called Mistress Smith, advanced him considerably; others say, that [Patrick Hume of] Polwart, [George Pringle of] Torwoodly, Mr. Gilbert Elliot, &c., went to Geneva, and to the Protestant churches of Germany, begging supply to the poor afflicted Protestants of Brittain, and thus raised a great summe; but I think it was not understood by the givers that it was to be imployed in a rebellion or invasion.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 190-1.)

According to the privy council’s act, the assize met on 26 June. He was found guilty by his own confession:

‘“Richard Rumbold, designed colonel Rumbold, maltster at Rye, in the county of Hartford in England, enters the pannel. His indictment is read, that Richard Rumbold, the most execrable of all traitors, did conspire, undertake, and endeavour to kill the king [James VII] and his late majesty [Charles II], at their return from Newmarket [in 1683], and being disappointed in this, he fled over to Holland, was with the late earl of Argyle, and with him invaded this kingdom with ships, men, arms, ammunition, upon the [twentieth] day of May last [1685], and sent over their treasonable proclamations, convocate subjects, and was in open rebellion, and continued therein till taken.

The [Lord] advocate restricts the libel to his being with that execrable traitor, Archibald Campbell sometimes earl of Argyle, and associated with him to invade this kingdom [in 1685], as above; and for probation adduceth the pannel’s own confession, as follows.

“That he did associate himself to the earl of Argyle, invade the kingdom, was a commander, and assaulted some of the king’s forces at Ardkinglass, where there was one killed on each side; that he did not know [the assassin] John Balfour of Kinloch till aboard, that he was designed to have been a cornet of horse, and was in the Highlands.

Confesseth, he knew James Stuart [of Goodtrees], who was privy to their invading Scotland; that the said Mr Stuart said to him, that the earl of Argyle would spoil all by landing in the Highlands, and lingering there, that the best and surest way for them was, to land in the main land, in the west of Scotland, and offer arms to such as would take them; that he heard the late earl of Argyle say, Mr Stuart had given the duke of Monmouth counsel to assume the title to the crown.”’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 314-5.)

The libel was probably restricted to Rumbold’s obvious role in the Argyll Rising, as Rumbold refused to confess to his part in the Rye House Plot of 1683 and producing witness evidence of that would have been a complex task.

Wodrow continues:

‘Very soon the assize found him guilty, and the lord’s pass their severe sentence,

“That he be taken from the bar to the laigh council house of Edinburgh, &c.” just in the terms of the council’s act above-mentioned, and ordain this sentence to be put in execution this 26th day of June, betwixt two and five in the afternoon [to the west of the Mercat Cross of Edinburgh].’(Wodrow, History, IV, 315.)

Edinburgh Mercat Cross

The site of Edinburgh’s mercat cross lay at the top of Old Fishmarket Close in 1685 and is, today, marked in the paving of the High Street. Rumbold was executed to the west of the mercat cross, probably somewhere around were the statue of Adam Smith now stands.

The Execution of Rumbold, Afternoon, 26 June
Wodrow left a full account of Rumbold’s execution:

‘Accordingly it was put in execution in every article of it. Rumbold, when brought to the scaffold, was so weak, that he could not walk alone, but was supported by two officers, and not being able to stand, he was led to the north side of the scaffold in that posture, and directed his speech to the people to this purpose. “Gentlemen , and brethren, it is appointed for all men once to die, and after death is the judgment; and since death is a debt all of us must pay, it is a matter of small moment and consequence, what way it be done. But seeing the Lord is pleased to take me to himself after this manner, as it is somewhat terrible to flesh and blood, yet, glory to him, it is not terrible to me in any wise. I bless his name that hath carved out such a lot to me, and I desire to magnify and bless his holy name for it, that it is upon no ill account, but for owning and adhering to his distressed work and interest.”

Here they beat the drums, at which he shook his head, and said, “Will they not suffer a dying man to speak his last words to the people?” and then went on. “And for my avowing to be against popery and prelacy, these two superstitious and pernicious devices of men, obtruded on the church of God. I am so confident of the righteousness of the cause, and my innocence in the matter, that though every hair in my head were a man, I could willingly part with them for it. I confess, enemies think they have gotten their foot on the neck of the protestant interest now: but I am persuaded it is as true, as that I am this day entering into eternity, that Christ shall be glorious in those lands, and even in poor Scotland, and that shortly: and it is like, many who see me die this day, may be witnesses thereof; yea, he shall govern those [three] nations with a rod of iron, and that to the terror of his enemies.”

This was just the present sense and feeling of his soul. He was not able, through pain and weakness, to form any premeditated discourse, but off hand spoke out the present thoughts and sentiments of his heart.

After this he addressed himself to the Lord in prayer, with the greatest cheerfulness and composure. His expressions in prayer, as far as they could be remembered, were to this purpose.

“O Lord, I have been a great sinner, and I desire thou mayest get this opportunity for expressing thy great mercy in pardoning great sins. Thou hast allowed me a considerable time in the world, and I am turned grey-headed in my sins, but thou hast commanded the ends of the earth to look to thee and be saved, which I desire to do this day, and thou hast said, that those who come unto thee, thou wilt in no wise cast out. I cast myself wholly on thee, and trust thou wilt be as good as thy word. I desire to embrace Christ on his own terms, and beg thou may safely guide me through the dark valley of the shadow of death, and make thy rod and staff comfort and support me. It is true, I am going to die, but what is the matter? though I had a thousand lives to lose, if so be I may gain the least grain weight of glory to thy holy name thereby, I am content.”

When he prayed for the extirpation of popery and prelacy, and other superstitions out of God’s house, the drums ruffled again. After the prayer was ended, the executioner kneeling begged his forgiveness, He answered, ‘Yes, good fellow, I forgive thee and all men.’

Then after he had prayed again within himself, and given the sign, he was executed and quartered, as in the sentence.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 315-6.)

The Earl of Argyll, who was executed within days of Rumbold, said that ‘Poor Rumbold was a great support to me, and a brave man, and died christianly.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 299.)

John Erskine of Carnock, an Argyll rebel then in hiding, heard about Rumbold’s execution on 1 July, 1685: ‘Wednesday. — By this time we heard of Colonel Rumbold’s being executed at Edinburgh, and how barbarously he was used.’ (Erskine, Journal, 132.)

William Maxwell of Cardoness, a witness to his execution, left a vivid account of Rumbold’s death.

Wodrow added a final postscript :

‘Let me only add, that August 4th, the council order Rumbold’s head [spiked on the Netherbow] to betaken down and put in a chest, and sent to London in a ship, to be disposed of as his majesty pleases.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 316.)

Rumbold’s execution was reported in England

For more on Richard Rumbold, see here.

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please 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 17, 2017.

2 Responses to “The Execution of Richard Rumbold in Edinburgh, 1685 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] Did Rumbold say that? It is not clear, but it either contradicts, or adds to, the version of events found in Wodrow and Fountainhall of his hanging. […]

  2. […] the execution of Richard Rumbold on 26 June, 1685, the militant Society people struck back with a ritual execution in the place […]

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