On This Day, 1305

On this day in 1305, Sir William Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall on the charge of High Treason, during which a garland of oak was placed upon his head mockingly, to signify him as the King of outlaws. His grisly sentence, of course, was read out immediately following the verdict, and included the full details of the punishment, known as “hanging, drawing and quartering”.

He was then beaten and dragged outside to a pair of waiting horses, and subsequently chained prostrate onto a hurdle (just a piece of fencing, not the wheeled construction shown in the film) before being dragged through the filthy streets of London for the public to mock, throw rubbish at, and stone.

He was drawn first to the Tower, about two and a half miles from the site of his trial, and then on to Smithfield via Aldgate, another mile or thereabouts so that all could look upon his mighty person and safely jeer. When his would be humiliation was finally complete and he had arrived at the spot of his execution, without ceremony, a noose was swiftly tightened about his neck, after which he was hanged all the way up and to the point of unconsciousness, being cut down just before passing out, or strangling to death. He was not racked as shown in the film however, nor was he allowed a chance to submit to Edward’s peace or even take a breath, and thereby cut short his suffering; rather, whilst being held upright by the hangman’s rope, like a carcass in a butchers yard, his private parts were swiftly cut away (all of them, and hence emasculation, not castration) of which were then summarily burned in the brazier in front of him. Then, while still upright, and very much alive and conscious, his stomach was slit open so that he could be ritually disemboweled for a baying crowd of filthy, cowardly peasants. His entrails were burnt on the brazier likewise.

Not content with the excruciating torture already dished out to the bound prisoner, the cruelty of the English rarely sated when given the chance at psychopathy, and so the final act was to be decapitation, and then quartering. You will note that in effect, these are three symbolic deaths: first, hanging, second, evisceration, and finally, decapitation. But before that small mercy, his arms and legs were first hacked off of his body, and for at least some of that, or perhaps even all of it, Wallace might very well have been conscious enough to know what was happening to him. I only pray shock had fully set in then, and all was but a detached numbness as his body wracked and spasmed from the blows of the axe slowly, but steadily detaching the broken limbs from his body.

But why did such a cruel injustice befall Wallace, one might ask, and for what reason would such a horrific punishment be devised? Look no further than Edward I then, who is said to have decreed that treason was a triple crime: against God, against man, and against the King. Hence the triple death sentence. The grisly, grotesque nature of the killing was explained in the severe language of the law with the intention that it should terrify the listeners and enhance the misery of the man whose body would soon illustrate the reality of the horror it entailed.

Needless to say, afterwards, Wallace’s head, dipped in tar, was then fixed to a pike, and subsequently displayed atop London Bridge, to be joined alongside by those of his brothers later on.

“I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.”- Wallace at his trial.

This barbaric murdering, in fact, was employed by the English for the execution of Scotsmen even as late as the 18th century, and as given by Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough (1750-1818) the wording was as follows:

“You are to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you are to be hanged, but not till you are dead; for while still living, your body is to be taken down, your bowels torn out and burnt before your face; your head is then cut off, and your body divided into four quarters.”

P.S Tonight, I’ll be raising a glass of Bourbon in the name of Scotland’s Immortal Guardian.

“A Wallace, a Wallace!”- The War-cry of the men who had the fortune to follow him.

Cinead.

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Drawing Calgacus the Swordsman

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Calgacus was the first recorded Scotsman in history. Out numbered, he fought the might of Rome at the battle of Mon Grapius, in the modern day Grampian mounains, wherein he was said to have used his spear, bow, and sword simultaneously whilst piloting his chariot down the slope of the mountain.

“They make a desert and call it peace”

Cinead MacAlpin.

The price of a King’s life: a dead-eye, and one dead dog

The following is an account of the aftermath of a disastrous failed attack on Thirwall castle, in England, by Robert the Bruce and a handful of men who had rode thereto in order to aid in the attack against that castle, of which was supposed to have been mounted by Sir James Douglas, who was, it turned out, still riding through his own lands of Douglasdale, back home in Scotland.

Being pursued by a force of six hundred, who were themselves a small piece of an army several thousand strong, Bruce decided that it was imperative that he and his handful of men split apart; every man for himself so to speak, otherwise, they could end up being wiped out as one whole body. Immediately, his men flew to the wind, yet Bruce, who had noted how the Lord of Lorn seemed to pursue him even then, asked his foster-brother if he would accompany him, so as to ascertain whether or not he, the King, had truly been recognized among the scattering rabble, or whether or not it was simple bad luck that set the foe’s attentions squarely upon him.

And so, as he and his man sprinted across the rolling hills, indeed, the enemy yet pursued them directly; a great war-dog now heralding them loudly and swiftly. He was being tracked, of course, Bruce then realized. But given the unerring stamina of that powerful King, Lord Lorn sometime later called off the pursuit by the main force, and instead sent out a party of five men; his strongest and fastest warriors. However, upon spotting this, Bruce resolved to stand and fight these men, and was quoted as saying:

“Yon five are coming quickly; they are almost upon us. So will you help at all, for we shall be attacked pretty soon?”

To which, his foster-brother replied, “Yes, sir, all that I can”

You say well indeed,” said the King. “I see them coming close to us. I’m going no further but will stay right here, while I still have breath, to see what strength they can muster”

And with that, the King then planted his feet squarely upon English soil, all but alone, to await firmly these, the lord Lorn’s chosen executioners. And those five men, traitor Scots all, hurtled toward the steadfast King and his foster-brother with much threatening and jeering and the waving of axe and sword. Bruce, however, simply awaited them in quiet observation; his sword poised, but held without tension; relaxed, even, in his bodily manner, as those rough few who would be King-slayers charged him; at their backs, the sight of Lorn’s main host continuing their advance must have been terrifying, and yet Bruce and his man faced them down. Two men with courage enough to turn upon the dirt of a hostile nation and face the army bearing down, and there before it, meet a portion head first.

Bruce

And so on they came, the fiercest of a fierce foe, arriving in two sets as they did, with three going straight for Bruce, and the other two to the King’s man. But, instead of holding his ground, or seeking only to survive, to withstand the encounter; Bruce went forwards instead, to meet the enemy boldly and directly, and so struck the ear and cheek off of the foremost of his attackers, the blade slicing right down to the neck and onward so that half of the shoulder meat came away also. The second and third men were evidently cautious now, and so much so, that upon glimpsing the precarious situation befalling his foster-brother then, Bruce reasoned it safe to abandon his own adversary’s a moment, in favor of those other two.

And so leaping across to where his foster-brother battled valiantly, Bruce landed lightly to the side of the fray, and from there, decapitated the closest man in a single blow of his sword. Then, after having evened the odds somewhat, returned again to his own attackers, who, having gathered their wits and courage by then, came again, strongly this time, and together, to best the lone King through brute force, where skill could not overcome.

And yet, it was futile, for even in the outnumbering, they were themselves, outmatched severely, and this was to be brought home to one of those men starkly when his attacking arm returned to him a bloody stump; the sword of The Bruce only slightly bloodied, such was it’s sharpness, and by the speed of which the amputation had been performed.

Bruce sword
Lord Bruce presenting his ancestors Claymore

Needless to say, when it was all over; of the five, Bruce had slain four, with the other having ultimately fallen to the sword of his foster-brother. And with no time to wonder at their handy work, those two victors quickly took away, to make for a woodland nearby as the five hundred or so axes that accompanied the Lord of Lorn came rushing up to meet them; themselves in full battle-array, and with all but mere yards shielding the King from their wrath.

But, the King was cunning, you see, and knew fine well that the tracking hound would discover their trail whichever direction they took, and so told his foster-brother of how they could rob the hound of their scent if they jumped into he river that flowed through this place, and that if they could do that, then they would have no need to worry. Not surprisingly, his comrade agreed readily, and so both took away to the river as suggested; splashing down into it’s shallows, from which they then followed it’s course for some time.

But, unbeknownst to King, nor foster-brother, their plight had been observed by an archer of particular courage, who, upon having sighted the Lord of Lorn’s great tracking dog giving chase to The Bruce, resolved then to see it done away with, if he could, and so ensure that his King got away safely. And as that King and his man entered the shade of the wood, the archer had already crouched himself down in a bush great enough to conceal him, and from there, loosed an arrow into the great hounds chest, killing it instantly, so that it was to fall only meters from the tree line.

Scottish archer

And it’s more than likely that Bruce had made his escape without ever fully realizing just how dangerously close he had come to being killed that day, were it not for the unknown archer who, in anonymity, had quietly sacrificed himself for his King.

That man’s arrow, an instrument of fate; his nerve, a King’s reprieve; his aim, true enough to have maintained the very course of a nations destiny.

“For a’ that, and a’ that, their tinsel show, an’ a’ that; the honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor, is King o’ men for a’ that”

Cinead MacAlpin.

 

Big Sam, the affable giant

Big Sam was born in 1762, and raised in Lairg in Sutherland. A noted “strongman”, when he came of age, he first joined the 2nd Sutherland Fencibles in 1779, and then, in 1791, he went on to join the Royal Scots, wherein he served as their Drill-leader. He was then employed as a porter for the prince of Wales sometime later. And because of his giant stature, meantime, he had even appeared as Hercules in a play at Drury lane Theatre; his formidable bulk and countenance perfectly suitable for the role. Eventually, after leaving behind the glamour of show business, he had then enlisted with the 93rd Sutherland regiment, where he would go on to serve until his death. Though during his time as an enlisted soldier, and thanks to his great stature, he was often regulated to the side of any formation of troops, and handpicked to lead the regimental mascot, a deer. The big-yin’s image was even used as a recruiting tool, where it was plastered across recruiting posters throughout Scotland, and the rest of Britain. Though as hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to track down any images of those posters, so here’s this one instead:

ww1
“Here we, here we, here we fuckin’ go! Lets go, lets go, lets go fuckin’ mental!” – Traditional Ned fighting song.

Now, being the giant that he was, Sam often found himself, of course, as the center of attention wherever he went. And in one instance, the countess of Sutherland, so taken by his height and breadth upon sighting him and hearing of his exploits, declared then that he should be paid two shillings and a six pence more a day than the average man, solely to satisfy the appetite he must surely have possessed.

Benandonner and Finn McCool
Benandonner V Finn McCool 2.0. Picture this, only with Benandonner not on his knees, but about to defeat Finn with a handshake.

And in yet another account of the affable giant, Big Sam, whilst on duty in Ireland, was said to have been challenged to a fist-fight, by an equally massive Irishman. However, Sam being the gentleman that he was, had insisted that they shake hands first. The Irishman agreed, and so took Sam’s hand, only to have the very blood crushed from his fingers until his entire hand was said to have run pale, and then numb. The Irish “giant” was understandably quick to back down as a result.

And whilst still stationed in Ireland, another tale concerning him and an Irishman took place, though this time in a butchers shop in Dublin. There, the owner had flat-out refused to believe any of the stories of Sam’s great strength, and thus, duly challenged him to carry a Bullock all the way back and to his barracks, which, were situated more than two miles away. And, If he did? He would get the entirety of his order for free. Of course, Big Sam would never allow the weight of a small cow to stand in the way of himself and a good meal, and so did indeed carry that beast all the way back to his barracks, and without even stopping once on the way.

carrying a coo
An artists recreation. That artist was me…

But, the best example of what kind of a man Big Sam was, comes from his own camp mates. Assigned to guard duty on one especially cold winters night, he had been ordered to guard a cannon. And there, in the freezing cold, he guarded that cannon for several hours, stuck there alone in the dead of night with neither fire, nor friend for company. After a while however, he understandably grew tired of his situation. Weary of the cold and the solitude, he had reasoned that he was left with only choice, and so, bending down, he then wrenched the whole cannon up and out from its placement. Unassisted, he then carried the weapon (that could have weighed up to 3,400 lbs) all the way to the nearest guardhouse; guided only by the warm glow of the campfire’s light outside of it. And when the incredulous guardsmen noticed his approach, and then rushed out to question him likewise dumbfounded, Big Sam was said to have Remarked, and rather earnestly, that he could guard the cannon just as well here by the fire, as he could over there; a door stop-like thumb casually thrust back over his shoulder toward where he had just come.

Cinead MacAlpin.

The Ballad Of Kinmont Willie

William Armstrong of Kinmont
William Armstrong of Kinmont taken prisoner

O have ye na heard o’ the fause Sakelde?
O have ye na heard o’ the keen Lord Scrope
How they hae ta’en bauld Kinmont William
On Hairbee to hang him up?

Had Willie had but twenty men,
But twenty men as stout as he,
Fause Salkelde had never the Kinmont ta’en,
Wi’ eight score in his companie.

They band his legs beneath the steed,
They tied his hands behind his back;
They guarded him fivesome on each side
And brought him ower the Liddle-rack.

They led him through the Liddle-rack
And also thro’ the Carlisle sands;
They brought him to Carlisle castell
To be at my Lord Scrope’s commands.

My hands are tied, but my tongue is free,
Ands whae will dare this deed avow?
Or answer by the Border law?
Or answer to the bauld Buccleuch?

“Now haud thy tongue, thou rank reiver!
There’s never a Scot shall set ye free;
Before ye cross my castle-yett,
I trow ye shall take farewell o’ me.

“’Fear na ye that,” quo Willie
“By thy faith o’ my bodie, Lord Scrope,” he said,
‘I never yet lodged in a hostelrie
But I paid my lawing before I daed.’

Now word is gane to the bauld Keeper,
In Branksome Ha’ where that he lay,
That Lord Scrope has ta’en the Kinmont Willie,
Between the hours of night and day.

“He has ta’en the table wi’ his hand,
He garr’d the red wind spring on hie;
Now Christ’s curse on my head,’ he said,
‘But avenge of Lord Scrope I’ll be!

“Is my basnet a widow’s curch?
Or my lance a wand of the willow-tree?
Or my arm a lady’s lilye hand?
That an English lord should lightly me.

“And have they ta’en him Kinmont Willie,
Against the truce of Border tide
And forgotten that the bauld Buccleuch
Is keeper here on the Scottish Side?

“And have they e’en ta’en Kinmont Willie,
Withouten either dread or fear,
And forgotten that the bauld Buccleuch
Can back a steed, or shake a spear?

“Oh were there war between the lands,
As well I wot there is none,
I would slight Carlisle castell high,
Though it were builded of marble-stone.

I would set that castell in a lowe,
And sloken it with English blood;
There’s nevir a man in Cumberland
Should ken where Carlisle castell stood.

“But since nae war between the lands,
And there is peace, and peace should be,
I’ll neither harm English lad of lass
And yet the Kinmont freed shall be!

“He has call’d him forty marchmen,
I trow they were of his ain name,
Except Sir Gilbert Elliot, call’d
The laird of Stobs, I mean the same.

“He has call’d him forty marchmen bauld,
Were kinsmen to the bauld Buccleuch
With spur on heel, and splent on spauld,

And Gleuves of green, and feathers blue.
“There were five and five before them a’
Wi’ hunting-horns and bugles bright
And five and five came wi’ Buccleuch

Like warden’s men, arrayed for fight.
And five and five like a mason gang,
That carried the ladders lang and hie;
And five and five, like broken men;

And so they reached the Woodhouselee.
And as we cross’d the Bateable Land,
When to the English side we held,
The first o’ men that we met wi’

Whae sould it be bu fause Salk elde!
“Where be ye gaun, ye hunters keen?”
Quo fause Salkelde, ”come tell to me!”
“We go to hunt an English stag,

Has trespass’d on the Scots countrie.”
“Where be ye gaun, ye marshall-men?”
Quo fause Salkede, “come tell me true!”
‘We go to catch a rank reiver,

Has broken faith wi’ the bauld Buccleuch.”
“Where are ye gaun, ye mason-lads,
Wi a’ your ladders lang and hie?”
“We gang to herry a corbie’s nest,

That wons not far frae Woodhouselee.’
“Where be ye gaun, ye broken men?”
Quo fause Sakelde, “come tell me!”
Now Dickie of Dryhope led that band,

And nevir a word of lear had he.
“Why trespass ye on the English side?
Row-footed outlaws, stand!” quo he;
The nevir a word Dickie to say,
Sae he thrust the lance thro’ his fause bodie.

The on we held for Carlisle toun,
And at Staneshawbank the Eden we crossed;
The water was great, and mickle of spait,
But the nevir a horse no man we lost.

And when we reached the Staeshawbank,
The wind was rising loud and hie;
And there the laird garr’d leave our steeds,
For fear that they should stamp and nie.

And when we left the Staneshawbank
The wind began full loud to blaw,
But ‘twas wind and weet, and fire and sleet,
When we came beneath the castell-wa’.

We crept on knees, and held our breath,
Till we placed the ladders against the wa’
And sae ready was Buccleuch himself
To mount the first before us a’.

He has ta’en the watchman by the throat
He flung him down upon the lead;
Had there not peace between our lands,
Upon the other side thou hast gaed!

“Now sound out, trumpets!’ quo Buccleuch;
‘Let’s waken Lord Scrope right merrily!”
Then loud the Warden’s trumpet blew
“O whae dare meddle wi’ me?”

Then speedilie to wark we gaed
And raised the slogan ane and a’
And cut a hole thro’ a sheet of lead
And so we wan to the castle-ha’.

They thought King James and a’ his men
Had won the house wi’ bow and speir
It was but twenty Scots and ten
That put a thousand in sic a stead.

“Wi’ coulters and wi’ forehammers,
We garr’d the bars bang merrilie,
Until we came to the inner prison,
Where Willie Kinmont he did lie.

And when they came to the lower prison
Where Willie o’ Kinmont he did lie.
‘O sleep ye, wake ye, Kinmont Willie,
Upon the morn that thou’s to die?’

“O I sleep saft, and I wake aft
It’s lang since sleeping was fley’d frae me;
Gie my service back to my wife and bairns,
And a’ guide fellows that speir for me.’

“Then Red Rowan has hent him up,
The starkest man in Teviotdale:
Abide, abide now, Red Rowan,
Till of my Lord Scrope I take farewell.

“Farewell, farewell, my good Lord Scrope!
My gude Lord Scrope, farewell!’ he cried
‘I’ll pay for my lodging maill
When first we meet on the border-side.”

Then shoulder high, with shout and cry,
We bore him down the ladder lang;
At every stride Red Rowan made,
I wot the Kinmont’s airns play’d clang.

“O mony a time, “quo Kinmont Willie,
“I have ridden horse baith wild and wud;
But a rougher beast the Red Rown
I ween my legs have ne’er bestrode.

“And mony a time, ”quo Kinmont Willie,
‘I’ve prick’d a horse out oure the furs;
But since the day I backed a steed,
I nevir wore sic cumbrous spurs!”

We scarce had won the Staneshawbank,
When a’ the Carlisle bells were rung,
And a thousand men, in horse and foot,
Cam wi’ the keen Lord Scrope along.

“Buccleuch has turn’d to Eden water,
Even where it flowed frae bank to brim,
And he has plunged in wi’ a’ his band,
And safely swam then thro’ the stream.

He turn’d him on the other side,
And at Lord Scrope his glove flung he;
“If ye like na my visit in merry England,
In fair Scotland come visit me!”

All sore astonish’d stood Lord Scrope
He stood as still as rock of stane;
He scarcely dared to trew his eyes
When through the water they had gane.

“He is either himself a devil frae hell,
Or else his mother a witch maun be
I wadna have ridden that wan water
For a’ the gowd in Chistentie.”

 

The tale of Kinmont Willie

Born William Armstrong, of Kinmont in around 1550, but better known as Kinmont Willie; was a Scottish border reiver, freebooter and outlaw active in the rough Scottish Borderlands during the late 1500’s, whose first recorded raid had taken place in August of 1583, against one of the two most formidable of English border families; the Milburn’s of Tynedale; the other being the Charltons, both of whom had fast roots within Northumberland during that time. Yet despite their supposed might, such an act of aggression would not have been at all surprising, for this was the age of the horse-bound border reiver; with the people of Tynesdale just as apt to carry out similar raids on the lands of Liddlesdale, north of the border in Scotland.

Scottish border reivers
Scottish border reivers

And during this time, and despite the peace between Scotland and England, it would not have been all that uncommon to happen across one of a dozen small battles being waged all across the Borderlands, from Annandale down through to Carlisle and everywhere in between; the countryside filled with troops of rogue cavalrymen, armored in steel and with lance in hand; their spear, sword, and axe strapped fast to their saddles, and flags and banners flying in rebellious irreverence. Many among their number would have been veteran soldiers, or sons born to the trade, but all united in rustling and banditry regardless. In a way, the Borders were akin to the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy; a truly lawless place, wherein neither Scotland’s King, nor England’s Queen held any authority over the rough men inhabiting it. Though despite the peace between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, no doubt due in large part to the latter’s warring with Spain; Scotland itself was still party to the sort of infighting of which it had long grown accustomed. Such internal strife however, was not to last, as by October of 1585, the Earl of Angus, and many other Scottish exiles, had finally been granted permission to return from their refuge in England, and assist in the ousting of the Earl of Arran and his regime; major contributors of the aforementioned infighting. And it was in this ousting campaign, that one Kinmont Willie was involved.

With the successful capture of the town and castle of Stirling, sometime in early November, which had culminated in Arran’s defeat, and the restoring of many ancestral lands to their rightful owners, as well as signaling Arran’s opponents as being back in the Royal favor; it is clear that Kinmont was, if anything, an experienced soldier familiar with both raiding, and actual organized fighting. And so it should come as no surprise that eight years after that incident, he was next spotted back down in Tynedale, and this time with around one thousand men, carrying off over two thousand beasts, and some three hundred pound’s in loot. To say that his was a long and successful career, is perhaps an understatement, as even up until the turn of the century he was often said to continue undertaking large scale raids into England at the head of a band of around three hundred men known as “Kinmont’s bairns“, and that by the mid-1590s (fifteen or so years before his death) he had become the most wanted man on either side of the border; with the English especially keen to get their hands on him.

Now, during that era, it was common, every once in a while, for such events as ‘Truce Days’, or ‘Days of truce’ to occur; social gatherings that soon became great fairs attended by many a reiver family; an event where all could come together to socialize and discuss issues of mutual interest in a neutral environment, whilst also having the added bonus of allowing family and friends, normally separated by the border, to catch up safely. And it was whilst attending one such Truce Day, on 17 March 1596, that our man Kinmont, despite his ‘safe conduct’ order, was illegally, and without warning, set upon and arrested by the men of the English Warden of the West March, Sir Thomas Scrope, before being taken swiftly to Carlisle Castle in chains, where he was then imprisoned. As you might have guessed, this act of treachery did not sit very well with Kinmont’s bairns. And thus, an audacious rescue plan was soon hatched by one, Walter Scott of Buccleuch ‘the Bauld Buccleuch‘, keeper of Liddesdale, and on whose land our man had been unjustly captured.


Side note: Before I go on, I should explain that the fighting amongst the border reivers wasn’t always Scotland versus England, but rather, Scotsmen and Englishmen acting for the sake of booty and coin alone; if your target just so happened to be an Englishman, then it was his wealth which compelled you into attacking him, and not necessarily his nationality. These men really owed no nations monarch their allegiance, but, they were still more than ready to come to the aid of their own homelands should they be required to do so, as was the case with many a latter day Moss-trooper during Cromwell’s invasion. If it could be plundered, then they would take it regardless of where it lay; but if the English invaded Scotland, or vice versa, then such bandits could swiftly become a seasoned troop of cavalrymen at a moment’s notice.


And so, after much fruitless negotiating and endeavoring on the part of Buccleuch, between him and the English warden, and which had amounted to nothing more than Warden Scrope pointedly refusing to release Kinmont. The Keeper of Liddesdale resolved then to commit himself to a more direct course of action. And, on the 13 April, 1596, he did just that; personally leading a daring band of eighty men across the border, and into England; intent on securing our man’s release from his prison within Carlisle castle. Now, such a blatant act as this, of which had rarely been undertaken beforehand, would go on to have serious ramifications for the relationship between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England, than perhaps any involved had then considered; and certainly they could not have foreseen that their intrepid foray might very well have sparked a war between both countries as a result.

The rescue of Kinmount Willie by Angus Mcbride
The rescue of Kinmont Willie: Angus McBride

Now, the details are vague in regards to what occurred during the rescue, with some sources claiming that the castle guards were bribed into allowing Buccleuch and his men into the castle, whilst others maintain that the guards were actually subdued by force. As it stands, I really have no idea, but would imagine that were it men of an English reiver family guarding the prison, then perhaps a bribe really would have been all it took to gain admittance. Otherwise, eighty men either scaling a wall, or just simply infiltrating a castle likewise would not have been unheard of. Regardless of how, the bold Kinmont Willie was once again a free man at the end of it all. And, having very much captured a major English stronghold, our plucky Scots simply wheeled their steeds noses northward, and then rode back for Scotland. All in a nights work.

And there you have it; we’ve now reached the end of Kinmont’s tale, and despite the warden Scrope having hunted for him far and wide; ceaselessly upturning the surrounding land in a desperate and relentless effort to recapture his ill-gotten prisoner; raising the lands of Annan and Dumfries as he did so; Kinmont Willie was never again recaptured. In 1600; he was free to attack the village of Scotby, burning it down with one hundred and forty riders. And again, in 1602, he was still a free enough man to have mounted his last major foray into England, going so far south as to have passed Carlisle. His four sons, who had all helped in his earlier rescue, also survived the Wardens reprisals, for they were frequently named as having taken part in later Border raids. Kinmont died peacefully in his own bed in around 1610, at the age of 60.

But, our the chain of events sparked by his rescue dont end there, for in the immediate aftermath of the incident, so enraged by the peacetime incursion against one of her border fortresses was Queen Elizabeth I of England, furious with Scotland’s King James VI; who was the recipient of not only a promise of a generous pension, but the very throne of England itself; had vigorously set about demanding an explanation for the unwarranted hostility; and no doubt threatening war and all manner of other nasty reprisals if it wasn’t resolved satisfactory. King James VI, caught between popular will and his allegiance to his own people, with that of his vital relationship with the Queen, and his sizable pension; was ultimately left with no other choice but to relent, even managing to convince our Bold Buccleuch to go and travel down to England, meet with the Queen herself, and then see if he couldn’t go and smooth out the now incredibly strained Royal relationship; perhaps even thwart a war between the Kingdoms whilst he was at it. And, being the daring soul that he was, Buccleuch agreed; for the safety of his country, he would travel to a hostile court, and give an account of himself to none other than the Queen of England.

And needless to say, and to cut a long story short, our man did indeed go down and speak to the Queen, and so enamored was she said to have been with that ‘dashing‘ and ‘charming‘ man, that she forgave his trespass outright; as simple as that. No war, no strife, nor struggle; she simply forgave him. And that, is the story of how a winning smile was all it took to stop a war between Scotland and England.

Walter Scott of Buccleuch
The dashing Walter Scott of Buccleuch

P.S: before I go, I want to leave you with an account of an incident which had taken place between a group of Scottish and English reivers. Now, I can’t quite recall the exact details, or where I read it, though I think it may have taken place in some skirmish between that of Scotland and England. Anyway; apparently, whilst in the midst of the battle, when they should have been hacking and stabbing at one another; both factions were found to have been having a casual conversation, right there in the heat of battle! And, when they realized they had been rumbled, had halfheartedly pantomimed a fight until the coast was once again clear, before quickly lowering their weapons to continue chatting amongst themselves.

The fiddling fighting freebooter

Qi Xing painting 'As if James MacPherson had ever played fiddle to a white stag'
Painting by Qi Xing ‘As if James MacPherson had ever played fiddle to a white stag’

This is the story of my favorite folk hero, Jamie MacPherson. Now, whilst his life and exploits don’t exactly share the same level of fame and national significance as that of Rob Roy; in MacPhersons tragic story, his origins set the tone of a tale in the archetype of so many romantic tales concerning outlaws; with tragedy being central; whereas, Rob Roy’s story simply embodies the swashbuckling exploits of an itinerant rogue, full of adventure and the outwitting of lords and soldiery, yet lacking in any sense of intrigue or emotion on the part of the man himself’. It’s a fascinating and fun account, like that of an action movie wherein you already know that the hero is really in no danger. Whereas with MacPherson we find an intriguing figure in every sense and from the get go: mysterious origins, and appearance; tall, swarthy and of unusual strength, and said to have been an exceptional and self-taught swordsman, as well as a gifted fiddler, and composer.


The product of an illicit affair between a Highland laird, and that of a beautiful Tinker; upon his birth, Jamie’s father, one MacPherson of Invereshie, touchingly, actually acknowledged the infant as his own, even going so far as to take him into his home at Invereshie House near Kincraig, were he was raised to childhood; the circumstances of his lowly mothers life, in comparison to that of his own good fortune was surely not lost on the boy who would go on to become the charismatic, and in some instances, morally upright leader of a band of Tinkers (Scottish Gypsies).

Yet, sometime in the early 1680’s, tragedy struck that young man’s (so far) charmed life; his father, having been made aware of the location of some stolen cattle, rustled from Badenoch, had then went to the location with an armed party of men with which to recapture the purloined beasts. Once there however, he had had the unenviable task of defeating a band of hardened reivers to do so, and was slain in the attempt. Thus, the young Jamie found himself back with his mother’s Tinker kin. Yet, he was not so unfortunate as to have lived so harshly, for the men and women of his own Clan, Clan MacPherson, had endeavored to see him and his mother done right by; clothing and feeding him often, as well as providing her with money.

As he grew older, it seems he had inherited a great deal from his mother’s exotic appearance; his jet-black hair and swarthy skin certainly very uncommon in Scotland at that time; and so had soon grown into a man described by the first volume of the ‘New Monthly Magazine’ as:

“in beauty, strength and stature rarely equaled.” 

Side note: This magazine also helpfully informs us that neither MacPherson, nor his men, had to wear tights under their Kilts.

Starting his early career buying and selling horses, whether legitimately or not is impossible to know (Though I suspect it was the latter); he and his band of Tinkers were said to have been fairly well liked among the common folk during this time, perhaps due in no small part to MacPherson’s objection to unnecessary violence, and unwillingness to rob widows, the poor, and to harming either children, or the vulnerable. Sadly, in the end, it was such righteousness that would prove his undoing; though that part comes later in this tale.

At some point in his relatively short life, MacPherson had become such a well-known figure in the north east of Scotland, specifically Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray, that he had gathered behind himself a great number of powerful enemies due to his criminal activities; nobles, lairds, and gentlemen farmers chief among them; so that soon he found himself being chased through the low country of Aberdeenshire and Banff by as formidable a posse as such men could muster. And although he was captured several times during this period, no doubt thanks in large part to his willingness to stand and fight his pursuers, rather than skulk and hide; he was always able to escape them shortly afterwards. In one account, it was said, whilst being held at Aberdeen, one of his cousins, by the name of Donald MacPherson, along with a Tinker, Peter Brown (Then spelt; Broune), were able to so thoroughly rile up the local populace, that they aided the two men in his’ rescue. Another unlikely escape took place not long after that, wherein he was once again captured, but was this time aided by only one; the laird of Grant. As to the reason why a laird aided him, I have no idea. But, it wasn’t uncommon for such men to strike bargains with those like MacPherson, an investment of sorts; or even employ them as cattle-guards and agents with which to carry out their less gentlemanly affairs. Whatever the case was, MacPherson was a free man again, and now under the protection of the aforementioned laird. Though true to form, such freedom was never going to last very long if MacPherson’s boldness was to have a say in it.

In 1700, at the small town of Keith, Moray; the Saint Rufus Fair was in full swing; Alexander Duff of Braco, ancestor of the Earls of Fife, and a large company of men were among the revelers present that day, and if some sources are to be believed, it might not have been a coincidence, for that very same fair was paid a visit by none other than MacPherson and his band of outlaws who, according to a report in ‘The New Statistical Account of Scotland’, published by William Blackwood and Sons, in 1845; had a habit of visiting such market days in places like Forres, Elgin or Banff, were he would just swagger on in in as boldly as could be, he and his band armed to the teeth and with a piper leading them.

Now this is the part in the tale where things get a little murky for a moment, for some sources suggest that the reason for Duff’s presence at the fair might have been orchestrated by betrayal. Months earlier, MacPherson had supposedly gotten into a heated exchange with a particularly brutal member of his group whose intentions were to attack the house of a gentleman, despite the man’s wife and young children being present. MacPherson refused…firmly; and thus, may have gained himself a knife at the back for his trouble.

Whatever the case may be, armed boldly as he and his band were, which was an offence during that period; Duff, the laird of Braco, and his men fell upon them swiftly and a great battle ensued, with MacPherson fiercely displaying his frightening personal strength in the midst of that hectic fray; his Claymore, wielded by such raw power as it was, able to cleave grown men in two, amputate limbs, and part heads from shoulders; not a single man it was said could gain any measure over him. However, as the fighting shifted to a narrow street, those in the apartments above begun to drop blankets atop the battling MacPherson; covered now in layers of cloth and wool, and fighting for his very life on all sides, he half-freed himself and took away “seeking to reach the gable of the church”; “parrying the attack of his enemies by the way”. And he did indeed reach the Churchyard, but not the gable, for “he fell over a gravestone” and was, unfortunately, swiftly detained; as were two more of his number, one by the last name Gordon, and “twa Brouns”. It’s quite possible that one of those twa Brouns (two Browns) was the Peter Brown who had helped rescue him earlier.

Regardless, this was to be Macpherson’s final brush with the law. His trail took place at Banff, before Nicholas Dunbar, the Sheriff of Banffshire, on the 8th of November, 1700. Now, if it wasn’t bad enough that he was a known outlaw, “wagabond, and oppressor of his Magesties free lieges in ane bangstrie manner”, it should be noted also that it was actually a capital crime to be an ‘Egyptian’ (I.E Gypsy) within 18th century Scotland; and it was under such a statute that MacPherson (part Gypsy) was tried. Needless to say, and to cut a long story short, he was unsurprisingly-

“-to be taken to the Cross of Banff… to be hanged by the neck to the death by the hand of the common executioner… betwixt the hours of two and three in the afternoon…”

And it was whilst in jail, during the week before his execution, that MacPherson’s fame was truly cemented within the folk memory of Scotland, for it was then that he was said to have composed the song now known as MacPherson’s Lament, or, MacPherson’s Rant; the very same tune that he was then said to have played on his fiddle, beneath the gallows that would see him dead. When the bold MacPherson was finished, he had offered his instrument “to anyone in the crowd who would think well of him”, but, perhaps out of fear of betraying their familiarity to the condemned, not one among neither his Clan, nor band, accepted the parting gift. Incensed, MacPherson proceeded to break the fiddle, either over his knee, or that of the executioners’ head, and then tossed the ruined instrument into the crowd, snapping:

“No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson’s fiddle then!”

MacPherson's fiddle
MacPherson’s broken fiddle, on display at the MacPherson Clan Museum

On the 16th of November, 1700, Jamie MacPherson, freebooter and fiddler, aged 25 yrs.’ old and with a noose around his neck, leapt from the gallows, to hang on his own terms.


P.S. In some parts of the North East, it is still widely held that a reprieve from the laird of Grant was inbound, but that Duff had seen the rider approaching, and had then set the village clock 15 minutes ahead so as to ensure MacPherson was executed before the pardon could arrive. The magistrates were apparently punished afterwards, and the town clock was kept 15 minutes before the correct time for many years after. Even to this day, the town of Macduff has no west-facing town clock visible so the people of Banff cannot see the correct time.

PPS It’s also worth noting that his bones were later found close to the site  of his hanging, and actually seem to corroborate the description of him having been (even by today’s standards) a very tall, and very muscular individual.