Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 85

WE must now detail the consequences of the civil war to the Prince’s most important adherents. Several had been taken prisoners on the field of battle, and many more had been seized in the various excursions made through the country of the rebels by the parties of soldiery. The gaols both in England and Scotland had been filled with these unfortunate persons, upon whom a severe doom was now to be inflicted. That such was legally incurred, cannot be denied; and, on the other hand, it will hardly be now contradicted, that it was administered with an indiscriminate severity, which counteracted the effects intended, by inspiring horror instead of awe.

The distinguished persons of the party were with good reason considered as most accountable for its proceedings. It was they who must have obtained power and wealth had the attempt succeeded, and they were justly held most responsible when they failed in their attempt at accomplishing a revolution.

Lord George Murray, who acted so prominent a part in the insurrection, effected his escape to the continent, and died at Medenblinck in Holland, in 1760.

The Earls of Kilmarnock and Cromarty, and Lords Balmerino and Lovat, in Scotland, with Mr Charles Ratcliffe, in England (brother of the Earl of Derwentwater, attainted and executed in 1715), were the persons roost distinguished by birth and title whom the Government had within their power. The Marquis of Tullibardine had also been made prisoner, but death, by a disease under which he had long languished, relieved his captivity in the Tower, and removed him from all earthly trial or punishment. There could have been no difficulty in obtaining evidence against Kilmarnock, Cromarty, and Balmerino, all three of whom had acted openly in the rebellion at the head of an armed force; but in Lovat’s case, who had not been personally in arms, it was absolutely necessary that evidence should be brought of his accession to the secret councils of the conspiracy, which it was also desirable should be made. known to the British, public.

The Government were therefore desirous to get at the grounds, if possible, on which the conspiracy, had been originally formed, and to obtain knowledge of such Jacobites of power and consequence in England, as had been participant of the councils which had occasioned such an explosion in North Britain.

A disclosure so complete could only be attained by means of an accomplice deep in die secret intrigues of the insurgents. It was, therefore, necessary to discover among the late counsellors of the Chevalier, some individual who loved life better than honour and fidelity to a ruined cause and such a person was unhappily found in John Murray of Broughton, secretary to Charles Edward. This unfortunate gentleman, as we have already seen, was intimately acquainted with the circumstances in which the rebellion had originated, had been most active in advancing the Chevalier’s interest, both in civil and military affairs; and though he considerably embroiled his master’s affairs, by fanning the discord between the Duke of Perth and Lord George Murray, and stimulating the Chevalier’s dislike to the latter nobleman; yet it would be overloading the memory of the unfortunate, to suppose that his conduct arose from any other motive than a desire to advance the objects of his own ambition, without a thought of betraying his master’s interest. After the battle of Culloden, Murray fled to the Highlands, but, unable to endure the hardships which he incurred in these regions, he returned to his native country, and took refuge with a relation, whose seat is in the mountains at the head of Tweeddale. He was here discovered and made prisoner.

Being assailed by threats and promises, this unhappy gentleman was induced, by promise of a free pardon, to confess to Ministers the full detail of the original conspiracy in 1740, and the various modifications which it underwent subsequent to that period, until the landing of Prince Charles in the Hebrides. It has never been doubted that his details must have involved the names of many persons, both in England and Scotland, who did not take up arms in the insurrection of 1745, although, as the law of England requires two witnesses to every act of high treason, none such could have been brought to trial upon Murray’s single evidence. He himself urged, in extenuation of his conduct, that although he preserved his own life, by bringing forward his evidence against such men as Government could have convicted without his assistance, yet he carefully concealed many facts, which, if disclosed, would either have borne more hard upon such complotters before the fact, or would have implicated others, against whom Government had no other information. It is not necessary to examine this species of logic; as, on the one hand, it is unlikely that Government would have been trifled with in this manner by a person in Murray’s situation; and, on the other, it does not appear that the moral guilt of an approver, or King’s evidence, is diminished, because he discharges with infidelity the base bargain he has entered into.

The Government, thus made fully acquainted, by Mr Murray’s means, with the original plan and extent of the conspiracy, proceeded to bring to trial those leading culprits by whom it had been carried on in arms.

The two Earls, of Kilmarnock and Cromarty, with Lord Balmerino, were brought to the bar of the House of Lords, towards the end of July, 1746, upon a charge of high treason, to which the two Earls pleaded guilty, and adhered to that plea. Lord Balmerino, when asked to plead, declared, that he had been indicted as the Lord Balmerino “ of the city of Carlisle,” a title which did not belong to him, and that he even had not been at Carlisle on the day when he was charged by the indictment. He was answered, that the words, “ late of Carlisle,” were not made part of his title, but only an addition of place, which law required by way of description, of a person indicted like his lordship. Lord Balmerino then pleaded not guilty. Several witnesses appeared, who proved that the accused party had been seen clothed in the uniform of the rebel guards, heading and commanding them, and acting in every respect as a chief of the rebellion. Lord Balmerino only alleged, that he had not been at the taking of Carlisle on the day mentioned in the indictment. This, he said, was an idea of his own adoption, and as he was now satisfied that it was not founded on law, he was sorry that he had given their lordships the trouble of hearing it. The three peers were then pronounced guilty, by the voice of the House of Lords. On the noblemen being brought up for sentence, on the 30th July, Lord Kilmarnock again confessed his offence, and pleaded guilty, urging that his father had bred him up in the strictest revolution principles, and pleading that he himself had imprinted the same so effectually on the mind of his own eldest son, that Lord Boyd bore, at the very time, a commission in the royal service, and had been in arms for King George at the battle of Culloden, when he himself fought on the other side. He pleaded likewise, that he had, in the course of the insurrection, protected the persons and property of loyal subjects; and that he had surrendered after the battle of Culloden of his own accord, although he might have made his escape. Although this confession of offences was made at a time when its sincerity might be doubted, the grace and dignity of Lord Kilmarnock’s appearance, together with the resignation and mildness of his address, melted all the spectators to tears; and so fantastic are human feelings, that a lady of fashion present, who had never seen his lordship before, contracted an extravagant passion for his person, which, in a less serious affair, would have been little less than a ludicrous frenzy.

Lord Cromarty also implored his Majesty’s clemency, and declined to justify his crime. He threw his life and fortune on the compassion of the high court, and pleaded for mercy in the name of his innocent wife,-his eldest son, who was a mere boy — and eight helpless children, who must feel their parent’s punishment before they knew his guilt.

Lord Balmerino being called upon to speak, why judgment of death should not pass upon him, at first objected to the act of Parliament under which he was tried; but withdrew his plea in arrest of judgment upon further consideration. Sentence of death was pronounced according to the terrible behest of the law, in eases of high treason. The conduct of Balmerino was a striking and admirable contrast to that of the other two noblemen He never either disowned or concealed his political principles. He stated, that he had, indeed, held an independent company of foot from Queen Anne, which he accounted an act of treason against his lawful Prince; but that he had atoned for this by joining in the insurrection in 1715; and willingly, and with Ins full heart, drew his sword in 1745, though his age might have excused him from taking arms. He, therefore, neither asked, nor seems to have wished, for either acquittal or pardon, and the bold and gallant manner in which he prepared for death, attracted the admiration of all who witnessed it.

It was understood that one of the two Earls who had submitted themselves to the clemency of the sovereign, was about to be spared. The friends of both solicited anxiously which should obtain preference on the occasion. The circumstance of his large family, and the situation of his lady, it is believed, influenced the decision which was made in Lord Cromarty’s favour. When the Countess of Cromarty was delivered of the child which she had borne in her womb, while the horrible doubt of her husband’s fate was impending, it was found to be marked on the neck with an impression resembling” a broad axe; a striking instance of one of those mysteries of nature which are beyond the knowledge of philosophy.

While King George the Second was perplexed and overwhelmed with personal applications for mercy, in behalf of Lords Cromarty and Kilmarnock, he is said to have exclaimed, with natural feeling, “ Heaven help me, will no one say a word in behalf of Lord Balmerino? he, though a rebel, is at least an honest one!” The spirit of the time was, however, adverse to this generous sentiment; nor would it have been consistent to have spared a criminal, who boldly avowed and vindicated his political offences, while exercising the severity of the law towards others, who expressed penitence for their guilt. The Earl of Cromarty being, as we have said, reprieved, the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino remained under sentence, with an intimation that they must prepare for death. The King, however, commuted the mode of execution into decapitation.

The behaviour of both noblemen, during the short interval they had now to live, was of a piece with their conduct on the trial. Lord Kilmarnock was composed, though penitent, and prepared himself with decency for the terrible exit. Balmerino, on the contrary, with a bold military frankness, seemed disposed to meet death on the scaffold with the same defiance as in a field of battle. His lady was with him at the moment the death-warrant arrived. They were at dinner: Lady Balmerino fainted at the awful tidings. “ Do you not see,” said her husband to the officer who had intimated the news, “ you have spoiled my lady’s dinner with your foolish warrant?”

On the 18th of August, 1746, the prisoners were delivered over by the Governor of the Tower to the custody of the Sheriffs; on which occasion, the officers closed the words of form by the emphatic prayer, “ God save King George!” Kilmarnock answered with a deep “ Amen.” Lord Balmerino replied, in a loud and firm tone, “ God save King James!”

Having been transported in a carriage to an apartment on Tower-hill provided for the purpose, the companions in suffering were allowed a momentary interview, in which Balmerino seemed chiefly anxious to vindicate the Prince from the report, that there had been orders issued at the battle of Culloden to give no quarter. Kilmarnock confessed he had heard of such an order, signed George Murray, but it was only after he was made prisoner. They parted with mutual affection. “ I would,” said Lord Balmerino, “ that I could pay this debt for us both.” Lord Kilmarnock acknowledged his kindness. The Earl had the sad precedence in the execution. When he reached the spot, and beheld the fatal scaffold covered with black cloth; the executioner with his axe and his assistants; the sawdust which was soon to be drenched with his blood; the coffin prepared to receive the limbs which were yet warm with life; above all, the immense display of human countenances which surrounded the scaffold like a sea, all eyes being bent on the sad object of the preparation, his natural feelings broke forth in a whisper to the friend on whose arm he leaned, “ Home, this is terrible!” No sign of indecent timidity, however, affected his behaviour; he prayed for the reigning King and family; knelt calmly to the block, and submitted to the fatal blow. Lord Balmerino was next summoned to enter on the fatal scene. “I suppose,” he said, “my Lord Kilmarnock is now no more; I will not detain you longer, for I desire not to protract my life.” His Lordship then, taking a glass of wine, desired the bystanders to drink “ain degrae ta haiven,” that is, an ascent to Heaven. He took the axe out of the hand of the executioner, and run his finger along the edge, while a momentary thrill went through the spectators, at seeing so daring a man in the possession of such a weapon. Balmerino did not, however, meditate such desperate folly as would have been implied in an attempt at resistance; he returned the axe to the executioner, and bid him strike boldly, “ for in that,” he said, “ my friend, will consist thy mercy.” “There may be some,” he said, “ who think my behaviour bold. Remember what I tell you,” addressing a bystander, “ it arises from a confidence in God and a clear conscience.”

With the same intrepid countenance, Balmerino knelt to the block, prayed for King James and his family, entreated forgiveness of his own sins, petitioned for the welfare of his friends, and pardon to his enemies. These brief prayers finished, he gave the signal to the executioner; but the man was so surprised at the undaunted intrepidity of his victim, that he struck the first blow irresolutely, and it required two to despatch the bloody work. The conclusion of Lord Lovat’s eventful and mysterious career was the next important act of this eventful tragedy. That old conspirator, after making his escape from his vassal’s house of Gortuleg, had fled to the Highlands, where he was afterwards taken in one of the Western Islands, by a detachment from the garrison of Fort William, who had disembarked from on board a bomb vessel, called the Furnace.1 The old man was brought to the Tower of London. On this occasion, using the words of the Latin poet,2 he expressed himself prepared either to resort to his old stratagems, or to meet death like a man, if he should find it inevitable. Lovat’s trial, which came on before the House of Lords on the 9th, and was finished on the 19th day of March, was very long and extremely curious. On the former occasions it had not been necessary to produce the evidence of Secretary Murray; but on the present, as Lovat had not been personally engaged in the insurrection, it was indispensable to prove his accession to the previous conspiracy. This was accomplished in the fullest manner; indeed he said of himself, probably with great truth, that he had been engaged in every insurrection in favour of the family of James the Seventh, since he was fifteen years old; and he might have added, he had betrayed some of them to the opposite party. His guilt, thinly covered by a long train of fraud, evasion, and deceit, was clearly manifested, though he displayed very considerable skill and legal knowledge in his defence. Being found guilty by the House of Lords, the sentence of high treason was pronounced upon the old man in the usual horrible terms. He heard it with indifference, and replied, “ I bid your Lordships an everlasting farewell! Sure I am, we shall never all meet again in the same place.” During the interval between the sentence and its execution, this singular personage employed himself at first in solicitations for life, expressed pretty much in the style of a fawning letter, which, when he was first taken prisoner, he had written to the Duke of Cumberland, pleading his high favour with George the First, and how he had carried his royal highness about when a child, in the parks of Kensington and Hampton–Court. Finding these meannesses were in vain, he resolved to imitate in his death the animal he most resembled in his life, and die like the Fox, without indulging his enemies by the utterance of a sigh or groan. It is remarkable, my dear boy, how the audacity of this daring man rendered him an object of wonder and awe at his death, although the whole course of his life had been spent in a manner calculated to excite very different feelings. Lovat had also, indeed, the advantage of the compassion due to extreme old age, still nourishing a dauntless spirit, even when a life beyond the usual date of humanity was about to be cut short by a public execution. Many circumstances are told of him in prison, from which we may infer, that the careless spirit of levity was indulged by him to the last moment. On the evening before his execution, his warder expressed himself sorry that the morrow should be such a bad day with his Lordship. “ Bad!” replied his lordship; “ for what? do you think I am afraid of an axe? It is a debt we must all pay, and better in this way than by a lingering disease.”

When ascending the scaffold (in which he requested the assistance of two warders), he looked round on the multitude, and seeing so many people, said with a sneer, “ God save us, why should there be such a bustle about taking off an old grey head from a man who cannot get up three steps without’ two assistants?” On the scaffold he repeated the line of Horace

“Dulce et decorum eat pro patria mori.” It was more in his true character, that when a scaffold fell, and he was informed that many persons had been killed and maimed, he replied in the words of the Scottish adage — “The more mischief the better sport!” He submitted to the fatal blow with unabated courage, and left a strong example of the truth of the observation, that it is easier to die well than to live well. The British government did not escape blame, for having selected as an example of punishment, an old man on the very verge of life. Yet, of all the victims to justice, no one either deserved or received less compassion than Lovat, While the blood of the nobility concerned in the insurrection of 1745 was flowing thus plentifully, the criminals of minor importance had no cause to think that justice was aristocratic in her selection of victims. The persons who earliest fell into the hands of the Government, were the officers of the Manchester regiment, left, as we have seen, in Carlisle after the retreat from Derby. Of these the colonel and eight other persons who had held commissions, were tried and condemned in London. Eight others were found guilty at the same time, but were reprieved. Those who were destined for execution, underwent the doom of law in its most horrible shape, upon Kennington Common; where they avowed their political principles, and died firmly.

A melancholy and romantic incident took place amid the terrors of the executions. A young lady, of good family and handsome fortune, who had been contracted in marriage to James Dawson, one of the sufferers, had taken the desperate resolution of attending on the horrid ceremonial. She beheld her lover, after having been suspended for a few minutes, but not till death (for such was the barbarous sentence), cut down, embowelled, and mangled by the knife of the executioner. All this she supported with apparent fortitude; but when she saw the last scene finished, by throwing Dawson’s heart into the fire, she drew her head within the carriage, repeated his name, and expired on the spot. This melancholy circumstance was made by Mr Shenstone the theme of a tragic ballad. The mob of London had hooted these unfortunate gentlemen as they passed to and from their trial, but they witnessed their last sufferings with decency. Three Scottish officers of the party taken at Carlisle, were next condemned and executed in the same manner as the former; others were tried in the like manner, and five were ordered for execution; among these. Sir John Wedderburn, Baronet, was the most distinguished. At Carlisle no less than 385 prisoners had been assembled, with the purpose of trying a select number of them at that place, where their guilt had been chiefly manifested. From this mass, 119 were selected for indictment and trial at the principal towns in the north. At York, the Grand Jury found bills against 75 insurgents. Upon this occasion, the chaplain of the High Sheriff of Yorkshire preached before the judges on the very significant text (Numbers, xxv. 5), “ And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, slay ye every one his man that were joined unto Baalpeor.” At York and Carlisle seventy persons upon the whole received sentence of death; some were acquitted on the plea of having been forced into the rebellion by their chiefs. This recognises a principle which might have been carried much farther; when it is considered how much by education and principle these wretched kerne were at the disposal of their leaders, a similar apology ought, in justice, to have been admitted as an excuse to a much larger extent. The law, which makes allowance for the influence of a husband over a wife, or a father over a son, even when it involves them in guilt, ought unquestionably to have had the same consideration for the clansmen, who were trained up in the most absolute ideas of obedience to their chief, and politically exerted no judgment of their own.

Nine persons were executed at Carlisle on the 18th of October. The list contained one or two names of distinction; as Buchanan of Arnpryor, the chief of his name; MacDonald of Kinloch–Moidart, one of the first who received the Prince on his landing; MacDonald of Teindreich, who began the war by attacking Captain Scott’s detachment when marching to Fort Augustus, and John MacNaughton, a person of little note, unless in so far as he was said, but it is believed erroneously, to have been the individual by whose hand Colonel Gardiner fell at Preston. Six criminals suffered at Brampton; seven were executed at Penrith, and twenty-two at the city of York; eleven more were afterwards executed at Carlisle; nearly eighty in all were sacrificed to the terrors which the insurrection had inspired. These unfortunate sufferers were of different ages, rank, and habits, both of body and mind; they agreed, however, in their behaviour upon the scaffold. They prayed for the exiled family, expressed their devotion to the cause in which they died, and particularly their admiration of the princely leader whom they had followed, till their attachment conducted them to this dreadful fate. It may be justly questioned, whether the lives of these men, supposing every one of them to have been an apostle of Jacobitism, could have done so much to prolong their doctrines, as the horror and loathing inspired by so many bloody punishments. And when to these are added the merciless slaughter upon the fugitives at Culloden, and the devastation committed in the Highland districts, it might have been expected that the sword of justice would have been weary with executions. There were still, however, some individuals, upon whom, for personal reasons, vengeance was still desired. One of these was Charles Ratcliffe, brother to the Earl of Derwentwater. This gentleman had been partaker in the Earl’s treason of 1715, and had been condemned for that crime, But escaped from Newgate. In the latter end of the year 1745 or beginning of 1746, he was taken on board a French ship of war, with other officers. The vessel was loaded with arms and warlike stores, bound for the coast of Scotland, for the use of the insurgents. Ratcliffe’s case was, therefore, a simple one. He was brought before the King’s Bench, where evidence was adduced to show that he was the same Charles Ratcliffe who had been condemned for the earlier rebellion, and who had then made his escape. Upon this being found proved by a jury, he was condemned to die, although, appealing to his French commission, he pleaded that he was not a subject of Britain, and denied himself to be the Charles Ratcliffe to whom the indictment and conviction referred, alleging” he was Charles Earl of Derwentwater. On the 8th of December, Ratcliffe appeared on the scaffold, where he was admitted, in respect of his birth, to the sad honours of the axe and block. He was richly dressed, and behaved with a mixture of grace and firmness which procured him universal sympathy. Lovat, whose tragedy I have already given, was, in point of time, the last person who suffered death for political causes in 1747. An act of Indemnity was passed in June 1747, granting a pardon to all persons who had committed treason, but with an awful list of exceptions, amounting to about eighty names. I may here mention the fate of some of those persons who had displayed so much fidelity to Charles during the time of his escape. The Laird of MacKinnon, MacDonald of Kingsburgh, and others, ascertained to have been active in aiding the Prince’s escape, were brought to London, and imprisoned for some time. Flora MacDonald, the heroine of this extraordinary drama, was also, for a time, detained in the Tower. As I have recorded several of the severities of Government, I ought to add, that nothing save a short imprisonment attended the generous interference of those individuals in behalf of the unfortunate Adventurer, during his dangers and distresses. After being liberated from the Tower, Flora MacDonald found refuge, or rather a scene of triumph, in the house of Lady Primrose, a determined Jacobite, where the Prince’s Highland guardian was visited by all persons of rank who entertained any bias to that unhappy cause. Neither did the English Jacobites limit their expressions of respect and admiration to empty compliments. Many who, perhaps, secretly regretted they had not given more effectual instances of their faith to the exiled family, were desirous to make some amends, by loading with kind attentions and valuable presents, the heroine who had played such a dauntless part in the drama. These donations supplied to the gallant Highlandwoman a fortune of nearly L.1500. She bestowed this dowery, together with her hand, upon MacDonald of Kingsburgh, who had been her assistant in the action which procured her so much fame. The applause due to her noble conduct, was not rendered by Jacobites alone; many of the Royal Family, and particularly the good-natured and generous Prince Frederick of Wales, felt and expressed what was due to the worth of Flora MacDonald, though exerted for the safety of so dangerous a rival. The simplicity and dignity of her character was expressed in her remark, that she never thought she had done any thing wonderful till she heard the world wondering at it. She afterwards went to America with her husband Kingsburgh, but both returned, in consequence of the civil war, and died in their native isle of Skye.

I should make these volumes thrice as long as they ought to be, were I to tell you the stories which I have heard (sometimes from the lips of those who were themselves the sufferers) concerning the strange concealments and escapes which the Jacobites were reduced to for the safety of their lives after their cause was ruined. The severity of legal prosecution was not speedily relaxed, although the proceedings under martial law were put a stop to. Lord Pitsligo, who lurked on his own estate, and displayed a model of patience under unusual sufferings, continued to be an object of occasional search long after the 1746; and was in some degree under concealment till his death in 1762, at the age of eighty-five. Some other criminals peculiarly obnoxious to Government were not liberated from prison until the accession of George the Third.


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