8th of February

St Paul, bishop of Verdun, 631. St Stephen of Grandmont, 1124. St John of Malta, founder of the Order of Trinitarians, 1213.

Born. – St Proclus, patriarch of Constantinople, 412; Peter Daniel Huet, bishop of Avranches, 1630; Charles Henault, littérateur, 1685, Caen; John Andrew de Luc, Genevese philosopher, 1727.
Died. – Mary, Queen of Scotland, beheaded at Fotheringay, 1587.


The judicial murder of Mary Queen of Scots – whose life, according to the Earl of Kent, would have been the death of our religion, and whose death was calculated to be its preservation – was performed at Fotheringay Castle, on the 8th of February 1587. The minute accounts of the scene, which are too familiar to be here repeated, exhibit a religious dignity, resignation, and apparent serenity of conscience, that tend greatly to counteract the popular impressions regarding the guilt of the Scottish queen. One is at a loss to believe that one who had not lived well could die so well.

Heretofore, the strange conduct of Elizabeth regarding her unfortunate cousin, has not tended to exculpate her from the guilt of authorising the Fotheringay tragedy. But it now begins to appear that she really did not give the final order for the act, but that the whole affair was managed without her consent by Burleigh, Walsingham, and Davison, the signature to the warrant being forged at Walsingham’s command by his secretary Thomas Harrison;1 so that the queen’s conduct to these men afterwards was not hypocritical, as hitherto believed. The act was so far of an occult and skulking nature, that a fortnight and a day elapsed before King James, while hunting at Calder, was certified of it. It put him into ‘a very great displeasure and grief,’ as it well might, and he ‘much lamented and mourned for her many days.’2


Evelyn, writing at Naples on the 8th February 1645, describes the gay appearance of the city and its inhabitants, adding, ‘The streets are full of gallants on horseback, in coaches and sedans.’

In Edinburgh, in the middle of the eighteenth century, there were far more sedans in use than coaches. The sedan was better suited for the steep streets and narrow lanes of the Scottish capital, besides being better fitted in all circumstances for transporting a finely dressed lady or gentleman in a cleanly and composed condition. The public sedans of that city were for the most part in the hands of Highlanders, whose uncouth jargon and irritability amidst the confusions of a dissolving party, or a dismissed theatre, used to be highly amusing. Now, there is no such thing in Edinburgh, and more than in London, as a private sedan; and within the last few years the use of public ones has nearly, if not entirely ceased.

1  See Strickland’s Live of the Queens of Scotland, vii. 465.
2  Patrick Anderson’s History of Scotland, MS.

On this Day in Other Sources.


This year, 1471, there appeared a fearful comet, with fiery torches hanging [from] it, in the south between the Pole and the Pleiades, from the 27th of January to the 8th of February.

– Historical Works, pp.189-214.


We next hear of the little palace in the reign of Mary. On the 8th of February, 1562, her brother, the Lord James Stewart, “newly created Earl of Mar (afterwards Moray) “was married upon Agnes Keith, daughter to William Earl Marischal,” says the Diurnal of Occurrents, “in the kirk of Sanct Geil, in Edinburgh, with solemnity as the like has not been seen before; the hale nobility of this realm being there present, and convoyit them down to Holyrood House, where the banquet was made, the queen’s grace thereat.” After music and dancing, casting of fire-balls, tilting with fire-spears, and much jollity, next evening the queen, with all her court, came up in state from Holyrood “to the cardinal’s lodging in the Blackfriar Wynd, which was preparit and hung maist honourably.” Then the queen and her courtiers had a joyous supper, after which all the young craftsmen of the city came in their armour, and conveyed her back to Holyrood.

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.258-266.


So ends the reign of Queen Mary, at her son’s coronation, although she lived 18 years thereafter a captive in England; and at last was executed there, [on] the [8th of February], at [Fotheringay] castle, in the 46th year of her age and reign, in [the year] 1586.

– Historical Works, pp.275-340.


The morning of the 8th of February, 1587, being come, she dressed herself, as gorgeously, as she was wont to do, on festival days; and calling her servants together, she commanded her will to be read; and prayed them, to take their legacies, in good part, for her ability would not extend to greater matters. Then fixing her mind wholly upon God, in her oratory, with sighs, and prayers, she begged his divine grace, and favour, till the sheriff, Andrews, came to acquaint her, that she must now appear, in the last scene of her devious life. She came out, with state, countenance, and presence, says Camden, majestically composed, with a cheerful look, and a matron-like habit; with her head covered with a veil, which hung down to the ground; with her prayer book, beads, hanging at her girdle; and carrying a crucifix of ivory in her hands. In the porch, she was received, by the earls, and other noblemen, where Melvill, her servant, falling upon his knees, and pouring forth his tears, bewailed his hard hap, that he was to carry into Scotland the woful tidings of the unhappy fate of his lady, and mistress… 

And now the tears trickling down, she bade Melvill, several times, farewel, who wept, as fast as she. Then, turning to the earls, she prayed them, that her servants might be civily dealt withal; that they might enjoy the legacies, which she had bequeathed them; that they might stand by her, at her death, and might be sent back into their own country, with letters of safe conduct. The former request they granted: But, that they should stand by her at her death, the Earl of Kent showed himself somewhat unwilling, fearing some superstition. Fear it not, said she, these harmless souls desire only to take their last farewel of me. I know, my sister, Elizabeth, would not have denied me so small a matter, that my women should be then present, were it but for the honour of the female sex. I am her near kinswoman, descended, from Henry VII., Queen dowager of France, and anointed Queen of Scots. 

When she had said thus much, and turned herself aside, it was at last, granted, that such of her servants, as she should name, should be present with her. She named Melvill, Burgoin, her physician, her apothecary, her surgeon, two women servants, and others; Melvill bore up her train: So, the gentlemen, the two earls, and the sheriff, going before her, she came to the scaffold, which was built at the upper end of the hall; on which was placed a chair, a cushion, and a block, all covered with black cloth. As soon as she was sat down; and silence commanded; Beal read the warrant: She heard it attentively, yet, as if her thoughts were taken up, with somewhat else. Then Fletcher, the Dean of Peterborough, began a long speech to her, concerning the condition of her life passed, present, and to come. She interrupted him once, or twice, as he was speaking; and prayed him not to trouble himself; protesting that she was firmly fixed, in the ancient Catholic religion, and for it, was ready to shed her blood. When he earnestly persuaded her, to true repentance, and to put her whole trust in Christ, by an assured faith; she answered, that in that religion, she was born, bred, and was ready to die… 

Then the executioners asked her forgiveness, which she granted them. And when her women servants had taken off her upper garments, lamenting the while, she kissed them, and signing them, with the cross, bade them, with a cheerful countenance, forbear their womanish lamentations; For, now, said she, shall I rest from all my sorrows. In like manner, turning to her men servants who, also wept, she signed them, likewise, with the cross; and smiling, bade them farewel: And, now, having covered her face, with a linen hankerchief, and laying herself down on the block, she repeated, from the Psalm, In thee, oh Lord, do I trust, let me never be confounded. Then stretching out her body, and repeating many times, into thy hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit, her head was stricken off, at two strokes:.. A circumstance occurred, which added, greatly, to the interest of this affecting scene: When they were about to remove the body of the unfortunate queen, her little dog, which had followed her to the scaffold unobserved, amidst more striking objects, was found under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth, but by force, and afterwards would not depart, from her dead corpse, but went, and laid down, between her head, and shoulders, a thing diligently noted.

– Life of Mary, pp.304-328.


The 8 of February, this year [1593], the Earls of Huntly [George Gordon] and Erroll [Francis Hay], both popishly affected, being cited to [appear] before the King and his counsel, and not giving obedience, [were] denounced [as] rebels.

– Historical Works, pp.340-416.


Feb. 8. [1597] – The impunity of numberless murders and other atrocious crimes in this reign is not more remarkable than the severity occasionally exhibited in comparatively trifling cases. For making a false writ in a matter of three hundred merks, five citizens of Edinburgh were condemned to death. Such, likewise, was the issue of the trial of John Moscrop, writer in Edinburgh, for giving himself out as a notary and subscribing divers papers as such, he not being one. The six men appear to have all been tried on one day, and the end of the affair is chronicled by Birrel: ‘John Windieyetts, John Moscrop, Alexander Lowrie, John Halliday, and Captain James Lowrie [were] all hangit at the cross of Edinburgh for counterfeiting false writs; whilk was great pity to see.’

– Domestic Annals, pp.124-176.

In this retired and romantic spot Mr. McCulloch, for about a year before the ‘work’ began, preached to crowded congregations, and on the Sabbath evenings after sermon, detailed to the listening multitudes, the astonishing effects produced by the ministrations of Mr. Whitefield in England and America, and urged with great energy the doctrines of regeneration and newness of life. The effects of his zeal soon began to evidence themselves in a striking manner among the multitudes who waited on his ministry. Towards the end of January, 1742, two persons, Ingram More, a shoemaker, and Robert Bowman, a weaver, went through the parish, and got about ninety heads of families to subscribe a petition, which was presented to the minister, desiring that he would give them a weekly lecture. This request was immediately complied with, and Thursday was fixed upon as the most convenient day of the week for that purpose. These meetings were crowded with multitudes of hearers, and at length from weekly were extended to daily exhortations, which were carried on without interruption for seven or eight months. Many people came to the minister’s house under strong convictions of sin, calling themselves ‘enemies to God, despisers of precious Christ,’ and saying ‘what shall we do to be saved?’ The first prominent symptoms of the extraordinary effects produced by these multiplied services were on the 8th February.

– Gazetteer of Scotland, pp.196-198.


A view of the largest apartment is given in the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley novels, under the name of the ‘Hall of the Knights of St. John, St. John’s Close, Canongate.’ But he adds that he had failed in every attempt to obtain any clue to the early history of this mysterious edifice which tradition thus associated with the soldier-monks of Torphichen.  

Discoveries made in the course of its demolition added to the mystery concerning it. In the stair leading from the court to the hall there was a quaint holy-water font; and in clearing out the interior, it was found that the ceiling had at one time been beautifully painted with flowers and geometric designs. In the great open chimney-place of the hall there were, singularly enough, two small windows; and in the heart of the massive walls were found secret stairs that led from the hall to rooms above it.  

In addition to these secret passages, the walls disclosed four recesses that had been faced with stone, and which concealed the relics of more than one crime or mystery that will never be unravelled. One held the skeleton of a child, with its cap and part of its dress; and in the other there were quantities of human bones. In a built-up cupboard a large vertebral bone of a whale was discovered. “The beams of the hall,” says the Scotsman of 8th February, 1878, “and indeed of the whole house, were of oak, which, according to tradition, was grown on the Burghmuir, and, with the exception of the ends which had been built into the wall, the wood was found to be perfectly sound and beautifully grained.”

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.309-315.


It would appear, however, that Mr. Sellar still refused, or delayed, to afford that redress to the removed tenants to which they conceived themselves entitled, which emboldened them to approach Earl Gower with a complaint, similar to the one they had presented to Lady Stafford.

To this complaint his Lordship graciously condescended, under date 8th February last [1814], to return such an answer as might have been expected from his Lordship. His Lordship says that he has communicated the contents to your Lordship and Lady Stafford, who as his Lordship nobly expresses himself, “Are desirous, that the tenants should know, that it is always their wish that justice should be impartially administered.” His Lordship then adds, that he has sent the petition, with directions to Mr. Young, that proper steps should be taken for laying the business before the sheriff-depute; and that the petitioners would therefore be assisted by Mr. Young, if they desired it, in having the precognition taken before the sheriff-depute, according to their petition.

– Gloomy Memories, pp.10-12.

   “WHEN a man has silenced all his enemies, and can count among his converts Queen Victoria, the late Lord Palmerston, the late and the present Premier of England – we beg pardon, of Great Britain and Ireland – Mr Bright, and Lord Napier, he has some reason to speak with assured confidence, and to look the whole world boldly in the face. Mr William Burns, the Vice-President of the Glasgow St Andrew’s Society, is the happy man – of all men of the time – who is in this proud position, No victory was ever more complete than that which Mr Burns has gained… We live in an era of unfinished national monuments, and it will surely be a crying shame on every leal-hearted man who boasts the name of Scot if some towering structure is not at least begun in honour of the patriot of the nineteenth century who has done so much for Scotland. 

   Let us consider for a moment what Mr Burns has accomplished. Fortunately, we have the whole materials at hand, with the imprimatur, so to speak, of the author himself upon them. In a lecture delivered on Thursday last to the members of the St Andrew’s Society, we have the whole story of the labours and successes of Mr Burns told by himself, with the pardonable pride of a man who has done far more than his duty, and whose brow will only blush with conscious worth when the laurel wreath encircles it. We have no Blind Harry to deal with in this case, nor have we to disentangle facts and fancies from half mythical chronicles five centuries old. It is all as plain as noon-day, and Mr Burns stands out clear and distinct  the guardian of ‘puir auld Scotland,’ the avenger of her wrongs upon Cockney heads, and upon the rear of some of her own degenerate sons. A few years ago Scotland was ignored and degraded by her bigger sister beyond the Tweed. Her nationality was wilfully and maliciously written down. She was merely the northern province of England; her great men were Englishmen; her rivers that sing to the music of a hundred national songs were English rivers; her enterprise, her commerce, and her discoveries were all classed as English; and it was only when something shabby and mean was to be said of the northern province that our nationality was ever allowed. Whisky drinking, for example, was a Scotch vice; and Sabbath keeping, which was always joined with it, was allowed to be another national characteristic. The fact is that an attempt was made – an old underhand attempt – to cheat us out of our nationality altogether. The English in the 13th century demanded that Scotland should acknowledge their Kings to be Lords Paramount over the whole island; and in the 19th century the same spirit led these assuming Southerners to speak and write as if that demand had never been resisted, and as if they had swallowed us up when the Union was consummated as the boa constrictor swallows a rabbit. There did not fail great Scotchmen to take up the cause of their country in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and when all other hearts were faint in the nineteenth, one Scotchman resolutely buckled on his armour and took the field. History is always repeating itself, but the consolation is that when we find such an episode as that of Edward Longshanks’ claim upon Scotland repeated in the conduct of the statesmen and thunderers of England of the present day, we also find our Wallaces and our Bruces reproduced in our ‘North Britons’ and William Burnses. 

   The campaign began by a correspondence with Lord Palmerston, and was continued by the indefatigable Burns till every public man in England was compelled to do justice to Scotland, and to speak of the united people of this island by their proper designation – Britons, and not Englishmen. It is singular that almost all Mr Burns’ correspondents commenced by laughing at him. They probably thought that he was the perpetrator of a good-humoured joke, and they answered him accordingly. They had evidently considerable difficulty in comprehending how any intelligent person could be in dead earnest about such a frivolous matter, or how he could possibly feel the nationality of his country insulted because in speech or in writing Englishmen used the words England and Great Britain as synonymous terms. They soon found out their mistake. Mr Burns was incapable of a joke of this kind, and he was perfectly unaffected by the raillery which his letters produced. He had a blessed immunity from the sentiment of the ludicrous; and while Englishmen roared, and his own countrymen decorously tried to hide their smiles, he solemnly wrote on, producing facts, arguments, and illustrations of the most prosaic but most convincing character. After one of those letters it was impossible to deny that Mr Burns was literally in the right, and feeling this neither quip nor crank nor wreathed smile, neither the banter of Lord Palmerston nor the humour of Mr Bright, had the least effect upon him. Is it not so and so stipulated in the Treaty of Union; and, if so, why not stick to it, and give Scotland her due? This attitude recalls the story which Charles Lamb tells of a Scotchman. Speaking of a dinner at which one of Robert Burns’ sons was present, Lamb said, ‘I wish that instead of the son it had been the father.’ ‘That is impossible,’ said the Scotchman – extinguishing poor Lamb as Mr William Burns extinguished Lord Palmerston – ‘for Burns is dead.’ All through the controversy Mr Burns shows the same downright literalness. He cannot understand why people should laugh at his letters, and what they call his little craze; for are not his letters true, and is not the subject of his craze embodied in the articles of Union? 

   It is needless to say that letters written so perseveringly under such circumstances produced their effect… Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Bright, and even Sir Archibald Alison, who though a Scotchman was never very precise in his language, at last caved in, and acknowledged that Scottish nationality ought to be respected, and the word England, as applied to the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, for ever discarded from the language. When the eminent English statesmen, who had felt the prick of the Scotch thistle as applied by Mr Burns, came down to Scotland to eat dinners, or to be feted, or to be enrobed in Rectorial gowns, they made amends for their former flippancies. The Scotch nation was applauded, and the maintenance of Scotch nationality was enjoined in a manner that must have gone to the heart of Mr Burns. We had always doubts ourselves whether these right honourable gentlemen were quite sincere, or whether they were not flattering our national prejudices and winking all the while, as if they were saying to their Southern friends ‘You see how gently I am clawing the Scotch itch of the North Britons and the Burnses.’ It was a mistake, however. Mr Burns assures us that this deference to Scotch nationality was the result of his letters; and we can hardly doubt it. These eminent men knew that if they had called Great Britain and Ireland England, or the English nation, the inevitable Burns would have been down upon them.” 

– Glasgow Herald, Monday 8th February, 1869.

– Treaty of Union Articles, Collection of William Burns on the Attempt of English Centralisation.


ON 8th February, 1895, died Joseph Stevenson, one of the great historical scholars of the century, whose labours amongst British records effectively began something like 70 years ago. The volume of his achievement as editor, translator, and author is not so notable from its being large – although by no means all comprised in the forty-six entries in the British Museum catalogue opposite his name – as from its qualities of accuracy and thoroughness.

– Scots Lore, pp.121-124.

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