“Oh! we have need of patient faith below,
To clear away the mysteries of such woe!”
– Mrs. Heman’s Records of Women.
THINK,” says Godscroft, in beginning the prefatorial remarks to his History of Douglas and Angus, “I think it will not be amiss to place here before the door, as it were, and entry into this discourse and treatise (like a sign or ivy-bush before an inn), an old verse, which is common in men’s mouths:-
‘So many, so good, as of the Douglasses have been,
Of one surname were ne’er in Scotland seen.’
This saying,” he goes on, “being ancient, and generally received, will serve to invite the curious and candid reader.” And so will it, we trust, fitly introduce the following sad story of days when the great house of Douglas lay under the Royal ban, and
“Douglasses, to ruin driven,
Were exiled from their native heaven:”
and a fair lady, a noble matron, was barbarously sacrificed, as some historians declare, to the exigencies of faction, combined with the sovereign’s inveterate animosity to her race. If this were true of her death, surely her sovereign had forgotten how, at an earlier time, another lady of her kin, devotedly struggled to save a progenitor of his from the regicide’s steel. That was when the midnight assassins, in search of James I., came to the chamber in which the Queen and her women vainly strove to barricade themselves, the door-bolt having been surreptitiously removed. To supply the want, one of the ladies, Catherine Douglas, thrust her arm into the staple to bar entrance; but the murderers, pressing hard, forced their way, and broke the heroine’s arm!
Sooth to say, however, the Douglas lords were themselves mainly to blame for the misfortunes which in rapid succession came upon them. Their power in the State was great, seeming now and again to overtop that of the Crown, whilst their pride and ambition, equalling their power, hurried them into daring aggression on royal and national rights. Throwing all patriotic motives aside, they sought only their own aggrandisement, and would brook “no rivals near the throne.” It was this arrogant ambition that brought about the judicial murder of William, the sixth Earl, and his younger brother David, in the back court of Edinburgh Castle, and afterwards the assassination of William, the eighth Earl, by the dagger of James II. in the Castle of Stirling. It was the like spirit that caused the fall and proscription of the family in the time of James V. His mother, Queen Margaret, within eleven months after the death of his father at Flodden, and while she was Regent of the kingdom, was fond and foolish enough to wed (on the 6th August, 1514) Archibald, sixth Earl, who, by a curious coincidence, had lost his wife, Lady Margaret Hepburn, second daughter of the first Earl of Bothwell, in the previous year. Both bride and bridegroom were young, and it may have been a love-match, but it was too hasty, and soon it proved unfortunate. Angus hoped to obtain the custody of the baby King, and so make himself supreme – a design which failed through the opposition of a strong combination among the nobility. Strife arose between the factions. Angus and his Royal spouse quarrelled and became estranged. They parted, and were ultimately divorced: and the Queen married a third husband, Henry Stewart, who was subsequently created Lord Methven. But Angus, after a career of stormy vicissitude, accomplished his purpose. He got the young king into his custody, and attained the high position which he had at first sought. He held that position for a time, ruling the nation as he pleased, and baffling all his enemies; but in the month of July, 1528, James, then in his seventeenth year, contrived to circumvent his keeper, slip the leash, and escape from the Palace of Falkland. The day of the Douglas power was now over, never to dawn again while James V. lived. As soon as the King was free, he emptied the vials of his wrath and hate upon the head of his quondam guardian. The Earl and his brother, Sir George of Pittendriech, and his uncle, Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, endeavoured by force of arms to regain the ascendancy which they had lost; but they strove in vain. Denounced as traitors, whose heads would have paid for their rebellion, they fled to England, where they found sure protection from Henry VIII.
The Earl of Angus had several sisters, the second of whom was Janet, who about the year 1521, when she was in the flower of her youth, became the spouse of John, sixth Lord Glamis. She possessed beauty and grace, high intellect, and a noble spirit worthy of her house. Naturally she sympathised with her exiled kindred, and it was asserted that she had aided them in their last desperate struggle. What she did in the way of assisting them in uncertain, but she seems to have done something which drew upon her the bitter animosity of the King and his new advisers. At that juncture – when the Douglasses fled – Lady Glamis was burdened with another sorrow, namely the death of her husband, which took place on 8th August 1528 – he being then only 37 – and she was left with a young son, John, and a daughter, Elizabeth. Doubtless false friends – hired spies – were about her, apt to note and report everything they heard and saw, when her spirit was impatient under the weight of calamity. Such representations of her treasonable doings were made to the Government that, on 1st December in the last-mentioned year, she and Patrick Hume of Blacater, Hugh Kennedy of Girvanmains, and Patrick Charteris of Cuthilgurdy, three Lairds who were adherents of the Douglas party, were summoned to appear before the Scottish Parliament and answer to a charge of high treason, for art and part counsel, and giving assistance to the Earl of Angus in convocating the lieges for the invasion of the Royal person. Whether the accused appeared is not recorded; but, at all events, the case was postponed till the 18th January ensuing, when it seems to have been abandoned so far as it concerned Lady Glamis. But eventually she found it necessary (under compulsion, we presume,) to retire for a season from Scotland.
Two of the three Lairds also went abroad. On 11th June 1529 a respite was granted to Hugh Kennedy of Girvanmains, for the treasonable art, part, and assistance given by him to Archibald, some time Earl of Douglas, his uncle, brother, and accomplices, to indure for the space of five years, so that he pass to France within two months, and there remain at the King’s pleasure. On the 20th September, same year, a letter of license was granted to Dame Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, and Patrick Charteris of Cuthilgurdy, to pass to parts beyond sea on their pilgrimage and other lawful business. A pilgrimage to foreign shrines was thus ostensibly the chief object that moved Lady Glamis and her friend to cross the sea.
but whatever moved Lady Glamis, it was apparently high time that Charteris should quit his country for its good and his own. A heavy charge of incendiarism and cattle lifting had been preferred against him seven months before. The books of Justiciary bear that on 25th February 1528-29 he found Robert Maule, the Laird of Panmure, as his cautioner that he would underly the law for art and part of the fire-raising and burning of the village of Cowsland and houses thereof; and for the plundering of certain oxen, cows, and other goods from the tenants thereof, and from William, Lord Ruthven. Three days afterwards, John Charteris, Cuthilgurdy’s brother, and eleven others of the party of spoilers, found surety to answer for the same crime. The charge had been remitted to the Justice-aire (or Court) of Forfar; but we have no account how it was disposed of, if disposed of at all.
We may assume – for there is no distinct proof – that Lady Glamis and Cuthilgurdy left Scotland; but how long they were abroad, where they went, and what they did are unknown. But the next notice of the lady shows her enemies bent on her ruin. Much obscurity hangs over her history at this stage. It seems that she was again indicted for treason by intercommuning with the fugitive Douglasses, all her property was confiscated, and on 1st July 1531 a “Letter” was granted by the King to a certain “Gavin Hamilton and his heirs of the gist of all goods, heritable and moveable, debts, tacks, obligations, gold, silver, sums of money, &c., which pertained to Janet, Lady Glamis, and now pertaining or anywise shall happen or may pertain to the King by reason of escheat, through her being fugitive from the law, and at the horn, or convicted for intercommuning with the King’s enemies, or for any other crimes.” The entry of this Letter of Gift in the Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland is the only record of the conviction and confiscation.
Throughout the rest of the same year the poor lady, whether innocent or guilty of misdeeds, was in mortal peril. The gift of her escheat affected only her own worldly means, and would render her altogether dependent on the means of the boy, her son. But her life was next aimed at under a blacker accusation than that of treason – an accusation this, however, which from its very essence, was obviously trumped up by implacable enemies. She was denounced as the murderess of her husband! Looking at the known circumstances – and not a particle of evidence against her is extant on record – it is inconceivable that unless King James and those about him had been actuated by motives of the grossest injustice they would not have instituted a prosecution for a crime in which nobody but themselves professed to believe. Lord Glamis breathed his last on the 12th December 1527; and at the distance of four years afterwards, namely in November 1531, his widow was indicted to stand her trial at the Justice-aire of Forfar “for art and part of the intoxication of John, Lord Glamis, her husband,” that is to say, for using charms and enchanted drugs (simply poison) to take away his life, in which purpose she succeeded. Strange indeed that not a whisper of so vile a deed should have been heard until after the deceased had lain in his grave for four long years! The best proof of the utter falsity of the charge is the fact that on three occasions the most of the jurymen summoned to serve on the Ladys’ Assize refused to attend. The trial was fixed for the 29th of November 1531, and on that day Sylvester Haldane of Kelour, John Ogilvy of Balnagrow, William Blair of Balgillo, Patrick Gardin of that Ilk, and six other gentlemen, were amerciated in fines for not appearing as jurymen to pass on the case. there was now a dead pause; and on the 31st January following, the lady found John Drummond of Innerpeffrey as surety that she should appear at the next Justice-aire of Forfar to underly the law for her alleged practising by magical intoxication against her husband’s life, and for resetting Patrick Charteris, who was at the horn as a rebel. It is not stated what was Cuthilgurdy’s offence – the fire-raising and cattle-stealing at Cowsland, or some other misdemeanour.
Evidently Lady Glamis was ready to meet her accusers face to face. But still they could not persuade anybody of her imputed guilt. The case came on in February, and again no jurymen could be got. On the 23d of that month, William Fullarton of Ardoch, David Stirling of Braco, John Bruce of Fingask, William Drummond of Abernyte, the Lairds of Cullerny, Parbroath, Pitfurane, Balmaschennax, Duncany, Culluthy, Pyotstoun, Gagy, and Roucht, Henry Ramsay of Lawers and Alexander Drummond of Carnock were amerciated for not appearing to pass on the Assize. But though thus baffled in their dastardly purpose to blast the lady’s fair fame and destroy her life, her persecutors still laboured hard to effectuate it. The diet was adjourned till the 26th February, and another jury were summoned. The day came, but once more the same fiasco occurred. Of that date William, Lord Ruthven; Laurence, Lord Oliphant; the Lairds of Moncrieff, Tullybardine; Culluthy, Innernyte, Anstruther, Petcur, Petkindy, Inchture, Clatty, Gorthy, Cultoquhey, Kelly, Ouchterley, Balluny, and Thomas Barclay of Rhynd were fined for non-appearance. What are we to think of these refusals to attend? “This repetition of Assizers,” says Mr. Pitcairn, in a note on the record of the abortive proceedings, “being all men of considerable rank and station, suffering themselves to be fined in default of their appearance, speaks strongly in favour of the popular feeling against the steps adopted to take away the life of Lady Glamis.” Yes, the noblemen and gentlemen must have been so thoroughly convinced of her innocence that they disdained to listen to the ignorant and malevolent falsehoods (based on the superstitious fancies and practices of the age) which a few hired wretches were ready to vent in open Court. It looks an odious business altogether, and, with the last fining of the absent jurymen, the case fell to the ground, and was no more heard of.
Soon after this escape of Lady Glamis from the villainous machinations of her enemies, she married a second husband, being still in the prime of her days and the maturity of her charms. An anonymous writer of the early part of the seventeenth century portrayed her as having been “the most renowned beauty of Britain” in her time. “She was,” he says, “of an ordinary stature, not too fat; her mien was majestic, her eyes full, her face was oval, and her complexion was delicate and extremely fair. Besides all these perfections, she was a lady of a singular chastity; as her body was a finished piece, without the least blemish, so heaven designed that her mind should want none of those perfections a mortal creature can be capable of; her modesty was admirable, her courage was above what could be expected from her sex, her judgment solid, her carriage was gaining and affable to her inferiors, as she knew well how to behave herself to her equals: she was descended from one of the most honourable and wealthiest families of Scotland, and of great interest in the kingdom, but at that time eclipsed.” No doubt this is the language of panegyric, but it echoes traditionary hearsay, probably exaggerated, nevertheless truthful in the main.
Considering the malefic fortune which had persistently dogged her steps during her widowhood, it cannot be surprising that Lady Glamis should seek a protector in the person of another husband. Wooers she had many, captivated by her personal graces, and pitying her forlorn condition exposed to the fell designs of relentless enemies. One of the most devoted of her suitors was a certain William Lyon, a kinsman of the deceased Lord Glamis, but a man (from what we know of him) selfish, unprincipled, and capable of plotting the foulest revenge. He sought her hand, and was rejected; and her choice fell on Archibald Campbell of Skipnish, the second son of Archibald, second Earl of Argyll, and who then held a command in the Royal Guard. Argyll himself was in disfavour with the King, who had deprived him of his much-prized office of Lieutenant of the Isles, which he had much abused; but Skipnish did not share in his father’s disgrace, and no objection to the union with Lady Glamis seems to have been started at Court. The nuptials were celebrated, and a few years passed over quietly – two daughters being born of this second marriage. Lady Glamis’ elder daughter, Elizabeth Lyon, was as yet unwed; and on 27th June 1535 she had a charter from John, Lord Forbes, of the lands of Fyntra, which charter was confirmed by James V. on the 30th of the same month.
A few years passed quietly, we say, over the head of Lady Glamis without any apparent attempts against her on the part of her enemies. Let us trust that she enjoyed a full measure of domestic happiness. But it was a delusive calm, for causes were secretly and slowly at work which produced a fatal storm, in which the hapless lady perished. Her ruin sprang from disappointed love. We have already spoken of William Lyon as her ardent and unsuccessful wooer. He was grievously chagrined by her rejection of his suit, and her acceptance of Argyll’s son. After a season, during which he brooded over the loss of her hand, he had the effrontery to renew to her his professions of deep affection; and, growing more and more audacious, he was repulsed by the insulted lady with scorn and indignation, and thenceforth forbidden her presence. This rebuff rankled in his heart, stirring up its darkest passions, until he resolved to brand her with an infamy that would ensure her destruction: and by-and-by circumstances transpired that facilitated his hateful task.
The Douglasses were still in exile – that goes for saying; but they had many a staunch partisan at home, and some whose fiery zeal far outran discretion. One of the latter class was John, Master of Forbes, who was married to a sister of Lady Glamis and the proscribed Earl of Angus. The Master was an impetuous, turbulent, lawless-living fellow, and had already killed Alexander Seton, the Laird of Meldrum, in a quarrel, for which crime the law failed to deal him his deserts. As an adherent of the Douglas faction, young Forbes had given great umbrage to the Earl of Huntly, who took a mean but murderous revenge; and this was done by bribing, or collusion with, one of the Master’s servants or companions, John Strachan, son and heir of the Laird of Lethinturk. Strachan was got to declare that the Master had planned to shoot the King with a small gun or culverin while he was on a visit to Aberdeen some time previously. The anonymous author already quoted says that “this Strachan, besides his other vices, was a covetous wretch; he demanded from Mr. Forbes some gifts which he could not conveniently grant; upon which refusal Strachan was so displeased that he meditated revenge, became his enemy, and to compass his malicious designs more effectually he went to the Earl of Huntly, Mr. Forbes’s mortal enemy, where they jointly contrived his ruin.” And Calderwood, the Kirk historian, states unequivocally that Strachan, “the revealer, or rather forger, of the conspiracy was seduced by Huntly.” Whether by bribery or collusion, the Earl got hold of the means to crush the man to whom he bore antipathy; and on the 11th June, 1537, he brought the accusation against young Forbes before the King and Privy Council at Edinburgh. The Master was present, and stoutly denied the charge. According to the record, he “said it was not of verity, and offered him to defend the same with his body” – that is, he gave a challenge to combat, as allowed by the law and custom of the time, and in token thereof threw down his glove or gauntlet. “And because the said Earl of Huntly alleged that such words were said to him, and the sayers thereof were not present; but that he should bring a landed or gentleman, sayers of the said words, to the King’s grace, to avow that they said these words at the day named by the King’s grace; and failing thereof he had taken up the pledge” – the glove, in alternative acceptance of the challenge to trial by battle. But there was no combat. Huntly managed to avoid such an ordeal, in which probably he would have fared badly; and Lord Forbes, the Master, and his younger brother, William, were all three imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, to await trial before the Judiciary Court.
King James was to have been assassinated in Aberdeen – so the unlikely story went; and now a still more unlikely one was vamped up. The shot of the culverin had never been fired, but a deadly drug was substituted. It was suddenly alleged that Lady Glamis, the sister-in-law of young Forbes, had undertaken to poison the King! How and where she was to do it we cannot tell, and nobody has ventured a guess. True, she had already been impeached with having administered some sort of enchanted stuff to her first husband, but of that charge she was tacitly acquitted by the refusal of juries to serve on her trial. For aught we know from the justiciary records, the new accusation was perchance equally unfounded, for it is asserted to have been the work of her discarded and vengeful lover, William Lyon. He, by his sinister influence at Court, as we are told, inflamed the mind of King James against her, by persuading him that she had conspired his death. But whosoever was the informer, the arrest of the Forbeses was followed by that of the ill-fated lady; her husband; her son, Lord Glamis, then in his seventeenth year; John Lyon, senior, in Knokcany (who is erroneously called “an old priest” in some histories); and an apothecary named Alexander Makke or Mackay, who was said to have sold the poison – all of whom were committed close prisoners to Edinburgh Castle.
Here we are surrounded with dense mystery, partly arising from other events which happened in Scotland at the same time – rendering the alleged guilt of Lady Glamis a questio vexata to historians. Did the King eagerly snatch at any means, however base, whereby he could gratify his hatred of her? Did his advisers themselves embrace a favourable opportunity of accomplishing her destruction? Or had she and the Master of Forbes been really acting in concert to take away the King’s life? Let it be observed that on 19th May 1537, James V. landed at Leith with his consort, Magdalene, the French Princess, only daughter of Francis I. The King of Scots had gone on a voyage to France to seek a wife; the charms of Magdalene enthralled him, and wedlock was the result. The fair stranger was received by the Scottish people with enthusiastic welcome. She was young, handsome, beautiful, and well-beloved by her Royal bridegroom. But, unhappily, her days were already numbered and few. Consumption had marked her as an early victim.
For oft in the bud that is brightest and fairest
The seeds of the canker in embryo lurk,
And oft at the root of the flower that is rarest,
Secure in its ambush, the worm is at work.
Magdalene came to her grave – not to a throne. Not many days after reaching the Scottish shore she fell sick. It was a sickness unto death. She expired on the 7th July, to the universal sorrow of the kingdom. Never had Scottish Queen been so deeply lamented. For the first time there was a national mourning. The King was overwhelmed with grief, and could scarcely have been expected to bestow a single thought upon other affairs. Was it, then, upon his counsellors that the duty or the blame lay of bringing Lady Glamis to a dreadful fate?
On Saturday, 14th July, seven days after Queen Magdalene’s death, the Master of Forbes was put upon his trial at Edinburgh for conspiring the King’s death, and for aiding and abetting sedition or mutiny in the Scottish army at Jedburgh. The jury included Lord Maxwell, the Master of Glencairn, Sir John Melvill of Raith, Hume of Cowdenknowes, and other lairds; but Calderwood says that as the forger of the conspiracy was seduced by Huntly, so “it was known that the greatest part of the Assize was corrupted by the said Earl.” The evidence adduced is not extant, but it sufficed for conviction, upon which sentence of death was pronounced, in pursuance of which the Master was beheaded and quartered. “Howbeit,” adds Calderwood, “the people thought him not guilty of that treason, yet did they not lament his death, because he had been otherwise guilty of many heinous offences.” The Master’s father and brother were not put to the bar, but still kept prisoners in the Castle.
Forbes being thus hurried to a bloody end, Lady Glamis was next dealt with. She was arraigned on Tuesday, 17th July, for attempting to poison the King, and for countenancing and assisting the exiled Douglasses – the latter a threadbare point of dittay. This time there seems to have been no refusal on the part of any of the jury to attend; and amongst the jurors were the Earls of Athole, Buchan, and Cassilis, and the Lords Maxwell and Sempill, the Master of Glencairn, Melvill of Raith, and Hume of Cowdenknowes. The proof in this trial is also awanting on record; but a version of the address which the lady is said to have delivered in her own defence is given by some writers as follows:-
“Those who hate the merit of my brother are enraged because he is not in their power, that he might fall a sacrifice to their malice, and they now discharge their spite upon me because of my near relation to him; and, to gratify their revenge with my blood, they accused me of crimes, which, if true, deserved the severest death. But, seeing it is the only prerogative of God to punish men or women for the faults of others, which belongs to no Judge on earth, who are obliged to punish ever one according in their personal crimes, you ought not to punish in me the actions of my brother, how blameable soever. Above all, you ought to consider if those things I am accused of have the least appearance of truth imaginable; for what gives the greatest evidence either of guilt or innocence of an impeached person is their former life. What fault could any hitherto lay to my charge? Did any ever reproach me with anything that is scandalous? Examine, I entreat you, my former conversation; vice hath its degree as well as virtue, and none can attain to a perfection in either, except by long use and practice; and if you can find nothing reprovable in my conduct, how can ye believe that I am arrived all of a sudden to contrive this murder, which is the very height and perfection of impiety? I protest I would not deliberately injure the most despicable wretch alive. Could I then make the murder of my Sovereign, whom I always reverenced, and who never did me any wrong, the first essay of my wickedness? None are capable of such damnable unnatural actions, except two sorts of persons – those of desperate fortunes who are weary of their lives, or those who are hurried into them by revenge. My birth and manner of life put me beyond suspicion of the first kind; and for the latter, seeing I was never injured by the King, how can I be suspected to thirst for any revenge?
“I am here accused for purposing to kill the King, and to make my pretended crime appear more frightful, it is given out that the way was to be by poison. With what impudence can any accuse me of such wickedness, who never saw any poison, nor know I anything about the preparation of it? Can any say they ever saw me have any of it? Let them tell me where I bought it, or who procured it me. And though I had it, how could I use it, seeing I never came near the King’s person, his table, nor palace? It is well known that since my last marriage with this unfortunate gentleman I had lived in the country at a great distance from the Court. What opportunity could I have, then, to poison the King?
“You may see by those circumstances, which give great light in such matters, that I am entirely innocent of those crimes I am charged with. It is the office of you, Judges, to protect injured innocence. But if the malice and power of my enemies be such that, whether innocent or guilty I must needs be condemned, I shall die cheerfully, having the testimony of a good conscience. And assure yourselves that you shall certainly find it more easy to take away my life than to blast my reputation, or to fix any real blot upon my memory.
“This is my last desire of you, that I may be the sole object of your severity, and that those other innocent persons may not share in my misfortunes. Seeing that my chief crime is that I am descended of the family of Douglas, there is no reason that they should be involved in my ruin; for my husband, son, and cousin were neither of that name nor family. I shall end my life with more comfort if you absolve them; for the more of us that suffer by your unjust sentence, the greater will be your guilt, and the more terrible your condemnation when you shall be tried at the great day by God, who is the impartial Judge of all flesh, who shall then make you suffer for those torments to which we are unjustly condemned.”
This speech is probably apocryphal, though Lady Glamis may have spoken somewhat in this strain. All defence, however, proved unavailing. Drummond of Hawthornden says that, before a verdict was given, “some of the Judges would have referred her to the King’s clemency till a farther trial of the witnesses might be had, upon whose testimony the process did depend, it being a safer way in judgment to absolve the guilty than condemn the innocent. But the most part gave her over to the Assizers, the better part of which being in voices fewer, the greater, who neither respecting conscience within them, nor shamed with the present age and posterity, nor the supreme justice of Heaven, find this poor lady guilty.” The French authority states that now two of the Judges repaired to the King’s presence and entreated for delay, but he, counselled by the accuser, William Lyon, gave an absolute refusal, telling them that the law must take its course, And so it did. The lady being found guilty of the “treasonable crimes” in the two points of her dittay, sentence was pronounced that she “has forfaulted to our Sovereign Lord her life, her lands, goods moveable and unmoveable; and that she shall be had to the Castlehill of Edinburgh, and there burned in a fire to death as a traitor.” And this the Doomster (the common executioner), as was the custom of the Court, laying his hands on her head, “gave for doom.” We may note that there was no exceptional barbarity in this sentence of burning alive, it being the legal practice in Scotland that women convicted of the higher crimes were burned at the stake, and for lesser offences drowned.
The sentence was carried out on the same day, and the lady was conducted from the bar to the pyre of faggots on the hill without much pause. “A little time after the sentence,” says the French writer, “she was delivered into the hands of the executioner, to be led out to suffer. The constancy and courage of this heroine are almost incredible, which astonished all the spectators. She heard the sentence pronounced against her without the least sign of concern, neither did she cry, groan, or shed a tear, though that kind of death is most frightful to human nature. When she was brought out to suffer, the people who looked on could not conceal their grief and compassion. Some of them who were acquainted with her, and knew her innocence, designed to rescue her; but the presence of the King and his Ministers” – it should be, the presence of the King’s Guards – “restrained them. She seemed to be the only unconcerned person there, and her beauty and charms never appeared with greater advantage than when she was led to the flames; and her soul being fortified with support from Heaven, and the sense of her own innocence, she outbraved death, and her courage was equal in the fire to what it was before her judges. She suffered those torments without the least noise: only she prayed devoutly for Divine assistance to support her under her sufferings. Thus died this famous lady, with a courage not inferior to that of any of the heroes of antiquity.” To this we will add the opinion of Mr. Pitcairn, that “the whole complexion of this shocking tragedy bears such savage traces of a furious and unmanly revenge against a noble and unprotected female, who was the only member of her family on whom ‘the advisers of the Crown’ could lay their hands, that it can hardly be compared with any other event either in ancient or modern history.” Nor can the King himself escape being branded with a full share of the guilt, for without his assent the odious crime could not have been perpetrated.
Hawthornden says that Lady Glamis was done to death “in sight of her husband,” who was lying a prisoner in the Castle. If so, this was a detestable refinement of cruelty. At least, he probably saw the smoke of her execution from the window of his cell. Next day, dreading that his own doom would speedily follow, Skipnish determined to make an effort for liberty. Having somehow procured a rope, or perhaps twisted one out of his bed-clothes, he waited until nightfall – and the nights are but short and light in July – and then let himself down from the window. Unfortunately the cord proved too short, and he fell from a considerable height, and was killed upon the rocks.
The young Lord Glamis was put to the bar on 18th July before a jury, comprising the Earl of Cassilis, the Lords Maxwell, Somerville, Seton, and Ochiltree, the Masters of Glencairn and Eglinton, etc. There was no difficulty, it seems, in convicting the boy of concealing and being art and part in his mother’s treason, for which he was declared forfeited, and sentenced to be hanged and quartered; but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment, in which he languished during the life of James V.
For the sake of appearances, it was necessary that something should be done with the Master of Forbes’ accuser, John Strachan. He was therefore accused of being a participator in the Master’s treason, by concealment of the same; but, evidently, by good advice, he came in the King’s will, and on 18th July a Royal letter was granted ordering him to banishment beyond the water of Dee, and to remove twelve miles from whatever place the King might visit in that quarter. Another of the Strachans named David had been arrested on the like charge, and lay a long while in prison without being brought to trial, and was then liberated.
But the headsman’s axe was not yet laid aside for a season. On the 22nd August, old John Lyon and the apothecary, Alexander Makke, were both brought to the bar of Justiciary – the first for concealing Lady Glamis’ design to poison the King, and also for using poison to destroy the Earl of Rothes (a new charge in this involved tragedy), and the other for making and selling the poison. A verdict of guilty was given in each case. Lyon was condemned to be drawn and beheaded; but Makke was only sent to banishment within the shire of Aberdeen. Makke’s mild sentence raises the suspicion that he was but a hired tool in the hands of the prosecutors.
Enough of judicial murder had now been done, and the cause of the Douglasses in Scotland seemed to have received the coup de grace. But public opinion ran strongly against the Government. Whether the King had a leading hand in the bloody business, or whether he left it to his counsellors, does not signify a feather’s weight. As not a scrap of the evidence adduced at the trials has been preserved (if it was ever taken down), we are fully justified in holding that the public opinion of the day is faithfully reflected in the pages of writers who lived nearest to the time, and who are unanimous in upholding the innocence of Lady Glamis, and consequently in denouncing her infamous persecution at the hands of King and Government. We read her sad fate as through a glass darkly; but we will rather be guided by the old popular voice than by the notions of some modern historians, who, in default of any more light on the subject, have been fain to spin flimsy theories to lend an air of originality to their lucubrations.
What became of the imprisoned Forbeses, father and son? The rigour of their confinement was relaxed on 11th December 1537, when caution was found for them in 10,000 marks, that they should remain in free ward in the Castle of Edinburgh until set free by the King. Further, on 10th April 1538 a warrant was granted to allow William, now the Master of Forbes, to abide in the town of Edinburgh. Subsequently both he and his father were fully enlarged, and some Royal favours were bestowed on the former in palliation, as we may suppose, of the unjust doom of his brother.
The two youngest daughters of Lady Glamis were taken charge of under the King’s authority; and we find the Lord High Treasurer noting the following items of expenses which he had disbursed on their account:-
|Sep.||Item, to twa dochters of the Lady Glammis, twa pair double-soled shoon; price of the pair, 2s 2d, summa,||4s 4d|
|Item, given to them twa purses,||2s 8d|
|Item, tane fra James Corsby, an ell of black, to be hose to them,||20s|
|Item, given to David Hoppringill, to pay for their lodging and meat, sa lang as they remained in Edinburgh, and the said David’s expenses to ride with them to Haddington and North Berwick,||20s|
It has been suggested by Mr. Pitcairn as “extremely probable that these young ladies were given in charge to the Prioress of North Berwick, to be brought up as nuns in that monastery.” The same writer also points out that afterwards King James and his second Queen, Mary of Guise, “regularly took up their abode at Glamis Castle during part of the hunting season; and doubtless the rents of the large possession belonging to the young Lord were seized upon by the Crown, whilst this young nobleman was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle.” That imprisonment was comparatively short. It ended with the life of James V., who died on 14th December 1542, and Lord Glamis was restored to his hereditary honours.