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Book of Scottish Story
The Lady of Waristoun


The estate of Waristoun, near Edinburgh, now partly covered by the extended streets of the metropolis on its northern side, is remarkable in local history for having belonged to a gentleman, who in the year 1600, was cruelly murdered at the instigation of his wife. This unfortunate lady, whose name was Jean Livingstone, was descended from a respectable ancestry, being the daughter of Livingstone, the laird of Dunipace, in Stirlingshire, and at an early age was married to John Kincaid, the laird of Waristoun, who, it is believed, was considerably more advanced in years than herself. It is probable that this disparity of age laid the foundation of much domestic strife, ] and led to the tragical event now to be noticed. The ill-fated marriage and its results form the subject of an old Scottish ballad, in which the proximate cause of the murder is said to have been a quarrel at the dinner-table:

It was at dinner as they sat,
And when they drank the wine,
How happy were the laird and lady
Of bonny Waristoun!

But he has spoken a word in jest;
Her answer was not good;
And he has thrown a plate at her,
Made her mouth gush with blude.

Whether owing to such a circumstance as is here alluded to, or a bite which the laird is said to have inflicted upon her arm, is immaterial; the lady, who appeared to have been unable to restrain her malignant passions, conceived the diabolical design of having her husband assassinated. There was something extraordinary in the deliberation with which this wretched woman approached the awful gulf of crime. Having resolved on the means to be employed in the murder, she sent for a quondam servant of her father, Robert Weir, who lived in the neighbouring city. He came to the place of Waristoun, to see her; but it appears her resolution failed, and he was not admitted. She again sent for him, and he again went. Again he was not admitted. At length, on his being called a third lime, he was introduced to her presence. Before this time she had found an accomplice in the nurse of her child. It was then arranged that Weir should be concealed in a cellar till the dead of night, when he should come forth, and proceed to destroy the laird as he lay in his chamber. The bloody tragedy was acted precisely in accordance with this plan. Weir was brought up at midnight from the cellar to the hall by the lady herself, and afterwards went forward alone to the laird's bedroo. As he proceeded to his bloody work, she retired to her bed, to wait the intelligence of her husband's murder. When Weir entered the chamber. Waristoun awoke with the noise, and leant inquiringly over the bed. The murderer then leapt upon him. The unhappy man uttered a great cry. Weir gave him some severe blows on vital parts, particularly one on the flank vein. But as the laird was still able to cry out, he at length saw fit to take more effective measures. He seized him by the throat with both hands. and, compressing that part with all his force, succeeded, after a few minutes; in depriving him of life.

When the lady heard her husband's first death-shout, she leapt out of bed. in an agony of mingled horror and repentance, and descended to the hall; but she made no effort to countermand her mission of destruction. She waited patiently till Weir came down to inform her that all was over. Weir made an immediate escape from justice, but Lady Waristoun and the nurse were apprehended before the deed was half-a-day old. Being caught, as the Scottish law terms it, "red-hand,"—that is, while still bearing unequivocal marks of guilt,—they were immediately tried by the magistrates of Edinburgh, and sentenced to be strangled and burnt at the stake.

The lady's father, the Laird of Duni-pace, who was a favourite of King James VI., made all the interest he could with his Majesty to procure a pardon; but all that could be obtained from the king was an order that the unhappy lady should be executed by decapitation, and that at such an early hour in the morning as to make the affair as little of a spectacle as possible. The space intervening between her sentence and her execution was only thirty-seven hours, yet in that little time Lady Waristoun contrived to become converted from a blood-stained and unrelenting murderess into a perfect saint on earth. One of the then ministers of Edinburgh has left an account of her conversion, which was lately published, and would be extremely amusing, were it not for the loathing which seizes the mind on beholding such an instance of perverted religion. She went to the scaffold with a demeanour which would have graced a martyr. Her lips were incessant in the utterance of pious exclamations. She professed herself confident of everlasting happiness. She even grudged every moment which she spent in this world as so much taken from that sum of eternal felicity which she was to enjoy in the next. The people who came to witness the last scene, instead of having their minds inspired with a salutary horror for her crime, were engrossed in admiration of her saintly behaviour, and greedily gathered up every devout word which fell from her tongue. It would almost appear, from the narrative of the clergyman, that her fate was rather a matter of envy than of any other feeling. Her execution took place at four in the morning of the 5th of July, at the Watergate, near Holyrood-house; and at the same hour her nurse was burned on the Castle-hill. It is some gratification to know that the actual murderer, Weir, was eventually seized and executed, though not till four years afterwards. — Chambers Edinburgh Journal, 1832.


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