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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XXVI


MAXWELL PLANS A MEETING BETWEEN JOHNSTONE AND HIMSELF – THE INTERVIEW DESCRIBED – ITS TRAGICAL TERMINATION – MAXWELL SHOOTS JOHNSTONE, AND THEN TAKES TO FLIGHT – THE HUE AND CRY RAISED AGAINST THE ASSASSIN – HE BIDS HIS NATIVE LAND “GOOD NIGHT” – LEGAL PROCEEDINGS ARE COMMENCED AGAINST HIM IN HIS ABSENCE – HE IS SENTENCED TO DEATH – AFTER SOME YEARS OF EXILE, HE RETURNS TO NITHSDALE, IS PURSUED, SEEKS REFUGE IN THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND, AND IS BETRAYED BY HIS OWN KINSFOLD TO THE GOVERNMENT – MAXWELL PLEADS FOR HIS LIFE WITHOUT EFFECT – HIS EXECUTION.

IT was when Lord Maxwell was in the harassing and perilous circumstances indicated by the correspondence given in the preceding chapter, that a memorable meeting was brought about between him and the man who had occasioned the slaughter of his father at Drye-Sands. An opinion prevails that Maxwell made the overtures that led to it, and that he planned the interview to secure an opportunity of gratifying his desire for vengeance. While it appears to us very evident that he cherished this murderous intent, and longed for a chance of carrying it into effect, it seems not the less true that Johnstone of his own accord, and for objects of his own, took steps to secure a meeting with Maxwell.

Sir Robert Maxwell of Spottes, or Orchardtoun, declared in his deposition on the subject before the Privy Council, that “the Laird of Johnstoun desyrit the deponar (being in his house of Lochwood for the tyme) to speik the Lord Maxwell quhen he fand the opportunitie, to sie iff the deponar could mak a [all] good in the materis betuix them.” Sir Robert, however, declined the mission, assigning as his reasons that the matter was too weighty for him to take in hand: “that the Lord was a perellous man to haif ado with,” and the Maxwell “haid evir a mislyking of him becaus he (the deponar) maryed Johnstone’s sister.”

Accordingly, Maxwell of Spottes did not, in the name of his brother-in-law, bring the subject before Lord Maxwell; but he stated further in his deposition, that at the instance of Maxwell he met with the latter, who besought his advice and influence with the view of securing a pardon from the King; upon which “the deponar” told Maxwell “that he sould keipe him quiet, and do not thing quhilk micht offend the Kingis Majestie farder nor he had done; and the he (the deponar) wald move the noblemen, who were his friendis at Court and Counsell, to report the best of him to his Majestie and Counsell.” A question from Sir Robert Maxwell as to the relations in which his lordship stood toward his neighbouring barons, turned the conversation on the Laird of Johnstone – Lord Maxwell asking “quhat he micht lood for att his handis in tyme comeing?” Sir Robert appears to have evaded this question, and ultimately it was arranged that his lordship should write out the heads of an agreement between himself and Johnstone. At parting, “the deponar said to my Lord: ‘If this be a mater that your lordship thinks in your hairte ye can tak up and remett to the Laird, I will very willinglie travell in the mater, and do the best I can; otherwise, I desire nocht to mell [meddle] in it.’”

Honest-looking and plausible was Maxwell’s reply, to the effect that, “if he saw ony willingnes in the Laird to do dewtie to him, he wald willinglie pas it over, and if he resavit ane ressonnable answer of the Laird, he wald be content to meete with him, at ony convenient place; and promest that he sould keepe honnestlie, for his pairt, and these that were with him, providing it war keepit quiet for boith their weillis.”

We learn from the rest of the deposition that the articles of agreement drawn up by Lord Maxwell had a suspicious mistiness about them; that at a second audience given by him to the Laird of Spottes, the latter inquired as to their true meaning, and was answered by his lordship that he was “not a good wreater,” and would not again put his wishes upon paper, but he had “not bene a dealer aganis him in tyme bigane,” and “what he micht look for at his handis in tyme comeing;” that Sir Robert, bearing his relative’s written answer to this verbal message, met Maxwell a third time in the forest bowers, beside the Abbey of Holywood; that the latter read the reply, and was “weill content thairwith;” and that then “the deponar” arranged for an interview, as agreed to by Jonstone, the same to take place upon the following Wednesday afternoon, between three and four o’clock, near the House of Beal, his lordship to be accompanied only by one attendant – Robert Maxwell of the Tower – Johnstone also to have but one companion, and “the deponar” to be present as a sort of umpire between the principals. Finally, Sir Robert states that, as a security that this “tryst” should be truly kept, and that neither Maxwell nor his man should be guilty of foul play, received “my Lordis faithfull promeis, with my Lordis hand strekit in the deponaris hands,” that all their proceedings in the matter should be faithful and honest, even should his projected agreement with Johnstone prove a failure.

If this “deponar” is to be received as a trustworthy witness, the Annandale chief was desirous of being reconciled to the son of the nobleman whose death he had occasioned, and was willing to secure that end by pleading for him with the King; while, on the other hand, the son seemed ready to forgive the slaughter of his sire, provided he should, through his good offices, regain the royal favour. If, however, they mutually desired to meet with each other, there is room for suspecting that the motives of one of the parties – Maxwell – were very different from those he professed to entertain. The result, we think, proves clearly that, under the guise of peace and forgiveness, he cherished implacable hatred; that he intended the interview to have a fatal issue to the enemy of his house; and that the circumstances associated with it were artfully contrived beforehand, for the purpose of making the foul murder look like an untoward accident, or, at worst, an unpremeditated case of manslaughter. So much by way of prologue: let us now endeavour to reproduce the scene itself.

On the afternoon of April 6, 1608, William Johnstone of Lockerbie visited his chief at Lochwood, by whom he was cordially welcomed. “Cousin,” said the Laird, “ye must this day do a greater turn for me than ever I asked at your hands before. I am to meet with the Lord Maxwell, and ye shall go with me: push forward, then, to Little Lochwood, where I will join you presentlie; but let no one ken where ye are riding to, or on what errand ye are bound.” William Johnstone does as required; and, whilst on the road, is overtaken by two men on horseback – one of whom proved to be Sir Robert Maxwell of Spottes, and the other Sir James Johnstone (whom he had left a few minutes before), but whom he did not at first recognize, as he was differently apparelled than usual, and, for “secrecie of the tryst,” was riding upon an old nag, only fit for bearing a hind of low degree. After brief converse, the three went on together, and ere long descried in the far distance the Lord of Nithsdale, attended by Charles Maxwell, “hoofing” on horse-back to meet them. Whereupon Maxwell of Spottes, bidding his companions bide where they are until he returned to them, or gave them a sign to advance, rides forward – meets Lord Maxwell – remonstrates with him that he is accompanied by such an ill-conditioned individual as Charlie Maxwell, instead of Maxwell of the Tower, and is told by his lordship that he will be answerable for his relative’s good faith; and he renews his own promise (suspiciously protesting too much) that, so far as both are concerned, there will be nothing but fair play.

The good-natured, well-meaning mediator, though only half assured, resolves to risk the interview. Tying a napkin on his riding-switch, he displays it as a signal; and, thus summoned, the Laird of Johnstone and his kinsman advance. Johnstone, though informed that Maxwell has with him an unlooked-for companion, seems well content, and to be troubled with no misgivings. “Ye need have no fear of the Lord Maxwell himself, at any rate,” said Sir Robert, “for I have taken his oath and promise, upon his faith and honour, that he will meet fairlie and part fairlie, whether a paction is made between ye or not; and,” added the good knight, “I must take from you the same oath and pledge.” These are freely given; and ere five minutes more elapse, the rival chiefs meet at a place called Auchmanhill – exchange friendly greetings – ride slowly on, accompanied by their mutual friend, who, with characteristic prudence, keeps between them as they (both directing their speech to him) begin to talk about their long fierce feuds, and the propriety of forgetting them henceforth; though one of the parties, while indulging in honied words, is brimful of bitter hatred, and bent on shedding blood before that pacific period shall come to pass.

Whilst the principals are thus engaged, the two subordinates wait near each other, as instructed by Sir Robert Maxwell, and the following dialogue ensues between them: - “Gif I had known of this tryst,” said Charles Maxwell in a querulous tone, “the Lord Maxwell neither could or should have brought me here.” To which remark his companion replies: “I hope in God, Charlie, ye do not rue of coming here for so good an object! for thir twa noblemen have been lang at variance, and I hope now they shall agree, and be gude friends.” To which the other, working himself into a rage, retorts: “Agree! impossible! The Laird of Johnstone is not able to mak amends for the great skaith and injury he has done to the house of Maxwell!” “But,” said Johnstone, soothingly, “our chief can come in his lordship’s will, and do all he is able to satisfy him and his friends.” “Not so,” said the other, waxing more furious, or, at all events, getting seemingly into a tempest of passion; “and as for this tryst, it is only made for our prejudice; and that man” – pointing to Dunskellie – “has sought his wraik, and we should never have met you; for ye are all traitors! – all traitors!”

Most provoking language this; but Johnstone, knowing how all-important it is to avoid a quarrel at such a critical period, patiently protests that he would not enter into any altercation that day. “But,” he added, his Border blood warming at the insulting language addressed to him, “send your man to me in a day or twa, and I shall satisfy you.” No answer in words is retuned to this remark: Charlie replies to it with a pistol shot. Johnstone raises his pistol to return the fire, but it flashes in the pan; and then, at the pitch of his voice, he shouts, “Murder! treason!” Sir James Johnstone, hearing the alarming cry, turns round to ride back; so does Lord Maxwell; the latter at the same time drawing a pistol, and preparing to take aim at Sir James. “Fie, my Lord!” cries Sir Robert Maxwell, in terror, “mak not yourself a traitor and me both.” “Upbraid me not,” answers his Lordship, “I am wyteless!” Yet he follows the unsuspecting Laird of Johnstone – fires – the shot takes fatal effect – for a minute or more the dying man retains his seat – then the weak old nag below him flounders – its girths give way – prone to the earth falls the ill-fated chief, treacherously slain in the flower of his age – life’s sands ebbing rapidly away. His faithful friend vainly endeavours to get him borne off on his own powerful steed. While thus employed, Charles Maxwell, with superfluous malignity, fires another pistol at the bleeding victim, who, after dolefully exclaiming, “I am deceived!” and fervently praying, “Lord have mercy on me! – Christ have mercy on me!” breathes his last, and is beyond the reach of the fiendish hate that plotted his ruin, and the help of the strong human love which his kinsman manifests by ineffectual sobs and tears!

“Come away! let us be off!” cried Lord Maxwell, when the butchery was completed. “My lord,” remonstrated his demoniac emissary, “will ye ride away and leave this bludie thief, Johnstone of Locherbie, behind?” “What wreck of him!” quoth his lordship, “since the other has had enough!” and with these words both rode away from the dismal scene, and soon disappeared. Such is the picture obtained of this fearful tragedy from the legal depositions made by those who witnessed it, and who had no motive for depicting it otherwise than correctly.

It may be received as perfectly authentic, and it is sufficiently horrible without the aggravations given to it by Shawfield, whose manuscript account of the murder closes as follows: - “Sir James, hearing the shott and his man’s words, turning about to see what was past, immediately shot him behind his back with ane pistol chairgit with two poysonit bullets, at which shott the said Sir James fell from his horse. Maxwell, not being content therewith, raid about him ane lang tyme, and pursued him farder, vowing to use him more cruelly and treacherouslie than he had done; for which it is known sufficiently what followed.” We have never seen any evidence to support the allegation that Maxwell used poisoned bullets in order to render his shot more deadly; but the “dittay,” or indictment, charged him with having done so, the words used being “humerum duabus glandibus plumbeis venetatis.” Maxwell and his colleague in crime were allowed to ride away without being called to account by the two friends of the murdered nobleman, which remissness on their part may be accounted for by supposing that they were in some measure deprived of their self-possession by the suddenness of the attack, and were but indifferently armed. Sir James Johnstone, thus barbarously slaughtered, was a brave, accomplished knight – “full of wisdom and courage,” says Spottiswoode; and his death was “severely lamented,” and the manner of it “detested by all honest men.”

The murder of Dunskellie created a most painful sensation throughout Annandale: it existed the indignation of the Government; and the whole machinery of the law as it then existed, local and general, was set in operation in order to bring the criminal to justice. The kinsmen of the deceased clamoured for the life of Maxwell; and it was felt by the King and his Councillors that the measure of his cup was now filled, and that he must be severely – mercilessly dealt with. He had committed a crime of the highest magnitude (that of treasonable murder, as slaughter under trust was then termed), and must be called to expiate it with his life. He was sought for in Nithsdale and on the Border, without success; a hue and cry for him was raised throughout the realm, with the same result. He durst not stay in any nook or corner of broad Scotland; and, uttering his “Good-night!” as attributed to him by the old balladist from whose lines we have already quoted, he sought for refuge in France. The supposed feelings of the fugitive are so beautifully expressed by the minstrel, that we make no excuse for again borrowing from his verse: -

“Adieu! madame, my mother dear,
But and my sisters three;
Adien! fair Robert of Orcharstane!
My heart is wae for thee;
Adieu! the lily and the rose,
The primrose fair to see;
Adieu! my lady and only joy!
For I may not stay with thee.

“Though I hae slain the Lord Johnstone,
What care I for their Feid?
My noble mind their wrath disdains:
He was my father’s deid.
Both night and day I laboured oft
Of him avenged to be;
But now I’ve got what lang I sought,
And I may not stay with thee.

“Adieu! Dumfries, my proper place,
But and Carlaverock fair;
Adieu! my Castle of the Thrieve,
Wi’ a’ my buildings there:
Adieu! Lochmaben’s gates sae fair,
The Langholm-holm where birks there be;
Adieu! my lady and only joy!
For I may not stay with thee.

“ ‘Lord of the land,’ that ladye said,
‘O wad ye go wi’ me
Unto my brother’s stately tower,
Where safest ye may be!
There Hamiltons and Douglas baith
Shall rise to succour thee,’
‘Thanks for thy kindness, fair my dame,
But I may not stay with thee.’”

No! Maxwell durst not trust for safety even to the princely Haniltons (a daughter of whose house he had married), nor to the doughty Douglasses, to whom he was also related; and so –

“The wind was fair, the ship was clear,
The good Lord went away;
The most part of his friends were there
To give him a fair convey.
They drank the wine, they did na spare,
Even in that gude Lord’s sight –
Sae now he’s o’er the floods sae gray,
And Lord Maxwell has taen his good-night.”

Meanwhile, legal proceedings were instituted against him; the relatives of the murdered knight pressing on the trial with pardonable eagerness. In accordance with a precept from King James, dated Greenwich, John 6th, 1609, a Parliamentary Commission sat at Edinburth, on the 24th of the same month, to try the case – Sir Thomas Hamilton of Bynnie, the King’s Advocate, conducting the prosecution. The indictment was in the form of a Summons of Treason and Forfeiture, drawn up in the Latin Language, which set forth the several points of “dittay” laid to his charge, and was prefaced by an announcement to the effect that the summons had been found relevant by the Lords of the Articles, and Lord Maxwell been thrice called at the Tolbooth Wynd to answer it, but that he did not “compear;” that thereupon the Advocate had been allowed to establish his case against the said Lord; and that for this purpose the depositions of the witnesses examined in the case before the Lords of the Articles and the Lords of Secret Council were read over, as also the Acts of Parliament bearing on the case, and the “Lettre of Horning aganis the said Lord Maxwell, for nocht compeirance befoir the Lordis of Secret Counsaill, to ansuer befior thame for his breking of waird furth of the Castell of Edinburcht, for the buring made be him at Dalfeble, and for the slaughter of the Laird of Johnestoun; that lylykwayes the said Advocat producit in presence of the said Lord Commissionar, and haill estaitts, Lettres of Relaxatioun, beirand the said Johne, Lord Maxwell, to be relaxit be James Dowglas, Messinger, fra for the process of all horningis at the Mercatt Crosses of Lochmaben and Dumfreise, upon the xv. day of March, 1609 years, and at the mercat Croce of Edinbur, be Johne Moneur, Messinger, upon the xxiii. day of Marche, the yeir of God above writtin.” It is then stated that the summons having again been read on June 24th, in presence of the Commissioner and the Estates, and Lord Maxwell having again failed to appear in answer to it, his Majesty’s Advocate desired the Estates to declare if the reasons of the summons were relevant; and they, having found that they were so, and having again heard the evidence, at his instance gave a verdict, finding that – “The said Johne, Lord Maxwell, committit and did open and manifest Tressoun, in all the pointis, articles, and maner, contenit in the said Summondis: and thairfoir it wes geven for dome, be the mouth of David Lyndsay, Dempster of Parliament, in manner and forme as follows: Sentence. – This Court of Parliament schawes for law, the said JOHNE, LORD MAXWELL, to have committit and done all the foirsaidis crymes of Treassoun and Lesemajestie, be him self and others of his causing, command, assistance, and retihavitioun, aganis oure said Soverane Lord and his authoritie; and that he is and wes giltie and pairtaker, airt and pairt, of the samin crymes of Treassoun; all in maner at lenth contenit in the ressounes of the said summondis: And thairfoir Decernis and Declairis, that the said Johne, Lord Maxwell, aucht and sould underly and suffer the paynis competent to the saidis crymes of Treassoun and Lesemajestie, to witt the tynsall and confiscatioun of his lyfe, and all his guidis, moveable and unmoveable, landis, tenementis, dignities, offices, richtis, and all utheris thingis belanging to him; and all the saidis landis, rowmes, and all gudis moveable and unmoveable, digniteis, offices, richtis, and all utheris belanging and pertening to the said Johne, Lord Maxwell, and quhilkis may ony way belang and pertene to him, to be confiscatt, to pertene to the said Soverane Lord, and to remane with his Majestie for evir in propertie.”

Such are the terms of the sweeping judgment passed upon the Nithsdale chief; the grim official who pronounced it finishing as usual with the emphatic words, “And this I give for doom!”

Years passed away; and the expatriated lord began to cherish a hope that the lapse of time had deadened the Johnstones’ desire for vengeance, and that he might venture back to Scotland, and his crime be overlooked, if not forgiven. He had bidden his native land “good-night;” but he shrunk from the idea of continuing a perpetual exile, and seeing Nithsdale no more. He thought, with the emigrant in the song, that though the sun shone fair in France, it had not the same sweet “blink” as in his own country. Mingling with regret for his guilt and its results (remorse would perhaps be too strong a term), and dread of judicial punishment, came overpowering thoughts of home – a yearning that would not be said nay – to revisit the hills and dales among which he first drew breath. Yielding to its influence, he, in 1612, returned to Scotland. The news of his arrival could not be kept a secret; and whilst lurking in the Border district, he was hunted like a wild animal by his old enemies, and was making ready to embark for Sweden, when George, Earl of Caithness, offered him an asylum in the North. Thither the wearied Lord Maxwell went, dreading no harm, as the Countess was a cousin of his own. By a singular retribution, he who had slaughtered the Laird of Johnstone under trust, was, while under trust, betrayed by his own near relative to the Government. For the purpose of currying favour with the King, the Earl of Caithness, who had by fair promises lured Maxwell to Castle Sinclair, basely gave him up to the officers of the law; and from that day forth he and death were brought face to face.

A short time afterwards, the Lords of the Privy Council addressed a letter to his Majesty, asking him how they were to deal with their prisoner. It is dated 28th April, 1613, and is in the following terms: “Most Gracious Soverane, - According to your Majestie’s directioun we [did] wryte for the Laird of Johnestoun his moder and goode dame, to understand of thame gif they wald persest in the persute of that petitioun, exhibite unto your Majestie in their names, whairby they craved justice to be execute upon the forfeeted Lord Maxwell for the slauchter of the laite Laird of Johnstoun? They come all to this burgh, and the Laird of Johnnston with his moder and tutour presentit tham selffis before us and declairit that thay wald insist in that persute and prosequutioun of that mater according to tennour of thair petitioun. The Auld Lady Johnnstoun, through seiknes and inabilitie of hir persone, being unable to compeir before us, haveing with grite difficultie come to this burgh for this same errand, we directit and send the Bishop of Caithnes, the Lord Kildrymmie, and Lord Prevey Seale to hir, to understand thir will and pleasure in this mater; unto quhome scho declairit, that scho come heir purposelie for that mater, and that scho wald insist according to the tennour of the petitioun; sua that now thair restis no farder bot youre Majestei’s will haif to be done; wherein, althought the conclusione of your Majestei’s lettre beiris that we sould proceid to the administratioun of justice, yitt in respect of a word cassin in the preface of the lettre, beirin that your Majestie had not as yitt gevin a direct ansuer to their petitioun, we haif presumd first to acquent your Majestie afoir we proceid ony farder; and whatever it sall pleis your Majestie to direct in this mater sall be immediatlie and without delay execut. Thair was a petitioun gevin in this day unto us be Robert Maxwell, brother to the said laite Lord, with some offeris to the partie; bot becaus the mater concernit not us, we wald not mell tharin; alwyse, we haif heirwith send the same to your Majestie, to be considderit of as your Mahestie sall thinke goode.”

In the petition or supplication of Lord Maxwell’s brother, here referred to, the Lords of the Council are entreated to use their endeavours to get certain offers made by Maxwell to the Laird of Johnstone and his relatives laid properly before them. Some of the ministers of Edinburgh had been solicited to undertake this duty, but they declined; the bishops were then applied to, with the same result: neither presbyters nor prelates wishing to be troubled with the case of the condemned man, unless authorized to interfere in it by the Council; “Sa that now,” his brother wrote, “thair restis no menis quhairby the offeris may cum to the pairteis handis except your lordships will athir appoint sum persones to present the same, or other wayis that your lordships wald convene the pairtie before your lordships, that the same in your lordships’ audiens may [be] red and delyverit to thame. Theirfoir I maist humblie beseik your lordships to haif consideratioun of the premises, and that your lordships wald gif directioun to sum of the ministrie of this burgh to present the said offeris, or otherwayes that your lordships wald call the pairtie in your presence to the effect foirsaid.”

The “Offiers of Submission by Lord Maxwell for the settlement of all differences between him and the surviving relatives of Sir James Johnstone of that Ilk, Knight,” which no one of note would agree to lay before the proper parties, and which never were bought under their consideration, were set forth in the subjoined letter: - “This offeris following ar maid be me, Johnne, sumtyme Lord Maxwell, for my self, and in name of my kyn and friendis, to . . . now Laird Johnstoun, and his Tutouris and Curatouris, Dame Sara Maxwell, Ladie Johnstoun, younger for the tyme, his mother, Dame Margarret Scott, Ladie Johnstoun, elder, his guddame, and to thair kyn and friends for the unhappy slauchter of umquhile Schir James Johnstoun of that Ilk, Knyte, committit be me.

“In the FIRST, I humblie confes my offens to God, the Kingis Majestie, and to the foirsaidis persones, for the said unhappie slauchtir, and declairis my selff to be maist penitent thairfoir; craveing first, mercie at the Almichty God for the same, nixt favour and grace of the Kingis Majestie, my soverane lord, and forgifnes of the great offens done to the foirsaidis persones; testifeing be my solemne aith, upon my salvatioun and condempnatioun, that the foirsaid unhappie slauchter was nawayis committit be me upone foirthocht, fellonie, or sett purpois, bot upone meir accident: Lyk as for clearing thairof, I am content to purge my selff be my greit aith in pubblict, quhair it pleissis the parties to appoint and do quhat farder homage sall be thocht expedient.

“SECONDE: I am content, not onlie for my selff, but for my haill kyn and friendis, to forgiff the slauchter of umquhile Johnne Lord Maxwell, my father, committit be the said umquhile Laird of Johnestoun and his complices, and to mak all persones quha wes ather gyltie, culpabill, or airt and pairt of the said slauchter, in securitie thairfoir, sua that thai nor nane of thame sall nevir be trublit for the same be me nor be nane of my kyn and friendis, directly nor indirectly, in tyme cuming; and for that effect, sall mak sik forme of securitie as sall agrie with reasoun.

“THIRDLIE: Becaus . . . Johnstoun, dochter to the said umquhile Sir James, wes by the suddant and unhappie slauchter of hir said umquhile father, left umprovydit of ane sufficient tocher, and for the better avoyding of all inmitie that may arryse betuix the houssis of Maxwell and Johnstoun, and for mair suir establisching of friendschip amangis thame in tym cuming, I am content to marie and tak to my wyffe the said . . . without ony tochir. [Lord Maxwell was at this time a widower; Lady Maxwell – heart-broken, it may be – having died when he was in exile.]

“FOURTHLIE: I desyre that the Laird of Johnstoun may be mareit to Dame . . . [The blanks in all these instances occur in the original; Lord Maxwell having, it would seem, been ignorant of the Christian names of the parties he wrote about.] Maxwell, eldest dochtir of Johne, Lord Hereis, and sister dochtir to me, quha is a person of lyke aige with the Laird of Johnstoun. Lyk as I sall be obleist to pay to the said Laird of Johnstoun, in name of tochir with my said sister dochtir, twentie thowsand merk Scottis; and quhat farder sall be thocht expedient, be the sicht of freindis.

“FYIFTLIE, and last: I am content, for the farder satisfactioun of the house of Johnstoun, to be Banischit his Majestei’s dominions for the space of sevin yeiris, and farder at the will and plesour of the Laird of Johnstoun.

“The Offeris to be augmentit at the sicht and discretioun of newtrall freindis, to be chosyn to that effect. Under protestatioun alwayis, that thir offerris befoir wryttin maid unto the partie, be nawayis offensive to the King’s Majestie, nor to his hienes Counsall.”

It is to be regretted that Lord Maxwell’s declaration, that the death of Sir James Johnstoun was accidental, is not supported by a particle of evidence. Had it been so, or had his crime assumed any aspect short of deliberate murder, the Government would gladly, we doubt not, have commuted the sentence in spite of the Johnstone family. The matrimonial offers made by the doomed lord would be amusing, were not the accompanying circumstances so sad. It seems clear to us that the simple references in his lordship’s “Submission,” under the second head, to the slaughter of his father, ought finally to dispose of the outrageous legend which represents Dame Johnstone of Kirkton as having beaten the suppliant’s father to death with a key at Dryfe-Sands. If the lady had really acted such a diabolical part, it would certainly have been pleaded by Lord Maxwell as in some degree a set-off to his own “unhappie” deed.

This document must have been penned by Maxwell when in prison; and on the 18th of May, less than a fortnight afterwards, the magistrates of Edinburgh visited him there, to say that his appeal for mediation and mercy had been disregarded, and that upon the following Friday, the 21st, he must be prepared to die. Their authority to this effect was given by the Privy Council, in the subjoined minute: - “Maij 18, 1613. – Ane Warrant past and exped to the Provost and Balyies of Edinburghe, to tak the lait Lord Maxwell to thair mercat croce, upon xxj. of this instant, and thair to caus strik his head from his body. The delay of tua dayis wes thocht meit to be grantit, to the effect that he micht have leaser to be resolved; and that the ministeris micht have tyme to confer with him for his better resolutioun.” The prisoner received the dread announcement with composure, professed to the magistrates his willingness to abide the pleasure of God and the King, and then requested liberty for such of his friends as he named to visit him, which was readily granted. “He had,” says the writer of the Donmylne MSS., “diverse conferences with sindrie of them, in presence of ane of the Balyies, but refuised to ressave ony assistance or comfort from the ministeris, professing him selff not to be of thair religioun, bot ane Catholik Romane.” When the fatal day arrived, we learn from the same author, that, whilst the unfortunate nobleman was being conveyed to the scaffold, he declared that as he had justly deserved to die, so he was ready patiently to meet his fate, asking mercy of God for his sins, and anxiously wishing that his Majesty might be graciously pleased to accept his life’s blood as a sufficient atonement for his offences, and not punish his house further, but be pleased to restore his brother Robert to the rank and place that had been forfeited by himself. On arriving at the place of execution, he prayed that he might receive forgiveness from the Laird of Johnstone, his mother, and other relatives; acknowledging “the wrong and harme done to them, with protestatioun that it was without dishonour or infamie (for the worldlie pairt of it – for so wer these his wordis reported to me).” He also craved pardon of Pollok, Calderwood, and other friends present, bewailing that, though he ought to have promoted their honour and safety, he had brought to them nothing but discredit and harm. Then, drawing near to the block, he kneeled in prayer, turned to take leave of his friends, and the officials had his eyes covered with a handkerchief; and offering his head to the axe, the weapon fell, and all was over in a moment. [The chief authority drawn upon for the incidents of this chapter is Pitcairn’s Criminal Trails.]

Thus ignominiously perished the ninth Lord Maxwell. He merited his awful doom; but it was deplored by a host of mourners, many of whom looked upon his crime as a legitimate piece of feudal revenge. In the halls of Carlaverock and Terregles, in the Burghal residences of Dumfries, and throughout all the borders of Nithsdale, there was much lamentation and woe on account of his cruel and untimely end. His own kinsmen and people did not view him in the light of a malefactor brought to justice: they pitied him as one who had been more unfortunate than guilty. He was their chief, the representative of an ancient and honoured house, who, whatever might have been his faults to others, had done nothing to forfeit their affection; and how could they do otherwise than sorrow for his fate? The execution of Lord Maxwell was, however, followed by beneficial consequences. “It put a final end,” as Sir Walter Scott remarks, “to ‘the foul debate’ betwixt the Maxwells and Johnstones, in the course of which each family lost two chieftains: one dying of a broken heart, one in the field of battle, one by assassination, and one by the sword of the executioner.” It also tended to the pacification of Dumfriesshire. As Dryfe-Sands was the deadliest party conflict ever waged in the County, so it was the last by which its tranquility was disturbed. Four years after Lord Maxwell suffered at Edinburgh, the forfeiture included in his sentence was reversed; and as he left no issue, his estates and honours devolved on his younger brother, Robert.

In 1620, Robert, Lord Maxwell, was created Earl of Nithsdale – a new peerage conferred upon him in lieu of that of Morton, which, as we have seen, was given to his father in 1581, but afterwards restored to the Douglasses. It is deemed probable that the Nithsdale earldom was obtained through the influence of the Duke of Buckingham, as Robert Lord Maxwell’s wife, Elizabeth Beaumont, was cousin to the Countess of Buckingham, mother of the Duke. [The Maxwells of Pollok, Preface, p. 12.]


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