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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter VII


William Livingston, last Lord Kilsyth—Case of Betty Whytfoord—Marches into England—The Edinburgh Convention —Attempt to join Dundee—Arrested—Critical Position— Appeal for Mercy—Banishment—Marries Lady Dundee—The Exchanged Rings—Utrecht—Lady Livingston Killed—Presbyterian Plots—Exposure of Lady Livingston’s Remains—A Picturesque Description—Sir Archibald Edmonstone’s Letter to Napier—Lord Kilsyth and the French Plot—Again Arrested —“The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar”—Battle of Sheriffmuir —Lord Kilsyth Flees—The Last of the Kilsyth Livingstons.

The life of William Livingston, third and last Viscount Kilsyth, is inwoven with the destinies of the Scottish people at a most critical period of their history. He was born on the 29th March, 1650, and educated at the University of Glasgow. On leaving college, and being a younger son, he naturally adopted the profession of arms. His life was spent in the midst of the troubles of his time, and is full of romance and adventure. His career brings into view the final efforts of the Jacobites for supremacy, the extinction of their hopes in 1715, and the triumphant establishment of the religious liberties of the Scottish people. His first appearance on the -stage of life to a less enterprising and buoyant spirit would certainly have been ruinous. Having fallen in love with Miss Betty Whytfoord, a daughter of Sir John Whytfoord of Milneton, this lady found herself compelled to raise against him in the Court of Session an action for breach of promise of marriage and seduction. On the 1st March, 1684, he was summoned before theCourt to give his reasons for not implementing his promise. Lord Kilsyth was in London, and begged for delay on account of illness. Lord Fountainhall, who tried the case, repelled the plea, with the remark “ that it was convenient for defendants in such cases to simulate sickness on the date of the meeting of the Court.” The case went against him by default In 1685 he was returned a member of Parliament for Stirlingshire, and in the same year he was

appointed Commissioner of Estates. His duty was to see that his county paid its proportion of supplies voted by the house. He had only sat in Parliament two years when he abandoned politics for the more stirring associations of a military life. When James VII. was dreading the invasion of the Prince of Orange, he turned his eyes to the North and summoned his Scottish troops to his assistance. In 1688 the Scottish army marched southward under the command of General Douglas, who afterwards deserted to the enemy. Livingston was one of his officers, and held the position of Lieutenant-Colonel. It was an ill-starred expedition. James fled. The officers joined the standard of William. The soldiers attempted to march back to Scotland, but were finally surrounded by Dutch and English troops, and compelled to lay down their arms. Lord Kilsyth had been carried along by the current. Before he could well realise his position he found himself an officer in the army of William, an army called upon to prosecute his cause in the field. At the famous Convention held in Edinburgh, March, 1689, he was present at the memorable tavern dinner, where a number of those like-minded with himself pledged the health of James and drank destruction to his enemies.

On the 18th, Claverhouse, having fled to Dudhope, near Dundee, was proclaimed a traitor, and Mackay was sent in his pursuit. Claverhouse fleeing northward, Mackay threw into Dundee two troops of dragoons in command of Lord Kilsyth, who at once communicated with Lady Dundee, resident at Dudhope. Kilsyth informed her ladyship of the state of his mind, and assured her he was ready along with his troops to join her husband’s cause so soon as a favourable opportunity should present itself. When Claverhouse heard from his wife of the promised support of Lord Kilsyth, hotly pursued though he was, with his usual adroitness he gave Mackay the slip, and on the 13th May, 1689, he suddenly appeared before the walls of the town from which he took his title. He had hoped that so soon as he showed himself he would be joined by Kilsyth and his dragoons. This would certainly have occurred, but when his Lordship gave command to his troopers to march out, he was thwarted by Captain Balfour, a subordinate officer, who by some means had got an inkling of the plot. Balfour’s influence was so powerful with the men, that, believing he would get but few followers, Kilsyth thought it best to keep his own counsel and let the matter drop in the meantime.

Hours were precious, and Claverhouse, unwilling to risk an attack upon the town, at once struck northward toward the Angus Highlands. When Mackay in his turn was retreating before the gathering army of Claverhouse, he was joined on the Spey by Kilsyth and his troopers. Mackay had heard whispers of his disaffection, but was loath to believe the story. Thinking, however, that discretion was necessary, he placed Kilsyth and his men in a position where they were surrounded by English horse. The consequence was that the favourable opportunity for which Kilsyth waited never came. Mackay very soon got his eyes open to the nature of the conspiracy which Kilsyth had been planning. Having been strongly reinforced, rather than retreat further before Claverhouse he resolved he would suddenly turn upon him and attack him. Unaware how his enemy had been strengthened, Dundee was lying at Edinglassie, on the Don, in fancied security, while Mackay was creeping upon him stealthily in the hope of overwhelming him by a sudden surprise.

Kilsyth trembled for the fate of Claverhouse when he saw the scheme of destruction which Mackay was preparing for him. Despatching one provengal, his sergeant, along with his personal servant, he sent to Viscount Dundee and warned him of the jeopardy in which he stood and the bolt that had been forged against him. The messengers discharged their duty, and Dundee was saved. Before, however, the emissaries had time to return, Mackay had commenced his advance on Dundee’s encampment. When he reached it he found to his chagrin the place deserted and his plans upset. Close to the camp the two messengers were found hid in the woods. They were immediately pounced upon and examined. Mackay’s eyes having been opened, he did not allow the grass to grow beneath his feet. Lord Kilsyth, along with three captains, one lieutenant, and several dragoons, was at once arrested. They were sent to Edinburgh, and each was confined in a dungeon in the Tolbooth until such time as they should be brought to trial. Mackay advised that the emissaries who had been captured near the camp should be put to death, and, that the full truth might be elucidated, that the other troopers should be put to the torture. At this juncture Lord Kilsyth’s position was critical in the extreme. He had been the leader of the conspiracy beyond doubt, and William being every inch a soldier, and well aware of the enormity of his offence, it is highly probable the signing of a warrant for Kilsyth’s execution would not have caused him the slightest concern. Kilsyth’s friends were both powerful and influential, and they did everything they could to save his head.

After the court-martial, Kilsyth’s case was delayed, and it is supposed the good offices of Dalrymple and Melville were secured by substantial bribes. Be this as it may, to the crime of conspiracy Kilsyth certainly did not add that of murder. The story that Claverhouse received his death-wound from the hand of Kilsyth that he might marry his widow is found upon investigation to be a mere popular imagination. When the battle of Killiecrankie was fought, Kilsyth was lying a close prisoner in the Tolbooth waiting the pleasure of the King. The Government were unwilling to proceed to extremities, but the nature of the doom hanging over his head, united to the irksomeness of the suspense and the privations of prison life, so thoroughly broke down the spirit of Kilsyth that he wrote and forwarded to William an appeal for mercy couched in pitiable language. The King read his unofficerlike letter and spared his life. The rents of his estates were, however, sequestrated, and for the next five years he remained a prisoner. Kilsyth’s captivity terminated on the 10th May, 1694. On that day the Scottish Council received a letter from the King making intimation that William Livingston was to be liberated on the condition of his leaving “the three kingdoms,” and that he was not to return without the King’s permission under penalty of one thousand pounds sterling.

Livingston took passage on board a Dutch vessel from Leith to Holland. The ship not being ready to sail on the expiry of the short period of grace granted him, he received a further extension of time. Kilsyth used the interval allowed him in bringing to a termination the addresses he had been paying to Jean Cochrane, the widow of Viscount Dundee. These addresses must have been paid for the most part by letter, as the opportunities afforded them for meeting during the period of Kilsyth’s imprisonment were of the very scantiest kind. Around this marriage there clusters a large amount of romantic tradition, and not the least interesting of these stories is that which recounts the curious episode of the exchange and loss of the engagement, or betrothal, rings. The late Sir Archibald Edmonstone said that the marriage of Kilsyth with the beautiful widow of Claverhouse took place at Colzium, and that they met there about a year after the battle of Killiecrankie. At this meeting Kilsyth presented Lady Dundee with a gold ring as a pledge of his affection. As bad luck would have it, the lady dropped the ring the next day in the garden. The circumstance was regarded as of evil omen, and a liberal reward was offered to the fortunate finder. The offer proved fruitless, and after nearly a century had rolled away the incident was passing rapidly into oblivion.

When, however, in 1796, the ring was discovered in a clod of earth by the gardener when he was digging, the whole story was once more brought freshly to the recollection, and the newly found ring was at once held to be the lost ring of Lady Kilsyth. It is a hoop of gold without any stone, and of the intrinsic value of ten shillings. It is ornamented on the external surface with a myrtle wreath, and on the internal surface it bears the inscription, “Zours onlly and Euver". But this is not all. Some years after another gold ring was found not very far from the spot where the first was discovered. This second ring is larger, and bears the inscription, “Yours till dathe.* Of the loss of this second ring there is no tradition, but it may well be supposed it was the ring Lady Dundee gave to Lord Kilsyth. Both rings are now at Duntreath, and in the possession of the present Sir Archibald Edmonstone. The story is romantic, and may be defective in its details, and the hands of the lovers are long cold, but the rings and their inscriptions remain the tangible and visible memorials of an extinct passion. Having accompanied her husband to Holland, Lady Kilsyth some time afterwards gave birth to a son. They took up their residence at Utrecht in a very modest house. The roof of it was loaded with turf, which served the purpose of fuel. One afternoon in October, 1695, Kilsyth had two friends to dinner. One of his guests, a Mr. Blair, left early, but the other lingered on into the evening. In a moment, through the weight of the fuel, the joisting gave way, and the little party were buried beneath the turf and rubbish. After three quarters of an hour Kilsyth and his friend were extricated. Lady Kilsyth, however, and her infant son, along with Mrs. Melville, the nurse, perished.

To his wife Lord Kilsyth was greatly devoted. Whatever the enormity of his original offence, there can be little doubt that the sudden and appalling visitation which had desolated his hearth softened somewhat the hearts of his political opponents, and made the period of his exile much shorter than otherwise it would have been. The broken-hearted man stanched his grief by honouring as he was able the poor remains of wife and child. Using the most costly nards and ointments, he had the bodies embalmed after a manner worthy of the time of the Pharaohs. A year after, when the purpose of his heart in this particular was accomplished, he recrossed the German Sea, and deposited the embalmed bodies in a vault in the churchyard of Kilsyth. The burial service was conducted amidst the greatest pomp and ceremony. There was an enormous crowd, and the county had never seen a costlier funeral.

The Presbyterian preachers made more of Lady Kilsyth’s death than they were entitled to do. They represented it as a witness of that divine vengeance which would sooner or later overtake the enemies of the Covenant. Wodrow writes:—“Lady Kilsyth, the relict of Clavers, was very violent against the Presbyterians, and it is said she used frequently to say she wished that day she heard a Presbyterian minister, the house might fall down and smother her, which it did.” The story referred to is to the effect that, on the morning of the day on which she was killed, she had gone to hear Mr. Robert Fleming, one of Scotland’s banished pastors. Dr. Rennie, on the other hand, gave credence to a story he found floating in the parish, which laid the whole blame of Lady Kilsyth’s death on the Covenanters. There being at that time a considerable number of members of Scotland’s persecuted Church in Holland, it was said they entered into a plot with the landlady of a meeting-house for the destruction of a number of the Scottish nobility, who had been the cause of their banishment and sufferings. Having previously sawn through the supports of the roof of the hall, when the company was assembled, at a signal it was let fall upon them with the most disastrous consequences. Dr. Rennie represents Lady Kilsyth and her child as the victims of this Presbyterian plot, and gives 1717 as the date, although she had already been dead twenty-two years.

Dr. Rennie was a much better natural philosopher than historian, and when he describes things that came under his own personal observation, there could not be a more faithful or luminous witness. To him we are indebted for a narrative of the circumstances attending the desecration of Lady Kilsyth’s grave. It was communicated to “ A Tour through the Highlands,” by Dr. Garnett, and accompanied by a drawing of Lady Dundee and her child as they appeared in the coffin, by an artist named Watts. The features are regular, and the face still beautiful, as if her ladyship had fallen into a gentle and peaceful slumber. On the right cheek there is the mark of the blow which she received in the accident, and the child at her feet gives to the drawing a touch of tenderest pathos. The first exposure of the remains has been attributed to some young men, students of the University of Glasgow.

“The body was enclosed,” writes Dr. Rennie, “first in a coffin of fir; next in a leaden coffin nicely cemented, but without any inscription : this was again covered with a very strong wooden coffin. The space between the two was filled up with a white matter, somewhat of the colour and consistency of putty, apparently composed of gums and perfumes, for it had a rich and delicious flavour. When I was a boy at school I have frequently seen the coffin in which she lies ; for the vault was then always accessible and often opened. But at that time the wooden coffin was entire. Indeed, it was only within a few years that it decayed. Even after this the lead one remained entire for a considerable time, but being very brittle and thin it also began to moulder away; a slight touch of the finger penetrated any part of it. In the apertures thus made nothing was seen but the gummy matter above mentioned. When this was partly removed, which was easily done, being very soft, and only about an inch in thickness, another wooden coffin appeared, which seemed quite clean and fresh. But no one ever thought of opening it till the spring of 1796 [?1795], when some rude and regardless young men went to visit the tomb, and, with sacrilegious hands, tore open the leaden coffin. To their surprise they found under the lid a covering of fir as clean and fresh as if it had been made the day before. The cover, being loose, was easily removed. With astonishment and consternation, they saw the bodies of Lady Kilsyth [Viscountess of Dundee], and her child, as perfect as the hour they were embalmed.

“For some weeks this circumstance was kept secret; but at last it began to be whispered in several companies, and soon excited great curiosity. On the 12th June, while I was from home, great crowds assembled and would not be denied admission. At all hours of the night, as well as of the day, they afterwards persisted in gratifying their curiosity.

“I saw the body soon after the coffin was opened. Every feature and every limb was as clean and fresh, and the colours of the ribbons as bright, as the day they were lodged in the tomb. What rendered the scene more striking and truly interesting, was, that the body of her son and only child, the natural heir of the title and estates of Kilsyth, lay at her knee His features were as composed as if he had been only asleep. His colour was as fresh, and his flesh as plump and full, as in the perfect glow of health. The smile of infancy and innocence sat on his lips. His shroud was not only entire, but perfectly clean, without a particle of dust upon it. He seems to have been only a few months old. The body of Lady Kilsyth was equally well preserved; and at a little distance, by the feeble light of a taper, it would not have been easy to distinguish whether she was dead or alive. The features—nay, the very expression of her countenance—were marked and distinct, and it was only in a certain light that you could distinguish anything like ghastly and agonising traits of a violent death. Not a single fold of her shroud was discomposed, nor a single member impaired.

“But as no description can give a just idea of the neatness or elegance of her appearance, I therefore refer you to the sketch by Mr. Watts. I have only to lament that his representation was finished chiefly from my description, as the time you saw the body it was much sullied and the shroud injured. But it is as near the original as I can recollect, or as any pencil can express. I can only say, it is not a flattering portrait. Let the candid reader survey this sketch—let him recall to mind the tragic tale it unfolds, and say, if he can, that it does not arrest the attention and interest the heart. For my part, it excited in my mind a thousand melancholy reflections ; and I could not but regret that such rudeness had been offered to the ashes of the dead, so as to expose them thus to the public view.

“The body seemed to have been preserved in some liquid nearly the colour and appearance of brandy; the whole coffin seems to have been full of it, and all its con* tents saturated with it The body had assumed somewhat the same tinge, but this seemed only to give it a fresher look; it had none of the ghastly livid hue of death, but rather a copper complexion. It would not, I believe, have been difficult for a chemist to ascertain the nature of this liquid; though perfectly transparent it had lost its pungent qualities, its taste being quite vapid. I have heard that several medical gentlemen carried off small phials of it, but do not know whether they made any experiments with it. The rich odoriferous flavour continued not only in the vault, but even in the church for many weeks, as can be attested by hundreds. All agree it was a mixture of perfumes, but of what kind it is not easy to say; the most prevalent seemed to be that of spirits of turpentine, and it is certain that this odour continued the longest

“The head reclined on a pillow, and as the covering decayed, it was found to contain a collection of strong scented herbs. Balm, sage, and mint were easily distinguished, and it was the opinion of many that the body was filled with the same. Although the bodies were thus entire at first, I expected to see them soon crumble into dust, especially as they were exposed to the open-air, and the fine aromatic fluid had evaporated; and it seems surprising that they did not. For several weeks they underwent no visible change; and had they not been sullied with dust, and the drops of grease from the candles held over them, I am confident they might have remained as entire as ever, for even a few months ago the bodies were as firm and entire as at the first, and although pressed with the finger, did not yield to the touch, but seemed to retain the elasticity of the living body. Even the shroud, though torn by the hands of the regardless multitude, is still strong and free from rot. Perhaps the most singular phenomenon is, that the bodies seem not to have undergone the smallest decomposition or disorganisation. Some medical gentlemen having made a small incision in the arm of the infant, the substance of the body was found quite firm, and every part in its original state.”

Such is Dr. Rennie’s picturesque description, but how he allowed this scandalous exposure of the remains of Lady Dundee to continue is wholly uriaccountable, and by no means to his credit. It was not that they might become a parochial spectacle that Lord Kilsyth spent his affection on the remains of his dead wife. The bodies were finally hidden away from the public gaze by the late Sir Archibald Edmonstone. In a letter, dated the 3rd February, 1862, to Napier, the biographer of Dundee and Montrose, Sir Archibald writes :—“ About forty years ago the old church of Kilsyth was pulled down and a new one built in a different situation: the vault was, however, preserved, and my factors buried in it. On the death of my last, eleven years ago, when the vault was opened for him, I, to my disgust, found that the sexton had taken up the body of Lady Dundee to put that of Mr.-in its place. I then saw it. It was perfectly shrivelled and discoloured; and what surprised me was, that in the sketch in f Garnett’s Tour,’ the child was lying at the feet, whereas now it was lying on her breast; I suppose so placed when the coffin decayed. I immediately ordered the body to be walled up within the vault, so that it would never be exposed again, and I have put up a memorial inscription on the spot. No relic, that I am aware of, was found in the grave.”

The unaccountable persistency with which the Jacobites clung to their belief that the Throne of the country would once more have “its rightful occupant ” could have no better illustration than that afforded by the subsequent career of Lord Kilsyth. After the burial of his wife he was elected to occupy his old seat as one of the members for Stirlingshire, and that position he held till the 3rd October, 1706, when, on the death of his brother, he was raised to the Peerage. At that time the country lost its head over the Darien enterprise. The majority of the Scottish nobility and merchants were severely bitten. The bubble burst, and Lord Kilsyth lost the sum of ;£iooo sterling, which the books of the company show he subscribed on the afternoon of the 31st March, 1696. In 1707 Colonel Hooke, a secret agent from the Court of Versailles and St. Germains, visited Scotland for the impose of engaging the disaffected nobility in the interests of the King of France, and stirring up if possible a Jacobite rising. Hooke was the very man for this delicate mission, being wily and wary, and full of deceit and diplomacy. He looked to the Duke of Hamilton and Lord Kilsyth as two men whom he was certain to enlist in the plot He had an interview with Kilsyth, who was also a commissioner of Hamilton’s, at the house of Lord Stormont. Kilsyth insisted that they must be provided with a force of 8000 men and a large sum of money before they could think of entertaining the French proposals.

Hooke, upon their agreeing to the scheme, proposed to submit their proposals to the King of France. The other nobles who were present consented to this. Lord Kilsyth, however, stood firm, and would have nothing to do with the conspiracy until he saw both the men and the money. The nobles took Hooke’s side, and the meeting grew warm. Finding his counsel set aside by his own countrymen, Lord Kilsyth, “ nettled to the quick, got up, and went away.” Afterwards Kilsyth and Hooke had a private interview. Kilsyth was considerably affected at the prospect of the restoration of his King and the deliverance of his country,'but he refused to sign the memorial to the French King until he had seen the Duke of Hamilton and disengaged himself of his promise. The two men parted on this understanding, agreeing to meet again at the house of the Countess of Errol. The meeting never took place. The news of an impending French invasion, and the rumour of a Jacobite rising, flew through the country like wildfire. The Government at once arrested the Marquis of Huntly, the Earls of Seaforth and Nithsdale, and the Viscounts Stormont and Kilsyth. They were thrown into Edinburgh Castle, and in April, 1708, they were conducted to London under an escort of dragoons. The French expedition failed, the prisoners were admitted to bail, and the proceedings were allowed to quietly drop. Kilsyth was hated by the Government, but he was greatly popular in Scotland, and he held his seat and voted steadily against the measures for the Parliamentary Union of England and Scotland. When the Act did pass, he was elected to sit in the English House of Lords as one of the sixteen representative Scottish Peers. That was in 1713. Two years later he took those steps and committed those acts of rebellion which brought about his utter ruin and exile. Being a well-known Jacobite, the Earl of Mar invited him to attend the celebrated hunting meeting at Braemar in August, 1715. The ruse was successful, the nobles met, and were able to confer.

“There ye might see the noble Mar,
Wi* Athol, Huntly, and Traquair,
Seaforth, Kilsyth, and Auldubair,
And mony mae what reck again,“

"Then what are a’ their Westland crews?
We’ll gar the tailors tack again;
Can they forestan’ the tartan trews
And Auld Stuart’s back again?”

The standard of the Pretender was immediately raised. Mar sped the fiery cross through the Highlands, and 10,000 men gathered about him in a wonderfully short space of time. Had this army, full as it was of zeal and energy, been properly handled, there can be little doubt it would have scored for the Jacobites a number of successes, and prolonged the Rebellion for a considerable period. But Mar wanted the qualifications of Dundee and Montrose. He was a man of good parts and soldier-like presence, but as a commander, he was irresolute, tentative, vacillating. The moment the clansmen gathered, he should have acted with boldness and determination. Instead, the slowness of his movements damped the ardour of his followers, and gave Argyll time to rally the Government forces. When the impetuosity of the Highlanders could no longer be restrained, at the head of 12,000 men he marched from Perth to meet Argyll, who was stationed at Dunblane.

The forces of Argyll were much smaller, but in point of discipline and equipment they were much superior to those of Mar. SherifTmuir is of the shape of an inverted saucer. It is a waste, boggy, uncultivated tract, near the ancient cathedral seat of Dunblane. There the two armies met. They found themselves in battle order against each other on the morning of Sunday, the 13th November. Rob Roy was present, but performed the part of an onlooker. Through the nature of the ground the armies were within pistol shot of each other before they came fully into each others’ view. The Highlanders pursued their wonted tactics. Throwing aside their plaids they discharged their muskets with steady aim. Having fired their pieces, they then flung them down, and drawing their claymores, with a fierce yell of defiance dashed on the foe. The right wing of the army was led by Mar in person, and by sheer courage, and the resolute use of dirk and broadsword, he overpowered the Government troops with great slaughter and drove them before him. From the pursuit Mar was called by the news of the disaster which had befallen his left wing. That portion of his army had been outflanked and reduced to confusion by a skilful manoeuvre of Argyll’s horse. The clansmen retreated, fighting every inch of the ground, till Argyll, afraid of being attacked in his rear, drew off his forces and formed them in battle order. Much weakened and broken, Argyll never imagined but Mar would be immediately' upon him like a lion. Mar, however, acted like himself; he failed to take advantage of his position, and drew off his Highlanders. At this juncture an aged clansman, seeing his irresolution, cried in the bitterness of his soul, “Oh for an hour of Dundee.” Mar lost 800, and Argyll 610 men, and thus unsatisfactorily terminated the battle of Sheriffmuir. It was a drawn game.

“Some say that we wan, and some say that they wan,
And some say that nane wan ava’ man.”

Mar had missed his chance, and the clansmen soon melted away.

Political vengeance quickly followed. The Scottish gentlemen who were taken were tried and executed. Many saved themselves by flight. Amongst these was Lord Kilsyth. He fought at Sheriffmuir, and, having witnessed the uncertain assault, he saw clearly that the hopes of the Jacobites were extinguished, and also that, so far as he was concerned—an arch-conspirator from his youth—even to dream of mercy was foolishness. With all haste he fled to the Continent. His estates and titles were immediately attainted, and the whole of his property forfeited to the Crown. He survived for eighteen years the disasters of the '15, and “in an advanced age, in perfect judgment, and showing a Christian and exemplary resignation,” he died at Rome on the 12th January, 1733. His second wife was a daughter of Macdougall of Mackerston. Thus perished, in exile and misery, the last of the Lords of Kilsyth, the last of a family than whom the House of Stuart had not more staunch supporters, a family who had risen under their rule to influence and honour, and who in their day of misfortune and disaster had been brought to ruin.


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