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Significant Scots
William Kirkaldy


KIRKALDY, WILLIAM, one of the earliest converts to the protestant faith in Scotland, and a brave and accomplished man, was the eldest son of Sir James Kirkaldy of Grange, high treasurer to James V. of Scotland. [The facts in this article are in general taken from the memoir of Kirkaldy of Grange by Mr Graham Dalyell, a gentleman who has been so minute in his investigations that it would be difficult to find a fact of importance omitted by him.] Of the period of his birth and the method of his education we have been unable to discover any satisfactory information; but like the greater number of the Scottish barons at that time, he seems to have chosen, or to have been devoted by his parents, to the profession of arms. At the death of James, his father seems to have lost his situation in the government; yet with a view of procuring that nobleman’s assistance to the cause of protestantism, he was one of the most active assistants in raising Arran to the regency; but in the hope he had formed, he was to a considerable extent disappointed.

Young Grange, as well as his father, had embraced the principles of the Reformation; and his first appearance in the historic page is as one of the conspirators against the persecutor, cardinal David Beaton. The circumstances of this renowned conspiracy have already been commemorated in these pages. The conspirators having, by an act which cannot be justified, avenged the death of the martyr Wishart by assassinating his murderer, shut themselves up in the castle of St Andrews, which they held for several months, and only surrendered, after being besieged by a French force, in the end of July or the beginning of August, 1546. It was stipulated that the lives of all that were in the castle should be spared; that they should be transported to France, whence, if they did not choose to continue in that country, they were to be transported to whatever other country they chose, Scotland excepted. The victors, however, did not find it necessary or convenient to attend to the terms of the stipulation; the greater part of the garrison were sent to the galleys, and the leaders immured in different dungeons. Norman Leslie, Peter Carmichael, and the subject of this memoir, were imprisoned in Mount St Michael, where they lay a considerable time. From this place they wrote a letter to John Knox, who was in the galleys, asking the somewhat superfluous question whether they might not with a good conscience break their prison. To this Knox naturally answered in the affirmative, with the proviso, that they were not morally entitled to shed blood in the attempt.

Embracing the opportunity of a festival night, when the garrison were intoxicated, they bound every man in the castle, locked the doors, and departed, having it is said, strictly adhered to the humane recommendation of Knox. The two Leslies came to Rohan, and speedily escaped; but Kirkaldy and Peter Carmichael, disguised as beggars, wandered through the country for upwards of a quarter of a year; at the termination of which period they got on board a French ship, which landed them in the west of Scotland, whence they found their way into England.

Kirkaldy appears to have spent a considerable portion of the ensuing period of his life in France, where he entered the army, and was distinguished as a brave and skilful soldier in the wars between the French king and the emperor Charles V. Sir James Melville informs us, that in these wars he commanded a hundred light horsemen; and for his useful services, received the commendation of the duke of Vendome, the prince of Condé, and the duke of Aumale. Henry II., he adds, used to point him out and say, "Yonder is one of the most valiant men of our age." Henry indeed seems to have used him with the most endearing familiarity, and in all the pastimes which he attended, is said to have chosen Grange as a supporter of his own side, in their mimic battles; while, according to the same writer, who is always circumstantial in recording the honours paid to a Scotsman, the great constable of France would never speak to him uncovered. We are not aware of the exact date of his return to Scotland, but we find him in that country in the year 1559.

During the border wars of this period, an incident occurred peculiarly characteristic of the chivalrous temper of Kirkaldy, which is otherwise remarkable as being the latest "passage of arms" which has been handed down to us, described with all the minute "pomp and circumstance" of Froissart. Lindsay of Pitscottie, who describes the circumstance, tells us, that lord Evers’s brother desired to fight with Kirkaldy "ane singular combatt upone horseback with speares." Sir William was "very weill content" with such a species of amusement, and consented to meet the challenger on any spot he might prefer. The lord Evers’s brother was attended by the governor of Berwick and his whole garrison, while Kirkaldy was waited on by "Monseor Doswell (Mons. d’ Oswell?), the king of France lieftennent," with the garrison of Heymouth, and other Scottish gentlemen. In bringing the opposing armies so near each other, and within view of example so seducing, it was necessary to "decerne under paine of treasoun, that no man should come near the championes, be the space of ane flight shot." Each of the champions had a squire to bear his spear, there were two trumpeters to sound the charge, and after the most approved method, two lords were appointed as judges of the field, "to sie the matter finished." "And when all things war put to ordour, and the championes horsed, and their speirs in their hands, then the trumpeters sounded, and the heralds cryed, and the judges let them go, and they ran together very furiously on both sides, bot the laird of Grange ran his adversar, the Inglisman, throw his shoulder blaid, and aff his hors, and was woundit deadlie, and in perill of his lyff; but quhidder he died or lived I cannot tell, [Lindsay of Pitscottie, ii. 524.] bot the laird of Grange wan the victorie that day."

Kirkaldy became after this incident actively engaged in the cause of the Reformation. When the French troops arrived to subdue Scotland, and by means of the popish faction reduce it to a province of France, no man stood firmer to the interests of his country, and in the first encounter he is said to have slain the first man with his own hand. To the French, who were aware of his bravery and military skill, he was particularly obnoxious, and in one of their inroads through Fife they razed his house of Grange to the foundation. Naturally exasperated at such an act, Kirkaldy sent a defiance to the French commander; reproached him for his barbarity, and reminded him of the many Frenchmen whom he had saved when engaged in quarrels not his own. The commander, less chivalrous than Grange, paid no regard to the communication; and the latter took vengeance by waylaying a party of marauders, and cutting them off to a man. During this invasion of Fife by the French, he had a mere handful of men, and these were but poorly provided, yet he retarded the powerful and well-appointed troops of France at every village and at every field, disputing as it were, every inch of ground, and making them purchase at a ruinous price every advantage.

In common with all the wise and good among his countrymen, Kirkaldy was convinced of the danger of the French alliance, and of the far superior advantages which might be derived from a connexion with England, which by a barbarous and ignorant policy had been always overlooked or despised, and he contributed materially to the formation of that friendship which subsisted between the ministers of Elizabeth and the Scottish reformers, without which, it may be doubted if the reformation of that country could have been effected. In the contests that arose between Mary and her subjects, while it must be admitted that his correspondence with the English was clandestine, contrary to the law, and not perhaps dictated by motives quite purely patriotic, he steadily adhered to the popular cause. Kirkaldy was among the number of the adherents of Moray, who on the temporary success of the queen, were compelled in 1565, to take refuge or " banish themselves" in England, and the criminal record shows us some instances of barbarous punishment denounced on those who had intercourse with them, as " intercommuning with rebels." [Pitcairn’s Crim. Trials, i. (p. i.) 466, 478.]

When after her unhappy marriage and flight to Dunbar, she returned with an army to meet the lords who had entered into a confederation for the preservation of the prince, Grange was one of the most active and influential among them, having the command of two hundred horse, with which he intended at Carberry hill, by a stratagem, to have seized upon the earl of Bothwell, which he hoped would have been the means of putting an end to the contest between the queen and her subjects. The queen, however, who highly respected him, perceiving the approach of the troop, and understanding that he was their leader, requested to speak with him, which prevented the attempt being made. While he was in this conference with the queen, Bothwell called forth a soldier to shoot him, who was in the very act of taking aim, when the queen perceiving him, gave a sudden scream, and exclaimed to Bothwell, that he surely would not disgrace her so far as to murder a man who stood under her protection. With that frank honesty which was natural to him, Kirkaldy told her that it was of absolute necessity, if she ever expected to enjoy the services and the confidence of her subjects, that she should abandon Bothwell, who was the murderer of her husband, and who could never be a husband to her, having been so lately married to the sister of the earl of Huntly. Bothwell, who stood near enough to overhear part of this colloquy, offered to vindicate himself by single combat, from the charge of any one who should accuse him of murdering the king. Grange told him he should have a speedy answer; and returning to the lords, found little difficulty in persuading them of the propriety of his accepting the challenge, which he did without hesitation. Bothwell, however, thought it prudent to decline, on the plea that Kirkaldy being only a baron, was not his equal. To the laird of Tullibardine he objected on the same ground. The lord Lindsay then came forward, whom he could not refuse on the score of inequality; but he finally declined to engage. The queen then sent again for Grange, and proposed surrendering herself to the lords. Bothwell, in the mean time, made his escape. The queen holding out her hand, Kirkaldy kissed it, and taking her horse by the bridle turned him about, and led her down the bill. This was almost the full measure of Mary’s humiliation, which was accomplished by her entry into Edinburgh amidst the execrations of the rabble. The lords, (particularly Kirkaldy) were still willing to treat her with kindness, if she could have been prevailed on to abandon Bothwell. The same night, however, she wrote a letter to him, calling him "her dear heart, whom she should never forget nor abandon, though she was under the necessity of being absent from him for a time;" adding, that she had sent him away only for his own safety, and willing him to be comforted, and to be watchful and take care of himself. This letter falling into the hands of the lords, convinced them that her passion for Bothwell was incurable; and they determined to secure her in Lochleven. Grange alone wished to excuse her, and hoped that gentle usage might yet reclaim her; but they showed him her letter to Bothwell which had fallen into their hands, which left him no room to speak more on her behalf. The queen, in the mean time, sent him a letter, lamenting her hard usage, and complaining of broken promises. He wrote to her in return, stating what he had already attempted in her behalf, and how his mouth had been stopped by her letter to Bothwell; "marvelling that her majesty considered not that the said earl could never be her lawful husband, being so lately before married to another, whom he had deserted without any just ground, even though he had not been so hated for the murder of the king her husband. He therefore requested her to dismiss him entirely from her mind, seeing otherwise that she could never obtain the love or respect of her subjects, nor have that obedience paid her which otherwise she might expect."

His letter contained many other loving and humble admonitions which made her bitterly to weep. Eager to free the queen and the nation of Bothwell, Grange most willingly accepted the command of two small vessels that had been fitted up from Morton’s private purse (for Bothwell had not left a sufficient sum for the purpose in the Scottish treasury), with which he set sail towards Orkney, whither it was reported Bothwell had fled. He was accompanied by the laird of Tullibardine and Adam Bothwell, bishop of Orkney. Bothwell having made his escape from Orkney, was pursued by Grange to the coast of Norway, where, at the moment when they had almost overtaken the fugitive, the impetuosity of Kirkaldy, who called on the mariners to hoist more sail than the vessel was able to carry, lost them their prize, and they were wrecked on a sand bank. Bothwell escaped in a small boat to the shore, leaving his ship and his servants a prey to Kirkaldy. This unhappy man fled to Denmark, and the method of his end is too well known to be repeated.

The regent Moray was in the mean time establishing order and tranquillity generally through the country. The king, an infant, had been crowned at Stirling, and his authority in the person of the regent very generally acknowledged, when the queen, making her escape from Lochleven, and putting herself into the hands of the Hamiltons, created new and serious calamities. The regent being at that time in Glasgow, holding his justice-eyre, was just at hand, and meeting with the queen and her followers at Langside, on the way for Dumbarton castle, gave them, though they were far more in number than all the king’s friends that he could muster, an entire overthrow. The regent led the battle himself, assisted by Grange, who being an experienced soldier, was appointed to oversee the whole battle; to ride to every wing, and to encourage and make help wherever it was most required. The dispositions of the regent were excellent, and his followers behaved with great courage; so that the victory was soon won, and there being few horsemen to pursue, and the regent calling out to save and not to kill, there were not many taken or killed; the greatest slaughter, according to Sir James Melville, being at the first rencounter by the shot of some troops that were planted behind the dykes at the head of the lane leading up to the village.

Having taken the command of the castle of Edinburgh from Sir James Balfour, the regent bestowed it upon Grange, who appears to have had the principal direction of affairs during the time that Moray through the intrigues of the queen’s faction was called up to the conferences at York. Lethington, subtile, restless, and changeable, had by this time changed to the queen’s side, whom he almost openly owned during the time of these conferences, and he had imposed upon the unsuspecting disposition of Grange, enticing him into a kind of doubtful neutrality, which had an unhappy influence upon the public cause, and ended fatally for Grange himself. Lethington and Sir James Balfour having been both at last arrested under an accusation of having been concerned in the king’s murder, Grange took them into his own hands, and protected them in the castle, which he refused to deliver up to the regent. On the murder of the regent Moray in 1570, it did not immediately appear what party Grange would embrace. It was evident, however, that for some time previous to this event he had leaned to the side of the queen, and the castle of Edinburgh in a short time became the resort and general rendezvous of all who opposed the party of the prince.

The earl of Lennox succeeding to the regency was supported by Elizabeth, who sent an army into Scotland for that purpose, and to retaliate upon some of the border chieftains, who had made inroads into the English territories, particularly Buccleugh and Fernihurst. Grange, in the mean time, by the orders of the queen’s faction, who now assembled parliaments of their own, liberated all those who had been formerly given him in charge as prisoners, for their opposition to the king in the person of the regent. These, dispersing themselves over the country, some pretending to be employed in a civil, and others in a military capacity, carried dissension and rebellion along with them, to the entire ruin of the miserable inhabitants. Lord Seaton, to intimidate the citizens of Edinburgh, who in general leaned to the side of the king, assembled his vassals at Holyrood house, while the Hamiltons, with the whole strength of their faction, assembled at Linlithgow, when they made a sudden and unexpected attack upon the castle of Glasgow, the residence of Lennox the regent. Coming upon the place by surprise, they gained the court, and set fire to the great hall; but they were soon repulsed, and the approach of the king’s army, a principal part of which was English, compelled them to raise the siege. The Hamiltons suffered most severely on this occasion, their lands in Clydesdale being ravaged, Cadzow plundered, and the town of Hamilton, with the seat of the Hamiltons, burned to the ground. Nor did this suffice; they also burned the house of the duke of Chatelherault in Linlithgow, the palace of Kinnoul, the house of Pardovan, and Bynie, Kincavil, and the chapel of Livingston.

Grange, meanwhile, acting somewhat dubiously, and not supporting the extreme measures of either of the parties, was confounded to see a foreign foe in the heart of the kingdom, and Mary’s friends used with such extreme rigour; and afraid of being entrapped himself, began to fortify the castle with all haste, and lay in every thing necessary for a siege. Lennox, in the mean time, summoned an army in the king’s name to attend him, with twenty days’ provision, and to complete his equipments, he applied to Grange for some field-pieces. The request was, however, refused, under a pretence that he would not be accessory to the shedding of blood. The purpose of this armament was to interfere with a parliament which the queen’s party intended to have held at Linlithgow, which it effectually accomplished; and on the following month (October) Lennox held one for the king in Edinburgh. The insignia of royalty being supposed necessary to the legality of parliaments, they were demanded from Grange, who flatly refused them, and from that time forth he was regarded as determinedly hostile to that cause for which he had done and suffered so much. Through the mediation of Elizabeth, however, who was at the time amusing Mary and her friends with proposals for restoring her to some part of her authority, a cessation of hostilities was agreed upon for two months, which being renewed, was continued till the succeeding April, 1571.

The truce, however, was not strictly observed by either of the parties. Fortresses were taken and retaken on both sides oftener than once, and in the month of April, Dumbarton castle, reckoned impregnable, was taken by surprise by the friends of the regent, who, on a sentence of forfaulture in absence, hanged Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews, who had taken refuge in the place. Alarmed at the fate of Dumbarton, Grange repaired the walls of the castle, cut away all the prominences on the rock, and smoothed the banks to prevent the possibility of an escalade. He also prepared the steeple of St Giles for receiving a battery, and carried away the ordnance belonging to the town. His brother James at the same time arrived from France with "ten thousand crowns of gold. some murrions, corslets, hagbuts, and wine, whilk was saiflie convoyit from Leyth be the horsemen and soldiers of the town." All men who favoured not the queen were now commanded to leave the town, and even his old tried friend and fellow sufferer, John Knox, was obliged to quit his place, which was supplied by Alexander, bishop of Galloway. The regent’s soldiers, however, took possession of some ruinous houses close to the walls, whence they annoyed the town. There was now an end to all business; public worship ceased, and there was nothing to be heard but the thundering of artillery. The queen’s party had now, however, the pride of also holding a parliament in Edinburgh, which declared the demission of Mary null; forbade any innovation to be made in the presbyterian religion; and after two or three hours deliberation, rode in procession from the Canongate to the castle, having the regalia borne before it. Prayers for the queen were ordered by this meeting, and all who omitted them were forbidden to preach. During these proceedings, there were daily skirmishes on the streets, and the regent still kept possession of Holyrood house. In the month of August in this year, an envoy arrived from the king of France, with money, arms, and ammunition for Grange; but the money fell into the hands of the regent. In the ensuing month, Grange laid a plan for seizing the regent at Stirling, and bringing him safe to the castle, which failed of success only through the imprudence of those who conducted it. The regent was actually made a prisoner, and on the road for Edinburgh, when, principally through the valour of Morton, he was rescued, but shot by one of the party, when they saw they could not carry him away. David Spens of Wormiston, who had him in charge, and used every endeavour to save him, was also shot in revenge, though the wounded regent attempted to protect him. This was unfortunate for Grange. Mar was immediately elected regent; a man of far higher merit, and much more respected than Lennox, and in still greater favour with the ministers of Elizabeth; and he in the end proved too strong for the misled, though patriotic Grange. The war now assumed the most ferocious character. Morton destroyed the whole of Grange’s property in Fife. Grange, on the same day retaliated by burning Dalkeith; and for upwards of two months they reciprocally hanged their prisoners.

The distress of the town and the surrounding districts now became extreme; the poor were turned without the gates, and the empty houses pulled down and sold for fuel; a stone weight being sold for what would purchase a peck of meal. Through the mediation of the English and French ambassadors, an armistice was at last agreed to, and all the differences between Morton and Grange nearly made up. Through the intrigues of Maitland, however, who had gained an extraordinary influence over him, Grange rose in his demands, and nothing was accomplished further than a renewal of the truce. In the meantime Mar, who was a sincere, good man, and truly devoted to the public interests, died, and was succeeded by Morton, a man of great address, and the mortal enemy of Maitland. He too, however, professed to desire peace, and offered the same terms as Mar. Grange was to deliver up the castle in six months, and a convention was called to consider the means of effecting double peace. Both parties were at the same time attempting to over-reach each other. Morton thirsted for the wealthy estates of some of the queen’s adherents and the queen’s adherents wanted to gain time, in the hope of procuring effective aid from France. The Hamiltons, Huntly, Argyle, and their followers, were now weary of the war; and in a meeting at Perth accepted of the terms offered by Morton, and, according to Sir James Melville, abandoned Grange, who would willingly have accepted the same terms; but from that time forth Morton would not permit the offers to be mentioned to him. The day of the truce had no sooner expired than a furious cannonade was commenced by Grange on the town from the castle. He also shortly after, on a stormy night, set fire to the town, and kept firing upon it to prevent any person coming forth to extinguish the flames; a piece of wanton mischief, which procured him nothing but a additional share of odium. Being invested by the marshal of Berwick, Sir William Drury, with an English army, the garrison was soon reduced to great straits. Their water was scanty at best, and the falling of one of the chief towers choked up their only well. The Spur, a building of great strength, but imperfectly manned, was taken by storm, with the loss of eight killed, and twenty-three wounded. Sir Robert Melville, along with Grange, were, after beating a parley, let over the walls by ropes, for the gate was choked up with rubbish. They demanded security for their lives and fortunes, and that Maitland and lord Hume might go to England, Grange being permitted to go or stay as he might deem best. These conditions not being granted, they returned to the garrison, but their soldiers refused to stand a new assault, and threatened in case of another that they would hang Lethington, whom they regarded as the cause of their protracted defence, over the wall. Nothing remained, therefore, but an unconditional surrender; and so odious were the garrison to the citizens, that an escort of English soldiers was necessary to protect them from the rabble. After three days they were all made prisoners. Lethington died suddenly, through means, it has been supposed, of poison, which he had taken of his own accord. Grange, Sir James Kirkaldy, (his brother,) James Mossman and James Leckie, goldsmiths, were hanged on the third of August, 1573, and their heads afterwards set up on the most prominent places of the castle wall.

Thus ignominously died one of the bravest warriors [In the case of Kirkaldy there appears to have been considerable debate on the relevancy of the indictment on which he was tried, too technical to be interesting to the general reader.—Pitcairn’s Crim. Trials, ii. 3.] of his age; the dupe a volatile and crafty statesman, and of his own vanity to be head of a party. He had been one of the earliest friends, and, during its first days of peril, one of the most intrepid defenders of the Reformation. Knox, who knew and loved him well, lamented his apostasy, and with that sagacity which was peculiar to his character, admonished him of the issue. "That man’s soul is dear to me," said Knox, "and I would not willingly see it perish; go and tell him from me, that, if he persists in his folly, neither that crag in which he miserably confides, nor the carnal wit of that man whom he counts a demi-god, shall save him; but he shall be dragged forth, and hanged in the face of the sun." He returned a contemptuous answer dictated by Maitland; but he remembered the warning when on the scaffold with tears, and listened with eagerness when he was told the hope that Knox always expressed, that, though the work of grace upon his heart was sadly obscured, it was still real, and would approve itself so at last; of which he expressed with great humility his own sincere conviction.


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