Women in History of
Scots Descent Women of Covenanting Times
In order to understand what
is meant by "Covenanting Times’ we must imagine ourselves to be watching a
scene in the church of St. Giles in Edinburgh in the summer of 1637, when
King Charles I. is reigning in England.
The Dean of St. Giles is
preaching, in a white surplice, not in the black Geneva gown approved of
by those of the Reformed Church. Suddenly, a stool flies at the preacher’s
head, not striking it, indeed, but other stools follow till the place is
in an uproar ‘and the Dean is fain to come out of the desk and pull off
his surplice for fear of being torn to pieces.’ And even when the Bishop
tries to speak from the pulpit sticks and stones flew at him till at
length both Bishop and Dean were obliged to give over and retire to the
vestry.’ So runs an old account of the matter.
We may laugh at such doings, we, in
our easy-going tolerant days, but it was all deadly earnest to the
citizens of Edinburgh. For here was King Charles, a Stuart too—I knowing
his Scots so little that he was ordering them to use the English
Prayer-book, to clothe their ministers in white surplices and to conduct
church services with such ceremonies as seemed to them just ‘Popery’. And
hence some six months later, another scene for us to watch.
* * * * * *
It is February, 1638, and
the winds are cold. But a great concourse of people are gathered in the
graveyard of the old church of the Greyfriars; so called because of the
Friars of St. Francis who possessed it before the Reformation. And the
church itself is packed with people too, and all, both within and without,
seem pressing to one centre, not to listen but to join in action. On a
flat tombstone of the graveyard lies a parchment scroll, and the people
are pressing round it to sign it each in turn, some weeping as they write,
some writing, we are told, with blood drawn from their own arms. This
scroll contains words known as the National Covenant, a solemn pact,
binding all who sign it to be loyal to the Church of Scotland and to
resist all measures on the part of the English Government to alter its
prayer-book or its ceremonies. Hence the men who signed this fact were
But the Stuart Kings were not wise
enough to learn, through popular resistance, that men’s minds and
consciences cannot be forced, and so, not King Charles I. only but others
drove the Covenanters into hatred and rebellion.
* * * * * *
Let us pass over the years
of Cromwell; it is now 1660 and a Stuart King, Charles II.,has
returned to Whitehall. A tolerant, easy-going man, very different from his
father, he would not himself have persecuted men for their religious
views. But members of his Government believed it necessary to enforce one
kind of religious observance on the two countries, England and Scotland.
In Scotland, for the most
part, there was far less of resistance than in the days of Charles I.; the
new generation of men were less stern, and less united against the English
law; the great mass of Scotsmen ‘sullenly submitted,’ as Macaulay says.
But in the south-western
counties of Ayr, Lanark, Wigtown, Kirkcudbright and Dumfries, the old
Covenanting spirit lingered on. The farmers of the countryside, the
craftsmen of the little towns, and even some country gentlemen or lairds
were resolute in their own way of worship. And equally resolute were
magistrates and judges to stop all preaching and all worship other than
that allowed by law. The most trivial acts of disloyalty were punished,
such as refusal to drink the King’s health. Men and women, and quite young
persons suffered imprisonment and death.
The story of two of these
is accurately known.
Margaret Wilson was the
daughter of a yeoman farmer in Wigtownshire. Her father and mother
followed the worship allowed by Government, but as Margaret grew up she
became attracted to the teaching of the Covenanters; she persuaded her
younger sister and brother, Agnes and Thomas, to go and hear the fervent
prayers and sermons which she loved. After a time these three young
people—Margaret herself only eighteen—left their home and wandered about,
sheltering in woods and caves and begging food from fellow Covenanters. In
Wigtown they were befriended by an elderly woman called Margaret
McLauchlan who was bitter against the Government, and in the spring of
1685, the latter, and the three Wilsons were arrested on a charge of
rebellion. They were lodged in the tower of Wigtown kirk—often used thus
in those days—to await their trial. The two younger Wilsons were ‘bailed
out’ by their father, but Margaret and her older friend refused to yield.
In April they were
condemned to death by drowning.
However, a pardon was asked
for from James II., now King of England, and it is probable that such a
thing would have been granted—or at least, a lighter sentence. Those in
authority were merely enforcing the law as it stood. The request had to be
forwarded to Edinburgh and thence to London, some 400 miles and back
again, in days when the quickest travelling was on horseback over bad
roads. We do not know why, but before pardon or reprieve arrived, the
officers of Government in Wigtown decided to carry out the death sentence.
The town of Wigtown stands
on the edge of a broad inlet, Wigtown Bay, where the river Blade meets the
sea; this is an arm of the Solway Firth. Hence, these brave women are
known as ‘The martyrs of the Solway.’ As in many river mouths, there are
here wide sands washed by the tide twice every day. This was the place for
the death sentence to be carried out.
We can imagine the folk of
the little fishing town flocking to the sands on that May morning of 1685,
some weeping and praying, some not daring to show sympathy, lest they be
classed as rebels. The tide is now far out, but it is just on the turn.
The watchers see the stakes being driven into the sand; one, set farther
out; one, nearer the shore; ropes are fastened to the stakes. When the
water approaches the farther stake, Margaret McLauchlan, the elder woman,
is led out across the sand and bound; her hair is grey, her face furrowed,
but she is quiet, except that her lips move as she repeats words from the
Bible. The younger Margaret watches her, without wavering as her captors
had hoped she would; then she is bound to the nearer stake. Her prayers
and singing of hymns are heard by all on shore, till the water begins to
choke her voice. When the older victim is covered by the water, a strange
thing happens, Margaret, the younger, is all but unconscious, her head
drooping; but men approach her in a boat, unbind her, try to restore her
to consciousness; they appeal to her. ‘Will you deny your beliefs? Will
you even say, "God save the King"?’
‘I am Christ’s,’ murmurs the girl:
‘let me go.’ And the waters close over her, for the second time—the last.
* * * * * *
In the churchyard of Wigtown there
is a stone to her memory with several lines of epitaph, the last two run
‘Within the sea, tied to a stake
She suffered for Christ Jesus sake.’
LADY GRIZEL BAILLIE
There were, however, in
southern Scotland, in those days, men and women who did not go all lengths
with extreme Covenanters, and yet were angry with Government for such
persecutions as these, and who were willing to incur danger on account of
their sympathies. Of these, there were two close friends, Sir Patrick Hume
and Mr. Robert Baillie of Jerviswood; Sir Patrick’s eldest daughter is the
subject of this story. We know a good deal about her, because her own
daughter wrote the story of her mother’s life.
Let us suppose, however, that Lady
Grizel, Sir Patrick’s daughter, is relating her own story to us; let us
remember too, that though she was a well-educated girl she must have
talked Lowland Scots, and used words which would be strange to us;
probably the sound of her speech would be difficult for us to understand.
* * * * * *
My early home was at
Redbraes Castle in Berwickshire; the Blackadder river ran close to our
house and the country round was hilly; farther away we could see much
higher hills. My childhood was very happy, and it was busy because I had
so many younger brothers and sisters that I was always helping my mother.
We were not rich and had not many servants. It did make me sad sometimes
to see my father look so anxious, and to hear him talk about the poor
folk, further away to the west, who were being hunted by the King’s
troopers. Indeed, my father was not safe, and his greatest friend, Mr.
Baillie of Jerviswood, was in prison in Edinburgh on account of his
One day, when I was about
twelve, father said to me: ‘Grizel, I want you to take a letter to
Edinburgh for me; Jamie Winter shall go with you and you must go to the
Tolbooth prison and give the letter to Mr. Robert Baillie. The guards will
let you in but it would be dangerous for me.’
I said, ‘Yes father, sure,
It was thirty miles from
Redbraes to Edinburgh, so we left home on horseback, Jamie and I, at six
o’clock and got to the town by mid-day. We took bannock cakes to eat on
the way. Then we rode down the High Street to the Tolbooth. It was a fair
wide street, and there were mighty great houses on each side. At the
prison, we had to wait, Jamie outside with the horses, and I in a sort of
passage within. Then there came to speak to me a young man, the son of Mr.
Robert Baillie, who asked me what my errand was. I told him all, for his
face was kind and honest, so that I trusted him. Then he took me in to Mr.
Robert Baillie’s room. Mr. Baillie read the letter I brought, and smiled
on me and said: ‘You are but young, Mistress Grizel, to come visiting a
poor prisoner.’ He called his son George, and Master George smiled on me
too, so I liked them both very well. Then I took Mr. Robert’s letter, and
the goaler let me out. Jamie and I rode homewards but we did not hurry
much because it was better for us to arrive in the dark.
It was after this that our
own troubles began. I cannot count the years that passed, for life was
very full and the children and mother needed much helping; but one day
father was taken away by the King’s troopers. Sometimes he would come back
for a time looking very ill and thin, and stay a while, and then off to
So it went on till, when I
was about eighteen, father being at home, he said to mother: ‘Rachel,
Robert Baillie is in prison again, and they will be harder on him this
time. They know I am his friend. I must hide myself.’
There was only one place we
could think of, our family vault in Polworth Churchyard.
And there father went; it
was a dreadful dark place with only a slit to give air. No one knew,
except mother and me and Jamie Winter. As for his food, what was to be
done? Well, each dinner-time, I had a bag on my lap and into it I slipped
some food. When the household had gone to bed, I walked alone to Polworth.
I used to stumble over the graves and I shivered for fear of ‘bogies’,
what nurse used to talk about. But it was good to see poor father enjoy
his food and to talk to him. He liked to hear of all that was happening at
home, and he laughed at things the children said. There was a great jest
once over a sheep’s head. It was a dish father loved well; so, one dinner
time, I managed to slip the whole of it into my bag. But my brother
Alexander suddenly said: ‘Mother will ye look at Grizel? While we have
been eating our broth, she has eaten up the whole sheep’s head.’ Father
laughed at this and said, ‘Next time, it’s Sandy must have the big
portion.’ And so it was.
What I minded most was the
barking of the ministers’ dogs, as I went by; I thought they would betray
us. But mother persuaded the minister to have them destroyed, because, she
said, there was a mad dog about the place.
After a few weeks, father
got so ill for lack of air that we contrived a new hiding-place. There was
a small room in our house opening on the garden; Jamie Winter took up the
floor boards, and he and I scraped up the earth underneath till there was
space for a bed; and Jamie put back the boards when he had pierced them
with holes; there father lay all day and when the troopers came they did
not find him.
Four weeks passed thus;
then water began to soak up through the earth, and we knew that that
plan was useless.
About this time—I being
then nineteen—we heard that Mr. Robert Baillie had been hanged at the
Market Cross at Edinburgh; it was Christmas time, and very dreadful. Then,
father said to mother: ‘Rachel, I must go away.’ She and I made clothes
for him as a disguise. And when they were ready, father and John, our
grieve, were to start before daylight, riding. Father was to be a surgeon,
carrying a lancet, for he was skilled at letting blood, and John told the
servants that he was taking goods to Morpeth Fair. All that day and
the next, we waited sorely anxious; but John got back at dark the night
after. He told mother and me how he had parted from father somewhere south
the Border, and how they were once nearly caught. John had lost sight of
father, who had rid on ahead, and just then came along a party of
red-coats. They asked John for news of ‘that rebel Patrick Hume’, but John
muttered he was but a grieve on his way to market and what should he know
of rebels? So they let him go, and went off the way John had come. Then
John caught up with father, till at dark he was able to find an easier
road, and so they parted.
After many weeks, we heard
that father was safely in Holland; but though we did thank God, we were
sad, because he said we must leave our dear country and go to him in that
We went across, therefore,
after many weeks, and got to Utrecht where father was living and
pretending to be a surgeon ‘Dr. Wallace.’
But Julian, one of my sisters, was
too sick to travel with us, and when she got well, it was for me to go
back to London to fetch her. Oh! the miserable journey! The ship we took
was very small and crowded, only one bed in the cabin, and in it two
elderly ladies. So Julian and I lay on the floor. Suddenly, in comes the
Captain very angry, and very full of drink, methought. What must he do but
turn out those two poor ladies and lie in their bed himself? Also, he
found our few provisions and ate them all. We were glad enough when the
storm increased so terribly that two sailors came down and fetched the
captain up on deck. We got to Brill at last; it was still dark, raining
fast, and no one to meet us. We set out on foot carrying our bundles; a
gentleman from the ship was our companion. Presently, poor Julian, very
weakly on her feet, stuck fast in the mud, and left her shoes in it;it was too dark to find them. So I must take her on my back and indeed
I was strong enough; our companion obligingly carried our goods, and by
daybreak we got to Rotterdam. Oh! the joyful sight! there were father and
Patrick to meet us. And you may think we were thankful for rest and food.
* * * * * *
Our life at Utrecht was busy and
happy, but we were very poor. We had a fair large house, clean and airy,
the floors of brick or tiles, easy to keep clean. We had one servant to
help us at times, but when our money did not come from England by the
packet-boat, we could not pay a maid, and indeed had to put in pledge our
silver things from Scotland.
Every day I rose early and
cleaned my father’s study for him, because he could not go out in the
streets for fear of informers. In his study he taught my brothers and
sisters, and me when I had time to learn. We learned English, and Dutch,
and French, and writing.
I loved to play on the
harpsichord and to write verses, but hardly had I sat down but I used to
hear, ‘Grizel, will ye see to the broth for supper?’ or ‘Grizel, will ye
mend my coat?’ Also, we had many visitors, for there were Scots in
Utrecht, refugees, and as our house was larger than most, we often asked
them to dinner.
Now, my eldest brother had
made friends with one George Baillie, who was that son of Mr. Robert
Baillie whom I had seen in the prison. And we both remembered that
meeting, and indeed we soon became friends.
Now Patrick and George were
sent for by the Prince of Orange—the Stadtholder, as he was called—being
the ruler of Holland. They were both made officers of the Prince’s
bodyguard, and had to be on duty at the palace. Their uniform was very
smart and their linen had to be very fine and white. Often I used to sit
up late to starch and iron it for both of them.
Thus our lives ran on for
some four years; and then a strange thing happened in England.
King James II. had
displeased the people of England so much that the leading men invited
Prince William of Orange to become King of England, his wife Princess Mary
Queen, she being daughter of King James, and both of them Protestants.
Then, my father, with
Patrick and George Baillie, went to England in the train of the Prince,
and after a time we also made our new home there. Queen Mary, indeed,
graciously invited me to be one of her maids of honour, but I begged leave
to refuse. I was full of thought now of a happy future, for George Baillie
and I were only waiting to be married till we should have more money. Two
years later, King William bestowed on George a small estate in Scotland;
then we were married and our life was truly happy.
My greatest sorrow after
this was the death of my dear mother. Many of us brothers and sisters
stood round her as she lay dying, but I could only weep behind the curtain
of her bed. When I heard her say, ‘Where is Grizel? ‘ I went to her, and
she, holding my hand, spoke thus: ‘Dear Grizel, blessed be you above all,
for a helpful child have you been to me.’ And at this I cried all the
more, for now, never again should I be able to help her.
Still my dear father was
left; he went to live at Marchmont House in Berwickshire, because he had
become Earl of Marchmont; and this forced me to be called ‘Lady Grizel’
instead of just ‘Grizel,’ and it seems to be too grand for one who was
ever a simple body. I used to travel to Marchmont when I could, and try to
get my father’s affairs into order, for he became too feeble to manage his
money and his land.
Then, too, I had to look
after the children of my brother, Sandy, now Lord Polwarth, because he had
to go abroad; and sometimes I had to live in London for George’s sake when
Parliament was sitting.
Then came that terrible year, the
‘45, when Prince Charles Edward stirred up trouble for Scotland and for
England too. It was a sore time for many. I got no money from Scotland and
could hardly pay my butcher and my baker.
* * * * * *
Here we must break off the story
told by Lady Grizel, for in the year 1746, she died. Her daughter, Lady
Grizel Murray has given us a charming picture of her character and
‘My mother was of a quick
and ready wit, and of a singular modesty. She was well-made and handsome,
having a life and sweetness in her eyes very uncommon, with great delicacy
of features. Her hair was chestnut coloured, and there was a clear red in
her cheeks and lips owing, I think, to her great moderation in diet.’
‘She and my father always
treated me and my sister as friends as well as children, and this from our
Thus we take leave of this
very lovely person, lovely in her courage, her devotion, and her entire
simplicity of life and thought. But we shall meet her again in imagination
in a future chapter.
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