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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Captain Crawford of Jordanhill, and his Gallant Capture of Dumbarton Castle

IN former times the estate of Jordanhill was held by a family named Crawford, one member of which achieved a name in his country’s history by an exploit remarkable alike for coolness and bravery. This individual was Captain John Crawford of Jordanhill, who, in 1571, with a small band of followers, succeeded in taking, by an ingenious stratagem, the castle of Dumbarton. After the battle of Langside and Queen Mary’s flight to England, this strong fortress, then deemed all but impregnable, was held in the interest of the royal exile and captive, by the Governor, Lord Fleming, who steadily refused to surrender it to the party then in power.

Crawford, who had been in the service of the unfortunate Darnley, was a bitter enemy to the Queen, and formed the resolution of wresting this fortress out of the hands of her friends. Accordingly, on the occasion alluded to, with a select party of his retainers he marched towards the castle after nightfall, provided with ropes and sealing ladders, and having in his company a man named Robertson, who was familiar with every step upon the rock. Arriving at the castle about midnight, and being completely screened from observation by a dense fog, they commenced operations. When they looked up at the dark precipice and compared their frail means with the end proposed, the soldiers could hardly regard it but as an act of madness.

"NOW, my men," whispered Crawford, who observed them eyeing dubiously the height of the ramparts, "know ye not that the Lord Fleming and the archbishop have invited us to supper? Let us taste their cheer; and they who dislike the Governor’s soup shall have the bishop’s absolution."

"Pity," said one, "that the way to mess is not a little smoother; but never mind, guests who arrive by the steepest way are sure to contract the keenest appetites in the ascent."

"This I ascend in the King’s name," said Crawford, placing at the same instant his foot upon the ladder, and followed by the others, who had pledged their lives in the cause. "Now,’ he added, "not a syllable till we stand on the summit."

The first ladder broke, but was replaced by another, and they mounted in profound silence, drawing the ladder after them, and re-fixing it at every spot of the rock where they could gain a footing. About midway up it was fastened to the roots of a tree, and at this place there was a small, flat surface, sufficient to aflord footing to the whole party. But here an incident occurred which nearly proved fatal. One of the party, when half-way up, was seized with a convulsive fit. The situation was critical, but Crawford was equal to the emergency. He caused the man to be tied to the ladder, turned it, and those who had still to ascend mounted with case. Alexander Ramsay, an ensign, and two others, soon reached the summit, and slew a sentinel, who was about to give the alarm. Crawford and the rest soon followed, and they rushed upon the sleeping garrison, shouting :

"A Darnley ! A Darnley!"

The surprise and triumph were instant and complete, as the garrison had trusted too much to the security of their castle to keep good watch. The exploit of Crawford may compare with anything of the kind in history; perhaps its nearest parallel may be found in the capture of Edinburgh Castle by Randolph, the nephew of King Robert Bruce.

The Governor managed to make his escape, but Hamilton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, was made prisoner, tried for participation in the murder of Darnley, convicted, and executed at Stirling! Benefit of clergy had gone cornpletely out of fashion, and the prelate was too obnoxious to the dominant party, both in his own person, and on account of the family whose name he bore, to escape the vengeance of his and their foes. The following wicked Latin couplet is said to have been written on the oocasion:-

"Vive din, felix arbor, sempergue vireto
Frondibus, ut nobis talia poma feras."

On the 1st October, 1577, Captain Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill, the hero of the above exploit, was appointed Lord Provost of Glasgow, in succession to Lord Boyd, and next year he was succeeded in that office by the Earl of Lennox. It was while Captain Crawford held this office that Glasgow Cathedral was threatened with destruction, and according to one story, it was this brave and wily chief magistrate who adroitly saved the venerable fabric, he is reported to have said to those who were eager for its demolition, and pressing him to give his assent thereto :—

"I am for pu’ing doon the auld kirk, but no till we ha’e first built a new ane."

The monumental tomb of the gallant warrior stands in the shadow of the curious old kirk of Kilbirnie. It is a little quadrangular edifice of sandstone, nine feet long by six feet in height In the east end there is a narrow aperture, through which, in the interior, are seen recumbent figures of the old soldier and his spouse, in an excellent state of preservation. On the northern wall is the following inscription, which can only be deciphered now by the keen eye of the antiquary


Here lyis Thomas Crawford of Jordanhill, sext son to Lawrence Crawford of Kilbirnie, and Jonet Kerr his Spous, eldest dochter to Robert Ker of Kerrisland—--1594." in the central compartment is a shield with the arms of the Crawford and Ker families quartered, and an indistinct figure for the crest, which is supposed to represent the rock of Dumbarton. The gallant captain, by whom the structure was erected at the above date, died on the 3rd of January, 1603, about thirty-two years after his valorous midnight achievement.

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