Trusty messengers were
forthwith despatched westward to the Grange, to our hero, (who, I fear,
the reader will suppose has been lost sight of,) to the Melvilles of
Raith, and James of Carnbee, calling them to hold themselves in
readiness for an enterprise which was to strike all Catholic Europe with
On Thursday, the 27th of May 1546, William Kirkaldy came to St Andrews
from his father’s house, which was twenty-six miles distant. He was well
armed, and attended by six followers of trust. The Master of Rothes rode
thither next day with five only, lest numbers should excite suspicion,
and repaired to Ins usual inn or residence; his uncle, John Leslie, came
into the city that night, fearing to excite suspicion by appearing in
the vicinity of Beatoun’s residence, when all men knew him to he his
Next morning, at the early hour of three, the conspirators, sixteen in
number, assembled in knots of three or four about the castle-rocks, the
abbey churchyard, or its vicinity; and when the warder unfolded the
great gates of the archiepiscopal mansion, and lowered the bridge to let
out those workmen who had been working all night on the walls, and
usually issued forth every morning to breakfast, two men, whom the
Master of Rothes had placed overnight in ambush close to the fosse,
rushed upon the porter and secured the passage. So says Buchanan, who
wrote of those affairs from hearsay or memory; hut other and more
detailed accounts state, that when the warder lowered the bridge to let
out the artisans, and receive in lime and stones, the young Laird of
Grange and Peter Carmichael entered with six chosen men. As it was very
early, Kirkaldy made a pretence of inquiring "when my lord the cardinal
would be stirring, and when he would be seen—if he was awake yet?”
The porter answered No; "and so indeed it was,” adds Knox, "for he had
been busy at his counts with Mistress Marion Ogilvie that very night;
and, therefore, quietness after the rules of physic, and a morning
sleep, were requisite for my lord.”
During this colloquy with William Kirkaldy, the warder, who probably was
ignorant of the late altercation between his Lord and Norman Leslie,
whom he knew perfectly, permitted that bold conspirator, with his fierce
followers, to enter also. In those days all men went abroad well armed—a
breast-plate, a jack or pyne doublet, were usual parts of everyday
attire, and every gentleman of rank was followed by a train of
swash-bucklers or stout jackmen—so that the retinue of armed servants
attending those two gallants, probably created no surprise in the mind
of the gate-ward; but his suspicions were instantly roused when the
fierce John of Parkhill, the known enemy of his lord, appeared near the
fosse with his drawn rapier in his hand, and others well armed behind
The warder rushed to the counterpoise to raise the bridge, but the
strong and active Leslie sprang across the widening gap, and, ere the
poor man could save himself, drove his long sword through his body, with
one tremendous lunge; then, seizing the corpse with his left hand, he
hurled it into the deep fosse, tearing away the keys from it as it fell,
and, at the head of his retainers, burst into the castle, sword in hand,
with a shout of triumph. Some workmen, who were yet lingering within the
walls, were expelled by a private postern: not a citizen was stirring:
to shut the gates and raise the bridge was the work of a moment; and the
boasted Babylon, the dreaded Inquisition, the famous stronghold of the
hapless Beatoun, was in the possession of his deadly enemies.
William Kirkaldy, being well acquainted with the castle, now seized the
mos't important post—the private postern through which the cardinal
could alone have escaped. As he approached it, Marion Ogilvie of Lin-trathen
was seen hurriedly to leave it, closely muffled. This fair and
unfortunate lady is said to have perished, like her lover, by a violent
death. Her cipher is yet to be seen on the walls of her ruined castle,
near Aberlemno. William Kirkaldy appears to have guarded the postern
while his companions were busy in other parts of the vast bastille they
had so boldly and adroitly captured.
Upwards of one hundred and fifty individuals, gentlemen of the
household, servants, workmen, &c., were threatened severally with death,
if they spoke, and were successively compelled to dress and depart.
Every person within the walls was turned out at the point of the sword,
save the eldest son of the Regent Chatelherault, (or Arran, as the Scots
usually prefer to style him,) whom the cardinal had been keeping in a
kind of durance vile, for political purposes of his own.
The fate of Beatoun was sealed.
His band of kirk vassals or paid jackmen must have been quartered in the
city during the repair of the castle, as there is no mention made of
them in any account of this desperate enterprise.
Roused from slumber by the unusual noise and uproar, the unhappy prelate
leaped from bed, threw on a rich morning-gown, and raised the easement
of his apartment. The disordered aspect of the court, the absence of his
own dependents, and the appearance of strange and armed men, filled him
with amazement and dismay. A terrible light broke upon him.
"What meaneth this noise?” he demanded. "The Master of Rothes hath taken
your castle! ” answered some exulting vassal of the house of Leslie.
Alarmed to excess by this intelligence, he endeavoured to escape by the
private stair; but the postern door at the foot of it was already
secured by William Kirkaldy and his vassals. The cardinal returned
despairing to his bed-chamber, where, assisted by a little boy, his
page, (or chamber-chield,) he barricaded the door with chests and other
heavy furniture; then, hiding a casquet of gold under some fuel that lay
in a corner, he grasped a two-handed sword, resolving to die with honour
to his name. These hasty preparations were scarcely completed, before
the tread of the conspirators rang in the gallery, and a loud knocking
shook the chamber door.
“Open!” cried John of Parkhill.
“Who calleth?” inquired the agitated cardinal.
“My name is Leslie,” was the brief and ominous response.
“Leslie!” rejoined the cardinal; “which of the Leslies?—is it Norman?”
“Nay, my name is John.”
“I must have Norman,” replied the poor man, attempting to touch the
heart of that relentless noble. “I must have Norman,—he is my friend.”
“Content yourself with those that are here, for you shall have none
other,” was the dubious answer; and again they commanded him sternly to
undo the fastening of the door, which, no doubt, like all others in
those days, was secured by a complication of locks and bars. Upon his
refusal, they attempted to force it; but it was strong as a wall, and
their efforts were in vain.
Remembering the relentless and fanatical ferocity of these men, and how
much he had to dread at their hands, all the danger and horror of his
situation seem to have flashed vividly on the mind of the unfortunate
cardinal. The window,—alas ! it was barred, and in the court below were
those who longed to wash their hands in his very heart’s blood. Overcome
for a moment by the sudden prospect of a terrible death, he is said to
have sunk into a chair, exclaiming in imploring accents,—
“Sirs, l am a priest! I am a priest!” and conjured 1 Knox’s Historie.
Lives of the Reformers.
them, by the safety of their souls, to spare him, and have mercy. But
could mercy be expected from men whose hearts were fired by the most
furious fanaticism, by the basest mercenary motives, and most implacable
The sole reply to his entreaties was the voice of Park-hill calling
loudly for “ fire! fire! ” to burn down the strong oaken barrier :
burning coals were heaped against it with the utmost deliberation; and
then Beatoun, seeing the utter futility of resistance, on receiving a
solemn promise of life, proceeded to remove the fastenings.
“ Sirs,” said he, “ will ye spare my life? ”
“ It may be that we will,” replied a voice.
“ Swear, then, unto me by the wounds of God, and I will admit ye.”
Some doubtful promise was given, and, throwing open the door, he stood
before his destroyers.
Beatoun was a man in the prime of life, of noble aspect and most
commanding stature: the dignity of his air, the fire of his eye, and the
remembrance of his exalted rank,—Cardinal of St Stephin in Monte Coelio,
Bishop of Mire-poix, Legate of Paul III., Commendator of Arbroath, and
Lord High Chancellor of the kingdom of Scotland,—all seem to have awed
the fierce conspirators for a time, and he calmly demanded their
There was no reply.
“I am a priest!” he again urged ; “I am a priest,— surely ye will not
slay me?” The two-handed sword was in his grasp; he manifested no
disposition to use so unclerical a weapon, but watched them with a pale
and agitated countenance. For an instant, but an instant only, they were
irresolute; then simultaneously they rushed with their gleaming weapons
upon him. John Leslie of Parkhill first drove his long arm-pit dagger
into him; and then Peter Carmichael struck him repeatedly with his
sword; hut the wounds inflicted appear not to have been severe. Then the
“gentle and modest” James Melville of Cambee, [not of Paitli, as it is
often erroneously stated,) a fanatic of a milder though a sterner mood,
and one who professed to do murder as a religious duty, struck up their
“Reflect, sirs,” said he, u that this sacrifice is the work of God, and,
as such, ought to be executed with becoming deliberation and gravity.”
Then pointing his weapon (which was a stag-sword, with a sharp-pointed
blade, calculated only for thrusting) at the breast of the bleeding and
sinking primate, he thus addressed him with steady ferocity of purpose
"Pepent thee, thou wicked cardinal, of all thy sins and iniquities, but
especially of the murder of the pious Wishart, that instrument of God
for the conversion of these lands. Though consumed in flames of fire
before men, his death now cries for vengeance upon thee, and we are sent
by God to inflict the deserved punishment. Remember that the stroke I am
about to deal thee is not the mercenary blow of a hired assassin, but
that of a most just retribution. And hear me protest before the Almighty
Power, that it is neither hatred of thy person, nor fear of thy power,
nor love of thy riches, which moves me to seek thy life; but only
because thou remainest an obstinate enemy to Christ Jesus and his most
holy gospel! ”
Having spoken these words, without permitting his victim to make that
repentance to which he exhorted him, he thrust the stag-sword into his
breast. Again and again the same vengeful blade was plunged into his
body, and the cardinal sank backward upon a chair, with the blood
gushing from his wounds.
"I am a priest! ” he murmured; “fie! fie!—all is gone!” and instantly
He was in the fifty-second year of his age.
William Kirkaldy appears not to have put forth his weapon; but, from the
part he acted in the enterprise, he fully shared in the odium which so
deservedly fell to the lot of those who enacted that cool and barbarous