Monday, 28 May 2012

after culloden

Letter describing the execution of the Rebel Lords in 1746, copied from the original.

'August 20th (1746).—Dear Sir,—As you and Mrs. Grimstone attended the Lords' tryal, I thought it would not be disagreeable to you to have an account of their exit or the last act of their tragedy, especially as I saw part of it, and heard the rest from one who was on the scaffold.

The sheriffs came there between 9 and 10 to see if everything was prepared. The scaffold was nine feet above the ground, -with a rail and black bays hanging from it. On the floor (which was covered with sawdust) was fixed the block, 2ft. 2in. high and 3 inches broad: near it lay red bags to receive the heads, and two white sheets to wrap the bodies in, and on each side were the coffins with coronets and inscriptions, and on the ground two hearses. The executioner was in blew with gold buttons and a red waistcoat (the cloaths of Fletcher executed by him): the ax that of a carpenter.

' At 11 the Lords came; Kilmarnock attended by Foster and a young clergyman. Balmerino was dressed in blew turned up with red (his uniform). Going into the house prepared for them, a spectator asked which was Balmerino; to which he replied, " I am he at your service." Then turning to Kilmarnock, he told him he was sorry he was not the only sacrifice, and asked the sheriffs if they were ready, for he longed to be at home, and said he was asham'd for some of his friends, who shed tears when Lord Kilmarnock came on the scaffold.

The bays was turned up that all might see, and the executioner put on a white waiscoat. My Lord had a long discourse with Foster, who pressed him to own there what he had told him privately,—a detestation of the fact for which he suffered; which he did and which Foster has advertised.

'The executioner was a great while fitting him for the block, my Lord rising several times ; and when down on his knees, it was six minutes before he gave the sign, when his head was nearly severed from his body by one blow: a slight cut finished the execution, and the body fell on its back. . . .

'The scaffold being cleared, and the executioner having put on a clean shirt, Lord Balmerino mounted the stage, and immediately walked to his coffin, and read the inscription, and then called up a warder, and gave him his tye wig, and put on a Scotch plaid cap, and then read a paper denying the Pretender's orders for no quarter, commending him very much: but, being interrupted, he desired (briskly) to go on, and said he should lay down his head with pleasure on that block, pointing to it, and desiring those between him and it to remove. He reflected very much upon General Williamson, but said he had received the Sacrament that morning, and was told it was not proper for a person in his condition to say more of him, but referred for his character to Psalm 109, from verse 5th to 15th.

He said the Pretender gave 'him leave to enter our service, but, as soon as he could be of service to him, he left us. He talked to the executioner, took the ax in his hand, and tried the block, and told and showed him where to strike (near his head), and gave him three guineas (all he had); kneeled down, and presently gave the sign. The first blow did not strike his head off, so that the assistants were forced to lift up his body to receive a second, but the third finished him.

'I own I was a great deal more moved when I called on my friend Mr. Grill in the afternoon, and found him in great pain and given over by his Doctor, than I was with what I saw in the morning.

'The Guards attending were 1,000, and I am sure the spectators were 100 to 1 of the Guards.

' I am yours and Mr. and Mrs. Grimstons

' Most obliged servant,


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