Straiton and Norman Gourlay, Martyrs 1534.
Straiton was the younger
son of the laird of of Lauriston in Forfarshire,
where his family had been for some six hundred years. His
elder brother lived in the castle of Lauriston. David
Straiton was proprietor of some lands at the mouth of the
river Esk and also some fishing boats from which he
derived a modest income. He was known to go fishing
himself and his small fleet did well at their trade. He
has been described as an unlikely candidate for martyrdom,
at least if his early life was anything to go by. He
led an easy going life and indulged in sports and
amusements of most kinds. A robust and energetic man he
was very much the outdoor type and not one for books and
learning, particularly religion. It was curiosity and a
degree of annoyance because he was unable, at first, to
obtain an explanation of heresy.
His problems began when the
Prior of St Andrews, Patrick Hepburn (later Bishop of
Moray) allegedly demanded a tithe payment from his catch.
In another version of the story it was the Vicar of
Ecclesgreig who demanded the tithe - but he would have
complained about non payment to Hepburn, thus bringing
Straiton to the attention of the authorities. But
Straiton was not one to mince his words and told the
Prior`s servant if he wanted his tithe to obtain it where
he got the stock - get your own fish in other words.
Straiton then told his fishermen to throw every tenth fish
back into the sea " to pay the prior of St Andrews his
tithe." Hepburn summoned Straiton to answer for heresy
which he rebelled against , although canny enough to be
uneasy at the attention he was receiving from the Church.
This caused him to meditate on his future conduct and,
frustrated because he could not read, he sought help from
a neighbour, no less a person than John Erskine of Dun.
Through his association with Erskine the young man changed
considerably as he learnt more of the new faith and
mellowed in his conduct.
On 27 August 1534 Straiton
along with another man, Norman Gourlay, were taken
into a hall of Holyrood Abbey where the Prelates and the
King, dressed in red, sat in judgment. Gourlay was
in priests orders and had been a student at St
Andrews and is shown as a Determinant in 1513 and a
Licentate in 1515. He was charged for saying
that there was no such thing as Purgatory, and that the
Pope was not a Bishop but Antichrist, and had no
jurisdiction in Scotland. Several others had been summoned
before the court but did not appear, having either
recanted (burnt their bill as it was called) or fled
abroad. Great efforts were made to get Straiton and
Gourlay to recant and the King was minded to save their
lives, but the insolent clergy told him that he was "
incompetent to pardon those who had been condemned by the
law of the Church." In the afternoon of the same day the
fire was built at the Cross of Greenside between
Edinburgh and Leith, said to be for the benefit and terror
of the inhabitants of Fife, who would be able to see the
flames. After short speech and prayers the men were
consigned to the gallows, hanged and then put at the stake