THE EXECUTION OF MONTROSE
The veracity of events during 17th century, and especially the persecution of the people, is poorly documented and thus always contentious. Opinions vary greatly and were especially inclined to the romantic in Victorian times. The arguements whether any particular event even took place, let alone the common day to day atrocities of the soldiery, fed one school. The other extreme coloured the events with great compassion, religious zeal, martyrdom and hyperbole. Somewhere in between is the truth of events that occurred during what were undeniably cruel and savage times. William E. Aytoun,(1813-1865) Professor of Rhetoric and English Language at Edinburgh University (Victorian apologist and romantic school), took the historian and lawyer T. B.Macaulay(1800-1859) to task basing his criticism on an error (possibly a proof reading oversight) in Macaulays History of England that confused the Graham / Graeme names – John being Claverhouse and James being Montrose. This led him to a vituperative assault on the credibility of the traditions of the Covenanters and a blinkered defence of Claverhouse.
Aytoun clearly disliked and rejected virtually everything Wodrow had to say, complaining that Wodrow`s notes, comments and publication was some thirty six years after the events spoken of. But Aytoun himself propounds a different view, without new evidence, some one hundred and thirty years later. Moreover he has used as a source of quotations the works of the arch apologist Mark Napier, who denied for example, the execution of the Solway Martyrs. Such is the way of academia, the truth must not get in the way of their own pomposity and opinions.
After the painting by James Drummond RSA.
The following poem of Montrose`s execution is reproduced from Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers by Aytoun (1849).
COME hither, Ewan Cameron!
Come, stand beside my knee—
I hear the river roaring down
Towards the wintry sea.
There’s shouting on the mountain-side
There’s war within the blast—
Old faces look upon me,
Old forms go trooping past:
I hear the pibroch wailing
Amidst the din of fight,
And my dim spirit wakes again
Upon the verge of night.
‘Twas I that led the Highland host
Through wild Lochaber’s snows,
What time the plaidecl clans came down
To battle with Montrose.
I’ve told thee how the Southrons fell
Beneath the broad claymore,
And how we smote the Campbell clan
By Inverlochv’s shore.
I’ve told thee how we swept Dundee,
And tamed the Lindsays’ pride;
But never have I told thee yet
How the great Marquis died.
A traitor sold him to his foes;
O deed of deathless shame!
I charge thee, boy, if e’er thou meet
With one of Assynts name—
Be it upon the mountain’s side,
Or yet within the glen,
Stand he in martial gear alone,
Or backed by armed men—
Face him, as thou wouldst face the man
Who wronged thy sire’s renown;
Remember of what blood thou art,
And strike the caitiff down!
They brought hunk to the Watergate,
Hard bound with hempen span,
As though they held a lion there,
And not a fenceless man.
They set him high upon a cart—
The hangman rode below—
They drew his hands behind Ins back,
And bared his noble brow.
Then, as a hound isslipped from leash,
They cheered the common throng,
And blew the note with yell and shout,
And bade him pass along.
It would have made a brave mans heart
Grow sad and sick that day,
To watch the keen malignant eyes
Bent down on that array.
There stood the Whig west-country lords,
In balcony and bow
There sat their gaunt and withered dames,
And their daughters all a-row.
And every open window
Was full as full might be
With black-robed Covenanting carles,
That goodly sport to see I
But when he came, though pale and wan,
He looked so great and high,
So noble was his manly front,
So calm his steadfast eye;—
The rabble rout forbore to shout,
And each man held his breath,
For well they knew the hero’s soul
Was face to face with death.
And then a mournful shudder
Through all the people crept,
And some that came to scoff at him
Now turned aside and wept.
But onwards—always onwards,
To silence and in gloom,
The dreary pageant laboured,
Till it reached the house of doom.
Then first a woman’s voice was heard
In jeer and laughter loud,
And an angry cry and a hiss arose
From the heart of the tossing crowd
Then as the Graeme looked upwards,
He saw the ugly smile
Of him who sold his king for gold—
The master-fiend Argyle
The Marquis gazed a moment,
And nothing did he say,
But the cheek of Argyle grew ghastly pale
And he turned his eyes away.
The painted harlot by his side,
She shook through every limb,
For a roar like thunder swept the street,
And hands were clenched at him
And a Saxon soldier cried aloud,
Back, coward, from thy place
For seven long years thou hast not dared
To look him in the face.”
Had I been there with sword in hand
And fifty Camerons by,
That day through high Dunedin’s streets
Had pealed the slogan—cry.
Not all their troops of trampling horse-.
Nor might of mailed men—
Not all the rebels in the south
Had borne us backwards then.
Once more his foot on Highland heath
Had trod as free as air
Or I, and all who bore mv name,
Been laid around him there !
It might not be. They placed him next
Within the solemn hail,
Where once the Scottish kings were throned
Amidst their nobles all.
But there was dust of vulgar feet
On that polluted floor,
And perjured traitors filled the place
Where good men sate before.
With savage glee came Warristoun
To read the murderous doom;
And then uprose the great Montrose
In the middle of the room.
Now, by my faith as belted knight,
And by the name I bear,
And by the bright Saint Andrew’s cross
That waves above us there—
Yea, by a greater, mightier oath—
And oh, that such should be
By that dark stream of royal blood
That lies ‘twixt you and me—
I have not sought in battle-field
A wreath of such renown,
Nor dared I hope on my dying day
To win the martyr’s crown I
“There is a chamber far away
Where sleep the good and brave,
But a better place ye have named for me
Than by my father’s grave.
For truth and right, ‘gainst treason’s might,
This hand hath always striven,
And ye raise it up for a witness still
In the eye of earth and heaven.
Then nail my head on yonder tower—
Give every town a limb—
And God who made shall gather them:
I go from you to Him
The morning dawned full darkly,
The rain came flashing down,
And the jagged streak of the levin-bolt
Lit up tile gloomy town:
The thunder crashed across tile heaven,
The fatal hour was come;
Yet aye broke in with muffled beat,
The ‘harm of the drum.
There was madness on the earth below
And anger in the sky,
And young and old, and rich and poor,
Came forth to see him die.
Ah, God! that ghastly gibbet!
How dismal ‘tis to see
The great tall spectral skeleton,
The ladder and the tree!
Hark! hark! it is the clash of arms—
The bells begin to toll—
‘He is coming! he is coming
God’s mercy on his soul
One last long peal of thunder—
The clouds are cleared away,
And the glorious sun once more looks down
Amidst the dazzling day.
“He is coming! he is coming!”
Like a bridegroom from his room,
Came the hero from his prison
To the scaffold and the doom.
There was glory on his forehead,
There was lustre in his eye,
And he never walked to battle
More proudly than to die:
There was colour in his visage,
Though the cheeks of all were wan,
And they marvelled as they saw him pass,
That great and goodly man!
He mounted up the scaffold,
And he turned him to the crowd;
But they dared not trust the people,
So he might not speak aloud.
But he looked upon the heavens,
And, they ‘vere clear and blue,
And in the liquid ether
The eve of God shone through
Yet a black and murky battlement
Lay resting on the hill,
As though the thunder slept within—
All else was calm and still.
The grim Geneva ministers
With anxious scowl drew near,
As you have seen the ravens flock
Around the lying deer.
He would not deign them word nor sign,
But alone he bent the knee;
And veiled his face for Christ`s dear grace
Beneath the gallows-tree.
Then radiant and serene he rose,
And cast his cloak away:
For he had ta’en his latest look
Of earth and sun and day.
A beam of light fell o’er him,
Like a glory round the shriven,
And he climbed the lofty ladder
As it were the path to heaven.
Then came a flash from out the cloud,
And a stunning thunder-roll;
And no man dared to look aloft,
For fear was on every soul.
There was another heavy sound,
A hush and then a groan;
And darkness swept across the sky—
The work of death was done!
Montrose`s own poetry is very poignant and shows that he had no doubts what was to happen to him.
Let them bestow on ev’ry airth a limb;
Open all my veins, that I may swim
To Thee, my Saviour, in that crimson lake;
Then place my parboil’d head upon a stake,
Scatter my ashes, throw them in the air:
Lord (since Thou know’st where all these atoms are)
I’m hopeful once Thou’lt recollect my dust,
And confident thou’lt raise me with the just.