However, the Laird had seven other daughters to give in marriage and
seemed to want to wash his hands of his errant flesh and blood, in spite of
His Majesty’s hints of potential clemency.
Dunnipace was reputed to have stated:
Gar nail her in a tar barrel
And hurl her in the sea.
Though macabre, these words were to remain in folk
memory for many a month, assisted by their musical
Later, when the ballads were printed on broadsheets, we had the
opportunity to piece the narrative puzzle together, trying to reason why
such a bonny lassie was to lose her head over such a diabolical affair.
Apparently, Jean Livingstone, as she had been christened, had felt ill-
prepared for wedlock and had told her hired woman that she hadna wit
to guide a man. She had learned her rede with admirable haste, many
would say, at the scaffold.
At fifteen she had been sent to John Kincaid, the Laird of Warriston and
her woman claimed to have witnessed violent altercations between them.
A dinner plate had been hurled at her mistress’ face by her furious
husband, cutting her lip badly.
Once when he returned to harbour, having been absent for nigh on a year,
Lady Warriston went to meet him on the shore, with the nurse cradling
their newborn son. Kincaid flew into a rage, struck his wife and cursed
the child, saying it was none of his. Afterwards, the nurse told the hired
woman that her mistress had an impression of her husband’s teeth deeply
incised into her forearm.
Faithful though the nurse was to her mistress, she ill-advisedly interfered
and persuaded Lady Warriston to contact a groom who had worked for
her father, by the name of Robert Weir. She pressurised her
by claiming that if they were not able to persuade the groom to do away
with the Laird, then she would do it herself.
Maybe it was the same young ostler who had led her mistress’ pony,
while the master was at sea. Anyhow, it is too late for Jean Murdo, the
nurse, to express regrets, at the time of this conversation, as by now she
is a heap of ashes.
As for Robert, he was conspicuous by his absence, though
officers were scouring the Borders for him.
Weir, when summoned, came willingly enough and was secreted in
the cellar until the Laird and his brother had been plied with sufficient
alcohol and staggered to their repose.
Jean retired with her husband, but later rose and gave a signal at
midnight. Her brother-in-law must have been more affected by his cups
than the Laird, who was awakened by the commotion the conspirators
created on entering the marital chamber.
Weir threw himself at Warriston and struck him in the jugular vein,
knocking him off the bed and kicking him on the floor. Eventually he
Jean ran into the Hall and later admitted that though she had heard his
deathly screams, she had failed to produce even a counterfeit tear.
The groom escaped, gallantly telling Jean that if the crime were to be
discovered, he would take the blame. None dare pursue you, he
Perhaps the Laird’s brother had been roused, or the servants disturbed,
for the next morning, officers of justice arrived and took Lady Warriston,
Janet Murdo and two women to the Tolbooth, in the Heart of Midlothian.
Jean attested that the two female servants were innocent, but only one
was released. It was this woman who had met Peter in a tavern, after the
event on Canongate and who had supplied the missing information over a
pint of porter.
She added that the Laird’s son bore an uncanny resemblance to young
Robert Weir. Having narrowly escaped the pressure of the Boot, one
would have expected her to keep her trap shut. She became a member of
the Rev. Balfour’s congregation thereafter and thanked God that she had
Balfour told his flock that Lady Warriston’s dramatic repentance was a
miracle of grace. At first she had repudiated spiritual counsel and
blasphemed, throwing his Bible to the floor of her cell. Yet, once her
relatives cast her off, she naturally showed a greater interest in flitting to
Even her brother-in-law forgave her, kissed her and wished that he could
take her to himself, she was so jimp about the middle/ As ony willy-
wand. Fifteen Presbyterians kept her company on the night before her
execution, so I expect that she slept little and took their spiritual medicine
Her father, Lord Kincaid, arranged for the child to be cared for by the
hired woman who was telling us the tale and this same servant afterwards
led a disguised Weir back to catch a glimpse of the sleeping boy in
his cot, four years later. Unfortunately Weir was apprehended as he bent
over the child and practically throttled before being taken to the scaffold
to be broken on the wheel.
For months thereafter his corpse was
exhibited on the road between Warriston and the town of Leith. Fortune
had turned full circle, but sometimes a passing stranger will detect what
appears to be a female voice singing, when the breezes blow over from
Winderstrawlee and Blaw Wearie:
Now a’ ye gentle maids,
Tak warning now by me
And never marry ane
But wha pleases your ee.