Grisly Tale Part 2

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

strangled him.

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

foolishly stated.

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

been spared.


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


The title page's central text is:"THE HOLY BIBLE,Conteyning the Old Testament,AND THE NEW:Newly Translated out of the Originall tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Comandement.Appointed to be read in Churches.Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie.ANNO DOM. 1611 ."At bottom is:"C. Boel fecit in Richmont.".

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.

Breaking wheel in action

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.



1 thought on “Grisly Tale Part 2”

  1. Glorious.

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