Auld Reekie, Blaw Wearie, Canongate, Girth Cross, grisly tale, guillotine, Heart of Midlothian, Holyrood, James VI, Kincaid, Lady Warriston, Leith, Lord Dunnipace, The Boot, The Maiden, The Wheel, Tolbooth
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
It was the summer of 1600 when I was permitted to abandon my loom
and I climbed onto the roof of my mistress’ tenement in the Canongate,
from which an excellent view of the Girth Cross of Holyrood could
easily be discerned. All around, the citizens of Auld Reekie had
adopted the same strategy and were well-established, in spite of the
early hour. A unison intake of breath unbalanced me on my precarious
eyrie, so that I had to grab Nelly’s sleeve for support.
The sinister outline of the Maiden, transported from Halifax, dominated
the scene, looming over the slender figure approaching it. Well might the
Memorial later describe her as a woman and a bairn. Apparently, like
myself, she was twenty one, but, she had a child of her own, whereas I
only minded my employers’ weans.
The buzz of conversations receded and I first heard snatches of that
melody which would quickly enter the consciousness of all
Lowland ballad lovers:
O Warriston, ye acted ill
To lift your hand to your ain lady…
Then a ripple of wheeshts surged through the crowds below and Jean
Livingstone, Lady Warriston, removed her gold brocade, stepped
forward on her twa weel-made feet and knelt in her sark.
The parlourmaid, Nelly, poked me in the ribs, observing, She is
as cheerful as if she were going to her own wedding.
The cook shifted her bulk and craned forward dangerously, before adding
sententiously: She appears ravished by a spirit higher than that of man
We giggled; she always speaks like her aptly named minister, The Rev.
However, we soon sobered up as the blade began to fall.
Later our chimney sweep, Peter, told us that the blade had fallen just as
she began to pray: Into Thy hand, O.. She had got no further.
He also reported that he had tried to make his way up to Castlehill, to
witness the strangulation and burning of her nurse, Janet Murdo, but the
authorities had arranged the ghastly ceremony simultaneously, in order,
unsuccessfully, to create a counter-attraction, drawing attention away
from the young noblewoman’s plight.
Both punishments had been well- publicised, although the crime had
only been perpetrated a matter of days beforehand. However, the
timing had been set to maximise and to demonstrate the very satisfying
show of repentance by the Lady, who had been well-rehearsed by the
Revs. Balfour and Bruce, God rest her soul!
Peter said that many in the mob were surprised that her father, the Laird
of Dunnipace, had not exerted himself on her behalf. He was a well-
known sook, or favourite of King James, who had apparently expressed
His regal regret that such a beautiful young woman should be sacrificed
I never saw a woman’s face
I was sae sorry to see dee.