James Graham – 1st Marquess of Montrose and 5th Earl of Montrose

James Graham

James Graham

Portrait by William Dobson, some commentary by Carolyn Bruce.

James Graham was hung, quartered and his head impaled on a stake at the Mercat Cross on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, On 21 May in 1650!

On 21 May 1650, James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose and 5th Earl of Montrose, Chief of Clan Graham and an able and brilliant soldier, was hanged at Old Market Cross in Edinburgh. When Charles I tried to force upon the Scots a prayer book they regarded as “too Catholic”, the Presbyterian Scots resisted, and James Graham joined them,  partially because of the political power King Charles had vested in Anglican Bishops. Civil war raged for years, with Montrose participating at first against the king, and later, against the Covenanters, as he tried to establish an apolitical clergy. His reputation as a military leader was well earned, and after the Battle of Kilsyth in 1645, the king appointed him Lord Lieutenant and Captain-general of Scotland. When Charles I was defeated in the Battle of Naseby and sent for Montrose to come to his aid, Montrose was defeated at Philiphaugh. Unable to raise another army, he escaped to Norway. Charles I was beheaded, and his son, Charles II, in exile, from where he appointed Montrose Lieutenant of Scotland. As such he returned home to raise an army, but was betrayed; the king had struck a deal with the Covenanters to regain his throne. After his execution “The Great Montrose” was decapitated and his head was set upon “the prick [pike] on the highest stone” of the Old Tolbooth at St. Giles Cathedral. There it remained for 11 years, at which time his body parts were reunited for a hero’s funeral.


You can read about this event in my novel DARK DESTINY, which is book three of the DARK BIRTHRIGHT TRILOGY.

Here is an excerpt:

Chapter 30 – “Letters” June 29, 1650

Drake Castle

The Duke stood in his study, gazing out the open window.  The day was oppressively hot, with temperatures above ninety.  Because of the weather, he was informally dressed – in breeks, a shirt, and no shoes or socks.  “Whew, it’s hot!”  He mopped his brow with a handkerchief.

Dughall spotted Jamison crossing the courtyard with a pack of letters in his hand.  His spirits lifted.  “Perhaps it’s from Gilbert.”  He left the window and moved his ledgers to the sideboard.  There was a knock on the door.  “Come in.”

Jamison entered.  “My Lord.”  The servant was sweaty from the heat.  “A courier dropped these letters at the gate.”  He placed them on the desk.

“How many are there?”


Dughall motioned for him to take a seat.  He picked up one of the envelopes and saw that it was addressed to Jamison.  “This one is for ye.”

The servant grinned.  “I know.  I want to read it together.  It’s from my contact in Edinburgh.  He’s a member of Parliament.  I asked about Montrose.”

Dughall frowned.  “Ah…  The trial.”

“And execution.”

“We shall see.”  The Duke sliced open the envelope and extracted the letter.  “Shall I read out loud?”


The author had some schooling.  It was written in fancy handwriting.

Jamison my friend,

You inquired about the Marquess of Montrose.  There is quite a story to tell.  The Parliament condemned him to death in absentia before he arrived here.  James Graham was brought as a prisoner to Edinburgh and without trial was sentenced to death on May 20th.  Archibald Johnston read his fate out loud for all to hear.  He was to be hanged at the Market Cross with a copy of De Rebus hung ‘round his neck.  This book you may remember was Bishop Wishart’s favorable biography of Graham’s life.  But there was more to his humiliation!  He was to swing on the scaffold for three hours, after which time, his head was to be severed and his body quartered.  Unless he repented, he was to be buried in unhallowed ground. 

Graham did not repent.  He insisted that he was a real Covenanter and a loyal subject.  This was met with jeers and shameful gestures of mockery.

I watched the sentence carried out on May 21st at the town market cross.  I must say that Graham accepted his fate with grace and courage.  When allowed final words, he prayed to heaven, “Scatter my ashes!  Strew them in the air, Lord, since thou knowest where all these atoms are.”

The hanging was then carried out.  As prescribed, his body hung for three hours, was decapitated, and quartered.  The head was displayed on a pike at the Tollbooth Prison, while the parts were dispersed for display in Glasgow, Perth, Stirling, and Aberdeen.      

I suspect that you will approve of this action, given your experience with the man.  But it was a disgraceful end for a Lord of the realm.  I fear that we have set a bad precedent.  After his death, some of us convinced Parliament to bury his body parts in hallowed ground.  They were going to dump them in a common grave on Burgh Muir.

In closing, we must be careful what we wish for!  Someday, it could apply to us.  I hope that this satisfies your curiosity.  Stay safe, my friend.  Give my regards to Lord Drake and the Lady of the castle.

 Sincerely – John H.

The Duke shuddered.  “He’s right.  That was a disgraceful way for a lord to die.”

Jamison grunted.  “Agreed.”


Our Sketch of Lord Montrose

Our Sketch of Lord Montrose

You can read about the trilogy at:


Dunnottar Castle – Scotland – a brief history

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

Picture and historical commentary courtesy of Davy Tolmie

Dunnottar Castle is a venue in my book DARK LORD – where it is the scene of a battle between Covenanters and Royalists.

Here is a bit of history from another perspective:

Dunnottar Castle was the home of the Earls Marischal of Scotland, once one of the most powerful families in the land. The Earl Marischal oversaw all ceremonial activities in the Scottish Court, including the coronations. He was also responsible for the security of the Scottish Crown Jewels, known as the ‘Honours of Scotland’. The story of how a small garrison in Dunnottar Castle saved the Honours of Scotland from certain destruction is one of the most captivating in Scottish history.

Charles I, King of both Scotland and England, was executed in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The following year his son (later Charles II) arrived in north east Scotland in a bid to retake the two kingdoms and on his journey south he stayed overnight at Dunnottar Castle. However, in England, Oliver Cromwell was so enraged at the young King’s arrival he invaded Scotland. In some haste therefore, Charles II was crowned at Scone, but the crown and the other coronation regalia could not be returned to Edinburgh Castle which had now been taken by Cromwell’s army. The English crown jewels had already been destroyed by Cromwell and the Honours of Scotland, the most potent remaining icon of the monarchy, were next on his list. His army was fast advancing on Scone and the King ordered the Earl Marischal to secure the Honours and many of his personal papers at Dunnottar Castle.It was not long before Dunnottar was under siege and a scratch garrison of 70 men held out for eight months against the invading forces. Its unique position made the Castle impregnable to infantry attack, but when the heavy cannons finally arrived and began to raze the major buildings, the situation became untenable. Before surrender was contemplated, however, the King’s papers were taken through the besieging forces by a brave young lady acquaintance of the Governor who secured them around her waist. The crown, sceptre and sword meanwhile, had been lowered over the seaward side of the Castle and received by a serving woman, there on pretence of gathering seaweed.


You can read about Dunnottar Castle in the 1600’s in the Dark Birthright Trilogy:


A snippet from my novel “Dark Destiny”

Lord Skene

Lord Skene

… A snippet from my novel ‘Dark Destiny’…

Castle Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, May 1649

Castle Skene lay in a wild glen, a secluded valley with a loch running through it.  Many inhabitants spoke Gaelic and their stark features reminded one of ancient Celts.  It was a thinly peopled region due to the bare hills, sparse  cultivation, and standing stones.  The squat dwellings of peasants emitted smoke from fresh peat, the earthy smell mingling with the scent of pine trees.

By the edge of the loch stood Castle Skene, a foreboding granite structure protected by a massive outer wall.  Its construction was medieval.  Two tall towers stretched to the sky, connected by a main building and catwalks.  The thick walls kept the warmth in during winter months, but prevented the summer heat from entering, necessitating hearth fires year round.  Hardly any windows were to be seen on the side that faced the valley.  The front had some, but they were little more than slits, designed to repel attacks without artillery.  None had dared to attack recently.  They feared the Lord of the castle.

The weather was overcast and gloomy.  It had rained hard that morning and was threatening a repeat performance.  Lord Skene stood at a bench in his laboratory, working on an experiment.  He was interested in chemistry, an art that involved the preparation of gold and silver.  The hypothesis was simple: All metals are compounds.  The baser ones contain the same as gold and silver, but are contaminated with impurities.  These can be purged away with the application of intense heat and a substance called the philosopher’s stone.

“Ah…” Skene held a bottle to his nose and sniffed.  “Lapis philosophorum…  A powder red in color…  It smells strongly…  I shall test this tonight.”  There was a knock on the door.  Skene  placed the bottle on the bench and stared at the oak portal.  “Who is it?”

“Fagan, Sir.”

His anger flared. “Come!”  The massive door opened with a creak, admitting the terrified servant.

The short, spindly legged man lifted a lantern.  “My Lord?”

Skene glared.  “How dare ye interrupt me in my laboratory?”

Fagan’s knees knocked beneath his kilt.  He looked down as he spoke, “Forgive me, my Lord.  But there is a messenger at the gate.  He says that it’s important.”

Skene growled, “Idiot!  They all say that.  I should throw ye in the oubliette.”

The servant fell to his knees.  “Have mercy, my Lord!  I am a simple man, unskilled in the ways of the world.  I will not do it again.”

“Get up!”

The servant scrambled to his feet.

Skene glared. “Who is at the gate?”

“Uh…”  His voice trembled, “A holy man…  A monk in a white robe…  He comes with a message from Deer Abbey.”

“Hmmphhh!”  Normally, Lord Skene answered to no one.  But he had an obligation to these monks since they entrusted him with James Gordon.  “Escort the monk to my study.  Light the fire, straighten my desk, and then provide us with refreshments.”

Fagan bowed like a willow in the wind. “As ye wish, my Lord.”  The servant fled the room.

Skene returned to his bench and placed a stopper in the bottle.  He took out an ornate key, unlocked a claw-footed cabinet, and hid the vessel on a shelf. He placed a book beside it, a rare copy of the ‘Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa’.  The experiment would have to wait.  He locked the cabinet and scanned his clothes for traces of the rare powder.  “These monks are inquisitive. They must not suspect what I’m doing.”  Pocketing the key, he headed for his study…

Author’s notes:
Dark Destiny is book three of the Dark Birthright trilogy.  The books are available in paperback and eBook.




Lord Skene is a legendary character. Here is a link to an article about him.  Of course, my portrayal is fantasy.
The Wizard Laird’s Dance with the Devil