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
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.”
“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.”
You can read about the trilogy at: