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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. IV


Grassmarket.] EXECUTIONS IN THE GUSSMARKET. 231 Market, from the corner of Marlin?s Wynd (where Blair Street is now) to the east end of the Grassmarket, where it continued to be held until within the last few years. It was not until about a century later that this great market place began to acquire an interest of a gloomy and peculiar character, as the scene of the public execution of many victims of religious intolerance, who died heroically here, and also as the spot where niany criminals met their doom. Prior to the adoption of this place for public executions, the Castle Hill and Market Cross had been the spots chosen j and a sword, as in France and elsewhere on the Continent, was used, before the introduction of the Maiden, for beheading. , Thus we find that in 1564, the magistrates, because the old beheading sword had become worn out, reteived from William Macartnay ? his tua-handit sword, to be usit for ane heidmg sword,? and gave him the sum of five pounds therefor. Among some of the most noted eFecutions in the Grassmarket were those of the fanatic Mitchel in 1676, for attempting to shoot Archbishop Sharp in 1668; of Sergeant John Nisbett, of Hardhill, in 1685, who had received seventeen wounds at the battle of Pentland, and fought at Drumclog, according to the Wodrow Biographies ; of Isabel Alison and Marion Harvey-the latter only twenty years of age-two young women, for merely having heard Donald Cargill preach. The human shambles in this place of wailing witnessed executions of this kind almost daily till the 17th of February, 1688, when James Renwick, the celebrated field preacher, and the last martyr of the Covenant, was found guilty, on his own confession, of disowning an uncovenanted king, and executed in the twenty-sixth yearof his age. Most of the hundred and odd pious persons who suffered for the same cause in Edinburgh breathed their last prayers on this spot. Hence arose the Duke of Rothes? remark, when a covenanting prisoner proved obdurate, ? Then let him glorify God in the Grassmarket?-the death of that class of victinis always being accompanied by much psalm-singing on the scaffold. In the time of Charles II., Alexander Cockburn, the city hangman, having murdered a King?s Bluegown, died here the death he had so often meted out to others. In 1724 the same place was the scene of the partial execution of a woman, long remembered in Edinburgh, as ?? Half-hangit Maggie Dickson.? She was a native of Inveresk, and was tried under the Act of 1690 for concealment of pregnancy, in the case of a dead child ; and the defence that she was a married woman, though living apart from her husband, who was working in the keels at New- ? castle, proved of no avail, and a broadside of the day details her execution with homble minuteness ; how the hangman did his usual office of dragging down her legs, and how the ?body, after hanging the allotted time, was put into a coffin, thecooms of which were nailed firmly to the gibbet-foot. After a scuffle with some surgeon-apprentices who wished to possess themselves of the body, her friends conveyed it away by the Society Port, but the jolting of the cart in which the coffin lay had stirred vitality and set the blood in motion. Thus she was found to be alive when passing Peffermiln, and was completely restored at Musselburgh, where flocks of people came daily to see her. She had several children after this event, and lived long as the keeper of an ale-house and as a crier of salt in the streets of Edinburgh. (? Dom Ann.? III., StaL Acct., Vol XVI). In the account of the Porteous Mob eo1 I., pp. I 28-13 I), we have referred to the executions of Wilson and of Porteous, in 1736, in this placethe street ?crowded with rioters, crimson with torchlight, spectators filling every window of the tall houses-the Castle standing high above the tumult amidst the blue midnight and the stars.? It Continued to be the scene of such events till 1784; and in a central situation at the east end of the market there remained until 1823 a qoassive block of sandstone, having in its c h t r ~ a quadrangular hole, which served as the socket of the gallows-tree ; but instead of the stone there is now only a St. Andrew?s Cross in the causeway to indicate the exact spot. The last person who suffered in the Grassmarket was James Andrews, hanged there on the 4th of February, 1784, for a robbery committed in Hope Park ; and the first person executed at the west end of the old city gaol, was Alexander Stewart, a youth pf only fifteen, who had committed many depredations, and at last had been convicted of breaking into the house of Captain Hugh Dalrymple, of Fordell in the Potterrow, and NeidpathCastle, the seat of the Duke of Queensberry, from which he carried off many articles of value. It was expressly mentioned by the judge in his sentence, that he was to be hanged in the Grassmarket, ?or any other place the magistrates might appoint,? thus indicating that a change was in contemplation ; and accordingly, the west end of the old Tolbooth was fitted up for his execution, which took place on the 20th of April, 1785. In 1733 the Grassmarket was the scene of some remarkable feats, performed by a couple of Italian mountebanks, a father and his son, A rope being fixed between the half-moon battery of the Castle,
Volume 4 Page 231
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