It was late in the 17th century at Edinburgh, Scotland that the following story is based on. The Stuarts were struggling to keep their line on the throne despite opposition from every side and was soon to end with the coming of William of Orange. Many noblemen of both England and Scotland were at odds and Oliver Cromwell had wreaked his havoc upon anyone who’d upheld support to the Crown and Royalists and had long since died. The Duke of York, James VII of Scotland (and II of England), and future grandfather of Bonnie Prince Charlie was still in power but not for long. – The Castle Lady
Founded on an Incident of the Monmouth Rebellion
by Elia W. Peattie
In the midsummer of 1685, the hearts of the people of old Edinburgh were filled with trouble and excitement. King Charles the Second, of England, was dead and his brother, the Duke of York, reigned in his stead to the dissatisfaction of a great number of the people. The hopes of this class lay with the young Duke of Monmouth, the ambitious and disinherited son of Charles the Second, who, on account of the King’s displeasure, had been living for some time at foreign courts. On hearing of the accession of his uncle, the Duke of York, to the throne, Monmouth yielded to the plans of the English and Scottish lords who favored his own pretensions, and prepared to invade England with a small but enthusiastic force of men.
The Dyke of Argyle, the noblest lord of Scotland, who also was an exile, undertook to conduct the invasion at the north, while Monmouth should enter England at the west, gather the yeomanry about him and form a triumphant conjunction with Argyle in London, and force the ‘usurper,’ as they called King James the Second, from his throne.
Both landings were duly made. The power of Monmouth’s name and rank rallied to his banner at first a large number of adherents; but their defeat at Sedgemoor put an end to his invasion. And the Duke of Argyle, a few days after his landing in Scotland, was met by a superior force of the King’s troops. Retreating into a morass, his soldiers were scattered and dispersed. Many of his officers deserted him in panic of fear. The brave old nobleman himself was taken prisoner and beheaded at Edinburgh, while all the people secretly mourned. He died without betraying his friends, though the relentless King of England threatened to compel him to do so, by the torture of the thumbscrew and the rack.
Many of his officers and followers underwent the same fate; and among those imprisoned to await execution was a certain nobleman, Sir John Cochrane, who had been made famous by other political intrigues. His friends used all the influence that their high position accorded them to procure his pardon but without success; and the unfortunate baronet, a moody and impulsive man by nature, felt that there was no escape from the terrible destiny and prepared to meet it in a manner worthy of a follower of the brave old duke. But he had one friend on whose help he had not counted.
In an upper chamber of an irregular, many-storied mansion far down the Canongate, Grizel Cochrane, the imprisoned man’s daughter sat through the dread hours waiting to learn her father’s sentence. There was too little doubt as to what it would be. The King and his generals meant to make merciless examples of the leaders of the rebellion. Even the royal blood that flowed in the veins of Monmouth had not saved his head from the block. This proud prince, fleeing from the defeat of Sedgemoor, had been found hiding in a ditch, covered over with the ferns that flourished at the bottom. Grizel wept as she thought of the young duke’s horrible fate. She remembered when she had last seen him about at the court at Holland, where she had shared her father’s exile. Gay, generous, and handsome, he seemed a creature born to live and rule. What a contrast was the abject, weeping coward covered with mud and slime, who had been carried in triumph to the grim Tower of London to meet his doom! The girl had been taught to believe in Monmouth’s rights and she walked the floor trembling with same and impatience as she thought of his bitter defeat. She walked to the little dormer window and leaned out to look at the gray castle, far up the street, with its dull and lichen-covered walls. She knew that her father looked down from the barred windows of one of the upper apartments accorded to prisoners of state. She wondered if a thought of his little daughter crept in his mind amid his ruined hopes. The grim castle frowning at her from its rocky height filled her with dread; and shuddering, she turned from it toward the street below to let her eyes follow absently the passers-by. They whispered together as they passed the house and when now and then some person caught a glimpse of her face in the ivy-sheltered window, she only met a look of commiseration. No one offered her a happy greeting.
“They all think him doomed,” she cried to herself. “No one hath the grace to feign hope.” Bitter tears filled her eyes, until suddenly through the mist she was conscious that someone below was lifting a plumed hat to her. It was a stately gentleman with a girdled vest and gorgeous coat and jeweled sword-hilt.
“Mistress Cochrane,” said he, in that hushed voice we use when we wish to direct a remark to one person, which n one else shall overhear, “I have that to tell thee which is most important.”
“Is it secret?” asked Grizel, in the same guarded tone that he had used.
“Yes,” he replied, without looking up, and continuing slowly in his walk, as if he had merely exchanged a morning salutation.
“Then,” she returned, hastily, “I will tell Mother; and we will meet thee in the twilight, at the side door under the balcony.” She continued to look from the window, and the man sauntered on as if he had no care in the world but to keep the scarlet heels of his shoes from the dust. After a time Grizel arose, changed her loose robe for a more ceremonious dress, bound her brown braids into a prim gilded net and descended into the drawing room.
Her mother sat in mournful state at the end of the lofty apartment. About her were two ladies and several gentlemen, all conversing in low tones such as they might use, Grizel thought to herself, if her father were dead in the house. They all stopped talking as she entered and looked at her in surprise. In those days it was thought very improper and forward for a young girl to enter a drawing room uninvited, if guest were present. Grizel’s eyes fell before the embarrassing scrutiny, and she dropped a timid courtesy lifting her green silken skirts daintily, like a high born little maiden, as she was. Lady Cochrane made a dignified apology to her guests and then turned to Grizel.
“Well, my daughter?” she said, questioningly.
“I pray thy pardon, Mother,” said Grizel, in a trembling voice, speaking low, that only her mother might hear; “but within a few moments Sir Thomas Hanford will be secretly below the balcony, with news for us.”
The lady half rose from her seat, trembling.
“Is he commissioned by the governor?” she asked.
“I cannot tell,” said the little girl; but here her voice broke and regardless of the strangers she flung herself into her mother’s lap, weeping: “I am sure it is bad news of Father!” Lady Cochrane wound her arm about her daughter’s waist and, with a gesture of apology, led her from the room. Half an hour later she re-entered it hurriedly, followed by Grizel, who sank unnoticed in the deep embrasure of a window and shivered there behind the heavy folds of the velvet hangings.
Edinburgh Castle beyond Lothian PaulTomkins, ph.
“I have just received terrible intelligence, my friends,” announced Lady Cochrane, standing, tall and pale, in the midst of her guests. “The Governor has been informally notified that the next post from London will bring Sir John’s sentence. He is to be hanged at the Cross.” There was a perfect silence in the dim room; then one of the ladies broke into loud sobbing and a gentleman led Lady Cochrane to a chair, while the others talked apart in earnest whispers. “Who brought the information?’ asked one of the gentlemen, at length. “Is there not hope that it is a false report?”
“I am not at liberty,” said Lady Cochrane, “to tell you who brought me this terrible news; but it was a friend of the governor, from whom I would not have expected a service. Oh, is it too late,” she cried rising from her chair and pacing the room, “to make another attempt at intercession? Surely something can be done!” The gentleman who had stood by her chair- a gray-haired, sober-visaged man- returned answer:
“Do not count on any remedy now dear Lady Cochrane. I know this new King. He will be relentless toward anyone who has questioned his right to reign. Besides, the post has already left London several days, and will doubtless be here by tomorrow noon.” “I am sure,” said a gentleman who had not yet spoken, “that if we had a few days more he might be saved. They say King James will do anything for money and the wars have emptied his treasury. Might we not delay the post?” he suggested, in a low voice.
“No,” said the gray-haired gentleman, “that is utterly impossible.”
Grizel, shivering behind the curtain, listened with eager ears. Then she saw her mother throw herself into the arms of one of the ladies and break into ungoverned sobs. The poor girl could stand no more, but glided from the room unnoticed and crept up to her dark chamber, where she sat, repeating aimlessly to herself the words that by chance had fixed themselves strongest in her memory: “Delay the post- delay the post!”
The moon arose and shone in through the panes, making a wavering mosaic on the floor as it glimmered through the windblown ivy at the window. Like a flash, a definite resolution sprang into Grizel’s mind. If by delaying the post, time for intercession with the King could be gained, and her father’s life so saved, then the post must be delayed! But how? She had heard the gentleman say that it would be impossible. She knew that the postboy went heavily armed, to guard against the highwaymen who frequented the roads in search of plunder. This made her think of the wild stories of masked men who sprung from some secluded spot upon the postboys and carried off the letters and money with which they were entrusted.
Suddenly she bounded from her seat, stood still a moment with her hands pressed to her head, ran from her room and up the stairs which led to the servants’ sleeping apartments. She listened at a door and then, satisfied that the room was empty, entered and went straight to the oaken wardrobe. By the light of the moon she selected a jacket and a pair of trousers. She looked about her for a hat and found one hanging on a peg near the window; then she searched for some time before she found a pair of boots. They were worn and coated with mud. “They are all the better,” she said to herself and hurried on tiptoe down the corridor. She went next to the anteroom of her father’s chamber. It was full of fond associations and the hot tears sprung into her eyes as she looked about it. She took up a brace of pistols, examined them awkwardly, her hands trembling under their weight as she found at once to her delight and her terror that they were loaded. Then she hurried with them to her room.
Half an hour later, the butler saw a figure which he took to be that of Allen, the stable-boy, creeping down the back stairs, boots in hand.
“Whaur noo, me laddie? he asked. “It’s gey late for ye to gang oot the nicht.”
“I hae forgot to bar the stable door,” replied Grizel in a low and trembling voice, imitating as well as she could the broad dialect of the boy.
“Hech!” said the butler. “I ne’er hear ye mak sae little hammer in a’ yer days.”
She fled on. The great kitchen was deserted. She gathered up all the keys from their pegs by the door, let herself quietly out and sped across the yard to the stable. With trembling hands she fitted first one key and then another to the door until she found the right one. Once inside the stable, she stood irresolute. She patted Bay Bess, her own little pony.“Thou wouldst never do, Bess,” she said. “Thou art such a lazy little creature.” The round fat carriage-horses stood there. “You are just holiday horses, too,” said Grizel to them, “and would be winded after an hour of the work I want for you tonight.” But in the shadow of the high stall stood Black Ronald, Sir John Cochrane’s great, dark battle-horse that, rider-less and covered with dust and foam, had dashed down the Canongate after the terrible rout of Argyle in the bogs of Levenside, while all the people stood and stared at the familiar steed, carrying as he did, the first silent message of disaster. Grizel unfastened and led him out.