Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Execution of Earl Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino

On August 18, 1746, as an outcome of their participation in the '45, the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino were executed at Tower Hill in London.  Lord Balmerino, in particular, distinguished himself for embracing his impending death on behalf of the Jacobite cause.  Sir Walter Scott covers the trial and execution in his "Scottish History":

'...It was understood that one of the two Earls who had submitted themselves to the clemency of the sovereign, was about to be spared. The friends of both solicited anxiously which should obtain preference on the occasion. The circumstance of his large family, and the situation of his lady, it is believed, influenced the decision which was made in Lord Cromarty's favour. When the Countess of Cromarty was delivered of the child which she had borne in her womb, while the horrible doubt of her husband's fate was impending, it was found to be marked on the neck with an impression resembling a broad axe; a striking instance of one of those mysteries of nature which are beyond the knowledge of philosophy.


While King George the Second was perplexed and overwhelmed with personal applications for mercy, in behalf of Lords Cromarty and Kilmarnock, he is said to have exclaimed, with natural feeling, Heaven help me, will no one say a word in behalf of Lord Balmerino !" The spirit of the time was, however, adverse to this generous sentiment; nor would it have been consistent to have spared a criminal, who boldly avowed and vindicated his political offences, while exercising the severity of the law towards others, who expressed penitence for their guilt. The Earl of Cromarty being, as we have said, reprieved, the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino remained under sentence, with an intimation that they must prepare for death. The King, however, commuted the mode of execution into decapitation.


The behaviour of both noblemen, during the short interval they had now to live, was of a piece with their conduct on the trial. Lord Kilmarnock was composed, though penitent, and prepared himself with decency for the terrible exit. Balmerino, on the contrary, with a bold military frankness, seemed disposed to meet death on the scaffold with the same defiance as in a field of battle. His lady was with him at the moment the death warrant arrived. They were at dinner: Lady Balmerino fainted at the awful tidings. " Do you not see," said her husband to the officer who had intimated (he news, "you have spoiled my lady's dinner with your foolish warrant?"

On the 18ih of August, 1746, the prisoners were delivered over by the Governor of the Tower to the custody of the Sheriffs; on which occasion, the officers closed the words of form by the emphatic prayer, "God save King George I" Kilmarnock answered with a deep "Amen." Lord Balmerino replied, in a loud and firm tone, "God save King James!"

Having been transported in a carriage to an apartment on Tower-hill provided for the purpose, the companions in suffering were allowed a momentary interview, in which Balmerino seemed chiefly anxious to vindicate the Prince from the report, that there had been orders issued at the battle of Culloden to give no quarter. Kilmarnock confessed he had heard of such an order, signed George Murray, but it was only after he was made prisoner. They parted with mutual affection. "I would," said Lord Balmerino, "that I could pay this debt for us both." Lord Kilmarnock acknowledged his kindness. The Earl had the sad precedence in the execution. When he reached the spot, and beheld the fatal scaffold covered with black cloth; the executioner with his axe and his assistants; the sawdust which was soon to be drenched with his blood; the coffin prepared to receive the limbs which were yet warm with life; above all the immense display of human countenances which surrounded the scaffold like a sea, all eyes being bent on the sad object of the preparation, his natural feelings broke forth in a whisper to the friend on whose arm he leaned, "Home, this is terrible!" No sign of indecent timidity, however, affected his behaviour; he prayed for the reigning King and family; knelt calmly to the block, and submitted to The fatal blow. Lord Balmerino was next summoned to enter on the fatal scene. "1 suppose," he said "my Lord Kilmarnock is now no more; I will not detain you longer, for I desire not to protract my life." His lordship then taking a glass of wine, desired the bystanders to drink ane agrae tad hairan" that is, an ascent to Heaven. He took the axe out of the hand of the executioner, and run his finger along the edge, while a momentary thrill went through the spectators, at seeing so daring a man in the possession of such a weapon. Balmerino did not, however, meditate such desperate folly as would have been implied in an attempt at resistance; he returned the axe to the executioner, and hid him strike boldly, "for in that," he said, "my friend will consist thy mercy." "There may be some," he said, "who think my behaviour bold. Remember what I tell you," addressing a bystander, " it arises from a confidence in God and a clear conscience."
With the same intrepid countenance, Balmerino knelt to the block, prayed for King James and his family, entreated forgiveness of his own sins, petitioned for the welfare of his friends and pardon to his enemies. These brief prayers finished, he gave the signal to the executioner; but the man was so surprised at the undaunted intrepidity of his victim, that he struck the first blow irresolutely, and it required two to despatch the bloody work...'

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