A QUEEN’S REVENGE
Bloody retribution delivered at Stirling as Robert Graham and his Co-conspirators receive justice for their crimes.
Graham unrepentant. Boasts from scaffold: I have slain and delivered you of so cruel a tyrant.
Queen looks on as over thirty accomplices pay awful penalty for their crimes.
Brutal tortures stir crowd to pity.
Thomas Graham executed before father’s eyes.
Thomas Chambers is last to die – his head and hand to join Atholl’s in Edinburgh.
Professor Richard Oram.
Robert Graham and his cohorts are dead. Today, in Stirling, I watched the king-slayer and his son, with all their band of filthy accomplices, brought to face the justice they so richly deserved and suffer the full, awful and agonising deaths their crimes demanded. They died in torment and in torment their souls will now languish for eternity, for the wickedness and sinfulness of their acts knows no pardon in the eyes of the Most High.
Let us not forget that just five weeks ago in Perth, this villainous, treacherous crew, breaking all bonds of faith to God and king, crept into the King’s House at Perth under cover of night, and violently assaulted the king, queen and their attendants. Unarmed, our late Liege Lord James, first of his name, fought with them manfully, but overwhelmed by their weight of numbers and weakened by many wounds, they bore him down and, despite our king’s request that they allow him a confessor, Robert Graham and his bloody-handed villains slew him without mercy. Let us not forgot, too, that they laid violent hands on Queen Joan, wounding her grievously. And they would have slain her, too, had one of their number not shown a shred of manliness and pity and stood between her and his fellows, who, like a pack of slavering hounds hungered for her blood. And let us also not forgot that these villains cut down young Walter Straiton, the king’s valet, a lad of just seventeen years, who had tried to stop them before they entered the royal apartment, hacking him down and leaving him to die slowly and in agony from his wounds. And think, too, of Sir David Dunbar, that brave knight who was first to chase the murderers from the King’s House and whom they maimed and left for dead in the fields by Perth.
These were their crimes. If you are revolted by what you read below, do not forget that we have seen justice done on unnatural, bloody-handed traitors and conspirators. All that they suffered on the Castle Hill at Stirling they deserved. Justice has been done!
We saw it all done. It was public, open and witnessed by all who loved our martyred king and yearned to see due punishment for his murder. A tribunal had been erected on the slope before the castle gate, with a platform to one side where Robert and Thomas Graham, Thomas Chambers alias Hall, and a score more of their fellows stood, half-naked and shackled, ringed by armed guards. Below them, on the slopes around the King’s Stables, stood the greatest crowd of men, women and children that I have ever seen gathered in one place. All had come to see true justice in action.
As the Queen watched from the castle walls, William, earl of Angus, nephew of our murdered lord, read the indictment, listing all the charges and detailing every one of their bloody, unnatural crimes. And then the panel of judges pronounced the full, grim sentence that was the penalty for such treason.
Standing at the bar of the court, Graham shouted his defiance at the sentence just pronounced on him.
This court has no right to sentence me to death, for I have committed no offence, only slain the king, my deadly enemy. Long ago, I set down my defiance of the king in writing, sealed with my personal seal, renouncing my allegiance for well-reasoned causes. If you give me law according to the legal statutes, you should free me and let me go at once. I did no wrong nor sin, but only slew God’s creature as my mortal enemy.
The court was unmoved by these shameful excuses. Then displaying all the learning, courage and intelligence for which he was so well renowned before his fall into wicked treachery, stepped back to the bar and addressed the judges and all of the people gathered there to watch the proceedings.
O, all you wretched and merciless Scots, without prudence and stuffed full of ignorant folly, I understand that I shall now die and will not escape your venomous, judicial hands, for by will – not by law nor right – you have condemned my body to death, which God chooses for me to receive at this time from you, undeserving of this accusation that you have condemned me for now but for other offences and trespasses that I displeased Him by in the empty days of my youth. Yet, I have no doubt that you all shall see the day and time that you will pray for my soul, for the great good that I have done to you and to all this realm of Scotland, that I have slain and delivered you of so cruel a tyrant, the greatest enemy that Scots or Scotland might have, considering his unstaunchable greed in his youth, unnatural, immeasurable, without pity or mercy to kinsmen or to friends, to high or low-born, to poor or to rich.
He said many more things that were, in truth, uncomfortable to hear, slandering the name of our king. They will be remembered for long in Scotland, but not for the reasons Robert Graham might have hoped. For all his treachery, treason and villainy, however, all of us who watched and heard him there remembered what he had been before his fall into darkness and bitter anger against King James.
At Earl William’s signal, a cart was then brought up from the stables. On the back of this, a post a little taller than a man had been set in the middle. Robert Graham was dragged to this and, using the king-slayer’s own dagger with which he had slain the king, the executioner pinned his murderous hand to the post above the height of his head. Nailed like that, he was dragged on the cart throughout the burgh. And when they returned to the castle gate and he was taken down from the post, one of the torturers used the king-slayer’s own knife to cut his king-slaying hand from his wrist, then seared the wound with hot coals. Then they set him up again on the cart, stripped him naked as a new-born, and pulled it all the way through the streets once more. All the while, Earl William’s men in the cart used red-hot hooks, heated in coals, to rip his skin and flesh all over his body.
Under this pitiless assault, Robert Graham cried out in torment. But he also found voice to scorn his torturers, denouncing his tormentors and calling us good, loyal Scots mere tyrants who will be judged by all mankind for our injustice and cruelty. Despite his faithlessness and falsehood, some of the lords present to witness these acts were shamed by what he said, took pity on him and caused him to be taken down from the post. Covering is nakedness in a woollen blanket, the guards carried him back to the castle and threw him into a cell to await his final punishment. Who dare say that we Scots are not merciful in our justice?
To keep the crowd pleased while we waited for the main act to return, at the gallows overlooking Stirling Bridge below the castle we watched over thirty of Robert Graham’s aiders and abettors meet their end, both men who had been with him on 21 February and others who had kept him hidden since he had fled from parliament last year after he first laid hands on the king. All of them were disembowelled alive, their entrails burned in front of them. Then they were beheaded, and their bodies quartered.
Only then were the last conspirators, Robert Graham, his son Thomas, and Thomas Chambers, the brother of Christopher who had already been executed in Edinburgh, as I reported last week, led out from the castle. The boy, Thomas Graham, was first to die, so that Robert Graham might see his line snuffed out like a candle. A handsome lad, younger than young Walter Straiton whom he had helped cut down at Perth, he met his end shamefully, screaming for his mother and fouling himself with his own filth. Some might have been moved to spare him, his fear, his youth, his pleading stirring pity in our hearts. But if he lived to father sons, might they not hunger for revenge, might they not be corrupted by the same treachery as this son of a traitor, passed in his polluted seed to fester in the womb of their mother? Better end this false, perjured and corrupted line and spare our children their future crimes.
But because he had stopped the hands of those who would have killed the queen, and for his youth, and because some said he was just acting through innocent loyalty to his father, as a true son should, ignorant of the enormity of his father’s vicious designs, some cried that he should be spared the full penalties that had been read against him. But justice, once pronounced, must be done. And so, Thomas Graham was brought forward with his father, for all to see the full penalties dispensed.
And as Robert Graham was brought forward, still wrapped in his blanket, I watched a guard, the same I think as had earlier cut off Graham’s hand, strip the cloth from around him. The fabric must have stuck to the wounds covering the king-slayer’s body, for he just let out an agonised scream and fainted, lying senseless on the scaffold at his weeping son’s feet for at least fifteen minutes before he stirred.
As soon as he was conscious and dragged to his feet, Thomas was taken by the executioners and swiftly disembowelled and his cut body into quarters for public display. When his heart was ripped from his body, still beating, I swear I saw it leap three times more than a foot from the floor of the scaffold before it fell still. Thus was the seed of Graham of Kinpunt exterminated.
Robert Graham then, who until that moment had believed that his son’s life would be spared, seemed to lose all fire and will. For he said nothing more as the executioner led him to the same end. A man beside me said that it was as if he had died with his son, and it was but empty flesh that we were seeing butchered before us.
Last of all, for he had been the man who last stabbed the king, Thomas Chambers, was pushed to his knees and beheaded. All said that he had been the principal cause of the king’s murder, that he had used his connections to Earl Walter, to Sir Robert Stewart, and in Perth, to bring together this coven who lay dead around him. And why? Because, it was said, he had always remained loyal to his first lord, Murdac Stewart, duke of Albany, who had been executed twelve years past on this same spot. Old Atholl may have been the schemer, the vile old serpent who plotted his nephew’s death and hungered for his crown, but Chambers had been the wicked, loathsome toad who had spilled his venom into the hearts of weaker men and perverted them from their faith to the king. And to the end he shouted his defiance, screamed his bitter hatred for our martyred king, proclaiming for all to hear that it was on 21 February in Perth that justice had been done, not here at Stirling. Now his head and his murderous hand will go to Edinburgh, to be nailed and hang till they rot beneath the head of Earl Walter.
God Save the King!
Image: Flora Hamilton as Joan Queen of Scots (taken from ‘An Evening with James I – Love, Blood and Blind Ambition) © Charterhouse Project 2019