In the aftermath of the 1745 uprising many Jacobite prisoners found themselves in Carlisle once more. Legend tells that “the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond” was composed by a man destined for the gallows at this time. The castle cells were so full that prisoners were kept in the Cathedral; troops were billeted. Court officials arrived. Friends and families arrived to try and save the lives of their loved ones. There were so many prisoners that it was decided that it was an impossible task to try them all. The Jacobites were made to draw lots. Nineteen out of twenty men were to be transported to the colonies. The twentieth man was to be put on trial for treason which usually meant execution. A Special Commission of Goal Delivery was held. The Grand Jury convened in August 1746 with the trials beginning on Tuesday, 9th September the same year. To have worn the white cockade was enough to confirm a man’s guilt.
One hundred and thirty people were taken forward for trial. Two men were too sick to stand trial and one man, Lord Mordington, pleaded his peerage so could not legally be tried by the judges in Carlisle as they were not his equals. Of the remaining defendants forty-two pleaded guilty and a further forty-nine were found guilty at their trials including Sir Archibald Primrose, the nephew of the Earl of Rosebery. Thirty-three of the convicted Jacobites were executed while one man died in prison.
Sir Archibald Primrose of Dunipace having first been imprisoned in Aberdeen was moved to Carlisle for trial and went to his death on Harraby Hill leaving only a letter for his sister in Edinburgh which he handed over to a friend at the foot of the scaffold. In it he assured her that he was meeting his death as a Christian. He had hoped for a pardon having pleaded guilty and thrown himself on the mercy of the court believing that this was the course that would preserve his life. No messenger arrived in time to save him. There is a story that reprieve arrived half an hour after Sir Archibald’s execution. He is buried in St Cuthbert’s Churchyard along with many of the other executed Jacobites in an unmarked grave. Mourners at the funerals of the executed men would not recognize the St Cuthbert’s Church today as the current building was erected in 1779. Primrose’s family must have been horrified by his decision to join with the Jacobites, although it would have to be said that keeping track of the Primrose family’s loyalties isn’t always straight forward. They’d shifted from loyalty to James II to William of Orange and risen through Scottish society by telling tales on Jacobites. Primrose’s near ancestor was a commissioner for the 1707 Act of Union – an event that didn’t go down terribly well in Scotland at the time – having risen to the rank of earl on 1703 on the strength of his political affiliations – so quite why our Archibald had opted to affiliate himself to his princeliness is a matter for some speculation and one which he only hints at in his final letter.
Archibald’s letter reveals the extent to which Hanoverian prosecutors were determined to make an example of the Jacobites. He says that William Gray one of his prosecutors “suborned witnesses” and “threatened some.” He went on to say that one man was to be hanged alongside him who had been offered his life on the proviso that he incriminate Primrose. The man had refused:
I have endeavoured to take some small time, from a much more immediate concern, to offer you a few lines, and to let you know that this day I am to suffer, I think,
for my religion, my prince, and my country. For each of these I wish I had a thousand lives to spend. The shortness of the intimation will not allow me much time to write to you so fully in my vindication for what I did that I know concerns you. But I heartily repent of the bad advice I got even from men of judgment and sense. And what I did by their advice in my own opinion was no more than acknowledging I bore arms
against the present government, for my lawful, undoubted prince, my religion, and country; and I thought by my plea to procure some time longer life only to do service to my poor family, not doubting but yet in a short time that glorious cause will succeed, which God of His infinite mercy grant.
I repent most heartily for what I did, and I merit this death as my punishment, and I trust in the Almighty for mercy for my poor soul. As I am very soon to leave this world, I pray God to forgive all my enemies, particularly Mr. Gray, he who did me all the injury he could by suborning witnesses, and threatening some which was my terror. Particularly there is one poor man is to suffer with me that had an offer of his life tobe an evidence against me, which he rejccted.
Much more I could say, but as my time is short, I now bid my last adieu to my dear mother and you, my dear sister, and I intreat you’ll be kind to my dear wife and children; and may all the blessings of Heaven attend you all. Live together comfortably and you may expect God’s favour. My grateful acknowledgments for all your favours done and designed.
Remember me kindly to my Lady Caithness, Sauchie, and his sisters, and all my friends and acquaintances. May the Almighty grant you all happiness here, and eternal bliss hereafter, to which bliss, I trust, in His mcrcy soon to retire; and am for ever, dear sistcr, your affectionate brothcr, A.P.
PS:–My blessing for your dear boy, my son.
Transcript of letter from The Lyon in Mourning which may be accessed from http://digital.nls.uk/print/transcriptions/lyon/vol1/search/index.html
Twenty Guineas and the usual hangman’s prerequisites of clothes and personal belongings convinced William Stout of Hexham that he was the man to execute the Jacobites for their treason. It was not a pleasant job. Thirty-three men had to be hung, cut down, revived, cut open and disemboweled. The executioner was supposed to be sufficiently adept at knotting off vital tubes and arteries so that the dying man could see their bowels being burned in front of them. The last step in the process was to chop the condemned man’s head off and put an end to any lingering misery.
The first nine rebels were hung on Harraby Hill on Saturday 18th October 1746 amongst their number was the gallant highlander who’d presented his white cockade to a new born baby at Rose Castle as a guarantee of safety less than a year previously. Executions continued throughout October in Brampton and Penrith and concluded on Saturday 15th November with a final batch of condemned men being executed on Harraby Hill.
An entry in the Carlisle Patriot of 10 October 1829 recalls the memories of John Graham who had “gone upon Harraby Hill to witness the melancholy ceremony.” In the years that followed he came into the ownership of the land where the gallows had once stood and it was he who unearthed its remains and the pile of ash that burned the entrails of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men.
Executed on Saturday 18 October 1746 at Harraby Hill
Thomas Coppoch (the so-called Jacobite Bishop of Carlisle)
Donald Macdonald of Teirnardreish
Donald Macdonald of Kinloch Moidart
Executed on Saturday, 15 November 1746 at Harraby Hill
Sir Archibald Primrose
Hickey, Julia (2014) High Road to Harraby Hill. Carlisle:Bookcase