The Douglas Archives

A collection of historical and genalogical records

James of Pittendreich, 4th Earl of Morton executed on 2nd June 1581

The Maiden

After ruling Scotland under favour of Elizabeth for nearly ten years, Morton fell a victim to court faction, which probably could not have availed against him if he had not forfeited public esteem by his greed and cruelty.
It must have been a striking sight when that proud, stern, resolute face, which had frowned so many better men down, came to speak from a scaffold, protesting innocence of the crime for which he had been condemned, but owning sins enough to justify God for his fate. As is well known, the instrument employed on the occasion was one forming a sort of prototype of the afterwards more famous guillotine, and named The Maiden, of which a portraiture is here presented, drawn from the original, still preserved in Edinburgh.

Morton is believed to have been the person who introduced The Maiden into Scotland, and he is thought to have taken the idea from a similar instrument which had long graced a mount near Halifax, in Yorkshire, as the appointed means of ready punishment for offences against forest law in that part of England.

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