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Long before the French
Revolution, the Scots had invented and were using the guillotine known
as the Maiden. From 1564 up to 1708 when it was withdrawn from use, over
150 people had been executed with this 'humane' devise.
Another famous victim of
the Maiden was James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton the Regent of Scotland,
during the reign of King James VI. From 1572 to 1580 Morton was the most
powerful figure in the kingdom. In the turbulent years following the
Reformation and the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots, Morton had been
a strong supporter of the Protestant cause. As regent he had quelled the
ambitions of rival nobles, upheld royal authority against challenges
from the Church and governed the Borders. In the course of his regency
he made many enemies, which eventually caught up with him during an
illicit love affair with Esme Stuart, a member of the court of young
King James VI. The affair upset the king who regarded Esme as his
'favorite' and Douglas was arrested for treason in 1580 and executed on
the Maiden in 1581.
Perhaps the most famous victim of the Maiden was Archibald Campbell, 9th
Earl of Argyll. In 1685, Archibald rebelled against King James VII in
1685. He was captured after his disastrous rising and taken to Edinburgh
to face the Maiden. It had long been prophesized that Archibald would
meet a violent death. The portent of his doom was revealed when it was
noticed that he winked as he spoke.
Beheadings on the Maiden were popular events and the crowd expected a
good show. Argyll didn’t disappoint. He noticed that the block on which
his head was to rest was uneven. He took out a rule and measured it
before ordering it should be fixed by a carpenter. Argyll had never been
renowned for his religious convictions, unlike his Presbyterian father
who was also beheaded, but on the scaffold Argyll played every inch the
martyr declaring ‘I die not only a Protestant, but with a
heart-hatred of popery, prelacy, and all superstition whatever’
before the Maiden took his head clean off.