The following extract is from the book Ancient Catholic Homes of Scotland published in 1907. It serves as an introduction to the Herries/Maxwell (Earls of Nithsdale) family of Terregles, a staunch Catholic family, supporters of Mary Queen of Scots and active Jacobites in the 1715 rebellion. Part two recounts the daring plan of Lady Nithsdale to rescue her husband from the gallows.
TERREGLES (Part 1)
"The noble Maxwells and their powers
Are coming o'er the Border,
And th'll gae bigg Terregles towers
And set them a' in order.
And they declare Terregles fair
For their abode they choose it;
There's no a heart in a' the land
But's lighter at the news o't."
When giving an account of Carlaverock, it was remarked how the old castle had stirred the patriotism of Sir Walter Scott, and now that the history of Terregles comes to be told it is found that Burns is no less enthusiastic. And no wonder! At Langside in 1568, and at Preston in 1715, it was the men of Nithsdale who formed the chief part of the Stuart horse; in both battles a laird of Terregles was at their head. After the defeat of Langside, Lord Herries stood almost alone in his fidelity to the unfortunate Mary Stuart, who found at Terregles the shelter which so few dared give their Queen in her misfortune. Most fitting was it then that one hundred and fifty years later, another laird of Terregles should be amongst the first to espouse the cause of the last of the Stuart princes, for whom, as will be seen, he gladly risked both life and property.
The family of Herries had been settled three hundred years and more at Terregles, when Sir Herbert Herries, about the year 1489, was created by King James IV. Baron Herries of Terregles. His great-grand-daughter and heiress, Agnes Herries, married Sir John Maxwell, second son of Robert, fifth Lord Maxwell. This Sir John Maxwell was born about 1512, and was educated at Sweetheart, or New Abbey, six miles from Dumfries. The circumstances of the marriage of the future Lord Herries with the heiress of that name were peculiar. In 1547 he was employed on behalf of the Earl of Lennox in his attempt to recover by force his estate in Scotland. At this time the Master of Maxwell, as he was called, was seeking in marriage the heiress of Herries, then under the protection of the Earl of Arran, Regent of Scotland, who intended to marry her to his own son. The Master of Maxwell, indignant at Arran's crossing him in his suit, raised 2000 horse to oppose the Earl in his government of the Kingdom, at the same time giving Lord Wharton, the English general, certain young men as pledges that he would assist him. This placed Arran in such straits that to win Maxwell to his side again he offered him the heiress of Herries. Maxwell accepted his bride as the condition of changing sides. So far little fault could be found with the transaction; but a different colour is given to the affair when one learns that on abandoning the alliance of the English, he left his pledges in their hands, and that these unfortunate men were hanged at Carlisle by order of the English Council. Such was the wooing of the Border heiress of the house of Herries.
There exists at Terregles a deed wherein it is affirmed that the guardians of this good lady gave her in marriage to Sir John Maxwell, on the ground that through his manifold labours he had not only drawn a great part of the inhabitants of the West Borders from the assurance of the English, the old enemies of Scotland, to the obedience of our Sovereign Lady (Queen Mary), but had also expelled the English from those parts of the Kingdom, by which means he had done good service to the Queen.
In December 1563, when Knox was called upon to appear before Queen Mary and her Council, the Queen sat in the chair of State, "haifing twa faithfull supportis, the Maister of Maxwell upoun the ane tor (arm), and Secretour Lethingtoun on the uther tor of the chyre ; quhairupoun thay waittit dillegentlie all time of that accusatioun, sumtymes the one occupying hir ear, sumtymes the uther. . . . Knox standing at the uther end of the tabill bairheided." To the Master of Maxwell the refusal of Knox to yield to the wishes of Mary on the head of religion was very embarrassing. He was loud in his complaints about Knox's prayers for the Queen, and the doctrine which he Quenis Majestie's place," said the Master of Maxwell, “I wald nocht suffer sick thingis as I heir."
A little later, however, we find him siding with the opponents of Queen Mary; but he was not inclined to carry opposition to her as far as many of the Protestant Lords would have done, and soon after he left these latter and again joined her adherents. From this time forward Queen Mary ever reposed entire confidence in him. Indeed, Mary and Darnley published a solemn declaration of the innocence of Maxwell of the charges of high treason, which his enemies were not slow to bring against him. This declaration ends with the words: "Their Majesties' will, therefore, is that he should be reputed as their trusty servant and counsellor in all times coming." Shortly after this date (1566) Sir John Maxwell became Lord Herries in right of his wife.
When Queen Mary's proposal to marry Bothwell became known, Lord Herries on his knees besought the Queen not to entertain the proposal. He assured her that this step would injure her reputation and expose her to the reproach and resentment of her subjects. Nevertheless he was prevailed upon afterwards with other nobles to sign a paper (14th May 1567) recommending the Earl of Bothwell as a fit husband for her. But only two months later he subscribed a bond supporting the Queen against the opposing Lords; and in August of that year he proved that this promise of support was sincere, for when a herald appeared in Glasgow to proclaim the Earl of Murray Regent and Queen Mary deposed, Lord Herries, as Warden of the Western Marches, would not allow it, and commanded the herald to depart out of his rule.
On 13th May 1568 was fought the Battle of Langside, in which the forces of Queen Mary were defeated and her prospects were for ever blighted. In that battle Lord Herries had the command of Queen Mary's horse, who were almost all Borderers, dependants of Lord Herries or Lord Maxwell. It was to Terregles that she fled after the fatal battle, and there she remained some days. The bed which she used still exists; while among her relics in the possession of the present Lord Herries may be mentioned a prayer-book, beautifully engrossed on very fine vellum and exquisitely illuminated; the "leading strings" of King James VI., on which are tastefully worked in letters of gold the words, Angelis suis Deus mandavit de te, ut custodiant te in omnibus viis tuis (To His angels hath He given charge over thee, that they keep thee in all thy ways), the whole being understood to be the work of Queen Mary.
Whilst at Terregles she held a consultation with her few remaining friends. What course was she to pursue? Should she return to France, or throw herself on the protection of Elizabeth? To her taking this imprudent step, which ever after she had cause to regret. Lord Herries was much opposed. He most earnestly entreated her not to commit herself to the English queen, on whose generosity, he assured her, she could not rely with safety. He could not, however, prevail with his affrighted sovereign, who three days later crossed the Solway Frith in a small fishing-boat, and, landing in Cumberland, was carried to Carlisle. From here she sent Lord Herries to the Court of Elizabeth, and in the letter which he carried to the English Queen, Mary said: "I have despatched my Lord Herries, my faithful and beloved subject, to inform you of these things and others, supplicating you to credit him as myself."
At the Court of Elizabeth Lord Herries had frequent audiences of Her Majesty, whom he assured that, if she would restore Queen Mary to her crown, and assist in the subjugation of her rebellious subjects, she need have no fear of Frenchmen coming to Scotland; Queen Mary would seek the help neither of Frenchmen nor of any other foreigners, but only that of the Queen of England, if she would give it speedily; but otherwise she and her friends would be forced to seek assistance from France or Spain, or wheresoever it might be obtained. He frequently showed Queen Elizabeth that things were driving on to the ruin of his sovereign and her obedient subjects, on whom sentences of forfeiture were daily passed. Her adversaries spent all her patrimony and revenues, destroyed kirks and policies under their usurped authority; old men, priests who never bore arms, wives and children, in numerous instances were cruelly murdered. He denied, though the contrary had been affirmed, that any attempt was intended against England by any of Queen Mary's friends, such an allegation having been invented, like many others, to excite the resentment of the Queen of England. During the negotiations which followed, Lord Herries was the constant confidant of the poor Queen of Scots. She consulted him regarding her acceptance of the conditions proposed by Elizabeth, and when other of the nobles blamed him to her, she defended his conduct, saying that he had done nothing but by her express command. When the cause of Queen Mary was submitted to Commissioners, Lord Herries was the spokesman on the Scottish Queen's side, and he is acknowledged to have performed his duty with ability and fidelity. On one occasion, before the whole Commission, he vehemently inveighed against the Regent Murray and his party, as the slanderers of his mistress and as the contrivers of the murder of Darnley. He accused them of having plotted the death of their Queen, after having murdered her secretary in her presence, and he affirmed that it was not the punishment of the murderers of her husband which moved them to this proud rebellion, but the avaricious desire to gain possession of her wealth. When we recollect the temper of the Scottish nobles of that period, and how often one after the other even the regents of that date fell by the hand of the assassin, it is truly surprising that Lord Herries should have dared single-handed to speak so openly, and that in the presence of the very men against whom he made charges so serious.
The conference between the Commissioners of the Queen of Scots and of her subjects ended without result. Shortly afterwards Lord Herries was imprisoned by the Regent Murray, who blamed him for turning many in favour of Queen Mary.
In 1570 it is pleasant to find Lord Herries acting in concert with the laird of Johnston, despite their long-standing family feud, when they effectively resisted the English forces under Lord Scrope. From that date Lord Herries continued to labour on behalf of his captive Queen until his death in 1582. He was interred in the choir of the church of Terregles, which he had built as a place of sepulchre for himself and his family.
It is a sign of the influence of the family in that neighbourhood that this place of sepulchre has ever remained Catholic. Though really forming the choir of the Established Kirk, it has been divided from it by a wall, and, with its separate entrance on the south side, forms a beautiful mortuary chapel. The late laird of Terregles with excellent taste renovated the whole chapel, carefully gathering together the remains of such tombs as were injured by time. The altar, at which Mass is still said on certain anniversaries, is at the east end, immediately over the vault, to which the descent is down a handsome marble staircase, at the head of which is a beautiful statue of the Angel of the Resurrection, by Philipps. With the single exception of her tomb in Westminster Abbey, there is, to those devoted to the memory of Mary Stuart, probably no place so worthy of honour as the tomb of her faithful and most courageous defender. If no monument exists to his memory, he is in this only in a similar position to his descendant in the fifth degree, William, ninth Lord Herries, and fifth Earl of Nithsdale, whose charming story must now be told.
Succeeding to the titles and estates, as he did, at the early age of eight, this future champion of the House of Stuart was placed under curators, of whom his mother was one. We shall be able to judge of the Catholic instincts of the son from those of the mother, whose death in 1713 is thus recorded by Father James Hudson, at a time when such Catholic death scenes were rare indeed in Scotland: "I take this occasion to condole with your Ladyship" (her daughter, Mary, Countess of Traquair) "for the great losse undergone, by being depriv'd of a most affectionat and tender mother, but at the same time hope that your Ladyship's comfort will soon follow, by the assureance many eyewitnesses here, and I especially, can give of the happy circumstances that attended a most pious and Christian death. . . . The evening of the 4th (January) a severe fainting fit supervening, startl'd the doctor, and induced hir Ladyship to make me be call'd again, and to demand Extreme Unction, which I promis'd in due time. After this, being inform'd of the doctor's sentiments, I thought fit to administrat the Viaticum about 2 in the morning of the 5th, and finding her Ladyship's condition become still more dangerous, I gave Extreme Unction upon the 6th, between 3 and 4 in the afternoon. Both these sacraments were received by my Lady with much piety and tenderness, and I found her weaned from the world and resign'd to the dispositions of Providence . . . when presence of mind return'd, I suggested to my Lady some thoughts and acts of Christian piety fit for that juncture, with which her Ladyship showed herself sensibly touch'd. The sweet name of Jesus was often repeated by her with an affectionat tone. Very few minuts befor breath departed, my Lady was perfectly in her senses, and at last, without struggling, her Ladyship expired, while I was actually reciting the usuall recommendation of the soul." Such was the mother, the son will be seen to have been not unworthy of her.
In 1699, at the age of twenty-three, he was in Paris, but whether to do homage to his exiled Sovereign at St. Germains, or to win the hand of his future bride, Lady Winifride Herbert, is uncertain. Their marriage, however, took place after Easter of that year, when the young couple took up their residence at Terregles. They soon found that toleration was not one of the virtues of those about them, for on 24th December 1703, evidently with a view to disturb the midnight Mass, the ministers of Irongray and Torthoral with several others, assembled a number of fanatics and attacked the house of Terregles, under the pretence of searching for priests and Jesuits. The Earl of Nithsdale, justly indignant at such proceedings on the part of private individuals, sued the perpetrators on the following charges: That they invaded his dwelling-house, and that, too, under cover of night: that they came armed with guns and swords and in such numbers as greatly to aggravate the offence: that they forced open doors with iron hammers, broke the outer and inner gate “with horrid noise and beating": that they violently entered the house and searched it, and that, too, when the Countess was indisposed, so that her life was in imminent danger.
But the fanatic ministers were not to be outdone; they raised criminal proceedings against the Earl “for the hearing Mass and concealing thereof, the resetting of Jesuits, seminary priests and trafficking papists," and quoted the laws and Acts of Parliament making these criminal offences. The dates were also given when Mass was said and when priests were entertained at Terregles, and it was urged that the law of 1700 for the preventing of Popery warranted all persons and encouraged them, by the reward of 5 merks, to apprehend and seize the persons of "trafficking priests and Jesuits." The two cases, that of the Earl of Nithsdale against the ministers and that of the ministers against the Earl, were heard at Edinburgh, 7th February 1704, but ended in a compromise, both parties abandoning their right to sue the other.
In 1712 the Earl of Nithsdale disponed to his only son, William, all his estates, reserving only the life-rent. This arrangement proved most fortunate for the family, as it secured to them the estates when the Earl was forfeited for his share in the rebellion of 1715.
It is well known to all, how in August of that year, the standard of the Chevalier of St. George was planted at Braemar, and that on 6th September, James III. was proclaimed King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland. The Earl of Nithsdale and Lord Kenmure joined the English portion of the Jacobite forces under Forster and Derwentwater, who marched upon Preston and took it. But on 14th November they were forced to surrender at discretion to General Wills, who took 1500 prisoners, amongst these being the Earl of Nithsdale. Beautiful are the lines of the aged minstrel warrior of eighty years, whose mournful strains bespeak his intense and undying affection to the house of
"Green Nithsdale, make moan for thy leaf's in the fa',
The lealest of thy warriors are drapping awa';
The rose in thy bonnet, that flourished sae and shone,
Has lost its white hue, and is faded and gone!
Our matrons may sigh, our hoary men may wail,-
He's gone, and gone for ever, the Lord of Nithisdale!
But those who smile sweetest may have sadness ere lang
And some may mix sorrow with their merry merry sang.
Full loud was the merriment among our ladies a',
They sang in the parlour, and danced in the ha' -
Jamie's coming hame again to chase the Whigs awa':
But they cannot wipe the tears now so fast as they fa'.
Our Lady does nought now but wipe aye her een -
Her heart's like to burst the gold-lace of her gown;
Men silent gaze upon her, and minstrels make a wail
O dool for our brave warrior, the Lord of Nithisdale!
Wae to thee proud Preston! - to hissing and to hate
I give thee: may wailings be frequent at thy gate!
Now eighty summer shoots of the forest I have seen,
To the saddle-lapps in blude i' the battle I hae been.
But I never ken'd o' dool till I ken'd it yestreen.
O that I were laid where the sods are growing green
I tint half mysel' when my gude lord I did tine -
He's a drap of dearest blood in this auld heart of mine.
By the bud of the leaf, by the rising of the flower, -
By the sang of the birds, where some stream tottles o'er,
I'll wander awa' there, and big a wee bit bower,
To hap my gray head frae the drap and the shower;
And there I'll sit and moan till I sink into the grave,
For Nithsdale's bonnie lord - ay, the bravest of the brave!
O that I lay but with him in sorrow and in pine.
And the steel that harms his gentle neck wad do as much for mine!”
From Preston the principal prisoners were sent to London, where their arrival is thus described: "The prisoners were brought to town from Preston. They came in with their arms tied, and their horses (whose bridles were taken off) led each by a soldier. The mob insulted them terribly, saying a thousand barbarous things, which some of the prisoners returned with spirit. I did not see them come into town, nor let any of my children do so, though almost everybody went to see them."
King George and his Government resolved to make an example of the foremost of the prisoners, and six were selected, of whom Lord Nithsdale was one, to be impeached for High Treason. A bill to that effect was passed through Parliament on 9th January; on the 10th the accused Lords were brought to the Bar of the House, and ordered to give their answers by the 19th, when they pleaded guilty. The 9th February was the day appointed for passing judgment upon them. In pleading guilty they had hoped to mollify the King's resentment and incline him to the side of clemency, but in this hope they were mistaken. The Earl of Nithsdale, when asked what he had to say why judgment should not be passed upon him according to law, stated that, "at Preston His Majesty's generals gave great hopes and encouragement to believe that surrendering to His Majesty's mercy was the ready way to obtain it, with repeated assurances that His Majesty was a prince of the greatest clemency." The Lord High Steward, in delivering judgment, could not, he said, admit the pleas which they had made, as any extenuation of their guilt, and, therefore, it was his sad duty to condemn them to the foul death of being hanged, drawn, and quartered.
The Earl of Nithsdale now prepared to meet his fate. He drew up with his own hand what he intended to be his dying speech, declaring that "in the first place I die, as by God's grace I have always lived, a true and devoted son of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church. Secondly, I declare that I drew my sword merely out of motives of justice and piety, to assert the undoubted and hereditary right of that Prince, whom I then believed and still believe to be my only liege lord and lawful Sovereign, James the Eighth of Scotland and Third of England, and to deliver my native country from the oppression and misery under which it groans. If I fall a victim to so good and glorious a cause, it is what my ancestors have done, who generally shed their blood for the defence of their King and country. . . . Fourthly and lastly, I declare that in imitation of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and in obedience to his most just command, I heartily and sincerely forgive all my enemies, not only those who did or wished me any harm, but those also who are most accessory to my death, and thirst most after my blood, earnestly desiring that by the effusion of the same, the wrath of God justly incensed against these nations may be pacified. "William, Earl of Nithsdale."
Another most affectionate letter was addressed by him to his sister, the Countess of Traquair: "I most willingly make use of some of the most precious moments of my life to give you the last assurances of my tenderness towards your persons, and off my gratitude for your manifold favours, and espesialy for your generosity towards me in these my hard sircumstances, in which you have shewed yourselfs trwe and cordiall friends. I also most humbly thank you for your unparalelled goodnes towards my dearest wife and children, whom I most ernestly recommend to you, as what is most dear to me after my oun soul. You have been informed by my orders of what has passed here relating to me, and what my dear wife has done for me, so all I shall say is, that there cannot be enough said in her praise. Everybody admires her, everybody applaudes her, and extolles her for the proffs she has given me of her love. So I beg you, dearest brother and sister, that whatever love and affection you bear to me, you would transfer it unto her as most worthy of it."
Great as had been the devotion of that most devoted wife and heroic the efforts to which it had already prompted her, yet the whole world burst forth in her praise when two days later it became known that that devotion had not rested until at the risk of her own life, she had snatched her husband from the gates of death, by delivering him from prison on the very day preceding that fixed for his execution.