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 one recounts their history up to the capture and imprisonment of Nithsdale after the 1715 rebellion
"In my last I gave your Ladyship an account of the fatal sentence pronounced against the six Lords who had pleaded guilty. Their submitting themselves to King George's generals att Preston to avoid the effusion of Christian blood, their acknowledging themselves guilty, and their imploreing mercy, has availed them nothing. The warrant for their execution was signed on last Saturday, and the day appointed for them to dy is next Friday. My tears make me stopp here. I wish I could stopp or att least mitigate, your Ladyship's! The only comfort I have myself, or can give your Ladyship, is that my dear Lord has received this dreadfull sentence with an angelicall resignation to the holy will of Almighty God, in whom he hopes to find a merciful Redeemer. As he lookt on his confinement as a favor from Heaven, so he has made a most Christian use of it, passing the much greater part both of night and day in prayer and spiritual lecture, and voluntary mortifications, besides the sufferings inseparable from a prison. He has had the comfort of receiving almost dayly, since the sentence was pronounced, the greatest pledge a God of love could give him of his tenderness." Such was the account given by Father J. Scott of the preparation for death of the last Earl of Nithsdale. The letter was written on 21st February 1716, three days before the fatal sentence was to be carried out. From that sentence there then appeared to be no escape. The petition which Lady Nithsdale drew up and presented to King George had only exasperated him, on account of the odium which he incurred by reason of his harsh treatment of her. The circumstances were as follows. On Monday, 13th February, Lady Nithsdale managed to gain access to a room in the Palace through which she knew that the King would pass. As he advanced down the room she knelt and presented the petition, telling him in French that she was the unhappy Countess of Nithsdale. The King paid no heed to her. She seized the skirt of his coat and held fast, pathetically appealing in French to his mercy, and was dragged by him upon her knees almost from the middle of the public room to the drawing-room door. One of the King's bodyguard, putting his arms round her waist, pulled her back, and another disengaged the skirt of the King's coat from her hand. The unhappy Countess was left almost fainting on the floor, with her rejected petition beside her. This rude treatment of Lady Nithsdale by the King was much talked of. A king of England, it was said, had never refused a petition from the poorest woman, and it was a gratuitous and unheard of brutality to treat as he did a person of her quality. The King, far from relenting, was much embittered against the Countess for the freedom with which his conduct was censured on this occasion; and afterwards, when all the ladies, whose lords had been concerned in the Rebellion, put in claims for their jointures, Lady Nithsdale being amongst the number, he went so far as to say that she did not deserve hers and should not obtain it. She was accordingly excepted, and he would never hear anything said in her favour. But if such was the obduracy of the King, the feelings of those about him were quite different.
"The whole Court," we are told, "was moved to compassion. The whole town applauds her and extols her to the skies for it, and many who thirst for the blood of the others wish my Lord Nithsdale may be spared to his lady."
The kind wish, expressed in these last words, was indeed realised, and that, as has been already mentioned, by the daring of Lady Nithsdale herself. The following is abridged from the beautiful letter of the Countess to her sister, Lady Lucy Herbert, Abbess of the English Augustinian Nuns at Bruges: “When arrived" (in London from Terregles), "I went imediately and solicited all the persons in power, without the least hope given me of any favour; all the contrary, every one was so plain as to tell me that perhaps some of the prisoners might be pardoned, but not him for certain. I beg'd to know the occasion of this distinction, but could obtain noe answer, to that point, but that they would not flatter me, which, though they did not tell me, well did I know the reasons: A Catholick vpon the Borders, and one who had a great following, and whos family had ever vpon all occasions stuck to the royal family, and the only support the Catholics had amongst that Whigish part of the country, would be well out of the way. They had not yet forgot that his grandfather held out, as the last garrison in Scotland, his own Castle of Calaverock, and render'd it up but by the King's own orders, so that now they had him in their power, they were resol'd not to let him slip out of their hands. Vpon which I took the resolution to endeavour his escape, but confided my intention to noe body but my dear Evans."
The Earl was confined in the house of Colonel D'Oyly, Lieutenant-depute of the Tower, in a small room which looked out on Water Lane, the ramparts and the wharf, and was sixty feet from the ground. The door was guarded by one sentinel, the floor by two, the passages and stairs by several more, and the outer door by two. How was it possible then for the Earl to escape? But what would have seemed impracticable to less energetic minds did not seem to be so to Lady Nithsdale. She was frequently admitted to see him, and in making these visits she conciliated the guards by giving them money. Two days previous to the fatal day a resolution had been adopted by the House of Lords to petition the King on behalf of the condemned Lords - of those only who would be ready to give information as to all who had embarked on the insurrection. The Earl of Nithsdale, she well knew, would never purchase life at such a price, nor did she desire that he should. Yet to further her design she took advantage of this resolution. Hastening to the Tower, and putting on a joyous air, she went up to the guards at each station and told them that she brought them good news. There was now, she said, no fear for the prisoners, as the motion that the Lords should intercede with the King had passed. The sentries, by believing that the prisoners would be pardoned, would, she judged, be less vigilant. To keep them in good humour she gave them some money, and bade them drink the health of the King and of the Peers.
On Thursday, 23rd February, in the afternoon, she started on her perilous journey. Of the two ladies who accompanied her, the one, Mrs. Mills, was tall and stout; the other, Mrs. Morgan, was tall but slender. On reaching the Tower Lady Nithsdale first brought in Mrs. Morgan - for she was allowed to take in only one at a time - who brought in the clothes that Mrs. Mills was to exchange for her own. Mrs. Morgan having left the clothes, Lady Nithsdale quietly conducted her out again, going with her partly downstairs, and saying to her at parting: "Pray do me the kindness to send my maid to me, that I may be dressed, else I shall be too late with the petition which I have to present." Lady Nithsdale next took into the room Mrs. Mills, who, as instructed by her, came in with her handkerchief to her eyes as if in tears for her friend the Earl who was about to suffer death. The Earl was to go out in the same manner, the more effectually to conceal him from the guards. Mrs. Mills' eyebrows were somewhat yellow, whilst the Earl's were thick and black; but Lady Nithsdale, by a little paint and ringlets of the same coloured hair, remedied this. There was, moreover, no time to shave his long beard; but she brought some white paint to cover it and the rest of his face, and some red paint for his cheeks. The guards, who were in good humour from the little money she had given them the night before, allowed her to go in and out with the ladies, and believing that a pardon would be granted to the prisoners, they were in effect not so watchful as they otherwise would have been. Mrs. Mills having exchanged her dress, Lady Nithsdale conducted her out of the Earl's room, addressing her as they passed through the other rooms, in which were no less than nine persons - the wives and daughters of the guards - "Pray, Mrs. Catherine, look for my woman, who has apparently forgotten the petition which I am to give in, and bid her haste to come to me." The sentinel opened the door immediately.
Having seen out Mrs. Mills, who did not go out as she had come in, with a handkerchief to her eyes (this was reserved for the Earl), Lady Nithsdale returned to her husband, and having got him quite ready, now, thought she, was the time for action. It was growing dark, and afraid lest the keepers should bring in the candles, which would have defeated her plans, she without longer delay came out of the room, leading by the hand the Earl, who was clothed in the attire of Mrs. Mills, and held a handkerchief about his eyes, as if in tears, which served to conceal his face.
To prevent suspicion, she spoke to him in a plaintive tone, complaining that Mrs. Evans, by her long delay, had ruined her, and addressing him as dear Mrs. Betty, she said, "Run and bring her with you for God's sake; you know my lodging, and if ever you made haste in your life, do it now, for I am almost distracted with this disappointment." The guard, who had not been keenly observant of the coming in and departure of the two ladies, without the least suspicion opened the door. Lady Nithsdale went downstairs with the Earl, still conjuring him as "dear Mrs. Betty" to make haste. Having got him out of the door, she stepped behind him, lest the sentinel might have discovered something in his gait to cause suspicion. At the foot of the stairs she found Mrs. Evans, who conducted the Earl with great presence of mind to a house in Drury Lane where she knew he would be safe.
Thus was the truly romantic adventure of Lady Nithsdale successful by the kindly assistance of two ladies. But her own courage seems to have exceeded all credibility, absolutely alone as she now was within those gaunt Tower walls which have frozen the heart of so many a brave warrior. She had made a show of sending the lady - who was the Earl - on a message. It was therefore necessary for her to return to his room and appear to be perplexed and in anguish as before. This she did, calling forth the compassion of all about the place. On reaching the Earl's chamber she affected to speak to him, and answered as if he had spoken to her, imitated his voice, and walked up and down the room, as if they had been talking together, till she thought that he had had time enough to be out of reach. Then opening the door to depart, she went half out, and holding it in her hand, that those outside might hear, she took a solemn and affectionate leave of her husband for that night. Before shutting the door, to prevent its being opened from the outside, she drew into the inside a little string that lifted a wooden latch, and then, to close the door securely, shut it with a bang. In passing she told the Earl's valet, who knew nothing of the matter, that his Lordship, as he was at his prayers, did not wish candles to be brought till he called for them. Then she went downstairs, passed out of the Tower, and later joined her husband in his hiding.
Her own account of her unbounded joy at the success of her enterprise is very charming. "After which (giving the good news at her own lodging and at the Duchess of Buccleuch's) I made one of the servants call me a chair, and bid them goe to the Dutchess of Montrose, who had all along shew'd a perticular concern for me. She had left word that in case I came, to say she was not at home, because she said she could not see me in the trouble she knew I would be in, but by some mistake they brought me vp, so there was noe remedy. So she came to me, and as my heart was very light, I smil'd when she came into the chamber, and run to her in great joy. She realy started when she saw me, and since own'd that she thought my head was turned with trouble, till I told her my good fortune; after which she beg'd me to put myself in place of security, for that she knew the Electour was highly displeased with me for the pitition I had given him that had occasion'd his being complained of. I desired they would call me a chair, for I never kept any for fear of being tris'd (traced). The Dutchess said she would goe to Court and see how the newse was receiv'd, which she did, and told me the Electour storm'd terribly when the account came, and said he was betray'd, for he was sure it could not have been done without connivance."
The Earl safely crossed to France, and as it was believed that the Countess was with him, the Government made no search for her. Upon her application, however, for permission to go safely about her business, this was refused, and it was threatened that she would be arrested if she appeared openly in Scotland or England. But her work was not yet done. At the first news of the imprisonment of the Earl on the charge of high treason, three months previously, the Countess had foreseen that their house at Terregles would be searched. The family papers might thus be carried away and lost. Here again she gave signal proof of the foresight for which she was so conspicuous. Should the Earl be condemned and forfeited in his life and estates, could nothing be done to save her son from beggary? She believed that something might be done. The Earl, as before mentioned, had made a disposition of his estates to his only son, Lord Maxwell, in the year 1712, three years before the rebellion, reserving to himself only the life-rent. There was then good hope, that should the Earl be forfeited in his estates, it might with reason be argued that only his life-rent could be forfeited, as this was all he possessed at the time he joined the rebellion. Hence the importance of saving all the family papers; but how was she to secure them? She knew of no one to whom she could entrust them. She resolved therefore to bury them in the garden at Terregles, and none but herself and the old gardener knew anything of the matter. When it was dark these two dug a hole in a secluded corner of the garden, into which they placed the writs, carefully covered so as to exclude the damp from them as much as possible, and then threw back the earth in such a manner that all trace of what had been done was obliterated. The wisdom of this precaution soon became apparent; the house was often searched after she was away.
It would have seemed enough for any woman to have saved the life of one, however dear to her that life might be, at the risk which we have seen Lady Nithsdale undergo, but what she had done for the father she was now to do for the son. She was told that to remain in Scotland or England would mean her death if she were arrested, nevertheless to secure her son his inheritance she did not fear to travel back to Scotland. She was obliged to make the journey of 300 miles on horseback in order to avoid the publicity of the coaches, and to lodge in small ill-furnished inns for the same reason. Arrived at Terregles she found that her coming to Scotland was then unknown. She did not, however, now conceal it, but had the extraordinary boldness to convey the impression that she had got the permission of the Government to return to Scotland. To strengthen this belief she sent word to all her neighbours, and intimated the pleasure she would have in seeing them. Meanwhile she hastened to unearth the family papers, which she found, though the winter had been severe, perfectly safe, and as dry as if they had been at the fireside. She immediately sent them to her daughter at Traquair, thus accomplishing the work for which she had come to Scotland, and once again bringing to a successful issue a work which needed great endurance, courage, and forethought.
Lady Nithsdale now started to rejoin her husband in France, but the anxiety and the fatigue which she had gone through and the stormy passage brought on a miscarriage during the voyage, so that her life was in the greatest danger. Happily, however, she reached the French coast in safety, though in a most prostrate condition.
It would be pleasing to describe how this most faithful wife and devoted mother passed her remaining years, from 1716-1749, in peace and comfort. But such was not to be her lot; she had much to suffer from the jealousies of those in attendance on the Chevalier, and from the pecuniary embarrassments of her husband. These arose in great part on account of the expenses incurred by himself and his predecessors in providing men and munitions of war to assist the Stuart sovereigns from the unfortunate Queen Mary down to the time of the insurrection of 1715, as also on account of the fines and forfeitures entailed thereby. Only £200 could be provided yearly from the estates for the support of the Earl and his Countess, and even when this is multiplied by five to give its value in money of the present day, it looks little enough. Yet had the Countess had even this at her disposal, she would have managed well enough; the extravagant habits of the Earl, however, kept him continually in heavy debt, and the Countess had much to suffer in consequence. Under these circumstances she thought of leaving the Court of the Chevalier at Rome, and of living quietly elsewhere: "If I did not thinke it was for the good of my family, I must confess a privater (life) would have been more suitable to my inclinations. But we must live for others in this world and not for ourselves, and duty must still be preferred, and whatever the event may be, I shall endeavour to omit noe part of it, and leave the rest to God." In this same letter she mentions that she had the happiness to receive "one handsome suit from the Pope, which was procured for her through the kindness of a Cardinal."
After following Sir William Fraser in so much of the preceding, I cannot refrain from quoting his tribute to one for whom he seems to have had great admiration. "The devotion of Lady Nithsdale to her unfortunate husband, her disinterested character, and her exemplary virtues as a wife and as a mother, have commanded the veneration of her descendants, who, justly proud of such an ancestor, never mention her name, but with the utmost honour, gratitude, and affection. Nor is this admiration confined to them: a character so self-sacrificing and so exalted, must command the respect of all who read the story of her chequered and romantic life.
"Amongst the family treasures at Terregles is the portrait of Lady Nithsdale, taken when she was in the bloom of youth. The ex
Terregles and the Nithsdale estates passed in 1776 to the grand-daughter of the Earl of 1715. Although the title was still attainted, she was popularly known as Lady Winifred Maxwell, and she is so styled in her marriage contract, which was made at Terregles on 16th October 1758. From her marriage with William Haggerston Constable, of Everingham Park, Yorkshire, the present family descends; the head of which became, in 1848, the tenth Lord Herries of Terregles, the Barony of Herries being the only one held by the attainted Earl, which passed in the female line.
It was Lady Winifred and her husband who undertook to replace the old house of Terregles by one more in accordance with the altered conditions of the time. In this they admirably succeeded, and the result of their work is the present spacious mansion of Terregles. Regarding the old house, of which a sketch still exists, it is interesting to note that it was condemned to be pulled down as early as 1568. At that time the Regent Murray made a military progress, and in its course razed to the ground various castles of those who opposed him. But Terregles, though condemned to destruction, was spared for a singular reason. "The Lord Herreis' hous of Terreglis the Regent gave full orders to throw it doune. But the Laird of Drumlangrig, Whoe was the Lord Harreis' uncle, and much in favour with the Regent, told that the Lord Herreis wold take it for a favour if he wold ease him of (his) pains, for he was resolved to throw it doune himselfe, and build it in another place. The Regent sware he scorned to be a barrow-man to his old walls. And so it was safe." It stood for two hundred years after this incident.
If the poet Burns admired the true Jacobite spirit of the ancestors of Lady Winifred, their fidelity to the old religion was still more worthy of the highest praise. It has been well said that "her forefathers were second to none in Scotland in the steadfast adherence to the cause of their legitimate kings and in the sufferings for their loyalty, and superior to all in the firm and undeviating attachment to the Catholic religion, the faith of their ancestors." The attachment to these two causes brought the family at one time almost to penury, but at the period when Burns wrote, the weary night of persecution had passed, and the dawn of happier times was bringing joy to the owners of Terregles and to their dependants.
Indeed, during the quarter of a century that Lady Winifred possessed the Nithsdale and Herries estates, she resided chiefly at Terregles, where she dispensed a very generous and almost unbounded hospitality. She seldom sat down to dinner without a company of between twenty and thirty friends and neighbours. Terregles in her day was a kind of open house, where friends came and stayed without any formal previous arrangement.
When sending the lines which follow to Lady Winifred Maxwell, Burns thus wrote: "Common sufferers in a cause where even to be unfortunate is glorious - the cause of heroic loyalty. Though my fathers had not illustrious honours and vast properties to hazard in the contest, though they left their humble cottages only to add so many units more to the unnoted crowd that followed their leaders, yet what they could do they did, and what they had they lost; with unshaken firmness and unconcealed political attachments, they shook hands with ruin, for what they esteemed the cause of their King and their country. This language and the enclosed verses are for your Ladyship's eye alone. . . . - Robt. Burns."
Then follow two verses, the first of which is prefixed to the previous article, the second is as follows: -
"Though stars in skies may disappear
And angry tempests gather,
The happy hour may soon be near
That brings us pleasant weather:
The weary night of care and grief
May hae a joyful morrow;
So dawning day has brought relief,
Fareweel our night o' sorrow.”