A most barbarous Murderer of his Mother and Sister, who led a bloodthirsty Gang of Outlaws in Scotland and hanged a Judge. Executed in April, 1658
THIS offender was descended of a very good family in the Highlands of Scotland. His father died just when he had seen his son reach that age at which the law supposes a man capable to manage his own affairs, and left him an estate in Perthshire of about eighty marks per annum. But though Gilder-roy was twenty-one years old, he was a worse economist than the old gentleman expected; so that in about a year and a half all his substance was destroyed, his estate sold, and himself reduced to the most extreme necessity, notwithstanding the frequent admonitions of his friends against his profuseness, and their honest entreaties that he would reflect upon his condition before it would be too late.
His mother had a small jointure, with the income of which she supplied him, till she saw it was to no purpose, he still consuming all she could raise in a little time. At last she withheld her hand, and let him for the future shift for himself. This so irritated the villain that nothing but the death of the good old woman could pacify him; in order to accomplish which, he arose one night and burst into his mother's bed-chamber violently while she was asleep, who had still been so unhappily tender as to let him lodge in her house. The rest of this action is shocking to relate. He cut the throat of his indulgent parent from ear to ear, ravished his own sister and a maidservant, left them both bound, took everything valuable out of the house, then set fire to it, burning that and the two deflowered maidens all together.
This almost unparalleled piece of barbarity filled the whole country round with horror; the author of it was suspected, and a considerable reward was offered in a proclamation issued out for apprehending him. The money, with the abhorrence everybody had of his crime, made it unsafe for him to stay any longer in his native country; so he fled into France, where he lived upon the spoil of his murdered mother until it was all spent, and he was obliged to make use of his wits for a livelihood.
Being once at St Denis, he went to the cathedral, a mausoleum for the kings of France, situated not far from the city of Paris, where during the solemnisation of High Mass several of the best quality were present. Here he applied himself to one who was seated most suitably for his design, and immediately with an air of assurance, as though he had known the gentleman, pointed to several of the fairest ladies, and endeavoured to make himself pass for a gallant to the ladies; which he might well enough do, he being as well dressed as anybody there. The French gentleman had by this time directed his attention more to his new acquaintance than to the devotion of the day; which Gilder-roy perceiving, he made signs that he intended to take a fine gold watch of great value from a lady's side just by, whom he perceived to be acquainted with monsieur. There being no mistrust of anything more than a joke (the Frenchman little thinking a thief had made him his companion), they whispered together where they should meet after service was over, and carry their prize to the fair owner, when she had been sufficiently grieved for her loss.
Satisfied with this fallacy, the French gentleman made the best of his way out of the church when High Mass was over, and left Gilder-roy to take care of himself, not doubting in the least but his new acquaintance would punctually meet him at the place appointed. But Gilder-roy was far enough in two hours' time, and the French gentleman did not suspect any treachery before, but imagined his delay might be occasioned by meeting a friend, or the like. However, being impatient, he went at last in confusion enough to inform the lady of what had passed. It was agreed the sharper had outwitted him, and that by his connivance he had stolen the watch in earnest; so he humbly asked her ladyship's pardon, and entreated her to accept of another watch of equal value from him, which he owned was but a just penance for the folly he had been guilty of in so credulously placing too much confidence in a stranger. In short, the lady, though full of resentment, accepted of the present, but discarded him from his former capacity of being her suitor, telling him she would never have a man so tame as to sit by and see her robbed, without taking her part.
From France he took a tour over the Pyrenean mountains into Spain, committing several notorious robberies in divers parts of that kingdom, particularly in Madrid. In this capital he found means to get a large quantity of plate from the Duke of Medina Celi, when all his servants were busied in an entertainment for foreign ambassadors. This trick was performed by a previous acquaintance with the steward, who introduced him at his pleasure.
Gilder-roy, after he had been about three years abroad, had the confidence to venture home again, supposing that though the horrible crime he had there committed would never be forgotten, yet the heat of inquiry after him was pretty well over. He now got together a great company of men, and made his name almost as terrible in some of the remote parts of Scotland as that of Robin Hood was formerly about the forest of Sherwood in England. Particularly in the counties of Athol, Lockable, Angus, Mar, Baquahan, Moray and Sutherland, he was dreaded as much as a common enemy in time of war. The confusion of affairs in these kingdoms, we may conclude, contributed a great deal towards the establishing him in this manner, and his evading the stroke of justice so long as he did. All the common people he laid under contribution, and obliged them to allow him so many head of cattle quarterly for his protection, which he was so impudent as to grant them in form, by the means of which they might travel without molestation from him or any of his gang. It was in vain to think of not coming into his articles; for those who were not willing to allow him part of their substance were sure to lose it all without any ceremony.
Among the persons said to be robbed by Gilder-roy we find the Earl of Linlithgow, from whom he took a gold watch, a diamond ring, and eighty broad-pieces. Oliver Cromwell is another mentioned on this occasion; but the writers of that time, who endeavoured to throw all the indignities they could on the republican party, have probably made this usurper and his friends to be served in this manner much oftener than they really were. One gentle man, however, who fell in Gilder-roy's way, made a stout opposition with two of his servants, till one of the men was killed, and the master himself wounded; Gilder-roy shot all their horses, mounted the gentleman upon an ass, and sent him to seek his fortune.
Three of this company were at last apprehended and sent to the Tolbooth in Edinburgh, out of which prison they broke, but were soon retaken, condemned, and executed at a distance without the city, where their bodies were left hanging as a terror to others, till they should drop down of themselves.
These three men were part of Gilder-roy's particular favourites; whereupon he vowed revenge, and communicated his design to the rest of the gang, who all agreed to join with him in the execution of it. Their business was to waylay the judge —- or Lord of Session, as they are there called —- who had passed the sentence, and who was soon after so unhappy as to fall into their hands. His coachman and two footmen they stripped stark naked, tied them hand and foot, and threw them into a great pond, where they were immediately drowned. Then they killed the four coach horses, cut the coach all to pieces, and rifled his lordship of everything about him that was valuable. This was not, however, half the punishment they designed him, for they kept him confined in a wood till dead of night, and then they put him on horseback and brought him to the gallows where their comrades were hanging. The form of a gallows or gibbet in Scotland is something like our turnstiles, and consists of two beams that cross one another upon the top of a high post, so that they point four several ways. It was upon such a machine as this that those fellows were hung, and there was one of the points vacant. When they arrived at the place, Gilder-roy told the judge that, forasmuch as the structure was not uniform without a fourth person, his lordship must fill the vacancy, and take a swing upon the empty beam. As soon as he had delivered his jest he let the poor judge see that he intended to act in earnest, for a rope was instantly put round his lordship's neck, and he was fairly tucked up to keep the malefactors company.
We have not been informed of the name of this judge; but the action, we are assured, was the occasion of a law that was soon after passed in Scotland for the hanging of a highwayman as soon as ever he was taken. This statute was afterwards often put in force against gentlemen of the pad, whom they convicted and condemned after their death, to keep up the form of justice.
A long series of success made Gilder-roy so insolent that he thought nothing of killing those who disputed the delivery of their money. He ravished almost all the women that he could get into his power, set fire to houses and barns upon the least affront, and spread an inexpressible fear in every part where he haunted. The great complaints that were raised were the occasion of a second proclamation for the taking of him either dead or alive, in which the reward offered was no less than one thousand marks. This obliged him again to take a little more care of his conduct, and live privately as often and as much as his money would permit.
One Peg Cunningham, whom he kept for a mistress, hearing of the proclamation, and perceiving that it hindered him from bringing her so much money as usual, thought it her best way to lay hold of this opportunity, play the downright whore, and betray him. This she accomplished in her own house, which she caused to be surrounded with a body of men one night when he was with her. Gilder-roy heard a noise, and perceived that he was trepanned; nor was he at a loss to think by whom. Seeing therefore that he could no way escape, he resolved to be revenged on his betrayer; which he was before the guards could seize him. He took a knife and ripped up her belly as she lay in bed, where she kept, to prevent his suspecting her. After this he made as desperate a defence as ever was heard of, killing several of his adversaries as they attempted to come to him. But all this served only to aggravate his crimes; for he was taken and put into prison, where his hands, feet and waist were all loaded with irons for the greater security. Having been kept three days in this condition, he was conveyed to Edinburgh by a strong guard, and there executed, according to the law just now mentioned, on a gibbet thirty feet high, in April, 1658. He was thirty-four years of age, and died in a sullen temper, without any confession. His body was hung in chains on another gibbet erected for that purpose between Edinburgh and Leith.