The Martyr's Monument, Edinburgh

In the capital of Scotland are more imposing monuments than the Covenanters’ Memorial in Greyfriars’ Churchyard, but not one more historically interesting. It attracts the attention of visitors from all parts of the world, and to the inhabitants of the city it must be a matter of pride to have this memorial to the memory of the men who fought for religious freedom.

The early Scottish reformers were in earnest respecting their faith; a bond was prepared, setting forth that they would stand unflinchingly by the Calvinistic faith, and if necessary would fight in its defence.

This was signed on December 3rd, 1557, by the Earls of Glencairn, Argyll, and Morton, Lord Lorn, Erskine of Dun and many more, who assumed the title of “Lords of the Congregation.”

A man in Scotland might do many indiscreet things and even be guilty of crime, and be pardoned; but to flinch or fall from the Covenant was to commit a sin that his countrymen could not forgive.

Charles I., aided by Archbishop Laud, attempted to force upon the Presbyterians of Scotland a liturgy, and in other ways to alter the mode of divine worship in the country. The king’s action was regarded with alarm, and steps were taken to maintain the religious freedom of the country. The Solemn League and Covenant of 1557 against Popery was renewed and new articles added. A copy was sent to each town in Scotland. That belonging to Edinburgh was, on March 1st, 1638, solemnly read aloud in Greyfriars’ churchyard. It was subscribed to by a large number of the nobility, gentry and others of all ranks and conditions, ages and sexes. It is impossible to count the signatures on the document, but it is believed that over five thousand names occur, and the more zealous added to their subscription such sentences as “till death.” The size of the parchment is four feet long and three feet eight inches broad, and it is preserved in the Register Office, Edinburgh. It was spread upon a flat stone in the churchyard for signature, and was signed by all who could get near to it.

Not a few who signed this document were amongst the many who suffered death for their adherence to the faith they held. At the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22nd, 1679, it is recorded that 800 Covenanters were slain on the field of battle, and about 1300 taken prisoners and brought to Edinburgh, and later 200 were conveyed to Stirling.

At Edinburgh the prisoners were kept in an enclosed piece of land (now forming a part of the graveyard of Greyfriars), in a great measure without shelter, for five months, and supported with a short supply of bread and water. Guards watched them day and night. The condition of the prisoners was most distressing and moved to pity the inhabitants of the city, but they were not permitted to render the least assistance.

The troubles of many of these brave men did not end with imprisonment. “On the 15th of November,” it is recorded, “256 were taken to Leith and put on board a vessel to be carried to the plantations in America. The vessel sailed on the 27th, but was wrecked on the coast of Orkney on December 10th, when upwards of 200 perished. Some of the remaining prisoners were tried, condemned and executed; the remainder, upon signing bonds, obtained their liberty.”

The monument is erected near the graves of the martyrs who were buried in Greyfriars’ churchyard. It was in that part of the burial-ground that criminals were interred, and an allusion is made to this fact in the inscription on the martyrs’ monument.

James Currie of Pentland obtained from the Town Council of Edinburgh, on August 28th, 1706, permission to erect a stone in Greyfriars’ churchyard to the memory of the martyrs, on condition “there being no inscription to be put upon the tomb but the sixth chapter of Revelation, verses 9, 10 and 11.”

A carved stone representing an open Bible, with the verses cut in full, was erected, and this forms, we are told, the under part of the present more stately monument, which was substituted in 1771, when the original slab was removed. The old inscription with some slight alterations was transferred to the present monument. The inscription is as follows:—

“Halt, passenger, take heed what you do see.
This tomb doth shew for what some men did die.
Here lies interr’d the dust of those who stood
’Gainst perjury, resisting unto blood;
Adhering to the covenants and laws;
Establishing the same: which was the cause
Their lives were sacrific’d unto the lust
Of prelatists abjur’d; though here their dust
Lies mixt with murderers and other crew,
Whom justice justly did to death pursue.
But as for them, no cause was to be found
Worthy of death; but only they were found
Constant and steadfast, zealous, witnessing
For the prerogatives of Christ their King;
Which truths were seal’d by famous Guthrie’s head,
And all along to Mr Renwick’s blood:
They did endure the wrath of enemies:
Reproaches, torments, deaths and injuries.
But yet they’re those, who from such troubles came,
And now triumph in glory with the Lamb.

“From May 27th, 1661, that the most noble Marquis of Argyle was beheaded, to the 17th February 1688, that Mr James Renwick suffered, were one way or other murdered and destroyed for the same cause about eighteen thousand, of whom were executed at Edinburgh about an hundred of noblemen, gentlemen, ministers and others, noble martyrs for Jesus Christ. The most of them lie here.

Rev. vi. 9.—And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

10.—And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

11.—And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Chap. vii. 14.—These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Chap. ii. 10.—Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

“The above monument was first erected by James Currie, merchant, Pentland, and others, in 1706; renewed in 1771.”




(Added on the monument at a subsequent date):—

“Yes, though the sceptic’s tongue deride
Those martyrs who for conscience died—
Though modern history blight their fame,
And sneering courtiers hoot the name
Of men who dared alone be free,
Amidst a nation’s slavery;—
Yet long for them the poet’s lyre
Shall wake its notes of heavenly fire;
Their names shall nerve the patriot’s hand
Upraised to save a sinking land;
And piety shall learn to burn
With holier transports o’er their urn.
James Grahame.

Peace to their mem’ry! let no impious breath
Sell their fair fame, or triumph o’er their death.
Let Scotia’s grateful sons their tear-drops shed,
Where low they lie in honour’s gory bed;
Rich with the spoil their glorious deeds had won,
And purchas’d freedom to a land undone—
A land which owes its glory and its worth
To those whom tyrants banish’d from the earth.”

“For the accomplishment of this resolution, the three kingdoms lie under no small debt of gratitude to the Covenanters. They suffered and bled both in fields and on scaffolds for the cause of civil and religious liberty; and shall we reap the fruit of their sufferings, their prayers and their blood, and yet treat their memory either with indifference or scorn? No! whatever minor faults may be laid to their charge, whatever trivial accusations may be brought against them, it cannot but be acknowledged that they were the men who, ‘singly and alone,’ stood forward in defence of Scotland’s dearest rights, and to whom we at the present day owe everything that is valuable to us either as men or as Christians.”

It only remains for us to add that James Currie, who was the means of raising the original monument, suffered much during the persecution and more than once narrowly escaped capture.