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THE COUNTESS DOWAGER OF NITHSDALE," TO HER
SISTER THE COUNTESS OF TRAQUAIR,
GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF THE EARL'S ESCAPE OUT OF THE
TOWER IN 1716.
From the "6 Transactions of the Antiquarian Society."
DEAR SISTER, MY Lord's escape is now such an old story, that I have almost forgotten it ; but, since you desire me to give you a circumstantial account of it, I will endeavour to recal it to my memory, and be as exact in the narration as I possibly can ; for I owe you too many obligations to refuse you any thing that lies in my power to do.
I think I owe myself the justice to set out with the motives which in. fluenced me to undertake so hazardous an attempt, which I despaired of thoroughly accomplishing, foreseeing a thousand obstacles which never could be surmounted but by the most particular interposition of Divine Providence. I confided in the Almighty God, and trusted that he would not abandon me, even when all human succours failed me.
I first came to London, upon hearing that my Lord was committed to the Tower. I was at the same time informed, that he had expressed the greatest anxiety to see me, having, as he afterwards told me, nobody to console him till I arrived. I rode to Newcastle, and from thence took the stage to York. When I arrived there, the snow was so deep, that the stage could not set out for London. The season was so severe, and the roads so extremely bad, that the post itself was stopt : however, I took horses, and rode to London through the snow, which was generally above the horse's girth, and arrived safe and sound, without any accident.
On my arrival, I went immediately to make what interest I could among those who were in place. No one gave me any hopes; but all, to the con trary, assured me, that although some of the prisoners were to be pardoned, yet my Lord would certainly not be of the number. When I enquired into the reason of this distinction, I could obtain no other an. swer, than that they would not flatter me': but I soon perceived the reasons which they declined alleging to me. A Roman Catholic upon the frontiers of Scotland, who headed a very considerable party; a man whose family had always signalised itself by its loyalty to the Royal House of Stewart, and who was the only support of the Catholics against the inveteracy of the Whigs, who were very numerous in that part of Scotland, would become an agreeable sacrifice to the opposite party. They still retained a lively remembrance of his grandfather, who defended his own castle of Calaverock to the very last extremity, and surrendered it up only by the express command of his royal master. Now having his grandson in their power, they were determined not to let him escape from their hands.
* This amiable and devoted woman was of the blood of the Herberts, being daughter of William Marquis of Powys. William fifth Earl of Nithsdale joined the Rebel standard in 1715, was taken prisoner at Preston in Lancashire, and sent to the Tower. Having been tried by his peers, he was found guilty, and sentenced to be executed, along with Lords Derwentwater and Kenmuir, on the 24th February following ; but by the courage and resolution of his spirited Lady, he effected his escape the preceding evening. Lady Nithsdale survived her husband five years—both dying at Rome; he in 1744, and she in 1749.-ED.
Upon this I formed the resolution to attempt his escape, but opened my intentions to nobody but to my dear Evans. In order to concert · measures, I strongly solicited to be permitted to see my Lord, which they refused to grant me, unless I would remain confined with him in the Tower. This I would not submit to, and alleged for excuse, that my health would not permit me to undergo the confinement. The real reason of my refusal was, not to put it out of my power to accomplish my design: however, by bribing the guards, I often contrived to see my Lord, till the day upon which the prisoners were condemned ; after that, we were allowed, for the last week, to see and take our leave of them.
By the help of Evans, I had prepared every thing necessary to disguise my Lord, but had the utmost difficulty to prevail upon him to make use of them : however, I at length succeeded by the help of Almighty God.
On the 22d February, which fell on a Thursday, our petition was to be presented to the House of Lords, the purport of which was, to in. treat the Lords to intercede with his Majesty to pardon the prisoners. We were, however, disappointed the day before the petition was to be presented ; for the Duke of St Albans, who had promised my Lady Derwentwater to present it, when it came to the point, failed in his word : however, as she was the only English Countess concerned, it was incumbent upon her to have it presented. We had but one day left before the execution, and the Duke still promised to present the petition ; but, for fear he should fail, I engaged the Duke of Montrost, to secure its being done by the one or the other. I then went in company of most of the ladies of quality who were then in town, to solicit the interest of the Lords as they were going to the House. They all behaved to me with great civility, but particularly my Lord Pembroke, who, though he desired me not to speak to him, yet promised to employ his interest in our favour, and honourably kept his word, for he spoke in the House very strongly in our behalf. The subject of the debate was, Whether the king had the power to pardon those who had been condemned by parliament ? And it was chiefly owing to Lord Pembroke's speech that it passed in the affirmative. However, one of the Lords stood up and said, that the House would only intercede for those of the prisoners who should approve themselves worthy of their intercession, but not for all of them indiscriminately. This salvo quite blasted all my hopes ; for I was assured it aimed at the exclusion of those who should refuse to
subscribe to the petition, which was a thing I knew my Lord would never submit to; nor, in fact, could I wish to preserve his life on such terms. · As the motion had passed generally, I thought I could draw some advantage in favour of my design. Accordingly, I immediately left the House of Lords, and hastened to the Tower, where, affecting an air of joy and satisfaction, I told all the guards I passed by, that I came to bring joyful tidings to the prisoners. I desired them to lay aside their fears, for the petition had passed the House in their favour. I then gave them some money to drink to the Lords and his Majesty, though it was but trifling; for I thought, that, if I were too liberal on the oce casion, they might suspect my designs, and that giving them something would gain their good humour and services for the next day, which was the eve of the execution.
The next morning I could not go to the Tower, having so many things in my hands to put in readiness ; but in the evening, when all was teady, I sent for Mrs Mills, with whom I lodged, and acquainted her with my design of attempting my Lord's escape, as there was no prospect of his being pardoned ; and this was the last night before the ex. ecution. I told her that I had every thing in readiness, and that I trusted she would not refuse to accompany me, that my Lord might pass for her. I pressed her to come immediately, as we had no time to lose. At the same time I sent for a Mrs Morgan, then usually known by the name of Hilton, to whose acquaintance my dear Evans has intro duced me, which I looked upon as a very singular happiness. I imme. diately communicated my resolution to her. She was of a very tall and slender make ; so I begged her to put under her own riding hood, one that I had prepared for Mrs Mills, as she was to lend her's to my Lord, that, in coming out, he might be taken for her. Mrs Mills was then with child ; so that she was not only of the same height, but nearly the same sizé as my Lord. When we were in the coach, I never ceased talking, that they might have no leisure to reflect. Their surprise and astonishment, when I first opened my design to them, had made them consent without ever thinking of the consequences. On our arrival at the Tower, the first I introduced was Mrs Morgan ; for I was only allowed to take in one at a time. She brought in the clothes that were to serve Mrs Mills, when she left her own behind her. When Mrs Morgan had taken off what she had brought for my purpose, I conducted her back to the stair-case; and, in going, I begged her to send me in my maid to dress me; that I was afraid of being too late to present my last petition that night, if she did not come immediately. I dispatched her safe, and went partly down stairs to meet Mrs Mills, who had the precaution to hold her handkerchief to her face, as was very natural for a woman to do when she was going to bid her last farewell to a friend on the eve of his execution. I had, indeed, desired her to do it, that my Lord might go out in the same manner. Her eye-brows were rather inclined to be sandy, and my Lord's were dark, and very thick : however, I had prepared some paint of the colour of her's to disguise his with. I also bought an artificial head-dress of the same coloured hair as her's; and I painted his face with white, and his cheeks with rouge, to hide
his long beard, which he had not had time to shave. All this provision I had before left in the Tower. The poor guards, whom my slight li. berality the day before had endeared me to, let me go quietly with my company, and were not so strictly on the watch as they usually had been ; and the more so, as they were persuaded, from what I had told them the day before, that the prisoners would obtain their pardon. I made Mrs Mills take off her own hood, and put on that which I had brought for her. I then took her by the hand, and led her out of my Lord's chamber ; and, in passing through the next room, in which there were several people, with all the concern imaginable, I said, my dear Mrs Catherine, go in all haste, and send me my waiting-maid : she certainly cannot reflect how late, it is : she forgets that I am to present a petition to-night ; and, if I let slip this opportunity, I am undone ; for to-morrow will be too late. Hasten her as much as possible; for I shall be on thorns till she comes. Every body in the room, who were chiefly the guards' wives and daughters, seemed to compassionate me exceedingly; and the centinel officiously opened the door. When I had seen her out, I returned back to my Lord, and finished dressing him. I had taken care that Mrs Mills did not go out crying, as she came in, that my Lord might the better pass for the lady who came in crying and afflicted; and the more so, because he had the same dress she wore. When I had almost finished dressing my Lord in all my petticoats, excepting one, I perceived that it was growing dark, and was afraid that the light of the candles might betray us ; so I resolved to set off. I went out, leading him by the hand ; and he held his handkerchief to his eyes. I spoke to him in the most piteous and afflicted tone of voice, bewail. ing bitterly the negligence of Evans, who had ruined me by her delay. Then said I, My dear Mrs Betty, for the love of God run quickly and bring her with you. You know my lodging ; and, if ever you made dispatch in your life, do it at present. I am almost distracted with this disappointment. The guards opened the doors, and I went down stairs with him, still conjuring him to make all possible dispatch. As soon as he had cleared the door, I made him walk before me, for fear the centinel should take notice of his walk ; but I still continued to press him to make all the dispatch he possibly could. At the bottom of the stair I met my dear Evans, into whose hands I confided him. I had before engaged Mr Mills to be in readiness before the Tower, to conduct him to some place of safety, in case we succeeded. He looked upon the affair so very improbable to succeed, that his astonishment, when he saw us, threw him into such consternation, that he was almost out of himself; which Evans perceiving, with the greatest presence of mind, without telling him any thing, lest he should mistrust them, conducted him to some of her own friends, on whom she could rely, and so secured him, without which we should have been undone. When she had conducted him, and left him with them, she returned to find Mr Mills, who by this time had recovered himself from his astonishment. They went home together ; and having found a place of security, they conducted him to it.
In the mean while, as I had pretended to have sent the young lady on a message, I was obliged to return up stairs, and go back to my Lord's room, in the same feigned anxiety of being too late ; so that every body seemed sincerely to sympathize with my distress. When I was in the room, I talked to him as if he had been really present, and answered my own questions in my Lord's voice as nearly as I could imitate it. I walked up and down, as if we were conversing together, till I thought they had time enough thoroughly to clear themselves of the guards. I then thought proper to make off also. I opened the door, and stood half in it, that those in the outward chamber might hear what I said ; but held it so close, that they could not look in. I bid my Lord a formal farewel for that night; and added, that something more than usual must have happened, to make Evans negligent on this important occasion, who had always been so punctual in the smallest trifles, that I saw no other remedy than to go in person : That if the Tower were still open when I finished my business, I would return that night ; but that he might be assured I would be with him as early in the morning as I could gain admittance into the Tower; and I flattered myself I should bring favourable news. Then, before I shut the door, I pulled through the string of the latch, so that it could only be opened in the inside. I then shut it with some degree of force, that I might be sure of its being well shut. I said to the servant as I passed by, who was ignorant of the whole transaction, that he need not carry in candles to his master, till my Lord sent for him, as he desired to finish some prayers first. I went down stairs, and called a coach. As there were several on the stand, I drove home to my lodgings, where poor Mr Mackenzie had been waiting to carry the petition, in case my attempt had failed. I told him there was no need of any petition, as my Lord was safe out of the Tower, and out of the hands of his enemies, as I hoped ; but that I did not know where he was.
I discharged the coach, and sent for a sedan chair, and went to the Duchess of Buccleugh, who expected me about that time, as I had begged of her to present the petition for me, having taken my precautions against all events, and asked if she were at home; and they answered, that she expected me, and had another Duchess with her. I refused to go-up stairs, as she had company with her, and I was not in a condition to see any other company. I begged to be shown into a chamber below stairs, and that they would have the goodness to send her Grace's maid to me, having something to say to her. I had discharged the chair, lest I might be pursued and watched. When the maid came in, I desired her to present my most humble respects to her Grace, who they told me had company with her, and to acquaint her, that this was my only reason for not coming up stairs. I also charged her with my sincerest thanks for her kind offer to accompany me, when I went to present my petition. I added, that she might spare herself any further trouble, as it was now judged more adviseable to present one general petition in the name of all : however, that I should never be unmindful of my particular obligations to her Grace, which I would return very soon to acknowledge in person.
I then desired one of the servants to call a chair, and I went to the Duchess of Montrose, who had always borne a part in my distresses. When I arrived, she left her company to deny herself, not being able to see me under the affliction which she judged me to be in. By mistake, however, I was admitted ; so there was no remedy. She