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Trial of John Master * of Forbess, for conspiring to
assassinate King James V. for exciting a mutiny in the King's host, and for attempting to sacrifice part
of the army to the English, John Master of Forbess, on the 12th of June, 1536, was accused by George Earl of Huntly, before the 1536 King and the Lords of the Privy Council, of the crime of Treason. The Treason charged was, that the accused had conspiredt the King's death, by me. ditating to kill him with the shot of a culverin, when his Highness was in the borough of Aberdeen. The Master of Forbess protested his innocence, which he offered to maintain by single combat. The Earl of
* Master of Forbess is a Scottish phrase, signifying eldest son and heir-apparent of Lord Forbess, and so of the eldest son of
+ Records of Justiciary, 12th June, 1536.
1537 Huntly declared, that his informers were not pro
sent; but he would bring a landed man, or gentleman, who would avow the charge before the King any day his Highness would appoint, and, failing thereof, he took up the pledge.
The Privy Council having taken the Earl of Huntly bound, under the penalty of 80,000 * merks, to make good his accusation before the King, or the Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, against the first of the ensuing month of July; they, at the same time, ordered a herald to charge the Master of Forbess to enter himself prisoner in Edinburgh Castle against eleven o'clock next forenoon, under the pain of Treason; or, at least, to find surety, to the amount of 20,000 merks, to stand trial on the day appointed; also, that, during his residence in Edinburgh, he should not approach nearer the Royal Palace than the Nether. bow-port; and that, when it should please his Majesty to visit the town, the Master of Forbess should confine himself within his own apartments.
No further procedure was held in this matter till the 8th of December, when the King directed a warrant to the Privy Council, requiring them to give orders to the Justice Clerk to take surety from Lord Forbess, as well as the Master of Forbess, that each of them remain in Edinburgh Castle till they find bail, to the t extent of 10,000 merks, to appear and stand trial when called on.
For the value of Scottish money in those times, see Amot's Hist. of Edinburgh, p. 87, 90, &c.
Rec. of Just. 11th December, 1596. 14th July, 1537.
On the 14th of July, 1537, he was tried for High 1537 Treason before the Earl of Argyle, Justice General, wo
and the Commissioners of Justiciary. The indict· ment contained several charges, . That the prisoner
was guilty, art and part,* of a treasonable and abo. * minable conspiracy to perpetrate murder † upon the
King's most noble person, by the shot of a culverin, ! when his Highness was in his borough of Aberdeen,
for the purpose of administering justice within the 'northern parts of his realm; that he was concerned, 4 art and part, in the treasonable mutiny which arose ' in the last Royal army that marched to the borders, ! for national defence, against the English forces, the Scottish army being then at Jedburgh; and that he traiterously conspired the destruction of a part of the army raised to oppose the incursions and rav, ages of our ancient enemies of England, who were hovering upon the borders, to the imminent peril
of the army, and to the great danger of the state; . also, that he traiterously aided our said enemies of England.'
Fifteen persons, some of them men of distinguish. ed rank, and all of them of respectable station, sat upon the jury. They were, Robert Lord Maxwell, William Master of Glencairn, Knight, Sir John Melville of Raith, John Hume of Coldenknows, George Crawfurd of Feddorat, Alexander Leslie of Pitcaple,
* Art and part is a phrase in the Scottish law, which denotes, aiding and abetting. It signifies the same with the Latin phrase, ope et consilio.
+ The indictment is in Latin, the verdict in English,
1537 John Pantoun of Pitmidden, David Duncanson of W Standanstanes, John Leslie of Bouquhaine, Nicholas
Ross of Auchlossin, James Garioch of Killstane, George Leslie of Newleslie, John Cumming of Cullen, Charles Dempster, and William Leslie of Coc. larachie. The jury found him guilty of the whole crimes charged against him, article by article. Sentence was then pronounced upon him, forfeiting . his life, lands, and goods, moveable and immove* able; ordaining him to be harled* through the
causeway of Edinburgh, and hanged on the gallows, • till he be dead, and to be quartered and dismembered as a traitor.'
Drummond of Hawthornden, and the later Scottish writers, have thought proper, for what reason I know not, to pronouncef decidedly that this was an unjust sentence. The following reasons, however, lead me to think, that we are by no means entitled to conclude that the jury returned an iniquitous verdict, which was to infer so dreadful a doom; and that our idea of the prisoner's innocence cannot exceed bare conjecture. The evidence given on his trial is not recorded in the books of Justiciary, nor was it in use to be taken down at that period; and the presumption surely is, that a jury would not, contrary to their conviction, sacrifice the life, fortune, and fame of a fellow citizen.
About this period two inveterate factions sprang up in Scotland. Lord Forbęs was, perhaps, the very
* Drawn on a hurdle.
+ Drummond's Hist. of the James's, p. 104. Scott's Hist. of Scotland, p. 344.
first man of rank in the north, magnae familiae et fac- 1537 tionis princeps,* who professed the doctrines of rewno formation; hence we may suspect the partiality of succeeding writers when treating of this Lord and his family. Such of the proceedings against the prisoner as we still can distinctly trace, were neither harsh nor precipitate. The Earl of Huntly, the accuser, was ordained by the Privy Council to find surety, to the amount of 30,000 merks, to make good his accusation; whereas the prisoner, and Lord Forbess, by express warrant, under his Majesty's hand, were required to find surety only for 10,000 merks, to stand trial when called on. Upwards of thirteen months elapsed between the accusation and trial, a period surely sufficient for the abating of passion, and the investigating of truth. The prisoner was a man of impetuous temper and profligate life; a person who, although many believed him innocent of conspiring the King's death, although he denied it on the scaffold, yet the public hardly regretted his fate, on account of his profligacy and wickedness; and he him. self acknowledged that he deserved to die for the murder of the Laird of Meldrum. Even in those barbarous times it was not uncommon for a prisoner to be acquitted by his peers of a charge of treason. Robert Lord Lisle was tried before the King himself, by sixteen Lords and Barons of Parliament,t who
The case of Gowry affords a notable instance, that a cham. pion of reformation was sure to find in his party advocates ready, not only to wipe off the imputation of conspiracy, but to retort the charge.
+ 18th March, 1481. Arnot's Hist. p. 643.