Earl of Derwentwater
Perps: The Earl of Derwentwater, Lord Kenmure, The
Earl of Winton and others
The Crime : Treason
Victim: British government and Monarchy
Motive : Leading a Jacobite uprising
1715 in North Eastern England. The Jacobite Risings were a series of uprisings, rebellions, and wars in Great
Britain and Ireland occurring between 1688 and 1746. The uprisings were aimed at returning James VII of Scotland
and II of England, and later his descendants of the House of Stuart, to the throne after he was deposed by
Parliament during the Glorious Revolution.
Location : Tower Hill, London
The Story : The circumstances attending the crime of
these individuals, intimately connected as they were with the history of the Royal Family of England, must be too
well known to require them to be minutely repeated.
On the accession of George the First to the throne of Great Britain, the question of the right of
succession of King James the Third, as he was termed, which had long been secretly agitated, began to be referred
to more openly ; and his friends, finding themselves in considerable force in Scotland, sent an invitation to him
in France, where he had taken refuge, to join them, for the purpose of making a demonstration, and of endeavouring
to assume by force, that which was denied him as of right. The noblemen, whose names appear at the head of this
article, were not the least active in their endeavours to support the title of the Pretender, by enlisting men
under his standard ; and their proceedings, although conducted with all secrecy, were soon made known to the
government. The necessary steps were immediately taken for quelling the anticipated rebellion ; and many persons
were apprehended on suspicion of secretly aiding the rebels, and were committed to gaol.
Meanwhile the Earl of Mar, the chief supporter of the Pretender, was in open rebellion at the head
of an army of 3000 men, which was rapidly increasing, marching from town to town in Scotland, proclaiming the
Pretender as King of England and Scotland, by the title of James III. An attempt was made by stratagem to surprise
the castle of Edinburgh; and with this object, some of the king's soldiers were base enough to receive a bribe to
admit those of the Earl of Mar, who were, by means of ladders of rope, to scale the walls, and surprise the, guard
; but the Lord Justice Clerk, having some suspicion of the treachery, seized the guilty, and many of them were
The rebels were greatly chagrined at this failure of their attempt ; and the French king, Louis
XIV., from whom they hoped for assistance, dying about this time, the leaders became disheartened, and contemplated
the abandonment of their project, until their king could appear in person among them.
They were aided, however, by the discontent which showed itself in another quarter.
In Northumberland the spirit of rebellion was fermented by Thomas Forster, then one of the members
of parliament for that county; who, being joined by several noblemen and gentlemen, attempted to seize the large
and commercial town of Newcastle, but was driven back by the friends of the government. Forster now set up the
standard of the Pretender, and proelaimed him the lawful king of Great Britain and Scotland, wherever he went ;
and, eventually joining the Scotch rebels, he marched with them to Preston, in Lancashire. They were there attacked
by Generals Carpenter and Wills, who succeeded in routing them, and in making 1500 persons prisoners ; amongst whom
were the "Earl of Derwentwater and Lord Widrington, English peers ; and the Earls of Nithisdale, Winton, and
Carnwarth, Viscount Kenmure, and Lord Nairn, Scotch peers.
These noblemen, with about three hundred more rebels, were conveyed to London ; while the
remainder, taken at the battle of Preston, were sent to Liverpool, and its adjacent towns. At Highgate, the party
intended for trial in London was met by a strong detachment of foot-guards, who tied them back to back, and placed
two on each horse ; and in this ignominious manner were they held up to the derision of the populace, the lords
being conveyed to the Tower, and the others to Newgate and other prisons.
The Earl of Mar, on the day of the battle, attempted to cross the Forth, but was prevented by a
squadron of the British fleet, which had anchored off Edinburgh ; and Sir John Mackenzie, on the part of the
Pretender, having fortified the town of Inverness, Lord. Lovat, (at this time an adherent of the reigning monarch,
but subsequently a friend to the cause of the Stuarts, for aiding whose rebellion in 1745 he was beheaded,) armed
his tenants, and drove him from his fortifications. The Pretender subsequently managed to elude the vigilance of
the British ships appointed to prevent his landing, and crossing the Channel in a small French vessel, disembarked
in Scotland, with only six followers ; but having obtained the assistance of a few half-armed Highlanders, on the
9th of January 1716, he made a public entry into the palace of Scone, the ancient place of coronation for the
Scottish kings. He there assumed the functions of a king, and so much of the powers of royalty as he was able to
secure, and issued a proclamation for his coronation. The Duke of. Argyle, at this time with his army in
winter quarters at Stirling, however, determined to attack the rebel forces, and advancing upon them, they fled at
his approach. The Pretender having been encouraged to rebel by France, was in anticipation o! receiving succour at
the hands of the French king, and in the hope of some aid reaching him, he proceeded to Dundee, and thence to
Montrose, where, soon rendered, hopeless by receiving no news of the approach of the foreigners, he dismissed his
adherents. The king's troops pursued and put several to death ; but the Pretender, accompanied. by the Earl of Mar,
and some of the leaders of the rebellion, had the good fortune to get on board a ship lying before Montrose; and,
in a dark night, put to sea, escaped the English fleet, and landed in France.
The unfortunate noblemen who had been secured were, meanwhile, com mitted to the custody of the keeper of the Tower
; and the House of Commons unanimously agreed to impeach them, and expel Forster from his seat as one of their
members ; while the courts of common law proceeded with the trials of those of less note. The articles of
impeachment being sent by the Commons, the Lords sat in judgment ; Earl Cowper, the Lord Chancellor of England,
being constituted Lord High Steward.
All the Peers who were charged, except the Earl of Winton, pleaded guilty to the indictment, but
offered pleas of extenuation for their guilt, in hopes of obtaining mercy. In that of the Earl of Derwentwater, he
suggested that the proceedings in -the House of Commons, in impeaching him, were illegal.
Proclamation was then made, and the Lord High Steward proceeded to pass sentence upon James Earl of
Derwentwater, William Lord Widdrington, William Earl of Nithisdale, Robert Earl of Carnwarth, William Viscount
Kenmure, and William Lord Nairn.
His lordship having detailed the circumstances attending their impeachment, and having answered the
argumentative matter contained in their pleas, and urged in extenuation of their offences, proceeded to say,— It is
my duty to exhort your lordships to think of the aggravations. as well as the mitigations (if there be any), of
your offences ; and if I could Lave the least hopes that the prejudices of habit and education would not le too
strong for the most earnest and charitable entreaties, I would beg you not to rely any longer on those directors of
your consciences by whose conduct you have, very probably, been led into this miserable condition (in allusion to
their lordships being members of the Roman Catholic church); but that your lordships would be assisted by some of
those pious and learned divines of the church of England, who have constantly borne that infallible mark of sincere
Christians, universal charity.
“ And now, my lords, nothing remains but that I pronounce upon you (and sorry I am that it falls to my lot to do
it)'that terrible sentence of the law, which must be the same that is usually given against the meanest offender of
the like kind.
The most ignominious and painful parts of it are usually remitted, by tie grace of the crown, to
persons of your quality ; but the law, in this case, being deaf to all distinctions of persons, requires I should
pronounce, and accordingly it is adjudged by this court, -'That you, James earl of Derwentwater, William lord
Widdrington, William earl of Nithisdale, Robert earl of Carnwarth, William viscount Kenmure, and William lord
Nairn, and every of you, return to the prison of the Tower, from whence you came ; from thence you must be drawn to
the place of execution ; when you come there, you must be hanged by the neck, but not till you be dead ; for you
must be cut down alive ; then your bowels must be taken out, and burnt before your faces ; then your heads must be
severed from your bodies, and your bodies divided each into four quarters; and these must be at the king's
disposal. And God Almighty be merciful to your souls."
After sentence thug passed, the lords were remanded to the Tower, and on the 18th of February
orders were sent to the lieutenant of the Tower, and the sheriffs, for their execution. Great solicitations were
made in favour of them, which not only reached the court, but the two houses of parliament, and petitions were
delivered in both, which being supported, occasioned debates. That in the House of Commons went no farther than to
occasion a motion for adjournment, so as to prevent any farther interpo sition there ; but the matter in the House
of Peers was carried on with more success, where petitions were delivered and spoke to, and it was carried by nine
or ten voices that they should be received and read. The question was also put, whether the King had power to
reprieve, in case of impeachment ; and this being carried in the affirmative, a motion was made to address his
majesty to desire him to -grant a reprieve to the lords under sentence ; but the movers only obtained this clause,
viz., " To reprieve sueh of the condemned lords as deserved his mercy ; and that the time of the respite should be
left to his majesty's discretion."
The address having been presented, his majesty replied :— " That on this, and other occasions, he would do what he
thought most consistent with the dignity of his crown, and the safety of his people."
The great parties which had been made by the rebel lords, as was said, by the means of money, and
the rash expressions too common in the mouths of many of their friends, as if the government did not dare to
execute them, did not a little contribute to hasten their execution ; for on the same day that the address was
presented, the 23rd of February, it was resolved in council, that the Earl of Derwentwater and the Lord Ken-mum
should be beheaded on the next day ; and the Earl of Nithisdale, apprehending he should be included in the warrant,
succeeded in making his escape on the evening before, in a woman's riding-hood, supposed to have been conveyed to
him by his mother on a visit.
On the morning of the 24th of February, three detachments of the life, guards went from Whitehall
to Tower-hill, and, having taken their stations round the scaffold, the two lords were brought from the Tower at
ten o'clock, and, being received by the sheriffs at the bar, were conducted to the transport-office on Tower-hill.
At the expiration of about an hour, the Earl of Derwentwater sent word that he was ready ; on which sir John Fryer,
one of the sheriffs, walked before him to the scaffold, and, when there, told him he might have what time he
pleased to prepare himself for death.
His lordship desired to read a paper which he had written, the substance of which was, that he was
sorry for having pleaded guilty ; that he acknowedged no king but king James the Third, for whom he had an
inviolable Affection : that the kingdom would never be happy until the ancient constitution was restored, and he
wished that his death might contribute to that end. His lordship professed to die in the Roman Catholic faith, and
said at the end of the speech which he delivered, that " if that Prince who then governed had given him life, he
should have thought himself obliged never more to take up arms against him." He then read some prayers, and kneeled
to see how the block would fit him ; and having told the executioner that he forgave him, as well as all his
enemies, he desired him to strike when he should repeat the words " SWEET JESUS" the third time. He immediately
proceeded to prepare himself for the blow of the axe, and having placed his neck so that it might be fairly struck,
he said, " Sweet Jesus, receive my spirit! Sweet Jesus, be merciful unto me! Sweet Jesus —" and was proceeding in
his prayer, when his head was severed from his body at one blow. The executioner then took it up, and carrying it
to the four corners of the scaffold, said, " Beheld the head of a traitor.— God save Kmg George."
The body was directly wrapped in black baize, and being carried to a coach, was delivered to the
friends of the deceased : and the scaffold having been cleared, fresh baize was put on the block, and new saw-dust
strewed, so that no blood should appear. Lord Kenmure was then conducted to the place of execution.
His lordship was a Protestant, and was attended by two clergymen. He declined saying much to them, however, telling
one of them that he had prudential reasons for not delivering his sentiments ; which were supposed to arise from
his regard to Lord Carnwarth, who was his brother-in-law, and who was then interceding for the royal mercy. Lord
Kenmure having finished his devotions, declared that he forgave the executioner, to whom he made a present of eight
guineas. He was attended by a surgeon, who drew his finger over that part of the neck where the blow was to be
struck ; and being executed as Lord Derwentwater had been, his body was delivered to the care of an undertaker.
George, Earl of Winton, not having pleaded guilty with the other lords, was brought to his trial on
the 15th of March, when the principal matter urged in his favour was that he had surrendered at Preston, in
consequence of a promise from General Wills to grant him his life : in answer to which it was sworn that no promise
of mercy was made, but that the rebels surrendered at discretion.
The circumstances of the Earl of Winton having left his house with fourteen or fifteen of his
servants well mounted and armed, his joining the Earl Carnwarth and Lord Kenmure, his proceeding with the rebels
through the various stages of their march, and his surrendering with the rest, were fully proved : notwithstanding
which, his counsel moved in arrest of judgment ; but the plea on which this motion was founded being thought
insufficient, his peers unanimously found him guilty. The Lord High Steward then pronounced sentence on him, after
having addressed him in forcible terms, in the same manner as he had sentenced the other peers.
The Earls of Winton and Nithisdale afterwards found means to escape out of the Tower ; and Messrs.
Forster and M'Intosh escaped from New-gate : but it was supposed that motives of mercy and tenderness in the Prince
of Wales, afterwards George the Second, favoured the flight of all these gentlemen.
This rebellion occasioned the untimely death of many other persons. Five were executed at Manchester, six at Wigan,
and eleven at Preston; but a considerable number was brought to London, and, being arraigned in the Court of
Exchequer, most of them pleaded guilty, and suffered the utmost rigour of the law.