NT2573 : Porteous plaque, Grassmarket

taken 8 years ago, near to Edinburgh, Great Britain

Porteous plaque, Grassmarket
Porteous plaque, Grassmarket
Site of the lynching of Captain Porteous in the so-called 'Porteous Riot' of 1736, which forms the central episode in Walter Scott's novel, 'Heart of Midlothian'. The background was popular anger with the economic effects of the Union which had destroyed Scotland's trade with France and had imposed various duties, especially a malt tax in 1725 which drove up the price of ale. Porteous, Captain of the Town Guard, ordered his men to fire at an angry crowd which had begun pelting them with stones at the execution of a popular smuggler in the Grassmarket. Nine spectators were killed, including a young boy watching from a high window. Found guilty, Porteous was sentenced to be hanged and imprisoned in the Tolbooth. Queen Caroline, acting for George II who was in Hanover, granted a stay of execution. However, the mob took its revenge by breaking into the Tolbooth and dragging Porteous to the Grassmarket where he was lynched on the pole of a dyer's premises directly adjacent to the site of the gallows. On the way, they broke into a booth at the foot of the West Bow to procure a length of rope, leaving behind a guinea in payment on the counter. The Provost and four bailies, deemed negligent for failing to alert the Castle garrison, were summoned to appear before the House of Lords, resulting in the town being fined 2,000 for the support of Porteous' widow. An Act requiring ministers of the gospel to demand the killers give themselves up and threaten severe penalties on those shielding them was widely seen as an abuse of the Kirk and ignored. The perpetrators were never caught. Porteous was buried in Greyfriars, his grave marked by a post inscribed P.1736. In 1973, a biographer paid for a new headstone with the words, "John Porteous, a Captain of the Edinburgh City Guard, murdered 7 September 1736 - All passion spent".

NT2573 : Grave of Captain John Porteous, Greyfriars Kirkyard

"The High Flyers of our Scottish Church have made this infamous murder a point of conscience... All the lower rank of the people who have distinguished themselves by the pretensions of superior sanctity speak of this murder as the hand of God doing justice." -- Archibald Campbell, 1st earl of Islay

"[James Burnett, later Lord Monboddo] first arrived in Edinburgh on the forenoon of the day which terminated with the public murder of Captain Porteous; and it is said that when about to retire to rest, the tumult in the street attracted him to the door, half-undressed. He got entangled in the crowd of passers-by, and hurried along to the Grassmarket, where he was a witness to the last act of the tragedy. Conceiving this to be the normal condition of things in the city, as he lay sleepless through the night, he seriously contemplated leaving Edinburgh forthwith, as a place unfit for a civilised being to live in." -- Wilmot Harrison, Memorable Edinburgh Houses, 1893

See also NT2673 : Uniform of the Edinburgh Town Guard
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NT2573, 5255 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Tuesday, 13 October, 2009   (more nearby)
Friday, 16 October, 2009
Plaque   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 255 733 [100m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.8595N 3:11.6693W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 255 733
View Direction
East-northeast (about 67 degrees)
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