NT2573 : The Maiden

taken 14 years ago, near to Edinburgh, Great Britain

The Maiden
The Maiden
An exhibit in the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street. This 16th-century instrument of execution is one of the earliest machines of its kind. It was reputedly modelled on the Halifax Gibbet and brought to Scotland by the earl of Morton who became Regent in 1571 and was executed by the machine in 1581. In fact, it was ordered to be made by the Provost and Magistrates of Edinburgh in 1564, first used on 3rd April 1565 and last used in 1710.

"The Scottish machine is made of oak and consists of a sole beam 5 feet in length into which are fixed two upright posts 10 feet in height, 4 inches broad and 12 inches apart from each other, and 3 1/2 inches in thickness, with bevelled corners. These posts are kept steady by a brace at each side which springs from the end of the sole and is fastened to the uprights 4 feet from the bottom. The tops of the posts are fixed into a cross rail 2 feet in length. The block is a transverse bar 3 1/4 feet from the bottom, 8 inches in breadth and 4 1/2 inches in thickness, and a hollow on the upper edge of this bar is filled with lead... The axe consists of a plate of iron faced with steel; it measures 13 inches in length and 10 1/2 inches in breadth. On the upper edge of the plate was fixed a mass of lead 75 lbs in weight. This blade works in grooves cut on the inner edges of the uprights, which are lined with copper..." -- Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, Vol.III, 1886-8

Even when it comes to executing people, the Scots win on points over their old English rivals:

"Leaders of rebellions in England were put to death with all the penalties of a barbarous English treason law, including disembowelling while still alive; the Scots very properly regarded such proceedings with scandalised horror and put their traitors away decently by beheading. And when it came to beheading, the Scots were more humane. English executioners hacked away with an axe and might take half a dozen strokes to finish the job, but in Scotland the sharp blade of The Maiden, aided by a great lump of lead weighing 75 lbs, was guaranteed to shear off the head at one stroke." -- Professor Gordon Donaldson, Historiographer to the Queen in Scotland

So that's all right then.


1565. Item the thrid day of Apryle to the pynouris [pioneers] for the bering of dailles [planks] and puncheoins [timber uprights] fra the Blackfreirs to the Croce with the Gibbet and Madin to mak ane scaffald, and awayiting thereon, the day quhen Thome Scot was justefeitt [executed].....vijs.

1565. Item to Andro Gottersoun, symth [sic], for grinding of the Madin.....vjs. viijd.

1583. June 9. For ule and saip [oil and soap] to cresche [grease] the Madin with.....vjs. viijd.

1591. William Gibsone wha was tane and execut in Leith : for careing of the Maiden ther and hame agin.....xxxs.

1615. Item for ane staine and half pund lead to mend the Maidin.....xxxvs. vjd.

1615. Item for scharpin the Maidin to byte

1619. Item to David Broune at the execution of twa Hielandmen with the Maidin at the [Castle] hill.....xl.

1649. James Wilson—payit to the warkmen for holding of him till he was execut and for keipin [catching] his heid. Ane ell of buckrame [stiff cotton cloth] to keip the heid.

1660. To Alexander Davidsone for ane new axe to the Maidin, and he is to mainteane it all the dayis of his lyffe.

(extracts from the City Treasurer's Accounts)
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NT2573, 5709 images   (more nearby search)
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Date Taken
Tuesday, 15 May, 2007   (more nearby)
Saturday, 6 June, 2009
Geographical Context
Educational sites  Historic sites and artefacts 
Museum / Heritage Centre   (more nearby)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 257 733 [100m precision]
WGS84: 55:56.8191N 3:11.3894W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NT 257 733
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Southeast (about 135 degrees)
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Museum  Punishment Device 

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