Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirk

Greyfriars Kirkyard

In 1638 the National Covenant, one of the most significant documents in Scottish history, was signed in Greyfriars Kirk.

This document was the Scottish Presbyterian’s answer to Charles I’s religious policy which had been causing a lot of anger. Copies of the Covenant were distributed throughout Scotland and the Covenanters became the catalyst for the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 and 1640. This ultimately led to the English Civil War in 1642 and the execution of the King in 1649.

After the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II, the Covenanters found themselves on the back foot and after the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679 over a thousand of them found themselves in a prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Although some of them switched allegiance and others escaped, there were many who died or were executed here. The area where the prison stood is still here and there’s a Martyr’s Memorial in the bottom right hand corner of the Kirkyard.

Site of the Covenanters Prison

Of those who survived, many were sentenced to Transportation, and a plaque next to the prison tells us that the final 257 men being transported to North America never made it that far. The ship which left Leith got wrecked off of the Orkney Islands and just 48 men survived.

Plaque next to the site of the Prison
Plaque next to the site of the Prison

I’m not sure if any of the Covenanters are buried in Greyfriars or not, but there are plenty of tombstones and mausoleums here including one to the famous architects William Adam and his son, John. Apart from the Adams family, Sir George Mackenzie is interred here, which I’m not sure is really appropriate. You see, Mr. Mackenzie, or to his adversaries, ‘Bluidy Mackenzie’, was the Lord Advocate responsible for dishing out the penalties to the Covenanters.

If you think you may want to visit Mackenzie’s mausoleum, I suggest you think again. Apparently, a lot of paranormal activity takes place here. Whether there’s any truth in all of this I don’t know, but it seems like there are plenty of witnesses to the ‘Mackenzie Poltergeist’ – including an exorcist, who supposedly died not long after his experience of ‘evil forces’.

Some of the Tombstones
Some of the Tombstones

Some of us may scoff at all this stuff, but a whole new business has sprung up around nighttime ghost tours of the Kirkyard.

Would I be happy to go on one? I’m not sure. Bear in mind this graveyard was the haunt (!) of grave robbers and Resurrection Men who supplied the medical college with ‘samples’.

Come to think of it I’m probably a prime candidate for a heart attack without inflicting this sort of thing on myself, so I think I’ll probably give it a miss. There’s enough time to find out what it’s like on the other side when the Grim Reaper comes knocking anyway. I don’t think there’s any need for me to go looking for him.



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