Maiden (beheading)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Scottish Maiden)
Jump to: navigation, search
'The Maiden' on display at the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Blade of The Maiden
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton

The Maiden (also known as the Scottish Maiden) is an early form of guillotine, or gibbet, that was used between the 16th and 18th centuries as a means of execution in Edinburgh, Scotland. The device was introduced in 1564 during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

The Maiden is displayed at the National Museum of Scotland. (The word gibbet denotes several different devices used in capital punishment.)


According to legend, the Maiden was introduced to Scotland during the minority of King James VI, from Halifax, West Yorkshire, in the north of England, by the Regent James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. It is said that Morton borrowed the design from the Halifax Gibbet and carried a model of it from Halifax to Edinburgh.[1] According to an early history of Halifax, it remained so long unused after it was built that it acquired the name of 'The Maiden'.[2] It was, however, first used within months of its construction.[1] Morton was eventually executed by it himself in 1581, although contrary to legend he was not the first person to be executed by it.

Although the resemblance to the Halifax machine, and Morton's role in introducing the Maiden are open to question, the records of the construction of the Maiden survive. It was made in 1564 during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.[3] The accounts reveal that it was made by the carpenters Adam and Patrick Shang and George Tod. Andrew Gotterson added the lead weight to the blade. Patrick Shang was paid two pounds for his 'whole labours and devising of the timber work'.[4] Shang also made furniture in Edinburgh, including an oak bed for Queen Mary's half-brother, the Earl of Moray.[5]

The first execution on record was that of Thomas Scott of Cambusmichael, as early as 3 April 1565.[6] From 1564 to 1710 more than 150 people were executed on the Maiden, after which it was withdrawn from use. Notable victims included Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll, in 1661, executed following the Restoration of Charles II, and his son Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, in 1685, executed for intending to lead a rebellion against James VII. These executions took place at the mercat cross in Edinburgh. The last execution that was performed upon the Maiden was that of John Hamilton on 30 June 1716, for the murder of a publican during a brawl.[7]

The Maiden is on display at the National Museum of Scotland.


The person under sentence of death placed his head on a crossbar which is about four feet from the bottom. Lead weights weighing around 75 pounds (34 kg) were attached to the axe blade. The blade is guided by grooves cut within the inner edges of the frame. A peg, which is in turn attached to a cord, kept the blade in place. The executioner removed the peg by pulling sharply on the cord, and this caused the blade to fall and decapitate the condemned. If the condemned had been tried for stealing a horse, the cord was attached to the animal which, on being whipped, started away removing the peg, thereby becoming the executioner.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Maxwell, H Edinburgh, A Historical Study, Williams and Norgate (1916), p.299 -- David Hume of Godscroft appears to have initiated the legend in his History of the House of Douglas (1644)
  2. ^ The history of the town and parish of Halifax By Samuel Midgley, William Bentley
  3. ^ McCulloch, W.T., 'The Maiden', PSAS, (1866-7), 549.
  4. ^ Adam, Robert, ed., City of Edinburgh Records, the Burgh accounts, vol. 1, Edinburgh (1899), 486-487.
  5. ^ HMC, 6th Report and Appendix, Earl of Moray, (1877), 647, the bed was new in 1562.
  6. ^ McCulloch, PSAS, (1866-7), 552.
  7. ^ Newgate Calendar entry for John Hamilton esq.
  8. ^ The guide to knowledge, Volume 1 edited by William Pinnock

External links[edit]