When I visited here on a previous trip, the following story inspired me to write Highland Soldiers: The Enemy. It appears on a plaque outside the Covenanters’ Prison in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. Here is the text of the plaque pictured above, which appears to the left of the entrance to Covenanters’ Prison.
Behind these gates lies part of the Greyfriars Kirkyard which was used in 1679 as a prison for more than one thousand supporters of the National Covenant who have been defeated by Government forces at the Battle of Bothwell Brig on 22 June. For more than four months these men were held here without any shelter, each man being allowed 4 ounces of bread a day. Kindly citizens were sometimes able to get some more food.
Some of the prisoners died here, somewhere tried and executed for treason, some escaped and some were freed after signing a bond of loyalty to the ground. All those who were persecuted and died for their support of the National Covenant in the rains of Charles II and James VII are commemorated by the Martyrs Memorial on the north-eastern wall of the kirkyard. The Covenant, which was first signed in Grey Friars Kurt in 1638, promised to defend Presbyterianism from intervention by the crown.
In November 1679 the remaining 257 men who had been sentenced to transportation overseas, were taken to Leith and placed on board a ship bound for the American colonies; nearly all were drowned when the ship was wrecked off the Orkney Island s (where there is a monument in their memory) but 48 of the prisoners survived.
The section of the kirkyard used to imprison the Covenantors lay outside the existing south wall and included the area now covered by buildings on Forest Road. The area behind the gate was laid out for burials in 1705 and contains many fine monuments but these did not exist at the time of the prison.
The plaque has been provided by the Grefriars Kirkyard Trust with the support of the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association.