Lady Grizel Baillie, poet, songwriter and Reformation heroine, died on the 6th of December, 1746.
Religious fanaticism is a terrible thing when it results in the death of others, but it’s equally terrible when it results in the death of the fanatic. Three or four hundred years ago in Scotland, there was fanaticism on both sides of a religious divide caused by the ‘Reformation’. There were many Scottish men and women of that period, from 1517 to 1746, who endured torture, imprisonment and death, in an almost fanatical devotion to either the Catholic or the Presbyterian religion. The 1638 ‘National Covenant’ was an expression of faith on the Presbyterian side and its adherents were known as ‘Covenanters’. Lady Grizel Baillie was the daughter of a ‘Covenanter’, Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth, who later became Lord Polwarth and the 1st Earl of Marchmont, after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of the Protestant William and Mary.
Grizel Hume became a bit of a heroine during the ‘Reformation’, long before she became Lady Grizel. In fact, she was a very brave wee girl, who served as a go-between for her father and her future, posthumous, father-in-law, Robert Baillie of Jerviswood, during the latter’s imprisonment. Baillie of Jerviswood wasn’t quite a fanatic, but he was a covenanting conspirator who was implicated in the ‘Rye House Plot’ against King Charles II. He was executed for treason on the 23rd of December, 1684, at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh and became a cause célèbre for Jacobites in the years that followed. After Baillie was hanged, the Hume family, whose estates were then forfeited, fled to Holland, where they settled in Utrecht, with Grizel’s father, Sir Patrick, posing as a Dr. Wallace. After the ‘Glorious Revolution’, Mary of Orange offered Grizel the post of Maid of Honour. However, Grizel refused, preferring instead to return to Scotland, where, on the 17th of September, 1692, she married George Baillie, son of the ‘Covenanter’, and became Lady Grizel.
The story of Grizel’s heroism is in two parts. Part one: when she was still just twelve years old, her father sent Grizel to Edinburgh with letters for his imprisoned mate, Baillie of Jerviswood. That was undoubtedly a perilous task for a girl not yet in her teens, however, the idea presented in some versions of the story that she had to make her own way to Edinburgh, a journey of between thirty and forty miles, is surely preposterous. Anyway, Sir Patrick dared not attempt to visit his ‘patriot’ friend personally, but as the story goes on, “wee Grizel”, attracting less suspicion than an adult, was able to gain admittance to the prison. She was tasked with more than delivering letters as it was also her mission to bring back any information she could. She contrived to deliver the letter and carried back useful messages, such as “It’s nae very comfy in here” and the gratitude of her father’s chum.
Later, at Baillie’s trial, Sir Patrick, as described in contemporary broadsheets, did dare to go to court. Whereas he didn’t dare visit the prison, he was bold enough to intercede in defence of his great buddy, “sometimes blunting with rare skill the edge of manufactured ‘false witness’, to the rage of the prosecutors”. Hume’s friendship for Baillie meant the authorities were looking for an excuse to implicate him in the ‘Rye House Plot’ and so he took to hiding in the vaults of his ancestors, in Polwarth Kirk; his whereabouts known only to his wife and daughter and the proverbial ‘faithful retainer’, one Jamie Winter.
Part two: brave wee Grizel, despite being scared of the usual ‘terrors’, which kirkyards were held to contain, was able to overcome her fears, stumble over graves, and night after wintry night, deliver a midnight feast to her father. She always managed to get home before daybreak and evade the soldiers searching for her fugitive. As ‘The Legend of Lady Grizelda Baillie’ from Joanna Baillie’s ‘Metrical Legends of Exalted Character’ has it:
“Sad was his hiding−place, I ween,
A fearful place, where sights had been,
Full oft, by the benighted rustic seen;
Aye, elrich forms in sheeted white,
Which, in the waning moonlight blast,
Pass by, nor shadow onward cast,
Like any earthly wight;…”
From earliest youth, Grizel was wont to write in verse and prose and her daughter had at one time in her possession, a manuscript volume with several of Grizel’s compositions, “many of [which were] interrupted, half writ, [and with] some broken off in the middle of a sentence”. Although Lady Grizel wrote a number of simple and sorrowful Scots songs, sadly only two are extant. One is the mournfully beautiful fragment ‘The ewe-buchtin’s bonnie’, which may have been inspired by her father’s peril. The other is ‘Were ne my Hearts light I wad Dye’, which originally appeared in ‘Orpheus Caledonius or a Collection of the best Scotch Songs set to Musick by W. Thomson’, in 1725. Some of her songs were printed in Allan Ramsay’s ‘Tea-Table Miscellany’, including the latter, which has been described as “of outstanding excellence and entirely Scottish in sentiment and style” by Tytler in Tytler and Watson’s ‘Songstresses of Scotland’. Tytler went on to state effusively, “Its sudden inspiration has fused and cast into one perfect line, the protest of thousands of stricken hearts in every generation”. Here’s a wee taste in a couple of verses:
“When bonny young Johnny o’er ye sea,
He said he saw nothing as bonny as me,
He haight me baith Rings and mony bra things,
And were ne my Hearts light I wad dye.
His Kin was for ane of a higher degree,
Said what had he do with the likes of me,
Appose I was bonny I was ne for Johnny,
And were ne my Hearts light I wad dye.”
In addition to her songs, Lady Grizel is known for her ‘Household Book’, which was reprinted by the ‘Scottish History Society’ in 1911. That presents a unique and minutely detailed account of her expenditure, menus, and instructions to her housekeeper and others. It also presents the historian with an interesting insight to the running of a large, Scots country house at that time. Grizel Hume, was born at Redbraes Castle in Berwickshire on the 25th of December, 1665, and Lady Grizel Baillie died in London on the 6th of December, 1746. She was buried on her birthdate in the family burial place at Mellerstain.