James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

May 21

The Execution of Montrose

By William E. Aytoun (1813–1865)

  • From “Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers”
  • A noted Scottish statesman and soldier. He served in the Presbyterian army at first but afterward joined the king. In 1650 he conducted an abortive Royalist descent on Scotland, was captured and executed on May 21, 1650.

  • HE is coming! he is coming!

    Like a bridegroom from his room,

    Came the hero from his prison

    To the scaffold and the doom.

    There was glory on his forehead,

    There was lustre in his eye,

    And he never walked to battle

    More proudly than to die:

    There was colour in his visage,

    Though the cheeks of all were wan,

    And they marvelled as they saw him pass,

    That great and goodly man!

    He mounted up the scaffold,

    And he turned him to the crowd;

    But they dared not trust the people,

    So he might not speak aloud.

    But he looked upon the heavens,

    And they were clear and blue,

    And in the liquid ether

    The eye of God shone through:

    Yet a black and murky battlement

    Lay resting on the hill,

    As though the thunder slept within—

    All else was calm and still.

    The grim Geneva ministers

    With anxious scowl drew near,

    As you have seen the ravens flock

    Around the dying deer.

    He would not deign them word nor sign,

    But alone he bent the knee;

    And veiled his face for Christ’s dear grace

    Beneath the gallows-tree.

    Then radiant and serene he rose,

    And cast his cloak away;

    For he had ta’en his latest look

    Of earth, and sun, and day.

    A beam of light fell o’er him,

    Like a glory round the shriven,

    And he climbed the lofty ladder

    As it were the path to heaven.

    Then came a flash from out the cloud,

    And a stunning thunder roll,

    And no man dared to look aloft,

    For fear was on every soul.

    There was another heavy sound,

    A hush and then a groan;

    And darkness swept across the sky—

    The work of death was done!