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Woodhouselee


On 23d January 1570, the Regent of Scotland, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray (born 1531) was assassinated in Linlithgow by a sniper firing a 3’5” long, hexagonal bore barreled carbine from a house window. The assassin was James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh the nephew of Archbishop John Hamilton, from who’s window he fired the fatal shot. He then fled out of the rear of the building and escaped on horseback. Hamilton was a staunch follower of Mary Queen of Scots who in 1567 had been forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son James, with the Earl of Moray (her half-brother) acting as regent until James I matured. James Hamilton had fought at the Battle of Langside in 1568 where the escaped Queen Mary had attempted to regain her throne, but her army was routed and she was forced to flee to England.

There is a traditional though discredited tale that surrounds James Hamilton and his reasons for committing the murder which concerns revenge for the mistreatment of his wife and child at the hand of Sir John Bellenden of Auchinoul (died 1577), Justice Clerk and a favourite of Moray. Hamilton's wife Isobel, was the daughter of Oliver Sinclair and Katherine Bellenden and was left by James at Woodhouselee, an early 16th century stone L-plan tower house which she had inherited. Bellenden though took possession of Woodhouselee and its lands on condition of procuring Hamilton a pardon for a crime. According to The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain by John Ingram (1897), 'Whilst Hamilton was from home, a favourite of the Regent seized his house and, in a cold night, turned out his wife, Lady Bothwell, naked into the open fields, where before next morning she became furiously mad. Her infant, it would seem, also perished either by cold, neglect, or, more probably, murder. The ruins of the mansion of Woodhouslee, whence Lady Bothwell was expelled in the brutal manner which occasioned her insanity and death, are still to be seen, or were some few years since, in a hollow glen beside the river Esk. Popular report tenants these ruins with the unfortunate lady's ghost; and so tenacious is this spectre of its rights, that, a part of the stones of the ancient edifice having been employed in building or repairing the present mansion, the apparition has deemed it one of her privileges to haunt that house also. But a very few years since this apparition of Lady Bothwell, who always appears in white, and with her child in her arms, excited no slight disturbance and terror among the domestics at the new Woodhouselee, which is situated on the slope of the Pentland Hills, distant at least four miles from the ancient dwelling. Whether this apparition still haunts either old or new mansion we have been unable to learn.'

So according to Ingram Isobel haunted her original home and then the later Woodhouselee which was built using some of the stone from her home. The later Woodhouselee Mansion was described in Frances Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4) as 'a mansion in Glencorse parish, Edinburghshire, 6 ½ miles S of Edinburgh and 4 N of Penicuik. Romantically seated on the eastern slope of the Pentland Hills, it is an irregular pile of different dates, and partly occupies the site of the 14th-century fortalice of Fulford or Foulfourde, at whose demolition in 1755 only a stone vaulted room was suffered to remain as the lower story of part of the new building. Its square corner tower was built in 1796, and its S wing in 1843, the latter from plans by Kemp, the architect of the Scott Monument at Edinburgh.........Old Woodhouselee the `haunted Woodhouselee' of Scott's Grey Brother stood at the SE verge of the parish, on the North Esk's left bank, near Auchindinny. It belonged to the wife of James Hamilton or `Bothwellhaugh,' but, according to tradition, was forfeited to enrich a greedy minion of the Regent Murray, who drove her forth on a winter's night, with her new-born babe, to die on the bleak hillside. Hence Bothwellhaugh's murder of Murray at Linlithgow (1570) has been popularly regarded as a deed of retribution; but Dr Hill Burton has shown that the so-called `victim of the Pentland Hills' obtained restitution of Woodhouselee as late as 1609. A considerable portion of the present mansion was built with the stones of Old Woodhouselee.'

Details of the above mentioned restitution can be found in Notes and Queries (Series 3, Volume 12, 1867), showing Isobel was still alive in 1609 – [Pitcairn's Criminal Trials] David Hamilton must have acquired the lands of Bothwellhaugh since 1545, and they were probably the paternal inheritance of his family. It would seem he had the following children: James, the assassin, who succeeded to the lands of Bothwellhaugh; John, who became Provost of Bothwell; David, who succeeded to the lands of Monkton Mains; and Janet, married to James Muirhead of Lauchope. James Hamilton was married to Isobel Sinclair, and David Hamilton to Alison Sinclair: both daughters and heiresses portioners, of Sinclair of Woodhouselee, in the parish of Glencross, Edinburghshire. Sir John Bellenden, lord-justice clerk to Regent Moray, who deceived James Hamilton out of his wife's estate of Woodhouselee, was a relation of the Sinclairs.

It may be inferred that an arrangement had been made between the brothers, that David was to hold the paternal estate of Bothwellhaugh, in the parish of Bothwell, Lanarkshire, and James the estates of their wives of Woodhouselee.

The statute of 1585, cap. 21, restoring forfeited lands, included Bothwellhaugh's heir; but the following act (cap. 22) excepted the lands of Woodhouselee in favour of Sir Louis Bellenden, justice clerk, eldest son and heir of Sir John Bellenden which was ratified by 1587, cap. 61, and j 1592, cap. 11. By an act of Privy Council, passed on January 12, 1592, it was ordained that David Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh, otherwise designed of Monkton Mains; Isobel Sinclair and Alison Sinclair, heretrices, portioners of Woodhouselee, should be repossessed; and they were finally restored by Act of Parliament 1609, cap. 41.


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Ian Topham
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Re: Woodhouselee

The assassination of Moray is thought to be the first in which a gun was used.



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