When Montrose was executed on 21 May 1650 his head was placed on a spike on top of the Tolbooth. His body was quartered, with the limbs being sent to Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Stirling. His torso was thrown into a common burial pit on the Burghmuir (see the article, ‘Just where was Montrose Buried?’ on this website). At the time of the Restoration however Montrose’s remains were recovered and buried in the Chapman Aisle, St Giles, in a lavish ceremony conducted on 11 May 1661.
It was not until 1879 however, when the site was visited by Queen Victoria and she remarked that a more fitting memorial for the Great Marquis would perhaps be more appropriate, that the city fathers (suitably embarrassed) began to draw up plans to erect the fine memorial which can be seen today.
The memorial was contributed to by Public Subscription and, such was the generous response from the great and the good, they were able to also commission the very fine stained-glass armorial window which can be seen beside Montrose’s tomb today.
During the 18th century, when alteration works were being carried out at St Giles, so the story goes, the basement wall beneath the Chapman Aisle was breached and Montrose’s remains were disturbed. Sadly, when the new memorial was being constructed in 1880, a search for Montrose’s remains was conducted and none were found. This is a great national tragedy and the remains had clearly never been replaced after being disturbed during the 18th century works.
This beautiful memorial is now indeed suitable for one of Scotland’s most noble and magnanimous heroes. Our society meets here every year, on the nearest Saturday to the 21st May, to commemorate the Great Marquis.
‘Scatter my ashes, strew them in the air,
Lord, since thou knowest where all these atoms are,
I’m hopeful Thou’lt recover once my dust
and confident Thou’lt raise me with the Just’