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The Escape of Lady Ogilvy

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

Few Scottish families have shown greater loyalty and fidelity to a lost cause, and few have suffered more severely for that loyalty, than the Ogilvies, Lords Ogilvy and Earls of Airlie. It was only in 1826 that the titles forfeited by his ancestors in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745 were restored to the present earl's grandfather, whose uncle, David, Lord Ogilvy, joined the standard of the young Chevalier, Charles Edward, at Edinburgh, at the head of a regiment of six hundred men, mostly of his own clan and name, from Forfarshire and Perthshire. For this he was attainted by Act of Parliament, as had been his uncle, John, the fourth earl, just thirty years before. After the battle of Culloden, he effected his escape to France, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant-general, and had  the command of a regiment called 'Ogilvy's own.' It is the story of the escape of this lord's life, a fair daughter of the noble house of Johnston of Westerhall, that' I am about to elate. It will be seen that Margaret, Lady Ogilvy, was no bad counterpart of another Scottish woman, Lady Nithsdale, whose clever ccontrivance of her husband's escape from the scaffold and the axe I have already related in, previous work.*
     In August, 1746, Margaret Lady Ogilvy was lying a prisoner, under sentence of death, in the castle of Edinburgh, on the charge of having levied open war upon his Majesty King George II., and she was almost daily expecting her execution. But she was a brave and a ready witted woman, too, and she was resolved that, It all events, she would try how she could defeat the law of its victim. It is needless to add that she was as enthusiastic a partisan of the Stuart cause, and as willing as her lord himself to risk and to sacrifice fortune and life, and everything save honor, if only she could secure the triumph of the Stuart tartan; for had she not urged and persuaded her husband to take the field in aid of the ' bonny Prince Charlie'? and had she not ridden by his side at the head of his clan to the fatal field of Culloden? and, if she did not actually join in the battle fray, had she not remained a spectator of the battle? and, when the rout came, had she not held a spare horse, fleet of foot, all ready for her husband to mount, and so to find his way to the sea-coast, and escape to France? Yes, she had done all this, and more besides; and when he had made good his flight, she was arrested and thrown into gaol, and tried and condemned to suffer death as a traitor. The Government of the Duke of Cumberland, however, were determined to make her an example and a warning to the rest of her sea, whose influence, it must be owned, had been very powerfully exerted by the Gordons, Erskines, Drummonds, and others in the lost cause. She was therefore sentenced to be beheaded at the Edinburgh Toll-booth six weeks after her trial. Her friends spared no efforts to procure a remission of her sentence: but her wit and her talents were such that the King and his ministers turned a deaf ear to all appeals for mercy, and there appeared to be no chance of her escape from a death of public disgrace in the very flower of her youth and beauty.
     But ' there is many a slip 'twist the cup and the lip,' and Lady Ogilvy was well aware of the proverb. Fortunately she was not so strictly and closely confined in her prison cell, but that many of her friends and acquaintances were allowed to visit her in prison, and they used their privilege of access to surround her with comforts, and to lighten by various artifices the burden of her captivity. Although her friends were making such efforts as they could on her behalf at Kensington Palace and St. James's, she knew that she had no sisterly ‘Jeanie Deans' to gain access to the Queen and to extort from her a promise that she would try and soften the King's heart; so she resolved to help herself, and to be the author of her own deliverance.
     And an agent ready to help her she found in a poor, ugly, deformed old woman, with an ungainly hitch in her walk, who brought to the prison her clean linen once or twice a week. As she was about to leave the cell after one of her regular visits, the captive detained her, saying that she was anxious to learn how she managed that hobbling gait. Would the old lady mind telling her how it was done? Though much surprised at such a bonnie lady taking such a whim into her head, and especially at such a time, when death was almost staring her in the face, yet the old crone willingly gave her the required lesson, and then took her departure. Lady Ogilvy kept practicing the step, though by no means a graceful one, until she became quite proficient in it. She then communicated to her friends her design of using it and the poor old woman's clothes to effect her escape; and her friends, male and female, we may be sure, did their best to have everything in readiness, including a relay of horses, to aid her flight on the evening which she fixed for the attempt.
     When the old woman made her appearance, as usual, at sundown on the Saturday before the day fixed for the execution, Lady Ogilvy persuaded her to change clothes with her. ' Give me your dress and you take mine in its place.' The old crone was not unwilling to play the part of Glaucus to her Diomede, and the exchange was promptly made.
     `Now,' added the fair prisoner, ' do you remain here; nobody will harm you; you will save my life, and I shall not forget the kindness.' Then, taking up the basket, she assumed the old washerwoman's limping gait, left the room, walked coolly and calmly past the sentinel on guard, and joined the girl who had been waiting outside the castle gate while her mistress went inside. Fortunately, as they passed out, they were not challenged; and once well away from the castle precinct, they turned into one of the back streets, or wynds, and were soon out of sight. The girl was surprised at her mistress's silence, but said not a word, doubtless ascribing it to the pain and grief of parting with the dear young lady who was so soon to die. But what was the girl's surprise when she saw the crooked little creature suddenly throw aside her basket and reveal herself in her real character and person! Off ran the lady-not, however, till she had slipped a piece of silver into the girl's hands, adding a request that she would go quietly home and say not a word about what she had seen.
Lady Ogilvy made her way to the Abbey Hill, where she found her friends, according to their promise, most anxiously awaiting her with a change of dress and a pair of saddle-bosses. Hurrying over her 'farewell,' she was soon far away on one of the southern roads; not, however, on the main road to London, for fear of being recognized and her flight being intercepted, in which case, it may be presumed, she would have figured on Tower Hill or on Kennington Common instead of at the Tolbooth at Edinburgh.
     Though at every town through which she passed she found that the news of her flight was known, and was the talk of the common people, yet she contrived to stave off inquiries, and to make her way unmolested to the sea coast, crossing over the bridge at Kingston-on-Thames because she knew London Bridge t., be guarded. It is not said from what port she effected her escape from England; but, as a matter of fact, wearied with her long and perilous journey, she contrived to get a place on board a vessel bound for France.
     Lady Ogilvy lived little more than ten years after effecting this gallant escape from the block, and she never returned to the land that she had quitted; she died in exile in 1757. In all probability she lies buried at St. Germains. Her husband, after the accession of George III., obtained a free pardon, quietly laid down his arms, and returned to Scotland. He lived to a green old age-indeed, on into the third year of the present century, so that be must have been known personally to many of the fathers of the present generation. In all probability he was acquainted with Sir Walter Scott. His son, ' the Master of Ogilvy,' died soon after him; of his daughters, one lived till 1826, the other, who died young, was the wife of Sir John Wedderburn, who had held a cornet's commission in Lord Ogilvy's regiment at the battle of Culloden.

*See ' Tales of Great Families, ‘series, vol. ii., p. 53.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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