Executed 15th of February, 1688, for the Murder of his Father and for High Treason
SIR JAMES STANSFIELD held the rank of colonel in the Parliamentary army. After Cromwell's victory at Dunbar he went to Scotland and established a woollen manufactory at Newmilns (now Amisfield) in the neighbourhood of Haddington, under the patronage of the Protectorate. At the Restoration, Parliament granted certain annuities and privileges to Colonel Stansfield, on whom Charles II. conferred the honour of knighthood. His prospects were, however, soon blasted, for in 1687 he was found murdered, as was supposed, by his eldest son, Philip, whom he had disinherited for his debauchery. This unfortunate man was brought up for trial, 6th of February, 1688, the indictment stating that, although his father had given him a liberal education, he had taken ill courses, and been detained prisoner in the Marshalsea, in Southwark, and in the public prisons of Antwerp, Orleans, and other places, from whence his said father had released him; and that notwithstanding, he fell to his debauched and villainous courses again. Whereupon, his father signifying his intentions to disinherit him and settle his estate upon John Stansfield, his second son, the said Philip Stansfield did declare he would cut his father's throat, and did attempt to assassinate his father by pursuing him in the highway, etc., and firing pistols upon him; which the said Sir James, his father, had declared to several persons of honour in his lifetime.
The court at Edinburgh, the 7th of February, 1688, met, and the assize, consisting of fifteen merchants and trades- men, being sworn without any challenge or exception to any of them, his Majesty's advocate produced his witnesses.
After evidence as to prisoner having drunk confusion to the King, and made others drink likewise, Agnes Bruce further deposed that she had often heard the prisoner vow and swear he would kill any person that offended him. That he conversed much with Janet Johnston, George Thomson and his wife (charged with being concerned in this murder), and used after supper at his father's to go to these persons. That she had frequently heard the prisoner curse his father, and express his hatred and abhorrence of him, and say he had hated his father these seven years; and this in his mother's presence. That the Friday before Sir James's death, Janet Johnston was a considerable time with the prisoner in his chamber. That she thought Sir James not so merry as usual the night before his death. That on the Saturday night when Sir James came home he went to his lady's chamber, where he did not stay a quarter of an hour; and that his lady fell a-quarrelling with him for going to another house before he came there. That the next morning, when Sir James was missed, the deponent went into his chamber to make a fire, and found the bed in better order than usual, and the candle at the bed's foot which used to be at the head. That the deponent desiring the body might be brought up to the chamber, the prisoner answered it should not enter there, for he had died more like a beast than a man; and that it was brought to a cellar within the close, where was very little light. That she heard the prisoner cry and lament when his father's body was found, but saw no tears. That he would have forced his father's chamber door open, but the key being found he entered, and took the gold and money out of his pocket, and then searched the cabinet; that within an hour after his father was brought from the water he got the buckles off his shoes and put them on his own. That a short time before Sir James died, his lady having fallen into a swoon, and afterwards telling the prisoner he was likely in a short time to lose his mother, he answered in the deponent's hearing that his father should be dead first. That two nights after Sir James's death the lady told this deponent that she heard the prisoner had vowed his brother's death, and little less as to his father, upon his hearing Sir James was about to settle his estate upon his brother; and that the lady renewed the same expression to this deponent at Edinburgh, and added, what if they should put her bairn in prison.
James Murehead, surgeon, deposed that upon the prisoner's assisting to lift the body, after it had been sewed up, and clean linen put on, it darted out blood through the linen, from the left side of the neck, which the prisoner touched; but that when the deponent and the other surgeon put on the linen, and stirred and moved the head and neck before, he saw no blood at all. (Sir Patrick Hume, in the prisoner's defence, said that this was a superstitious observation, founded neither upon law nor reason.) His Majesty's advocate desired that James Thomson, son to George Thomson, and Anna, daughter to Janet Johnston, spouse to the said James Thomson, might be examined as witnesses against the prisoner; but the prisoner's counsel opposed it, for that they were but children, the boy being about thirteen, and the girl about ten years of age. Whereupon the Court refused to admit them, but the jury desired that they be permitted to declare what they knew —- viz.
The said James Thomson declared that Janet Johnston came to George Thomson's (his father's) house between nine and ten o'clock that night Sir James was killed, and the prisoner came thither soon after. His mother ordered him to go to bed, which was in the same room, and beat him because he did not go presently. Anna Mark, the said Janet's daughter, came for her to give her child suck, but Janet stayed a considerable time after, and whispered with the said George Thomson, and he heard the prisoner complain that his father would not give him money, and prayed the devil might take his father, and God d —-n his own soul if he should not make an end of his father, and then all would be his, and he would be kind to them. Philip Stansfield and Janet Johnston went away about eleven o'clock, and soon after his father and mother came to bed. But his father and mother rose afterwards in the night and went out of the house, and stayed away an hour and a half or two hours. His mother came in first, and he pretended to be asleep when they returned, and he heard his father say the deed was done; that the prisoner guarded the door with a drawn sword and a bended pistol; that he never thought a man would have died so soon; that they carried him out to the water-side and tied a stone about his neck, and leaving him there, they came back to the little kiln, and considered if they should cast him in the water with the stone about his neck or not, and whether they should cast him in far, or near the side; and that at length they returned and took away the stone from about his neck, and threw him in the water. His father said he was afraid, for all that, that the murder would come out. And his mother said, "Hout, fool, there is no fear of that; it will be thought he has drowned himself." When Sir James was found in the morning his mother said to his father: "Rise quickly, for if you be found in your bed, they will say that you have had a hand in the murder." The coat and waistcoat Sir James had on in the water being sent to their house, his mother said she was frightened at it, and desired his father to send it away. His mother said she was afraid to stay in the house in the evening, and therefore went out with his father, if he went out, ever since Sir James died, which she did not use to do before.
Anna Mark, daughter of Janet Johnston, declared that on the Saturday night Sir James was killed the prisoner came to her mother's house and sent for George Thomson and his wife, and then sent her to see if Sir James was come home. Upon her bringing word that Sir James was come the prisoner ran down to Newmilns. About eleven o'clock the same night her father sent her to find her mother, and she found her with the prisoner at George Thomson's house, but her mother did not come home till two in the morning. Whereupon her father said: "B —- —-, w —- —-, where have you been so long?" She answered, "Wherever I have been, the deed is done," and then went to bed. Her mother, ever after that, was afraid to be alone.
The jury found the prisoner guilty of all the facts laid in the indictment —- viz. of treason, cursing his father, and being accessory to his murder.
The assize finding him guilty, the Lords of Justiciary ordered him to be hanged on the 15th of February, at the Cross of Edinburgh, and his tongue to be cut out for cursing his father, and his right hand to be cut off for the parricide, and his head to be put upon the East Port of Haddington, as nearest to the place of murder, and his body to be hung up in chains betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, and his lands and goods to be confiscated for the treason.
All this was rigorously put into execution. Some thought," says Lord Fontainhall, a contemporary judge, "if not a miraculous, yet an extraordinary return of the imprecations was the accident of the slipping of the knots on the cross, whereby his feet and knees were on the scaffold, which necessitated them to strangle him, bearing therein a near resemblance to his father's death; and a new application having been made that they might be allowed to bury him, Duke Hamilton was for it, but the Chancellor would not consent, because he had mocked his religion. So his body was hung up, and some days after being stolen down, it was found lying in a ditch among some water, as his father's was; and by order was hung up again, and then a second time was taken down."