The Tragic Tale of Lord Balfour of Burleigh: Love, Murder, and the Jacobite Cause
In the annals of Scottish history, there are tales that captivate the imagination and evoke both fascination and horror. One such story is that of Robert Balfour, the 5th Lord Balfour of Burleigh. This Jacobite nobleman’s life was marked by a crime of passion that brought devastation to his family. Today, we delve into the gripping chronicle of love, murder, and his fateful involvement in the Jacobite Rising.
The Forbidden Love and a Dire Warning
Robert Balfour, born into the aristocratic Burleigh family, was an impetuous young man who dared to fall in love with a woman of lower social standing. This ignited the wrath of his parents, who hoped that travelling abroad would quell his attachment. Before departing, Balfour issued a chilling warning to his beloved: if she married in his absence, he would seek retribution by killing her husband. Astonishingly, undeterred by this threat, the young woman named Henry Stenhouse as her husband-to-be.
The Fateful Return
Upon returning to Scotland in 1707, Balfour’s first inquiry was about his love interest. Learning of her marriage to Stenhouse, he unleashed his pent-up fury. Balfour, accompanied by two attendants, rode to the school in Inverkeithing where Stenhouse taught. Confronting the unfortunate schoolmaster, Balfour deliberately shot him in the shoulder, leaving him wounded. He then quietly retreated to Burleigh.
The Trial and a Desperate Defense
The wounded Stenhouse clung to life for twelve agonizing days before succumbing to his injuries. Balfour, now facing the consequences of his heinous act, stood trial for murder in the High Court of Justiciary in August 1709. His defence argued that there had been no intent to kill, that the wound was meant merely to frighten or correct Stenhouse. Furthermore, they contended that the deceased had lived for several days after the shooting, suggesting an alternative cause of death. Despite their arguments, Balfour was found guilty and sentenced to be beheaded on January 6, 1709-10.
A Daring Escape
Just days before his scheduled execution, Balfour managed a daring escape from the Edinburgh Tolbooth. Disguised as his sister, he exchanged clothes and slipped away into the night. He eluded capture and sought refuge near Burleigh, reportedly concealing himself in a hollowed ash tree that would come to be known as “Burleigh’s Hole.” Balfour’s audacious escape preserved his life and added another captivating chapter to his riveting saga.
Involvement in the Jacobite Rising
After his miraculous evasion of the executioner’s blade, Lord Balfour of Burleigh vanished from public view until he resurfaced in 1715. He emerged as a fervent supporter of the Jacobite cause, joining the rebellion that sought to restore the exiled Stuart dynasty to the British throne. However, it was this involvement in the Jacobite Rising, rather than his crime of passion, that led to the loss of his family’s estates.
In the end, the tale of Lord Balfour of Burleigh stands as a gripping testament to the volatile nature of love and the devastating consequences of unchecked emotions. His forbidden affair, punctuated by a chilling threat, led to a violent act of vengeance that forever shattered his family’s legacy.
Escaping the clutches of the executioner’s blade in a daring disguise, Balfour’s audacity prolonged his life but thrust him into the heart of the Jacobite Rising. As a fervent supporter of the exiled Stuarts, his involvement sealed his family’s fate, resulting in the loss of their ancestral estates.
Today, Lord Balfour’s name echoes through the halls of history, immortalized in tales passed down through generations. From Daniel Defoe’s vivid accounts to the silent gravestone in Greyfriars Kirkyard, his story continues to captivate and intrigue.
The saga of Lord Balfour of Burleigh reminds us of the intricacies of the human experience, where love, passion, and vengeance intertwine, leaving indelible marks on our lives. It is a reminder that even the grandest of histories is shaped by the choices and actions of individuals, forever etching their tales into the annals of time.
– The Dark Scotland website is created by Stewart and Louise – we run DD Tours, walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.