Lady Sophia Lindsay

13Dec13

lady sophia birchedThis snippet was first published by Alex Birch on his blog A Taste of Birch. Alex Birch sadly died a while back and his blog is no more, but apart from his stories, which can now be read at the Library of Spanking Fiction, he published historical accounts of punishments.

This story is a true one in all regards except possibly the last part. Perhaps Alex invented it, or perhaps his sources were better than mine. Lady Sophia Lindsay was indeed sentenced to be whipped for her part in the plot but the public portion was not carried out.

Was there a private portion as described in the account that follows?

In 1660, after a bitter Civil War and many years of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, England was restored to a monarchy with the triumphant return of Charles II as King. For many, their delight at seeing the restoration of the monarchy was soon tempered by the degree of retribution exercised by the new King for past crimes against his father and his own followers under the Cromwellian regime.

Before his return from exile, the new King had promised that all religious opinions throughout the lands of England and Scotland would he respected, yet soon signed a series of Acts of Parliament which outlawed any religious gatherings except those which pursued the authorised Prayer Book. Dungeons in England and Scotland were soon overflowing, a prime target for the new King being the rebellious Presbyterian Scots whose religious dissent was put down with ruthless ferocity.

The King’s brother James, Duke of York, became extremely powerful and, in many parts, feared, because as well as being a man of ruthless ambition he was a Catholic and therefore distrusted by the new restored Anglican Parliament. After some years as a kind of roving ambassador for Charles II, James was given a Scottish estate and appointed his brother’s unofficial representative for Scotland, which gave him sweeping powers of attorney. The Scots were suffering great hardship and torment in defence of their religious beliefs and rose up in revolt, eventually being routed at Bothwell Bridge by an army led by the Duke of Monmouth. The Duke of York now increased his campaign against Scottish dissenters but, with breathtaking hypocrisy, secured his brother’s permission to institute a Scottish Protestant Parliament dedicated to preventing a ‘return to popery’ while ensuring that he, a Catholic, would remain all powerful in Scotland.

The new Scottish Parliament instituted an oath which was confusing in the extreme but which intended to ensure that every sitting Member pledged allegiance to the organised Protestant faith. One of those members was the Earl of Argyll who was a Presbyterian and took the opportunity of such confusion to announce that he saw nothing in the oath which would prevent him from favouring changes to the law regarding Church and State while still remaining loyal to the Crown. In such a climate, these words were as a red rag to a bull and Argyll was arrested and charged with high treason. The Earl was tried by a jury of which the Marquis of Montrose (a Charles Stuart loyalist) was foreman, found guilty and sentenced to hang.

The news was received with horror by Argyll’s family and it was resolved that something daring needed to be done to avert this fate. One of the visitors allowed the Earl during his incarceration was his beautiful daughter, Lady Sophia Lindsay, the wife of Alexander Lindsay, Earl of Buccleugh. Lindsay himself was known to be a ‘soft’ Anglican thus trusted by the King’s representatives but who allowed his wife her Presbyterian views just so long as they were not publicly expressed. A very daring plan was hatched within the Earl’s family, apparently unknown to Alexander Lindsay, whereby Lady Sophia would visit her father accompanied by maidservants and pages. Because of her position, the family gambled that no obstacle would be placed in the path of such a visitation. They took extra clothing with them and, after distracting the guard for some minutes, they made up the Earl’s bed with blankets to make it appear that he was sleeping then the Earl of Argyll escaped, dressed as a page, as part of his daughter’s entourage. The deception was not discovered until too late and the Earl had contacted influential friends who spirited him away in a boat to Holland.

When the prime agent of this deception was discovered, Lady Sophia Lindsay was arrested and tried by a Civil Council. Such was the anger at her effrontery that the Council voted that the young woman should be stripped to the waist, tied to a cart tail and whipped all day through the streets of Edinburgh. The sentence was received with horror by Lady Sophia’s family, not least by her husband who sought urgent talks with the Duke of York, pleading desperately for some reduction in the sentence, emphasising the degree of humiliation for the whole family including himself, a Stuart supporter, should such a sentence be carried out.

The Duke of York listened sympathetically and, to Lindsay’s relief, agreed to substitute an alternative private punishment. He told Lindsay that as his young wife had behaved like a spoilt child she would be treated like one and pronounced his alternative judgement.

Thus it was that on a May morning in 1681, a very tearful Lady Sophia Lindsay was taken to a private room in Edinburgh Castle and there she found waiting a Sergeant-at-Arms, her embarrassed husband and her frantic mother. Knowing her intended punishment, she pleaded with her husband that she be spared this indignity but Lindsay bluntly pointed out that she had brought this upon herself and was fortunate that the affair was not public as originally intended. The Sergeant-at-Arms motioned the duty guard that Lady Sophia was to be made to kneel down over a low stool with her face pressed to the carpet, bottom thus fully raised. When that was done, her long dress and petticoats were lifted up and pinned to her shoulders thus completely exposing her naked bottom. The Sergeant-at-Arms then took up a birch rod and proceeded to give the young woman a very thorough and painful birching lasting half an hour after which she was released into the custody of her husband, amid floods of tears, presumably unable to sit down for a week! Some unsubstantiated reports have said she was given 50 strokes of the birch rod, wearing out two substantial birches in the process. The experience must have been painful and deeply embarrassing but surely preferable to the original sentence!

Sadly, the lady’s sacrifice was all too short term for the Earl of Argyll made his way secretly back to Scotland where he was caught, tried once more and this time he was executed.



6 Responses to “Lady Sophia Lindsay”

  1. harsh punishment! but presumably not as humilating as a public whipping!

  2. I recall this one from Alex Birch’s historical accounts and it impressed me so much that it inspired one of my own stories in which I used the MacGuffin of the identity-prison-switch escape.

  3. 3 cindy2

    I knew–I just knew–when I was in school and read British history that a very important element had been redacted. I’m glad that the missing element has finally been restored .

  4. 4 DJ

    It was certainly pretty random – and although I am not sure it is completely true – you can be pretty certain that worse/better things happened that are now brushed under the carpet.

    At least Rollin got a story out of it.

    I had two history teachers who would add asides of off-the-curriculum details. One in particular liked to dwell on whipping/spanking anecdotes. 🙂

  5. 5 Richard

    Loved his serious tone read all that i could theses one about the kings daughters getting birched th public before being sent to north america

  6. 6 Ennis Lindsay

    Lady Lindsay should have been stripped to the waist and whipped through the streets.,


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