The romantic is cursed with a delicate type of blindness, a reckless folly that begins by meaning no harm yet which in the end will taint its imprudent victim with a painful destiny.
“He gained the love of ladies gay
None e’er to him weas coy
Ah, woe is me, I mourn the day for dear Gilderoy”
The romantic sentiment is made from a fey alchemy: soft feelings, gentle indiscretions. It is responsible for the quiet dismissal of reality; replacing it with an insidious fancy that invades the dull fabric of reason like a golden thread.
“With muckle (much) joy we spent our prime
Till we were baith sixteen
And oft we passed the langsome (long) time
amang the leaves sae green”
Admittedly such a deadly attitude is not as common now as it once was. This is a cynical world. But centuries before it was not so much the case. Imagination was different – like prisms, thoughts of love and romance was split like gems to achieve an entirely new purity, a new light. Men saw a woman’s pale skin as a fleshly metaphor for virtue and truth – though the feminine tint was laced with arsenic. And women saw romantic possibilities in the dark eyes, slim figure and the feel of restrained muscular strength of her gentleman as he held her on the dance floor. This was a generation easily deceived by their feelings, more than willing to travel the labyrinth of ardor that stretched before them.
“O, that he still had been content
with me to lead his life,
But ah, his manful heart was bent
to stirring feats of strife,”
Patrick Roy McGregor, known as Gilderoy, Gilleroy, Gilder Roy or Gillie Ruadh (“the Red-haired Lad”) was an outlaw of democratic tastes: he was a robber, a blackmailer, a cataran (cattle thief) and a murderer. He and his band of criminals terrorized the lands throughout Aberdeen during the early 17th century.
But he was pretty. His white skin and auburn hair were not reconciled to his violent tendencies. And the ladies loved his beauty and were happily blinkered from his misguided daring. He was ‘bonnie’, ‘handsome’ and ‘winsome’. Their yearning and tributes appeared in stories, ballads, prose and verse.
“My Gilderoy, baith far and near
was feared in every toon,
And boldly bore awa’ the gear
of many a lowland loon (peasant, rogue)”
The ‘arch rebel’ was finally apprehended in 1636. McGregor stood trial in Edinburgh with his associates John Forbes, Alistair Forbes, Callum Forbes, George Grant, John McColme, John McGregor McEane, Gillespie McFarlane, Alistair McInneir and Ewin McGregor alias Accawisch.
“At length, with numbers, he was ta’en,
my handsome Gilderoy”
The charges were many; a miscellany of achievements of a dubious personality: “tressonable usurpatioun of our Souerane Lordis royal power”, “pat violent handes in the persones of the said Alexander (Hay) and his wyfe, tuik thame captives and prissoneris, for thair ransome and libertie”, involvement in a number of “crewall slauchters” or murders. His choice of victims was an egalitarian one, preying on common folk, lairds and ministers. He was supposedly betrayed by his mistress Peg Cunningham, and was able to stab her to death before being arrested. Even more flamboyant tales claim that he robbed Cardinal Richelieu and picked Oliver Cromwell’s pocket…but a ruffian’s accomplishments had their limits.
He was found guilty on July 29. The pleasantly fitting Scottish word for verdict (“doom”) was that McGregor be “drawin backwardis upone ane cairt…to the mercat (market) cross of Edinburgh.” Along with John Forbes he would be hung until dead on a gibbet that was considerably higher than that of their associates. They were also to have their “..heidis be strukin af from thair bodies, with their richt handis, and the said Gilroy his heid and richt hand to be affixit on the eist or netherbow poirt of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his heid and richt hand to be put upone the wast poirt thairof. (heads be struck off from their bodies with their right hands, and the said Gilroy his head and right hand to be affixed on the east or netherbow port of Edinburgh, and the said John Forbes his head and right hand to be put upon the west port thereof)
“To Edinburgh they led him there,
and on a gallows hung;
They hung him high above the rest,
he was sae trim a boy”
Such was his fame that a garden of ballads blossomed directly after his execution, such as “The Scotch Lovers Lamentation: or Gilderoy’s Last Farewell…To an excellent new Tune, much in request” Such popularity speaks of an ill-conceived pride, a stumbling thrill, a naïve delight…the ingredients of a misdirected affection. There are times when a passion gallops like an unrestrained fever, and its victim is unprepared to deal with the machinations of its subtle sickness – the extravagance of undisciplined emotion.
Thus having yeilded up his breath,
I bore his corpse away;
With tears that trickled for his death,
I washed his comely clay;
And safely in a grave sae deep
I laid the dear loved boy,
And now forever I must weep for winsome Gilderoy.