August 26 1678
The little village of Corstorphine, three miles from Edinburgh, was disturbed by a frightful occurrence. The title of Baron of Corstorphine and Lord Forrester was at this time borne by a gentleman of mature years, who had acquired it by his marriage to the heiress, and had subsequently had a family by a second wife.
He lived in the Castle of Corstorphine, the ancient seat of the family. It appears that he sided with the Presbyterians, and was zealous enough in their cause to build a meeting-house for their worship.
He had nevertheless formed an improper connection with the wife of one Nimmo, a merchant in Edinburgh; and, what made this scandal the greater, the unfortunate woman was niece to his first wife, besides being grand-daughter of a former Lord Forrester. She was a woman of violent character, accustomed, it was alleged, to carry a weapon under her clothes. We are further informed that Mrs Bedford, an adulteress who had murdered her husband a few years back, was her cousin; and that Lady Warriston, who suffered for the same offence in 1600, was of the same family.
It was pretty evident that this was a woman not to be rashly offended. Lord Forrester had nevertheless spoken opprobriously of her in his drink, and the fact came to her knowledge.
She proceeded to his house at Corstorphine, and, finding he was at the village tavern, sent for him.
The meeting took place in the garden. After a violent altercation, the unhappy woman stabbed her paramour with his own sword.
‘He fell under a tree near the pigeon-house, both of which still remain, and died immediately. The lady took refuge in the garret of the castle, but was discovered by one of her slippers, which fell through a crevice of the floor.'
Being seized and brought before the sheriffs of Edinburgh, she made a confession of her crime, though seeking to extenuate it, and, two days after, she was tried, and condemned to die.
Taking advantage of a humanity of the law, she contrived by deception to postpone the execution of the sentence for upwards of two months. And in this interval, notwithstanding the great care of her enjoined to John Wan, the keeper of the Tolbooth, she succeeded in making her escape in men’s apparel, but was found next day at Fala Mill, and brought back to prison.
On the 12th of November, Mrs Nimmo was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh, appearing on the scaffold in mourning, with a large veil, which, before laying down her head, she put aside, baring her shoulders at the same time, ‘with seeming courage enough.’
Connected with the murder, a circumstance characteristic of the age took place.
The deceased nobleman, leaving only heirs of his second marriage, who took the name of Ruthven from their mother, and who were in possession of his house, the family honours and estates, which came by his first wife, by whom he had no surviving progeny, passed, according to a deed of entail, to another branch of the family. In that day, no offence was more common than that of violently seizing and interfering with the legal writings connected with landed properties.
Well knowing this, William Baillie of Torwoodhead and his mother dreaded that the young Ruthvens might play foul with the late lord’s charter-chest, and so prejudice their succession.
They went with friends to the house, while the murdered nobleman’s body still lay in it, and intruded in a violent manner, by way of taking possession of their inheritance. Their chief aim, as they afterwards alleged, was to see that no documents should be embezzled or made away with.
On a complaint from the Ruthvens, the Lords adjudged Baillie and his mother to lie in prison during their pleasure, and fined their assistant, a Mr Gourlay, in a hundred pounds Scots. The court at the same time took measures to secure the charter-chest.