Like many other death historians, I have a hobby of buying up old pictures of graves, funerals, and memorial cards, creating a library of strangers’ history. I also love to hunt down the history of the people behind, or beneath them, and find the stories behind the ephemera.
Commercially-produced postcards of graves are something that I find endlessly fascinating. If you head off on holiday and want to send a note home, you can choose a landscape, some shots of local activities or an image of their local dead celebrity. And I’m thrilled that some people chose the latter.
One such grave postcard, bought blindly, was that of Andrew Hyslop’s grave. I had never heard of Hyslop before (he is also frequently cited as ‘Hislop’), had no idea what country he’d be in, or even if his grave still remained. But after some research rabbit holes, I was lead to the story of a murdered covenanter who ended his days in a field in Dumfriesshire.
“Halt, Passenger, a Word with thee or two,
Why I ly here wouldst let thou truly know?
By wicked Hands, Hands cruel and unjust,
Without all Law, my life from me they thrust,
And being dead, they left me on the spot,
For Burial this same Place I got.
Truth’s Friends in Eskdale now rejoice their lot,
Viz. th’ faithful, for truth my seal thus got.”
Andrew was a covenanter, and died as a martyr for his beliefs in 1685. Covenanters were a Scottish religious sect who risked their lives for their Presbyterian beliefs by signing the National Covenant in 1638. They did so ‘to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings’ in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
Andrew Hyslop lived in Rennaldburn/Windshiels in Dryfesdale (Dumfries and Galloway) with his mother and siblings who were all devout Scottish Presbyterians. The family frequently sheltered Covenanters in their home, who were fleeing persecution, and possibly the imminent threat of execution. One of the Covenanters taken in by the Hyslop family died in their care and the family secretly buried his body in the adjacent field. At least they thought it was secret. Somehow, word of this burial spread and soon there were unwelcome knocks on their door from Sir John Graham of Claverhouse and his men.
Sir John Graham of Claverhouse (posthumously named ‘Bluidy Clavers’) was the 1stViscount of Dundee and was a Tory Episcopalian and soldier who policed south-west Scotland during the religious unrest of the 1670s/80s. He was known widely for his attempts at quashing local covenanter uprisings, although the breadth and severity of his actions has been debated by historians since (his letters were rather empathetic towards Covenanters and he later married into a Covenanter family). Hyslop’s was the last recorded covenanter death in which Claverhouse was involved.
The period of 1679-1688 was known as The Killing Times when several armed rebellions by the Covenanters took place. They did as such because they had lost control of the Scottish Kirk (church), which became wholly Presbyterian. During this period, rights were given by the Scottish privy council to execute any covenanters caught bearing arms. At this time, many adopted the French method of the ‘same day trial’ for individuals who refused to swear loyalty to the king; as they believed God to be their king and ultimate ruler. This period heralded the end of the Covenanters as a significant movement, as many were readmitted into the church afterwards, although small pockets of revolutionaries remained.
Sir John and his men caught Hyslop and dragged him to the site of the covenanters burial, after which Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall disinterred the body and, ‘finding that the corpse had come out of Widow Hislop’s house, they pillaged and pulled down the house, and drove herself and children to the fields.’
Hyslop was immediately, if reluctantly on the part of Claverhouse, sentenced to death and was shot on Eskdalemuir by Johnstone on 12th May 1685. He was buried where his body fell. His headstone was erected in 1702 and repaired in 1825, as commemorated on the small sandstone memorial that exists today. Hyslop’s resting place is regarded as a ‘through grave’, being the only feature in the middle of a field. It is however, thankfully protected by a small wooden fence which prevents it from further damage.
[Images via boydharris.co.uk]
The inscription reads:
`’Here lyes And. [Andrew] Hislop Martyr shot dead upon this spot by Sir James Johnston of Westerhall and John Graham of Claverhouse for adhering to the word of God Christs Kingly government in his house and ye Covenanted work of reformation against tyranny perjury and prelacy May 12 – 1685 re [revelations] 12 While passengers one word with thee or two why I lye here wouldst thou truly know by wicked hands cruel and unjust without all law my life from me they thrust being dead they left me on this spot & for burial this same place I got thruths friends in Eskdale now triumph then let viz. the faithful my seal – that got. 1702″
Should you find yourself in Dumfriesshire in the coming years, you can find Hyslop’s grave at Craighaugh, Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, NGR – NY 249985. Sadly, Hyslop rests around a 6 hour drive away from me, so until the day I’m passing by, the story of the martyred covenanter, and his postcard, will do me just nicely.
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