Friday, February 24, 2017

The Abduction Of Lady Grange

Rachel Chiesley, known as Lady Rachel Grange, was by all accounts, a bit of a girl and rather a handful. She is best known for being abducted, by her husband, James Erskine, Lord Grange.

Rachel was born on Skye  in 1679 - just as the Jacobites were starting to flex their tartan muscles.

She was one of nine children. Her father rather famously shot dead the Scottish judge who had dared to pronounce a verdict against him. He was found guilty of that murder by the Lord Provost  and he was sentenced to death by hanging, before the sentence was carried out his right hand was cut off and the pistol he had fired was hung round his neck.

Rachel herself was one of ten children, she would have been nine or ten years old when her father was executed so I guess we could say her childhood was troubled. She was considered very, very beautiful, very passionate with a temper to match. She married Lord Grange, a successful lawyer, at the age of 28, probably after she became pregnant. Although the marriage was never happy, they had nine children together.

Her husband’s family, the Erskines, were known to be Jacobite sympathisers. The younger Earl went by the rather lovely name of ‘Bobbing John’ due to his political machinations.

Rachel was a bit bonkers – probably the result of the nine children she had. She talked of suicide often, a huge scandal at the time and it is rumoured that she slept with a cutthroat razor under her pillow – probably to keep her husband away .  She also threatened to strip naked in the middle of Edinburgh just to embarrass her husband. (This is the noise of people in Edinburgh being outraged… ‘tut’)

Rachel swore in the street ( in Edinburgh!!!) and disrupted church services, saying that her husband was a Jacobite and she had in her possession letters that would show he had plotted against the Hanovarian government in London. She insisted that he should be executed as a traitor. She used to abuse her children in the street to such as extent that they would hide in the local pub until she either calmed down or went away, and that might take two or three hours.

James Erskine, the Lord Grange dismissed divorce as a solution to all this. He decided to have her kidnapped. He paid some close friends to do it, then explained her disappearance as her sudden death and gave her a decent funeral. Interesting to note that this time he was playing fast and loose with the charms of a local coffee house owner. More interesting to note that her children,  the  eldest being in their  twenties, knew their mum had been abducted  by their Dad and did nothing to get her back. Their tutor is on record as saying that the kids were terrified of their mother and her spontaneous angry outbursts. And their mum had disinherited them all at birth.

So the Lady was taken from her home sometime during the night of  22 January 1732 by some Highland noblemen. There was a bit of a scuffle, or a bit of a rammy as we would say, and the bold Lady was removed from the premises in a sedan chair and then taken by horse to Falkirk, where she was held for six months in a empty tower. At that time she would have been about 50.

The kidnappers took their role very seriously, tearing out her hair and knocking her teeth out. They   took her off for a very long tour of the very remote Scottish island on the Western coast, ending up in Hirta of St Kilda and left her there. It sounds awful… alone in a stone walled hut with a grass thatched roof,  right beside the sea  with only goats and sheep for company… and an awful lot of whisky- actually that sounds better than living with her husband.  Until you remember the  horrific wind up there that never ever stops – most folk who lived inany part of St Kilda were deaf due to the noise of the wind and sheep knew not to go too near the edge of the cliff for fear of being blown off.

The locals were told not to give her food or clothing, and she probably didn’t share a language with any of them.
 In the end she managed to get a message to Edinburgh, to the minister of Inveresk. He was horrified by the conditions she was living in and he paid for a boat with armed men to sail to St Kilda ( no easy feat ). It had already set sail by 14 February 1741, but it she had already been moved on.

He probably got wind of the rescue attempt. (?)

Her husband lawyer had already blocked a legal application for a search warrant for St Kilda so he must have known that somebody would attempt a rescue.

Now, at Hirta on the St Kilda archipelago, a pile of rocks  are the only remains of Rachel’s house. A cleit, twenty feet by ten. In the winter she would have been scooping the snow out of her bed with her hands.  Even in a good day, the island is a bitter, inhospitable place- fortyfeet waves are quite normal.

Rachel died, without regaining her freedom on 12th may 1745, aged 66 by which time she had been effectively jailed for  13 years, and her life  has been constant fodder for stories and songs that have now passed into folk lore.

I just wonder if she was bi polar.

 Caro Ramsay 24 02 2017


  1. Sounds like the marriages of some of my former clients. In answer to your question, I'd say from the final circumstances of her life she lived a life best described as polar bare.

  2. Appalling treatment, Caro. And yes, it does sound as thought poor Lady Grange was bi-polar, or at least suffering some serious form of mental illness. But after nine kids ...

  3. YIKES. What a horrible way to spend a life ... and all of it AFTER a miserable, 9-child marriage. Makes most of our lives look like a cake walk and then some.

  4. Yes, and to think I take an elevator downstairs and walk to the corner to buy food or have it delivered. I live in luxury in comparison to this poor woman's life. The women's movement would have done some good for her!