Sir George Mackenzie was a man so bad, his influence is said to be felt today in the form of Scotland’s most infamous poltergeist. MJ STEEL COLLLINS profiles the life and posthumous adventures of Scotland’s former Lord Advocate.

George Mackenzie: A Promising Start?

Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh was born in Dundee in either 1636 or 1638, and was educated at the University of Aberdeen, The University of St Andrews and The University of Bourges in France, before embarking on his legal career. He was called to the Bar in 1659. Notable in his early career was the fact that he defended Archibald Campbell, Marquis Of Argyll, his trial in 1661. Argyll was a rampant Covenanter, and executed as a result, his head being displayed on a spike outside St Giles Kirk in Edinburgh.
Later on, Mackenzie became a Justice-Depute between 1661 and 1663, a role that had him involved in witch trials. Significantly, he dismissed the witch trials, describing the accused as being harmless old women. Mackenzie also served as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the County of Ross.

A Bluidy Persecution

Mackenzie was made Lord Advocate of Scotland in 1677, and it was in this role, he showed a ruthless side. At the time, Scotland was embroiled in the Covenanting skirmishes. Mackenzie was charged with dealing with the Covenanters, which he did with a brutal relish, leading to his nickname “Bluidy” or “Bloody” Mackenzie. A prime example of Mackenzie’s actions can be seen in the aftermath of the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, in which, the Covenanters were defeated.
On the orders of Mackenzie, several hundred Covenanters taken prisoner were locked up in a section of Greyfriars Kirkyard, ironically, the place where the Covenanting Movement truly began back in 1638, with the signing of the National Covenant. The Movement came about after Charles I attempted to impose his rule on the Scottish Kirk, but the Scots were having none of it, believing only Jesus to be the head of their Church. The Covenanters were determined to preserve Presbyterianism, and a rather nasty and complex era of Scottish history ensued.

The World’s First Concentration Camp

The Covenanters imprisoned in 1679 were incarcerated in what is regarded as the world’s first concentration camp. They were fed little, succumbed to disease and left to suffer in the open during the winter. Escape was difficult, and only those who signed a document renouncing Presbyterianism were released. Most died and were buried where they lay. Some were sent overseas as slaves, but their ship went down in a storm, leading to their deaths too.
The fact that the years between 1680 to 1688 were called The Killing Times in Covenanter history speaks volumes of how Mackenzie handled the issue. In 1688, King James VII (II in England) was deposed. Mackenzie opposed the removal of the King in The Glorious Revolution. This saw the end of the Stuart (now Stewart) dynasty on the throne, and the arrival of William of Orange, James VII’s son-in-law, on the throne. Mackenzie managed to come out of this change of royal rule somewhat unscathed by retiring. He died in 1691 in Westminster, and was laid to rest in a grand mausoleum, ironically only yards from the Covenanters’ Prison, where so many suffered at his orders.

“Bluidy Mackenzie, Come Oot If Ye Daur”

Mackenzie’s legacy went on to form part of Edinburgh’s ghostlore. His coffin was said to move about by itself, driven by the despair of being buried next to Covenanters’ Prison, and generations of gallus wee Edinburgh school boys were dared to go up to the door of the mausoleum and utter the rhyme:
“Bluidy Mackenzie, come oot if ye daur, draw the sneck and lift the bar”.
The tale of the Mackenzie Poltergeist, with which, Sir George Mackenzie is closely associated, has been well documented, but in 2004, another gory twist to the man’s tale occurred when some teenagers broke into his mausoleum, cracked open his coffin and stole Mackenzie’s head. A tour group walking through Greyfriar’s Kirkyard to pay a visit to the Mackenzie Poltergeist caught them in the act, ironically. Luckily, Mackenzie’s head was found and restored. And the Poltergeist keeps on haunting…


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