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Three Women Called Margaret

Margaret is a common enough name hereabouts - I'm called that myself - but folk will be talking
about those others long after I'm forgotten. I'm not jealous - they deserve to be remembered.
Because of them we can read our Bibles without dreading the knock at the door and
we can meet together and sing the Psalms loud enough for the whole world to hear.

I passed the old farm today - sad it looked - neglected - not like the old days.

I worked at Glenvernock then - for the Wilsons - a good dairy maid is never short of work
and I got on there just fine - until the killing started and it was dangerous
to say that you agreed with the Covenanters.

At first it was the worry on the mistress face I found so hard to take. How could folk do that,
expect a mother and father to turn their own children out and never be able to offer them shelter
even in the worst of that winter weather? But the young folk were right and had made up
their own minds - they knew what they believed but it was hard for them to go.
Running wild in the hills is fine in the summer when it is warm and dry -
but in winter with the wind and the snow it's a very different story.
What seemed like an adventure at first would soon be an endurance test.
It was all right for Thomas and Margaret - but young Agnes was never very strong.

Such a good farm it was - well run, prosperous - but what farm can stand the fines that the master
had put on him? Then they made him travel so far just to pay them and that meant he was more
often away from the farm than working it! It was all deliberate - taking revenge on the Wilsons
for their children and trying to wear us all down.
We didn't know then that there was worse to come.

First it was hearing of Margaret MacLachlan's arrest. Oh, she could be a plain speaking,
blunt, old woman - not to say stubborn - but for all that she was well liked and she stood out
against the sort of church services they were trying to force on us. That was at the beginning
of the year and then so sooner had we got used to that idea than we heard the news
that we had all been dreading - that our Margaret and young Agnes were also in prison.
I'll never forget Mistress Wilson's eyes when she heard - the light just went out in them.
We weren't allowed to help in any way - not even take food to that foul place.
The Master was frantic - and the farm work took another step backwards.

I went with them to the trial - oh, not with them exactly - but to be there to help if I could.
The place was packed - with people who might have been scared - but they turned up that day.

And Margaret Maxwell that serves in Kirkinner was a prisoner there too - holding her head high
the way she always did - and that's not surprising for the authorities never could get her to conform to their new ways and she made no secret of it.
Old Margaret looked terrible - what had they done to her in there?
The two sisters looked as calm as it was possible to be in the circumstances.

But that was no trial, no justice - not from those vicious old men.
What did they think they were about - asking those women to kneel to hear the sentence
and forcing them to do so when they refused?
And what sentences to pass - flogging and humiliation for Margaret Maxwell
and drowning for the others.
There was a shuddering gasp that went round the room at the pronouncement.
If it hadn't been for all the soldiers the townsfolk might have attempted something
but it would have been pointless with nothing gained.

At least the flogging was carried out promptly and Margaret survived that
and no pleasure gained by her persecutors from the way she bore it all.
But a month to wait for the others! Why did they do that?

It gave Master Gilbert hope and he was off to Edinburgh to try and win a reprieve
as soon as he could.
It's two hundred miles to travel - there and back.
While he was gone there was no comforting the mistress but at least there was some good news
when he came home - Agnes was to be freed if her father paid a bond.
The size of the bond didn't seem to matter to them - a hundred pounds -
how can any tenant farmer be expected to pay that?

We kept hoping something could be done for the two still in prison -
but day followed day and no reprieve came for them.

I was there - on that lovely May morning. The crowd was far bigger than I would ever have
expected it to be and folk were praying openly who had been too frightened to do so before.

The viciousness went on - to separate the women who had gone through so much together in
prison was cruel. Margaret MacLachlan was tied so far out that she couldn't hear our prayers.
She looked so frail - I think she fainted from the water's chill. Oh, I hope she did.

Our Margaret was so close - and we could not help her. Folk spoke to her - pleaded with her
to say the words that would free her but she would have none of it.
Her young voice was so strong, so confident.
To be able to sing a Psalm like that when we on the shore found our voices breaking.
She knew what she was doing was right and that only infuriated those evil men more.
They thought the sight of old Margaret dying would weaken her resolve - it didn't,
it strengthened it! To almost let her drown and then haul her from the water was heartless
and it only strengthened her the more.
If only there had been something we could have done to save her.

It ended at last - and then it was back to the farm to try and keep things going there
in spite of the fines and all those soldiers descending on us for food and shelter.
A hundred at a time sometimes and putting all of us out of our very beds.
It wasn't long before the Wilsons had to sell the stock - bit by bit - and let the farm hands go.
I left with a heavy heart when it was my turn.
The Master was ruined before long and died virtually penniless.
Mistress Wilson had to rely on friends and relations for her keep.
Young Thomas took to soldiering with William the Dutchman but when he did come back at last
there was nothing left for him here.

So today I looked at those sad farm buildings that used to be so well kept
and which once housed a family I hold dear. They paid the price for us living hereabouts.

Sad times to remember but glorious times too for it was those three women
who made the real difference. And all of them, like me, called Margaret.

Copyright (c) Elizabeth Tolson 1999

Three Women Called Margaret
Background | Covenanters | Conclusion
Margaret MacLachlan | Margaret Wilson | Margaret Maxwell

"Show Me Your Ways, O Lord"
(Song based on Psalm 25)


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