The Reverend Robert Lyon

This month I am going to write about a new display in the Perth Museum and Art gallery that starts on the 22nd of June and ends on the 19th of October.  It is called Jacobite Clans, and I am going to promote it for two reasons, one, it is a period of history that I am very passionate about and two, I am involved in the event.  So please forgive a shameless plug, I am going to tie in this event at the museum with a story about one of the forgotten Perthshire Jacobites. The Reverend Robert Lyon, a Perth minister who served in Bonnie Prince Charlies Jacobite Army.

Robert was born in Forfarshire in 1709 or 1710, he was the son of a minister in the Episcopal Church, he and his two sisters were very heavily influenced by their father in all things spiritual, so when he became an adult, Robert himself joined the ministry.  In 1738 he was appointed to act as an assistant to the Rev Laurence Drummond in the Episcopal Church in Perth with a wage of £30.00 pounds a year. Drummond was an elderly man and as his health deteriorated, Robert took a more active role in running the church.  He seems to have overstepped the mark by carrying out tasks without the permission of the lay managers who usually had a say in the decision making. He also upset some of the congregation by having communion tokens stamped with R.L for Robert Lyon instead of L.D for the older minister.

Robert would have been brought up a Jacobite as the Episcopal Church was a hotbed of Jacobitism, he was to write that he considered the Revolution of 1688 when James VII of Scotland and II of England was forced from the throne by his daughter Mary and her husband William the Prince of Orange to be unlawful. He believed in the divine right of kings, that is a king had been placed on the throne by God and no man had the right to remove him.  He was engaged to a young woman from a staunchly Jacobite family called Miss Stewart Ross.

So it is hardly surprising that Robert would have been very excited when news filtered down from the North in mid-August 1745 that Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the son of the Jacobite King James VIII and III had landed in the western highlands and was raising the clans for his cause.  When the young Prince marched into Perth in early September and declared his father king at the Market Cross at the bottom of the High Street, Robert would have been one of the excited spectators, and when the Jacobites marched out of Perth to advance to Edinburgh, Robert Lyon was amongst their ranks.

Robert had joined Lord Ogilvy’s Cavalry regiment as the regimental Chaplain, this regiment was raised in Forfarshire so Robert would have been with his ain folk, as he left the town his sweetheart would have been waiving enthusiastically, probably loving her brave young fiancee more than ever. Robert took part in the Battle of Prestonpans.  It was noted in Perth by George Miller the Town Clark that the Lyon household had large letters spelling C.P.R (Charles, Prince, Regent) with lights shining through them to celebrate the Jacobite victory. Miller would later testify against Robert in court.

Robert Lyon was also involved in the invasion of England where he was spotted carrying arms as the Jacobite army marched South, he fought at the Battle of Culloden and after the Jacobite defeat became a fugitive hiding from the Government soldiers.  Robert was caught and held in the Tolbooth of Montrose. He was then put on a ship and taken South to York where he was imprisoned. From York, he was taken to Carlisle to stand trial for treason, while in Carlisle he was held in the town’s castle in horrendous conditions.  While imprisoned he was visited by his sister Cicely, he apologises to her for “the grievous troubles and afflictions both in mind and body that his situation has brought her”. He also states that “her firm love for me has made her follow me too far, and be witness of more of my troubles than I could have wished”.  While in captivity he did not forget his flock back in Perth stating that “May God almighty bless them, both in temporal and spiritual concerns and of his infinite goodness reward them for their love and kindness, their attachment and concern for me in the several difficulties I have undergone”.

Despite testifying that he had never carried arms while in the service of the Prince, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. On the 28th of October 1746, Robert Lyon stood on the scaffold at Penrith and administered the sacrament to the other condemned Jacobites who stood with him.  He was then hanged by the neck until dead and then disembowelled. Some of his friends from Perth had made the long journey south to witness the execution, seeing some friendly faces in the crowd would have given Robert some comfort.

The Derby Mercury newspaper on the 7th of November 1746 offers the best description I have been able to find.  This extremely biased report states that before his execution, Robert read an “infamous libel” where he affirmed his support for the Stuart cause, this newspaper noted that this declaration lasted 20 minutes.  The paper also states that amongst Robert Lyon’s last words were “That if his life had been given him, he would still have continued in the same principles”. The Derby Mercury also states that there was a lot of spectators who “behaved with great decency,” and talking about the condemned men the paper wrote that the crowd’s attitude towards them was one off “pitying them as men, but rejoicing at their fate as Rebels”.

My friend and talented musician John Davidson and I will be performing Jacobites in Story and Song on the 4th of July in the horse cross plaza from 3.00 pm until 4.30 pm.  I will be telling the story from the death of Charles II and the forced removal of the Jacobite king James to the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1788 with John singing some of the best known and loved Jacobite songs including tow numbers John had written especially for this performance.   Tickets can be obtained on Eventbrite.

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