Greyfriars Bobby and Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirkyard in history

The site occupied by Greyfriars Kirk and the very well known graveyard surrounding it has had religious connections from very early times. In 1436 James the 1st founded a Franciscan Convent devoted to the order of Observatines in the area of the Grassmarket and the ground where the kirk now stands formed at least part of the garden of the convent.

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In 1547 the monastery was burned during the English invasion of Scotland. It seems likely that Edinburgh became a prime target for the English army to wreak devastation as they had done all the way from the Borders. From all accounts it would appear that the convent was never restored after being put to the torch.

The next significant episode in the pre-history of Greyfriars occurred in 1562 when Mary Queen of Scots granted the former convent garden to the Town Council for use as a burial ground. However, it was not until 1566 that magistrates appropriated the garden.

In the pages of the Greyfriars Presbyterian Church web site is the following. The building of Greyfriars Kirk began in 1602 re-using stonework from the Dominican convent at Sciennes and was the first church built in Edinburgh after the Reformation. Progress was slow and the new church did not open until Christmas Day 1620.

During its long history Greyfriars would bear witness to historical events both far-reaching and at times tragic as exemplified by the first signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and then the aftermath of the Battle of Bothwell Brig in 1679. This concerned the cruel and inhumane confinement in the southwest corner of the kirkyard, of hundreds of Covenanters taken prisoner after the battle.

It is recorded 'for five months, without shelter from the elements, with no other food than four ounces of bread daily and a mouthful of water they languished here.

Further if by chance any of them rose from the ground where they slept during the night, they would be shot at by the guards. Worse was to follow for those who survived the merciless treatment they had received.

They were sentenced to be transported to Barbados and on arrival there provide slave labour on the plantations, however the boat carrying them was wrecked on the coast of Orkney and only forty souls survived.

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