Speech of the Earl of Derwentwater, February 24, 1716

James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, was brought up at the Palace of St. Germains as a companion to the Prince of Wales (later King James III and VIII). In 1715 he joined in the king's action to regain his thrones. Lord Derwentwater was taken prisoner at the Battle of Preston. The usurper's Parliament found him guilty of treason and sentenced him to death.

On the morning of February 24, 1716, Lord Derwentwater was brought to Tower Hill, where he gave the following speech before being beheaded.

Being in a few minutes to appear before the tribunal of God, where, though most unworthy, I hope to find mercy, which I have not found from men now in power, I have endeavoured to make my peace with His Divine Majesty by most humbly begging pardon for all the sins of my life; and I doubt not of a merciful forgiveness through the merits of the passion and death of my Saviour Jesus christ, for which end I earnestly desire the prayers of all good Christians.

After this, I am to ask pardon of those whom I might have scandalized by pleading guilty at my trial. Such as were permitted to come to me, told me, that having been undeniably in arms, pleading guilty was but the consequence of having submitted to mercy; and many arguments were used to prove there was nothing of moment in so doing, among others, the universal practice of signing leases, whereof the preambles run in the name of the person in possession.

But I am sensible that in this I have made bold with my loyalty, having never owned any other but King James the Third for my rightful and lawful sovereign; him I had an inclination to serve from my infancy, and was moved thereto by a natural love I had to his person, knowing him to be capable of making his people happy; and though he had been of a different religion from mine, I should have done for him all that lay in my power, as my ancestors have done for his predecessors, being thereto bound by the laws of God and man.

Wherefore, if in this affair I have acted rashly, it ought not affect the innocent; I intended to wrong nobody, but to serve my king and country, and that without self-interest, hoping by the example I gave to have induced others to their duty; and God, who sees the secrets of my heart, knows I speak truth. Some means have been proposed to me for saving my life, which I looked upon as inconsistent with honour and conscience, and therefore I rejected them; for, with God's assistance, I shall prefer any death to the doing a base unworthy action. I only wish now, that the laying down my life might contribute to the service of my king and country, and the re-establishment of the ancient and fundamental constitution of these kingdoms, without which, no lasting peace or true happiness can attend them; then I should indeed part with life even with pleasure. As it is, I can only pray that these blessings may be bestowed upon my dear country; and since I can do no more, I beseech God to accept of my life as a small sacrifice towards it.

I die a Roman Catholic; I am in perfect charity with all the world, I thank God for it, even with those of the present government who are most instrumental in my death. I freely forgive such as ungenerously reported false things of me; and I hope to be forgiven the trespasses of my youth, by the Father of infinite mercy, into whose hand I commend my soul.

James Derwentwater

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