The tower of London famous throughout English history as a place where the famous and infamous met their deaths at the will of the reigning monarch often because they were plotting to oust them from power.However despite all the historical hype the tower was not impregnable and some poor souls did manage to save their lives by escaping one of these was  Lord Nithsdale

Here, it is believed, victims met their appointment with the executioners axe

The Scaffold Site
Credit: By Photo by Chris Nyborg (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Jacobite rebellion

William  Maxwell, 5th Earl of  Nithsdale rose in rebellion in 1715 siding with the Scots against the King. He supported the Pretender James Stuart and joined his forces at Hexham under General Forster, however he was captured at Preston.  Taken to London he was tried by a court of his peers and alongside five other Lords was sentenced to death by being hung drawn and quartered. This was the normal fate of those found guilty of treason but in the case of peers  it was reduced to beheading. The fate of the six varied with some being pardoned at the last minute but the Earl's appointment with the executioner seemed certain.

Countess Nithsdale was a single minded woman  who was determined to save her husbands life. Her  Ladyship pleaded for her husbands life but King George would have nothing of it  and in her own words left the room "dragging me upon my knees from the middle of the room to the very door."

Realising that a further petition to the King would be fruitless Lady Nithsdale petitioned the House of Lords where she begged for clemency for her husband which was subsequently denied.

Caerlaverock Castle the Maxwell family home for over 400 years
Credit: Lynne Kirton [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The escape of Lord Nithsdale

As legal efforts had failed and the date of her husbands execution was drawing near Lady Nithsdale devised a plan to free her husband by subterfuge.

As the evening of the execution came Lady Nithsdale and two female friends made what was seen as their last visit to the condemned man. As was common fashion the ladies wore large cloaks that not only covered their bodies but also the items that they were carrying. The ladies kept walking in and out of his cell, up and down the stairs and generally making disturbance so that the guards using the light of torches only were not absolutely sure how many ladies were still in the Tower.

Lady Nithsdale spent her time dressing her husband as a woman and making his face up- giving him firm instructions to hold a handkerchief over his face  as this would be obvious behavior of a woman whose husband was about to die. His Lordship escaped and Lady Nithsdale calmly returned to his cell talking to him as if he were still there! She then walked out of the Tower under the gaze of the guards who were not totally sure how many ladies had arrived and how many ladies had left!

Lord and Lady Nithsdale fled to Italy where they spent the rest of their lives.

The King is not amused

News of the escape flew around London with people either supportive or otherwise depending on their political persuasion. What was the King's reaction?

It is believed that the King flew into a rage shouting that he had been betrayed (in German obviously as his English vocabulary would not have been that extensive)

Things would then get worse for the King. The seventh Lord involved in the plot was Lord Wintoun who managed to delay his trial by some three months and upon being sentenced to death managed to escape from the Tower of London. He did this simply by sawing through the bars in  the windows and climbing out to freedom.