The Execution

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Hamilton’s execution was a protracted and gruesome affair. He is reported to have taken six hours to die as a strong easterly wind blew through North Street and prevented the fire from taking hold.

Gunpowder, set around the fire to speed proceedings, exploded but only scorched Hamilton’s face and hands. A baker is reported to have run to fetch straw to kindle the flames.

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The PH cobbles, marking the spot where Hamilton was executed

At one point, as Hamilton suffered in the smouldering fire an onlooker implored him to convert. He answered “I pray you come forward and testify the truth of your religion by putting your little finger into this fire, in which I am burning with my whole body”.

To Friar Campbell he called out: “Wicked man! thou knowest it is the truth of God for which I now suffer. So much thou didst confess unto me in private, and thereupon I appeal thee to answer before the judgment-seat of Christ.”

Near the end of the execution a voice in the crowd shouted to Hamilton that, if he still had faith in his teachings, he should give a sign. Hamilton raised three fingers and held them up until he died: ‘roasted rather than burned’ (ustulatus magis quam combustus) as an eyewitness later wrote.

Hamilton’s death, rather than eradicating the theology of Martin Luther from Scotland, inspired further agitation for Church reform. Knox records that a certain John Lindsey said to Archbishop Beaton:

“My Lord, if you burn any more, unless you heed my words you will utterly destroy yourselves: If you will burn them, let them be burnt in deep cellars, for the smoke of Master Patrick Hamilton has infected as many as it blew upon.”