Fireside stories

Corstorphine Old Parish Church, near Edinburgh. Courtesy of

As a kind of sequel to my post on “kinbot,” the medieval Scottish practice of making amends after slaying a kinsman, I can offer two stories of Livingston family murderesses … and the very different impression their acts made upon their contemporaries. The first took place more than a century after Sir John Bruce was “slaughtered” by his Menteith kinsmen and concerns the Livingstons of Dunipace, from which family the Rev. John Livingston’s mother was descended. At the turn of the seventeenth century, Sir John Livingston of Dunipace experienced

“a domestic infliction of the most tragic character, … arising out of the family mettlesome temperament, as it was his daughter Jean,[1] a young, high-spirited, and beautiful woman, who consented to the murder, by her servants, of her brutal husband, John Kincaid of Warristoun, on the night of the first of July 1600. So quick was her trial and condemnation that she was executed four days later, being beheaded by the ‘Maiden,’ the Scottish forerunner of the guillotine, while her nurse was burned alive at the stake. The groom, who with the nurse actually committed the murder, escaped for a time, but was captured four years afterwards and broken on the wheel. This sad event gave rise to the ballad called ‘The Laird of Warristoun,’ in which Jean’s father is described as ‘The Great Dunipace.’” King James VI, fond of all members of that family which had served his mother in exile, endeavored “to console the grief-stricken father [by a visit to] the ‘place of Dunipace’ during the year following this tragedy.”[2]

A history of the Bruce and Comyn families mentions Jean’s kinsman the Rev. Robert Bruce – “doubly her pastor, being the chief minister of Edinburgh, while Dunipace was part of the parish in which his own home was situated” – “to whom he acted a father’s part, when abandoned in her last agonies of mind and body by her own father and all her friends. For her, and with her, he sorrowed and prayed incessantly during the last three days of her miserable existence, and brought her to earnest repentance and full confession of her crime.”[3]

"For her, and with her, he sorrowed and prayed incessantly during the last three days of her miserable existence..."

Jean shared a great-grandfather with John Livingston’s mother Agnes, her second cousin. Jean’s line was the one that retained Dunipace, an estate that great-grandfather (a lord of session as Lord Dunipace) had built up with his father. These Livingstons were also descended from Lord Dunipace’s marriage to Elizabeth Hepburn, and they had made a series of good marriages into other established families.

Agnes Livingston of Falkirk was the granddaughter of Lord Dunipace’s illegitimate (and favorite) son, Thomas Livingston of the Halls of Airth: it was this line that became respectable merchants in Falkirk. Agnes, by her marriage to her cousin the Rev. William Livingston of Monyabroch (and later Lanark), added a third Livingston line to the two from which William was descended.

Jean Livingston’s trial and execution occurred shortly before Agnes and William were married, and must have formed a difficult topic of conversation. One wonders how these two pious young people viewed their cousin and her crime.

Three quarters of a century later another Livingston cousin murdered her uncle, and there was no question about her guilt: she stabbed him to death quite publicly at his house in the country.[4] The connection here is slightly more roundabout, and goes through families with other names. On the other hand, it must have made a tremendous splash, with ripples visible to John Livingston’s children in Edinburgh – and perhaps as far away as Albany, New York.

Three quarters of a century later another Livingston cousin murdered her uncle, and there was no question about her guilt: she stabbed him to death quite publicly at his house in the country.

Christian Hamilton of Grange was the daughter of Christian Forrester, a daughter of George, 1st Lord Forrester, and Christian Livingston, daughter of Sir William Livingston of Kilsyth. The Forrester peerage had a complicated series of remainder clauses, and in time Lord Forrester disinherited his elder surviving daughters (who were co-heiresses after their brother’s death) in favor of the husbands of the two youngest, Joanna and Lilias, who had married brothers.[5]

These Baillie brothers, the 2nd and de jure 3rd Lords Forrester, were also Livingstons, as their parents were General William Baillie and Janet Bruce, daughter of Sir William Bruce of Stenhouse, 1st Baronet, whose uncle was the Rev. Robert Bruce and whose paternal grandmother was Janet (Livingston), Lady Bruce.[6] The 2nd Lord Forrester, with no surviving children from his Forrester wife, had remarried following her death, and the children of that marriage chose to be known by their mother’s family name of Ruthven.

Christian Hamilton, who had married James Nimmo, an Edinburgh merchant, was also having an affair with her uncle, Lord Forrester: “Mrs. Nimmo was a woman of violent temper, and having quarreled with Lord Forrester, she, on 26 August 1679, stabbed him, it is said, with his own sword, in the garden of Corstorphine. He died immediately, and she was speedily captured and put in prison. On the 29 September she succeeded in escaping, but on the next day was again taken; and on 12 November was executed at the Cross of Edinburgh.”[7]

The editor of A Memorial of the Conversion of Jean Livingston, reviewing other infamous murders, notes an earlier observation that “‘Mistris Bedford, who murdered her husband, was this Mistris Nimmo’s cousin german [i.e., first cousin], and of the family of [Hamilton of] Grange; and they say that Lady Warriston, who about 100 years ago strangled [sic] her husband Kincaid of Wariston, she was of the same family’ – which might be true on the maternal side, though it does not appear in any pedigree that I have consulted.”[8] The two women are connected through the Livingstons: both descend from Sir John Livingston of Callendar, who died in 1402.[9]

Christian Nimmo’s grandmother, the wife of the 1st Lord Forrester, was a third cousin of the Rev. John Livingston, and the daughter of the contemporary head of the Livingstons of Kilsyth: John Livingston would certainly have known who Lady Forrester was, even if he did not necessarily know her granddaughter. For that matter, John Livingston’s progeny might not have known of their cousin Christian Nimmo as such … but presumably the scandal of the murder, followed by Mrs. Nimmo’s trial and execution, would have been well-known to them.


[1] An edifying account of the case was published as A Memorial of the Conversion of Jean Livingston, Lady Waristoun, with an account of her carriage at her execution, July 1600 (Edinburgh, 1827).

[2] Edwin Brockholst Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar and Their Principal Cadets: The History of an Old Stirlingshire Family (Edinburgh: Printed at the University Press by T. and A. Constable for the author, 1920), 348-49.

[3] M. E. Cumming Bruce, Family Records of the Bruces and the Cumyns… (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1870), 361, 360. Robert Bruce’s mother was a daughter of the 5th Lord Livingston.

[4] See “Christian Nimmo: An Edinburgh Fireside Story,” in Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, 29 September 1838, 283-84, for a full account.

[5] Her half-brother would become the 1st Viscount Kilsyth (Livingston, The Livingstons of Callendar, 224, 225, 230); Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage…, 9 vols. (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1904-14), 4: 90-93.

[6] Cumming Bruce, Family Records of the Bruces and the Cumyns, 321, 322, 350, 382.

[7] Paul, The Scots Peerage, 4: 93.

[8] A Memorial of the Conversion of Jean Livingston, iv-v.

[9] The Menteith brothers, who slew Sir John Bruce, were also descended from Sir John Livingston of Callendar.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward