Don’t try this at home

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re interested in classic legal defences, you might like this one.

I’m very sorry about burning the cathedral to the ground. I only did it because I thought the bishop was inside at the time.”

(Alexander Stewart, at his trial for burning down Elgin Cathedral in 1390.)

This being Scottish history, the full story is reasonably colourful. Alexander Stewart was Earl of Buchan, and was later known as the Wolf of Badenoch. He had not only burnt down Elgin Cathedral, but a fair chunk of the town of Elgin, as well as Forres, during his feuds with Bishop Bur and others.

This being mediaeval Scottish law, his defence was reasonably successful; he had to do public penance and pay a fine. He kept a low profile during the next few years, though this might be because three of his sons were imprisoned for several years for killing Sir Walter Ogilvie and Walter de Lychton, plus a few of their followers.

Legal disclaimer: Don’t try this defence in court anywhere outside mediaeval Scotland. If you do, we disclaim all liability for the consequences.


There’s more about this story on Wikipedia:,_Earl_of_Buchan

And yes, we’re aware that the quote might be apocryphal, but given his character, we wouldn’t bet on that…

1 thought on “Don’t try this at home

  1. Pingback: How does marking work? | hyde and rugg

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