The Porteous Riots

The Porteous Riots as they were known, came about in 1736 after the execution of Edinburgh merchant Andrew Wilson.

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Heart of Midlothian by Mike McBey, CC-BY 2.0: https://bit.ly/2zVq74o

The Auld Toun Blog explores Edinburgh’s stories and gives updates about our latest news.

The Porteous Riots as they were known, came about in 1736 after the execution of Edinburgh merchant Andrew Wilson. He was a smuggler who also helped a friend escape from the law at the Tolbooth Prison on the Royal Mile.

After the Union with England, tax and excise duties heavily increased. The general public were quite sympathetic to smugglers, who could also be viewed as rebellious Scottish patriots.

After Wilson was hung, a riot broke out and the city guard fired shots at the crowd, killing and wounding about 30 people. Captain Porteous was responsible for giving the order. He was also sentenced to death but Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, gave him a reprieve.

This did not go down well with the Edinburgh public. On September 7, an armed body of men broke into the prison, where Porteous was held, seized him and hung him from a signpost. Walter Scott provides a fictional account of the aftermath in his novel The Heart of Midlothian.

Porteous is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. There is a plaque to the Porteous Riots in Grassmarket.

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