Greyfriars Kirkyard is the graveyard surrounding Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is located at the southern edge of the Old Town, adjacent to George Heriot’s School. Burials have been taking place since the late 16th century, and a number of notable Edinburgh residents are interred at Greyfriars. The Kirkyard is operated by City of Edinburgh Council in liaison with a charitable trust, which is linked to but separate from the church.
Greyfriars takes its name from the Franciscan friary on the site, which was dissolved in 1559. The churchyard was founded in 1561/2, to replace the churchyard at St Giles, which was considered full. A record from the Town Council records for 23 April 1561 reads:
Because it is thought correct that there should be no more burials within the church [ie St Giles], and because that kirkyard is not thought to have sufficient room for burying the dead, and taking into consideration the smell and inconvenience in the heat of summer, it would be provided [by the council] that a burial place be made further from the middle of town, such as in Greyfriars yard, and the same [should be] built up and made secure
The Kirkyard was involved in the history of the Covenanters. The Covenanting movement began with signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Kirk on 28 February 1638. Following the defeat of the militant Covenanters at Bothwell Brig in 1679, some 1200 Covenanters were imprisoned in a field to the south of the churchyard. When, in the 18th century, part of this field was amalgamated into the churchyard as vaulted tombs the area became known as the “Covenanters’ Prison”.
During the early days of photography in the 1840s the kirkyard was used by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson as a setting for several portraits and tableaux such as The Artist and The Gravedigger.
The graveyard is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who guarded his master’s grave. Bobby’s headstone at the entrance to the Kirkyard, erected by the Dog Aid Society in 1981, marks his actual burial place in an unconsecrated patch of the Kirkyard – a peculiarity which has led to many misunderstandings and fictions about his burial. The dog’s statue is opposite the graveyard’s gate, at the junction of George IV Bridge and Candlemaker Row. The grave of Edinburgh police officer John Gray, where the dog famously slept for 13 years, lies on the eastern path, some 30m north of the entrance. The stone is modern, the grave originally being unmarked. Newer researchs suggest that this story is a myth.
Enclosed vaults are found mainly on the south edge of the graveyard and in the “Covenanters’ Prison”. These either have solid stone walls or iron railings and were created as a deterrent to grave robbing, which had become a problem in the eighteenth century. Greyfriars also has two low ironwork cages, called mortsafes. These were leased, and protected bodies for long enough to deter the attentions of the early nineteenth century resurrection men who supplied Edinburgh Medical College with corpses for dissection.
Notable monuments include the Martyr’s Monument, which remembers executed Covenanters. The Italianate monument to Sir George Mackenzie was designed by the architect James Smith, and modelled on the Tempietto di San Pietro, designed by Donato Bramante. Duncan Ban MacIntyre’s memorial was renovated in 2005, at a cost of about £3,000, raised by a fundraising campaign of over a year. The monument of John Byres of Coates, 1629, was one of last works of the royal master mason William Wallace.
The Greyfriars Cemetery is reputedly haunted. One such haunt is attributed to the restless spirit of the infamous ‘Bloody’ George Mackenzie buried there in 1691. The ‘Mackenzie Poltergeist’ is said to cause bruising, bites and cuts on those who come into contact with it and many visitors have reported feeling strange sensations. A schoolboy, hiding in the vault to escape a beating from a master at George Heriot’s School, supposedly got trapped here and lost his mind on being confronted by the ghost. Visitors who take a ghost tour, which has access to the Covenanters’ Prison, have reportedly emerged with injuries they have no recollection of sustaining. Even more interestingly, a number of deaths have taken place in the Kirkyard itself. The television show Scariest Places on Earth featured Greyfriars Cemetery.
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton (d.1581), Regent of Scotland
George Buchanan (d.1582), historian and reformer
Alexander Henderson (d.1646), churchman and statesman
John Mylne (1611–1667), mason and architect
Sir George Mackenzie (1636–1691), Lord Advocate
Mary Erskine (1629–1708), founder of The Mary Erskine School
Archibald Pitcairne (1652–1713), physician
William Carstares (1649–1715), churchman and statesman
George Watson (1654–1723), accountant and founder of George Watson’s College
Colonel Francis Charteris (1675-1732), notorious rake and member of the “Hell-fire” club
Captain John Porteous (c.1695–1736), soldier and lynching victim
Colin MacLaurin (1698–1746), mathematician
Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden (1685 – 1747), politician and judge.
William Adam (1689–1748), architect
Thomas Ruddiman (1674–1757), classical scholar and grammarian
Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), poet
James Stirling (1692-1770), mathematician
William Robertson D.D. (1721–1793), historian
James Craig (1739–1795), architect and designer of Edinburgh’s New Town
James Hutton (1726–1797), geologist
Joseph Black (1728–1799), physician
Duncan Ban MacIntyre (1724–1812), Gaelic poet
William Creech (1745–1815), bookseller
Henry Mackenzie (1745–1831), writer and author of The Man of Feeling
Thomas McCrie (1772–1835), historian
Major General William Farquhar, (c.1770–1839) 1st Resident of Singapore
William Wallace (1768-1843), mathematician
William McGonagall (1825–1902), poet (unmarked grave)