IT’S not surprising that the Lord Advocate responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Covenanters was dubbed Bluidy Mackenzie.

Sir George Mackenzie also defended the use of torture to extract confessions, yet his attitude towards “witches” appeared to be more liberal than his contemporaries and he actually defended a woman called Maevia who was alleged to be a witch.

It is, in fact, rather ironic that Mackenzie has been a source of many tales of the occult, despite remaining immune to the witchhunt fever that once swept Scotland.

Before he was laid to rest in Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard, witnesses maintained his coffin moved by itself in protest at being placed in a mausoleum next to the former Covenanters’ prison where hundreds of people perished under his jurisdiction.

He is now said to haunt the graveyard, with one ghost hunter convinced the “Mausoleum Poltergeist” attacked him and left him covered in “burning red scratches”.

The mausoleum was back in the news last week after it was apparently opened by ghouls and the remains disturbed.

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It is not the first time it has been tampered with, as two teenagers broke into it in 2003 and played with Mackenzie’s skull.

Their subsequent trial drew widespread interest as the boys were charged with ancient legislation last used in the prosecution of Edinburgh’s notorious body snatchers of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was the first time for over 100 years that anyone had been accused of “violation of sepulchre”.

“I remember dusting down one book in the library and it stated that ordinarily the sentence ought to be imprisonment with hard labour, but in aggravated cases the prisoner should be sentenced to transportation,” Richard Goddard QC, the lawyer defending one of the boys, said afterwards.

Judge Lord Wheatley called the crime “revolting” but gave the culprits probation rather than transportation which was, in any case, only open to courts until the 1850s.

Before the 2003 break-in, a homeless man had tried to shelter in the mausoleum in 1999 but fell through the floor. The hole can still be seen today.

It’s an inglorious legacy for a man once regarded as “the brightest man in the nation” and who founded the Library of the Faculty of Advocates.

Born in Dundee, he was the son of Sir Simon Mackenzie of Lochslin and Elizabeth Bruce, whose father, the Rev Peter Bruce, was minister of St Leonard’s in St Andrews and Principal of St Leonard’s Hall at the University of St Andrews.

Highly intelligent, Mackenzie was educated at Aberdeen University’s King’s College, the University of St Andrews, and the University of Bourges in France.

Taking up a career in the law, he was elected to the Faculty of Advocates in 1659 and, intriguingly in light of his subsequent actions, defended Covenanter Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll in 1661.

The defence failed, Campbell was executed and his head afterwards displayed on a spike outside St Giles Kirk.

Mackenzie then became Justice-Depute and was involved in witch trials, where he considered many of the accused to be harmless old women.

He was an MP for the County of Ross and became Lord Advocate in 1677 when his ruthless side came to the fore in his dealings with the Covenanters.

At the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, the Covenanters were defeated and over 1000 taken prisoner and held in a field beside Greyfriars Kirkyard. It made a tragically appropriate makeshift prison as it was actually where the Covenanting Movement properly began with the signing of the National Covenant in 1638. This was a pledge to preserve Presbyterianism after Charles I tried to impose his rule on the Scottish Kirk.

Some have called that prison the “world’s first concentration camp” because the prisoners were badly fed and left to die of cold and starvation. Others drowned after being loaded onto a slave ship that sank in a storm.

Mackenzie’s cruel jurisdiction ended when James VII was deposed in 1688 and the Stuart dynasty ended with the arrival of William of Orange.

Mackenzie escaped censure from the Protestant throne by retiring.

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A well-educated man with a literary bent, he published Aretina in 1660, which has been called the first Scottish novel, and wrote essays as well as political and legal books.

His Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal (1678) was the first textbook of Scottish criminal law. Mackenzie said the use of judicial torture was legal and added that it was seldom used, but Charles II authorised its use against William Spence, secretary to the Earl of Argyll despite the reservations of the Scottish Privy Council.

Married twice, Mackenzie had eight children, although only four daughters survived him after his death at Westminster in 1691.

His nickname Bluidy Mackenzie appears in Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian and he now forms part of the capital city’s ghost lore with generations of schoolchildren dared to venture to the mausoleum’s door to chant: “Bluidy Mackenzie, come oot if ye daur, draw the sneck and lift the bar”.

His more reputable legacy is the Library of the Faculty of Advocates which he intended to be a collection of legal works but which soon began to collect wider genres of material not long after its establishment.