The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery - Here is the Dark History
The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History

The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History

Natasha sheldon - October 9, 2018

The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History
George MacKenzie. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Sir George MacKenzie

Somewhat ironically, Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh began his career defending Covenanter’s, not persecuting them. As a young advocate of twenty-four, Mackenzie cut his teeth in court defending a leading Covenanter the Marquis of Argyll against a charge of treason. He managed to have the Marquis acquitted of the charge- even though his own letters later damned the unfortunate nobleman. This case was not Mackenzie’s only judicial foray on the Covenanter’s behalf. Five years later, he successfully freed the Presbyterian prisoners taken after the battle of Rullion Green. However, this support was not to last.

MacKenzie had taken on the covenanter’s cases to make a name for himself in the courts- not from any sense of fellow feeling. However, once he had established himself as an advocate, there was no need to show off his skills defending hopeless cases anymore. So, Mackenzie was free to switch his allegiances back to where he felt more politically and religiously more at home: to the King and established Scottish church. Mackenzie began by making speeches against covenanters, gradually escalating to outright persecution.

The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History
Condemned Covenanters on Their Way to Execution in the West Bow, Edinburgh, by Thomas Allom. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Mackenzie’s canny move paid off. In 1677, he was appointed King’s Advocate for Charles II in Scotland. As such, Mackenzie was unstinting in his duty to hunt down and prosecute all Covenanters. He formed a partnership with Commander John Graham of Claverhouse, who rounded up the hapless dissenting Presbyterians and delivered them to Mackenzie who condemned them in court. It was Mackenzie who ordered the Covenanters be held in custody in Greyfriars cemetery, who sentenced five of their number to hang in the Grassmarket and who sent the majority of the rest to their doom in the transport to America.

Mackenzie, however eventually fell from grace. His descent began under James II of England/ VII Scotland when in 1686 he refused to abolish anti-catholic laws. However, it was well and truly finished off when William of Orange decided to rid himself of pro-Stuart clergymen in Scotland by handing religious control back to the Presbyterians MacKenzie had so enthusiastically persecuted. Mackenzie was forced to flee Scotland for England. He spent his last night in his homeland, amongst the graves of Greyfriars, mourning his fate.

However, Mackenzie returned to Greyfriars soon enough. In 1691 he died in Westminster, but his body returned over the border to Edinburgh, where it was buried in Greyfriars cemetery. Mackenzie’s last resting place was just meters from the location of the makeshift prison where so many of those he had persecuted died in misery and the spot where the national covenant was signed. His tomb, with its ornate dome and Corinthian columns, was perhaps the grandest in Greyfriars. It also quickly became one of the most notorious, earning the name, the Black Mausoleum.

The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History
“The Mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.” Picture Credit: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Black Mausoleum

The Black Mausoleum long had a reputation for being haunted. Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh records show local children in the nineteenth century believed that MacKenzie could never rest in his grave. Those brave enough would enter the graveyard at night and approach the tomb. Then they would shout through its keyhole:

“Bluidy Mackenzie, come out if ye daur, Lift the Sneck and draw the bar!”

It seems that if he was indeed lying restless in his tomb that was just where Bluidy Mackenzie was happy to stay. Until one late night in 1998 changed everything.

It was a night of heavy rain, and a local homeless man was looking for a dry place to sleep. Driven by desperation, he found himself outside the Black Mausoleum. The tomb was locked as usual. However, the man decided to explore- and found a drainage hole or ventilation point at the back that he was able to squeeze through. Once inside, the man made his way down into the tomb’s crypt where he found the coffins of George Mackenzie and his family.

The Mackenzie Poltergeist Terrorizes Visitors in Greyfriars Cemetery – Here is the Dark History
The site of the Covenantors Prison, Greyfriars Church Yard. Picture Credit: Bill Henderson. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Wondering if there was something inside one of the coffins he could use or sell, the desperate man began to prize one open. However, he lost his balance and part of the floor gave way beneath him- plunging him into an earlier burial pit full of moldering skeletons. Hysterical with shock and terror, the homeless man fled the scene, frightening a local dog walker into the bargain with his sudden exit from the tomb. Just one week later, the disturbances around the Black Mausoleum began.

The first victim was a casual female visitor who stopped to look at the Black Mausoleum. Suddenly she felt “blasted back by a cold force.” Before long, other visitors were reporting similar incidents. Some fainted inexplicably or suddenly felt ill or experienced a sense of great unease. Others came away with marks of bites and scratches- even bruises around their faces and necks after feeling a ‘touch’ in the afflicted area. In all, there have been 500-recorded incidents of the poltergeist’s attacks around the area of the Black Mausoleum and the nearby Covenanters prison.

The poltergeist’s activity has even spread, wiping out the home and possessions of one researcher into the phenomenon whose flat backed onto Greyfriars Cemetery just behind the tomb. Many people believe that the Poltergeist is the revived spirit of Judge Mackenzie, roused from an uneasy rest by the desecration of his grave. Others think the activity is a manifestation of hysterical energy, triggered by that night in 1998 and fed by subsequent visitors. Whatever its cause, the Mackenzie poltergeist has undoubtedly put Greyfriars on the ghost seekers map of Edinburgh- and kept the tragic history of the Covenanters and George Mackenzie in the public eye.


Where Do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

Edinburgh’s Most Haunted: Mackenzie Poltergeist, Gareth Edwards, Edinburgh Evening News, October 31, 2014

Who were the Covenanters? Scottish Covenanters Memorials Association.

Greyfriars Covenanters’ Prison, Scottish Covenanters Memorials Association.

Did You Know? – Covenanters, Rampant Scotland

The Ghost that Haunted Itself, Jan-Andrew Henderson, Mainstream Publishing 2001