James Douglas, the Edinburgh Cannibal

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In Scotland, any mention of cannibalism is eclipsed by Sawney Bean, who, according to legend, executed and devoured, along with his clan, a thousand people in the seventeenth century. Although historians do not consider it a real episode, it has inspired numerous books and films, such as The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977).


Sawney bean


However, Edinburgh did harbor its own dose of this macabre practice. They say that the eldest son of the Marquess of Queensberry, Duke James, had been born with some kind of dementia.

His family kept him locked in one of the rooms of the Queensberry residence, a historic building on the Royal Mile that now forms part of Parliament, so that no one would ever know the existence of the unhappy creature, of enormous strength and wild manners.


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In 1707, the Marquess of Queensberry was one of the personalities in signing the Treaty of Union. His actions against the interest of Scotland had made him a figure despised by the people, and on that hectic day he took with him all his entourage to protect him from the crowds.

Only two people remained in Queensberry: Duke James and a young ten-year-old servant, who was to guard the house. When the marquis and his entourage returned, they received a sinister image. James had escaped and, in a fit of madness, had dismembered and roasted the little boy at the stake and had begun to devour him, because, according to him, he was hungry and no one had prepared dinner for him.

The crime shook Scotland, and the duke remained locked in his room until his death.