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Biggar and the House of Fleming
Chapter X. - The Presbytery of Biggar


THE Presbytery of Lanark was originally composed of twenty-one parishes. About the year 1640 an agitation was set on foot to constitute a new Presbytery, the seat of which should be at Biggar, and which should consist of eight parishes in the Upper Ward connected with the Presbytery of Lanark, and four in Tweeddale connected with the Presbytery of Peebles. At the General Assembly in 1641, John Lord Fleming, who was the representative elder for Biggar parish, presented a petition in favour of this scheme, which was referred to the visitation of the bounds. The agitation was still kept up; and at the General Assembly which met at Edinburgh in August 1643 the subject was amply discussed; and after due trial, and the hearing of all parties, it was resolved to erect the new Presbytery, and to grant to it full power of jurisdiction, the exercise of discipline, and all the liberties and privileges belonging to any other Presbytery. At the same time, it was agreed that the formal establishment, or, as it was called, the entry and possession, of the new Presbytery, should be suspended during the pleasure of the General Assembly. Principal Baillie says that this was done 1 because of my Lord Fleming’s small affection to the common cause.’ The meaning of this most likely is, that by this time his Lordship had deserted the cause of Presbytery, and gone over to the side of the King and Episcopacy. The ministers and elders of the parishes embraced in the new Presbytery presented a petition to the General Assembly which met at Edinburgh in June 1644, craving that the reverend court should without further delay constitute the Presbytery. This supplicatioun being read in audience of the General Assembly, and thereafter the Commissioners from the Presbyteries of Lanark and Peebles personally present being at length heard, in what they could say or allege therein ; And the said supplicatioun and desire thereof with the alledgiances and objections made against the samine being taken into consideration by the Assembly, and they therewith being fully and ripely advised, the Assembly, after removing of the parties, and after consideration of the premisses and voycing of the foresaid desire, Ordaines the entrie and possessione of the foresaid Presbyterie of Biggar, consisting of the particular kirks above mentioned, to begin now presently; And appoints and ordaines all the ministers and ruling elders of the forsaid kirks above specified, whereof the said Presbytery consists, to meet and convene with all conveniencie at the said Kirk of Biggar, which is the place and seat of the samine Presbyterie ; And the Assembly refers to the Commissioners, to be appointed by them for the public affairs of the Kirk, to determine to what Synod this the said new erected Presbyterie shall be subordinate, as also to prescribe the order and solemnities that shall be necessar for entering and possessing the ministers and elders in the. said Presbyterie.’

The following are the names of the clergymen who, along with a ruling elder from each parish, formed the Presbytery of Biggar at its institution in 1644:—Thomas Campbell, Biggar; Robert Brown, Broughton; Alexander Somervail, Dolphinton; Kenneth Logie, Skirling; George Bennet, Quothquan; Andro Gudlatt, Symington; John Currie, Coulter; Robert Elliot, Kilbucho; William Dickson, Glen-holm; Thomas Lindsay, Walston; and George Ogstoun, Covington. The Kirk of Wandel and Lamington was at the time vacant, and one of the earliest cases that came before the new Presbytery was a dispute regarding the settlement of this parish. The previous incumbent, Mr James Baillie, died in 1642 ; and a violent controversy arose between Douglas, Earl of Angus, proprietor of Wandel, and Sir William Baillie, proprietor of Lamington, as to which of them had the right to appoint a successor. As they could come to no agreement, both of them exercised the right of patronage. Baillie presented John Currie, and Douglas, Andrew M‘Ghie. The case came before the Presbytery of Lanark, and afterwards before the higher ecclesiastical courts. A decision was given in favour of Douglas, and consequently ofM'Ghie. The Presbytery of Lanark having, accordingly, appointed M‘Ghie to preach before the people of Lamington in March 1644, the Lady of Lamington, aided by several other women, took possession of the pulpit in a tumultuous manner, and prevented the presentee from obtaining an entrance, and, of course, a hearing,—her Ladyship stoutly declaring, ‘that no dog of the house of Douglas should ever bark there.’

This was too heinous an offence to be lightly passed over by the divines of the Lanark Presbytery. They lodged a complaint against the lady and her abettors with the Privy Council; and the consequence was, that a decree was issued, commanding the accused to enter their persons in ward in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. This was accordingly done; and they remained in confinement till a fine imposed on them of 1000 merks was paid to the Lanark Presbytery. The members of this court were not yet satisfied. They wished her Ladyship to appear before them, and make a public expression of her deep contrition for an offence ‘ so scandalous for the present, and so dangerous for the time to come.’ Before this part of the case could be finally disposed of, the Presbytery of Biggar was formed, and the Lady of Lamington was now within its jurisdiction. The Presbytery of Lanark desired that her Ladyship and the other delinquents should be sent by the Presbytery of Biggar to Lanark to make atonement before the court, the authority of which she had violated. After much altercation, the answer of the Biggar Presbytery was, 'That they would do nothing of that kind till they should receive a pairt of the soume lately determined by the Council to the Presbytery of Lanark.’ The ground on which this claim was made, was that several members of the Biggar Presbytery had, while members of the Lanark Presbytery, expended money in prosecuting the case.

The Presbytery of Biggar itself resolved to deal with the Lamington ladies; and, accordingly, they were cited to appear before it on the 25th December 1644. The minute of that date states, ‘ This day compeired the Ladie Lammingtoune; and being accused of ane scan-dell committed be her in ye Kirk of LammingtouD by her resisting and stopping of Andro M‘Ghie (expectant sent yr be ye Presbyterie of Lanark), who came yr upon ye Lord’s day to preach, schoe did confesse the samyn resistance, bot withal did solemnlie protest that she had no ill intention, neither any thocht either to profane God’s Sabbath or house, or to hinder preaching, bot onlie schoe satt. and stayed Mr Andro to enter ye pulpitt, and went into the samyn, onlie for fear of losing her husband’s richt (he being absent for the tyme in England in the publick service), or for fear of some ill or greater inconvenience which might have fallen furth. And notwithstanding whairof, yett was content to refer herself to ye Presbyterie to mak satisfactione as they pleased. Whairupon the Presbyterie, after dewe advyse, did ordaine her, the next Lord’s day, in her awin kirk, and in her ordinary saitt, to confess her fault, and in most humble manner * to crave pardon, when schoe suld be called upon be the preacher efter his sermon. And being also desyred to delaite these who were her helpers and attendants in the said resistance, schoe did declare ingenuously upon her conscience that none of all her folkes did stirre, or move out of yr places, except two, who went to the pulpitt doore with her, to witt, Catherine and Jennet Bailyie. Whairenent the Presbytery having called in ye wholl summoned persones, -did absolve them except these two, whom they enjoined to mak yr public repentance, the same day and place, and in manner foresaid. And to that effect did ordaine Mr Thomas Lyndsay to preach yr ye said day, and receive the confessiones and testification es of the repentance of ye said offenders, and to report ye next day.’ The report given in at next meeting of Presbytery was, that the Lamington ladies had in every respect complied with the sentence of the Presbytery.

Andro M‘Ghie, after all, was not settled at Lamington. He seems to have withdrawn; and John Crawford, another nominee of the Earl of Angus, was settled in that parish on the 11th of August 1645. On that day, it is recorded that possession and collation were given to this gentleman, by the Presbytery handing him the key of the kirk-door, going to the manse and putting out the fire of the former occupants, and 4bigging on a fjfre for the said Mr John,' and by delivering ‘eard and stane ’ in the manse, yard, and glebe land, lying within the barony of Wandel.

One of the most notable proceedings of the Presbytery was the visitation of the churches within its bounds. This was conducted in a most searching and inquisitorial manner. After the minister of the parish to which the visit was paid had preached a sermon, he was removed, and the elders were called in one by one, and strictly interrogated if their pastor preached sound doctrine; if he was painful in preaching twice on Sabbath and once on a week-day; if he regularly visited his parishioners, and particularly the sick; if he kept up family worship in his own household, and enjoined it on others, etc. The elders were then removed, and the pastor himself was called in, and questioned if he had any complaint to make regarding his elders, or the state of the kirk and parish. The answers elicited on these occasions involved not merely the Presbytery, but the inhabitants of a parish, in a great amount of vexation and trouble. When the members of Presbytery once entered on a case, they were most indefatigable in searching out every particular regarding it, and most inexorable in exacting due homage to their authority and laws. During these visitations, we find that John Currie of Coulter had complaints to make regarding the ruinous condition of his kirk and kirkyard dykes. George Bennet of Quothquan was annoyed at the enmity that prevailed between his parishioners in Libberton and Quothquan, the Libbertonians refusing point blank to attend religious ordinances in the Kirk of Quothquan. Robert Brown of Broughton had accusations brought against him for having advised Sir David Murray of Stan hope to join Montrose. William Dickson of Glenholm 1 regraitted ’ that his kirk was in bad condition, and that the kirkyard was likely to be carried away with the water. George Ogstoun of Covington was offended because Sir Francis Douglas had buried a child in his kirk. Andro Gudlatt of Symington was blamed that he preached doctrine noways edifying; that he delivered only one discourse on Sabbath; that he did not introduce the ‘Directorie’ in proper time; that he had baptized a child at Biggar without knowing whether it was dead or alive; that he had failed to repair his manse, which is described as being ‘as base as a cottar’s house;’ and that he was puffed up with self-pride. And Kenneth Logie of Skirling complained that he did not receive the amount of stipend to which he was entitled.

Another point on which the members of Presbytery were most exacting, was the visitation and catechizing of families. They drew up a set of regulations and questions, which were first to be expounded from the pulpit, and then used when the pastor went from house to house. The principal points into which he was to make inquiry were, if the family made prayers morning and evening; if the Lord’s day was properly observed, by prayer, reading the Scriptures, attending religious ordinances, and abstaining from frequenting common inns, from lascivious, worldly, and idle conversation, from feeing - servants, or making any kind of merchandise; if every household had a Bible and a psalm-book, and every member of it could read; if any scandalous persons were in the family, and, if there were, to report them to the kirk session; and, lastly, if all the social duties of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, were duly observed.

Another subject which engaged the attention of the Presbytery, in 1645, was the introduction of the ‘Directory for Public Worship.’ This was readily adopted by the Presbytery, and all the members began to introduce it in the month of August of that year, having first read and expounded it to the people of %tlie several parishes from the pulpit. The only exception was Andro Gudlatt of Symington, who thus justified himself when called on by his brethren to explain his conduct: ‘lie thocht it best,’ he said, ‘to delay and not to be over sudden, until he did see a farther settling, for he feared changes; and if the King should prevail and bring in Bishops, they wold call us false knaves, and say we wold turn to any thing, and not spair to embrace ye masse.’ This reply gave the brethren great offence, and led, with other delinquencies, to the suspension of the ‘holy brother.’

The whole of Britain, at the time at which the Presbytery of Biggar was formed, was in a very disturbed state, in consequence of the war between Charles I. and a portion of his subjects, and in Scotland particularly by the campaigns of Montrose. The members of Presbytery were alternately swayed by hopes and fears. They held solemn days of thanksgiving for the victory of Fairfax in Northamptonshire, the capture of the town of Newcastle by the Scots army, and the defeat of Montrose at Philiphaugh by General Leslie. On the other hand, they had to fast and mourn for the triumphs of Montrose, and the invasion and victories of Cromwell. After the battle of Kilsyth, five of them fled from their manses and their flocks altogether, and the meetings of Presbytery were suspended for two months, which is termed a ‘long vacancie occasioned be the insolencie of ye barbarious enemie approaching to this parte of ye countrie.’ No sooner was Montrose defeated at Philiphaugh, and all apprehensions of immediate danger were removed, than the fugitives came out of their hiding-places, and returned to their charges. They now assumed a vast amount of courage; and in order to cover the disgrace of their retreat, they had the audacity to take to task those who kept their posts and boldly faced the danger. The minute on this subject is so interesting and amusing, that it must be quoted entire. The day on which this trial took place was the 15th October 1645. ‘This day ye Presbyterie took tryell of the breether’s carriage, who had stayed at home, and not fled ye tyme of the enemie’s abode in thir quarteris, after this manner,—first, ye said breether (being saxe in number, to witt, Robert Brown, William Dickson, Andro Gudlatt, George Ogstoun, George Bennet, and Thomas Lindsay) being desyred to answer certain queries, did give satisfactorie answers yrunto, as I. if they did sie James Graham in his Leaguer—the answer negative, II. if they had socht or received protection from the enemie—the answer negative ; HI. if they did preach and pray against the enemies of God’s Kirk and these wicked men—the answer was affirmative, every one of them remembering his text of Scripture and sundry of the doctrines, whilk the Presbyterie did consider was to the purpose and a clear evidence of yr honestie and good affectione; IIII. if they had bocht any plundered gear—yr answer was negative; V. if they did blame thair breether for fiieing—yr answer negative; VI. if both in privat and publick they had dissuaded yr people from compliance with ye enemy—yr answer wes that they did so; VIL if they had read or caused read James Grahame’s orders—the answer was negative: Next, because they willingly did offer themselves to any tryell: And lastly, in respect the voyce of the countrie was, that they carried themselves both honestly and courageously, therefore the Presbyterie were satisfied with them, and every one giving praise to God, did rejoice one with another.

From repeated expressions in the records of the Presbytery, we might infer that the army of Montrose visited the Biggar district. The members talk of 4 ye approach of ye barbarous enemie to this part of ye countrie,’ and inquire what the carriage of each other was during 1 ye tyme of ye enemies’ abode in ye countrie,*—if ‘ they bocht any plundered geir’ from the soldiers, and if they saw Montrose, or James Graham, as they invariably call him, in his leaguer. These statements, 4 though not entirely explicit, would yet seem to indicate that Montrose’s army had come nearer the Upper Ward than the camp or leaguer established at Bothwell, which was about thirty miles distant. We can, however, find no account in any history that Montrose’s army, or even a detachment of it, visited the Biggar district, either during the time the chief leaguer was maintained at Bothwell, or during the march to the south of Scotland previous to the battle of Philiphaugh.

It was one of the lamentable results of the unhappy contentions which at that time prevailed, that the Presbyterian clergy resolved to regard certain political opinions and actions as ecclesiastical offences. Malignancy, or an adherence to the cause of Royalty, was held by them to be one of the most grievous delinquencies, and they set themselves with uncommon zeal to ferret out every person in their respective parishes that, by word or deed, could in the least degree be regarded as leaning to the side of their Sovereign. The Presbytery was divided into sections, each consisting of two or three parishes, and in these a most thorough search was made for malignants. This brought the members of Presbytery into collision with the local gentry, most of whom were attached to Montrose and the cause of Royalty. The most notable offenders on whom they pounced were—

Sir David Murray, Gideon Murray, John Weir, and John Lauder, of Broughton; Sir Francis Douglas of Covington; Christopher Baillie of Walston; John Baillie of St John’s Kirk; Thomas Sommerville and Alexander Rodger of Quothquan; John Brown of Coultermains; and William Lindsay of Birthwood, and his son Andrew. All of these persons were in the end forced to appear before the Presbytery, to acknowledge their offence, and to crave pardon.

It is interesting to note that the members of Presbytery, on the morning of the 5th of September 1650, hastened to Biggar, without any previous concert, but every one of his own accord. They found the town in a sad state of uproar. This was occasioned by the arrival of news of the defeat of the Scots army at Dunbar. After calling on the name of the Lord, the Presbytery appointed next day to be observed as a day of solemn fasting and humiliation for the sins of the land, and the manifestations of divine displeasure which had afflicted the people. Nearly a hundred years afterwards, the Presbytery appointed Tuesday, the 10th of September 1745, as a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation for the abuse of the long-continued peace, and the gross immorality and wickedness of all ranks; ‘ recommending it withall to the several ministers to warn their people of their present danger from a Jacobite party at home and a popish power abroad, to maintain their loyalty to our present Sovereign King George and his royal family, and to adhere to our present happy constitution, both in Church and State.’ The whole members of Presbytery, as elsewhere stated, left their livings in 1662, rather than comply with ‘a tyrant’s and a bigot’s bloody laws.’

For some time after the Revolution, the Presbyteries of Biggar« and Peebles held their meetings conjointly. The members were few, and they had no fixed place of meeting. We find that they assembled at Biggar, Peebles, Kilbucho, Kirkurd, Linton, but most frequently at the Hills of Dunsyre, a place previously occupied by the famous preacher, Mr William Veitch, who, after the Revolution, was settled for some time at Peebles. James Donaldson of Dolphinton, and Anthony Murray of Coulter, are the only members of the Biggar Presbytery that appear to have survived the storms of twenty-eight years’ persecution, and to have been restored to their pulpits after they had been vacated by the hated curates. In a few years these aged divines were also removed, so that shortly after the close of the seventeenth century we find the Presbytery composed of entirely new incumbents.

The records of the Presbytery are contained in fourteen volumes. In the early part they are very imperfect, whole years’ transactions being altogether awanting. The period from 1650 to 1660 is a blank, and so is also the period between 1662 and 1688. For a number of years after the Revolution, they are of a very abbreviated character; but from the commencement of last century they are of ample extent, and complete.


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