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The History of Glasgow
Volume 2 - Chapter XXVIII - Alexander Burnet's First Archbishopric


HISTORIANS of the reign of Charles II. in Scotland appear to have taken hardly enough account of the formidable difficulties which then beset the Government. Wodrow in his manse at Eastwood, a few miles to the south of Glasgow, lived and wrote in the midst of the district most deeply obsessed by the traditions and spirit of the Covenanters. The collection of their tales, which he gathered from popular sources, had a tendency to assume somewhat undue importance to his mind, and to obscure the wider issues which had to be dealt with by the statesmen of that time. Wodrow was closely followed by Macaulay, who suffered further from his proclivity to make a picturesque and telling story at any cost, and to whom there- -d fore the highly-coloured popular legends of "Bluidy Claverhouse" and the "Christian carrier" offered more tempting material than any sober and balanced account of the general Scottish statecraft of the period, which might have been derived from official documents like the Register of the Privy Council. In this way, even to the present hour, the popular idea of the time of Charles II. in Scotland is almost wholly a picture of the sufferings of a persecuted peasantry in the south-western corner of the country, and offers no hint of difficult political problems of which these formed only a part.

There was, to begin with, the Navigation Act of 166o, which was being passed by the English Parliament when Charles once more set foot in the country. That Act struck a serious blow at the commerce and prosperity of Scotland. It ordained that no goods could be imported into or exported from England or any English colony except in English vessels or vessels of the place from which the goods were brought. Thus the ships of Scotland, no less than the ships of Holland and France, were prohibited from taking any part in the English colonial and foreign trade. [Act. Parl. 12, ch. ii. ch. 18.] It was this Act which, at a later day, wrought the ruin of the Darien Expedition, with the loss of half the capital of Scotland. Meanwhile the Scottish Parliament retaliated with a similar Act providing that foreign goods could only be imported into Scotland in Scottish vessels, or in vessels of the kingdom in which the goods were produced. [Act. Parl. 1661, ch. 277.] Trusting to this Act, the complaint ran, Glasgow merchants "hes gone about to expend the most parte of their fortunes for building of ships and advancing of trades," ten or twelve new vessels being put upon the water. But notwithstanding the Act certain foreigners, and especially Dutchmen, continued to import goods in Dutch vessels to the Clyde and other ports, and the Glasgow merchants were "lyk to be ruined." Two years later, accordingly, Parliament ratified its former Act, and directed the king's admiral to put it in force. [Act. Parl. 1663, ch. 8, vii, p. 454.]

Though they objected to the Dutch shipping, the shrewd Glasgow merchants were willing enough to avail themselves of Dutch skill in other ways. Thus in 1661 the Glasgow Fishing Company petitioned the Privy Council, and was allowed to take a Hollander into partnership in order to get the benefit of his knowledge of the Dutch method of curing fish. [Priv. Coun. Reg. 1st Oct. 1661.] The Town Council of Glasgow itself also in 1663 purchased in Holland a peal of bells for the steeple of the Merchants' House which was then just being finished in the "Briggate." [Burgh Records, iii. ii.]

As a matter of fact, Holland was then Scotland's best customer, and when, in consequence of Navigation Acts and other friction, war with that country was declared in 1664, the consequences were disastrous to the northern kingdom. The hardship was increased when 500 Scottish seamen were ordered to be impressed for the Royal Navy. Of these Glasgow was called upon to furnish ten. [Burgh Records, 15th Sept. 1664.]

In at least one episode of the war Glasgow sailors were to play their part with spirit.. A Glasgow vessel laden with sack, of which the provost, John Anderson, was part owner, was making its way to the Clyde, when it was attacked by a Dutch craft. Twelve Dutchmen boarded the vessel and ordered the crew below deck. The Scottish master, however, had no intention of giving up his ship without a struggle. He and his men made a counter attack on the assailants, and, after a great conflict, not only overcame the attackers, but captured the Dutch vessel itself and carried it in triumph into Greenock. [Priv, Coun. Reg. 15th Mar. 1667.] About the same time, in February 1667, a Glasgow merchant vessel of 300 tons carrying home a cargo of Spanish wines, was captured by a Dutch man-of-war. When, however, the Dutchman had set off in pursuit of another prize the Glasgow skipper brought up the larger part of his crew, whom he had concealed below, re-took his ship, and brought her triumphantly into Glasgow with twenty-two prisoners—the Dutch attacking party —on board. [London Gazette, 18th Feb. 1667.]

It can easily be understood that, amid the anxieties and risks of this foreign war, the king and the Privy Council which carried on the government in Scotland were peculiarly sensitive to signs of disaffection within the country, such as were shown by the implacable faction of Covenanters in the south-western counties. Charles could not, forget that it was these same people who, a generation previously, had given the first signal for the movement which brought about the overthrow and death of his father ; and, knowing personally the dour nature of the people, he cannot have been without a certain nervous apprehension that history might repeat itself. It was perhaps in view of such possibilities, and in order to forestall and prevent any movement of this kind that, on the death of Archbishop Fairfoul, the king appointed Alexander Burnet to the See of Glasgow.

Burnet was a member of a well-known family in the south of Scotland, and is said to have fled to England, to begin with, to escape signing the Covenant. He took orders in the English Church, and to the last remained a member of that communion. To avoid the Puritan domination in turn he seems to have fled to the continent, and at the Restoration was acting as chaplain to his relative, Lord Rutherford, then commanding at Dunkirk. In 1663 he was made Bishop of Aberdeen, and in January of the following year was promoted to the archiepiscopal See of Glasgow. His views of church government were of an advanced Laudian type; he hated Dissent, and at his first diocesan meeting he expelled some of the Presbyterian ministers whom Fairfoul had suffered to remain. His high-handed methods and ideas of clerical supremacy were still further shown by his treatment of the Glasgow magistracy. On learning the date of his consecration the Town Council courteously took considerable trouble and expense to send a deputation to escort him from Edinburgh to St. Andrews, and thence back to Edinburgh again and to Glasgow. [Burgh Records, iii. 27.] But at the next election of magistrates, without waiting for the usual leet to be submitted to him, he haughtily sent a messenger with the intimation that he desired a certain William Anderson to be made provost. On the council pointing out that `William Anderson was not even one of their number, and asking that the Archbishop should reconsider his choice and comply with precedent, he peremptorily refused, and the Town Council had perforce to accept the rebuff and install his nominee. [Burgh Records, iii. 40.]

A little later Burnet again put a pistol to the heads of the magistrates and council. He sent the council a letter stating that, after search, he found that several persons made a practice of absenting themselves from public worship. They flattered themselves, he declared, with hope of impunity, though he did not know whence their confidence sprang. He therefore thought it his duty to advertise the council that he intended, if that body did not forthwith exact the fines of the absentees, to employ the officers of His Majesty's militia, both to note the persons who withdrew from the ordinances, and to exact the penalties imposed by law. This, he pointed out, would not only be a punishment to the offenders, but a dishonour and loss to the town. The Town Council was much perturbed by this letter, and had it several times read, but after much deliberation concluded that it was better that they themselves should uplift the fines than have this done under their eyes by the military. They therefore, perforce, agreed to the archbishop's demand. [Burgh Records, iii. 71.]

A churchman of this type was not likely to smooth the way to reconciliation with the disaffected elements in the West of Scotland, themselves as implacable as himself, and when in April, 1664, Burnet was made a privy councillor by the king the Covenanters could look for nothing else than to feel the weight of a heavy hand. From the first he seems to have exerted a strong influence on the Council's deliberations, and within a year he was appointed preses for the time in the absence of Archbishop Sharp. It was not only the Covenanters who were subjected to severity. The Quakers and the Roman Catholics were both at that time also suspected of disaffection, and Burnet was appointed one of the commissioners to deal with them. [Priv. Coun. Reg. 24th Nov. 1664. Ibid. 30th July, 1667.]

The Privy Council had also to deal with labour troubles, which bore a curious likeness to labour troubles of the twentieth century. A complaint in particular was brought up by the masters of the coal pits in the Glasgow Barony, who declared that their enterprise was obstructed and made to result in heavy loss by the action of the miners, who would only work four days in each week, and spent all their remaining time, and all their wages, in drinking. To "rectify these enormities" a commission was appointed consisting of the provost of Glasgow and others. [Priv. Gown. Reg. 4th Sept. 1662.]

Still another menace which harassed the rulers of the country just then was the outbreak of the Great Plague of London. The fearful ravages of that pestilence in the English capital in 166- have been vividly described by Daniel Defoe and other more authentic writers. In Scotland, however, the Privy Council took prompt and effective measures. In Glasgow, for instance, the master of works was ordered with diligence to repair the city gates, and by tuck of drum the town's folk were ordered to shut all entries by their closes and yards under pain of a hundred pound fine and further personal punishment. [Burgh Records, iii. 61.] Thanks to the efficient measures thus adopted not a single case of pestilence appeared in Scotland.

Threatened with these various dangers—war on the high seas and labour troubles and pestilence at home—the Privy Council must naturally have been highly sensitive to the elements of disaffection smouldering in the south-western counties. That it was fully apprehensive of the danger is shown by several facts. On 22nd April, 1665, the inhabitants of Glasgow were ordered to deliver up all arms at the tolbooth on pain of being considered disaffected, and punished accordingly. [Burgh Records, iii. 53.] On 8th September, 1666, an order was issued that all must take the Declaration, avowing the swearing of the Covenant and the taking of arms against the king to be unlawful, and that sheriffs and magistrates should send in lists of all who subscribed and all who refused. [Priv. Coun. Reg.] On 17th November, 1666, the Privy Council ordered a garrison to be kept at Glasgow for the suppression of possible risings in the West.

Two days after the issue of this last order the explosion took place. A bailie of Dumfries rode hot-foot into Edinburgh with the news that a body of insurgents had taken arms, invaded Dumfries, and captured Sir James Turner, the military commander in the district. [The news reached Glasgow two days before it was known in Edinburgh. On 17th November the Town Council minute mentions the report of "som rysing in the west, contrare authoritie," and it was resolved that the town's folk be put "in ane gude postour for defence."]

Great excitement was created by the news, and the extent of the danger apprehended may be judged by the precautions instantly taken. General Dalziel was ordered at once to, Glasgow, to take such measures as he could on the spot. The ferries of the Forth were secured; all available horses were commandeered for military purposes; and active measures were taken to make Edinburgh safe.

In his interesting monograph on "The Pentland Rising," as the insurrection came to be called, Professor Sanford Terry conveys the impression of an undisciplined and ill-armed multitude coming together in haphazard fashion, and making its way without much plan or order, through November rain and snow, by Lanark and Bathgate to the capital. But there were mysterious influences obvious behind the movement, providing it with commanders and arms, and when, on 28th November, Dalziel finally came up with the insurgents at Rullion Green in the Pentlands, a few miles south of Edinburgh, they made military dispositions, and displayed a knowledge of tactics and power of resistance that were by no means casual. All that was needed to make the Pentland Rising a widespread and really formidable rebellion against the Government of Charles II. was the merest flicker of success in an opening engagement. To this grave danger the Privy Council was thoroughly awake, and the severe measures it adopted to repress the insurrection and discourage any possibilities of further rebellion were no more than what the safety of the state demanded. Acting on a letter from Charles himself the Privy Council ordered that the oath of allegiance should be taken by all prominent persons in the disaffected districts, that all arms should be given up, and that a force of militia should be organized. [Priv. Coun. Reg. list Aar. 1667.] Already in 1663, in order to secure the country against just such outbreaks, the Scottish Parliament had offered to organize a militia of 20,000 foot and 2000 horse. [Act. Parl. vii. 480. ] It was not till 6th May, 1668, that a letter was received from Charles ordering the effective raising of this force, and steps were taken to carry out the command. These orders brought to light certain individuals in the disaffected districts who refused respectively to raise men or to serve in the new militia. This refusal was regarded as an evidence of disloyalty, and an Act was passed inflicting fines on such persons. [Priv. Coun. Reg. 8th Oct. 1668.]

For the measures of repression which followed the Pentland Rising Archbishop Burnet is said to have been a strong and constant advocate. These measures had both a political and an ecclesiastical purpose. The enemies of the Church had shown themselves to be also the enemies of the Government, and in such precarious times must be deprived of all means and opportunity of concerting trouble. Accordingly on 7th May, 1668, the Privy Council ordered the apprehension of all holders of conventicles. On 18th February, 1669, it appointed a committee to deal with absentees from church. And on 4th March of the same year it prohibited the baptism of children by any other than parish ministers. Another order which implied considerable hardship was issued a month later, on 8th April. The order required all the lairds in the disaffected districts to become personally liable and give bonds for the good behaviour of their families, tenants, and servants. This was no more than the adoption of a policy which had been used again and again for the keeping of order among the turbulent tribesmen of the north. No longer previously than December, 1664, the Privy Council had adopted "the good and auncient custome of charging the landlords and cheiftains of clans to find caution yearly in the Books of Council " for the good behaviour of their people.

These orders were prosecuted with great rigour in the disaffected districts, and enforced with tortures, fines, and executions, for which Burnet was largely responsible. [Cal. State Papers, 1666-7, 244, 280, 336.] On many a lonely hillside and purple moor, where "the peesweeps and whaups are calling," are to be seen the memorials of men who suffered the last penalty rather than deny the oath of their fathers, and profess loyalty to an episcopalian king.

Reports of these severities reached London, along with proofs of their ineffectiveness in producing the results desired. It was accordingly resolved to try a policy of conciliation. In June 1669 there was issued from Whitehall an "Indulgence," signed by the king and countersigned by Lauderdale, allowing "outed" ministers who had lived peaceably and orderly to return to their parish churches and exercise the functions of the ministry. To meet an objection of certain of the Episcopal party that this Indulgence was illegal, Parliament in November passed an "Act of Supremacy" which declared the external government of the Church to be a right of the Crown. To carry this new policy into action, Lauderdale, who as Secretary of State had hitherto remained in London, was himself appointed Royal Commissioner on 4th September, 1669, and came down to Scotland. Here he found the chief obstacle to the new policy to be Archbishop Burnet of Glasgow, who stood entrenched behind his ecclesiastical powers. The rivalry, however, was not long in being brought to a head and disposed of. In the same month in which Lauderdale assumed control the Privy Council was informed that the Synod of Glasgow, over which Burnet had presided, had adopted a "Remonstrance" which disputed the royal supremacy in the affairs of the Church, and condemned the Indulgence on the ground that it replaced in their charges persons under ecclesiastical censure. [Wodrow's Hist. ii. 143.] Burnet was ordered to appear at the bar of the Privy Council, with all the minutes, votes, and acts passed by his synod. This he did on 14th October. The paper, for which he acknowledged responsibility, was then summarily condemned "as tending towards the depraving of his majesty's law," and the lieges were forbidden to possess a copy. Knowing whom he had to deal with, Burnet was wise enough to bow to the inevitable. He resigned the archbishopric. [Priv. Coun. Reg. 6th Jan. 1670.]

Meanwhile the more local affairs of Glasgow appear to have been competently carried on by the Town Council. A state burden which had now become permanent on the citizens was that of the Excise. Previous to the troubles of Charles I.'s time the extraordinary expenses of government were met by special levies on the Church, the nobles, and the burghs. In 1644, however, to meet the cost of the Scottish armies in England and Ireland, the Scottish Parliament proceeded to raise money by means of duties on certain articles. At first the tax was to be only for one year, but it was afterwards continued. In 1661 its purpose was to furnish the king with a revenue of 40,000 a year for the maintenance of his forces and for the expenses of government. Of this sum Glasgow was called upon to furnish 1744 4s. sterling, reduced in 1663 to 1076 4s. [Act. Parl. 1644, ch. 137; 1645, ch. 45; 1647, ch. 252; 1661, 128; 1662, ch. 74; 1663, ch. 28. Burgh Records, 17th Jan. 1663.] There are various entries in the Town Council records of the city accounting for these levies to Colonel, afterwards Sir James Turner, the king's officer, who was captured at Dumfries by the insurgents of the Pentland Rising. [Burgh Records, ii. 496; iii. i.] Sir James Turner afterwards became tenant of the "baronial hall" of Gorbals, and, when he died there, left his library to Glasgow University. He is believed to have been the original of that stout soldier of fortune, Dugald Dalgetty, in Sir Walter Scott's Legend of Montrose.

Another serious burden to the town at that time was the number of beggars and women of doubtful character frequenting the burgh. Again and again committees were appointed to comb the several districts and expel such persons, while the inhabitants were expressly forbidden to afford them lodging. By way of making the order effective it was declared that the persons against whom the enactment was made were free to remove without payment of rent. [Burgh Records, iii. 7, 9, 11, 12.] The city had its own legitimate poor to support, and lepers were still being sent to the hospital at the far end of the bridge. [Ibid. Dec. 1662.]

Another curious call upon the public charity at the time was the ransom of captives taken and kept in slavery by the Turks. Thus in August, 1664, the town paid a thousand merks for the liberation of John Dennistoun, son of a late merchant burgess of Glasgow. Of this amount the Town Council was shrewd enough to pay only half in advance, and the other half upon assurance that Dennistoun had been given his freedom. [Ibid. iii. 35.]

Notwithstanding these demands the city on 3rd September, 1667, concluded the purchase from the laird of Silvertonhills of the lands of Provan for the sum of 106,000 merks, the money being made payable to the laird's creditors. Shortly afterwards the council appointed a Bailie of Provan, an appointment which continues an honourable office in the city to the present day. [Burgh Records, iii. 95, 99.]

Further evidence of the shrewdness of the city fathers, and also, it may be feared, of the venality of the law courts of the period, is to be gathered from entries in the burgh records of various gifts of sack and half-barrels of herrings sent to "friends" in power in Edinburgh. At that date, in 1665, the city had several cases pending against the authorities of Dunbarton, and it is somewhat interesting to note that these cases were decided in Glasgow's favour. [Ibid. iii. 66, 68.]

In those pleas Dunbarton claimed the right to harbour dues in the River Clyde from the mouth of the Kelvin to the head of Loch Long, and the immediate question at issue was the right to levy dues at Glasgow's new " roads and ports of Potterige, Inschgreen, and Newark," otherwise Port-Glasgow. Dunbarton cited its charters granted by Alexander II. in the year 1220 and by James VI. in 1609, while Glasgow cited its charters by William the Lion to Bishop Jocelyn in the twelfth century, by Alexander II. in 1211, a charter by King Robert the Bruce, and the fact that Glasgow was an episcopal see "seven or eight hundred years before Dunbarton was founded." After full trial the court declared that Dunbarton's claim had been contraverted, and that Glasgow must be immune from all dues and interruptions of river traffic by that burgh. [Ibid. iii. 72.]

At the same time, within its own jurisdiction, the Town Council took vigorous measures to make sure that no interference with its own justiciary powers took place. In May, 1665, a case of this kind was dealt with. Two Glasgow tanners, John Liston and John Wood, had bought nine hundred salt hides for nine thousand merks from James Boyle, a merchant in the city. Apparently the hides were to be of a certain weight. This weight, the purchasers held, was to be, according to use and wont, that shown at the common tron or weighing place of the burgh. The seller, on the other hand, alleged that the hides were to be delivered by the weight shown at his own scales. The purchasers refused to take delivery on these conditions, and the seller applied to the Dean of Guild, one Frederick Hamilton, who was his own personal friend and business partner, if not in this transaction, at anyrate in others. Hamilton thereupon called Liston and Wood before him, and, without proof and without consulting any of the other magistrates, arbitrarily, "at his awine hand," committed the two tanners to prison. The two procured release on bail, but were so beset in their houses, day and night, by the officers of the Dean of Guild that they were forced to leave the town. They then appealed to the Privy Council, which, having considered the petition, remitted the matter to be tried by the Town Council. The trial duly took place before the provost and bailies, who, "after matur advyce and deliberatioune," decided that the Dean of Guild had abused his office, first in holding a court without a quorum of his brethren, and secondly in imprisoning Liston without concurrence of the magistrates. It was therefore decided, by a majority of votes, that Hamilton should be suspended from office as Dean of Guild during the pleasure of the council. Six days later the council elected one of the bailies to fill the post. [Burgh Records, iii. 55, 58.] Two years later, on a report that the citizens were forsaking the town's courts for the Commissary Court, because of the remissness of the town's officers in executing decreets the Town Council ordered that the officers must make execution within forty days, either by obtaining payment, by poinding of goods, or by imprisonment. [Ibid. iii. 94.]


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