Additional Info

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Share

Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Significant Scots
Sir Archibald Johnstone


JOHNSTON, (SIR) ARCHIBALD, of Warriston, (a judge by the designation of lord Warriston,) an eminent lawyer and statesman, was the son of James Johnston of Beirholm in Annandale, a descendant of the family of Johnston in Aberdeen-shire, and who for some time followed a commercial life in Edinburgh, being mentioned in a charter of 1608, as "the king’s merchant." The mother of the subject of our memoir was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Craig, the first great lawyer produced by Scotland, and whose life has already been given in the present work. Of the date of the birth of Archibald Johnston, and the circumstances of his education, no memorial has been preserved: he entered as advocate in 1633. In the great national disturbances which commenced in 1637, Johnston took an early and distinguished part; acting, apparently, as only second to Sir Thomas Hope in giving legal advice to the covenanters. The second or general supplication of the nation to Charles I. for relief from his episcopal innovations was prepared by the earl of Rothes and Archibald Johnston; the former being preferred on account of his distinction as an active and influential partisan, and the latter from the general character given of him by his friends, as singularly well acquainted with the history and constitution of the genuine presbyterian church of Scotland. This document, which was presented to the privy council on the 24th of September, 1637, in the presence of a band of the supporters of its principles, which made the act more solemn than a regal pageant, leaves for the politicians of all ages a fine specimen of that calmness in reasoning and statement which men of judgment and principle know to be necessary for the preservation of order in a state, when they are representing grievances, however deep, to a governor, however unreasonable; and of that firmness of position, which, when supported by a hold of popular opinion, must either be allowed to prevail, or leave to him who obstructs it the odium of the confusion which may follow. After the supplicants, who had increased to a vast body of men, spreading over the whole of the southern part of Scotland, had united themselves under a representative constitution, termed "the Tables," a renewal of the national covenant was judged a useful measure for a combination of effort, and the insurance of a general union and purpose. Johnston and the celebrated Alexander Henderson were employed to suit the revered obligation to which their ancestors had sworn, to the new purpose for which it was applied, by including the protestations against the liturgy of the episcopal church, under the general declarations which it previously bore against the doctrine of the church of Rome, and adducing authorities in support of the new application. The obligation was signed in March, 1638, under circumstances too well known to be recapitulated. [For such matters connected with this period as are here, to prevent repetition, but slightly alluded to, vide the memoirs of Henderson; of Montrose; and of the first duke of Hamilton in this collection.]

Johnston, although, from his secondary rank, he did not then assume the authority of a leader, was, from his knowledge and perseverance, more trusted to in the labours of the opposition than any other man, and his name continually recurs as the agent in every active measure. To the unyielding and exasperating proclamation, which was read at the market-cross of Edinburgh on the 22nd of February, 1638, he prepared and read aloud, on a scaffold erected for the purpose, the celebrated protestation in name of the Tables, while the dense crowd who stood around prevented the issuers of the proclamation from departing before they heard the answer to their challenge. On the 8th of July, the king issued another proclamation, which, though termed "A proclamation of favour and grace," and though it promised a maintenance of the religion presently professed within the kingdom without innovation, an interim suspension of the service book, a rectification of the high commission, and the loudly called for general assembly and parliament, was, with reason, deemed more dangerous than a defiance. Johnston had a protestation prepared for the delicacy of this trying occasion, which, with the decorum from which he seems on no occasion to have departed, he, "in all humility, with submissive reverence," presented in presence of the multitude. [Balfour’s Annals, ii. 276.] When, on the 22nd of September, the parliament and general assembly were proclaimed, he prepared another protestation in a similar tone to the former, which he read in his own name, and in that of the earl of Montrose, for the nobles; Gibson younger of Dune for the barons; George Porterfield, merchant in Glasgow, for the burghs; and Henry Pollock, minister of Edinburgh, for the clergy. It will be easily conjectured that, at the period when he was thus publicly employed, Johnston was privately acting as a partisan of the covenant, and an enemy of prelacy and arbitrary power, by all the means which a political agent invariably uses. At such a period the more we can trace the private proceedings and feelings of the public man, the better can we hold him up as a biographical example. As the only curious document connected with our subject at this period of his existence, we give the following somewhat mutilated letter to Johnston, from a person who did not choose to sign his name; it is characteristic of the feeling of the party, and of the occupation of the subject of our memoir; and if to a speculative politician it may breathe an illiberal spirit, let him remember that there never existed a party, however pure, which did not wish to suppress the opposite party, and that not having power and numbers on their side, the opponents of the covenant were in the situation of disturbers of society, in as far as they wished to impose rules on the whole kingdom.

"For Mr Archibald Johnston of Warriston, advocate.

"Dear Christian brother and courageous Protestant,—Upon some rumour of the Prelate of St Andrews, his coming over the water, and finding it altogether inconvenient that he or any of that kynd should show themselves peacably in publicke, some course was taken how hee might be enterteyned in such places as he should come unto: we are now informed that hee (will) not come, but that Broughen is in Edinburgh or thereabout; it is the advyce of your friends here, that in a private way some course may be taken for his terror and disgrace if he offer to show himself in publick. Think upon the best r . . . by the advyce of your friends there. I fear that their publick appearance at Glasgow shall be prejudiciall to our cause. We are going to take order (with) his cheef’s supporters there, Glaidstaines, Skrymgoor, and Hallyburton . . Wishing you both protection and direction from your maister, I continew, youre owne whome you know. G."

"28th October, 1638."[Wodrow’s Collection, Advoc. Lib. vol. ixvi. No. 58.]

Such was the feeling in which the leaders of the Covenant prepared themselves for the renowned General Assembly held at Glasgow in November and December, 1638. On that occasion Johnston was, by a unanimous vote, chosen clerk of the assembly. On its being discovered that his precursor had been enabled to procure only two of the seven volumes of minutes of the general assemblies held since the Reformation, the moderator, probably in pursuance of a preconcerted measure, called upon all those who were aware of the existence of any others, to give information on the subject to the assembly. Johnston hereupon produced the other five volumes—how obtained by him we know not—by which service he greatly increased the confidence previously placed in him. On the day before the session terminated, the assembly elected him procurator for the church, and, as was afterwards ratified by act of parliament, he received for the former of these offices 500, and for the latter 1000 merks yearly. [Balf. An. ii. 301, 313; Scots Worthies, 271; Act. Parl. V. 316.]

Johnston was one of the commissioners appointed by the Scots to conduct the treaty at Berwick. The General Assembly, which was the consequence of that pacification, passes over, and the unsatisfactory parliament which followed, is commenced, ere we again observe Johnston’s name connected with any public affairs, beyond the usual routine of his duties. The parliament commenced its sittings on the 31st of August, 1639. On the 14th of November, Sir Thomas Hope, in his official capacity as lord advocate, produced a warrant from the king addressed to the commissioners, which, on the ground that the royal prerogative was interested in the proceedings, ordered a prorogation to the 2nd of June, 1640. The warrant was read by Sir Alexander Gibson of Dune, one of the clerks of session, on which the lord advocate took the usual protest, calling on the clerk actually to dissolve the meeting. On this, the clerk, who was performing an unpleasing office, answered, "that he had already read the said warrant containing the said prorogacioun, and was readie to read the same as oft as he should be commanded, but could not otherways prorogat the parliament." The earl of Rothes added to his embarrassment, by challenging him to "do nothing but as he would be answerable to the parliament, upon payne of his life." And the junior clerk, Mr William Scott, being called on to dissolve the meeting, sagaciously declined officiating in the presence of his senior. Johnston then came forward, and, in name of the three estates, read a declaration, purporting that his majesty, having, in compliance with the wish of his faithful subjects, called a free assembly and parliament, and submitted matters ecclesiastical to the former, and matters civil to the latter; the commissioner had (it was presumed) without the full permission of the king, attempted to dissolve the, parliament—a measure which, the estates maintained, could not be constitutionally taken, without the consent of the parliament itself: With that respect for the person of the king which, as the advocates of peaceful measures, the covenanters at that period always professed to maintain, the document proceeds to state that the estates are constrained to the measure they adopt by "our zeal to acquit ourselfs according to our place, both to the king’s majesty, whose honour at all tymes, but especially convened in parliament, we ought to have in high estimation, and to the kingdom which we represent, and whose liberties sall never be prostituted or vilified by us." Having denounced the prorogation as unconstitutional, this remarkable state paper thus proceeds—"But becaus we know that the eyes of the world ar upon us, that declarations have been made and published against us, and malice is prompted for hir obloquies, and wateth on with opin mouth to snatch at the smallest shadow of disobedience, disservice, or disrespect to his majesty’s commandments, that our proceedings may be made odious to such as know not the way how thes commandments are procured from his majesty, nor how they are made knowin and intimat to us, and doe also little consider that we are not now private subjects bot a sitting parliament, quhat national prejudices we have suestenit in tyme past by misinformation, and quhat is the present state of the kingdomn;" so arguing, the presenters of the declaration, that they may put far from them "all shaw or appearance of what may give his majesty the least discontent," resolve, in the mean time, merely to vindicate their rights by their declaration, and, voluntarily adjourning, resolve to elect some of each estate, as a permanent committee, endowed with the full powers of a parliamentary committee, to "await his majesty’s gracious answer to our humble and just demands, and farther to remonstrat our humble desires to his majesty upon all occasions; that hereby it may be made most manifest, against all contradiction, that it wes never our intention to denie his majesty any parte of the civill and temporal obedience which is due to all kings from their subjects, and from us to our dread soverane after a special maner, bot meerlie to preserve our religion, and the liberties of the kingdome, without which religion cannot continue long in safetie."—"And if it sall happen," continues this prophetic declaration, "(which God forbid) that, often we have made our remonstrances, and to the uttermost of our power and duetie used all lawfull meanes for his majesty’s information, that our malicious enemies, who are not considerable, sall, by their suggestions and lyes, prevaill against the informations and generall declarations of a whole kingdom, we tak God and men to witness, that we are free of the outrages and insolencies that may be committed in the mean tyme, and that it sall be to us no imputation, that we are constrained to tak such course as may best secure the kirk and kingdome from the extremitie of confusion and miserie."

It is to be remarked, that this act of the covenanters did not assume the authority of a protest; it was a statement of grievances to which, for a short time, they would submit, supplicating a remedy. The assertion that the crown had not the sole power of proroguing parliament, may be said to be an infringement of prerogative; but this very convenient term must owe its application to practice, and it appears that the royal power on this point had not been accurately fixed by the constitution of the Scottish parliament. The choice of the lords of articles by the commissioner—a step so far a breach of "privilege" (the opposite term to prerogative), that it rendered a parliament useless as an independent body—was likewise remonstrated against, along with the application of supplies without consent of parliament.

The earls of Dunfermline and Loudon were sent as commissioners to represent the declaration to the king. "They behaved themselves," says Clarendon, "in all respects, with the confidence of men employed by a foreign state, refused to give any account but to the king himself; and even to the king himself gave no other reason for what was done, but the authority of the doers, and the necessity that required it; that is, that they thought it necessary: but then they polished their sturdy behaviour with all the professions of submission and duty which their language could afford."

As connected with this mission, some historians have alluded to, and others have narrated, a dark intrigue, of which Johnston was the negative instrument; a matter which has never been cleared up. We shall give it in the words of Burnet, the nephew of Johnston, and who had therefore some reason to know the facts. "After the first pacification, upon the new disputes that arose, when the earls of Loudoun and Dumfermling were sent up with the petition from the covenanters, the lord Saville came to them, and informed them of many particulars, by which they saw the king was highly irritated against them. He took great pains to persuade them to come with their army into England. They very unwillingly hearkened to that proposition, and looked on it as a design from the court to ensnare them, making the Scots invade England, by which this nation might have been provoked to assist the king to conquer Scotland. It is true, he hated the earl of Strafford so much, that they saw no cause to suspect him; so they entered into a treaty with him about it. The lord Saville assured them, he spoke to them in the name of the most considerable man in England, and he showed them an engagement under their hands to join with them, if they would come into England, and refuse any treaty but what should be confirmed by a parliament of England. They desired leave to send this paper into Scotland, to which, after much seeming difficulty, he consented: so a cane was hollowed, and this was put within it; and one Frost, afterwards secretary to the committee of both kingdoms, was sent down with it as a poor traveller, it was to be communicated only to three persons—the earls of Rothes and Argyle, and to Warriston, the three chief confidants of the covenanters. * * * To these three only this paper was to be showed, upon an oath of secrecy: and it was to be deposited in Warriston’s hands. They were only allowed to publish to the nation that they were sure of a very great and unexpected assistance, which, though it was to be kept secret, would appear in due time. This they published; and it was looked on as an artifice to draw in the nation: but it was

afterwards found to be a cheat indeed, but a cheat of lord Saville’s, who had forged all those subscriptions. * * * The lord Saville’s forgery came to be discovered. The king knew it; and yet he was brought afterwards to trust him, and to advance him to be earl of Sussex. The king pressed my uncle (Johnston) to deliver him the letter, who excused himself upon his oath: and not knowing what use might be made of it, he cut out every subscription, and sent it to the person for whom it was forged. The imitation was so exact, that every man, as soon as he saw his hand simply by itself, acknowledged that he could not have denied it." [Burnet, 37, 39, 41.] Burnet had certainly the best opportunities for both a public and private acquaintance with such an event, and the circumstance has been at least hinted at by others; but Mr Laing justly remarks that "in their conferences with these noblemen, and with Pym and Hambden, the Scottish commissioners during their residence in London must have received such secret assurances of support, that, without this forged invitation, the committee of Estates would have chosen to transfer the war into England." [Laing, iii. 194.]

At the parliament which met on the 2nd of June, 1640, the representative of majesty in that body choosing to absent himself, or dreading the danger of a journey to Scotland, the Estates proceeded to reduce themselves to a formal and deliberative body, by the choice of a president. To this convention Johnston produced a petition from the General Assembly, which had been ratified by the privy council, praying for a legislative ratification of the covenant, and an order that it should be enforced on the inhabitants of the country with all civil pains, [Act. Parl. v. 293.]—a requisition which the convention was not in a disposition to refuse. On the 11th of June, by the 34th act of this parliament, the celebrated committee of forty, having, in absence of the superior body which called it into existence, the full legislative power of a republican congress, was elected, and the members were divided betwixt the camp and Edinburgh. Our surprise that so influential and laborious a man as Johnston was not chosen a member of this body, is relieved by the place of higher, though somewhat anomalous trust to which we find him appointed, as general agent and adviser to the body--a sort of leader, without being a constituent member. "And because," says the act, "there will fall out in the camp a necessitie either of treatties, consultations, or public declarations, to schaw the reasones of the demands and proceedings in the assemblie and parliament, and the prejudices agains either of them, the Estates ordaynes Mr Archibald Johnston, procurator for the kirk, as best acquaint with these reasons and prejudices, to attend his excellence (the general) and to be present at all occasions with the said committee, for their farther information, and clearing thairanent.." [Act. Par. V. 311.] Johnston was one of the eight individuals appointed to treat with the English commissioners at Rippon, by an act of the great committee of management, dated the 30th of September, l640. [Balfour’s An. ii. 408.] When this treaty was transferred to London, Johnston was chosen a member of the committee, along with Henderson, as supernumeraries to those appointed from the Estates, and probably with the peculiar duty of watching over the interests of the church, "because many things may occurre concerning the church and assemblies thereof." [Balf. An., ii. 416.]

The proceedings and achievements of this body are so well known, that, in an article which aims at giving such memorials of its subject, as are not to be readily met with in the popular histories, they need not be repeated. On the 25th day of September, 1641, Johnston produced in parliament a petition that he might be exonerated from all responsibility as to the public measures with which he had for the previous four years been connected, mentioning the important office which he held as adviser to the commissioners attending on the motions at the camp, and the duties he was called on to perform at the treaty of Rippon and London; and observing, that it has been considered necessary that others so employed should have their conduct publicly examined in parliament, he craves that all requisite inquiry may immediately be made as to his own proceedings; that, if he has done any thing "contrair to their instructions, or prejudiciall to the publict, he may undergoe that censure which the wrongers of the countrey and abusers of such great trust deserves;" but if it has been found that he has done his duty, "then," he says, "doe I in all humility begg, that, seing by God’s assistance and blessing the treattie of peace is closed, and seeing my employment in thir publict business is now at an end, that before I returne to my private affaires and calling, from the which these four yeires I have been continually distracted, I may obtaine from his gracious majesty and your lordships, an exoneration of that charge, and an approbation of my former cariage." The exoneration was granted, and. the act ratifying it stated, that after due examination, the Estates found that Johnston had "faithfullie, diliegentlie, and cairfullie behaved himself in the foresaid chairge, employments, and trust put upon him, in all the passages thairof, as he justly deserves thair treu testimonie of his approven fidelitie and diligence." [Act. Parl. v. 414.]

In 1641, when the king paid his pacificatory visit to Scotland, Johnston obtained, among others, a liberal peace-offering. He had fixed his eyes on the office of lord register, probably as bearing an affinity to his previous occupations; but the superior influence of Gibson of Dune prevailed in competition for that situation: he received, however, the commission of an ordinary lord of session, along with a liberal pension, and the honours of knighthood. During the sitting of the parliament we find him appointed as a commissioner, to treat with the king on the supplementary matters which were not concluded at the treaty of Rippon, and to obtain the royal consent to the acts passed during the session. Much about the same period, he was appointed, along with others, to make search among the records contained in the castle, for points of accusation against the "incendiaries;" the persons whom he and his colleagues had just displaced in the offices of state and judicature. It may be sufficient, and will save repetition, to mention, that we find him appointed in the same capacity which we have already mentioned, in the recommissions of the committee of Estates, and in the other committees, chosen to negotiate with the king, similar to those we have already described, among which may be noticed the somewhat menacing committee of 1641, appointed to treat as to commerce, the naturalization of subjects, the demands as to war with foreigners, the Irish rebellion, and particularly as to "the brotherlie supplie and assistance" of the English parliament to the Scottish army. [Act. Parl. v. 357, 371, 372, 480, &c.]

In the parliament of 1643, Sir Archibald Johnston represented the county of Edinburgh, and was appointed to the novel situation of speaker to the barons, as a separate estate. In this capacity, on the 7th of June, 1644, he moved the house to take order concerning the "unnatural rebellion" of Montrose, [Balfour’s Anecdotes, iii. 177.] and somewhat in the manner of an impeachment, he moved a remonstrance against the earl of Carnwath, followed by a commission to make trial of his conduct, along with that of Traquair, of which Johnston was a member. [Act. Parl. vi. 6,8.]During the period when, as a matter of policy, the Scots in general suspended their judgment between the contending parties in England, Warriston seems early to have felt, and not to have concealed, a predilection for the cause of the parliament, and was the person who moved that the general assembly should throw the weight of their opinion in that scale." ["A curious evidence of his opinions, and the motives of his political conduct at this period, exists, in the form of some remarks on the aspect of the times, which appear to have been addressed to his friend lord Loudon. The manuscript is in scroll, very irregularly written, and with numerous corrections; circumstances which will account for any unintelligibility in the portion we extract. It bears date the 21st of June, 1642. " Seeing thir kingdoms most stand and fall together, and that at the first design in all thir late troubles, so the last effort of thes evil counsels prevailing stil to the suppression of religion and liberty and the erection of poperye and arbitrary power, it is earnestlye desyrd by good Christians and patriots that the question of the warr be right stated, as a warr for religion and libertie, against papists and prelates, and their abackers and adherents; and that now, in thair straits and difficulties, they might enter in a covenant with God and amongst themselves, for the reformation of the churche, abolishing of popery and prelacy out of England and Scotland, and preservation of the roule and peace of thir kyngdoms, qk without dimunition of his majesty’ authorities might not only free them of fears from this, bot also fill them with hopes of their bearing alongst with their proceedings the hearts and confidence of thir kingdoms. Pitmaylie may remember weal what of this kynd was motioned at Rippon, and spoken of agayne, when the English armye was reported to be comyng up."—Wodrow’s Papers, Ad. Lib. vol. ixvi.]

Johnston had been named as one of the commissioners, chosen on the 9th August, 1643, for the alleged purpose of mediating betwixt Charles I. and his parliament; but Charles, viewing him as a dangerous opponent, objected to providing him with a safe conduct, and he appears to have remained in Edinburgh. He, however, conducted a correspondence with the commissioners who repaired to London, as a portion of which, the subjoined letter to him from the earl of Loudon, which throws some light on the policy of the Scots at that juncture, may be interesting. ["My 1ord,—The sending of commissioners from the parliament here to the parliament of Scotland at this time, was upon the sudden moved in the House of Commons (befoir wee wer acquainted thereof) by the solicitor, and seconded by some who profes to be or freinds as a greater testimonie of respect than the sending of a letter alone, and was in that sens approved by the whole hous, who, I believe, does it for no other end, neither is ther any other instructions given by the house than these, whereof the copy is sent to you, which ar only generall for a good correspondence betwixt the two kingdomes. Bot I cannot forbear to tell you my apprehensiones, that the intention and designs of some particular persons in sending down at this tyme, and in such a juncture of affaires (when ther is so great rumor of division and factiones in Scotland), is by them to learne the posture of business ther in the parl, assemblies, and kingdome, that they may receave privat information from them, and make ther applicationes and uses thereof accordinglie. That which confirms this opinion to me the more, is, that the sending of these persones to Scotland was moved and seconded by such as profes themselves to be offreinds w’out giveing us any notice thereof till it was done; and the day before it was motioned, they and ye old friend Sir Henry Valne younger, wer at a consultation together, and yo lop: knowes how much power Sir Henrie Vain hes with Sir Wm Armyne and Mr Bowlls. (The English commissioners were – the earl of Rutland, Sir William Armyne, Sir Henry Van, younger, Thomas Thatcher, and Henry Darnly.) Sir William Armyne is a very honest gentlemen, but Mr Bowlls is very deserving, and doubtless is sent (thoghe not of intention of the parl) as a spy to give privat intelligence to some who are jealous and curious to understand how all affairs goe in Scotland. Thomsone I hear is a Independent, and (if he goe not away before I can meitt with some freinds) I shall c’tryve that there may be a snare laid in his galtt to stay his journey; they wold be used with all civilitie when they come, bot yor lop: and others wold be verie warie and circomspect in all yor proceedings and deallings w’them; seeing the hous of parl’ and all such heir as desyres a happie and weell-grounded peace, or a short and prosperous warre, ar desyrous that the Scottish armie advance southward (although I dare not presume to give any positive judgment without presyse knowledge of the condition and posture of or own kingdom), I cannot see any human means so probable and liklie to setle religion and peace, and make or nation the more considerable, as the advancing of or armie southward if the turbulent comotions and rud distractions of Scotland may permitt, nor is it possible that so great an armie can be longer entertained by the northern counties, so barren and much wanted with armies; nor can it be expected that the parl’ of England can be at so great charge as the entertainment of that armie (if they did reallie intertain them), unless they be more useful for the caus and publick service of both kingdomes than to ye still in thes northern counties, being now reduced, and the king to vexe the south with forces equall to theirs; bot there needs not arguments to prove this poynt, unless that base crewe of Irish rebells and their perfidious confederates, and the unnatural factions of o’ countrymen for getting o’ covenant, ar grown to such a hight of mischeef and misery, as to make such a rent at home as to disable us to assist o’ freinds, and prosecute that cause which I am confident God will carrie one and perfyte against all oppositione; and in confidence thereof shall encourage myselfe, and rejoyce under hope, althoghe I should never sie the end of itt. I beseache you to haist back this bearer, and let me know with him the condition of affairs in Scotland; how or good freinds are, and how soon we may expect yor returne hither, or if I must come to you befoir ye come to us. I referr the marquiss of Argyle and my lord Balmerinoch, and other freinds to you for intelligence, to spair paines and supply the want of leasure; and will say noe more at this tyme, bot that I am your most affectionate and faithful friend, LOUDOUNE."—Wodrow’s MS. Collection, vol. ixvi. The letter is dated from Worcester house, January 6, 1644.]

We find Johnston sent to London, on the 4th of July, 1644, and it is probable that, before that time, he had managed to visit England without the ceremonial of a safe-guard from the falling monarch; and on the 9th of January, 1645, we find him along with Mr Robert Barclay, "tuo of our commissioners lattlie returned from London," reporting the progress of their proceedings to the house. [Balf. An. iii. 204, 248.]The proceedings of this commission, and of the assembly of divines at Westminster, with which Warriston had a distinguished connexion, may be passed over as matters of general history. Warned, probably, by the cautious intimations of the letter we have just quoted, Johnston was the constant attendant of the English commissioners on their progress to Scotland, and was the person who moved their business in the house. [Ibid. 262.]On the death of Sir Thomas Hope, in 1646, Johnston had the influence to succeed him, as lord advocate, an office for which he seems to have seasoned himself by his numerous motions against malignants. With a firm adherence to his previous political conduct, Johnston refused accession to the well-known engagement which the duke of Hamilton conducted as a last effort in behalf of the unfortunate monarch.

On the 10th of January, 1649, the marquis of Argyle delivered a speech, "wich he called the brecking of the malignants’ teith, and that he quho was to speake after him, (viz. Warriston) wolde brecke ther jawes." Argyle found the teeth to be five, which he smashed one by one:—" His first was against the ingagers being statesmen, and intrusted with great places, quho had broken their trust. II. Against the engagers’ committee-men, quho by ther tyranny had opprest the subjects. III. Against declared malignants, formerlye fyned in parliament, or remitted, and now agayne relapsed. IV. Against thesse that wer eager promotters of the laitt ingagement with England. V. Against suche as had petitioned for the advancement of the levey." After these were demolished, Johnston commenced his attack on the toothless jaws; he "read a speache two houres in lenthe, off his papers, being ane explanatione of Argyle’s live heads, or teith, as he named them; with the anssuering of such objects he thought the pryme ingagers wolde make in their awen defence against the housse now convened, wich they did not acnouledge to be a lawfull parliament." [Ibid. 377.]

On the 6th of January, the imminent danger of the king prompted the choosing a committee to act for his safety under instructions. The instructions were fourteen; and the most remarkable and essential was, that a protest should be taken against any sentence pronounced against the king. "That this kingdome may be free of all the dessolatione, misery, and bloodshed, that incertablie will follow thereupone, without offering in your ressone, that princes ar eximed from triall of justice." [Ibid. 384.] This was by no means in opposition to the principles which Johnston had previously professed, but his mind appears to have been finally settled into a deep opposition to all monarchy. Along with Argyle he distinguished himself in opposing the instructions, by a method not honourable to their memory—a proposition that the measure should be delayed for a few days, to permit a fast to be held in the interim. One of the last of his ministerial acts as lord advocate, was the proclamation of Charles II. on the 5th of February, 1649; and he was on the 10th of March, in the same year, appointed to his long-looked-for post of lord register, in place of Gibson of Dune, superseded by the act of classes. At the battle of Dunbar, in 1650, he was one of the committee of the estates appointed to superintend the military motions of Leslie, and was urgent in pressing the measure which is reputed to have lost the day to the Scots. He was naturally accused of treachery, but the charge has not been supported. "Waristoun," says Burnet, "was too hot, and Lesley was too cold, and yielded too easily to their humours, which he ought not to have done; [Burnet, 83.] and the mistake may be attributed to the obstinacy of those, who, great in the cabinet and conventicle, thought they must be equally great in war.

Warriston was among the few persons who in the committee of estates refused to accede to the treaty of Charles II at Breda; an act of stubborn consistency, which, joined to others of a like nature, sealed his doom in the royal heart. After the battle of Dunbar, the repeal of the act of classes, which was found necessary as a means of re-constructing the army, again called forth his jaw-breaking powers. He wrote "a most solid letter" on the subject to the meeting held at St Andrews, July 18, 1651, which appears never to have been read, but which has been preserved by the careful Wodrow [Wodrow’s Collection, Ad. Lib. xxxii. 5, 15.] for the benefit of posterity. He wrote several short treatises on "the sinfulness of joining malignants," destroying their jaws in a very considerate and logical manner. One of these is extant, and lays down its aim as follows:

"The first question concerning the sinfulness of the publick resolutions, hath bene handled in a former tractat. The other question remaines, anent y’ sinfulness and unlawfulness of the concurrence of particular persons." The question is proposed in the following terms:—"viz. when God’s covenanted people intrusts God’s covenanted interest to the power of God’s anti-covenanted enemies, though upon pretence to fight against ane other anti-covenanted enemy—whether a conscienscious covenanter can lawfullie concurre with such a partie in such a cause, or may lawfullie abstane, and rather give testimonie by suffering against both parties and causes, as sinfull and prejudiciall to God’s honour and interest. It is presupposed a dutie to oppose the common enemie. The question is anent the meanes of resisting the unjust invader."

"Three things premitted. I. The clearing of terms. II. Some distinctions. III. Some conjunctions handled." [Ibid. 16.] The postulates are, perhaps, rather too sweeping for general opinion, but, presuming them to be granted, the reasonings of this lay divine are certainly sufficiently logical within their narrow space, and may have appeared as mathematical demonstrations to those who admitted the deep sin of accepting assistance from opponents in religious opinion. This resistance appears, however, to have been of a negative nature, and not to have extended to the full extremity of the remonstrance of the west; at least when called on for an explanation by the committee of Estates, he declined owning connexion with it: "Warreston did grant that he did see it, was at the voting of it, but refussed to give his votte therin. He denayed that he wes accessorey to the contriving of it at first." [Balf. An. iv. 169. Scots Worthies, 275.]

After this period he appears to have been for some time sick of the fierce politics in which he had been so long engaged, and to have retired himself into the bosom of a large family. He is accused by a contemporary—not of much credit—of peculation, in having accepted sums of money for the disposal of offices under him; and the same person in the same page states the improbable circumstance of his having restored the money so gained, on all the offices being abolished by Cromwell, and that he was not affluent, having "conquest no lands but Warriston, [A small estate so near Edinburgh as to be now encroached upon by its suburbs.] of the avail of 1000 merks Scot a-year, where he now lives freed of trouble of state or country." [Scot of Scotstarvet’s Stag. State, 127.]

He was a member of the committee of protestors, who in 1657, proceeded to London to lay their complaints before the government. Cromwell knew the value of the man he had before him, and persuaded him to try the path of ambition under the new government. Wodrow and others have found it convenient to palliate his departure from the adherence to royalty, as an act for which it was necessary to find apologies in strong calls of interest, and facility of temper. It will, however, almost require a belief in all the mysteries of divine right, to discover why Warriston should have adhered to royalty without power, and how the opinions he always professed should have made him prefer a factious support of an absent prince to the service of a powerful leader, his early friend and coadjutor in opposing hereditary loyalty.

On the 9th of July, 1657, he was re-appointed clerk register, and on the 3rd of November in the same year, he was named as one of the commissioners for the administration of justice in Scotland. [Haig and Brunton’s Hist. College of Justice, 308.]Cromwell created Johnston a peer, and he sat in the protector’s upper house, with the title of lord Warriston, occupying a station more brilliant, but not so exalted as those he had previously filled. After the death of Cromwell, Warriston displayed his strong opposition to the return of royalty, by acting as president of the committee of safety under Richard Cromwell. Knowing himself to be marked out for destruction, he fled at the Restoration to France. It is painful, after viewing a life spent with honour and courage, in the highest trusts, to trace this great man’s life to an end which casts a blot on the times, and on the human race. He was charged to appear before the Estates; and having been outlawed in the usual form, on the 10th October, 1661, a reward of 5000 merks was offered for his apprehension. By a fiction of law, the most horrible which a weak government ever invented for protection against powerful subjects, but which, it must be acknowledged, was put in force by Warriston and his confederates against Montrose, an act of forfeiture in absence passed against him, and he was condemned to death on the 15th of May, 1661. The principal and avowed articles of accusation against him were, his official prosecution of the royalists, and particularly of Gordon of Newton, his connexion with the Remonstrance, his sitting in parliament as a peer of England, and his accepting office under Cromwell.

It was necessary that the victim of judicial vengeance should be accused of acts which the law knows as crimes; and acts to which the best protectors of Charles the Second’s throne were accessary, were urged against this man. For the hidden causes of his prosecution we must however look in his ambition, the influence of his worth and talents, and the unbending consistency of his political principles; causes to which Wodrow has added his too ungracious censure of regal vice.

In the mean time, Johnston had been lurking in Germany and the Low Countries, from which, unfortunately for himself, he proceeded to France. A confidant termed "major Johnston," is supposed to have discovered his retreat; and a spy of the name of Alexander Murray, commonly called "crooked Murray," was employed to hunt him out. This individual, narrowly watching the motions of lady Warriston, discovered his dwelling in Rouen, and with consent of the council of France, he was brought prisoner to England, and lodged in the Tower on the 8th of June, 1663; thence he was brought to Edinburgh, not for the purpose of being tried, but to suffer execution of the sentence passed on him in absence. When presented to parliament to receive sentence, it was apparent that age, hardship, and danger, had done their work effectually on his iron nerves; and the intrepid advocate of the covenant exhibited the mental imbecility of an idiot. His friends accused Dr Bates of having administered to him deleterious drugs, and weakened him by bleeding; an improbable act, which would have only raised unnecessary indignation against those who already had him sufficiently in their power. The apostate Sharpe, and his other enemies, are said to have ridiculed the sick lion; but there were at least a few of his opponents not too hardened to pity the wreck of a great intellect before them. [One of these was M’Kenzie, who, with uncharitable and improbable inferences, draws the following graphic picture of the scene:—"He was brought up the street discovered (uncovered); and being brought into the council house of Edinburgh; where the chancellor and others waited to examine him, he fell upon his face roaring, and with tears entreated they would pity a poor creature who had forgot all that was in his bible. This moved all the spectators with a deep melancholy; and the chancellor, reflecting upon the man’s former esteem, and the great share he had in all the late revolutions, could not deny some tears to the frailty of silly mankind. At his examination he pretended that he had lost so much blood by the unskillfulness of his chirurgeons, that he lost his memory with his blood; and I really believe that his courage had indeed been drawn out with it. Within a few days he was brought before the parliament, where he discovered nothing but much weakness, running up and down upon his knees begging mercy. But the parliament ordained his former sentence to be out into execution, and accordingly he was executed at the cross of Edinburgh. At his execution he showed more composure than formerly, which his friends ascribed to God’s miraculous kindness for him, but others thought that he had only formerly put on this disguise of madness to escape death in it, and that, finding the mask useless, he had returned; not to his wit, which he had lost, but from his madness, which he had counterfeited. "—Sir G. M’Kenzie’s Annals, 134.]

Probably affected by the circumstances of his situation, some of the members showed an anxiety for a little delay; but Lauderdale, who had received imperative instructions regarding him, fiercely opposed the proposition. He was sentenced to be hanged at the cross of Edinburgh on the 22nd of July, his head being to be severed from his body, and placed beside that of his departed brother in the cause, Guthrie. Of the mournful; pageant we extract the following characteristic account from Wodrow: --

"The day of his execution, a high gallows or gibbet was set up at the cross, and a scaffold made by it. About two o’clock he was taken from prison; many of his friends attended him in mourning. When he came out, he was full of holy cheerfulness and courage, and as in perfect serenity and composure of mind as ever he was. Upon the scaffold he acknowledged his compliance with the English, and cleared himself of the least share of the king’s death. He read his speech with an audible voice, first at the north side and then at the south side of the scaffold: he prayed next, with the greatest liberty, fervour, and sense of his own unworthiness, frequently using the foresaid expression. After he had taken his leave of his friends, he prayed again in a perfect rapture; being now near the end of that sweet work he had been so much employed about through his life, and felt so much sweetness in. Then the napkin being tied upon his head, he tried how it would fit him, and come down and cover his face, and directed to the method how it should be brought down when he gave the sign. When he was got to the top of the ladder, to which he was helped, because of bodily weakness, he cried with a loud voice, ‘I beseech you all who are the people of God, not to scar (be scared) at any thing of this kind falling out in those days; but be encouraged to suffer for him; for I assure you, in the name of the Lord, he will bear your charges.’ This he repeated again with great fervour, while the rope was tying about his neck, adding, ‘The Lord hath graciously comforted me.’ Then he asked the executioner if he was ready to do his office, who answering be was, he bid him do it, and, crying out, ‘0, pray, pray! praise, praise!’ was turned over, and died almost without a struggle, with his hands lift up to heaven." [Wodrow, i. 385.]

The same partial hand has thus drawn his character: "My lord Warriston was a man of great learning and eloquence; of very much wisdom, and extraordinary zeal for the public cause of religion and reformation, in which he was a chief actor; but above all, he was extraordinary in piety and devotion, as to which he had scarce any equal in the age he lived in. One who was his intimate acquaintance says, he spent more time, notwithstanding the great throng of public business upon his hand, in prayer, meditation, and close observation of providences, and self-examination, than ever he knew or heard of: and as he was very diligent in making observations on the Lord’s way, so he was visited with extraordinary discoveries of the Lord’s mind, and very remarkable providences. He wrote a large diary, which yet remains in the hands of his relations; an invaluable treasure of Christian experiences and observations; and, as I am told by one who had the happiness to see some part of it, there is mixed in sometimes matters of fact very little known now, which would bring a great deal of light to the history of Scots affairs, in that period wherein he lived." [Wodrow, i. 361. Much search has lately been made for this interesting document, but has proved vain.]

But his nephew Burnet, has in his usual characteristic manner, drawn a more happy picture of the stubborn statesman and hardy zealot, too vivid to be neglected: "Warristoun was my own uncle; he was a man of great application, could seldom sleep above three hours in the twenty-four: he had studied the law carefully, and had a great quickness of thought, with an extraordinary memory. He went into very high notions of lengthened devotions, in which he continued many hours a-day: he would often pray in his family two hours at a time, and had an unexhausted copiousness that way. What thought so ever struck his fancy during these effusions, he looked on it as an answer of prayer, and was wholly determined by it. He looked on the covenant as the setting Christ on his throne, and so was out of measure zealous in it. He had no regard to the raising himself or his family, though he had thirteen children; but prosperity was to him more than all the world. He had a readiness and vehemence of speaking that made him very considerable in public assemblies; and he had a fruitful invention: so that he was at all times furnished with expedients."


Return to our Significant Scots page