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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Interregnum: 1649 - 1660 Part A

The execution of the king, among its other bad effects, put enmity between the ruling powers of Scotland and England. A set of Scottish commissioners protested against it before the English parliament—were slighted, and turned out of the country under a guard. The leaders at Edinburgh, notwithstanding their condemnation of the late ‘Engagement,’ upheld monarchy in principle; and therefore, while England was declaring itself a commonwealth or republic, Scotland proclaimed the late king’s son—a youth of nineteen, living in exile—as Charles II., King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland. At the same time, the Scots were determined not to receive the young king as their sovereign, or to befriend him in any way, until he should have accepted that Solemn League and Covenant, which proclaimed a crusade against all doctrine inconsistent with pure Presbyterianism.

With this difference as to a principle, Scotland was, in 1649 and the early part of 1650, as purely a republic as England. The state authority rested, as it had practically done for years past, in a standing Committee of Estates, in which the Marquis of Argyle, the Chancellor Earl of London, and Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston, were the most prominent figures. Religion, however, being the chief matter of concernment in those days, it naturally came about that a similar standing committee, called the Commission of the Kirk, had a great influence in public affairs. Under the excitement produced by the struggle against the late king, these ruling parties, as well as the people at large, had contracted an exclusive and overweening attachment to Presbyterianism and its objects, as expressed in the Solemn League, insomuch that no person could be allowed to remain at peace without signing that document; while to give it adherence and support was to manifest the highest of virtues, or rather, to do that which was held as a summary of all virtue. The racking concentration of attention on one subject during a long course of years, to the neglect of all other healthy objects—the constant temptation to dissimulation under a constraint which left no choice between avowed profession and moral and legal outlawry—the effects of an ultra-austere code of morals, which allowed no excuse for natural impulses—the confounding effect of a system which subordinated all the really weighty matters of the law to the mechanical fact of a signature—produced results on the general surface of society of a kind by no means pleasant to contemplate. There was throughout a sad want of the milder graces of Christianity. The miraculous workings of divine vengeance against the opponents of the children of Israel, and against apostates and idolaters among themselves, were dwelt on in every pulpit and in numberless publications, with constant application to those who went against the Covenanted work. The breathings of divine love in the sermon on the mount, and in the whole life of Jesus, were little, if ever, heard of.

One thing must clearly be admitted in regard to the conduct of the Scots following upon the death of Charles I., that it was marked by a consistency speaking much more of sincerity than of wisdom. Though conscious that they could not command a sixth part of the force which England could muster—though the Engagement had shewn what it was to meet the veterans of Edgehill and Naseby in the field—they did not scruple to do that which was sure to incur a war with the young republic, because so they wrought out the plan of the Covenant, to which they had sworn, and so did they believe they would advance the glory of God.

Commissioners sent to the young king at the Hague negotiated for his coming to Scotland as their Covenanted monarch. He would fain have evaded the condition; but on that point no concession could be made. He, therefore, while the treaty was going on, was induced to sanction a descent upon Scotland, which Montrose had planned, with a view to raise the royalists. In the spring of 1650, the marquis, furnished with a royal commission, landed in Orkney, with a handful of German soldiers and some arms and ammunition. Advancing through Ross-shire with about fifteen hundred men, he utterly failed to meet the support which he expected. A body of troops sent against him under Colonel Strachan, fell upon his little army in Strathoikel, and quickly routed it. The unfortunate commander fled into Assynt—was given up by a treacherous friend, and, being then brought to Edinburgh, was there hanged as ‘an excommunicat traitor’ (May 21, 1650).

Seeing no better course now open to him for the recovery of his kingdoms, Charles agreed that; on coming into Scotland, be should sign the Covenant. The Scotch leaders, with their knowledge of his concern in Montrose’s expedition, should have seen that he could be no sincere adherent of that bond. They should have scrupled to accept such a signature, or even to ask it. But it was just one of the unfortunate consequences of the worship that had come to be paid to this document, that adherences to it were demanded, nay, forced, without any regard to conscientious objections, and accepted in the face of the most glaring proofs that it was secretly protested against and hated, and would on the first opportunity be thrown aside. Accordingly, a young prince, wholly a man of pleasure, is now seen giving a false vow to a body of earnest religious men, who had every reason to know what the votary felt, meant, and would ultimately do in the case. Charles landed at the mouth of the Spey, and was received with all outward appearances of respect by the Scottish leaders and the chief divines, while they trusted him with no real power. He visited Aberdeen, Perth, and Stirling, everywhere a mere puppet, and much at a loss, it is said, to endure the long sermons to which his situation compelled him to listen.

Cromwell, fresh from the reduction of Ireland, came into Scotland with an army in July, to put down this movement. A large force was prepared by the Scots, and placed in front of Edinburgh. It might have been larger, if the leaders, in their extreme zeal for purity of religion, had not deemed it proper to reject all who were yet unreconciled to the church for their concern in the Engagement, as well as all pure royalists. Cromwell, after all, found the campaign less simple than he anticipated. Distressed by want of provisions and by sickness, he was even inclined to withdraw along the east coast. But the Scottish army posted on the Doon Hill, near Dunbar, made such a movement impossible. In these circumstances, he must soon have been brought to a capitulation. But the imprudence of the Scottish leaders, in forcing General Leslie to attack the English, proved his salvation. He gained a complete victory (September 3), killing three thousand, and taking several thousand prisoners, many of whom were sent to the plantations as slaves. Edinburgh and its Castle fell into his hands, along with most of the southern provinces.

The Scottish government gathered the remains of its strength at Stirling, and was soon able again to present a respectable front to Cromwell, though only by admitting to its leaguer those troops, Engagers and royalists, who had formerly been rejected. The determination of the leaders was marked by a formal crowning of the king at Scone (January 1, 1651), the Marquis of Argyle putting the emblem of sovereignty on the royal head. By this time, the eyes of many had been opened to the false position in which the country lay with respect to their former associates of England, and some began to fraternise with Cromwell. A division took place in the church regarding the king, some adhering to certain resolutions in his favour, others protesting against them; hence respectively called Resolutioners and Protesters. From this time, the latter party, called also Remonstrants, embracing the great bulk of those who took the most scrupulous views regarding the Covenanted work, proved a sore thorn in the side of the more moderate party, who for the meantime had gained an ascendency. After a long inactivity, Cromwell, in July 1651, made a movement to Perth, so as to threaten the Scottish army in rear, but left a way open into England. At the urgency of the king, who hoped for assistance in the south, the Scots marched across the west border, and advanced through Lancashire, hotly followed by Cromwell. In a well-contested and bloody action at Worcester (September 3, 1651), the Scottish army was utterly routed; and Charles with difficulty escaped abroad.

Scotland had now expended nearly the whole of her military strength in a vain endeavour to support her ecclesiastical system, in connection with a limited monarchy, against the English commonwealth. Her towns and principal places of strength fell into the hands of the English troops. The Committee of Estates were surprised and taken prisoners at a place called Alyth, on the skirts of the Grampians. The General Assembly was dispersed, and no church-courts above synods were allowed to meet. Henceforth, the Resolutioners and Remonstrants, the moderate majority and furious minority of the church, were allowed to gnaw at and tear each other to pieces, with little result but that of making many calm men despair of peace under such a mode of church-government. With little ceremony, the country was declared to be united with England. In 1653, the remnants of the party friendly to royalty drew together in the Highlands under the Earl of Glencairn and Lord Kenmure, and for upwards of a year, under these nobles, and latterly under General Middleton, with the assistance of certain clans, they were able to maintain their ground. At length, even this guerrilla opposition ceased. Eight thousand English troops and four forts—at Ayr, Leith, Perth, and Inverness—proved sufficient to keep our ancient kingdom in subjection. The essentially aggressive spirit of the Solemn League was revenged by nine years of humiliation, during which all classes seem to have suffered, but especially the nobles, who were ground to the dust by heavy fines. It is admitted, nevertheless, that the country was benefited by the keeping down of the religious factions, as well as by the impartiality of a corps of English judges, who superseded the native bench.

During the greater part of this time, Cromwell was the undisputed ruler of Scotland, as well as of England and Ireland. At length, after his death in 1658, confusion and difficulty were renewed, and to these an effectual stop was not put till, by the happy intervention of General Monk, Charles II. was restored as king (May 1660).

In the early part of this year, the Scottish Estates are found
engaged in various objects of apparently a contradictory character. They were eager, through their commissioners in London, to save the king’s life; so much so that, on some one proposing that they should wait over three or four days for a general fast, the idea was overruled in favour of the immediate employment of worldly means. They were at the same time bringing to punishment, or scarcely less penal repentance, thousands of people who had taken arms for the king in the preceding year. After Charles I. was no more, they sat on under the sanction of the name of ‘our sovereign lord Charles II.,’ and yet if that sovereign lord had ventured to set his foot on Scottish soil, it is most probable that he would have been immediately made a prisoner and treated as a dangerous person. The truth is, the powers now in the ascendant were only monarchists in subordination to a superior principle, which had in view the establishment of a perfect Presbyterian church, as meditated in the Solemn League and Covenant. While they so far favoured Charles I., then, as not to desire his death, they regarded as wholly mischievous all who had befriended or proposed to befriend him or his son on other terms than an adherence to the Covenant.

The Highlanders were not sensible of these refining distinctions. They rose in a considerable body in February under Thomas Mackenzie of Pluscardine, a brother of the Earl of Seaforth; professing only a desire to restore the king. This little band took Inverness, but was soon put down. The only effect was, that the ruling powers now wreaked vengeance on their old opponent the Marquis of Huntly, who had been a pining prisoner in Edinburgh Castle for sixteen months, and was not likely to have long troubled them, since he was manifestly dying of a dysentery. We have seen this noble entering life as Master of the king of France’s Scottish guard. A great prince he was in the north. Through the whole civil war, he had been constant to the king as simply the king, but had not always acted with consummate prudence. Now comes at length an evil day for the House of Gordon, when the wrath accumulated against it for its seventy years’ opposition to a ‘truth’ which it could never appreciate, must be discharged. It might have been expected that the Marquis of Argyle, who was Huntly’s brother-in-law, and to appearance all-powerful, would interfere to save him. To that end, his sister, the Marchioness of Douglas, and his three daughters—the Lady Drummond, the Lady Seton, and the Countess of Haddington, went and threw themselves on their bended knees before Macaleinmore. He declined to meddle with what the parliament had decreed, the truth being, that no lay power was then able to stand against an object on which the leading clergy had set their hearts. The poor ladies pleaded even to have a respite of a few days, hoping that nature would save their brother and parent a public and cruel death; but even this boon could not be obtained. On the 22d of March, the marquis is brought down from his airy prison, along the High Street of Edinburgh, clad in the deepest mourning, very weak in body, we are told, but cheerful in spirit, as not wishing to live after his master was gone, and placed on a scaffold at the Cross, where the Maiden stands prepared to receive him in her dismal embraces. He writes a few lines to his children, and speaks a few sentences to the multitude. The gleaming axe descends, and the noble of a score of illustrious titles is no more.

After all, the Highlanders were not disposed to be at peace. One Sunday in May, about fifteen hundred Mackenzies and Mackays came over the Kessock Ferry to Inverness, while the people were at church, and proceeded to great insolencies. ‘Instead of bells to ring in to service,’ says a clergyman who was present, ‘I saw and heard no other than the noise of pipes, drums, pots, pans, kettles, and spits in the streets, to provide them with victuals in every house. In their quarters the rude rascality would eat no meat at their tables, until the landlord laid down a shilling Scots upon each trencher, terming this argiod cagainn, or chewing money, which every soldier got, so insolent were they.’ This doughty band was in a few days half cut to pieces by two troops of horse under Colonels Strachan and Kerr, and about a thousand of them came back as prisoners to Inverness, where, ‘those men who, in their former march, would hardly eat their meat without money, are now begging food, and, like dogs, lap the water which was brought them in tubs and other vessels in the open streets.' Such are amongst the scenes proper to a time of civil broil.

The clergy were sensible of the benighted state of the Highlands, and longed to see the Gael brought to a sense of the beauty of a pure faith. As one small effort towards the object, the General Assembly ordained a collection to be made for the purpose of keeping forty Highland boys at school. It appears, however, that very little was efficiently done for the education of youth in the Highlands, till fully a century later. Dr Shaw, in his History of the Province of Moray, published in 1775, makes the remarkable declaration: ‘I well remember when from Speymouth (through Strathspey, Badenoch, and Lochaber) to Lorn there was but one school—viz., at Ruthven in Badenoch; and it was much to find, in a parish, three persons that could read and write.’

A perfect accord reigned between the clergy and the Estates, the latter ratifying whatever the former required. A seasonable testimony against the sins and dangers of the times being issued by the church-commission, the Estates passed an act responding to it, ‘heartily concurring in the grounds thereof against toleration and the present proceedings of the Sectaries in England;’ declaring for ‘one King, one Covenant, one Religion;’ promising all strenuous endeavour for ‘the settling truth and peace in these kingdoms upon the propositions so often agreed to ‘—that is, by the forcible putting down of every profession in England and Ireland but that of pure Presbyterianism. At the request of the church, lay patronages were abolished, and acts were passed imposing capital punishment on blasphemy, the worship of false gods, and incest. The church had for some time been under great concern about ‘the growth of the sins of witchcraft, charming, and consulting,’ and it now appointed a conference of ministers, lawyers, and physicians, ‘to consider seriously of that matter, and advise therein amongst themselves,’ and afterwards report. The Estates, fully entering into these views, passed an act not expressly against witchcraft, for that had been done, as we have seen, so long ago as Queen Mary’s days, but to meet the fact that there are people who consult devils and familiar spirits, thinking to escape punishment because consulters of spirits are not mentioned in the former act. For this reason, the parliament enacted the punishment of death to ‘consulters,’ at the same time ratifying ‘all former acts against witches, sorcerers, necromancers, and consulters with them, in the whole heads, articles, and clauses thereof.’

The perfect simplicity and earnestness of all this is, in the conception of the author, as certain as its being obviously short of the better wisdom and better temper of our own time. The evil effects of the pursuit of rigorous extremes in state policy, in religious doctrine, and in ecclesiastical systems, had not then been experienced. No one yet dreamed of there being any harm in intolerance, but, on the contrary, it seemed a sin and a scandal to omit any means which promised to compel the wandering to come in. As to witchcraft and consulting, which we have learned to regard as imaginary offences, it was enough for the jurist of the seventeenth century that these words were entered in the Levitical law as descriptive of crimes deserving punishment.

One direction in which the earnestness of the time more especially projected itself, was towards an absolute exclusion of all shortcoming in religion, or even in what might be called church politics. Not only did an act of parliament thrust out of offices and places of trust all who had been in the slightest degree concerned in the Engagement—who must have been a large portion of the middle and upper classes of lay society—but the church-courts were equally unsparing of any clergy who had touched the unclean thing, or proved at all slack in faith and zeal. As a specimen—In September, a ‘visitation’ sat at the appointment of the General Assembly in the synodal province of Angus and Mearns, under the moderatorship of Mr Andrew Cant. It called several ministers of twenty years’ standing before it to preach, that there might be trial of doctrine and efficiency. In all, eighteen ministers were deposed, on the ground of insufficiency, ‘silence during the time of the late Engagement,’ ‘famishing of congregations,’ and corruption of life or doctrine.—Lam. This was only one of ‘diverse commissions’ which had gone east, west, north, and south, as Robert Baillie expresses it, and ‘deposed many ministers, to the pity and grief of my heart; for sundry of them might have been, for more advantage every way, with a rebuke, keeped in their places; but there was few durst profess so much.’ In short, as invariably happens in revolutions and times of danger, an institution professedly of a popular cast was ruled by this Mr Cant and two or three of his fellows, with as uncontrolled a power as usually belongs to institutions of an avowedly despotic character; and, doubtless, unavoidably so. It is at the same time evident that large numbers of individuals could not thus be made to suffer for merely sentimental offence; without some perilous consequences. It only afforded too good a precedent, as well as excuse, for retributory acts of the same kind after a reaction had set in. It is clear that the throwing of so many people out of their ordinary means of livelihood must have added not a little to the distresses of a time which, from natural as well as political causes, was one of general suffering.

Among the persons of some figure who had taken part in the Engagement, and were consequently liable to punishment at the hands of the now triumphant Whiggamores, was Mr Robert Farquhar, a rich Aberdeen merchant (provost of the city), who had at an earlier period been a most serviceable friend to the Covenanting cause, in as far as he helped it with large sums of money. In 1644 and 1641, he had advanced to the leaders ‘far more than he was worth:’ they ordered him to receive £4000 of the ‘brotherly assistance’ money paid by the English parliament to the Scots at the close of the first troubles; and this sum he brought down to Burntisland by sea, at great hazard from pirates; when no sooner had he arrived, than the Covenanting leaders forcibly borrowed the money again from him to supply the urgent necessities of the state. At the end of the second troubles in 1647, the debt of the state to Robert Farquhar was £133,132 Scots; and the parliament passed an act appointing him to receive, as to account, £5000 sterling of the second instalment of £200,000, then to be paid by the English parliament to the kingdom of Scotland. Two years, however, passed on, without anything being realised, and by accumulation of interest, the debt had reached the enormous sum of £180,859 Scots, so that Farquhar was much distressed in his affairs.

We can readily imagine the feelings of a government creditor to so large an amount, who had done something that usually provoked fines on the part of that government, on his receiving a summons to come to Edinburgh. He prepared to obey with fear and trembling; but the extraordinary sagacity attributed to the citizens of Aberdeen did not desert him. Near by, lived Mr Andrew Cant, the minister of his native city, whom he knew to be influential with the Committees ruling in Edinburgh. On the Sunday evening preceding the Monday morning on which he was to take horse for the south, he caused his wife to prepare a good supper, to which he proceeded to invite Mr Cant, for, as has been already intimated, Sunday-evening entertainments were among the domestic institutions of the age. The remainder of the story may be given in the words of the contemporary narrator. Mr Andrew, he says, ‘refuses to come once, twice; at last Mr Robert resolves with himself to have him at any rate, and forthwith goes to his house himself and very earnestly, in submissive and humble terms, entreats him to let him be honoured with his company at supper. The minister refuses, in respect of the coldness of the night. He still urges him to go, and he should find ane sure antidote for any cold. At last, being overcome by Mr Robert’s importunity, he goes home with him—all this time it is observable how he called him no other but still Mr Robert—and being set by the fire, and made very welcome, Mr Robert goes to his closet, and brings to the hall a gown of black velvet, lined with martricks, and would have Mr Andrew put it on, which, with small entreaty, he did. (Thereafter, in all his discourses, he calls him either provost or commissary, and not Mr Robert.) So, having supped, and made a plentiful meal, and being again set by the fire, Mr Robert asks the minister if he had any service to command to Edinburgh, for he was cited to appear there, before the parliament, to make his accounts, and therefore besought Mr Andrew that he would recommend him to some of his most confident friends; which he promised to do. At last, bedtime drawing near, Mr Andrew rises to begone, and would have casten off the gown; but Mr Robert entreated him not to do so, nor wrong him that far, in respect he had brought him from his own warm house, in so cold and rigid a night, to partake of so homely fare, for no other end but to bestow that chamber-gown upon him, as befitting his age and gravity Such as it was, he humbly entreated him to accept of it, as an assurance and token of his love and affection to him; which Mr Andrew did without more ceremonies. So Mr Robert did accompany him home, with his gown on his shoulders, and at parting Mr Andrew told him "he should not do weel to go without his letters." He said he would not. To-morrow he gets his letters, one to Argyle, another to Loudon, and the third to the Register Warriston, with two to some ministers, which made him welcome to Edinburgh, and afterwards to dance about that fire which, as he feared, should, if not burned him, at least scalded him very sore."

On the 1st of August, the Estates passed an act acknowledging Farquhar’s enormous debt, and arranging for its reduction by the payment to him of the third of all the fines imposed on delinquents north of the Tay; so that, instead of having his own feathers plucked, he was invested with a power of plucking others. In the subsequent year, he received the honour of knighthood from Charles II.

It is worthy of notice that a few wealthy merchants like this Mr Robert Farquhar (another of great note was Sir William Dick of Edinburgh, afterwards to be noticed) had proved the principal means of fitting out the Covenanting troops on several occasions. The register of parliament is swelled at this time with their claims, and the efforts of the government to give them satisfaction. The meagre Excise revenue, which never perhaps reached thirty thousand pounds, was pledged and forestalled to the teeth. One other resource much looked to was that of the fines imposed on gentlemen who had shewn disinclination to the good cause. It must be observed, that to have failed to subscribe any sort of declaration of opinion that was required, to have, above all, refused a signature to the Covenant, even to daily under a summons to appear before one of the revolutionary committees, inferred a severe pecuniary exaction. Thus the war was made in some degree to support itself, but not the less of course to the general impoverishment of the country.

As an illustrative case—exhibiting this oppressive mulcting system, and that general interference with personal liberty which the revolutionary government (by the unavoidable necessity, we may admit, of its position) was accustomed to visit upon its subjects, when these were in any degree slack of obedience—we may mention the case of James Farquharson of Inverey, in Aberdeenshire; premising that the statement is his own in a petition to the Estates. Having been summoned by the Committee of Estates in May 1647, but not duly receiving the notice, he failed of course to attend, and was consequently punished with a fine of £4000 [Scots?). The exaction of this fine was assigned to Forbes, Laird of Leslie, probably in recompense of services or repayment of public debt; and Forbes immediately became the prosecutor of Farquharson at law. It was in vain that Farquharson, when apprised of his liability, offered to stand a trial for any offence laid to his charge. In the spring of 1649, he, being a man of seventy-three years of age, was dragged from his house, his wife and young children, to Edinburgh, where probably this Deeside baron had never been in his life. There he was clapped up in the Tolbooth, and kept for twelve weeks, till, afraid to perish in so horrible a den, and sensible of the hard condition of his family at home, he at length succeeded in attracting some charitable attention from the Estates. It was only, after all, on his agreeing with the Laird of Leslie for a composition of his fine, that this gentleman, who boldly challenged any trial, but was never tried, could obtain his liberty.

One Alexander Stewart, calling himself professor of physic, travelled about the country, picking up a scanty livelihood by the exercise of his art, but also beholden in part for his subsistence to the kindness of friends. He had lived in this way twenty years, without any fixed habitation of his own, and it chanced in the summer of this year that he had to travel from the house of his brother, the minister of Rothesay, to St Johnston, ‘hoping to have had some residence there in the exercise of his calling,’ when he was seized as ‘an intelligencer and seminary priest,’ carried to Edinburgh, and imprisoned in the Tolbooth. He was under the necessity of petitioning the Estates, setting forth his innocency of all offence against kirk or state, and shewing that he had already cleared himself before the presbytery of St Johnston, ‘who could find nothing of that kind against him;’ yet he was suffered to lie ‘miserably in prison, destitute of all help.’ The Estates, having apparently ascertained that a mistake had been made in the seizure of this poor mediciner, ordered his liberation.

This was a year of extreme dearth. Wheat was at seventeen pounds Scots per boll; oats, twelve pounds; and other grains in proportion. Owing, also, to the coldness and dryness of the spring, the herbage and hay proved deficient, and cheese and butter consequently attained high prices—the former three, and the latter six pounds per stone. ‘In the beginning of June, the parliament licensed Englishmen to buy and transport oxen, kine, sheep of all sorts, likewise horses and colts; which was one of the most hurtful acts could ‘be made to ruin Scotland, and advance the designs of the enemies thereof; bestial of all sorts being at so high a rate these four years past in this country, and flesh in the common markets scarce buyable but at very exorbitant rates; the like has not been seen in this kingdom heretofore since it was a nation.’—Bal.

The luxuries of life were correspondingly dear at this time: the best ale, 3s. 4d. (3 1/3d. sterling); sack wine, 36s.; and French wine, 16s. per pint.

‘About Lammas and afterwards, in many parts of this kingdom, both among bear and oats, there were seen a great number of creeping things—which was not ordinar—which remained in the head of the stalk of corn, at the root of the pickle.’—Lam.

‘About Lammas . . . . there was a star seen by many people of Edinburgh, betwixt twelve and two hours of the day, even when the sun shined most bright; which was taken for a comet, and a forerunner of the troubles that followed.’—C. P. H.

No such comet is noted by astronomers, the only two in the first half of the seventeenth century being in 1607 and 1618. It was probably a star of high magnitude, or planet rendered visible by some extraordinary state of the atmosphere.

The anxiety about witchcraft manifested by the General Assembly and parliament this year, was not allowed to expend itself in empty words. ‘This summer,’ says Lamont in his Diary, ‘there was very many witches taken and brunt in several parts of this kingdom, as in Lothian and Fife.’ The register of the Committee of Estates shews no fewer than five several commissions issued on the 4th, and two on the 6th of December, for the trial of witches in various parts of the country. The procedure, as far as revealed to us, seems to have been this: The suspected were first taken in hand by the minister and his session or consistory, with a view to obtain proof or extort confession. Generally, the poor wretches—moved partly by their own religious feelings— confessed; then a commission was sought for and granted to certain gentlemen of the district, for the trial of the accused. The trial seems to have been little more than a form, for condemnation and execution almost invariably followed.

Margaret Henderson, ‘Lady Pittathrow,’ described as sister to the Laird of Fordel, and residing in Inverkeithing, was delated by sundry persons who had lately suffered for witchcraft, ‘to be ane witch, and that she has keepit several meetings and abominable society with the devil.’ So says a grave petition of the General Assembly to parliament (July 19). Fearing punishment, she withdrew to the city of Edinburgh, and there lurked ‘till it pleasit the Almighty God to dispose in His providence that she is now apprehendit and put in firmance in the Tolbooth.’ The Assembly now craving her trial, so that ‘this land and city may be free of her and justice done upon her,’ the Estates were pleased to issue a command to Mr Thomas Nicholson, his majesty’s advocate, to proceed with her arraignment before the justice-general; and if she be guilty of the said crime, ‘to convict and condemn her, pronounce sentence of death against, cause strangle her and burn her body, and do every requisite in sic cases.’ The diarist Lamont gives us the conclusion of the case. ‘After remaining in prison for a time, [she] being in health at night, was upon the morning found dead. It was thought and spoken by many that she wronged herself, either by strangling or poison; but we leave that to the judgment of the great day.’

There was a kind of infection in witchcraft, for one unhappy victim was sure to accuse others, albeit with no more justice than what there was in the charge against herself. It was probably in consequence of such ‘delations’ on the part of Lady Pittathrow that we find the presbytery of Dunfermline and minister of Inverkeithing giving in a supplication to parliament (July 31, 1649), shewing that there bad been ‘declarations of witchcraft against the wives of the magistrates and other persons of the burgh of Inverkeithing, whom the said magistrates refused to apprehend.’ The presbytery had visited the burgh, and ‘dealt with the magistrates and town-council to give the full power and commission to certain honest men of the town, to apprehend, put in firmance, and tak trial of such persons as they should allow and judge worthy to be apprehendit and tried, as said is.’ The surprise of these worthy bailies on being told that the wives of their own bosoms were witches, would have been not a little amusing to a man of the nineteenth century, could he have been present to witness it. We are told that they at first seemed to see the reasonableness of deputing their ordinary power to a set of ‘honest men’ for the trial of their suspected helpmates; but when their ghostly visitors had left them, they were brought to view things in a different light. The magistrates now ‘slights that work, and refuses to give the power in manner foresaid.’ For this reason it had become necessary to apply to parliament for a commission to the ‘honest men’ to do the duty of the magistrates, and this was readily granted. What came of the magistrates’ wives under this perilous accusation, does not appear.

In August, a poor woman, named Bessie Graham, living in Kilwinning, was apprehended and thrown into prison, for some threatening words she had used in drink against a neighbour woman who had since died. During a confinement of thirteen weeks, she was visited by the minister Mr James Fergusson, who, it was thought, might ascertain whether she was a witch or not. He found her obdurate in non-confession, and was greatly inclined to think her innocent. One Alexander Bogue, ‘skilled in searching the mark,’ came to examine her person, and finding a spot in the middle of her back, thrust in a pin, which neither inflicted pain nor drew blood. Still the minister hesitated to believe her guilty. He entered on a course of prayers for divine direction. Soon after, going one evening to the prison with his bedral, Alexander Simpson, he made a strenuous attempt to induce Bessie to confess, but without effect. To pursue his own narrative: ‘When I came to the stair-head, I resolved to halt a little to hear what she would say. Within a very short space, she begins to discourse, as if it had been to somebody with her. Her voice was so low, that I could not understand what she said, except one sentence, whereby I perceived she was speaking of somewhat I had been challenging her of and she had denied after a little while, I heard another voice speaking and whispering as it were conferring with her, which presently I apprehended to be the foul fiend’s voice She, having kept silence a time, began to speak again; and before she had well ended, the other voice speaketh as it were a long sentence, which, though I understood not what it was, yet it was so low and ghostly, that I was certainly persuaded that it was another voice than hers. Besides, her accent and manner of speaking was as if she had been speaking to some other; and that other voice, to the best of my remembrance, did begin before she had ended, so that two voices were to be heard at once.

‘By this time fear took hold on Alexander Simpson, being hindmost in the stair, and thereby he cries out. I did exhort him with a loud voice not to fear; and we came all of us down the stair, blessing God that had given me such a clearance in the business.’

This poor woman, on a subsequent conference with Mr Fergusson, confessed all she was accused of, except the imputed witchcraft. She said: ‘She knew she would die, and desired not to live; and she thought we would be free before God of her blood, because that, however she was free, yet there were so many things deponed against her that it was hard for us to think otherwise of her than we did; yet she knew well enough her own innocence.’ Bessie was soon after tried, condemned, and executed, denying her guilt to the last.’

In the ensuing month, Agnes Gourlay was examined by the kirk-session of Humbie, concerning some practices of hers for charming the milk of kine. It was alleged that Anna Simpson, servant to Robert Hepburn of Keith, having found fault with the milk she drew from her master’s cows, Agnes told her of a way to remedy the evil, and soon after came and put it in practice. Throwing a small quantity of the milk into the grupe or sewer of the cow-house, she called out: ‘God betak us to! May be, they are under the earth that have as much need of it, as they that are above the earth!’ after which she put wheat bread and salt into the cows’ ears. Agnes by and by confessed that she had so done, and was ordained to make public repentance in sackcloth.’

Lord Linton, son of the Earl of Traquair, married Henrietta Gordon, daughter of the lately executed Marquis of Huntly, and relict of George Lord Seton; she being an excommunicated papist. ‘The minister of Dawick, being an old man, did marry thir foresaid persons privately, without proclamation of their banns, according to the custom; for which, shortly after, he was excommunicate, his church declared vacant, and he by the state banished.’—Lam. Lord Linton was fined in £5000 Scots, and likewise excommunicated and imprisoned.—Nic.

Dec 18
The reader will remember the strenuous opposition of John Mean, merchant in Edinburgh, to the Episcopal innovations, and his sufferings in that cause; likewise the strong suspicion entertained that it was his wife who discharged her stool at the bishop’s head when the Service-book was introduced into St Giles’s in July 1637. It was natural that John, who was a man of good account in the world, as well as a most earnest Presbyterian, should have flourished under the present other of things. We therefore hear without surprise that the Post in Edinburgh—the germ of a most important institution—was now under the care of John Mean. It seems to have been confined as yet to the transmission of letters between London and Edinburgh. At the date noted, he addressed a petition to the Committee of Estates, regarding ‘his great charges and expenses in attending the Letter-office in this city, and his allowance therefor.’ He states that ‘the benefit arising by the letters sent from this to London and coming from thence hither, by the ordinary post, will amount to four hundred pounds sterling yearly or thereby, all charges being deduced for payment of the postmaster from Newcastle to Edinburgh inclusive, and no proportion thereof laid upon the Berwick pacquet.’ In consideration of his charges, John was allowed to retain for himself the eighth penny upon all the letters sent from Edinburgh to London, and the fourth penny upon all those coming from London to Edinburgh.—R.C.E.

In the year 1649, as is believed, a cateran named Mac-Allister, with a band of followers, kept a large portion of Caithness in terror. The people of Thurso having somehow given him offence, he determined to revenge himself by suddenly coming down upon them on a Sunday and burning them in church. He and his men had provided themselves with withes of twigs to fasten the doors, in order to keep the people in, while fire should be set to the building. Some one remonstrating with him for contemplating such an unholy design on the Sabbath-day, he avowed that, in spite of God and the Sabbath both, he would shed blood. Fortunately, some humane person became aware of the design, and set off at speed to give the alarm. This had scarcely been done, when the caterans, twenty in number, arrived. There were seven doors to the church, as may be verified by an inspection of the ruins at this day. An old woman dexterously thrust her stool into one near which she sat, so as to prevent it from being closed; the people were eager to defend the rest as far as they could. Mac-Allister himself came to the door of a gallery at the south-west angle of the building, accessible by an outer stair. Here sat Sir James Sinclair of Murkle,. an able and determined man, who made a practice of coming to church armed. Meeting the robber in the doorway, he thrust his sword through him, but with no apparent effect. His servant, however, superstitiously fearing that Mac-Allister was impervious to cold steel, cut a triangular silver button from Sir James’s coat, and with that shot the fellow in the head. He tumbled over the stair, saying in Gaelic: ‘Hoot-toot, the bodach has deafened me!’ It was a mortal wound in the ear. The rest of the party were then set upon by the congregation, and after a hard contest, overpowered, many of them, like their master, being killed.’

1650, Mar 9
The Marquis of Douglas, formerly Earl of Angus, one of the greatest and wealthiest of the nobility, was a Catholic; and his wife, a daughter of the first Marquis of Huntly, was a not less firm adherent of the ancient faith. For many years past, the presbytery of Lanark had acted as an inquisition over them, sending deputations every now and then to Douglas Castle, to deal with them for their conversion, intermeddling with their domestic affairs, and threatening them with excommunication if they did not speedily give ‘satisfaction.’ With great difficulty, and after many conferences, they had prevailed on the Lady Marquesse to attend the parish church, and allow her children to be instructed in the Presbyterian catechism: a mere external conformity, of course, but involving a homage to the system which seems to have pleased the ecclesiastical authorities. It took six years to bring the marquis to an inclination to abjure popery and sign the Covenant; and great was the rejoicing when he performed this ceremony before the parish congregation. A moderator of presbytery reported his ‘great contentment’ in seeing his lordship communicate and give attentive ear to the sermons. Seeing, however, that the lady remained immovable, the reverend court deemed it necessary to demand of the noble pair that their children should be secluded from them, in order that assurance might be had of their being brought up in the Protestant religion. This seems to have been too much for the old peer. He plainly broke through all engagements to them, by going and joining Montrose.

As his lordship fell into the hands of the Estates, by whom he was imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle, the presbytery obtained an increased power over the lady. They now brought her before them, to examine her touching her ‘malignancy and obstinate continuance in the profession of popery.’ Imagine the daughter of the superb Huntly, the mother of the future head of the chivalric house of Douglas, forced to appear ‘with bated breath and whispering humbleness’ before the presbytery of Lanark! She really did give them such smooth words as induced them to hold off for a little while. But they soon had occasion once more to bewail the effects of their ‘manifold expressions of lenity and long-suffering’ towards her, which they saw attended by no effect but ‘disobedience.’ The process for her excommunication and the taking any of her children was in full career in January 1646; and yet by some means which do not appear, it did not advance.

Meanwhile the marquis had been suffering a long imprisonment for his lapse with Montrose, and his estate was embarrassed with a fine of 50,000 merks. It had become indispensable for the good of his family, that he should be somehow reconciled to the stern powers then ruling. At the beginning of 1647, the descendant of those mail-clad Douglases who in the fifteenth century shook the Scottish throne, was found literally on his knees before the Lanark presbytery, expressing his penitence for breach of covenant, and giving assurance of faithfulness in time to come. The Estates consequently contented themselves with one half of his fine, and an offer of the use of his lands for the quartering of troops, and he was then liberated. Soon after, he agreed to consign his children to be boarded with the minister of the parish of Douglas, while a young man should attend to act as their preceptor; but the satisfaction produced by this concession was quickly dashed, when the presbytery learned that his lordship was secretly arranging to send his youngest son to be bred in France. It was really a curious game between their honest unsparing zeal on the one hand, and his lordship’s craft and territorial consequence on the other. Every now and then we have a peep of the demure lady, not less resolute in adhering to her faith than they were pertinacious in seeking to bring her to the superior light. How the recusant pair must have in secret chafed under the mute acquiescence which they were forced to give, in a rule outraging every sense of natural right, and every feeling of self-respect! With what smothered rage would they view those presbyterial deputations on their approach to Douglas Castle—more formidable than a thousand of the troops of Long shanked Edward had ever been to the good Sir James! During the predominance of the Hamilton Engagement, there was a slight intermission: in those partially clouded days of the church, the presbytery was obliged to speak a little less resolutely. In October 1648, the cloud had passed away: Cromwell was now in the Canongate, conferring with Argyle, Loudon, and Dickson. We accordingly find the Lanark inquisition laconically ordering that, failing immediate satisfaction, his lordship be summoned and the lady ‘excommunicat.’ The noble marquis appeared in this month before them, to answer sundry challenges—’for not keeping his son at the school with a sufficient pedagogue approven by the presbytery; for not delivering his daughter to some Protestant friend by sight [that is, under the approbation] of the presbytery; for not having a sufficient chaplain approven as said is, for family exercise in his house; for not calling home his son, who is in France;’ and, finally, for his grievous oppression of his tenants. On all of these points, he was forced to make certain professed concessions. And we soon after find this proud grandee pleading to have his son brought from the school of Glasgow to that of Lanark, but ‘not to come home to his parents except the presbytery permit.’ Still there was no real progress made with either the marquis or his lady, and simply because they continued to be Catholics at heart, and had it not in their power to give more than lip-worship to any other system.

Such being the case, what are we to think of the conclusion of the affair with the marchioness, when, on the 9th of March 1650, two ministers went to pass upon her that sentence of excommunication which was to make her homeless and an outlaw,’ unless she should instantly profess the Protestant faith; at the same time telling her ‘how fearful a sin it was to swear with equivocation or mental reservation.’ The lady of course reflected that the system represented by her visitors was now triumphant over everything—that, for one thing, it had brought her brother Huntly, not a twelvemonth ago, beneath the stroke of the Maiden. She ‘declared she had no more doubts,’ and at the command of one of the ministers, held up her hand, and solemnly accepted the Covenant before the congregation. ‘After he had read the Solemn League and Covenant, and desired her to hold up her hand and swear by the great name of God to observe, according to her power, every article thereof, she did so; and after divine service was ended, he desired her to go to the session-table and subscribe the Covenant, and, before the minister and elders, she went to the said table and did subscribe,’

‘Heaven scarce believed the conquest it surveyed,
And saints with wonder heard the vows I made.’

On the very day that this was reported by the two ministers to the presbytery, the court, ‘hearing that of late the Marquis of Douglas and his lady had sent away one of their daughters to France, to a popish lady, to be bred with her in popery, without the knowledge of the presbytery, and without any warrant from the Estates, thought the fault intolerable, and so much the more, because they had sent away one of their sons before to the court of France.’ For some time after, the reverend presbytery dealt earnestly with the marquis for the withdrawal of his children from France, but without success. They also had occasion to lament that he and his lady rarely attended public worship, and failed to have private exercises at home. Of their own great error in forcing this noble family into hypocritical professions, and interfering so violently with their domestic arrangements, no suspicion seems ever once to have crossed their minds.

At the same time that the presbytery of Lanark was driving on matters with the Marchioness of Douglas, it had another serious affair on its hands. Towards the close of the preceding year, the marquis had sent eleven women of his parish to Lanark, as accused of witchcraft by one Janet Couts, ‘a confessing witch,’ then in prison at Peebles. There was a difficulty about the case, for the burgh declined to maintain so many persons pending their trial. It was therefore necessary to send them back to Crawford Douglas under security. Afterwards, one George Cathie, ‘the pricker,’ being brought to Lanark, the women were brought forward again, when, ‘before famous witnesses—namely, Gideon Jack and Patrick Craig, bailies in Lanark, James Cunningham of Bonniton, &c., Mr Robert Birnie himself [the minister of Lanark] being also present, and by consent of the women, the said George did prick pins in every one of them, and in divers of them without pain the pin was put in, as the witnesses can testify.’ The women were accordingly detained, in prison. As ‘it was not possible for the parish out of which they came to furnish watches night and day for them,’ the county ‘did ordain that each parish should, proportionally to their quantity, furnish twelve men every twenty-four hours; whereupon the presbytery did ordain that the minister of that parish out of which the watches shall come for their turn, shall come along with them, to wait upon the suspected persons, and to take pains, by prayer and exhortation, to bring them to a confession.’

We next see the presbytery sending a deputation to the Council of State in Edinburgh, to urge that a commission should be appointed for the trial of the witches. While this was in preparation, they sent to the parish to collect evidence against the poor women. It might have been supposed that, when, after a sermon in the church, no one came forward to say a word against them, some doubts might have entered the minds of the presbytery. Such, however, was not the case. They sent again and again, till at length charges were made against three of the suspected. Meanwhile, one whom Janet Couts herself ‘cleansed,’ was liberated. Six more, against whom no charge was made, were allowed to go home on giving security that they would reappear if called upon. Finally, two, named Janet M’Birnie and Marion Laidlaw, were at this date tried by the commission on various points delated against them; as that, ‘on a time Janet followed William Brown, a slater, to crave somewhat, and fell in evil words, after which time, within twenty-four hours, he fell off ane house and brake his neck; that Janet was the cause of the discord between [the laird of] Newton and his wife, and that she and others was the death of William Geddes;’ that ‘Marion and Jean Blacklaw differed in words for Marion’s hay, and, after that, Jean her kye died;’ and that she, the said Marion, ‘had her husband by unlawful means, and a beard!’ After most strictly examining the witnesses on their oaths, the commission could find nought proven against the two prisoners, and they were therefore dismissed on giving caution to appear again if called upon.

It does not appear that this result in any degree modified the views of the reverend presbytery regarding witchcraft. On the very day when this case was reported to them, they received a communication from Mr Richard Inglis, the chaplain or preceptor whom they had established in the Marquis of Douglas’s family, setting forth the confession of ‘ane warlock called Archibald Watt, alias Sole the paitlet, pointing out the way of his making covenant with the devil, as also many meetings since his covenant keeped with the devil, and other witches, in divers places.’ And immediately they sent a gentleman to Edinburgh for ‘a commission for ane assize to sit upon the foresaid warlock.’

The end of the prosecution of the eleven women is highly instructive. Janet Couts, before her death, which probably was by burning, withdrew the charge she had made against them. It is on the same day when the presbytery orders one of their number to go and read a paper to this effect in the church of Douglas, that they make the above arrangement for the prosecution of the warlock; shewing that they had not been in the least staggered on the general question, by finding the gross mistake they had made in this instance. - R. P. L..

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