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Memoirs of Scottish Catholics
During the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, selected from hitherto inedited MSS by William Forbes Leith S. J. in two volumes


very homely proverb tells us that no man knows where the shoe pinches, better than he who wears it. However soft to the touch the leather is shown to be, however high the repute of the maker, no argument derived from the evidence of others can outweigh the statement based on personal experience.

We have heard the history of religion in Scotland from many a friend of the Covenant, from many an admirer of the Royalists, but a personal narrative of the sufferings endured by the members of the ancient faith has not been put before the world.

The letters here printed were written from Scotland during the worst times, by men who were bearing the extremity of the persecution. We hear at first hand of the courage, patience, resource, and religious fortitude, with which large numbers of Scots bore for generations trials which are without a parallel for severity and. protraction, even in the annals of our strong and long enduring nation.

In a previous volume of Narratives of Scottish Catholics their history has been traced in the days of Mary Stuart and of King James VL The documents now printed illustrate their troubles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period during which their interesting history has been too often ignored, amidst the momentous conflicts of the Crown, the Covenant, and the Parliament.

The majority of the letters which follow were written by the Jesuit missionaries in Scotland to the General of their Society in Rome. Some were actors in or ’witnesses of the events described. In other cases the letters were written abroad by a superior or representative, who had retired for the nonce to the Continent, where he could transact business with less fear of his letters being intercepted. None of these men were thinking of history or publication when they wrote. They recorded the daily life of the Scottish Catholics just as it passed before their eyes.

It should be noted, however, that these correspondents even when abroad were far from being truly free to write as they would under similar circumstances nowadays. They hardly ever dare mention the names and abodes of their principal friends. This may in part no doubt be accounted for by other reasons. The missioners had got so used to reticence in Scotland that they could hardly break themselves of their cautious habits after they had gone abroad; and again there was the difficulty of turning Scottish names into Latin, or of giving them significance to the eyes of foreigners. But this explanation does not go very far, for we find that in letters written from other distant missions, from India, China, etc., the names of stations and men of importance are always regularly given.

The dangers of Scottish missioners were serious even on the Continent because of the multiplicity of English newsagents, who should often more correctly be described as spies, and who especially frequented places like Paris, Rome, and Venice, then the chief exchanges (as we might say) for the news of the world.

Information regarding the papists at home was always being offered for sale to the English Government, and it was not so difficult to obtain a sight of “Annual Letters,” which circulated in the Jesuit colleges, and selections from them were published from time to time. It would not surprise me at all to find, that the “Annual Letters” about Montrose (vol. i., pp. 281-358) had already in this way become partially known. Several incidents regarding his campaigns, which are narrated by our historians, may originally have been derived from the papers now first published in full.

Whilst, therefore, we have to lament the too frequent omission of heroic names, we must acknowledge that this caution is in itself a sign of the times and a mark of genuineness, not of ignorance or unreliability.

The originals of these letters are for the most part preserved in a volume with the title Scotia, now preserved in the Stonyhurst Archives; and it was consulted there by Dr. George Oliver nearly eighty years ago, as his citations prove.

Some other letters are preserved in Jesuit archives abroad. They are all written in Latin, and in translating them I have aimed at a simple and uniform style rather than at reproducing the sometimes crude attempts to be classical, which were so usual in those days.

The writers in this first volume are all Jesuit Fathers, who may be identified in Dr. George Oliver’s Collectanea and other works of the same kind. They were mostly chaplains in the houses and castles of Catholic noblemen and gentry, and a table of them for two years, 1628 and 1703, may not be unwelcome.

In the year 1628—

Father William Leslie generally resided with the Earl of Errol.
Father Stickell with the Earl of Huntly.
Father James Macbreck lived at Seton with the Earl of Wintoun.
Father Robert Valens resided in Edinburgh with the Earl of Abercorn.
Father George Christie with the Countess of Linlithgow.
Father John Macbreck was on intimate terms with King James during the last years of his life, he was also Confessor to the French Ambassador.

In 1703—

Father John Gordon resided with the Laird of Garleton.
Father James Innes with the Earl of Nithsdale.
Father Hugh Strachan with the Laird of Auchinhove.
Father James Seton with the Countess of Dunfermline.
Father William Leslie with his brother, Count Leslie of Balquhain. Father John Innes with the Countess of Seaforth.

It is to be regretted that we do not know more about the lives of these religious heroes. The letters and memoirs here printed form their best, perhaps their only monuments. Of none of them do we possess a portrait. Yet as we look at the pictures of the now ruined castles, halls, and towers, in which they once lived, sometimes as chaplains, sometimes as prisoners, we can realise how Spartan, even at the best, their lives must have been, how unendurably oppressive, when incarcerated in them, the victims of the religious passions of those days.

In an Appendix will be found a series of chronological notes of the legal proceedings adopted against Catholics, which proceedings Pitcairn considered as "forming a prominent part of the ecclesiastical and political history of the country.”

The editor gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance he has received from the Rev. John Hungerford Pollen, S.J., in revising and passing the volumes through the press.

W. F. L.

Volume 1 - The Reign of King Charles I. 1627 - 1649
Volume 2 - From Commonwealth to Emancipation 1647 - 1793

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