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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Johnstones of Annandale

THE Johnstones were at one time among the most powerful, as they are one of the most ancient, of the Border septs. The ‘rough-footed clan,’ as they were termed, with the winged spur as their appropriate emblem, and the words ‘Aye ready’ for their motto, were originally settled in East Lothian, but for at least four hundred years they have held extensive possessions on the Western Marches, where they kept vigilant watch and ward against the English freebooters, carrying on at the same time sanguinary feuds with their powerful neighbours and rivals, the Crichtons of Sanquhar and the Maxwells of Nithsdale. Their designation is territorial, and was derived from the barony and lands of Johnstone in Annandale, which have been in their possession from a very remote period. The first of the family on record was Sir John de Johnstone, one of the Scottish barons who swore fidelity to Edward I. of England, in 1296. His great-grandson, also a Sir John de Johnstone, was conspicuous for his valour in the defence of his country in the reigns of David II. and Robert II. In 1370 he defeated an English invading army, and two years later was appointed one of the guardians of the Western Marches. His son, who bore the same name, got 300 of the 40,000 francs sent by the King of France, in 1385, to be divided among the Scottish nobles to induce them to carry on hostilities against their common enemies, the English. His son, Sir Adam Johnstone, was one of the commanders of the Scottish army at the battle of Sark, in 1448, in which they gained a signal victory over the English invaders—an exploit commemorated in glowing terms by Wyntoun in his ‘Chronicle.’ Sir Adam also took a prominent part on the royal side in the desperate struggle between James II. and the Douglases, and was very instrumental in the suppression of the rebellion of that great house against the Crown. He was rewarded by the King with a grant of the lands of Pettinane, in Lanarkshire, and the Johnstones have ever since borne along with their ancestral arms the heart and crown of Douglas, as a memorial of the important service rendered to the royal cause by their ancestor at that critical period. Sir Adam’s eldest son was the progenitor of the Annandale or main branch of the family, while Matthew, his second son, who married a daughter of the Earl of Angus, chief of the ’Red Douglases,’ was the ancestor of the Westerhall branch.

The chief seat of the Johnstones in those days of ‘rugging and riving’ was Lochwood, in the parish of Johnstone, the position of which, in the midst of bogs and morasses, made it a fortalice of great strength, and led to the remark of James VI., in allusion to the purpose which it served as a stronghold of freebooters, that ‘the man who built it must have been a thief at heart.’ Lochwood, however, was not the only fastness in which the Johnstones stored their booty. A few miles from Moffat there is a remarkable hollow, surrounded by hills on every side except at one narrow point, where a small stream issues from it. ‘It looks,’ says Pate in Peril, in ‘Redgauntlet,’ ‘as if four hills were laying their heads together to shut out any daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is, and goes straight down from the roadside as perpendicular as it can do to be a heathery brae. At the bottom there is a small bit of a brook that you would think could hardly find its way out from the hills that are so closely jammed round it.’ This inaccessible hollow bore the name of the ‘Marquis’s Beef-stand,’ or ‘Beef-tub,’ because ‘the Annandale loons used to put their stolen cattle in there.’

[The Beef-stand was the scene of a remarkable adventure to a Jacobite gentleman while on the road to Carlisle to stand his trial for his share in the rebellion of 1745. He made his escape from his guards at this spot in the manner which Sir Walter Scott makes Maxwell of Summertrees, who bore the sobriquet of ‘Pate in Peril,’ describe in graphic terms as an adventure of his own :—

‘I found myself on foot,’ he said, ‘on a misty morning with my hand, just for fear of going astray, linked into a handcuff, as they call it, with poor Harry Redgauntlet’s fastened into the other; and there we were trudging along with about a score more that had thrust their horns ower deep in the bog, just like ourselves, and a sergeant’s guard of redcoats, with two file of dragoons, to keep all quiet and give us heart to the road...

Just when we came on the edge of this Beef-stand of the Johnstones, I slipped out my hand from the handcuff, cried to Harry, "Follow me," whisked under the belly of the dragoon horse, flung my plaid round me with the speed of lightning, threw myself on my side, for there was no keeping my feet, and down the brae hurled I, over heather, and fern, and blackberries, like a barrel down Chalmers’ Close in Auld Reekie. I never could help laughing when I think how the scoundrel redcoats must have been bum-bazed; for the mist being, as I said, thick, they had little notion, I take it, that they were on the verge of such a dilemma. I was half-way down—for rowling is faster wark than rinning—ere they could get at their arms; and then it was flash, flash, flash, rap, rap, rap, from the edge of the road; but my head was too jumbled to think anything either of that or of the hard knocks I got among the stones. I kept my senses together, whilk has been thought wonderful by all that ever saw the place; and I helped myself with my hands as gallantly as I could, and to the bottom I came. There I lay for half a moment; but the thought of a gallows is worth all the salts and scent-bottles in the world for, bringing a man to himself. Up I sprung like a four-year-old colt. All the hills were spinning round me like so many great big humming-tops. But there was no time to think of that neither, more especially as the mist had risen a little with the firing. I could see the villains like sae many craws on the edge of the brae; and I reckon that they saw me, for some of the loons were beginning to crawl down the hill, but liker auld wives in their red cloaks, coming frae a field-preaching, than such a souple lad as I. Accordingly they soon began to stop and load their pieces. "Goode’en to you, gentlemen," thought I, "if that is to be the gate of it. If you have any farther word with me you maun come as far as Carriefraw-gauns." And so off I set, and never buck went faster ower the braes than I did; and I never stopped till I had put three waters, reasonably deep, as the season was rainy, half-a-dozen mountains, and a few thousand acres of the warst moss and ling in Scotland betwixt me and my friends the redcoats.’

Sir Walter Scott says he saw in his youth the gentleman to whom the adventure actually happened.]

The Johnstones, unlike the Armstrongs, Elliots, and Grahams, ‘sought the beeves that made their broth’ only in Cumberland and Northumberland, though they would probably have had no scruples in making a prey of any outlying cattle belonging to the Maxwells, with whom they had a hereditary feud. Lord Maxwell, the head of this great family, was in the sixteenth century the most powerful man in the south-west of Scotland. But the Johnstones, though inferior in numbers and power, were able, through their valour, and the strong position which they held in the mountainous district of Annandale, to maintain their ground against their formidable rivals. In 1585 Lord Maxwell opposed the profligate government of the worthless royal favourite, James Stewart, Earl of Arran, and was in consequence declared a rebel. According to the common, but most objectionable practice of that period, the Court gave a commission to Johnstone, his enemy, to proceed against him with fire and sword, and to apprehend him; and two bands of hired soldiers, commanded by Captains Cranstoun and Lammie, were despatched to Johnstone’s assistance. They were intercepted, however, on Crawford Moor, by Robert Maxwell, of Castlemilk, and after a sharp conflict the mercenary forces were defeated. Lammie and most of his company were killed, and Cranstoun was taken prisoner. [In relating this incident Sir Walter Scott says, "It is devoutly to be wished that this Lammie may have been the miscreant who, in the day of Queen Mary’s distress, when she surrendered to the nobles at Carberry Hill, "his ensign being of white taffety, had painted on it the cruel murder of King Henry, and laid down before her Majesty at what time she presented herself as prisoner to the Lords." It was very probably so, as he was then, and continued to be till his death, a hired soldier of the Government. Nine months after the incident in question, the following entry appears in the Lord Treasurer’s books, under March 18, 1567-8: "To Captain Andro Lambie, for his expenses passand of Glasgow to Edinburgh to uplift certain men of weir, and to make ane Handsenyie of white taffety, £25" [Scots]. He was then acting for the Regent Moray. It seems probable that, having spoiled his ensign by the picture of the king’s murder, he was now gratified with a new one at the expense of his employer.’— See Domestic Annals of Scotland, i. p. 156, note, and Border Minstrelsy, ii. p. 134, note.] Maxwell followed up his success by setting fire to Johnstone’s castle of Lochwood, remarking with savage glee that he would give Lady Johnstone light enough by which ‘to set her hood.’ Unfortunately, besides the ‘haul house, bedding, and plenisching,’ Johnstone’s charter-chest, containing the whole muniments of the family, and many other valuable papers, perished in the flames.

In a subsequent conflict between the two hostile clans, Johnstone himself was defeated and taken prisoner. He was a person of a very proud spirit, and took his defeat so much to heart that after his liberation he is said to have died of grief, in the beginning of the year 1586.

The feud between the Johnstones and the Maxwells became more and more deadly, and led to the battle of Dryfe Sands, the murder of the chief of the Johnstones, and the death on the scaffold of John, ninth Lord Maxwell. [See THE MAXWELLS.]

JAMES JOHNST0NE, the chief of the Johnstone clan, was created by Charles I., Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, in 1633. Ten years later he was made Earl of Hartfell. He was a staunch Royalist, joined Montrose after the battle of Kilsyth, August, 1645, was taken prisoner at the battle of Philiphaugh, and was tried at St. Andrews and condemned to death; but his life was spared through the intercession of the Marquis of Argyll. The only son of Lord Hartfell obtained the Earldom of Annandale in addition to his hereditary dignities.

The lordship of Annandale was one of the oldest and most honourable titles in the south of Scotland. It was bestowed by David I. on Robert de Brus, ancestor of the illustrious restorer of Scottish independence, who was himself the seventh Lord of Annandale. After the battle of Bannockburn, the lordship of Annandale was conferred by King Robert on his nephew, the valiant Randolph, Earl of Moray. It formed part of the dowry of his daughter, the famous ‘Black Agnes’ of Scottish history, and was carried by her to the Dunbars, Earls of March. On the attainder and banishment of these fickle and versatile barons, their Annandale dignities and estates were bestowed, in 1409, on the Earl of Douglas. After remaining for about fifty years in the possession of the Douglases, Annandale was forfeited, along with their other estates, on the attainder of James, ninth and last Earl of the original branch of that doughty house. The title of Earl of Annandale, after lying dormant for a hundred and sixty-nine years, was revived in 1624, in favour of Sir James Murray, Viscount of Annand and Lord Murray of Lochmaben, a descendant of Sir William Murray of Cockpool and Isabel, sister of Earl Randolph. The title, however, became extinct on the death of the second Earl in 1658. Three years later it was once more revived by Charles II., who created the Earl of Hartfell, the chief of the Johnstones, Earl of Annandale, Viscount Annand, and Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, Lochmaben, Moffatdale, and Evandale. He died in 1672, and was succeeded by his only son—

WILLIAM, second Earl of Annandale and third Earl of Hartfell. He held successively the offices of an Extraordinary Lord of Session, one of the Lords of the Treasury, President of the Scottish Parliament, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and was three times Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly. He was created Marquis of Annandale in 1701, and was appointed, in 1705, one of the principal Secretaries of State, but was dismissed from that office in the following year in consequence of his opposition to the Union. The Earl had three sons by his first wife and two by his second, who all died unmarried. His eldest daughter, Lady Henrietta, married, in 1699, Charles Hope, created Earl of Hopetoun in 1703.

JAMES, second Marquis of Annandale, died at Naples in 1730, having enjoyed the family dignities and estates only nine years. His half brother GEORGE, third and last Marquis, was a man nervously timid and reserved, distrustful of himself and of his ability to transact business with other people, but not quite incapable at first of managing his affairs, though excitable and liable to be drawn into fits of passion by causes not susceptible of being anticipated. In 1745 he was placed under the charge of the celebrated philosopher and historian, David Hume, but after a twelvemonth’s trial he was constrained to abandon the irksome and uncongenial task. An inquest held under the authority of the Court of Chancery, 5th March, 1748, found that the Marquis had been a lunatic since 12th December, 1744. On his death, in 1792, the family titles became dormant, and the estates devolved upon his grandnephew James, third Earl of Hopetoun. The accumulated rents of his estates, amounting at his death to £415,000, were the subject of long litigation both in England and Scotland. The ‘Annandale cases’ contributed greatly to settle in Britain the important principle that the movable or personal estate of a deceased person must be distributed according to the law of the country where he had his domicile at the time of his death. The Earl of Hopetoun had no male issue, and his eldest daughter Anne married Admiral Sir William Hope Johnstone, whose eldest son, JOHN JAMES HOPE JOHNSTONE, inherited the Annandale estates, and claimed the titles of his maternal ancestor.

Mr. Hope Johnstone was one of the most respected and influential country gentlemen of his day, and there was a strong desire among all classes and parties that he should be successful in his suit. When the case was first considered, in the year 1834, Lord Brougham, who was then Lord Chancellor, was very favourable to the claim, and delivered an elaborate opinion in its support. An opposition, however, was started, which was countenanced by Lord Campbell, and the claim lay over for ten years. In 1844 an adverse decision was given by Lord Lyndhurst. The question turned upon the construction of the words, ‘heirs male’ in the patent of the Earldom of Annandale in 1661, which are capable of being construed to mean heirs male general, or heirs male of the body, according to circumstances. Upwards of thirty years afterwards, it was discovered that, unknown to their lordships, or the law officers of the Crown, or to Mr. Hope Johnstone, a transaction had taken place nearly two hundred years before, which made an important change in the destination of the peerage. It is a recognised principle in the law of Scotland that a Scottish peer, previous to the Act of Union, provided he obtained the sanction of the Crown, might alter the limitation of his honours, in precisely the same manner as he might alter the destination of his estates. He resigned his honours just as he resigned his land for a re-grant from the Crown, and if the re-grant were made in favour of a different series of heirs from those who would have been entitled to succeed under the original grant, the dignities passed with the old precedence into the new line of succession. The resignation bars the previous heirs, and the re-grant which follows upon it vests the old peerage in the new series of heirs. Now a resignation of this kind of his titles and estates was made by the second Earl of Hartfell, on the 10th of June, 1657, and was followed by a re-grant bearing date 13th February, 1661. But the bond of resignation was not known to be in existence, and was not discovered until 1876. It was brought to light by Mr. William Fraser, of the Register House, the eminent authority on peerage law, in a manner which reads like an incident in a romance. About the middle of the last century Mr. Ronald Crawfurd and his successor in business, Mr. John Tait, grandfather of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, were the law agents in Edinburgh of the third Marquis of Annandale, and of his tutor in law and heir of his estates, the Earl of Hopetoun. The Annandale muniments were of course deposited with Messrs. Crawfurd and Tait; and though these gentlemen ceased to be the Annandale agents on the succession of Lady Anne Johnstone Hope in 1816, it appears that a considerable number of important documents belonging to the family remained in the possession of the firm, and of their present representatives, Messrs. Tait and Crichton. This fact was unknown to them, as well as to the possessors of the Annandale estates and their present law agents. Mr. Fraser, however, became aware from investigations made by him on other questions, that Messrs. Tait and Crichton were in possession of a large collection of ancient documents of various kinds, and as their firm had at one time been agents for the Annandale estates, it seemed highly probable that among these documents there would be some papers which might throw light on the Annandale peerage case. Mr. Fraser readily received permission from these gentlemen to make an examination of their old papers.

He found that these were contained in thirty-four leather bags, and large canvas sacks, which had lain for many years in the chambers of the present firm and their predecessors. In one of these leather bags Mr. Fraser discovered a document entitled ‘Bond of Talzie and Resignation, by James, second Earl of Hartfell and Lord Johnstone, of his honours, titles, and dignities of Earl of Hartfell, and Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, Moffatdale, and Evandale; and also of his whole lands, Baronies, and Lordships, Regalities, Offices, and Patronages, &c.,’ which on examination proved to be of vital importance in determining the destination of the honours and heritages. It appears that in 1657, when the resignation was made, the Earl had been twelve years married, and had four daughters but no son. He had no brothers, or uncles, or near male kinsmen, but he had two sisters, Lady Janet, wife of Sir William Murray of Stanhope, and Lady Mary, wife of Sir George Graham of Netherby, ancestor of the late distinguished statesman, Sir James Graham. As his peerages were at this time limited to heirs male general, they must at his death have passed to very remote collateral heirs. His object, therefore, was to make new arrangements for the descent of his titles and estates, in order to bring in his daughters and sisters and their descendants. For this purpose he executed the deed of resignation, in 1657, during the time of the Commonwealth. In the ordinary course a re-grant of the titles and estates would have followed immediately, but, probably owing to the peculiar position of public affairs when ‘there was no king in Israel,’ nothing further was done to carry the Earl’s desire into effect until after the Restoration. As Lord Hartfell and his father had suffered fines and imprisonment in the royal cause, and the former had even been condemned to death, and narrowly escaped execution, for his devoted loyalty, Charles II. very readily granted the boon solicited by his devoted follower, and a re-grant was made to him of his titles and estates on the 13th February, 1661.

Meanwhile, however, the earldom of Annandale, which had been held by the Murrays of Annandale, had become extinct by the death of the last Earl of that family; and the King being earnestly desirous, as the patent says, of conferring some mark of his favour upon the Earl of Hartfell, and of his accumulating honours upon honours, ‘as a reward for his faith, love, services, and losses, and that his heirs may be encouraged to follow in his steps,’ granted to him and his heirs the titles, honours, and dignity of Earl of Annandale, in addition to that of Earl of Hartfell and Lord Johnstone. After this incident four sons were born to the Earl, the eldest survivor of whom inherited these renewed titles, and was in addition created Marquis of Annandale. That dignity, along with the other family honours, fell into abeyance, on the death of his fourth son, GEORGE, third Marquis of Annandale, 1792. The alteration made by the re-grant in regard to the titles and estates of the family was to the effect that, instead of being limited to heirs male in general, they were to descend to the heirs male of the second Earl of Hartfell, whom failing, to his two sisters and their heirs, male and female. Armed with this important document, Mr. J. Hope Johnstone, the heir male of a female heir, and possessor of the estates, presented a petition to the House of Lords requesting their lordships to reconsider his claim to the family honours, and to reverse their decision on the case in the year 1844; and pleading that according to the principles of the law and practice of the courts of Scotland, this course is quite competent when a new document is produced which is material to the issue, the existence of which was previously unknown to the petitioner, owing to no neglect or want of diligence on his part.

Mr. Hope Johnstone died in 1877 at a good old age, but the suit was continued by his grandson, who succeeded him in the family estates. His claim appeared quite good as far as the double earldom and the viscounty and barony are concerned, but it was more doubtful as regards the marquisate, which was created in 1701 in favour of William, second Earl of Annandale and third Earl of Hartfell. The limitation is to that Earl and ‘his heirs male whomsoever,’ and if these words had stood alone, the claimant, as representing a female heir, would not have been entitled to succeed to this dignity; but they are qualified by the addition of the words ‘succeeding him in his lands and estates in all time coming.’ It would appear, therefore, that the marquisate is limited to those heirs who ‘in all time coming’ shall succeed to the family estates, and Mr. Hope Johnstone contends that in accordance with the mode in which the succession to the peerages of Dupplin, Seafield, Rosebery, Lothian, and Rothes has been regulated, he, as a male heir in possession of the Annandale estates, is entitled also to the dignity and titles which, as the patent shows, were intended to be united to the estates in all time coming.

An objection however was taken to the deed of resignation, that it was made when Oliver Cromwell governed the kingdom as Protector, and this plea was sustained by the law lords. Lord Blackburn said, ‘I doubt whether the Government of Cromwell and his Court would have taken any more notice of a Scottish peerage than one of our courts of law would take of such a title as that of the "Knight of Kerry"—an honourable title, but one which has no legal validity.’

Lord Gordon concurred with Lord Blackburn, but said, ‘At the same time I should perhaps express more difficulty than he has done in reference to the effect of the resignation.’

The result was that the House of Lords decided that they saw no reason for departing from the judgment which they had pronounced in 1844.

It seems very strange that the Lords should have decided that the resignation had no legal validity, when Charles II. treated it as valid by making a re-grant of the titles and estates in the year 1661. Thomas Carlyle expressed himself emphatically in favour of the validity of the document, and his opinion has been endorsed by the general verdict of the public.

The Annandale titles are claimed also by SIR FREDERICK JOHNSTONE, of Westerhall, the representative of a junior branch of the family, descended from MATTHEW JOHNSTONE, younger son of Sir Adam Johnstone. JAMES JOHNSTONE, knight, the seventh in descent from him—an apostate Presbyterian—has obtained an unenviable notoriety as the cruel and brutal persecutor of the Covenanters. One of that body who was dying was sheltered by a pious widow of the name of Hislop, who lived near Westerhall, and died under her roof. This fact came to Johnstone’s knowledge, and he immediately pulled down the widow’s house, carried off her property, and dragged her eldest son, Andrew, who was a mere stripling, before Graham of Claverhouse in order that he might be Condemned to death. For once that cruel persecutor was in a clement mood, the prayers of John Brown, whom he had recently put to death, having, it is reported, left a strong impression on his obdurate heart. He seems to have felt pity for the poor lad, and recommended that his case should be delayed. Johnstone, however, insisted that the sentence of death should be executed at once, and Claverhouse at last yielded, saying to Westerhall, ‘This man’s blood shall be on you; I am free of it.’ He then ordered the captain of a company of Highlanders who were with his troop to shoot the prisoner, but he peremptorily refused, declaring that he ‘would light Claverhouse and all his dragoons first.’ Graham then commanded three of his own dragoons to execute the sentence. When they were ready to fire they desired Hislop to draw his bonnet over his eyes. ‘No,’ replied the youth; ‘I can look my death-bringers in the face without fear. I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed! Then, holding up his Bible, he charged them to answer for what they were about to do at the Great Day, when they should be judged by that book. As he uttered these words the dragoons fired and shot him dead, and he was buried where he fell. The Covenanting chronicler who has recorded this incident adds, with evident satisfaction, that ‘Westerhall died about the Revolution (1699) in great torture of body and horror and anguish of conscience, insomuch that his cries were heard at a great distance from the house, as a warning to all such apostates.’

When the cause of James VII., under whose reign and special directions the Covenanters were so cruelly tortured and put to death, became hopeless, Westerhall, as might have been expected, lost no time in abandoning the fallen monarch, and joined the party of the Prince of Orange. Probably as a reward for his timely defection from the cause of the exiled monarch, JOHN JOHNSTONE, the eldest son of the trimming persecutor, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, in 1700. His nephew married the Dowager Marchioness of Annandale, daughter and heiress of John Vanden-Bempde, of Harkness Hall, Yorkshire, and is the ancestor of Sir Harcourt Vanden-Bempde Johnstone, Lord Derwent. The Johnstones of Alva are descended from John Johnstone, a younger son of the third baronet, a distinguished officer who commanded the artillery at the battle of Plassey, and made himself conspicuous by the strong interest which he took in the affairs of the East India Company.

SIR WILLIAM JOHNSTONE, the fifth baronet, inherited an estate yielding only a small rental, though of large extent, but he became one of the richest commoners in Great Britain. He acquired an immense fortune in America, purchased the burgh of Weymouth, which at that time returned four members to the House of Commons, and sat in seven successive Parliaments. He married the niece and heiress of General Pulteney, and of the Earl of Bath, the celebrated leader of the Opposition against Sir Robert Walpole. His only child, who married Sir James Murray in 1794, inherited the Pulteney estates and was created Countess of Bath. Sir William Johnstone survived till 1805. His baronetcy, the Westerhall estate, the borough of Weymouth (in these days a source both of wealth and of political influence), and the extensive territory which he had acquired in America, were all inherited by his nephew, SIR JOHN LOWTHER JOHNSTONE, grandfather of the eighth and present baronet, SIR FREDERICK JOHN WILLIAM JOHNSTONE. He and his twin brother were born after the death of their father, who was killed by the fall of his horse in the hunting-field, 7th May, 1841.

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