“SIR DAVID DALRYMPLE’S work, entitled Remarks on the History of Scotland, is pretty well known. Less so, perhaps, is another little volume, printed by the ever-honoured Robert & Andrew Foulis, entitled Memorials and Letters relating to the History of Britain in the reign of Charles the First.
“Great offence” it seems had been given by the publication of a similar book relating to the reign of James I., and he was charged “with having placed King James and his courtiers in an unfavourable point of view.” His defence is not without humour. “When,” he writes, “I presumed to publish what they wrote, I did not suppress any letters which might have done honour to their understanding or their morals; my readers, therefore, instead of censuring me, ought to lament the scantiness of my materials.” For the consolation of those who were offended at the first volume, he tells them that in the second they will “perceive the Covenant set in a ludicrous point of view”! The letters, which are from men of both parties and of divers ranks, contain not a few excellent touches, pleasing to any Whig or Tory who has preserved a sense of humour. The humour is usually unintended.
The collection opens with a very peremptory injunction of King Charles to the “Lords of Session in Scotland,” commanding them to communicate twice yearly at appointed dates in “our chapel at Holyrood house,” with their “advocates, clerks, writers, and all other members of that judicatory.” After this follow several letters from Laud to Bellenden, bishop of Dunblane, which seem rather overbearing in tone. It is to be noted, however, that he does not appear to write to him as his ecclesiastical superior but as the mouthpiece of the king. The surplice question seems to have been raging, for Laud writes in 1634-5 – “I am very glad to hear… that you are resolved to wear your whites, notwithstanding the maliciousness of foolish men.”
A somewhat prophetic spirit actuated the good Bishop Juxon, who says of “the Book of Canons” that it “perchance at first will make more noise than all the cannons in Edinburgh castle.” His anticipations that after men were “used a while to the sound of them” they would be found “useful for preservation of the church” were, as we know, not realised.
Minor troubles accompanied the distraction of men’s minds. Typographical errors were found in the Canons and feared in the Service-book, for, writes the Earl of Stirling to the Bishop of Ross – “Young the printer is the greatest knave that ever I dealt with”! In 1638, one John de Maria, “a feigned name,” writes sundry letters to “A Person Unknown.” His opinion of the Covenant and of the means taken for its enforcement differ much from the views expressed in popular manuals.
The irresolution of the king is represented as the cause “that a thousand and a thousand are come in within this month and subscribed the same, who, otherways, had undoubtedly stood out.” For refusing to subscribe, it seems that “herdmen and hiremen” were “laid in the stocks, up and down the country,” while “pipers and candlemakers in our town” had been “committed to the town jail by our zealous Mr. Mayor” [? Provost!] Pipers, we know, have been a godless race in all ages, but why candlemakers? Probably they anticipated a vast increase of trade if Prelacy were duly established and still more if Popery came in. “In the West Country they will give no passenger either meat, drink, or lodging for his money, until he first give them assurance that he is a member of this unchristian Covenant.” As for “means to undo the same,” he can only recommend to the king –
“Gordio nodo ensis Alexandrinus.”
“He needs not think to carry matters any length by proclamations.”
It would have been better if “instead of these three or four which were sent down”… “he had sent down as many of his good ships.” A few lines farther on in this letter a distinguished nobleman of the period is rather flippantly referred to as “the grand McAllan O More, Prince Major of Argalousia.” For this man, if he is to return to Scotland, J. de Maria desires accommodation “in one of his Majesty’s best-built houses.” Some three months after this he refers to some district where “there is none of note who have not bowed their knees to this Covenant of Baal,” except two.
Mr. David Mitchell, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, writes sadly to the Bishop of Raphoe – “It would make any man’s ears tingle to hear what a pitiful plague this church and kingdom are in.”
“Mr. Mathew Wemyss subscribed on Friday, preached for the Covenant on Sunday, and discharged the organ.”
One of the gems of the collection is found in this melancholy letter – “There are still here 500 Commissioners of the States; they relieve one another by course as Castor and Pollux went to hell”!
But it is time to quote some delightful passages from those of the opposite faction. “A Person in England” writes thus to “Two Confidents” in Scotland, on the 11th July, 1638 – “I hear it [sic] the unanimous consent of many leading persons, that they hope to find an America in Scotland.” Hopes are held out that if “liberty” is to be found there, “there will be hardly found receipt for those who will thrust themselves amongst you, such who are men of eminent rank, and great estates, and those tho, I daresay, will spend, a few of them, in the discharge of their ordinary affairs, more money yearly nor is now to be spared in the kingdom; I could number forty or fifty of them that will allot 100,000l. yearly for their expence.”
This must surely mean one hundred thousand “pounds Scots.” Anyhow, a tempting prospect is held out to poor Jockey of the prosperity that will result to him by the admission of wealthy and liberal Englishmen. To clench the matter the writer says – “You, by this manner, will get their estates and persons amongst you, and they will take none of your gospel away although they communicate with you.”
On the 26th October, 1638, “A person unknown” writes to Wariston addressing him as “Dear Christian brother and courageous Protestant.” As it was found “altogether inconvenient that he [the Prelate of St. Andrews] or any of that kind should shew themselves peaceably in public, some course was taken how he might be entertained in such places as he should come unto.” The use of the word “entertained” shews great delicacy of feeling. Hearing that Brechin [presumably the bishop thereof] is in Edinburgh, the writer shews less delicacy, and it is suggested “that, in a private way, some course may be taken for his terror and disgrace, if he offer to shew himself publicly.” To understand the full piquancy of this, one must remember that, as the editor informs us, “just about this time the bishops had been cited to appear before the General Assembly at Glasgow.”
Very subtle is the document entitled “Instructions from the Covenanters in Scotland to their Messenger to the French King.” To persuade a Catholic Absolute Monarch to assist by physical or moral support ultra-Protestants resisting their own king was a matter which would require both audacity and ingenuity. Sentimental appeals to the ancient alliance between France and Scotland would be of little avail. The only selfish ground which could have persuaded Louis was to be found in “the maxims of policy to assist the weaker,” not of course as a matter of generosity, but in order “to keep the balance the more even.” From a letter by “A Person Unknown” it would seem that the term Covenanters was “a name which they are not ashamed of, although their adversaries have put it upon them.” This writer represents the people as practically unanimous in their opposition to bishops and service-book.
In a very different vein is the letter of Mr. Robert Burnet to Johnston of Wariston, his wife’s brother. It seems to be written from Paris, whither he had probably gone for safety. “God forgive,” says he, “your bloody and cruel preachers who have not known, nor will not know, the way of peace.”
This good man’s wife was of another persuasion. Indeed, as her son tells us, she “was bred to her brother Wariston’s principles, and could never be moved from them.” The resultant of this union was the celebrated – and tolerant – Gilbert Burnet.
Several letters from Wariston (to Lord Balmerino and others) follow. In April, 1641, he thoughtfully remarks – “The Parliament is to fall to our demands and to get us money. God is going on in some hid way for his Son’s crown: it will break forth.”His usual name for his political enemies at this period is “incendiaries.” Meanwhile in these troublous times – it is uncertain at what date – Lord Balmerino writes – “I have retained so much of the Liturgy as to say, ‘Good Lord, deliver us.'”
General David Leslie writes, quaintly disavowing any wish to have command in his own country, “for many reasons” – “First, it is not possible to me nor any man to carry himself so that he shall or can please all men… Secondly, I have great ones to my enemies in that kingdom. Thirdly, His Majesty, with all reverence, would see me hanged.”
King Charles in a proclamation to the Magistrates of Glasgow (April, 1643) seems to retort the name of “incendiaries” on the rebellious faction. Nick-naming is a game that two can play at.
A few gems may be quoted from the remaining documents.
“Lieutenant-General Hotham is seized upon by thirty or forty rogues and Anabaptists.”
“When the cunningness of Rothes had brought in Montrose to our party, his more than ordinary and evil pride made him very hard to be guided.”
“Some 1500 naked Scots Irishes having loppen from isle to isle, till at last getting away thro’ Badenoch, they broke down on Strathern.”
The last two extracts are from a letter by Mr. Robert Baillie. He, too, had his annoyances as well as those who brought out the Service-book. It seems that a pamphlet he had written had “stuck on the press these seven weeks, through the sottishness [drunkeness] of the printers.” Again he writes to his cousin, Mr. William Spang – “I was at Oxford, the best builded and booked university in the world, but the worst provided of learned and orthodox men I know any.” But true religion, as good Mr. Baillie understood it, was not common in high places, for in the same letter he says – “A truly pious and really public man is a rare piece upon earth.”
From a letter written by the Earl of Panmure to Wariston in 1647, it would almost appear that King Charles preserved a sense of humour in the depth of his misfortunes. “He [His Majesty] thinks that the Scots have sold him at too cheap a rate.”
Amid all these public commotions the good old private wars in the Highlands were not entirely intermitted. Some of the Camerons had invaded land held by the Grants, and had got considerably the worst of the fray, several being killed and more wounded. This naturally tended to cause a little unpleasantness between the two houses. Cameron of Lochiel (1645) writes to Grant of Freuchie in the following manly yet pathetic strain:-
Right loving Cousin,
My hearty recommendations being remembered to your honour. I have received your honour’s letter concerning this misfortunate accident that never fell out, betwixt our houses, the like before in no man’s days; but, praised God, I am innocent of the same and my friends, both in respect that they gi’t [went] not within your honour’s bound’s but [only] to Murray-land, where all men take their prey; nor knew not that Moynes was a Grant, but thought that he was a Murray-man.