XIV. Lady Sophia Lindsay, pp.312-327.

[Heroines of Scotland Contents]

HE first public victim of the Restoration in Scotland was the celebrated Marquis of Argyll, who after passing scaithlessly through all the wars of the Covenant, had lived at peace during the Commonwealth. The fierce enmities and blood-feuds which the part he acted in national affairs had excited against him lay dormant while the Cromwellian supremacy lasted. But the Restoration of Charles II. (whom he had crowned at Scone) opened the flood-gates of long-hoarded revenge; and the partisans of Montrose panted to replace their hero’s head on the spike of Edinburgh Tolbooth by that of his hated rival. Argyll, aware of the peril in which he stood, hastened to London to congratulate the King, trusting that by so doing he would ensure his own safety from the machinations of his bitter enemies in the north. It was a vain thought. Charles not only refused him an audience, but ordered him to be arrested as a traitor of the deepest dye and sent down to Scotland to be tried for his life. The trial was held in Edinburgh; and on Saturday, 25th May, 1661, the Court sentenced him to be beheaded at the Cross on the following Monday, thus allowing him scanty time to prepare for death. When the doom was delivered, he said “I had the honour to set the crown of Scotland upon the King’s head, and now he hastens me to a better crown than his own; and you, my lords, cannot deprive me of that eternal pardon which one day you will require for yourselves.” He craved the indulgence of a ten day’s respite till the King should pronounce his fiat; but this was refused – no delay would be granted. The Marquis was carried back to his prison, where his lady, Margaret Douglas, daughter of the Earl of Morton, awaited him. She heard the sentence with a burst of indignation. “The Lord will requite it!” she cried. “The Lord will requite it upon their heads in his own time!” 

   The few friends of the noble prisoner saw no other means of saving his life than by endeavouring to secure his escape; and the Marchioness was ready to become the principal agent in so doing. Whatever could be done had to be done quickly. Throughout his imprisonment she had free access to him daily, retiring from his cell at night. On Sunday she came to the Castle in a sedan-chair, as was her wont, fully prepared to risk anything, even her own life, for his liberation. During the last few days he had felt somewhat indisposed, and went to bed early. She now arrayed him in her own dress, and took his place on the couch. From all that appears, he might have passed out undetected; but when on the point of leaving the cell to enter the chair, which stood in waiting without, his natural timidity overcame him, and he refused to venture. The lady implored him to proceed; but her entreaties were wasted. He was afraid, he said, that he might be discovered, in which case he would be loaded with contumely; whereas death itself had no terrors for him. His last chance was thus thrown away: and on Monday he suffered with constancy at the Cross. 

   The revenge of the party in power was not satiated with the execution of the Marquis, and the forfeiture of his lands and honours, but sought to bring his eldest son, Lord Lorn, also to the scaffold. But there was difficulty in dealing so with Lord Lorn. He had joined the royalist insurrection under Glencairn and Middleton against the Commonwealth, and subsequently had conducted himself in such a manner as gave the King’s party no ground for accusation against him. When he went to London at the Restoration, he was so well received by Charles, that this show of royal favour seems to have induced the Marquis to follow the same course; but, as already told, the latter’s journey was but the prelude to his condemnation and death. Lord Lorn remained in London all the time of his father’s imprisonment and tr4ial in Edinburgh, exerting every influence with King and courtiers to save his life, and apparently buoyed up with good hopes, which, however, proved fallacious in the end. On hearing of the tragedy at Edinburgh Cross, Lorn wrote a letter to Lord Duffus, who was in Scotland, denouncing the hurried execution, and asserting that he had satisfied Lord Chancellor Clarendon of the injustice done to his father. This letter, expressing only the harrowed feelings natural to such an occasion, was intercepted on its way by the agents of the Scottish government; and on its being opened, the Earl of Middleton and his colleagues, held its contents to amount to the crime of “leasing-making” – that is, according to Scots law, the sowing of discord between the sovereign and his subjects. In this light was the letter represented to King Charles, at whose imperative request Lorn went down to Scotland to clear himself from the charge, which he conceived he could easily accomplish. No sooner had he arrived in Edinburgh than he was laid under arrest and commit6ted to the Castle. He was put to trial, and being found guilty, was condemned to death. He would have gone to the scaffold, like his father, had not a royal respite been granted. Lord suffered a year’s imprisonment, and then his evil fortune was reversed. The King gave him full pardon and liberty, and restored to him his hereditary lands and honours as Earl of Argyll – the Marquisate not being revived in his favour. This took place in 1663. 

   For the next eighteen years, the Earl led an uneventful life. He was twice married: first to the Lady Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of the Earl of Moray, who bore him four sons and three daughters; and next to Lady Anne Mackenzie, second daughter of the Earl of Seaforth, and widow of the Earl of Balcarres, by whom he had no children. Lady Anne, however, had borne two sons and two daughters to Lord Balcarres; and it is Sophia Lindsay, the eldest of her daughters, who now becomes our heroine. Early in the year 1681, she was engaged to be wed to Colonel Charles Campbell, the third son of her step-father. Moreover, the Argyll family had contracted an alliance which might have been thought to afford them much interest with the Court party in Scotland. The Earl’s eldest son, Archibald, married Lady Elizabeth, daughter of the famous beauty, the Countess of Dysart, who became Duchess of Lauderdale, and as such exercised an evil influence over Scottish affairs while these were in the Duke, her husband’s hands. 

    In August, 1681, the oath called the Test, was ordered by the Scottish Parliament to be taken by all persons in places of public trust, and afterwards by all manner of the King’s subjects, excepting Roman Catholics, under pain of treason. The oath was so self-contradictory in its terms, that when it was offered to the Earl of Argyll, he objected to swear it unless he was allowed to make the following explanation: “I take it, in so far as it is consistent with itself, and with the Protestant religion; and I declare, I mean not to bind up myself in my station, but, in a lawful way, to endeavour anything I think for the advantage of the Church and State, not repugnant to the Protestant religion and my loyalty: and this I understand as a part of my oath.” With this qualification he took the Oath, on 3d November, 1681, as a member of the Privy Council and a Commissioner of the Treasury. But this form of compliance did not satisfy the Duke of York, who was then in Scotland, and at whose instigation, it was said, the Oath had been originally framed and enacted, and with whom Argyll was not in favour. The qualification afforded a pretext for charging the Earl with perjury, leasing-making, and high treason; and on 9th November he was arrested and laid in Edinburgh Castle, whence, on 12th December, he was brought to the bar of the Justiciary Court. The trial was a solemn burlesque of justice. The jury acquitted the Earl of perjury, but unanimously found him guilty on the other counts – a verdict which involved death. The Court, however, deferred passing sentence until the Privy Council should communicate with the King, and know his pleasure in the matter. 

   Argyll was led back to the Castle, perhaps with some hope that the King would quash the verdict as an outrage on law and public order. Others indulged the like hope. The Duke of York asserts in his Diary that there was no intention to take the Earl’s life; and when some one remarked to him that it would be very hard that life and honours should be taken for such a fault, the Duke exclaimed – “Life and honours? God forbid!” But the Countess of Argyll dreaded that the worst would come to pass, and soon she induced her husband to turn his thoughts to the practicability of escape from confinement; though he continued undecided, anticipating pardon. Meanwhile his friends busied themselves in provisionally setting a plan to get him spirited out of the Castle. The wintry days went by. On the morning of Tuesday, the 20th December, the Earl sent a message to the Duke of York, desiring an interview; but this the Duke declined to grant until the King’s answer came. The refusal seemed of evil foreboding; and what was more so, Argyll personally learned that his guards had been doubled; that detachments of troops, horse, and foot, had been marched into the city, as if to attend at the scaffold and overawe the multitude; and also that next day he was to be brought down from the Castle, and lodged in the Tolbooth, the usual preliminary to an execution! In the face of such omens, he hesitated no longer, but resolved to avail himself of the project which his friends had contrived, and to do so about ten o’clock that very night. 

   He was visited, at seven o’clock, by a gentleman from the town, who, on being consulted as to the design, strongly disapproved of it as exceedingly likely to fail, and pointed to the fact that the doubled guards at the gates now compelled every visitor on leaving the Castle to shew his or her face, as had been experienced that day by certain ladies. The “candid friend” left the Earl a prey to doubt and fear; but a little reflection moved him to hazard everything on his last chance. 

   The “candid friend” was not long gone when another visitor appeared in the person of the Earl’s eldest step-daughter, Lady Sophia Lindsay, who had obtained permission to see him that night for half an hour, as if to bid him farewell. She came in a coach to the Castle gate, accompanied by a gentleman, and attended by a page, who was “a tall, awkward country clown,” resembling the Earl in height and cast of figure, and whom she had cajoled and bribed to undertake a desperate sleight which might bring him to the gallows. As the Earl had the red hair of his race, and wore it thick and long, Lady Sophia had given her page a heavy flowing wig of that colour; while the farther to promote deception she caused him to tie a bandage across his brow, as if he had recently met with an accident or got a blow in a brawl. The coach drew up at the outer gate of the Castle, and the lady, on shewing her pass, was admitted, along with the gentleman at her side, and the page holding up her ample train. It was a cold December night; a fall of snow had been followed by an easterly thaw, and the wind blew in keen howling gusts from the sea. 

   Argyll in great agitation, received his expected visitors. The crisis of his fate was come. Would he follow his father’s fatal example? The winning card might now be in his hand: would he fling it away and the game with it, looking for grace from a graceless face? Lady Sophia and her companion urged him to take the decisive step; but fortunately he needed no pressing. The page and he speedily exchanged attire, wig and bandage included; and the clown contentedly assumed the part of the prisoner, careless or ignorant of the peril into which he was venturing his neck. When all was ready, and a sufficient time had elapsed, the lady retired from the cell, with her friend at her side as before, and the Earl in the guise of the page holding up her train and holding down his head, while the page was left behind, and fast locked in by the keeper of the door. 

   The night was dark, but the soldiers of the guard had blazing flambeaus, the glare of which enabled them to scan whoever passed their stations. The first sentry scrutinized the party hard, one by one, but not perceiving anything suspicious, gave them free way. Further on was the post of the main-guard, who, trusting to their comrade’s discernment, were rather perfunctory in their duty; and soon the outer gate of the Castle next to the drawbridge was reached. There the lower guard were drawn up in a double line on either hand, leaving only narrow room for the visitors’ passage under the torchlight. The soldier, a shrewd, wary Highlander, who had the key, unlocked the gate; but as the party walked on, he seized the mock page by the arm, and eyed him closely. This was the critical moment. But whatever Argyll felt, Lady Sophia had presence of mind equal to the occasion, and behaved in such a manner that had the like been witnessed by Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, it would probably have induced him to moderate his “contemption of side-tails,” or ladies’ trains, which, as he said, in his time: 

“Through the dust and dubs trails 

Three quarters lang behind their heels, 

Express against all Commonweals.” 

Sophia now slyly twitched her train out of the Earl’s hands, and it trailed on the slushy ground. With well-feigned anger, as though he had negligently dropped it, she lifted the train, and “walloped” it across his face twice, smutching him hideously with the mud; and not satisfied with this, she lent him a hearty box on the ear, exclaiming – “Varlet! take that – and that – and that, too – for knowing no better how to carry your lady’s train.” Argyll, thus roughly admonished, resumed his hold of the garment, and the soldiers allowed the party to cross the drawbridge. On the Castle-hill the coach stood waiting, which the lady and her friend entered, and Argyll clambering up behind, the vehicle proceeded down the High Street. It halted near the Weigh-house, where Argyll jumped off, and made for the rendezvous which had been appointed. 

   The Earls’ evasion in the teeth of all precautions was not discovered till the following morning, and it put the Privy Council into a mighty fume. The fugitive was not to be found within the city ports. Of course, the page, the country clown, was still in the Castle, and could be made to answer with his life; but, after all, he was too mean an object of vengeance, so the Lords consulted their own dignity by letting him alone. His clever mistress, however, was not beyond reach, and some of the councillors, more furious than the others, proposed that she should be taken and publicly whipped through the streets of Edinburgh; but the Duke of York would not hear of such an outrage, and therefore she too was let alone. On Thursday, the 22d December, the King’s answer was received by the Council, directing that forfeiture of life and honours should be pronounced upon Argyll, but that the sentence should not be carried into execution until further instructions were given. It would thus appear that the “merry monarch” had no immediate desire to proceed to extremity with the Earl; but whether or not, the bird was flown. 

   Ineffectual was the hunt after Argyll, though it was hot and keen. With the help of a staunch friend, Pringle of Torwoodlee, the fugitive made his way across the Border to the house of Mr. William Veitch, in Northumberland, who escorted him to London, where he was secreted until a vessel was got to carry him over to Holland. It is stated that while the Earl lurked in the metropolis, King Charles was perfectly aware of the fact, but would not have him molested. All this time, the Duke of Lauderdale, who had fallen into disgrace, was living in London with his Duchess, and she privately assisted Argyll during his concealment, for the sake of the matrimonial relations between the families. It was rather dangerous for the Duchess to do so, considering the clouded fortunes of her house, but she braved the risk, and lost nothing by it. Before Argyll embarked for Holland, he composed a metrical epistle of thanks to Lady Sophia, dated 18th April 1682, in which he says – 

“Daughter, as dear as dearest child can be, 

Lady Sophia ever dear to me: 

Our guardian angels, doubtless, did conspire 

To make you gain, and me to give this hire, 

Not to requite, what I can never do, 

But somewhat suitable from me to you. 

“I am not rich, guineas tempt not your eyes, 

Yet here are angels you will not despise. 

You came an angel in the case to me, 

Expressly sent to guide and set me free. 

The great gate opened of its own accord, 

That word came in my mind, I praise the Lord. 

He that restrained of old the Shechemites, 

I hope will now the cruel Benjamites; 

Priests that do want the pity of laymen: 

Judges and counsellors that cry, Amen. 

When I was out, I knew not where I went, 

I cried to God, and He new angels sent. 

If ye desire what passed since to me, 

Read through the Book of Psalms, and think on me. 

.     .     .     .     . 

“The noble friends I found here, greet you well, 

How much they honour you, it’s hard to tell; 

Or how well I am used, to say it all, 

Might make you think that I were in Whitehall. 

I eat, I drink, I lie, I lodge so well, 

It were a folly to attempt to tell; 

So kindly cared for, furnished, attended, 

Were you to chalk it down, you could not mend it.” 

   Argyll reached Holland, where he remained, along with many another political exile, until May-day of 1685, when he headed the rash invasion of the west of Scotland, in support of the Duke of Monmouth’s similar descent on the English coast. The Scottish, like the English rising, failed miserably, though it did not cause so much bloodshed, and the Earl being made prisoner, was brought to Edinburgh Castle, where he was put in irons to prevent any possibility of escape. His Countess, who had lived at home during his stay abroad, was now brought into much trouble for having corresponded with him by letters which were said to contain treasonable matter. She was seized and imprisoned in Stirling Castle, whence she was transferred to that of Edinburgh. Lady Sophia also was arrested, and thrust into Edinburgh Tolbooth; not for any share in her mother’s correspondence, but on the old charge of having assisted the Earl to escape in 1681: and her committal is thus entered in the Record of the “Heart of Midlothian,” showing that she was not harshly treated in the prison:- 

     “1685, June 20. – Lady Sophia Lindsay, by order of the Privy Council, to be kept close prisoner with her maid, but to have the best room.” 

The Countess was permitted to visit her husband in his cell. But his time was short. He had no new trial. The doom formerly set upon his head was revived, and his execution ordered for the 30th of June. He wrote letters of farewell to the Countess and her two daughters; the one addressed to Lady Sophia being in these terms:- 


     “What shall I say in this great day of the Lord, wherein, in the midst of a cloud, I find a fair sunshine? I can wish no more for you but that the Lord may comfort you, and shine upon you, as he doth upon me, and give you that same sense of his love in staying in the world, as I have in going out of it. Adieu! 


     “P.S. – My blessing to dear Earl of Balcarres. The Lord touch his heart, and incline him to his fear.” 

   In the afternoon of the set day, the Earl met his fate from the axe of the “Maiden,” at the Cross, as his father had done. 

   After his death, the Countess and her daughter obtained their liberty. The only other important event in Lady Sophia’s life was her union with Colonel Charles Campbell, to whom she had been long betrothed.

Leave a Reply