Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 53

WHEN the Duke of York ascended the throne on the death of his brother Charles, he assumed the title of James II. of England, and James VII. of Scotland.1 His eldest daughter, Mary (whom he had by his first wife), was married to William, Prince of Orange, the Stadtholder or President of the Dutch United Provinces; a prince of great wisdom, sense, and courage, distinguished by the share he had taken in opposing the ambition of France. He was now next heir to the crown of England, unless the King, his father-in-law, should have a surviving son by his present Queen, Mary of Este. It was natural to conclude, that the Prince of Orange viewed with the most intense interest the various revolutions and changes of disposition which took place in a kingdom where he possessed so deep a stake. It did not escape remark, that the Duke of Monmouth, the Earl of Argyle, and I the various malecontents who were compelled to fly from England or Scotland, seemed to find support, as well as refuge, in Holland. On this subject James made several remonstrances to his son-in-law, which the prince evaded, by alleging that a free state, like the Dutch republic, could not shut its ports against fugitives, of whatever description; and with such excuses James was obliged to remain satisfied. Nevertheless, the enemies of the monarch were so completely subdued, both in Scotland and England, that no prince in Europe seemed more firmly seated upon his throne.

In the mean while, there was no relaxation in the oppressive measures carried on in Scotland. The same laws for apprehending, examining, and executing in the fields, those suspected of nonconformity, were enforced with unrelenting severity; and as the refusal to bear evidence against a person accused of treason, was made to amount to a crime equal to treason itself, the lands and life of every one seemed to be exposed to the machinations of the corrupt ministry of an arbitrary prince. To administer or receive the Covenant, or even to write in its defence, was declared treasonable, and many other delinquencies were screwed up to the same penalty of death and confiscation. Those whom the law” named traitors were thus rendered so numerous, that it seemed to be impossible for the most cautious to avoid coming in contact with them, and thereby subjecting themselves to the severe penalties denounced on all having intercourse with such delinquents. This general scene of oppression would, it was supposed, notwithstanding the general show of submission, lead to an universal desire to shake off the yoke of James, should an opportunity be afforded.

Under this conviction, the numerous disaffected persons who had retreated to Holland, resolved upon a double invasion of Britain, one part of which was to be directed against England, under command of the popular Duke of Monmouth, whose hopes of returning in any other peaceful fashion had been destroyed by the death of his father, Charles II. The other branch of the expedition was destined to invade Scotland, having at its head the Earl of Argyle (who had been the victim of so much unjust persecution), with Sir Patrick Hume, Sir John Cochrane, and others, the most important of the Scottish exiles, to assist and counsel him.

As these Tales relate exclusively to the history of Scotland, I need only notice, that Monmouth’s share of the undertaking seemed, for a time, to promise success. Having landed at Lyme, (11th June, 1685) in Dorsetshire, he was joined by greater numbers of men than he had means of arming, and his rapid progress greatly alarmed James’s Government. But his adherents were almost entirely of the lower order, whose zeal and courage might be relied on, but who had no advantages of influence from education or property. At length the unfortunate duke hazarded a battle near Sedgemoor, in which his cavalry, from the treachery or cowardice of their leader, Lord Grey, fled and left the infantry unprotected. The sturdy peasants fought with the utmost resolution, until they were totally broken and dispersed, with great slaughter. But the carnage made among the fugitives was forgotten, in comparison with the savage and unsparing judicial prosecutions which were afterwards carried on before Judge Jefferies, a man whose cruelty was a shame to his profession, and to mankind. Monmouth himself had no better fortune than his adherents. He fell into the hands of the pursuers, and was brought prisoner to the Tower of London. He entreated to be permitted to have an interview with the King, alleging he had something of consequence to discover to him. But when this was at length granted, the unhappy duke had nothing to tell, or at least told nothing, but exhausted himself in asking mercy at the hands of his uncle, who had previously determined not to grant it. Monmouth accordingly suffered death on Towerhill, (15th July) amid the lamentations of the common people, to whom he was endeared by his various amiable qualities, and the beauty of his person, fitting him to be the delight and ornament of a court, but not to be the liberator of an oppressed people.

While the brief tragedy of Monmouth’s invasion, defeat, and death, was passing in England, Argyle’s invasion of Scotland was brought to as disastrous a conclusion. The leaders, even before they left their ships, differed as to the course to be pursued. Argyle, a great chieftain in the Highlands, was naturally disposed to make the principal efforts in that part of the country which his friends and followers inhabited. Sir Patrick Hume and Sir John Cochrane, while they admitted that they were certain to raise the clan of Campbell by following the Earl’s counsel, maintained, nevertheless, that this single clan, however brave and numerous could not contend with the united strength of all the other western tribes, who were hostile to Argyle, and personally attached to James II. They complained, that by landing in the West Highlands, they should expose themselves to be shut up in a corner of the kingdom, where they could expect to be joined by none save Argyle’s immediate dependents; and where they must necessarily be separated from the western provinces, in which the oppressed Covenanters had shown themselves ready to rise, even without the encouragement of money or arms, or of a number of brave gentlemen to command and lead them on.

These disputes augmented, when, on landing in Kintyre, the Earl of Argyle raised his clan to the number of about a thousand men. Joined to the adventurers embarked from Holland, who were about three hundred, and to other recruits, the insurgent army might amount in all to fifteen hundred, a sufficient number to have struck a severe blow before the royal forces could have assembled, if the invaders could have determined among themselves where to aim at.

Argyle proposed marching to Inverary, to attack the Laird of Ballechan, who was lying there for the King with six hundred Highlanders, waiting the support of the Marquis of Athole, then at the head of several clans, and in motion towards Argyleshire. But Sir John Cochrane, having had some communications in the west, which promised a general rising in that country, insisted that the main effort should be made in that quarter. He had a letter also from a gentleman of Lanarkshire, named William Cleland, undertaking, that if the Marquis of Argyle would declare for the work of Reformation, carried on from the year 1638 to 1648, he should be joined by all the faithful Presbyterians in that country. Sir John, therefore, demanded from Argyle a supply of men and ammunition, that he might raise the western shires; and was so eager in the request, that he said if nobody would support him, he would go alone, with a pitchfork in his hand.

Either project was hopeful, if either had been rapidly executed, but the loss of time in debating the question was fatal. At length the Lowland expedition was determined on; and Argyle, with an army augmented to two thousand five hundred men, descended into Lennox, proposing to cross the Clyde, and summon to arms the Covenanters of the west country.

But the various parties among the Presbyterians had already fallen into debates, whether or not they should own Argyle, and unite under his standard; so that, when that unhappy, and, it would seem, irresolute nobleman, had crossed the river Leven, near to Dunbarton, he found his little army, without any prospect of reinforcement”, nearly surrounded by superior forces of the King, assembling from different points, under the Marquis of Athole, the Duke of Gordon, and the Earl of Dunbarton.

Argyle, pressed on all sides, proposed to give battle to the enemy; but the majority of the council of war which he convoked were of opinion, that it was more advisable to give the royalists the slip, and leaving their encampment in the night, to march for Glasgow, or for Bothwell bridge; and thus at the same time get into a friendly country, and place a large and unfordable river betwixt them and a superior enemy. Lighting, therefore, numerous fires in the camp, as if it were still occupied by them, Argyle and his troops commenced their projected manoeuvre; but a retreat is always a discouraging movement, a night-march commonly a confused one, and the want of discipline in these hasty levies added to the general want of confidence and the universal disorder. Their guides, also, were either treacherous or ignorant, for, when morning dawned on the dispirited insurgents, instead of finding themselves near Glasgow, they perceived they were much lower on the banks of the Clyde, near Kilpatrick. Here the leaders came to an open rupture. Their army broke up and separated; and when the unfortunate Earl, being left almost alone, endeavoured to take refuge in the house of a person who had been once his servant, he was inhospitably refused admittance. He then crossed the Clyde, accompanied by a single friend, who, perceiving that they were pursued, had the generosity to halt and draw upon himself the attention of the party who followed them. This was at Inchinnan ford, upon the river Cart, close to Blythswood house.

But Argyle was not more safe alone than in company. It was observed by some soldiers of the militia, who were out in every direction, that the fugitive quitted his horse and waded through the river on foot, from which they argued he must be a person of importance, who was careless about losing his horse, so that he himself made his escape. As soon, therefore, as he reached the bank, they fell upon him, and though he made some defence, at length struck him down. As he fell he exclaimed, -” Unfortunate Argyle!”-thus apprising his captors of the importance of their prisoner. A large fragment of rock, still called Argyle’s Stone, marks the place where he was taken.

Thus terminated this unfortunate expedition, in which Argyle seems to have engaged, from an over estimation both of his own consequence and military talents, and which the Lowland gentlemen seem to have joined, from their imperfect knowledge of the state of the country, as reported to them by those who deeply felt their own wrongs, and did not consider that the majority of their countrymen was overawed and intimidated, as well as discontented.

By way of retaliating upon this unhappy nobleman the severities exercised towards Montrose, which he is said to have looked upon in triumph, the same disgraceful indignities were used towards Argyle, to which his enemy had been subjected. He was carried up the High Street bare-headed, and mounted on an unsaddled horse, with the hangman preceding him, and was thus escorted to the Tolbooth. In both cases the disgrace lay with those who gave such orders, and did not attach to the objects of their mean malevolence.

The Council debated whether Argyle should be executed on the extravagant sentence which had condemned him for a traitor and depraver of the laws, on account of his adding a qualification to the test, or whether it were not better to try him anew, for the undoubted treason which he had committed by this subsequent act of invasion, which afforded a more legal and unchallengeable course of procedure. It was resolved, nevertheless, they should follow the first course, and hold Argyle as a man already condemned, lest, by doing otherwise, they should seem to throw doubt upon, if not indirectly admit, the illegality of the first sentence. The unfortunate Earl was appointed to be beheaded by the Maiden, an instrument resembling the Guillotine of modern France. (30th June) He mounted the scaffold with great firmness, and embracing the engine by which he was to suffer, declared it the sweetest maiden he ever kissed, and submitted with courage to the fatal accomplishment of his sentence. When this nobleman’s death is considered as the consequence of a sentence passed against him for presuming to comment upon and explain an oath which was self-contradictory, it can only be termed a judicial murder. Upwards of twenty of the most considerable gentlemen of his clan were executed in consequence of having joined him. His estate was wasted and confiscated; his brother, Lord Niel Campbell, was forced to fly to America, and his name doomed to extirpation.

Several of Argyle’s Lowland followers were also condemned to death. Amongst these was Richard Rumbold, an Englishman, the principal conspirator in what was called the Ryehouse Plot. He was a republican of the old stamp, who might have ridden right-hand man to Cromwell himself. He was the most active in the scheme for assassinating the two royal brothers, which was to have been executed at his farm called the Ryehouse, by one party firing on the royal guards, and another pouring their shot into the King’s carriage. Rumbold, who was to head the latter party, expressed some scruple at shooting the innocent postilion, but had no compunction on the project of assassinating the King and Duke of York.

Escaping from England when the discovery took place, this stern republican had found refuge in Holland, until he was persuaded to take part in Argyle’s expedition. When the Scottish leaders broke up in confusion and deserted each other, a stranger and an Englishman was not likely to experience much aid or attention. Rumbold, left to shift for himself amid the general dispersion and flight, was soon beset by a party of the Royalists, and while he stoutly defended himself against two men in front, a third came behind him with a pitch-fork, put it behind his ear, and turned off his steel cap, leaving his head exposed; on which Rumbold exclaimed, “ 0 cruel countryman, to use me thus when my face was to mine enemy! ”

He died the death of a traitor, as his share in the Ryehouse conspiracy justly merited. (26th June)But on the scaffold, Rumbold maintained the same undaunted courage he had often shown in the field. One of his dying” observations was, “ that he had never believed that the generality of man-kind came into the world bridled and saddled, and a few booted and spurred to ride upon them.” This man’s death was afterwards avenged on one Mark Kerr, the chief of those who took him: he was murdered before Ills own door, by two young men, calling themselves Rumbold’s sons, who ripped out his heart, in imitation of what their father had suffered on the scaffold. Thus does crime beget crime, and cruelty engender cruelty. The actors in this bloody deed made their escape, not so much as a dog baying at them.

Before quitting the subject of Argyle’s rebellion, I may mention a species of oppression practised on the nonconformists, of a nature differing from those I have already mentioned. When the alarm of invasion arose, it was resolved by the Privy Council, that all such persons as were in prison on account of religion should be sent to the north, for their more safe custody. After a toilsome march, rendered bitter by want of food and accommodation; as well as by the raillery of the pipers, who insulted with ridiculous tunes a set of persons who held their minstrelsy to be sinful, the Wanderers, to the number of an hundred and sixty persons, of whom there were several women, and even some children, reached the place of their destination. This proved to be the castle of Dunottar, a strong fortress, almost surrounded by the German ocean, the same in which, as I have told you, the Regalia of Scotland were preserved for some time. Here the prisoners were, without distinction, packed into a large dungeon, having a window open to the sea, in front of a huge precipice. They were neither allowed bedding nor provisions, excepting what they bought, and were treated by their keepers with the utmost rigour.1 The walls of this place, still called the Whigs’ vault, bear token to the severities inflicted on those unhappy persons. There are, in particular, a number of apertures cut in the wall about a man’s height, and it was the custom, when such was the jailer’s pleasure, that any prisoner who was accounted refractory, should be obliged to stand up with his arms extended, and his fingers secured by wedges in the crevices I have described. It appears that some of these apertures or crevices, which are lower than the others, have been intended for women, and even for children. In this cruel confinement many died, some were deprived of the use of their limbs by rheumatism and other diseases, and several lost their lives by desperate attempts to descend from the rock on which the castle is founded. Some who actually escaped by descending the precipice, were retaken, and so cruelly tortured for the attempt, by lighted matches tied between their fingers, that several were mutilated, and others died of the inflammation which ensued.

The survivors, after enduring this horrid imprisonment for six weeks or two months, had the test offered to them. Those who, overcome by bodily anguish, and the hopeless misery of their condition, agreed to take this engagement, were discharged, and the others transported to the plantations. A tombstone in Dunottar churchyard, still preserves the names of such as died in this cruel captivity, in the various modes we have mentioned.

The failure of the invasions of Monmouth and Argyle, with the revenge which had been taken on their unfortunate leaders, was by James, in his triumph, recorded by two medals struck for the occasion, which bore on one side two severed heads, on the other two headless trunks; a device as inhuman as the proceedings by which these advantages had been followed up, and as the royal vengeance which had been so unsparingly executed.

The part of the nation which inclined to support the side of the King in all political discussions, now obtained a complete superiority over the rest. They were known by the name of Tories, an appellation borrowed from Ireland, where the irregular and desultory bands, which maintained a sort of skirmishing warfare after Cromwell had suppressed every national and united effort, were so called. Like the opposite term of Whig, Tory was at first used as an epithet of scorn and ridicule, and both were at length adopted as party distinctions, coming in place of those which had been used during the Civil War, the word Tory superseding the term. of Cavalier, and Whig being applied instead of Roundhead. The same terms of distinction have descended to our time, as expressing the outlines of the two political parties which divide the Houses of Parliament, and, viewed politically, the whole mass of the community. A man who considers that, in the general view of the constitution, the monarchical power is in danger of being undermined by the popular branches, and who therefore supports the Crown in ordinary cases of dispute, is a Tory; while one who conceives the power of the Crown to be more likely to encroach upon the liberties of the people, throws his weight and influence into the popular scale, and is called a Whig.

Either of these opinions may be honourably and conscientiously maintained by the party whom reflection or education has led to adopt it; and the existence of two such parties, opposing each other with reason and moderation, and by constitutional means only, is the sure mode of preventing encroachment, either on the rights of the Crown, or on the privileges of the people, and of keeping the constitution itself inviolate; as the stays and rigging of a vessel straining against each other in opposite directions, tend to keep the ship’s mast upright in its place. But as it is natural fur men to drive favourite opinions into extremes, it has frequently’ happened, that the Whig’s, or the more violent part of that faction, have entertained opinions which tended towards democracy; and that the Tories, on the other hand, indulging in opposite prejudices, have endangered the constitution by their tendency towards absolute rule.

Thus, in the great Civil War, the friends to popular freedom began their opposition to Charles I., in the laudable desire to regain the full extent of constitutional liberty, but could not. bring the war to a conclusion until the monarchy was totally overthrown, and liberty overwhelmed in the ruins. In like manner, the Tories of Charles II. and James II.‘s time, remembering the fatal issue of the Civil Wars, adopted the opposite and equally mistaken opinion, that no check could be opposed to the will of the sovereign, without danger of overthrowing the throne, and by their unlimited desire to enlarge the prerogative of the Crown, they not only endangered the national liberty, but conducted the deluded Sovereign to his ruin. When, therefore, we speak of any particular measure adopted by the Whigs or Tories, it would be very rash to consider it as deserving of censure or applause, merely on account of its having originated with the one or other of these parties. On the contrary, its real merits can only be soundly estimated when we have attentively considered its purpose and effect, compared with the general spirit of the constitution, and with the exigencies of the times when it; was brought forward.

During the whole of Charles the Second’s reign, a violent struggle had been continued in England between the Whigs and the Tories, in the course of which both parties acted with a furious animosity, which admitted of no scruple concerning the means to be resorted to for annoying their adversaries. The Whig party had availed themselves of that detestable imposture called the Popish Plot to throw upon the Tories the guilt of an attempt to massacre the Protestants, and bring England back to the Catholic faith by the sword. Under this pretext they shed no small quantity of innocent blood. The Tories regained a decided ascendency by the discovery of the Ryehouse Plot, an atrocious enterprise, at which men’s minds revolted, and which the court artfully improved, by confounding the more moderate schemes laid by Monmouth, Lord Russell, and others, for obtaining some relief from the oppressive and unconstitutional measures of the court, with the bloody measures against the King’s person, which Rumbold and other desperate men had meditated. The general hatred inspired by the latter enterprise, excited a wide-spread clamour against the conspirators, and the Tories in their turn became the instruments of sacrificing, on account of a conspiracy of which they were ignorant, Lord Russell and Algernon Sydney, two men whose names, for free and courageous sentiments, will live for ever in history.

The prejudice against the Whigs had not subsided, when James ascended the throne; and the terrible mode in which the invasion of Monmouth was suppressed and punished, if it excited compassion for the sufferers, spread, at the same time, general dread of the Government. In these circumstances, the whole powers of the state seemed about to be surrendered to the King, without even a recollection of the value of national liberty, or of the blood which had been spent in its defence. The danger was the greater, that a large proportion of the national clergy were extravagant Royalists, who had adopted maxims utterly inconsistent with freedom, and with the very essence of the British constitution. They contended that the right of kings flowed from God, and that they were responsible to Him only for the manner in which they exercised it; that no misconduct, however gross, no oppression, however unjust, gave the subject any right to defend his person or his property against the violence of the sovereign; and that any attempt at resistance, however provoked, was contrary alike to religion and to law, and rendered its author liable to punishment in this world for treason or sedition, and in that which is to come to eternal condemnation, as foes of the prince whom Heaven had made their anointed sovereign. Such were the base and slavish maxims into which many wise, good, and learned men were hurried, from the recollection of the horrors of civil war, the death of Charles I., and the destruction of the Hierarchy; and thus do men endeavour to avoid the repetition of one class of crimes and errors, by rushing into extremes of a different description.

James II. was unquestionably desirous of power; yet such was the readiness with which courts of justice placed at his feet the persons and property of his subjects, and so great the zeal with which many of the clergy were disposed to exalt his authority into something of a sacred character, accountable for his actions to Heaven alone, that it must have seemed impossible for him to form any demand for an extension of authority which would not have been readily conceded to him, on the slightest hint of his pleasure. But it was the misfortune of this monarch to conceive, that the same sophistry by which divines and lawyers placed the property and personal freedom of his subjects at his unlimited disposal, extended his power over the freedom of their consciences also.

We have often repeated, that James was himself a Roman Catholic; and, as a sincere professor of that faith, he was not only disposed, but bound, as far as possible, to bring others into the pale of the church, beyond which, according to the Popish belief, there is no salvation. He might also flatter himself, that the indulgences of a life which had been in some respects irregular, might be obliterated and atoned for by the great and important service of ending the Northern heresy. To James’s sanguine hopes, there appeared at this time a greater chance of so important a change being accomplished than at any former period. His own power, if he were to trust the expressions of the predominant party in the state, was at least as extensive over the bodies and minds of his subjects as that of the Tudor family, under whose dynasty the religion of England four times changed its form, at the will and pleasure of the sovereign. James might, therefore, flatter himself, that as Henry VIII., by his sole fiat, detached England from the Pope, and assumed in his own person the office of Head of the Church, so a submissive clergy, and a willing people, might, at a similar expression of the present sovereign’s will and pleasure, return again under the dominion of the Holy Father, when they beheld their prince surrender to him, as a usurpation, the right of supremacy which his predecessor had seized upon.

But there was a fallacy in this reasoning. The Reformation presented to the English nation advantages both spiritual and temporal, of which they must necessarily be deprived, by a reconciliation with Rome. The former revolution was a calling from darkness into light, from ignorance into knowledge, from the bondage of priestcraft into freedom; and a mandate of Henry VIII., recommending a change fraught with such advantages, was sure to be promptly obeyed. The purpose of James, on the contrary, tended to restore the ignorance of the dark ages, to lock up the Scriptures from the use of laymen, to bring back observances and articles of faith which were the offspring of superstitious credulity, and which the increasing knowledge of more than a century had taught men to despise.

Neither would a reconciliation with Rome have been more favourable to those, who looked to a change of religion only as the means of obtaining temporal ad vantages. The acquiescence of the nobility in the Reformation had been easily purchased by the spoils of the church property; but their descendants, the present possessors, would have every reason to apprehend, that a return to the Catholic religion might be cemented by a resumption of the church lands, which had been confiscated at, the Reformation.

Thus the alteration which James proposed to accomplish in the national religion, was a task as different from that effected by Henry VIII., as is that of pushing a stone up hill, from assisting its natural impulse by rolling it downwards. Similar strength may indeed be applied in both cases, but the result of the two attempts must be materially different. This distinction James did not perceive; and he persevered in his rash attempt, in an evil hour for his own power, but a fortunate one for the freedom of his subjects, who, being called on to struggle for their religion, reasserted their half-surrendered liberty, as the only mode by which they could obtain effectual means of resistance.


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