Street Corner Society

Skip to site-wide links.

Reflections  >  T.B. Macaulay, History of England  >  Ch. IV, James the Second (part 3)

T.B. Macaulay

History of England

Chap. IV, James the Second

Proceedings against Oates
Proceedings against Dangerfield
Proceedings against Baxter
Meeting of the Parliament of Scotland
Feeling of James towards the Puritans
Cruel Treatment of the Scotch Covenanters

Proceedings against Oates

The general result of the elections exceeded the most sanguine expectations of the court. James found with delight that it would be unnecessary for him to expend a farthing in buying votes. He said that, with the exception of about forty members, the House of Commons was just such as he should himself have named.(265) And this House of Commons it was in his power, as the law then stood, to keep to the end of his reign.

Secure of parliamentary support, be might now indulge in the luxury of revenge. His nature was not placable; and, while still a subject, he had suffered some injuries and indignities which might move even a placable nature to fierce and lasting resentment. One set of men in particular had, with a baseness and cruelty beyond all example and all description, attacked his honour and his life, the witnesses of the plot. He may well be excused for hating them; since, even at this day, the mention of their names excites the disgust and horror of all sects and parties.

Some of these wretches were already beyond the reach of human justice. Bedloe had died in his wickedness, without one sign of remorse or shame.(266) Dugdale had followed, driven mad, men said, by the Furies of an evil conscience, and with loud shrieks imploring those who stood round his bed to take away Lord Stafford.(267) Carstairs, too, was gone. His end had been all horror and despair; and, with his last breath, he had told his attendants to throw him into a ditch like a dog, for that he was not fit to sleep in a Christian burial ground.(268) But Oates and Dangerfield were still within the reach of the stern prince whom they had wronged. James, a short time before his accession, had instituted a civil suit against Oates for defamatory words; and a jury had given damages to the enormous amount of a hundred thousand pounds.(269) The defendant had been taken in execution, and was lying in prison as a debtor, without hope of release. Two bills of indictment against him for perjury had been found by the grand jury of Middlesex, a few weeks before the death of Charles. Soon after the close of the elections the trial came on.

Among the upper and middle classes Oates had few friends left. The most respectable Whigs were now convinced that, even if his narrative had some foundation in fact, he had erected on that foundation a vast superstructure of romance. A considerable number of low fanatics, however, still regarded him as a public benefactor. These people well knew that, if he were convicted, his sentence would be one of extreme severity, and were therefore indefatigable in their endeavours to manage an escape. Though he was as yet in confinement only for debt, he was put into irons by the authorities of the King's Bench prison; and even so he was with difficulty kept in safe custody. The mastiff that guarded his door was poisoned; and, on the very night preceding the trial, a ladder of ropes was introduced into the cell.

On the day in which Titus was brought to the bar, Westminster Hall was crowded with spectators, among whom were many Roman Catholics, eager to see the misery and humiliation of their persecutor.(270) A few years earlier his short neck, his legs uneven, the vulgar said, as those of a badger, his forehead low as that of a baboon, his purple cheeks, and his monstrous length of chin, had been familiar to all who frequented the courts of law. He had then been the idol of the nation. Wherever he had appeared, men had uncovered their heads to him. The lives and estates of the magnates of the realm had been at his mercy. Times had now changed; and many, who had formerly regarded him as the deliverer of his country, shuddered at the sight of those hideous features on which villany seemed to be written by the hand of God.(271)

It was proved, beyond all possibility of doubt, that this man had by false testimony deliberately murdered several guiltless persons. He called in vain on the most eminent members of the Parliaments which had rewarded and extolled him to give evidence in his favour. Some of those whom he had summoned absented themselves. None of them said anything tending to his vindication. One of them, the Earl of Huntingdon, bitterly reproached him with having deceived the Houses and drawn on them the guilt of shedding innocent blood. The Judges browbeat and reviled the prisoner with an intemperance which, even in the most atrocious cases, ill becomes the judicial character. He betrayed, however, no sign of fear or of shame, and faced the storm of invective which burst upon him from bar, bench, and witness box, with the insolence of despair. He was convicted on both indictments. His offence, though, in a moral light, murder of the most aggravated kind, was, in the eye of the law, merely a misdemeanour. The tribunal, however, was desirous to make his punishment more severe than that of felons or traitors, and not merely to put him to death, but to put him to death by frightful torments. He was sentenced to be stripped of his clerical habit, to be pilloried in Palace Yard, to be led round Westminster Hall with an inscription declaring his infamy over his head, to be pilloried again in front of the Royal Exchange, to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate, and, after an interval of two days, to be whipped from Newgate to Tyburn. If, against all probability, he should happen to survive this horrible infliction, he was to be kept close prisoner during life. Five times every year he was to be brought forth from his dungeon and exposed on the pillory in different parts of the capital.(272) This rigorous sentence was rigorously executed. On the day on which Oates was pilloried in Palace Yard he was mercilessly pelted and ran some risk of being pulled in pieces.(273) But in the City his partisans mustered in great force, raised a riot, and upset the pillory.(274) They were, however, unable to rescue their favourite. It was supposed that he would try to escape the horrible doom which awaited him by swallowing poison. All that he ate and drank was therefore carefully inspected. On the following morning he was brought forth to undergo his first flogging. At an early hour an innumerable multitude filled all the streets from Aldgate to the Old Bailey. The hangman laid on the lash with such unusual severity as showed that he had received special instructions. The blood ran down in rivulets. For a time the criminal showed a strange constancy: but at last his stubborn fortitude gave way. His bellowings were frightful to hear. He swooned several times; but the scourge still continued to descend. When he was unbound, it seemed that he had borne as much as the human frame can bear without dissolution. James was entreated to remit the second flogging. His answer was short and clear: "He shall go through with it, if he has breath in his body." An attempt was made to obtain the Queen's intercession; but she indignantly refused to say a word in favour of such a wretch. After an interval of only forty-eight hours, Oates was again brought out of his dungeon. He was unable to stand, and it was necessary to drag him to Tyburn on a sledge. He seemed quite insensible; and the Tories reported that he had stupified himself with strong drink. A person who counted the stripes on the second day said that they were seventeen hundred. The bad man escaped with life, but so narrowly that his ignorant and bigoted admirers thought his recovery miraculous, and appealed to it as a proof of his innocence. The doors of the prison closed upon him. During many months he remained ironed in the darkest hole of Newgate. It was said that in his cell he gave himself up to melancholy, and sate whole days uttering deep groans, his arms folded, and his hat pulled over his eyes. It was not in England alone that these events excited strong interest. Millions of Roman Catholics, who knew nothing of our institutions or of our factions. had heard that a persecution of singular barbarity had raged in our island against the professors of the true faith, that many pious men had suffered martyrdom, and that Titus Oates had been the chief murderer. There was, therefore, great joy in distant countries when it was known that the divine justice had overtaken him. Engravings of him, looking out from the pillory, and writhing at the cart's tail, were circulated all over Europe; and epigrammatists, in many languages, made merry with the doctoral title which he pretended to have received from the University of Salamanca, and remarked that, since his forehead could not be made to blush, it was but reasonable that his back should do so.(275)

Horrible as were the sufferings of Oates, they did not equal his crimes. The old law of England, which had been suffered to become obsolete, treated the false witness, who had caused death by means of perjury, as a murderer.(276) This was wise and righteous; for such a witness is, in truth, the worst of murderers. To the guilt of shedding innocent blood he has added the guilt of violating the most solemn engagement into which man can enter with his fellow men, and of making institutions, to which it is desirable that the public should look with respect and confidence, instruments of frightful wrong and objects of general distrust. The pain produced by ordinary murder bears no proportion to the pain produced by murder of which the courts of justice are made the agents. The mere extinction of life is a very small part of what makes an execution horrible. The prolonged mental agony of the sufferer, the shame and misery of all connected with him, the stain abiding even to the third and fourth generation, are things far more dreadful than death itself. In general it may be safely affirmed that the father of a large family would rather be bereaved of all his children by accident or by disease than lose one of them by the hands of the hangman. Murder by false testimony is therefore the most aggravated species of murder; and Oates had been guilty of many such murders. Nevertheless the punishment which was inflicted upon him cannot be justified. In sentencing him to be stripped of his ecclesiastical habit and imprisoned for life, the judges exceeded their legal power. They were undoubtedly competent to inflict whipping; nor had the law assigned a limit to the number of stripes. But the spirit of the law clearly was that no misdemeanour should be punished more severely than the most atrocious felonies. The worst felon could only be hanged. The judges, as they believed, sentenced Oates to be scourged to death. That the law was defective is not a sufficient excuse: for defective laws should be altered by the legislature, and not strained by the tribunals; and least of all should the law be strained for the purpose of inflicting torture and destroying life. That Oates was a bad man is not a sufficient excuse; for the guilty are almost always the first to suffer those hardships which are afterwards used as precedents against the innocent. Thus it was in the present case. Merciless flogging soon became an ordinary punishment for political misdemeanours of no very aggravated kind. Men were sentenced, for words spoken against the government, to pains so excruciating that they, with unfeigned earnestness, begged to be brought to trial on capital charges, and sent to the gallows. Happily the progress of this great evil was speedily stopped by the Revolution, and by that article of the Bill of Rights which condemns all cruel and unusual punishments.

Proceedings against Dangerfield

The villany of Dangerfield had not, like that of Oates, destroyed many innocent victims; for Dangerfield had not taken up the trade of a witness till the plot had been blown upon and till juries had become incredulous.(277) He was brought to trial, not for perjury, but for the less heinous offense of libel. He had, during the agitation caused by the Exclusion Bill, put forth a narrative containing some false and odious imputations on the late and on the present King. For this publication he was now, after the lapse of five years, suddenly taken up, brought before the Privy Council, committed, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be whipped from Aldgate to Newgate and from Newgate to Tyburn. The wretched man behaved with great effrontery during the trial; but, when he heard his doom, he went into agonies of despair, gave himself up for dead, and chose a text for his funeral sermon. His forebodings were just. He was not, indeed, scourged quite so severely as Oates had been; but he had not Oates's iron strength of body and mind. After the execution Dangerfield was put into a hackney coach and was taken back to prison. As he passed the corner of Hatton Garden, a Tory gentleman of Gray's Inn, named Francis, stopped the carriage, and cried out with brutal levity, "Well, friend, have you had your heat this morning?" The bleeding prisoner, maddened by this insult, answered with a curse. Francis instantly struck him in the face with a cane which injured the eye. Dangerfield was carried dying into Newgate. This dastardly outrage roused the indignation of the bystanders. They seized Francis, and were with difficulty restrained from tearing him to pieces. The appearance of Dangerfield's body, which had been frightfully lacerated by the whip, inclined many to believe that his death was chiefly, if not wholly, caused by the stripes which he had received. The government and the Chief Justice thought it convenient to lay the whole blame on Francis, who; though he seems to have been at worst guilty only of aggravated manslaughter, was tried and executed for murder. His dying speech is one of the most curious monuments of that age. The savage spirit which had brought him to the gallows remained with him to the last. Boasts of his loyalty and abuse of the Whigs were mingled with the parting ejaculations in which he commended his soul to the divine mercy. An idle rumour had been circulated that his wife was in love with Dangerfield, who was eminently handsome and renowned for gallantry. The fatal blow, it was said, had been prompted by jealousy. The dying husband, with an earnestness, half ridiculous, half pathetic, vindicated the lady's character. She was, he said, a virtuous woman: she came of a loyal stock, and, if she had been inclined to break her marriage vow, would at least have selected a Tory and a churchman for her paramour.(278)

Proceedings against Baxter

About the same time a culprit, who bore very little resemblance to Oates or Dangerfield, appeared on the floor of the Court of King's Bench. No eminent chief of a party has ever passed through many years of civil and religious dissension with more innocence than Richard Baxter. He belonged to the mildest and most temperate section of the Puritan body. He was a young man when the civil war broke out. He thought that the right was on the side of the Houses; and he had no scruple about acting as chaplain to a regiment in the parliamentary army: but his clear and somewhat sceptical understanding, and his strong sense of justice, preserved him from all excesses. He exerted himself to check the fanatical violence of the soldiery. He condemned the proceedings of the High Court of Justice. In the days of the Commonwealth he had the boldness to express, on many occasions, and once even in Cromwell's presence, love and reverence for the ancient institutions of the country. While the royal family was in exile, Baxter's life was chiefly passed at Kidderminster in the assiduous discharge of parochial duties. He heartily concurred in the Restoration, and was sincerely desirous to bring about an union between Episcopalians and Presbyterians. For, with a liberty rare in his time, he considered questions of ecclesiastical polity as of small account when compared with the great principles of Christianity, and had never, even when prelacy was most odious to the ruling powers, joined in the outcry against Bishops. The attempt to reconcile the contending factions failed. Baxter cast in his lot with his proscribed friends, refused the mitre of Hereford, quitted the parsonage of Kidderminster, and gave himself up almost wholly to study. His theological writings, though too moderate to be pleasing to the bigots of any party, had an immense reputation. Zealous Churchmen called him a Roundhead; and many Nonconformists accused him of Erastianism and Arminianism. But the integrity of his heart, the purity of his life, the vigour of his faculties, and the extent of his attainments were acknowledged by the best and wisest men of every persuasion. His political opinions, in spite of the oppression which he and his brethren had suffered, were moderate. He was friendly to that small party which was hated by both Whigs and Tories. He could not, he said, join in cursing the Trimmers, when he remembered who it was that had blessed the peacemakers.(279)

In a Commentary on the New Testament he had complained, with some bitterness, of the persecution which the Dissenters suffered. That men who, for not using the Prayer Book, had been driven from their homes, stripped of their property, and locked up in dungeons, should dare to utter a murmur, was then thought a high crime against the State and the Church. Roger Lestrange, the champion of the government and the oracle of the clergy, sounded the note of war in the Observator. An information was filed. Baxter begged that he might be allowed some time to prepare for his defence. It was on the day on which Oates was pilloried in Palace Yard that the illustrious chief of the Puritans, oppressed by age and infirmities, came to Westminster Hall to make this request. Jeffreys burst into a storm of rage. "Not a minute," he cried, "to save his life. I can deal with saints as well as with sinners. There stands Oates on one side of the pillory; and, if Baxter stood on the other, the two greatest rogues in the kingdom would stand together."

asterix When the trial came on at Guildhall, a crowd of those who loved and honoured Baxter filled the court. At his side stood Doctor William Bates, one of the most eminent of the Nonconformist divines. Two Whig barristers of great note, Pollexfen and Wallop, appeared for the defendant. Pollexfen had scarcely begun his address to the jury, when the Chief Justice broke forth: "Pollexfen, I know you well. I will set a mark on you. You are the patron of the faction. This is an old rogue, a schismatical knave, a hypocritical villain. He hates the Liturgy. He would have nothing but longwinded cant without book;" and then his Lordship turned up his eyes, clasped his hands, and began to sing through his nose, in imitation of what he supposed to be Baxter's style of praying "Lord, we are thy people, thy peculiar people, thy dear people." Pollexfen gently reminded the court that his late Majesty had thought Baxter deserving of a bishopric. "And what ailed the old blockhead then," cried Jeffreys, "that he did not take it?" His fury now rose almost to madness. He called Baxter a dog, and swore that it would be no more than justice to whip such a villain through the whole City.

Wallop interposed, but fared no better than his leader. "You are in all these dirty causes, Mr. Wallop," said the Judge. "Gentlemen of the long robe ought to be ashamed to assist such factious knaves." The advocate made another attempt to obtain a hearing, but to no purpose. "If you do not know your duty," said Jeffreys, "I will teach it you."

Wallop sate down; and Baxter himself attempted to put in a word. But the Chief Justice drowned all expostulation in a torrent of ribaldry and invective, mingled with scraps of Hudibras. "My Lord," said the old man, "I have been much blamed by Dissenters for speaking respectfully of Bishops." "Baxter for Bishops!" cried the Judge, "that's a merry conceit indeed. I know what you mean by Bishops, rascals like yourself, Kidderminster Bishops, factious snivelling Presbyterians!" Again Baxter essayed to speak, and again Jeffreys bellowed "Richard, Richard, dost thou think we will let thee poison the court? Richard, thou art an old knave. Thou hast written books enough to load a cart, and every book as full of sedition as an egg is full of meat. By the grace of God, I'll look after thee. I see a great many of your brotherhood waiting to know what will befall their mighty Don. And there," he continued, fixing his savage eye on Bates, "there is a Doctor of the party at your elbow. But, by the grace of God Almighty, I will crush you all."

Baxter held his peace. But one of the junior counsel for the defence made a last effort, and undertook to show that the words of which complaint was made would not bear the construction put on them by the information. With this view he began to read the context. In a moment he was roared down. "You sha'n't turn the court into a conventicle." The noise of weeping was heard from some of those who surrounded Baxter. "Snivelling calves!" said the Judge.

Witnesses to character were in attendance, and among them were several clergymen of the Established Church. But the Chief Justice would hear nothing. "Does your Lordship think," said Baxter, "that any jury will convict a man on such a trial as this?" "I warrant you, Mr. Baxter," said Jeffreys: "don't trouble yourself about that." Jeffreys was right. The Sheriffs were the tools of the government. The jurymen, selected by the Sheriffs from among the fiercest zealots of the Tory party, conferred for a moment, and returned a verdict of Guilty. "My Lord," said Baxter, as he left the court, "there was once a Chief Justice who would have treated me very differently." He alluded to his learned and virtuous friend Sir Matthew Hale. "There is not an honest man in England," answered Jeffreys, "but looks on thee as a knave."(280)

The sentence was, for those times. a lenient one. What passed in conference among the judges cannot be certainly known. It was believed among the Nonconformists, and is highly probable, that the Chief Justice was overruled by his three brethren. He proposed, it is said, that Baxter should be whipped through London at the cart's tail. The majority thought that an eminent divine, who, a quarter of a century before, had been offered a mitre, and who was now in his seventieth year, would be sufficiently punished for a few sharp words by fine and imprisonment.(281)

Meeting of the Parliament of Scotland

The manner in which Baxter was treated by a judge, who was a member of the cabinet and a favourite of the Sovereign, indicated, in a manner not to be mistaken, the feeling with which the government at this time regarded the Protestant Nonconformists. But already that feeling had been indicated by still stronger and more terrible signs. The Parliament of Scotland had met. James had purposely hastened the session of this body, and had postponed the session of the English Houses, in the hope that the example set at Edinburgh would produce a good effect at Westminster. For the legislature of his northern kingdom was as obsequious as those provincial Estates which Lewis the Fourteenth still suffered to play at some of their ancient functions in Britanny and Burgundy. None but an Episcopalian could sit in the Scottish Parliament, or could even vote for a member, and in Scotland an Episcopalian was always a Tory or a timeserver. From an assembly thus constituted, little opposition to the royal wishes was to he apprehended; and even the assembly thus constituted could pass no law which had not been previously approved by a committee of courtiers.

All that the government asked was readily granted. In a financial point of view, indeed, the liberality of the Scottish Estates was of little consequence. They gave, however, what their scanty means permitted. They annexed in perpetuity to the crown the duties which had been granted to the late King, and which in his time had been estimated at forty thousand pounds sterling a year. They also settled on James for life an additional annual income of two hundred and sixteen thousand pounds Scots, equivalent to eighteen thousand pounds sterling. The whole Sum which they were able to bestow was about sixty thousand a year, little more than what was poured into the English Exchequer every fortnight.(282)

asterix Having little money to give, the Estates supplied the defect by loyal professions and barbarous statutes. The King, in a letter which was read to them at the opening of their session, called on them in vehement language to provide new penal laws against the refractory Presbyterians, and expressed his regret that business made it impossible for him to propose such laws in person from the throne. His commands were obeyed. A statute framed by his ministers was promptly passed, a statute which stands forth even among the statutes of that unhappy country at that unhappy period, preeminent in atrocity. It was enacted, in few but emphatic words, that whoever should preach in a conventicle under a roof, or should attend, either as preacher or as hearer, a conventicle in the open air, should be punished with death and confiscation of property.(283)

Feeling of James towards the Puritans

This law, passed at the King's instance by an assembly devoted to his will, deserves especial notice. For he has been frequently represented by ignorant writers as a prince rash, indeed, and injudicious in his choice of means, but intent on one of the noblest ends which a ruler can pursue, the establishment of entire religious liberty. Nor can it be denied that some portions of his life, when detached from the rest and superficially considered, seem to warrant this favourable view of his character.

While a subject he had been, during many years, a persecuted man; and persecution had produced its usual effect on him. His mind, dull and narrow as it was, had profited under that sharp discipline. While he was excluded from the Court, from the Admiralty, and from the Council, and was in danger of being also excluded from the throne, only because he could not help believing in transubstantiation and in the authority of the see of Rome, he made such rapid progress in the doctrines of toleration that he left Milton and Locke behind. What, he often said, could be more unjust, than to visit speculations with penalties which ought to be reserved for acts? What more impolitic than to reject the services of good soldiers, seamen, lawyers, diplomatists, financiers, because they hold unsound opinions about the number of the sacraments or the pluripresence of saints? He learned by rote those commonplaces which all sects repeat so fluently when they are enduring oppression, and forget so easily when they are able to retaliate it. Indeed he rehearsed his lesson so well, that those who chanced to hear him on this subject gave him credit for much more sense and much readier elocution than he really possessed. His professions imposed on some charitable persons, and perhaps imposed on himself. But his zeal for the rights of conscience ended with the predominance of the Whig party. When fortune changed, when he was no longer afraid that others would persecute him, when he had it in his power to persecute others, his real propensities began to show themselves. He hated the Puritan sects with a manifold hatred, theological and political, hereditary and personal. He regarded them as the foes of Heaven, as the foes of all legitimate authority in Church and State, as his great-grandmother's foes and his grandfather's, his father's and his mother's, his brother's and his own. He, who had complained so fondly of the laws against Papists, now declared himself unable to conceive how men could have the impudence to propose the repeal of the laws against Puritans.(284) He, whose favourite theme had been the injustice of requiring civil functionaries to take religious tests, established in Scotland, when he resided there as Viceroy, the most rigorous religious test that has ever been known in the empire.(285) He, who had expressed just indignation when the priests of his own faith were hanged and quartered, amused himself with hearing Covenanters shriek and seeing them writhe while their knees were beaten flat in the boots.(286) In this mood he became King; and he immediately demanded and obtained from the obsequious Estates of Scotland as the surest pledge of their loyalty, the most sanguinary law that has ever in our island been enacted against Protestant Nonconformists.

Cruel Treatment of the Scotch Covenanters

With this law the whole spirit of his administration was in perfect harmony. The fiery persecution, which had raged when he ruled Scotland as vicegerent, waxed hotter than ever from the day on which he became sovereign. Those shires in which the Covenanters were most numerous were given up to the license of the army. With the army was mingled a militia, composed of the most violent and profligate of those who called themselves Episcopalians. Preeminent among the bands which oppressed and wasted these unhappy districts were the dragoons commanded by John Graham of Claverhouse. The story ran that these wicked men used in their revels to play at the torments of hell, and to call each other by the names of devils and damned souls.(287) The chief of this Tophet, a soldier of distinguished courage and professional skill, but rapacious and profane, of violent temper and of obdurate heart, has left a name which, wherever the Scottish race is settled on the face of the globe, is mentioned with a peculiar energy of hatred. To recapitulate all the crimes, by which this man, and men like him, goaded the peasantry of the Western Lowlands into madness, would be an endless task. A few instances must suffice; and all those instances shall be taken from the history of a single fortnight, that very fortnight in which the Scottish Parliament, at the urgent request of James, enacted a new law of unprecedented severity against Dissenters.

John Brown, a poor carrier of Lanarkshire, was, for his singular piety, commonly called the Christian carrier. Many years later, when Scotland enjoyed rest, prosperity, and religious freedom, old men who remembered the evil days described him as one versed in divine things, blameless in life, and so peaceable that the tyrants could find no offence in him except that he absented himself from the public worship of the Episcopalians. On the first of May he was cutting turf, when he was seized by Claverhouse's dragoons, rapidly examined, convicted of nonconformity, and sentenced to death. It is said that, even among the soldiers, it was not easy to find an executioner. For the wife of the poor man was present; she led one little child by the hand: it was easy to see that she was about to give birth to another; and even those wild and hardhearted men, who nicknamed one another Beelzebub and Apollyon, shrank from the great wickedness of butchering her husband before her face. The prisoner, meanwhile, raised above himself by the near prospect of eternity, prayed loud and fervently as one inspired, till Claverhouse, in a fury, shot him dead. It was reported by credible witnesses that the widow cried out in her agony, "Well, sir, well; the day of reckoning will come;" and that the murderer replied, "To man I can answer for what I have done; and as for God, I will take him into mine own hand." Yet it was rumoured that even on his seared conscience and adamantine heart the dying ejaculations of his victim made an impression which was never effaced.(288)

On the fifth of May two artisans, Peter Gillies and John Bryce, were tried in Ayrshire by a military tribunal consisting of fifteen soldiers. The indictment is still extant. The prisoners were charged, not with any act of rebellion, but with holding the same pernicious doctrines which had impelled others to rebel, and with wanting only opportunity to act upon those doctrines. The proceeding was summary. In a few hours the two culprits were convicted, hanged, and flung together into a hole under the gallows.(289)

The eleventh of May was made remarkable by more than one great crime. Some rigid Calvinists had from the doctrine of reprobation drawn the consequence that to pray for any person who had been predestined to perdition was an act of mutiny against the eternal decrees of the Supreme Being. Three poor labouring men, deeply imbued with this unamiable divinity, were stopped by an officer in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. They were asked whether they would pray for King James the Seventh. They refused to do so except under the condition that he was one of the elect. A file of musketeers was drawn out. The prisoners knelt down; they were blindfolded; and within an hour after they had been arrested, their blood was lapped up by the dogs.(290)

While this was done in Clydesdale, an act not less horrible was perpetrated in Eskdale. One of the proscribed Covenanters, overcome by sickness, had found shelter in the house of a respectable widow, and had died there. The corpse was discovered by the Laird of Westerhall, a petty tyrant who had, in the days of the Covenant, professed inordinate zeal for the Presbyterian Church, who had, since the Restoration, purchased the favour of the government by apostasy, and who felt towards the party which he had deserted the implacable hatred of an apostate. This man pulled down the house of the poor woman, carried away her furniture, and, leaving her and her younger children to wander in the fields, dragged her son Andrew, who was still a lad, before Claverhouse, who happened to be marching through that part of the country. Claverhouse was just then strangely lenient. Some thought that he had not been quite himself since the death of the Christian carrier, ten days before. But Westerhall was eager to signalise his loyalty, and extorted a sullen consent. The guns were loaded, and the youth was told to pull his bonnet over his face. He refused, and stood confronting his murderers with the Bible in his hand. "I can look you in the face," he said; "I have done nothing of which I need be ashamed. But how will you look in that day when you shall be judged by what is written in this book?" He fell dead, and was buried in the moor.(291)

asterix On the same day two women, Margaret Maclachlin and Margaret Wilson, the former an aged widow, the latter a maiden of eighteen, suffered death for their religion in Wigtonshire. They were offered their lives if they would consent to abjure the cause of the insurgent Covenanters, and to attend the Episcopal worship. They refused; and they were sentenced to be drowned. They were carried to a spot which the Solway overflows twice a day, and were fastened to stakes fixed in the sand between high and low water mark. The elder sufferer was placed near to the advancing flood, in the hope that her last agonies might terrify the younger into submission. The sight was dreadful. But the courage of the survivor was sustained by an enthusiasm as lofty as any that is recorded in martyrology. She saw the sea draw nearer and nearer, but gave no sign of alarm. She prayed and sang verses of psalms till the waves choked her voice. After she had tasted the bitterness of death, she was, by a cruel mercy unbound and restored to life. When she came to herself, pitying friends and neighbours implored her to yield. "Dear Margaret, only say, God save the King!" The poor girl, true to her stern theology, gasped out, "May God save him, if it be God's will!" Her friends crowded round the presiding officer. "She has said it; indeed, sir, she has said it." "Will she take the abjuration?" he demanded. "Never!" she exclaimed. "I am Christ's: let me go!" And the waters closed over her for the last time.(292)

Thus was Scotland governed by that prince whom ignorant men have represented as a friend of religious liberty, whose misfortune it was to be too wise and too good for the age in which he lived. Nay, even those laws which authorised him to govern thus were in his judgment reprehensibly lenient. While his officers were committing the murders which have just been related, he was urging the Scottish Parliament to pass a new Act compared with which all former Acts might be called merciful.

In England his authority, though great, was circumscribed by ancient and noble laws which even the Tories would not patiently have seen him infringe. Here he could not hurry Dissenters before military tribunals, or enjoy at Council the luxury of seeing them swoon in the boots. Here he could not drown young girls for refusing to take the abjuration, or shoot poor countrymen for doubting whether he was one of the elect. Yet even in England he continued to persecute the Puritans as far as his power extended, till events which will hereafter be related induced him to form the design of uniting Puritans and Papists in a coalition for the humiliation and spoliation of the established Church.

Ch. IV, next part

Notes and Links

265 -
Burnet, i. 626.
266 -
A faithful account of the Sickness, Death, and Burial of Captain Bedlow, 1680; Narrative of Lord Chief Justice North.
267 -
Smith's Intrigues of the Popish Plot, 1685.
268 -
Burnet, i. 439.
269 -
See the proceedings in the Collection of State Trials.
270 -
Evelyn's Diary, May 7, 1685.
271 -
There remain many pictures of Oates. The most striking descriptions of his person are in North's Examen, 225, in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel, and In a broadside entitled, A Hue and Cry after T. O.
272 -
The proceedings will be found at length in the Collection of State Trials.
273 -
Gazette de France May 29,/June 9, 1685.
274 -
Despatch of the Dutch Ambassadors, May 19-29, 1685.
275 -
Evelyn's Diary, May 22, 1685; Eachard, iii. 741; Burnet, i. 637; Observator, May 27, 1685; Oates's Eikvn, 89; Eikwn Brotoloigon, 1697; Commons' Journals of May, June, and July, 1689; Tom Brown's advice to Dr. Oates. Some interesting circumstances are mentioned in a broadside, printed for A. Brooks, Charing Cross, 1685. I have seen contemporary French and Italian pamphlets containing the history of the trial and execution. A print of Titus in the pillory was published at Milan, with the following curious inscription: "Questo e il naturale ritratto di Tito Otez, o vero Oatz, Inglese, posto in berlina, uno de' principali professor della religion protestante, acerrimo persecutore de' Cattolici, e gran spergiuro." I have also seen a Dutch engraving of his punishment, with some Latin verses, of which the following are a specimen:

  "At Doctor fictus non fictos pertulit ictus
    A tortore datos haud molli in corpore gratos,
    Disceret ut vere scelera ob commissa rubere."

The anagram of his name, "Testis Ovat," may be found on many prints published in different countries.

276 -
Blackstone's Commentaries, Chapter of Homicide.
277 -
According to Roger North the judges decided that Dangerfield, having been previously convicted of perjury, was incompetent to be a witness of the plot. But this is one among many instances of Roger's inaccuracy. It appears, from the report of the trial of Lord Castlemaine in June 1680, that, after much altercation between counsel, and much consultation among the judges of the different courts in Westminster Hall, Dangerfield was sworn and suffered to tell his story; but the jury very properly gave no credit to his testimony.
278 -
Dangerfield's trial was not reported; but I have seen a concise account of it in a contemporary broadside. An abstract of the evidence against Francis, and his dying speech, will be found in the Collection of State Trials. See Eachard, iii. 741. Burnet's narrative contains more mistakes than lines. See also North's Examen, 256, the sketch of Dangerfield's life in the Bloody Assizes, the Observator of July 29, 1685, and the poem entitled "Dangerfield's Ghost to Jeffreys." In the very rare volume entitled "Succinct Genealogies, by Robert Halstead," Lord Peterbough says that Dangerfield, with whom he had had some intercourse, was "a young man who appeared under a decent figure, a serious behaviour, and with words that did not seem to proceed from a common understanding."
279 -
Baxter's preface to Sir Mathew Hale's Judgment of the Nature of True Religion, 1684.
280 -
See the Observator of February 28, 1685, the information in the Collection of State Trials, the account of what passed in court given by Calamy, Life of Baxter, chap. xiv., and the very curious extracts from the Baxter MSS. in the Life, by Orme, published in 1830.
281 -
Baxter MS. cited by Orme.
282 -
Act Parl. Car. II. March 29,1661, Jac. VII. April 28, 1685, and May 13, 1685.
283 -
Act Parl. Jac. VII. May 8, 1685, Observator, June 20, 1685; Lestrange evidently wished to see the precedent followed in England.
284 -
His own words reported by himself. Life of James the Second, i. 666. Orig. Mem.
285 -
Act Parl. Car. II. August 31, 1681.
286 -
Burnet, i. 583; Wodrow, III. v. 2. Unfortunately the Acta of the Scottish Privy Council during almost the whole administration of the Duke of York are wanting. (1848.) This assertion has been met by a direct contradiction. But the fact is exactly as I have stated it. There is in he Acta of the Scottish Privy Council a hiatus extending from August 1678 to August 1682. The Duke of York began to reside in Scotland in December 1679. He left Scotland, never to return in May 1682. (1857.)
287 -
Wodrow, III. ix. 6.
288 -
Wodrow, III. ix. 6. The editor of the Oxford edition of Burnet attempts to excuse this act by alleging that Claverhouse was then employed to intercept all communication between Argyle and Monmouth, and by supposing that John Brown may have been detected in conveying intelligence between the rebel camps. Unfortunately for this hypothesis John Brown was shot on the first of May, when both Argyle and Monmouth were in Holland, and when there was no insurrection in any part of our island.
289 -
Wodrow, III. ix, 6.
290 -
Wodrow, III. ix. 6. It has been confidently asserted, by persons who have not taken the trouble to look at the authority to which I have referred, that I have grossly calumniated these unfortunate men; that I do not understand the Calvinistic theology; and that it is impossible that members of the Church of Scotland can have refused to pray for any man on the ground that he was not one of the elect.
    I can only refer to the narrative which Wodrow has inserted in his history, and which he justly calls plain and natural. That narrative is signed by two eyewitnesses, and Wodrow, before he published it, submitted it to a third eyewitness, who pronounced it strictly accurate. From that narrative I will extract the only words which bear on the point in question: "When all the three were taken, the officers consulted among themselves, and, withdrawing to the west side of the town, questioned the prisoners, particularly if they would pray for King James VII. They answered, they would pray for all within the election of grace. Balfour said Do you question the King's election? They answered, sometimes they questioned their own. Upon which he swore dreadfully, and said they should die presently, because they would not pray for Christ's vicegerent, and so without one word more, commanded Thomas Cook to go to his prayers, for he should die.
    In this narrative Wodrow saw nothing improbable; and I shall not easily be convinced that any writer now living understands the feelings and opinions of the Covenanters better than Wodrow did. (1857.)
291 -
Wodrow, III. ix. 6. Cloud of Witnesses.
292 -
Wodrow, III. ix. 6. The epitaph of Margaret Wilson, in the churchyard at Wigton, is printed in the Appendix to the Cloud of Witnesses.

  "Murdered for owning Christ supreme
    Head of his church, and no more crime,
    But her not owning Prelacy.
    And not abjuring Presbytery,
    Within the sea, tied to a stake,
    She suffered for Christ Jesus' sake."

 next part