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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 20 — Scotland — Middleton's tyranny — act recissory

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Extravagant Loyalty of the Scots — A Schism in the Ranks of the Scottish Presbyterians — Resolutioners and Protesters — Charles's Purpose to Restore Prelacy — Clarendon — Maitland — James Sharp — The "Judas of the Kirk of Scotland" — The Scottish Parliament of 1661 — Decline of the Scottish Presbyterians — Acts passed in Parliament — Act of Supremacy — Lays the Scottish Kirk at the King's Feet — The Oath of Allegiance — The Act Recissory — Tyranny and Revolution — Sudden Destruction of Scottish Liberties — Legislation and Drunkenness

The Jesuits had anew betaken themselves to spinning that same thread which had been so suddenly and rudely severed on the scaffold which the 30th of January, 1649, saw erected before the Palace of Whitehall. There had been a pause in their scheming during the administration of Cromwell, but no sooner had the head of that great ruler been laid in the grave, and a Stuart again seen on the throne of England, than the Fathers knew that their hour was come, and straightway resumed their plots against the religion and liberties of Great Britain. We have seen the first outburst; of that cloud that descended upon England with the advent of Charles II in the expulsion of the 2,000 Nonconformists; but it was on the northern kingdom that the tempest was destined to break in greatest fury, and to rage the longest. We return to Scotland.

We have seen the extravagant joy with which the king's return was hailed in Scotland. This ecstasy had its source in two causes, and a brief explanation of these will help to make clearer the course which events took afterwards. The first cause was the almost idolatrous loyalty which the Scots bore to the House of Stuart, and from which all their dire experience of the meanness, fickleness, and perfidy which had characterized the recent sovereigns of that house had not been able to wean them. The second was a decay of that spirit of pure patriotism that had animated the Scots in the days of Alexander Henderson, and the immediate consequence of which was a deplorable disunion in their ranks at a time when it behoved them above all things to be united. The schism to which we refer is that known in history as the Resolutioners and the Protesters, which had arisen in 1651. The question between the two parties into which the once united band was now split, had its first rise in the suspicions of the sincerity of Charles II, that began to be entertained by some of the ministers, who blamed their brethren for admitting him to make solemn professions which all they knew of his conduct and character belied. This led to the formation of a Royalist party in the Church; and the breach between them and their brethren was widened by what soon thereafter took place. Cromwell invaded Scotland with his army, and the question was raised, shall the whole fencible population be enrolled to resist him, or shall those only who are the known friends of the Reformation be permitted to bear arms?

It was resolved to admit all sorts into the army, and the Parliament proceeded to fill up some of the highest military commands, and some of the most dignified and influential offices in the Civil Service, from among those who were the avowed and bitter enemies both of the Presbyterian Church and the civil liberties of the kingdom. The General Assembly of 1651 was divided on the question; a majority supported the action of Parliament, and were termed Resolutioners; the minority protested against it, and were known as the Protesters. The latter were headed by James Guthrie, who was afterwards martyred. Many plausible arguments were pleaded on both sides; in the ordinary state of affairs the course approved by the Resolutioners was the natural one; but in the circumstances in which Scotland then was, it was, to say the least, inexpedient, and in the end it proved most fatal. It cleft the Protestant phalanx in twain, it embittered the minds of men by the sharp contention to which it led, and above the brutal violence of Middleton, and the dark craft of Sharp, two men of whom we are about to speak, it paved the way for the fall of Presbyterianism and the triumph of Charles II.

Hardly had Charles mounted the throne, when he resumed the work of his father and grandfather in Scotland. His sure instincts taught him that there was no greater obstacle to his cherished object of arbitrary government than the Scottish Kirk watching jealously over the popular liberties, and by the working of its courts reading daily lessons to the people on liberty in the best of all ways, that of teaching them to use their rights, and to defend their privileges. He could no more tolerate an Independent Presbyterian Church alongside an absolute throne than James I had been able to do, believing such an anomaly to be just as impossible in the wider realm of Britain as his grandfather had deemed it in the narrower domain of Scotland. But Charles was too indolent to prosecute in person his grand scheme, and its execution was handed over to others. Lord Clarendon, we have said, was his minister, and knowing his master's wishes, one of his first cares was to find fitting tools for the work that was to be done in Scotland. Clarendon accounted himself exceedingly fortunate, no doubt, in discovering two men whom nature seemed to have shaped and molded for his very purpose. The two men on whom Clarendon's eye had lighted were not only richly endowed with all the vile qualities that could fit them for the base task to which he destined them, but they were equally distinguished by the happy absence of any noble and generous endowment which might have enfeebled the working and impaired the success of those opposite qualities, the possession of which had led to

their selection. These two men were Middleton and Sharp.

The first was the less base of the two. Obscurely born, we know nothing of Middleton till we find him acting as "a pickman in Colonel Hepburn's regiment in France." [1] He next served under the Parliament in England, "taking the Covenant as he would have put a cockade in his hat, merely as the badge of the side on which he fought." [2] Afterwards he took arms for the king; he adhered to the royal cause in exile; and on the death of Montrose, Charles's unacknowledged lieutenant in Scotland, Middleton succeeded to his place. His daring and success on the field brought him rapid promotion. He had now attained the rank of earl. He retained the coarse, brutal, overbearing habits of the camp; he drank deeply, withheld himself from no vice, answered all appeals to reason or justice with a stroke of his sword. Cruel by disposition, and with heart still further hardened by the many scenes of atrocity and outrage in which he had mingled, he was set over the people of Scotland, as the fittest tool for taming their obdurate and haughty spirits into compliance with the mandates of the court.

James Sharp was in some respects very unlike the man with whom he was mated in the infamous work of selling his Church and betraying his country; in other respects he bore a very close resemblance to him. With placid face, stealthy eye, and grave, decorous exterior, Sharp seemed to stand far apart from the fierce, boisterous, and debauched Middleton; nevertheless, in their inner qualities of suppleness, unscrupulousness, and ambition, the divine and the soldier were on a level. Sharp was a person of very ordinary capacity; he had but one pre-eminent talent, and even that he was careful to hide till it revealed itself in the light of its crooked working: he was a consummate deceiver. Sent to London by the Scottish ministers at the period of the Restoration, with instructions to watch over the Presbyterian interests, he not only betrayed the cause confided to him, but he did so with an art so masterly, and a dissimulation so complete, that his treachery was not once suspected till it had borne its evil fruit, and was beyond remedy. The letters which he wrote to his brethren in Scotland, and by which he kept their eyes closed till their Church was overthrown, are embodied in the Introduction to Wodrow's History, and will remain a monument of his infamy to all coming time. His name has become a synonym among his countrymen for all that is dark and hypocritical. He received the wages for which he had undertaken his work, and became known henceforth among his contemporaries as the Archbishop of St. Andrews, and Primate of all Scotland. He stands in the pillory of history as the "Judas of the Kirk of Scotland."

It was resolved to establish prelacy in Scotland; and only a few months elapsed after Charles II ascended the throne till a beginning was made of the work; and once commenced, it was urged forward without pause or stop to the end. In January, 1661, the Scottish Parliament was assembled. It was opened by Middleton, as royal commissioner. The appearance of this man was to Scotland a dark augury of the work expected of the Parliament. Had the nation been fairly represented, the religion and liberties of the country would have been in small danger; for even yet the majority of the aristocracy, almost all the ministers, and the great mass of the people remained true to the principles of the Reformation. But "Middleton's Parliament," for by this name was it known:, did not fairly represent the nation. Wholesale bribery and open force had been employed to pack the House. The press was gagged, many gentlemen known to be zealous Presbyterians were imprisoned, and some popular ministers were banished, the better to secure a Parliament that would be subservient to the court. Scotland enjoyed no Act of Indemnity, such as protected England, and not a public man was there in the northern country who was not liable to be called to account for any word or action of his during the past ten years which it might please the Government to construe unfavorably. This let loose a reign of violence and terror. The ministers, though pious and diligent, did not possess the intrepid spirit of Melville and Henderson, and those of their time. The grand old chiefs of the Covenant — London, Sutherland, Rothes — were dead, and the young nobles who had arisen in their room, quick to imbibe the libertine spirit of the Restoration, and to conform themselves to the pattern shown to them at Whitehall, had forgotten the piety, and with that the, patriotism, of their fathers. The great scholars and divines who had illumined the sky of Scotland in the latter days of James VI and the reign of Charles I — the Hendersons, the Hallyburtons, the Gillespies — had died as these troubles were beginning.

Rutherford lived to publish his Lex Rex in 1660, and to hear that the Government had burned it by the hands of the hangman, and summoned its author to answer to a charge of high treason, when he took his departure "to where," in his own words, "few kings and great folk come." The existing race of clergy, never having had the bracing influence which grappling with great questions gives, and emasculated by the narrow and bitter controversies which had raged in the Church during the twelve preceding years, were somewhat pusillanimous and yielding, and incapable of showing that bold front which would repel the bad men and the strong measures with which they were about to be assailed. "The day was going away," but no one had foreseen how black would be the night that was descending on the poor Church of Scotland, and how long its hours of darkness would continue.

The first measure passed in Parliament was of such vast significance that it may be said to have consummated the work which it professed only to have begun. This was the Act of Supremacy, which transferred the whole power of the Church to the king, by making him absolute judge in both civil and ecclesiastical matters. This was a blow at the root. It did not indeed set up prelacy, but it completely subverted the Presbyterian Kirk which Knox had established in Scotland; for that Church is independent in things spiritual, or it is nothing.

This Act was immediately followed by another, which was meant to carry into effect the former. This second Act imposed an Oath of Allegiance. Allegiance to the king was what every Scotsman was willing to render as fully without as with an oath; but the allegiance now exacted of him went beyond the just measure of obedience due by Scottish subject to sovereign. The new oath bound the swearer to uphold the supremacy of the king in all religious as well as all civil matters; and to refuse the oath, or deny the principle it contained, was declared to be high treason. This left to Scotsmen no alternative but perjury or treason. The whole Scottish nation, only twenty-three years before, had taken an oath which declared that "the Lord Jesus Christ is the only King and Head of his Church," an expression which was meant to repudiate and shut out the ecclesiastical supremacy of the monarch. The new oath was in fact contradiction of the old, and made the swearer vest in an earthly throne that which he had declared with all the solemnity of an oath was the exclusive prerogative of the Heavenly King. How then could the Scottish people swear this second oath without perjuring themselves? The Act laid a yoke on the consciences of the Christian people. On those who had no conscience, it imposed no burden; but all were not in a condition to swear contradictory oaths, and to feel that they had incurred neither sin nor shame, and the latter class were the greater as well as the more loyal part of the nation.

The flood-gates of tyranny now thrown wide open, the deluge poured in. As if tyranny had become giddy and grown delirious — an almost insane attempt was made to blot out, and cause to perish from the memories of men, that whole period of the nation's history during which the Church of Scotland had administered her doctrine and government, subject only to her Divine Head. We refer to the period during which her Assemblies and courts had been free to meet and legislate. The "Act Recissory" was passed. This Act swept away all the Parliaments, all the General Assemblies in short, the whole legislation of Scotland since the year 1638. All were by a single stroke buried in oblivion. Thus the men who now reigned, not content with having the future in their hands, made war upon the past. The National Covenant was declared an unlawful oath and condemned. The Solemn League was also condemned as an unlawful and treasonable compact. The Glasgow Assembly of 1638, over which Alexander Henderson presided, could not be other than specially obnoxious, seeing it overturned the prelacy of the previous period, and accordingly it was declared to be a seditious and unlawful meeting, and put under the ban of Government.

We know not whether the wildest revolutionist ever committed greater excesses, or showed himself under the spirit of a more delirious madness, than the men who now unhappily governed Scotland. We behold them scorning all truth and equity, making void all oaths and promises, tearing down all the fences of the State and leaving the throne no claim to obedience and respect save that which the sword and the gallows can enforce. Although they had plotted to bring all authority into contempt, to vilify all law, and destroy society itself, they could not have adopted fitter methods. In a neighboring country, liable to be visited with periodic revolutionary tempests, we have seen nothing wilder than the scenes now being transacted, and about to be transacted, in Scotland. In France the tempest rises from below; it ascends from the Communistic abyss to assail the seats of power and the tribunals of justice: in the instance we are now contemplating the storm descended upon the country from the throne: it was the closet of the monarch that sent forth the devastators of order.

Never before, perhaps, had country made so swift and terrible a descent into, not social anarchy, but monarchical and military despotism. Scotland up to this hour was enjoying an ample liberty -- that liberty was fenced round on all sides by legal securities: a single edict laid them all in the dust, and confiscated that whole liberty which they guarded, and the country went sheer down at a plunge into the gulf.

The tyranny that wrought all this havoc in a moment, as it were, has been stigmatized as "intoxicated." History has preserved the fact that the intoxication was more than a figure. "It was a maddening time," says Burner, "when the men of affairs were perpetually drunk." [3] Middleton, who presided over this revolutionary crew, was a notorious inebriate, and came seldom sober to the House; and it is an accepted fact that the framers of the Act Recissory passed the night that preceded the proclamation of their edict in a deep debauch.

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Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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