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Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston, 1611-1663
Archibald Johnston was the son of a small landed proprietor in Kirkpatrick-Juxta Parish (modern Beattock) and is said to have been born at Beerholm, a now-gone farmhouse between Beattock and Craigielands. His baptism took place on 28th March 1611. The Johnston family had been resident in the Moffat area for many centuries before this their most famous representative drafted the Articles of the National Covenant. He passed as Advocate at the Scottish Bar in 1633, then between 1635 and 1638 becoming involved in the work of the Presbyterian Commission of the Tables, which was opposing the attempts of King Charles the First to make the Scottish Church conform to Anglican practices, - the acceptance of Charles as Head of the Church in England, acceptance of Bishops (appointed by the King) as administrators of the Scottish Church and the standardisation of worship using the English Book of Common Prayer.
This can be said to go back to the harried and bleak upbringing of James VI as King of Scots, a time when he was forced to repudiate his mother Mary Stewart - commonly 'Mary Queen of Scots' - and listen to endless sermons from Presbyters. On his accession to the English throne as James I of England, James VI found himself in the position of head of the Church of England, treated with reverence rather than roughness. Small wonder that he attempted to bring Scotland round to the same Episcopalian approach, or that the divine right of Kings was so to influence his second son and eventual heir, Charles I of England and Scotland. The consequence was to be worst clash between King and Parliament in British history.
Charles - although a Stewart and of Scottish descent - failed to appreciate the essential differences between Calvinist Presbyterianism in Scotland and Lutheran Anglicanism in England. Although both were Protestant, it had been the English King Henry the Eighth who had divided an essentially Roman Catholic Church from Papal authority and so created the Anglican Church. Henry had stripped the Church of lands and wealth, bequeathing to his descendants a still-divisive idea that the King headed the Church of England, a Prayer Book in the common tongue rather than Latin and an ecclesiastical system of parish priests overseen by Bishops, who were themselves confirmed in office by the King. This appeared to bolster the 'Divine Right of Kings' to rule the people, Parliaments being seen more as advisory than as the modern executive they are today. However, when that 'Divine Right' was translated into attempts to enforce taxation over the heads of the English Parliament, Charles the First was on a collision course with the people of England.
John Knox and his fellow-Calvinists had introduced the rather harsher system of Calvinism by Act of Scottish Parliament during the infant reign of Mary Stewart (Mary Queen of Scots) during the Regency of her mother. The Calvinists had introduced the Presbyterian system, each Church being controlled by its own committee or council of Presbyters - the Presbytery - who could appoint their own Ministers and raise funds for their own Churches. Making use as they did of old Catholic Churches such as Grefriars (Edinburgh) and Glasgow Cathedral (Glasgow), the buildings might echo those in England, but the religious government was vastly different. Charles wanted a layer of Scottish Bishops above the Presbyters, who would take away the appointment of ministers, make financial demands of Presbyters and alter their forms of prayer. As Scotland was then predominantly Presbyterian, the result was to anger Scotland from highest to lowest. It also angered the largely-Presbyterian Puritan sects in the East Anglia and Midlands of England - a further folly by Charles. The last straw - for Scotland at least - was when the new Revised Prayer Book was read out on 23rd July 1637 in St. Giles, creating a riot.
THe nobility had seen their rights to make use of former Catholic church estates taken away in 1625, the Presbyters losing their General Assembly as early as 1619 and the Presbyteries themselves being briefly abolished in 1637. The consequence was that by 1638 the Tables of four men from each of the Three Estates (Nobility, Presbytery and Merchants) was set up under John Leslie, sixth Earl of Rothes, and the famous James Graham, fifth Earl of Montrose. Archibald, one of their Advocates, was described as a 'lynx-eyed lawyer full of fire and energy and gloom'. His colleague Alexander Henderson was Minister of the Kirk at Leuchars in Fife.
Realising that there was no other way to force the King to see the disaster of his ideas, the Tables instructed Johnston and Henderson to draw up the National Covenant. This was read out at Greyfriars Church by Johnston himself, then laid out on a flat rock or tombstone for the gathering to sign. It is said that 150 nobles and Presbyters signed first, but copies were then sent out across Scotland, people being encouraged to join in this protest. As Jeffrey S. Johnstone points out, the Covenant was seen as a 'defensive document which purported to support both Presbyterianism and the King'. The wording also stated that "The superiority of any office in the Church above Presbyters is an insupportable grievance," - harmless enough when applied to the Bishops, but indirectly appearing to threaten Royal authority. That in essence was the reason why the National Covenant was seen as a treasonous document, the reason why Charles felt that he had to undermine and destroy it.
Without a standing army, Charles had to muster troops and for a time it seemed as if the Covenanters would prevail. Their General Assembly in Glasgow ignored Charles' emissary the Marquis of Hamilton, revoked every change made since the time James VI had escaped Presbyterian control, then seized the main castles and assembled an army.Charles three times attempted to muster an army and send it north to deal with this apparent rebellion, but each time was defeated by poor generalship or sickness amongst his forces. On the second occasion, in June 1639, the Covenanters under General Leslie forced the King to come to terms at Berwick. Charles went back on his agreements, so the Covenanter Army - now lead by Montrose - moved south to hold Newcastle and part of Northern England with Puritan sympathisers. It was at Ripon that Charles was forced to sign a Treaty with the Covenanters, but he failed to honour it and set most of Scotland against him.
Forced to negotiate, Charles had to accept the situation. Archibald Johnston took part in the negotiations which lead to the Treaty of Berwick in 1639, with some personal success. Charles the First knighted Archibald Johnstone as Lord Warriston and made him a Lord of Session on 13th November 1641 and later King's Advocate in 1648. Archibald Johnston having garnered some honest fame, he entered the Scottish Parliament as Member for Edinburgh in Scottish Parliament from 1643-1647.
Charles the First was also attempting to enforce his taxation authority over the English Parliament and triggered the English Civil War from 1640 - 1645. The English Parliament won, but Scotland found that it had changed one ruler for the harsher authority of the English Presbyterian, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the new Commonwealth. Archibald Johnstone lost his offices (though not his title) and was for a time in poverty. With thirteen children to support, Johnston reluctantly varied his principles enough for Cromwell to appoint him as Lord Clerk Register and Commissioner for Justice. By 1649 he was sitting in judgement on Montrose, Charles the First's General in Northern Scotland who was defeated and was sentenced to death by Johnston. Having thus confirmed his Covenanter sympathies, Archibald Johnston was to sit as Lord Warriston in the House of Lords of Cromwell's 'Rump Parliament' in 1658.
Dis-satisfaction with Cromwell lead to the brief attempt by the Covenanters to restore an independent Kingdom of Scotland under Charles the Second, who suffered severely under Presbyterian control but was crowned with the Honours of Scotland. A later attempt by Charles to regain his English throne ended in disaster outside Gloucester, when General Leslie refused to attack the Parliament forces with his cavalry forces. Charles the Second and his brother James were not to forget this action, nor to forgive it; on his Restoration in 1661, Charles the Second forced many Presbyterians into exile. Condemned to death in absentia after having escaped abroad, Archibald Johnston fled first to Germany and then to France, where he was arrested and sent to England for trial. The charge was acceptance of an office under Cromwell after being King's Advocate - a breach of loyalty forced by poverty, not intent - but Archibald Johnston was publicly executed in 1663 at the Mercat Cross (Market Cross) in Edinburgh. His body was beheaded and his head displayed on the Netherbow Port of the town, accused of a treason that it can be doubted was his original aim. Archibald Johnston is buried in Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh; in his will, he left 100 marks Scots to the parish church of Kirkpatrick-Juxta, at Beattock.
Unfortunately, the Covenant also became a basis, - 'No Bishop, No King' - for republicanism by the more extreme Covenanters of the Tweed Valley and elsewhere. In the Sanquhar Declaration of the 1680s, the most extreme Presbyterians called for the abolition of monarchy and the inauguration of a republic, holding not only Episcopalians but also moderate Presbyterians to be their enemies. This triggered both an armed uprising and an as ruthless suppression. The details of the suppression within the Moffat area are given in the page on Lord Claverhouse. It was to do neither Claverhouse nor King James VII much good, as James wa ultimately overthrown in England and finally fled to France.
Executed for a disloyalty that it is doubted was his original aim, Archibald Johnston is therefore a figure alongside Wallace and Bruce in the history of the Scottish nation.
The writer Richard Edkins has to admit some sympathy for both Johnston and Montrose, having Royalist sympathies but also two ancestors who signed the Death Warrant of Charles the First.
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Moffat Town Website started 8th December 1999.
Last updated 25th December 1999.