THE shire of Berwick, forming as it does the extreme south-east corner of Scotland, where that kingdom borders upon England, still bears many traces of ancient wars and of an armed defense. These were even more plainly to be seen in 1660 than they now are.
But the Commonwealth had come to an end with the death of Cromwell…
General Monk, while lodging at Coldstream, had received as his counselor in that emergency Mr James Sharp, then minister of Crail, and had ventured to read at the head of his troops the declaration which opened the way for the king’s return: a paper drawn and pressed upon him by that crafty clerical hand. The royal exile, who had been in Holland ever since his defeat at the battle of Worcester, soon made good his landing on the banks of the Thames, and the transports of welcome with which His Majesty was received were very notable in Scotland, where the Covenanters had hitherto, even in their extreme party, remained thoroughly loyal to the throne. The bonfire which Guthrie kindled before his manse door in Stirling in honor of the Restoration showed how the Protesters regarded the change of government, which was indeed extremely popular with all classes in the country.
These hopes were destined to a sudden downfall, in the hearts of the Presbyterians at least, who learned their Ne in principibus almost before the last glass of welcome had been drained, and the last fire of joy had sunk in its ashes. So far from the Restoration commencing a period of prosperity and of peace, it brought new dangers, and began a new period of trial.
The wide field of civil and religious liberty was now to be debated, always keenly, and at last in open war, where our Covenanters played their part nobly, and in a way to deserve the honors of succeeding time. “It is not now Episcopacy and ceremonies,” wrote Livingston of Ancrum, “that is the controversy, and but whether Jesus Christ be King of His own Church” –a cause which many thought dearer than all the world’s favor, or even than life itself.
At his first coming to Scotland in 1650 it had been feared that the king brought the plague in his sails, so hurtful to that country were the dissensions which His Majesty’s presence awakened. These were nothing, however, to the sufferings which followed his return to Britain at the time of which we now speak. On the former occasion he had said to Livingston at Dundee, when that minister counseled him to temporize with the Government of the Commonwealth, “Would you have- me sell my father’s blood?” The same fixed purpose of revenge seems to have animated him still, when now for the first time he had the power to carry it into effect.
Those who had openly complied with the Government of the Protector were naturally the first victims of the royal vengeance, and as there was no statute of indemnity for Scotland, the king’s anger encountered few obstacles in that country. In the month of July 1660, John Swinton of Swinton was seized in London, and thrown into the Gatehouse prison there till he should be sent down to Scotland for trial. He had sat as one of Cromwell’s judges, which was the chief ground of accusation against him; but, being a Quaker, great interest was made on his behalf by the Queen Mother and the Jesuits, who made no secret of their favor to that sect. He was finally brought before the Parliament of 1661, where he stood with a great deal of confidence at the bar, refusing to take off his hat, so that it had to be removed by an officer of the Court. His estate was forfeited, and the Duke of Lauderdale enjoyed it; but, probably on the application of Swinton’s influential friends, it was restored to the family on the death of that nobleman.
The same Parliament passed a like sentence of forfeiture upon John Hume of Kello, and Pringle of Torwoodlee was another sufferer about this time, having also taken a commission of Justice from the Protector. Pringle’s son gives us to understand, indeed, that this severity proceeded upon the information of those to whom his father’s strict administration of the laws had been an offense; and the eagerness of the Government to take up these cases must have greatly encouraged the malice of such informers. The Parliment of 1662 put the crown on this unworthy work by exacting enormous fines from all parts of the country. The sum then levied is said to have exceeded a million Sterling.
The King’s anger soon appeared not only against those who had served in offices under the Commonwealth, but was more widely still, in the cases of all whom the Protector had favored; and in this way the Protesting party at large soon felt the severity of the royal displeasure. They had indeed hastened to take a step which made them peculiarly odious at court. On the 23rd of August 1660, while the Committee of Estates sat in Edinburgh, twelve of that party, among whom were Guthrie of Stirling and Ramsay of Mordington, met in a private house there to draw up a petition to the king.
His Majesty, though nominally a Covenanter, had already shown that he did not mean to keep the oath he had sworn. The Episcopal government was already restored in England, the Service Book and Ceremonies began to appear in the royal chapels, and there was too good reason to think that great changes in the same direction now threatened Scotland. The Protesters accordingly, while expressing the utmost loyalty to the person and Government of the King, and the most earnest wishes for his prosperity, ventured in this petition to remind him of his solemn engagements, and to urge the fulfilment of them.
The right of approaching the Sovereign by petition has ever been regarded as sacred even by the most autocratic Governments, but in this case it was violated without compunction. The Committee of Estates seized the petitioners while their work was still in scroll, and lodged them in the castle of Edinburgh.
Now began a general persecution directed very widely against all who belonged to the Protesting party or were in any way associated with their councils. A letter which the king sent down to the Presbytery of Edinburgh on the 3rd of September contained some expressions which were eagerly interpreted as an encouragement to this action. The Committee emitted a proclamation on the 20th of the month denouncing the pulpit freedoms of the Protesters, and inviting all men to lodge information which might lead to their punishment. The Church Courts, where there was a majority of Resolutioners, took up the matter warmly, as these men now saw some prospect of prevailing over their old opponents. In this work the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale was very active, and among the ministers whom they now proceeded to deprive of their livings as Protesters were Mr Edward Jamieson of Swinton, Mr Daniel Douglas of Hilton, and Mr Samuel Bow of Sprouston. It should be added that Mr Andrew Rutherford of Eccles had already been dealt with in the same way before the Restoration, on which occasion Livingston and the other Protesting members of Synod entered their dissent from the proceedings. An even more notable case was that of Ramsay of Mordington, who was one of those concerned. In drawing up the petition to the King. He lost his reason in prison, and was therefore liberated after only a few days’ confinement; but, as if they feared to err on the side of leniency, the Committee of Estates sequestrated the stipend of that parish.
This sharp persecution affected not only the clergy, but also the principal landowners belonging to the part; which was so unpopular at Court. One of these was a gentleman –Walter Pringle of Greenknow, –whose sufferings were so notable that his case deserves some particular attention. He was the second son of a considerable inheritor in the country from a Robert Pringle of Stitchel, –who had taken some part in the campaign of 1644 under the Earl of Argyll, his eldest son predeceased him, leaving a young family, so that Pringle of Greenknow succeeded to what was a heavy charge indeed. Besides his own extensive estate, he acted as tutor to his brother’s orphan children –an office he afterwards found very thankless. Walter Pringle had long been of a deeply religious temper, and used to recall with pleasure the serious impressions he had received at Guthrie’s last communion in Lauder. About that time he was married by Guthrie to a cousin of his own, Janet Pringle, Torwoodlee’s daughter. The marriage took place at Stow, and the young people came to live at Stitchel, that they might care for Pringle’s widowed mother, and the children of his brother,who had their home there.
This “old Lady Stitchel,”as she was called, had a warm attachment to the Covenanting cause, and her dower-house became in after years a noted refuge for the persecuted party.
Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown