Home History The Duke of Lauderdale In Power
Scots politics and history in the early 17th century are complex, so this review of the life of John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale begins with a short summary of his career up to the time of his imprisonment in 1651.
The future Duke’s first public act was to assist at the Scots coronation of Charles I, and his first political act was to sign the Covenant in 1638. This was not as extreme document as is sometimes presented, but it was revolutionary in demanding the approval of the Scots Parliament and the General Assembly for all innovations on Church and State. Three years later in 1641 at the age of 25 he received his first public appointments, initially as a commissioner to supervise demobilisation of English forces and shortly thereafter was appointed as a lay member of a delegation from the General Assembly to the English Parliament, with the responsibility for political issues. He was the delegate chosen to report its results to the Privy Council in Scotland. He continued to enjoy the confidence of the Kirk until 1649, and was the leader of their delegations. In 1644 he commanded with distinction a regiment of cavalry at the Battle of Marston Moor. During a prolonged absence from these tasks following his father’s death in 1645 he was recalled to duty at the specific request of the London delegation, which wrote, “ No living man is fitter to doe Scottish service….”
Lauderdale’s first real contacts with the King took place in 1645 when he led the Scots representatives in the Committee of Both Kingdoms to negotiate with the King. In May that year the King left Oxford to join the Scots army, then at Newark, who shortly after returned to Newcastle, with the King. Lauderdale was entrusted with the task of briefing Charles on developments in London, and it is from this period that we see signs of a change in his sympathies towards the King.
During 1646 the Scots, embarrassed by their possession of the King’s person negotiated to hand him over to the English Parliamentary forces. Lauderdale, as a senior member of the Scots delegation in London must bear some responsibility for the handover, though he quickly realised that the King’s life was now in danger, and at this low stage in Charles fortunes, when he could offer little to any supporter, Lauderdale became a firm royalist, though his objectives were to preserve Charles liberty, but also the Scots constitutional settlement.
In March 1647 Lauderdale was named as the sole noble commissioner on a new diplomatic mission to London, and his contacts with the King became much more frequent, as did his personal support for Charles. Lauderdale mounted a rescue attempt late that year, and in 1648 negotiated the Treaty of Carisbrooke, or the Engagement which was roundly denounced by the Kirk as unduly favourable to the King, and led to Lauderdale’s dismissal from his Kirk offices.
Despite clerical disfavour, Lauderdale was sent to negotiate with Prince Charles to persuade him to come to Scotland to lead an army. The mission was a personal and diplomatic success. Despite Lauderdale’s bluntness he established a strong rapport with the Prince, which became the foundation of his future career.
Diplomatic success was matched by political and military failure. The royal army was destroyed. Cromwell invaded Scotland; the Engager administration was overthrown, replaced by the Duke of Argyll. Under English pressure, Engagers were removed from office, and early in 1649, Parliament passed the Act of Classes, excluding all prominent Engagers, including Lauderdale from political or military office. He became an exile in Holland, and at the same time Charles I was executed.
In 1650, despite the ban, Lauderdale returned to Scotland with Charles II, who was humiliated, and forced to accept both Covenants. Lauderdale was compelled to repent of the Engagement in sackcloth and ashes at St Andrews and Largo. The subsequent military campaign was another disaster. The Kirk purged the Scots army hours before the defeat at Dunbar. A Scots army with Lauderdale invaded England, and was defeated at Worcester in 1651. Hamilton, who was Lauderdale’s main political ally, died of his wounds. Lauderdale was captured, and sent to London to be tried for his life.
The trial never took place, but Lauderdale faced a lifetime of imprisonment.
Born 1616, 16 years younger than Charles I, John Maitland was intimately involved in the political developments leading up to the Civil War. His first public act was as bearer of the pale over the Kings head at his coronation in Edinburgh in 1633, 6 years after his accession to the joint thrones.
Charles faced a hostile country, both lay and ecclesiastical. The peerage had been seriously affronted by one of Charles’ first acts, made within days of his accession, to revoke all land grants made by the crown in Scotland during royal minorities. Whilst this was often a routine measure, Charles backdated it to 1542, fully 83 years earlier, threatening at a stroke all the lands acquired by the nobility from the church during the reformation in Scotland. The Maitlands had secured the lands of Haddington Abbey, and this action promised to deprive them of valuable property. Although the revocation never took effect, Charles had alienated the nobility and lairds, his natural supporters.
A key feature of the reformation in Scotland was the tacit agreement of the Kirk to leave the laymen in possession of their ill-gotten gains in return for political protection. Scots landowners were tied to the reformed church through interest if not devotion.
At the same time, the Kirk sought extirpation of bishops on theological grounds. The nobility upset by the royal appointment of bishops to his Privy Council, formed yet another unholy alliance with the Kirk to protect their own influence. Charles completed his alienation of his Scots subjects by seeking to impose high Anglican liturgy to replace the Presbyterian forms preferred by his people.
Shortly after the coronation, Maitland, who had studied at St Andrews University and became an accomplished linguist, with fluent Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French and was competent in Spanish and Italian, set off on a mini grand tour to France and Switzerland, including Geneva, a hotbed of Calvinism.
During his absence opposition to the King increased, culminating in the adoption of the National Covenant of 28 February 1638, which declared that there should be no innovations in Church or State which had not been approved by free parliaments and by General Assemblies of the church. This effectively denied the divine right of the King, and asserted parliamentary authority over his actions – a complete innovation in Scotland.
The Scots parliament had never had any democratic significance. Legislation was prepared by the Lords of the Articles, appointed by the King, and submitted to the Parliament, which consisted of peers alone, for approval, but not discussion. Parliament could accept or reject, but not amend legislation. The General Assembly of the Kirk acquired at this stage a representative authority analogous to that of the House of Commons in England, and royal despotism was effectively at an end in Scotland.
Charles was persuaded to agree to the summoning of a General Assembly, the first since 1618, to meet in Glasgow, which took place in November 1638. Events got out of control, and the Assembly was declared closed, and further attendance treason, but without effect and the assembly proceeded to abolish episcopacy and institute the full rigour of Presbyterian rule.
Maitland returned from Geneva in time to witness these events and signed the Covenant on 16 October 1638.
Charles attempted to use military force, the First Bishops War, in 1639, but the result was failure, and a new General Assembly was summoned to meet in Edinburgh in November. Despite Charles’ objections the new Assembly ratified all the decisions of the Glasgow meeting. Charles tried to resist, but his High Commissioner, Lord Traquair had already accepted the resolutions in the name of the King.
Worse was to follow, as the Parliament, under Argyll’s leadership, noting the abolition of bishops proposed changes to the appointment of the Lords of the Articles, who had the sole right to initiate legislation. In place of Royal nominees, the peers, church, gentry and burgesses each chose their own representatives, shifting power firmly away from the peers to the gentry and burgesses. There was, of course, no question of universal franchise or general elections.
Charles now planned another military expedition to bring Scotland under control, but was forestalled in 1640 as a Scots army under Alexander Leslie, a veteran of the Thirty Years War currently raging in Germany, seized control of Newcastle, and its important coal trade with London. The Second Bishops War was over in days as London was threatened by a fuel blockade. Charles was compelled to negotiate, and quickly agreed a subsidy of £860 a day to the army pending a formal agreement to be ratified by Parliament in London.
Finally in August 1641 by the Treaty of London Charles confirmed all the acts of the 1640 Edinburgh parliament, which ended the royal authority in Scotland. The Scots army was to be paid off with £300,000 and demobilised.
Maitland’s position during these events had been that of a spectator. Now he became a participant. At the same time as the treaty was concluded, Maitland and the other eldest sons of Scots peers – the Masters – were expelled from the Scots parliament in accordance with an act of 1587 which forbade them to be in the parliament either as nobles or elected commoners in their fathers’ lifetime. As compensation, Maitland was given a commission to oversee the concurrent demobilisation of the English forces in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of London.
The outbreak of hostilities in England in 1642 did not present the Scots with a great dilemma. A Royal victory in England would reverse all the constitutional progress made in Scotland, so there was no incentive to support the King. The English Parliament invited the Scots to send a delegation to London to discuss church reform throughout the British Isles. This was bait designed to keep the Scots on the Parliamentary side without overtly seeking military assistance, for which the Scots would certainly demand cash. There was no intention of aligning English with Scots practice, as most Englishmen continued to support episcopacy, but it kept the Scots army as a threat to Charles, thereby greatly weakening his strategic position in England.
The General Assembly co-operated with enthusiasm, and sent a delegation of ecclesiastical heavyweights, with John Maitland to handle the political issues. The commission returned at the end of 1642 for Maitland to present its report to the Privy Council and General Assembly – that the English were determined to abolish episcopacy root and branch. Although Maitland played a leading role, the puritans to divide Charles from his Scots subjects and link the Scots firmly to the English parliamentary cause devised the scheme.
The English parliamentary party realised in 1643 that Scots assistance was essential. The opening of the Civil War campaign left the King in command in the west – Bristol and the north. Accordingly they held out attractive bait and invited the Scots to send a delegation of five ministers and three elders to Westminster to consider wholesale reform of the English church. The first nomination was Maitland, as an Elder.
These negotiations led to the creation of the Solemn League and Covenant (not to the confused with the Covenant of 1638), which was approved by the General Assembly on 17 August 1643. This was a military alliance with some carefully vague undertakings on English church reform, which did not include any commitment to Presbyterian government. The Assembly delegation was appointed, with Maitland to be paid £3 a day, compared with £1 a day for the others.
He rapidly acquired an almost ambassadorial role as the only important civil representative of the Edinburgh government. Both the Assembly and Parliament formally swore the Solemn League and Covenant on 25 September 1643.
Maitland’s colleagues rapidly appreciated that he had far better contacts than they could hope to acquire on their own, but apart from his position as an Elder, he had no official position, and his informal role as a representative of the Estates was in breach of the 1587 ordinance which forbade him any civil appointment. Late that year moves were made in Edinburgh to recall him, but Baillie and Henderson, his colleagues, wrote to Edinburgh:
“We are informed that my Lord Maitland is to be recalled, which troubled us exceedingly, because his Lordships praecence and paines have been more useful than any of us could at first have conceaved……..My Lord is well acquainted with the chiefest members of both Houses, hath dexterity in dealing with them, and is much honoured by them”
“This would be an injurie and a disgrace to a youth, that brings by his noble carriage, credit to our nation, and help to our cause. The best here makes very much of him, and are oft in our house visiting him; such as Northumberland, Sey, Waller, Salisberry and such like.”
The appeals succeeded. In January 1643 a new commission was appointed, with Maitland as the only “supernumerary”.
In February 1644 a Committee of Both Kingdoms was set up with powers to coordinate the war against Charles. Although this seemed to give the Scots real influence, it did not do so in practice. They were a minority, and once their alliance ceased to promise to be decisive, their weight diminished with their perceived military power. Maitland attended 205 of the 253 recorded sessions.
The Scots under Alexander Leslie, Earl of Leven invaded England, and the campaign culminated at the Battle of Marston Moor in July, a parliamentary victory as the Allied forces raised the siege of York. Maitland commanded with distinction a regiment of cavalry at the battle, and his regiment played a significant part in winning the battle for Parliament.
An account of the action states: “Even the Allied generals thought the battle was lost. Lord Fairfax and Lord Leven both fled the field; only the Earl of Manchester stood his ground. It was the resolution of two Scottish regiments, the Earl of Lindsay's and Lord Maitland's, that prevented a complete rout in the Allied centre. Meanwhile on the Allied left flank, Cromwell rallied his cavalry, wheeled and rode around behind the battle to charge Lord Goring's cavalry and drive them from the field. Cromwell then turned to attack the Royalist foot. Newcastle's Whitecoat regiment made a heroic stand in a ditched enclosure called White Syke Close. Refusing to surrender they resisted repeated charges by the Ironsides until no more than 30 were left alive.
The battle had lasted two hours. Over 4,000 Royalists were killed and around 1,500 taken prisoner. The Allied losses were much lighter, with about 300 killed. All the Royalist ordnance, gunpowder and baggage were captured, along with 100 regimental colours. The city of York surrendered two weeks after the battle, ending Royalist power in the north of England.”
Newcastle fell to the Scots in October, but this made little difference to Scots influence, as their army was now seen as more of a nuisance than an ally.
English and Scots war aims now began to diverge. Oliver Cromwell began to emerge as the leading military commander, whose objectives were to abolish the nobility and monarchy in England whilst the Scots sought a constitutional monarchy, subject to the Scots Parliament and the General Assembly (the Covenant of 1638). Early in 1645 talks began between the Committee of Both Kingdom and the King, which became known as the Treaty of Uxbridge. The English negotiators outnumbered the Scots commissioners, headed by Maitland and John Campbell, Earl of Loudon.
Following his father’s death early in 1645, Maitland was now the second Earl of Lauderdale.
The Scots, having achieved their political objectives in 1641, were concerned only with religion, to persuade Charles to accept Presbyterian Church government in Scotland. Lauderdale had told the French ambassador, Marquis de Sabran, that the destruction of episcopacy was essential for union and peace between England and Scotland. Charles refused to compromise his beliefs, and the talks broke down.
Lauderdale now returned to Scotland to settle his father’s affairs and to enjoy his now position as a peer. Now in Parliament, he was active in the Estates, organising resistance to Montrose, whose highlanders defeated the Covenanter army and were now in the Lowlands. The problem he faced was that the highlanders were more interested in fighting the Campbells than supporting the King. Lauderdale joined David Leslie’s forces, detached from the Scots army in England, on his recommendation, and was present, though not fighting at the Battle of Philiphaugh at which Montrose’s forces were decisively defeated.
Meanwhile, the Scots commissioners in London were complaining of his absence
“Let it be your care, that Lauderdale be sent back to us with all expedition. No
living man is fitter to doe Scottish service….”
His father and his son both died that year, and in response to further appeals from London in October and November, the Estates finally sent Lauderdale back to London, where he arrived on Christmas Day.
Charles’ military campaign had collapsed, and in desperation, in May 1645 he left Oxford to join the Scots Army in the camp at Newark without any preliminary negotiations. Lauderdale had advised against this course of action, pointing out that he would be in danger unless he agreed to accept the Covenanters’ demands. The Scots army, finding their position in Newark untenable, returned to Newcastle, with the King. Lauderdale stayed in London, at his colleagues’ request, and briefed the King on developments in the capital.
It is at this stage that Paterson detects the first sign of a change in Lauderdale’s attitude. His correspondence with the King shows increasing sympathy for his position, which resulted in September in Charles request that Lauderdale join the Scottish Privy Council.
Charles was under pressure to accept the Covenant, become Presbyterian, and give up control of the English armed forces. This pressure came from his Scots peers, and in July the Earl of Loudon threatened to hand him over to the English.
The Sale of the King
The Scots army had a problem with Charles – they did not dare take him to Scotland for fear of provoking a war with England. As the French ambassador observed
What embarrasses most the Scots is to see themselves burdened with the person of their King which they can neither deliver up to the English, nor put in prison without perjury and infamy and are not able to preserve without danger and without drawing down upon themselves all the armies at present in England.
This is the dispassionate background to the Sale of their King to the English.
Viewed by hindsight, i.e. the subsequent execution of Charles in 1649, the action of the Scots looks especially reprehensible, and a stain on their character. Lauderdale as a member of that administration must carry some responsibility here, and was regularly attacked for the rest of his career for his part in this unsavoury action.
The Scots army had outlived its use, and was now contributing nothing to the English campaign, which had been won. They had served their purpose, and were of no further use to the English Parliament.
It is unfortunate for the reputation of the Scots that there were two parallel negotiations, one for payment for the expenses of the campaign which provided a major strategic contribution to the English Parliament’s war against Charles, and the other for custody of the King. The Scots Commissioners continually asserted that the two issues were not connected, but it is hard to accept this. They feared an English attack if they kept their King, and for this reason, if no other. Cromwell’s power and malevolence were not yet apparent; the Scots could reasonably believe that the English took a similar attitude to themselves – the King was already subject to the control of Scots assemblies – the General Assembly and the Parliament.
Lauderdale’s contribution was to urge Charles to accept the Covenant and to move him to Berwick (still in Scots custody) if he agreed. This would honour an agreement by the Scots not to take Charles to Scotland, but close enough to Scotland to participate in Scots politics. Berwick was neither in Scotland, nor in England, and even today, English legislation applies to “England and Berwick upon Tweed”
Burnet suggests that Lauderdale planned to go further, to take Charles to Scotland, having suborned the officers of the Scots army. The officers agreed, but Charles preferred to stay in England. Burnet removed this account in a subsequent version of his Memoirs, so its authenticity may be doubtful.
In the event, the Scots accepted a financial settlement from the English, handed over their King, and returned their army to Scotland on 28 January 1647. They had sold their King, but never received their money. Only 10 of the 30 pieces of silver ever arrived.
Lauderdale was in London when the handover took place, but was a member of the Scots administration, in regular contact with all the parties, and cannot escape his share of the responsibility. However, at that stage, Cromwell’s determination to murder his King was not yet apparent. The Scots had come to England in 1644 as allies, and left three years later as unpaid mercenaries.
This episode changed Lauderdale’s whole policy. He now realised that the King was in danger. This was not just a haggle over the Covenant and Presbyterian government of the Church. Lauderdale was not alone – Scottish opinion began to divide, with a Kirk party, led by Argyll, and a country party led by Hamilton, more concerned with the direction of political affairs than the purity of the Covenant. Although Lauderdale was an Elder of the Church, his sympathies lay increasingly with the Hamiltonians.
However, his credit with the Kirk remained high. He was close to Argyll. In March 1647 Lauderdale was named as the sole noble commissioner on a new diplomatic mission to London. Scots laymen, including Argyll were worried by developments in London. If the King would accept some element of Presbyterian Church government, other issues could be resolved; Lauderdale’s instructions were to be flexible.
Lauderdale was given permission to visit his King at Holmby House, Northamptonshire. The permission alone shows the changed status – Scots were subservient. The meeting between the commissioners and their King went badly. Lauderdale lacked the courtly graces, was too direct, and appreciably less deferential than English delegations. However, he had the King’s interests at heart. He was looking for a means of resolving Charles’ objections to accepting Presbyterian Church government with the demands for a constitutional monarchy, which his conscience might accept.
Cromwell intervened: his troopers invaded Holmby and transferred Charles to Newmarket, close to army headquarters. Parliament was angry but impotent.
Lauderdale protested in person to Parliament, but without an army, the legislators were powerless: England was under military government.
Lauderdale was now beginning to act on his own initiative to save the King. He was acting outside the instructions from the Assembly. He continued to meet Charles, at Newmarket in June and Latimer’s Cross in July as Charles was transferred to Woburn Abbey. In England, the Independents tried to drive a wedge between Charles and the Scots, offering a deal on religion if the Scots would abandon their King. Charles declined the offers of the English army, and this seems to have precipitated a decisive move.
Troopers broke into Lauderdale’s lodgings near Woburn, and expelled him, forcing him to leave without seeing the King. He protested in London, and the Committee of Estates sent their complaints, but Parliament was powerless as the army was in control.
Lauderdale requested political support, so Loudon and Lanark were sent to London. He had already started the discussions later to become the basis of the Engagement, and now persuaded his colleagues to support the initiative. If the King would give some ground on religion, the Scots would provide political and perhaps military support. In October 1647 the three Commissioners met Charles at Hampton Court. Lauderdale now warned Charles that Cromwell and the Levellers might try him for his life. “principles contrary to all order and government” (Burnett p411) P83
We now have an incident, which is difficult to interpret, the attempted rescue at Nonsuch in October 1647. Whilst Charles was out hunting at Nonsuch, near Hampton Court, Lauderdale and Lanark met him, arriving with fifty horsemen, and offered to help him escape. Charles refused, citing his parole to the Army.
The problems in interpreting this event are manifold:
Charles never hesitated to break his word
He had made and was to make frequent escape attempts
Lauderdale had no record of this type of action at any time in his life
It is very difficult to account for the fifty horsemen - where did they come
from, and how did they get so close to the King?
Paterson reckons this was propaganda fed to Burnet, who is the only source for the story.
In later meetings, Charles discussed escape, but not to Scotland. The guard was strengthened, but in November Charles escaped, and made his way to the Isle of Wight, where he hoped to get a boat to France. He had, however, exchanged house arrest for prison, as the Governor of Carisbrooke Castle kept Charles under close guard.
This period, in 1648 –9 marks the beginning of the dark years of Lauderdale’s life and career, but also the foundation of his relationship with Charles II, and his subsequent success.
It begins with the complex series of negotiations leading to the Treaty of Carisbrooke, also called the Engagement. Lauderdale once again tried to persuade Charles to take the Covenant of 1638, (which asserted the rights of the Scots Parliament and the General Assembly to approve new legislation). He considered this the only basis on which Charles could secure Scots support in his plight.
The proposals, which formed the Treaty of Carisbrooke provided for Charles
To reject the Four Bills proposed by the English Parliament
To agree that Presbyterian Church government be established in England for a three year
To suppress all other Christian sects
Closer political union with England, or at least free trade to be established between
Scotland and England
Charles would not be obliged to sign the Covenant
In return, for some very vague promises he would get the aid of a Scots army, to be led by Prince Charles, and in particular he had not agreed to respect the authority of the Parliament and General Assembly. Likewise, there was no guarantee of Presbyterian Church government in England.
This was the Treaty of Carisbrooke. Fearing that the treaty might be confiscated in London, the Scots commissioners encased it in lead and buried it in the gardens of the castle. The engagement to bring a Scots army to England would not be well received by Parliament. This was the Engagement, which was to cause Lauderdale a great deal of trouble.
After allowing exaggerated expectations to develop, (it was believed that the king had signed the Covenant) the revelation of the details in Scotland caused a storm. Lauderdale and his colleagues were denounced as Absolam and Achitophel, the Engagement with malignants was declared unlawful, and Lauderdale was deposed from the Commission of the General Assembly – a position he had held for six years.
Attempts were now made to raise the promised army, but clerical opposition, especially in the South West prevented this, with an armed rising, and refusal of the Kirk to co-operate. At this stage John Middleton, a professional soldier, and in later years a fierce opponent of Lauderdale comes on the scene as a covenanter, but supporter of the King.
Despite the displeasure of the Kirk, Lauderdale, with the Duke of Hamilton, and his brother the Earl of Lanark were the rulers of Scotland. Hamilton was to raise the army, whilst Lauderdale and Lanark attended to diplomacy and such administration as was done. Prince Charles was expected to lead the Scots army, but instead of coming to Scotland in response to an invitation made on 1 May 1648, he sent an envoy to state that he would come on condition that he brought his own advisors, and still worse, Anglican chaplains. This was a potential disaster for the Engagers. A Prince surrounded by malignants (cavaliers) and Laudian, Anglican clergy was inconceivable.
Lauderdale was commissioned by the Committee of Estates to find Charles, somewhere at sea and negotiate a compromise. In particular, Charles must accept Presbyterian worship in Scotland, and refrain from bringing advisors against whom “the kingdom of Scotland hath just cause of exception”
It is worth re-capitulating the Scots position and Lauderdale’s own style and reputation. Under the Covenant of 1638 and the later Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, the Scots were determined to have a monarchy, not a republic, but they insisted on a constitutional monarchy with the Crown’s actions subject to approval of the Scots Parliament and Kirk in the General Assembly. Cromwell, in contrast was seeking a republic, and in practice established an autocratic government with no constitutional controls on the Lord Protector, as he became.
Lauderdale himself had established a reputation as a skilled diplomat and negotiator, and one firmly allied to the interests of the Crown, despite his firm position as a Covenanter. At this stage he sought constitutional government by monarch with parliament, though his views would change. He was well versed in Scots politics, the Kirk (despite his recent dismissal by the Assembly) and was probably the best man to negotiate with Charles.
He was, however, unprepossessing in appearance, if the double portrait of himself and the Earl of Lanark by Cornelius Janssen is to be believed. He lacked courtly graces, and was personally blunt to the point of rudeness. He had never appealed to Charles I, despite his devotion to his cause.
However, the meeting with Prince Charles was an immediate success, both at the diplomatic and personal level. His objectives were achieved, and he laid the foundation of his future career by the rapport he established with Prince Charles. An understanding and mutual affection began then and lasted for his lifetime. A feature of the relationship, which established Lauderdale in Scots affections, despite later quarrels, was his insistence that English politicians had no standing in Scots affairs.
Charles, free from his mother, wanted a deal, and quickly accepted the Scots terms. Presbyterian worship was accepted, and extreme royalist followers, such as the Marquis of Montrose were left in Holland.
Diplomatic success was matched by political and military failure. Hamilton’s army was destroyed, and he was executed. Cromwell invaded Scotland, and the Engager administration was overthrown, replaced by the Duke of Argyll. Under English pressure, Engagers were removed from office, and early in 1649, Parliament passed the Act of Classes, excluding all prominent Engagers, including Lauderdale from political or military office. Readmission to public life was subject to the approval of the Kirk, which now had more political power than even the greatest bishops.
Despite the ban, effectively making him outlaw, Lauderdale returned to Scotland early in January 1649 in a warship provided by the Prince of Orange. Parliament ordered his arrest together with Lanark on 25 January, and two troops of horse were sent to secure him, but he was warned by lord Balmerino, a close associate of Argyll, and retired to the ship in time, where he had diplomatic (and military) protection. Lauderdale was ordered to present himself to Parliament on pain of treason. He returned to Holland on 28 January.
Meanwhile, in London, Cromwell, having expelled from Parliament, even the Presbyterians, and any others who might support the King, arranged his execution, which took place on 30 January 1649.
Lauderdale was now a fugitive from Scotland, and living at The Hague, where two Scots factions developed. The extreme royalists, led by Montrose, who prepared to raise an Irish army, to be largely composed of Catholics – anathema to the Kirk – to restore the King, opposed the Engagers, led by Lauderdale who argued for the Covenant. The split was deep and very damaging to the Stuart cause.
Lauderdale was concerned by the differences between the Kirk party and the ultra royalists, led by Montrose. Commissioners arrived from Scotland in March 1649 to offer Charles the Scots throne, but on condition that he dismissed Montrose, accepted both covenants, and agreed to submit all ecclesiastical affairs to the General assembly, and civil ones to Parliament. On Montrose’s advice, Charles said he would accept the Covenant, which affected Scotland only, but that the Solemn League and Covenant affected England, and would be subject to English parliamentary approval. This was a reasonable reply, but gave the Scots no incentive to fight for his English throne, so the English commissioners returned home empty handed.
In April 1650 Montrose’s army was defeated, he was captured and executed, so Charles was left with little choice but to deal with the Scots commissioners and return to Scotland. Lauderdale and Hamilton had been forbidden to enter Scotland until they had repented of the Engagement, and equally to accompany Charles. Both had advised Charles to make the necessary concessions, and despite the ban, returned with him, though without disclosing the full Scots demands.
On arrival, Charles found he was expected not only to sign both covenants, but also to agree an extra clause binding him to approve all future acts of Parliament embodying the ideals of these texts. Under pressure, he agreed, though with secret reservations.
Lauderdale was also humiliated and compelled, dressed in sackcloth, to make a public repentance of the Engagement both before the presbytery at St Andrews, and in a formal act of repentance at the Kirk in Largo (Fife) in December 1650.
Cromwell now took action, and invaded Scotland. Leslie commanded the Scots army, substantially weakened by a clerical purge, which removed eighty officers and three thousand men, the purges continuing to the even of the battle. On the 3rd September this reformed army was soundly beaten at Dunbar, and the English took control of southeast Scotland.
This defeat began the decline of the influence of the Kirk party, and Lauderdale’s gradual restoration to influence. Other Engagers, including Middleton, the only competent soldier apart from Leslie, were also compelled to public repentance before the Scots would use their services. In June 1651 the 1649 Act of Classes, which excluded Engagers from public office was repealed. Lauderdale swiftly returned to the centre of power.
In August 1651, the military situation was a disaster, with the English controlling most of southern Scotland, and a flank attack strategy was devised, involving invasion of England. Even the Scots leaders lacked confidence, which was justified as the army was trapped at Worcester by forces double its size, and destroyed on 3 September.
Then followed the saga of Charles’ escape, Hamilton’s death from wounds, and Lauderdale’s capture at Newport, near Chester. He was committed to the Tower, with the intention of a show trial and execution, but by the end of October these plans had been abandoned.
We don’t know why, but Lauderdale was certain that he owed his life to the intervention of Elizabeth Murray. A bequest dated 1671 states “my gratitude for the paines and charges she was at in preserving my life when I was a prisoner in the year 1651”
Elizabeth’s intervention may have been reciprocation for Lauderdale’s action to save her father some years earlier, but we don’t know. Cromwell did not have the only voice in the decision. The legal basis for a trial was shaky. After the execution of Charles I, Scotland was an independent country, with no legal ties to England. Lauderdale had no English ties, unlike the Hamiltons, and he was a foreign subject, acting on the orders of the Scots government, so there was no question of treason. However, he was the architect of Scots resistance to England and support for Charles II, and so was simply imprisoned.
1651 ended with Charles in flight, Scotland under military occupation, the nation ruined and the aristocracy quiescent. The Scots continued their internecine quarrels, but a bill was growing, and would be presented for payment.
We leave the Earl of Lauderdale at the age of 35 in the Tower of London, a prison which few left alive, and with no prospect of release. His finances were in ruin, his King in exile, and Scotland under English rule. His response to these disasters is a mark of great character and fortitude.
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