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The archbishop explained his reasons for the act, and his justification does credit to his powers of practical logic. By granting to the Marquess such remedy as those who laid on the excommunication could have granted, the English hierarchy acknowledged the excommunication to have been a legitimate act of “the Church.” Had they considered it not to possess that quality, they would have simply disregarded it. And so, acknowledging it to be virtually their own act, had they not the power to grant a release from it on sufficient cause? No doubt, however, awkward difficulties might have arisen had any civil right come to depend on the question, whether the Scots excommunication existed or was dissolved. The new hierarchy took what was in a worldly sense the wisest course open to them by confirming or repeating the absolution.1
At this period, and before they felt the full weight of their enemy's hand, the zealous party were wounded, as it were, in the house of their friends. In 1616 a General Assembly was held at Aberdeen. There the clergy of the north naturally preponderated; and the small body who had been zealous enough to travel from the south side of the Tay, found themselves so few and feeble that they abandoned any effort at war. The bishop stepped into the moderator's chair and ruled the meeting ; and “a number of lords and barons decored the Assembly with silks and satins, but without lawful commission to vote.” Though it made no strong contemporary impression, this Assembly was afterwards often referred to, because a resolution passed by it for uniformity of discipline was said to be fulfilled when King Charles proclaimed his ecclesiastical canons; and the still more notorious Liturgy of 1637 was held to have been initiated in a resolution, “That a liturgy be made, and form of divine service, which shall be read in every church in common prayer, and before preaching, every Sabbath.” 2
To return to secular politics--it would be hard to find
i Original Letters (Bannatyne Club) 471 et seq.
conditions more inimical to order, progress, and civilisation, than those endured by Scotland while King James reigned there, and before he reigned in England. Except for the few years of Morton's iron rule, it was the question of the Roman satirist, Who was to keep in order those charged with the ordering of the people? These could scarcely do worse than act on the model of their rulers. Through the State papers, the memoirs, and other documents revealing the internal condition of the country after the accession to the English throne, it is easy to perceive the gradual work of the regulating and consolidating influence of a strengthened executive. Sir Thomas Hamilton, Lord Binning, the founder of the noble house of Haddington, was a man of ability as a statesman and lawyer. He rose to the head of the law, and was a chief instrument in working out the improvement of the social condition of the country. His memory is connected with questionable stretches of the prerogative; and he was among the first to create a reasonable alarm that the new powers of the Crown would be dangerous to the liberty of the people. But whether in the right manner or not, he acted the part of a civilising and advancing statesman. That he had capacities of another kind those of the orator powerful in condensation and description - is shown in the following social picture: “The Islanders oppressed the Highlandmen; the Highlanders tyrannised over their Lowland neighbours; the powerful and violent in the country domineered over the lives and goods of their weak neighbours; the Borderers triumphed in the impunity of their violences to the ports of Edinburgh; that treasons, murthers, burnings, thefts, reifs, heirships, hocking of oxen, breaking of mills, destroying of growing corns, and barbarities of all sorts, were exercised in all parts of the country—no place nor person being exempt or inviolable—Edinburgh being the ordinary place of butchery, revenge, and daily fights; the parish churches and churchyards being more frequented upon the Sunday for advantages of neighbourly malice and mischief nor for God's service; noblemen, barons, gentlemen, and people of all sorts, being slaughtered as it were in
public and uncontrollable hostilities; merchants robbed and left for dead in daylight, going to their markets and fairs of Montrose, Wigtown, and Berwick; ministers being dirked in Stirling, buried quick in Liddesdale, and murthered in Galloway; merchants of Edinburgh being waited in their passage to Leith to be made prisoners and ransomed.”] Such-in a speech delivered in the Estates in the year 1616—was Scotland at the union of the crowns. The orator has to say further, that these, “and all other abominations, which, settled by inveterate custom and impunity, appeared to be of desperate remeid, had been so repressed, punished, and abolished by your majesty's care, power, and expenses, as no nation on earth could now compare with our prosperities, whereby we are bound to retribute to your majesty if it were the very half of our heart's blood.”
Another observer speaks briefly but emphatically of “the deadly feuds, which so abound as no man can safely go a mile from his house.” 2
1 The Melros Papers, i. 273. One might suppose that at this, if at any time, occurred the incidents commemorated in an old song, full of Scots character :
“Was there e'er sic a parish, a parish, a parish-
Dang down the steeple, and drank the bell ?" 2 Letters of John Colville, 188. This collection, printed for the Bannatyne Club, has been occasionally referred to ; and the present is as good an opportunity as any other for a brief notice of the person who provided the bulk of its material. John Colville was one of those active fussy politicians who are ever at work, and yet not so effectively or influentially as to give a character to politics and hold a place in history. He exemplified the fable of the fly on the wheel supposing that it contributed to the motion of the vehicle. He was employed by the English statesmen to send them information of events and rumours in Scotland. His letters are very full of matter, all with a mysterious air of importance in it, but of little value. His rumours are more worthless than most of those which professed to communicate the shadow of coming events to strangers; and when we come to actual events, we know them without his telling. Perhaps there was value at the time in a sort of political encyclopædia prepared by him and an Englishman named Lock : it specified all the men of power and mark in Scotland, and, by a sort of genealogical horoscope In the course of the preceding narrative, some of these characteristics have come forth incidentally. A separate record of slaughters and other acts of violence has little interest, unless each can be told with the sequence and minuteness of a novel, and for that there is no room in history. We have seen the violences and other atrocities perpetrated for political objects, and the following incident may be sufficient to show how far absolute lawlessness could be stretched for objects not political. Alexander Gibson of Durie, known to practical lawyers as a reporter of decisions, resided in Fife, the safest and most peaceable district of Scotland, being protected by one firth from the Highlanders and by another from the Borderers. He was strolling one day along the sea-beach near his own house, when he was seized and gagged by a party of Borderers, carried over the Forth to Leith, thence to Edinburgh, through Melrose to the Border, and across into England. He was detained eight days in the Castle of Harbottle, in absolute seclusion and ignorance of the part of the world in which he was. His family mourned for him as dead, and it was said that he found a successor in his office. He was not yet a Lord of Session, but he
of their connections and position, anticipated the course they were likely to pursue under given conditions. He did succeed on one occasion in obtaining notoriety by publishing 'The Palinod of John Colville, wherein he doth penitently recant his former proud offences, specially that treasonable Discourse lately made by him against the undoubted and undeniable title of his dread Sovereign Lord King James the Sixth unto the Crown of England after decease of her Ma. jesty present. 1600.' Now no one could discover "that treasonable discourse lately made by him,” about which he was so penitent; and it was believed that the confession was an invention to entrap more notice to his vindication of the right of succession than it might other. wise receive. David Laing, founding on comparative criticism, identifies in Colville the author of 'Historie and Life of James the Sext,' occasionally referred to in these pages as a book not invariably to be trusted. The same accurate antiquary thinks also that Colville wrote the declaration issued in their vindication by the actors in the Raid of Ruthven. Several contemporary writers charge him with treachery on the fall of his patron Bothwell, and especially with the capture of Bothwell's illegitimate brother, who was hanged in Edinburgh. He is a fair specimen of what evil times make out of unheroic natures united with easy consciences.
held some legal office ; and the motive attributed to Christie's Will—the Borderer who thus spirited him offwas to obtain a legal decision of a kind to which the presence of Gibson of Durie in Edinburgh was deemed to be inimical.
The turbulence abounding throughout the land culminated in two districts—the Borders and the Highlands. For more than forty years there had, with one brief interruption, been peace between England and Scotland, and it was a peace caused by conditions pointing to a final community of interests. As we have seen, the potentates on either side of the Border, no longer able to plead a national war policy for plundering expeditions, could not decently encourage them, and those who pursued them dropped from the rank of the plundering soldier into that of the robber or thief. Still the breed of Border rievers existed on both sides, and found occupation. Among these men, every turn of events in the direction of possible war raised exulting hopes, and such an event as the union of the crowns occasioned a corresponding depression.
On the Scots side, however, the rievers seem to have aggravated their activity down to the period of the accession, as if they felt like him who was going about with great wrath because he knew that his time was short. On the English side of the middle marches an account of the standing-over unredressed depredations on the Scots side was made up. It is an enormous inventory of cattle, sheep, and household furniture—a very tedious document; but its tediousness impresses one with the enormity of the plunder made, and excites wonder how, if the raids were pursued on such a scale during the long period when such work went on, there should have remained anything to be taken. Acts of violence and ferocity, too, usually accompany the transfer of goods-as, “Elsdon and Farnclouth, the chief town of Ridsdale, were burnt by five hundred of Lidsdale, and herried, and four men murdered in their house, a hundred beasts carried away, and in the pursuit thereof were a hundred men taken prisoners and seven
· Pitcairn, ii. 429 ; Chambers's Domestic Annals, i. 355.