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Montrose and the Covenanters
Their Characters and Conduct, from Private Letters and other original documents hitherto unpublished embracing the times of Charles the First, from the rise of the troubles in Scotland, to the death of Montrose by Mark Napier, Esq., in two volumes


Some years ago, having occasion to examine the Napier charter-chest, I discovered materials there which suggested the idea of illustrating, more fully and originally than had hitherto been done, the lives of two of the greatest worthies, in their separate walks, whom Scotland has produced, viz. Napier and Montrose. Different as were the characters and pursuits of the Inventor of Logarithms, and the Hero of the Scottish Troubles, some of the illustrations contained in the “Memoirs of John Napier of Merchiston,” and those now brought together to elucidate the comparative merits of “Montrose and the Covenanters,” are not without an historical connexion. Napier, a great champion of the Protestant Church, attracted the eyes of Europe even more, in his own day, by his very learned and original Commentaries on the Apocalypse, than by his immortal discovery in mathematics. He was a most distinguished leader of that church party in Scotland who stood forth, sturdily and conscientiously, but without disloyal or anti-monarchical feelings, against the supposed papistical inclinations of James VI., and the desperate attempts of absolute Popery from abroad.

Napier’s eldest son, the first Lord Napier, a sincere disciple of his father’s in those rigid Protestant doctrines, became the personal friend both of .Tames VI. and Charles I., and, moreover, a second parent to Montrose. But, in the progress of events, all that was honest and sincere of the anti-papistical party in Scotland was superseded by an insidious democratic clique, who, disguised for a time under the mantles of such enthusiasts as Knox and Napier, and pretending to identify Episcopacy with Popery, pressed onwards, through their various stages of duplicity and crime, until an ephemeral throne, born of their anarchy, was reared upon the prostrate necks of Religion and Liberty, whose sacred names they bad taken in vain. Hence it happened that the immediate representative of the great Napier, and his illustrious pupil Montrose, were covenanting at first, and, without the sacrifice of a principle, martyrs to their loyalty in the end.

But, even in our own enlightened times, there is a disposition to confound the cause of truth with that career of democracy, and to claim for the factious Covenanter of Argyle’s Dictatorship,—as vicious a compound as ever agitated under a veil of sanctity,— the respect due to the stern virtues of some of our early reformers, and also that admiring sympathy which the violent and impolitic retaliation of the Government of the second James has rendered no less due to the wrapt heroism of the Cameronian peasant. Some, indeed, carry their vague ideas, of the political sobriquete Covenanters, so far as to consider the term sacred, to identify those factionists with the Church of Scotland in all eras, and to resent any attempt at exposing their vices, with as much keenness as if the respectability of the Presbyterian forms depended upon the fame of the unprincipled school of Argyle, such as Wariston, and Lauderdale himself, the persecutor of the second race of Covenanters. It is not, however, in a sense so indiscriminate, that I have adopted the title “Montrose and the Covenanters,” or have instituted that contrast.

The name and actions of Montrose were too conspicuous, and influential, in his critical times, not to have become familiar even to such as cannot, in a strict sense, be termed readers of history. The romantic pages, and historic genius, of Sir Walter Scott, have made the hero as well known to the general or luxurious reader, as he is to those who study, more inquiringly and systematically, all the historical annals of their country. Hence there is an impression, widely prevailing though very erroneous, that no more need or can be recorded of Montrose and his times. But, I venture to say, had the original materials now first brought to light in the following pages, been in the possession of David Hume or Sir Walter Scott, greatly would the acquisition have aided, enlightened, and enriched, a deeply interesting and important chapter of their historical compositions. Even the domestic facts, though few in number, which I have been enabled to add to a more minute illustration of the principles of Montrose’s public conduct than had hitherto been afforded, would have been treasures in the hands of the “Great Magician.” With such stores, new to the world, his exquisite, but unfortunately too meagre, “ Legend of Montrose,” might have expanded in a work of yet greater interest and effect; combining, too, the truth and importance of historical discovery, with some domestic matters of unquestionable fact, that beggar even his powers of romantic fiction. The devotion, to Montrose, of his nephew, who was so dearly beloved in return, and who preserved that devotion to his uncle in the face of the most powerful entreaties and temptations to forsake, or at least to quit him,—the no less heroic adherence, to Montrose and his cause, displayed by his nieces, who on his account suffered the imprisonment of malefactors, and were reduced from the affluence and luxuries of their high station to discomfort and poverty,—the “well known token,” sent by them to guide the hero to his career of ill-fated victories,— —the abstracting of his heart from his mutilated trunk beneath the gibbet,—and, above all, the extraordinary progress of that romantic relic, through perils by land and sea, even into the possession, and among the barbaric treasures of an Indian chief,—himself an heroic sufferer, whom we must not call savage,—these are incidents which ought to have been introduced to the world by no other pen than Sir Walter Scott’s; but which, it may be hoped, will cause, even by this humbler record of them, the Legend of Montrose itself to be perused with additional interest.

The most important new matter, however, contained in these volumes, are the historical fragments obtained from the private archives of the Napier family, with the addition of some discoveries among the manuscripts of the Advocates’ Library. These throw an entirely new light upon the moral springs of Montrose’s isolated and almost incredible exertions, and, at the same time, aid not insignificantly our reflections upon the state and results of his times,—an exhaustless source of political and moral instruction. Whilst such enthusiastic democratical writers as Mr Brodie, (now Historiographer Royal for Scotland,) followed by Lord Nugent, and, in the chapter we refer to, quoted and relied upon even by an historian of such superior powers as Hallam,—whilst these have run riot in their assumptions of Montrose’s unprincipled selfishness, reckless ambition, and insatiable appetite for blood and murder, how little has been done to illustrate what was the actual state of the Hero’s mind in his meteor-career of self-devotion. But, as an antidote to those baneful historical calumnies,—in opposing which I am conscious of having caught too much of the tone of excited controversy,—of having written “tumultuante ca Jamo” and, it may be said, occasionally somewhat in King Cambyses’ vein,—I would desire no more than that beside those calumnies should be placed the hitherto unknown letters and documents I have now produced, in which Montrose may be said to speak for himself, on the matter of his advice to Charles I. and the motives and principles of his own conduct.

From the charge of having “touched that unclean thing whiggery,”—(I adopt the expressive phrase of a distinguished literary correspondent, who honoured me with a perusal of these volumes before they were published,)—of having committed a false step in joining at their outset the covenanting clique in Scotland,—a word I do not shrink from using, as being truly descriptive of a party who arrogated to themselves the character of a whole nation’s generous voice,—of having acted inconsistently with the dictates of his reason, and his maturer principles of action, by having carried, what he fondly considered the arms of “ the Covenant,” against the last hope of true Religion and Liberty in the north,—from these charges Montrose can never be exonerated. But the moral, and, when we remember his expiatory struggle and death, it may be added, the grandeur, of his heroic character and career, cannot, by such defects, lose their value and interest. The documents referred to must carry an irresistible conviction, at least to every unbiassed mind commencing its study of the times past, that, even in his first error and inconsistency, Montrose was humane and honest, was no far-sighted and selfish factionist, no bloodthirsty destroyer, but a youthful and mistaken enthusiast. If the sudden and violent excitement of the period, and Montrose’s age of four-and-twenty, will not suffice to reconcile such political inconsistency as can be proved against him, with the character of an honest statesman, and a glorious hero, we may close the annals of human virtue.

I am induced to notice still further in this place the manuscripts which prove Montrose to have exercised, in his later patriotic struggle, the ratiocination of an upright and accomplished politician, from having, in a recent visit to Cambridge, my attention called to a published Discourse, pronounced by one of the living ornaments of that seat of learning and loyalty. I will be excused for transcribing the whole passage from such a writer as Professor Sedgwick. In his scrutiny of some of Paley’s defective Philosophy, occurs what will be found in the note....

“Why is it our duty to obey the civil government? Paley replies, because it is the will of God as collected from long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God that the established government be obeyed—and no longer. This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of danger and grievance on one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other. But who shall judge of this ? We answer, every man for himself* A more loose and mischievous doctrine —one more certain to be turned to base purposes by bad men—was never, I believe, upheld by any Christian moralist. In times of excitement, men are too much blinded by passion ever to enter fairly on a computation of civil grievance : and as for danger—brave men of sanguine tempers are not restrained by it, but on the contrary,are urged by it into action. On Paley’s principles, civil obedience cannot continue to be regarded as a duty: and if civil order be retained at all, it can only be through selfishness and fear on the one hand, and by corruption and brute force on the other. Such a state of things can only lead to ruin and confusion, or the establishment of a despotic executive.

“An unbeliever may ground his duty of obedience inexpediency : but a Christian finds, in the word of God, a ready answer to the question we started with. Obedience to the civil government is a duty, because the word of God solemnly and repeatedly enjoins it. But does this doctrine lead us to the slavish maxims of non-resistance and passive obedience? Undoubtedly not. The Apostles of our religion gave us an example and a rule for the resistance of a Christian. They resisted not the powers of the world by bodily force ; but by persuasion, by patient endurance, and by heroic self-devotion : and the moral and civil revolutions, which they and their followers effected, were incomparably the most astonishing that are recorded in the history of man.

“Should it, however, be said, that ordinary men, not having the powers given to the inspired Apostles, must, on that account, adopt less exalted maxims as their rules of life: we may state in general terms (without loading this discussion with extreme cases which lead to no practical good in moral speculation), that where the Christian religion prevails in its purity, it is impossible there should ever exist an unmitigated despotism : and where the power of the executive is limited (in however small a degree) there will always be found within the constitution some place where the encroachments of bad and despotic men may be met by a moral and legal resistance. Rebellion is proscribed by human law, and is forbidden by the law of God. But a moral opposition to the executive, conducted on constitutional grounds, is proscribed by no law, either of God or man : and if it be wisely and virtuously carried on, it has in its own nature the elements of increasing strength, and must at length be irresistible. If, however, during the progress of a state, the constituted authorities be in open warfare with each other; a good man may at length be compelled to take a side, and reluctantly to draw his sword in defence of the best inheritance of his country. Such an appeal, to be just, must be made on principle; and after all other honest means have been tried in vain.



I have no reason to ima-

“Unfortunately, the opposition to the encroachments of arbitrary power, has too often been commenced by selfish men for base purposes. Instead of taking their stand in a moral and constitutional resistance—instead of trying, by every human means, to concentrate all the might of virtue and high principle on their side, they have broken the laws of their country, dipped their hands in blood, and needlessly brought ruin on themselves and their party. The vices of the subject are not only the despot’s plea, but the despot’s strength. Where the virtuous elements of social order are wanting in the state, whether men be willing slaves or not, they are unfit for freedom.”—Discourse, ^c. by Adam Sedgwick, M. A., F R. S., kc. Woodwardian Professor and. Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Fourth Edition, 1835, p. 137-139.

*Moral and Political Philosophy, Book vi. Chap. iii. gine that those powerful passages were composed under the direct influence of a recollection of the times of Charles I., or with an immediate reference to Montrose and the Covenanters. Certainly Professor Sedgwick had never seen the fragments of papers which have preserved to us the reasonings of Montrose, and of his preceptor, Napier, on the subject of Sovereign power, and Rebellion. Yet, notwithstanding all that has come and gone, since about the year 1641, when those fragnients entered, not history, but the obscurity of a Scottish charter-chest, to the year 1835, when one of the most accomplished of her sons addressed Alma Mater as quoted, Montrose’s principles of civil obedience, his axioms of political government, his anxious and elaborate search for that invisible line of demarcation, betwixt the philosophy of non-resistance and passive obedience on the one hand, and, on the other, justifiable resistance to arbitrary power,—the reasoning and sentiments, we say, of Montrose, when deprecating the approach of the great civil war, are wonderfully similar, in their philosophy, logic, and even language, to those with which Professor Sedgwick instructed the youth of Cambridge in the Chapel of Trinity College. “ Rebellion is proscribed by human law, and is forbidden by the law of God. But a moral opposition to the executive, conducted on constitutional grounds, is proscribed by no law, either of God or man ; and if it be wisely and virtuously carried on, it has in its own nature the elements of increasing strength, and must at length be irresistible. If, however, during the progress of a state, the constituted authorities be in open warfare with each other, a good man mav at length be compelled to take a side, and reluctantly to draw his sword in defence of the best inheritance of his country. Such an appeal to be just, must be made on principle ; and after all other honest means have been tried in vain.” So inculcates the living Professor. And moreover, he maintains obedience to the civil government as a duty, “ because the word of God solemnly and repeatedly enjoins itand he refers us to the example of the apostles of religion, who “resisted not the powers of the world by bodily force, but by patient endurance, and by heroic self-devotion?’ Finally he tells us, in the concluding passage of the pages we have quoted from him, a passage singularly applicable to the conduct of the covenanting rulers, that 44 unfortunately, the opposition to the encroachments of arbitrary power has too often been commenced by selfish men for base purposes,” who, he adds, “have broken the laws of their country, dipped their hands in blood, and needlessly brought ruin on themselves and their party.”

This is an unpremeditated and unconscious echo of what the murdered Montrose, and his Mentor, inculcated two hundred years ago, before the great civil war, and its fearful results, had verified their worst anticipations. 44 Civil societies, (said they) so pleasing to Almighty God, cannot subsist without government, nor government without a sovereign power to force obedience to laws and just commands. * * * This sovereignty is, a power over the people, above which power there is none upon earth, whose acts cannot be rescinded by any other, instituted by God for his glory, and the temporal and eternal happiness of men. * * * Patience in the subject is the best remedy against the effects of a prince’s power too far extended. * * * But there is a fair and justifiable way for subjects to procure a moderate government, incumbent to them in duty, which is, to endeavour the security of Religion and just Liberties, (the matters on which a prince’s power doth work,) which being secured, his power must needs be temperate and run in the even channel. * * * The perpetual cause of the controversies between the prince and his subjects, is the ambitious designs of rule in great men, veiled under the specious pretext of religion and the subjects’ liberties.” Professor Sedgwick’s sacred principle of obedience to civil government, and his views of the moral depravity of rebellion, are not to be distinguished, except by those who indulge in mere verbal disputes, from Montrose and Napier’s exposition of the divine and inviolable character of sovereign power upon earth, “whether in the person of a monarch, or in a few principal men, or in the estates of the people.

It is hoped, then, that the new materials, with which I have illustrated Montrose and his times, will be considered as not limited, in their interest and importance, to the tastes of a certain class of historical readers in Scotland, but as being valuable to the cause of truth and justice generally. Could I suppose my own treatment of these materials to be worthy of the field of inquiry they reopen, I might have aspired to dedicate the result to the best existing representative of those lofty, unimpassioned principles,—so conservative of good government and time-honoured institutions,—those attributes, of untainted integrity in the senate, and matchless heroism in the field, which may they never cease to be the characteristics of the British nation. But I do not pretend to have brought to my task the talent and judgment it required. If, however, the various original documents now produced, and which, instead of consigning to the retirement of an appendix, I have interwoven with my text, shall be found to add any thing to the facts, and the interest of the most instructive period of British history, and, above all, shall in any degree tend to redeem from unmerited obloquy one illustrious victim of hypocritical democracy, I am satisfied to give up my own lucubrations in these volumes to whatever criticism they may call forth.

It only remains to be added, that I was not so far wanting to my subject, nor in duty to the noble family whose proud distinction it is to represent the Hero, as to omit an application in the proper quarter for any original materials, in possession of the family, which might illustrate the life of Montrose. But that no such materials exist, I learn, with great regret, from his Grace the present Duke of Montrose, who, in a polite communication on the subject, informs me,—“I am sorry to say that we cannot give you any assistance in the performance of the task you are preparing to undertake, as there are no papers whatever existing, and in our possession, which can throw light upon the subject.”

11, Stafford Street, April 1838.

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