A very homely
proverb tells us that no man knows where the shoe pinches, better than
he who wears it. However soft to the touch the leather is shown to be,
however high the repute of the maker, no argument derived from the
evidence of others can outweigh the statement based on personal
We have heard the history of religion in Scotland from
many a friend of the Covenant, from many an admirer of the Royalists,
but a personal narrative of the sufferings endured by the members of the
ancient faith has not been put before the world.
The letters here printed were written from Scotland
during the worst times, by men who were bearing the extremity of the
persecution. We hear at first hand of the courage, patience, resource,
and religious fortitude, with which large numbers of Scots bore for
generations trials which are without a parallel for severity and.
protraction, even in the annals of our strong and long enduring nation.
In a previous volume of Narratives
of Scottish Catholics their
history has been traced in the days of Mary Stuart and of King James VL
The documents now printed illustrate their troubles during the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period during which their
interesting history has been too often ignored, amidst the momentous
conflicts of the Crown, the Covenant, and the Parliament.
The majority of the letters which follow were written by
the Jesuit missionaries in Scotland to the General of their Society in
Rome. Some were actors in or ’witnesses of the events described. In
other cases the letters were written abroad by a superior or
representative, who had retired for the nonce to the Continent, where he
could transact business with less fear of his letters being intercepted.
None of these men were thinking of history or publication when they
wrote. They recorded the daily life of the Scottish Catholics just as it
passed before their eyes.
It should be noted, however, that these correspondents
even when abroad were far from being truly free to write as they would
under similar circumstances nowadays. They hardly ever dare mention the
names and abodes of their principal friends. This may in part no doubt
be accounted for by other reasons. The missioners had got so used to
reticence in Scotland that they could hardly break themselves of their
cautious habits after they had gone abroad; and again there was the
difficulty of turning Scottish names into Latin, or of giving them
significance to the eyes of foreigners. But this explanation does not go
very far, for we find that in letters written from other distant
missions, from India, China, etc., the names of stations and men of
importance are always regularly given.
The dangers of Scottish missioners were serious even on
the Continent because of the multiplicity of English newsagents, who
should often more correctly be described as spies, and who especially
frequented places like Paris, Rome, and Venice, then the chief exchanges
(as we might say) for the news of the world.
Information regarding the papists at home was always
being offered for sale to the English Government, and it was not so
difficult to obtain a sight of “Annual Letters,” which circulated in the
Jesuit colleges, and selections from them were published from time to
time. It would not surprise me at all to find, that the “Annual Letters”
about Montrose (vol. i., pp. 281-358) had already in this way become
partially known. Several incidents regarding his campaigns, which are
narrated by our historians, may originally have been derived from the
papers now first published in full.
Whilst, therefore, we have to lament the too frequent
omission of heroic names, we must acknowledge that this caution is in
itself a sign of the times and a mark of genuineness, not of ignorance
The originals of these letters are for the most part
preserved in a volume with the title Scotia, now
preserved in the Stonyhurst Archives; and it was consulted there by Dr.
George Oliver nearly eighty years ago, as his citations prove.
Some other letters are preserved in Jesuit archives
abroad. They are all written in Latin, and in translating them I have
aimed at a simple and uniform style rather than at reproducing the
sometimes crude attempts to be classical, which were so usual in those
The writers in this first volume are all Jesuit Fathers,
who may be identified in Dr. George Oliver’s Collectanea and
other works of the same kind. They were mostly chaplains in the houses
and castles of Catholic noblemen and gentry, and a table of them for two
years, 1628 and 1703, may not be unwelcome.
In the year 1628—
Father William Leslie generally resided with the Earl of Errol.
Father Stickell with the Earl of Huntly.
Father James Macbreck lived at Seton with the Earl of Wintoun.
Father Robert Valens resided in Edinburgh with the Earl of Abercorn.
Father George Christie with the Countess of Linlithgow.
Father John Macbreck was on intimate terms with King James during the
last years of his life, he was also Confessor to the French Ambassador.
Father John Gordon resided with the Laird of Garleton.
Father James Innes with the Earl of Nithsdale.
Father Hugh Strachan with the Laird of Auchinhove.
Father James Seton with the Countess of Dunfermline.
Father William Leslie with his brother, Count Leslie of Balquhain.
Father John Innes with the Countess of Seaforth.
It is to be regretted that we do not know more about the
lives of these religious heroes. The letters and memoirs here printed
form their best, perhaps their only monuments. Of none of them do we
possess a portrait. Yet as we look at the pictures of the now ruined
castles, halls, and towers, in which they once lived, sometimes as
chaplains, sometimes as prisoners, we can realise how Spartan, even at
the best, their lives must have been, how unendurably oppressive, when
incarcerated in them, the victims of the religious passions of those
In an Appendix will be found a series of chronological
notes of the legal proceedings adopted against Catholics, which
proceedings Pitcairn considered as "forming a prominent part of the
ecclesiastical and political history of the country.”
The editor gratefully acknowledges the valuable
assistance he has received from the Rev. John Hungerford Pollen, S.J.,
in revising and passing the volumes through the press.
W. F. L.
Volume 1 - The Reign of
King Charles I. 1627 - 1649
Volume 2 - From
Commonwealth to Emancipation 1647 - 1793