|The "Drunken" Parliament.
At the Restoration in 1661 John Middleton - Earl of
Middleton, was appointed as the King`s Commissioner and General of the
Forces to be raised in Scotland. A valiant
soldier and in that context a leader of men, he was however
possessed of a vile temper, he was cynical, boorish, a scandalous liver
and a prodigious drinker. He was also very headstrong, arbitrary and
vengeful, thus lacking most of the qualities required by a politician. As a
forceful taskmaster with a total commitment to his King, he took every
opportunity to progress the Royal will, and if it also filled his pocket,
so much the better.
For a few months Charles II had ruled
Scotland through the Committee of the Estates, but on 1 January 1661 a new
Parliament met in Edinburgh. Its composition had been carefully selected
with known `trouble makers ` or likely dissenters excluded. Thus the
seventy seven nobles, fifty six lairds and sixty one commissioners of the
burghs were a pliant instrument for what was to follow. At this time John
Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale was made Secretary of State and resided in
London. The Earl of Glencairn, a staunch Royalist, was Chancellor; the
Earl of Rothes was President of the Council; Sir Archibald Primrose was
Clerk - Register, said to have the cleverest tongue in Parliament
and a subtle and dextrous man who took money liberally to intercede
in the legal process; and Sir John Fletcher as Kings Advocate who was another
arrogant and impatient man with little regard for anyone of an opinion
different to his - a veritable Inquisitor General. Lord Crawford, the
Treasurer, was the only Presbyterian sympathiser who was frequently
opposed and his counsel disregarded by the others. The scene was thus set
for Middleton and his allies to do whatever they chose.
The objective of the Parliament was to
make the King absolute ruler; to this end the law makers had to demolish
the bulwarks of the Church, and subsume the authority of Parliament to the
King`s appointees (the Privy Council). Before Parliament finally rose in
September ( not expecting to be recalled) these objectives had been
secured. The creation of an Oath of Allegiance was ordered which
interfered in every jurisdiction, including the Church. It overtook
individual conscience and no mercy was to be shown to anybody with
scruples; that the King alone could hold, prorogue and dissolve all
conventions and meetings; he alone could enter into treaties and leagues;
that he alone could declare war and peace. As Smellie in Men of the
Covenant puts it - "his was to be the voice of a god rather than that
of a man."
An early law was that 29 May ( the
anniversary date of Charles` arrival in England) was a national
commemorative holiday and declared " to be for ever an holy day unto the
Lord". It included rules about holding services including prayer,
preaching, thanksgiving and praise. The afternoons and evenings to be in
`lawful divertisments`, whatever that meant. The King was voted an income
of £40,000 sterling ( just about the entire income of the kingdom) -
in 1665 Lord Tweedale observed that a Dutch invasion of Scotland
would have been cheaper. Of great sorrow to the Church was the many
decisions humiliating it, and particularly the annulment of the Covenant
and the Solemn League and Covenant with declaration that that they were
without public or permanent obligation. The master stroke was the
infamous Recissory Act on 28 March that revoked the
parliaments kept in the years 1640, 1641, 1644,1645,1646, 1647, and 1648
and all acts and deids past and done in them the same to henceforth
voyd and null. "
This destroyed all that the Second Reformation (with the
supremacy of the Kirk in those years) had worked for, and replaced it with
a right to declare as disloyal and traitorous anyone who still
supported those views. Middleton would have continued then and there with
the establishment of episcopacy but counsel by Lord Hume, Clerk -
Register, constrained his headstrong enthusiasm - for the time being
anyway. Amongst other acts passed was the requirement to recover and re-inter with all honours the corpse of the Marquis of Montrose.
Inevitably an Act of
Attainder sought the trial and death sentences for the remaining Presbyterian
leaders of the Covenants - the Marquis of Argyll, James Guthrie of Stirling and Archibald
Johnston, Lord Warriston.
Smellie in Men of the Covenant
"They robbed the nation
of its liberties; they checked its social progress; they did what they
could to stifle its religious life "
Bishop Gilbert Burnet, in History of
His Own Times, wrote that it was "a mad roaring time".
But the cataclysmic legislation was soon
followed by another "drunken " act, the gross miscalculation that
led to the outing of ministers, and
the consequent twenty eight years of persecution.
Nicols Diary of 1660-1.