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

" pretendit 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  wrote

"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.

John Nicols Diary of 1660-1.

18/07/2011

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