Sir George "Bluidy" MacKenzie of Rosehaugh, Kings Advocate.
[Main source: Men of the Covenant, A Smellie, Deluxe edn,  v II, p 13.(1908].

Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh sits large in the history of the Covenanters and the later years of the "Killing Time", not only for his reputation for pursuing them to the death, but for being an apostate, and excommunicated for his profligacy and sinful behaviour. It is alleged he gained for himself the title "Bluidy" MacKenzie for his persecution and prosecution of the Covenanters. It is probable, however, that the epithet came from the belief and legal tenet, that a murdered person`s body would bleed if touched by the murderer. McKenzie had used this belief in a court case and secured a conviction.

A prominent lawyer, rated second only to Sir George Lockhart (of whom he was extremely jealous), MacKenzie rose to become the Lord or King`s Advocate in the autumn of 1679. His elevation to power came in the aftermath of the Pentland Rising when his predecessor Sir John Nisbet of Dirleton, had dealt harshly with the prisoners. Nisbet re-wrote the rules and it was he who moved that delinquents from the Rising who had not yet been brought to justice, should be tried in their absence, with no defence and liable to the death sentence. At this time MacKenzie was against such unprecedented action and held that "Let us not make snares in place of laws." Nisbet was eventually forced to resign in 1677.

For all his reputation gained in later years, as a young man MacKenzie  was cultured and liberally minded. He was an author, a style setter  as well as a barrister, and politician being Member of Parliament for Ross-shire. As a poet he was well known and, indeed, is credited with probably the earliest novel to be written in Scotland - a boyish romance entitled Aretina, written when he was twenty five. Two years later he produced The Religious Stoic, which contained lofty principles that he would later cast aside with a vengeance. He wrote:

"My heart bleeds when I consider how scaffolds were dyed with Christian blood, and the fields covered with the carcasses of the murthered Christians "

on another page he wrote

"Opinion, kept within its own proper bounds, is a pure act of mind; and so it would appear that to punish the body for that which is the guilt of the soul is as unjust as to punish one relative for another."

How many doomed Covenanters would have wished that he had kept to these principles ?;  but as he grew older his charity degenerated and hardened  into prejudice  and unrelenting partisanship. Judged  on his writings, including the history of the Law in Scotland, he would appear an erudite, gracious and lenient man destined to be a peacemaker .He was, however, the King`s man through and through and nothing was allowed to interfere with duty to serve him.

MacKenzie was the nephew of the Earl of Seaforth who had received his legal training in Aberdeen, St Andrews and at the continental law school at Bourges. In his early years he was a defender of the Presbyterians and one of the counsellors to the ill fated Marquis of Argyle in 1661. In those days MacKenzie professed  " as to be a sanctuary to such as are afflicted  and to pull the innocent from the claws of his accuser." As an MP he was a thorn in Lauderdale`s side, especially when in 1669 Lauderdale sought a Union of the Kingdoms. MacKenzie strongly advocated caution and a calm, dispassionate consideration. The proposal was eventually dropped to Lauderdale`s great annoyance.

The high hopes of better times to come when he was appointed Lord Advocate were soon shattered. He soon rejected old friends and realised that he was much more of a Royalist than he once thought, intervening in a long running dispute between the lawyers and the judges  (appointed by the King) saying " it was no dishonour  to submit to their Prince". Towards the end of his career he was to boast that

 " No Advocate has ever screwed the prerogative  higher than I have. I deserve to have  my statue riding behind Charles the Second in the Parliament Close"

His relationship with the church became one of stringent criticism and pursuit with all his powers of oratory, logic, ridicule and satire. It may well have been easy for him and his acknowledged skills, to confuse bedazzle and bully both defendant and the Court or Council holding a trial. During the nine years that he was Lord Advocate  there was hardly a prosecution of any rank of person in which he was not involved. He had a a violent temper, insolent approach  and a wickedly vicious tongue that cowed defendants and even some judges. He also met with simple men and women who withstood his attacks with an equally simple and totally committed faith that could not be usurped, such as James Stewart whom in despair of breaking him, threatened to cut out his tongue. With Marion Harvey he also failed - in her Testimony she referred to him as  "That excommunicated tyrant, George MacKenzie, the Advocate". His vindictive nature and desire for self aggrandisment  was revealed in his pursuit of Campbell of Cessnock . On occasion he resorted to theatrical displays of the instruments of torture in the trial chamber  - the thumbkins and the boot, - to intimidate the prisoner, such as the trial of Alexander Gordon of Earlston. The similar tactic was used against the Glasgow apothecary John Spreul but in his case they were actually used, His artfulness and Machiavellian deceit is on show in his prosecution of Robert Baillie of Jerviswood. Here he used testimony that had been promised would not be used as evidence. He carefully reminded the Court that the defendant was the nephew and son in law of the late Archibald Johnston,Lord Warriston; and that he was with William Carstares ( whose evidence he used) a conspirator in the Rye House Plot.

The high point of his infamy in Covenanter eyes was reached in his formal excommunication by Donald Cargill, at Torwood in September 1680. The reasons for his casting out were given thus:

“Next, I do, by virtue of the same authority, and in the same name, excommunicate, cast our of the true Church, and deliver up to Satan, Sir George Mackenzie, the king’s advocate; for his apostacy, In turning into a profligateness of conversation, after he had begun a profession of holiness : for his constant pleading against, and persecuting to death, the people of God, and alleging and laying to their charge, things, which in his conscience he knew to be against the Word of God, truth, reason, and the ancient laws of this kingdom: and his pleading for sorcerers, murderers, and other criminals, that before God, and by the laws of the land, ought to die; for his ungodly, erroneous, phantastic and blasphemous tenets, printed to the world in his pamphlets and pasquils.”

The excommunication may well have had an unwanted and detrimental effect as there were still five years and the "Killing Time" to come in which MacKenzie exercised his powers.  The arrival on the throne of James II (1685) saw new twists and turns as a result of the Kings` Tolerations and moves to return to a Roman Catholic ascendancy. For almost two years  (May 1686-Feb 1688) he was out of office  and replaced by Sir John Dalrymple, the friend of the Presbyterians. He too was soon removed from office and MacKenzie returned for the few remaining months before the birth of a son to James and storm of the Glorious Revolution broke. MacKenzie subsequently dined with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other prelates during which he pleaded for episcopacy in Scotland. He similarly wrote to King William to the same effect. In the spring of 1689 the Scottish Convention offered the crown to William and Mary and he was out of office. He spent the next two years ( he died in 1691) wandering aimlessly between Oxford and London.

18/07/2011

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