The Wigtown Martyrs: The Scourging of Margaret Maxwell in 1685

•July 1, 2015 • Leave a Comment


What was Margaret Maxwell convicted of in 1685? The case of Margaret Maxwell is first recorded in the Kirkinner Kirk Session of 1711:

‘[She] was imprisoned at Wigtown about the year 1685, and scourged there three several times by the hand of the common hangman, and afterwards carried prisoner to Glasgow in order to banishment.’ (Quoted in Stewart, History Vindicated, 81.)

The session record does not say wether she was actually banished, only that he was sent to Glasgow for banishment. Decades later, she was in Bo’ness.

Her story was not present in any of the published sources until it appeared in Patrick Walker’s account of the Wigtown Martyrs, Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan.

Like the Kirkinner session record, he mentions that Margaret Maxwell, a neighbour of the latter and a servant at Barwhanny, was ‘scourged’ through the streets of Wigtown by the ‘common hangman’, which in 1685 was John McIlroy.

Some of Wigtown’s baillies would also hae been involved in her punishment, potentially including Baillie McKeand, who expressed heartfelt grief over the sentence given to the martyrs, Patrick Stewart etc.

Scourging, as the image above highlights, later became a key element in the nineteenth-century Abolitionist cause. In the seventeenth century, it was an accepted punishment in Scotland.

Walker records the following:

Margaret Maxwel, [the servant to the wife of Alexander Vaus of Barwhanny and] now an old infirm Woman, told me of late in Burrowstouness, That she was then Prisoner with them [for being disorderly and other crimes], and expected the same Sentence; but she was ordained to be scourged through the Town of Wigtoun by the Hand of the common Hangman 3 Days successively, and to stand each Day one Hour in Juggs; [beside the kirk] all which was done. But such was the Cruelty of these Days, that all who retained any Thing of Humanity towards their Fellow-creatures, abhorred such Barbarity; so that all the three Days the foresaid Margaret was punished and exposed, there was scare one Door or Window to be seen in the Town of Wigtoun, and no Boys or Girls looking on. The Officers and Hangman enquiring if they should shorten the Hour, she said, No, let the Knock (or Clock) go on, she was neither wearied nor ashamed. The Hangman was very tender to her.’

From the short phrase about Maxwell’s punishment in Walker’s account, it is possible that he had consulted the Kirkinner Session record. The Kirkinner account of the Wigtown Martyrs had been incorporated into Wodrow’s History, but Wodrow did not mention Maxwell’s case. Walker, who knew many people in the Societies’ network and did seek out witnesses, claims that he had met the elderly Maxwell in Bo’ness shortly before 1727. Maxwell was over 16 in 1685 and over forty years later probably must have been at least in her sixties. Walker’s possible consultation of the unpublished Kirkinner session record suggests that he had either deliberately sought her out, or recognised her when he met her. Maxwell was a witness to the imprisonment of the martyrs and attended the same assize.


Barwhanny © Andy Farrington and licensed for reuse.

Why was Margaret Maxwell punished?
There is no record of her trial, except for the Kirkinner session record and Walker’s account. However, she did exist.

According to the Kirkinner parish roll of 1684, Maxwell was disorderly, i.e., she refused to attend the parish church. She shared that distinction with two others at Barwhanny: Margaret Maxwell, the wife of Alexander Vaus of Barwhanny, and Grissel Vaus, probably a daughter of the former.

Map of Barwhanny

After the circuit court at Wigtown in October, 1684, Margaret Maxwell and the others were probably pursued for their nonconformity.

Walker claims that Maxwell was in prison with the women before their trial in Wigtown Tolbooth, that she feared the same sentence as Wilson and McLachan, and that she was sentenced to be scourged through the streets of the burgh and placed in the jougs.



What do Walker’s claims mean?
Maxwell was imprisoned in Wigtown Tolbooth for a period, probably in early April, with McLachlan, Wilson and the latter’s sister, Agnes. She was brought before the same assize in Wigtown in mid April, although it is not clear if she appeared on the same day, 13 April, as the others. She would have faced the same judges, i.e., Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, David Graham and Captain Strachan.

Baillie John McKeand, who sat on the assize jury for the martyrs and later felt grief for it, probably sat on the jury for Maxwell. He did not express grief for her sentence.

For some reason, Maxwell alleged that she feared the same death sentence as given to the Wigtown Martyrs, which may mean that she was tried after, or at the same time, as the other women.

It is reasonably clear that she must have taken the Abjuration oath at some point, either when it was pressed in early 1685, or before, or at, the trial in April, otherwise she would have received the same sentence of drowning. What is clear is that she did not refuse the Abjuration at the assize. Whatever her crimes were, they were not of the severity of treason when it came to her sentence.

The assize appears to have dealt with either some form of her nonconformity and/or other alleged crimes, possibly related to her nonconformity. She was sentenced to ‘to be scourged through’ the burgh for three successive days and to stand in the jougs for one hour on each of those days. The Kirkinner records clain that she was sent to Glasgow for banishment, probably indicates that the assize decided to send her to the colonial plantations.

Her sentence, at least as recorded by Walker, is very unusual in nonconformity cases and perhaps hints at some of the grounds for Maxwell’s conviction.

Being sentenced to the jougs, a padlocked iron collar chained to Wigtown’s parish kirk, was a form of public humiliation for either church, or secular, offences. Her presence in the jougs may reflect her nonconformity, but secular courts, like that at Wigtown, also sentenced people to the jougs (stocks or irons) for the punishment of the blasphemy of God’s name and other horrible oaths’, for being ‘idle’ beggars and killing wild fowl. (RPS, 1581/10/24., A1552/2/7.)

Why was she scourged? Scourging was not the punishment for Presbyterian dissent. Scourging, to be lashed and flogged, through the streets of a burgh was a particular punishment under an act of 1600 for the slaughter and selling of specific kinds of deer and wild fowl. It was also the punishment for a related crime, the ‘destroyers of planting, enclosure and policy’, i.e, breakers of dovecots, rabbit warrens, parks, ponds, yards, orchards and slaying of hares, under a 1579 act. (RPS, 1600/11/47., 1579/10/37.)

Was she reduced to illegally obtaining food? We do not know, but her punishment suggests that Maxwell may have been sustaining herself through the theft of the property of a landowner.

It may be because Maxwell was convicted of other charges, even in relation to her capture or sustenance, which did not relate to dissent, that she was not mentioned in the published Presbyterian sources until Walker revealed her story.

We do not know what Maxwell was convicted of. Whatever ever it was, it appears that her case was more complex than one of simple dissent.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Known Unknowns: The Act for security of officers of state and others of 1685

•June 29, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Image from A Hind Let Loose (1687)

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. “

On 4 June, 1685, the Scottish Parliament passed the ‘Act for security of officers of state and others’. The act was, in part, intended to cover all government officers then engaged in the Argyll Rising, which was not put down for another fortnight. However, the act was also retrospective, and as such, would have had a direct bearing on any potential complaints over the shortcomings and actions of army officers and judges involved in the Killing Times in the first half of 1685.

The act granted a wide-ranging indemnity to ‘all and every one of his majesty’s present … judges, both civil and criminal, the officers of the army and all others who have acted’ on commissions from the King or privy council.

It indemnified them ‘against all pursuits or complaints that can be raised against them, in any manner of way, for their actions in his majesty’s service’.

It also indemnified them ‘for their omissions and wherein they have fallen short of their duty, and that as fully as if every particular crime or misdemeanour were particularly specified in a remission under his majesty’s great seal’.

If faced with a complaint about the actions of army officers or judges etc, judges were ‘to interpret this indemnity in the most ample and favourable sense’. (RPS, 1685/4/65.)

The Killing Times had begun in response to the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration against Intelligencers, which threatened persecutors with assassination. At the beginning of 1685, the privy council had enacted the Abjuration oath, which renounced the Societies’ declaration, and granted commissions to judges and military officers that permitted them to carry out summary executions in the field of those who refused the oath. Field justice carried the obvious peril of relying on the judgement of officers faced with all the pressures of operating in the field, rather than on deliberations over evidence in court. It was inconsistent in application and, if the Presbyterian sources are to be believed, mistakes were made.

Governments and states have often suppressed the ability of the victims of state power to seek redress, especially when confronting an insurgency or terrorism. The Scottish Parliament’s act of 1685 falls into that pattern.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Wigtown Martyrs: The First Post-Martyrdom Sources of 1687

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The early sources for the Wigtown martyrs, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, mainly came from the pens of two brothers, Alexander Shields, one of the Societies’ ministers after 1686, and Michael Shields, the clerk of the convention.

Cloud of Witnesses 1714 Wigtown Martyrs

Before looking at the early United Societies’ sources in detail, it is worth looking at what they specifically said in relation to the drowning of women in 1687:

‘Drowning Women, some of a very young & some of an exceeding old age’. (An Informatory Vindication (1687).

‘or respect to age or sex; even women, some of a very young, some of an old age being drowned in their fury.’ (Michael Shields, Letter to Irish Societies, 2 March, 1687.)

‘that they spared neither age, sex, nor profession: the tenderness of youth did not move them to any relenting, in murdering very boys upon this ahead, nor the gray hairs of the aged; neither were women spared, but some were hanged, some drowned, tied to stakes within the sea-mark, to be devoured gradually with the growing waves, and some of them of a very young, some of an old age.’ (Alexander Shields, A Hind Let Loose (1687).

When looked at together, it is clear that all the sources from 1687 drew on the same source text for inspiration. They were not discreet descriptions of what was alleged to have taken place. The problem is that it is not clear either what text that was, or which text came first.

Throughout the period of the Killing Times, Alexander Shields had been imprisoned in London, Edinburgh and on the Bass Rock. He escaped from the latter in late 1686 and joined the leadership of the Societies at the Wood of Earlstoun in Galloway in December, 1686. Shields had worked on A Hind Let Loose, which is an extremely long text that justified the Societies’ radical platform, for some time before its publication in late 1687.

Michael Shields’ letter of 2 March 1687 is the earliest dated record of a drowning event having taken place, however, it is almost certainly not the source of the story. The letter was sent to societies in Ireland associated with a militant preacher named David Houston, who had recently joined the Societies in Scotland. It set out to inform their newly acquired Irish brethren about the platform of Societies in Scotland on behalf of the thirty-third convention. It was official correspondence, rather than tittle-tattle. The reference to women being drowned was almost certainly based on the manuscript of, or source text for, An Informatory Vindication, which the letter promised the Irish societies they would soon see.

An Informatory Vindication (1687) was, as its title suggests, a vindication of the Societies from various charges made against them by hostile moderate presbyterians and former brethren who had split from the Societies. It is a long text that involved multiple authors, including at one point Michael Shields, in a collective effort on behalf of the Societies which took nearly a year from early 1686. The final text of An Informatory Vindication was formally approved for publication by the Societies at their thirty-third convention on 2 March, 1687. Shields’ letter was also approved at the convention.

The interrelation between the Societies’ texts indicates that the allegation that Presbyterian women were drowned in the Killing Times, i.e., between December, 1684, to July, 1685, had probably cropped up in the period that An Informatory Vindication was drafted, i.e., roughly in mid 1686 to very early 1687, only a year after the alleged date of the drownings.

What the source of that information was and how reliable it was is not known. According to Michael Shields’ Faithful Contendings Displayed, the Society people had agreed to gather information about those killed in the fields at their twenty-fourth convention on 21 October, 1685:

‘It was likewise concluded, that every society should do their utmost to gather up a list of the names, and an account of the sufferings of those within their respective bounds, who suffered martyrdom and otherwise [in the Killing Times]; as also of the enemies barbarous dealing and cruelty there, and of any signal and remarkable judgments that had been inflicted upon any of these enemies: and all expedition was to be used herein, that the whole being collected together, might be for the good and comfort of the present and succeeding generations. Somewhat of this was done, but not so much as was desired.’ (Shields, FCD, 182.)

It is clear that the Societies’ convention was endeavouring to gather information on those who had suffered in the Killing Times and on those who had been involved in the deaths. However, as Shields bemoans, ‘no so much as was desired’ of that was done. We do not know if the Wigtown case was among any returns from the Society people in Galloway. The probable reason for why a disappointing volume of material on the Killing Times was gathered was that immediately after the twenty-fourth convention, the societies, particularly in Galloway, were engulfed in a bitter schism that saw societies in Carrick and parts of Galloway withdraw from the convention.

Nonetheless, the Societies attempt to gather information on their martyrs at the twenty-fourth convention expands the possible window for information about women being drowned entering the records of the Society people to between 21 October, 1685, and the beginning of 1687, i.e., potentially just over six months after the alleged date of the drowning on 11 May, and certainly within about a year and a half of it.

What were the elements of the story found in the Societies’ sources of 1687?
The elements of the allegation were that an unspecified number of ‘women’, i.e., at least two, some ‘very young’ and some ‘very old’, were deliberately ‘drowned’ by their persecutors. Single sources mention that they were ‘tied to stakes within the sea-mark, to be devoured gradually with the growing waves’ and of their ‘being drowned’ in the ‘fury’ of their persecutors.

However, in the specific sentences that mention drowning, no names of those involved in drowning women are given. The names of the women are not recorded. Where they were drowned is not stated. And when they were drowned is not specified.

A little more light can be shed on some of those issues by looking at the passages in which the statements about drowning were made.

Michael Shields’ letter from the thirty-third convention to societies in Ireland, 2 March, 1687.

‘We cannot recount the number of our dear brethren that we lost in this deluge of blood that was shed at the time by soldiers, and some gentlemen, that made it their work to kill us whenever we could be found, without either trial or sentence, or time to prepare for death, or respect to age or sex; even women, some of a very young, some of an old age being drowned in their fury. But in the mean time of the height of this rage, the Lord did remove the tyrant Charles II. which did put some stop to it. Thereafter, when his brother James Duke of York was proclaimed, and a Parliament convocated for establishing him in usurpation, we resolved upon a testimony against the same, and so emitted another declaration at Sanquhar, May 28, 1685.’ (Shields, FCD, 295.)

Michael Shields very much gives the Societies’ view of the Killing Times. He places the responsibility for drowning women in the hands of ‘soldiers, and some gentlemen’, i.e., government forces and possibly sheriffs. His claims that they had ‘made it their work to kill us whenever we could be found’ refers to the policy of hunting down fugitives and dealing with those who resisted or refused the Abjuration oath through summary execution, i.e., the Killing Times. He also claims that those killings were carried out ‘without either trial or sentence, or time to prepare for death’. Some killings were carried out in that manner, especially during or after armed confrontations, but others took place after a summary process before those commissioned to press the Abjuration oath, or after justiciary courts. There was not one fixed manner in which Society people were subjected to summary execution. He claims that both men and women, both old and young, died. There is no doubt that young and old men were summarily executed. He particularly claims that at least two women were ‘being drowned’ in the ‘fury’ of the ‘soldiers, and some gentlemen’.

There is no doubt that Shields placed the drowning of women in the context of the summary executions of Killing Times, i.e., between December, 1684 and July, 1685. However, Shields then goes further in placing the drowning event, or events, in the context of three known events. First, the death of Charles II. on 6 February, 1685, news of which reached Scotland a few days later. Second, the sitting of Parliament in Edinburgh, which began on 23 April, and confirmed James VII.’s absolute authority soon after. Third, the Second Sanquhar Declaration proclaimed after the twentieth convention on 28 May, which appears to mark a potential end point for when the drowning of women took place. That suggests he placed the drowning of women between January and the end of May, 1685.

An Informatory Vindication (1687)
The mention of drowning women appears in a passage on the reasons why the Societies had rejected the authority of Charles II. and James VII.:

‘And in the first place, for the late Tyrant [Charles II.]; …[for] His absolute domination over the whole Land, in levying Militia & other Forces, Horse & Foot, for carrying on his wicked designs, of advancing himself to an arbitrary power, & bearing down the work of Reformation, & enslaving the people; particularly in sending an Host of Savage & barbarous Highlanders several times [in 1678 and May 1685], upon a poor innocent people, to waste & destroy them; And imposing wicked taxations for the maintenance of these forces, professedly required for suppressing Religion & Liberty, & preserving & promoting his Absoluteness over all matters & persons sacred and Civil; His cruelty over the bodies of Christians, in chasing, catching, & killing upon the fields, many, without sentence past upon them or time previously to deliberate upon death, yea & without taking notice of any thing to be laid against them, according to the worst of their own Laws; Drowning Women, some of a very young & some of an exceeding old age; Imprisoning, Laying in irons, exquisite torturing by Boots, Thumbkins, & Firematches, Cutting pieces out of the ears, Banishing & selling as Slaves old & young, men & women, in great numbers, bloodily butchering upon Scaffolds, Hanging some of all Sexes & ages, Heading Mangling, dismembering alive, Quartering dead bodies; oppressing many others in their Estates, Forfeiting their Possessions, Robbing, Pillaging their goods, Casting Men, Women, & Children out of their Habitations, Interdicting any to reset them, under the pains of being treated after the same manner; & all this for their adherence unto the Covenanted work of Reformation, while in the mean time many murderers, Adulterers, & incestuous persons, Sodomites, witches, & other malefactors, were pardoned or passed without punishment: So for the continued & habitual tract of these, & many other, Acts of Tyranny, we have disowned, & yet adhere to our revolt from under, the yoke of the Tyranny of Charles the Second, & Declare that his whole Government was a complete & habitual Tyranny, & no more Magistracy than Robbery is a rightful possession.

And in like manner, in the Next place, we disown the Usurpation of James Duke of York, succeeding & insisting in the same footsteps of Tyranny, Treachery, & Cruelty; with the same domineering over men & Women’s Consciences, & cruelty towards their bodies, & Estates, & oppression over the Land; arrogating to himself an absolute power, more declaredly than any other formerly; & labouring to bring these Lands again in Subjection to the yoke of Anti-Christ; being a professed Papist; & therefore, what ever right he may pretend by lineal succession, suffrage of Iniquitous Laws & packed Parliaments, he hath no legal or lawful right to the crown; especially, seeing many Acts of ancient Parliaments, declare Papists altogether incapable of bearing any Rule, or any other whomsoever, except they be maintainers of the true Protestant Religion, according to the National Covenant, as it is Statute by the 8 Act. Parl. 1. repeated in the 99 Act. Parl. 7. ratified in the 23 Act. Parl. 11. & 114. Act. Parl. 12 of K. James 6. & 4. Act of K. Charles the first. And here we stand as to the point of Magistracy.’

What is obvious about the above passage is that the extract from Shields’ letter to the societies in Ireland covers the same terrain in a shorter form. Both deal with the alleged crimes of the Killing Times and end with their rejection of the usurpation of James VII..

At first it appears that An Informatory Vindication places the drowning of women in the context of Charles II., who died on 6 February, 1685. There is no doubt that it is listed under the alleged crimes of the reign of Charles II., but so, too, is the second Highland Host of May to June, 1685.

However, the Vindication then goes on to reject James VII. ‘in like manner’ for ‘insisting in the same footsteps of Tyranny, Treachery, & Cruelty; with the same domineering over men & Women’s Consciences, & cruelty towards their bodies’, before going on to reject what the Societies saw as novel about the rule of James, his usurpation, absolute authority and Catholicism. In the view of the Societies, James was guilty of the same crimes as Charles II. and further crimes against the constitution. James did send in the second Highland Host that is listed under Charles II..

In his nineteenth-century critique of the Wigtown case, Sheriff Mark Napier utilized the apparent error in chronology that the drowning of women took place before the death of Charles II. on 6 February, when the women were supposedly drowned on 11 May, to dismiss the story as a fabrication. However, that is a fundamental misreading of the intention and purpose of the passage in the Vindication, as the crimes of the Killing Times applied to both Charles and James. It is perfectly clear from the full passage quoted above, that the drowning of women could be ascribed to both the reigns of Charles and James. As a source for dating the alleged drowning event it is useless, beyond it being at some point in the Killing Times.

Alexander Shields, A Hind Let Loose (1687)
Alexander Shields’ mention of the drowning of women appears in Part II of A Hind Let Loose under the heading of ‘A Brief Account of the Persecution of the last Period, and of the great suffering whereby all the parts of its Testimony were sealed.’ that covered the period between 1660 and 1687. Shields took a broadly chronological approach in working his way through the period. Section IX that immediately precedes the section that mentions women being drowned covered the period before 1680. Section XI, which followed it, start with ‘In the beginning of this killing time, as the country calls it; the first author or authorizer of all these mischiefs, Charles II. was removed by death.’, which is the first mention of the name of ‘the Killing Times’ in the historical sources. Shields applied the name of the ‘Killing Time’ to a period in 1685, but also, it seems, to the period before that, which was dominated by judicial executions. The problem with Section X, in which the statement that women were drowned appears, from a chronological perspective, is that it covers the period between 1681 or 1682 and 1685. It specifically places the drowning of women after a passage on the impact of judicial executions, which after a peak in 1681, increased markedly for a second time between 1684 and February, 1685. A Hind Let Loose is even less useful than An Informatory Vindication as a source for the date of the alleged drowning event. At its best, it places the event, or events, somewhere in the 1680s. It is clear that the passage in A Hind Let Loose was never intended to be used to date the drowning of women. Three years later, when Alexander Shields did date the drowning of women, he specified that it taken place in the year 1685.

The passage in A Hind Let Loose is as follows:

‘4. But here, as in Egypt, the more they were afflicted, the more they grew, the more that the enemies rage was increased, the more were the people inflamed to inquire about the grounds of their suffering, seeing rational men and religious christians die so resolutely upon them; and the more they insisted in this inquisition, the more did the number of witnesses multiply, with a growing increase of undauntedness, so that the then shed blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church, and as by hearing and seeing them so signally countenanced of the Lord, many were reclaimed from their courses of compliance, so others were daily more and more confirmed in the ways of the Lord, and so strengthened by his grace, that they chose rather to endure all torture, and embrace death in its most terrible aspect, than to give the tyrant and his [ac]complices any acknowledgment: yea, not so much as to say, God save the king, which was offered as the price of their life, and test of their acknowledgment, but they would not accept deliverance on these terms that they might obtain a better resurrection. Which so enraged the tigrish truculency of these persecutors, that they spared neither age, sex, nor profession: the tenderness of youth did not move them to any relenting, in murdering very boys upon this ahead, nor the gray hairs of the aged; neither were women spared, but some were hanged, some drowned, tied to stakes within the sea-mark, to be devoured gradually with the growing waves, and some of them of a very young, some of an old age. Especially after the murder of the never to be forgotten martyr, Mr. [Donald] Cargil [in 1681], the multitude of merciless sufferings upon this account cannot he enumerated; which increased far beyond all the former steps, after the Lanerk Declaration [of 1682], which was burnt with great solemnity by the magistrates of Edinburgh in their robes, together with the Solemn League and Covenant, which had been burnt before, but then they would more declared give new demonstrations of their rage against it, because they confessed, and were convinced of its being conform unto and founded upon that covenant. And because the incorporation of Lanerk did not, because they could not, hinder the publishing of it; therefore they were threatened with the loss of their privileges, and forced to pay 6000 merks. Upon the back of which, the sufferings of poor people that owned the testimony being banished for soldiers to Flanders, etc. some to be sold as slaves in Carolina, and other places in America, to empty the filled prisons, and make room for more: which were daily brought in from all quarters, and either kept languishing in their nasty prisons, or thieves holes, in bolts and irons to make them weary of their life, or dispatched as sacrifices, and led as dumb sheep to the slaughter, without suffering them to speak their dying words, for beating of drums, or disposed of to masters of ships to be transported to slavery.’

Where Alexander Shields’ A Hind Let Loose was influential on the story of the Wigtown martyrs is where it mentions ‘neither were women spared, but some were hanged, some drowned, tied to stakes within the sea-mark, to be devoured gradually with the growing waves’, as that is the first record of the use of stakes and the tide to drown the women.

However, the influence of A Hind Let Loose did not end there.

Wigtown Martyrs

In the fold-out print or frontispiece of the book, which was printed in the United Provinces and smuggled into Scotland in 1687, is a representation of two sets of two women being executed by different methods. Below it are the words ‘Women hanged, others drowned at stakes in the sea’.

The image of women being hanged, on the left, plainly refers to Isobel Alison and Marion Harvie who were executed in Edinburgh in January, 1681. The image of women being drowned, on the right, was later read as depicting Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, the only women said to have been drowned in the Killing Times.

The subtitle of the image, ‘Women hanged, others drowned at stakes in the sea’ was almost certainly based on Shields’ text which had stated ‘neither were women spared, but some were hanged, some drowned, tied to stakes within the sea-mark’.

The illustration was almost certainly by an unidentified Dutch artist – prints of this kind were very rare in English works – who was in no way familiar with the method of execution. It clearly depicts two women of differing heights, perhaps to indicate age, tied to a single post. The latter detail was free in its interpretation of both the text below the illustration and Shields’ text that had mentioned ‘stakes’. The image is an idealised illustration of Christian martyrdom, but was based on Shields’ words. One other element of the illustration picked up a detail in Shields’ text. It shows the women standing amid tidal waters, which presumably reflects Shields’ claim that they were ‘to be devoured gradually with the growing waves’. The same image was repoduced in Cloud of Witnesses in 1714. However, in that case the image was in reverse, due to the copying process, and created by a cruder hand than that which produced the 1687 version. (See image at the top of this post.)

Where do the Societies’ sources of 1687 leave the story of the Wigtown Martyrs?
First, it is unclear if the drowning of women event, or events, referred to the two female Wigtown martyrs. It appears that at least a story of women being drowned had entered the written records of the Societies at some point after October, 1685, and more certainly before March, 1687. The texts that expressly served the purpose of justifying the Societies’ platform broadly place the drowning of women between 1680 and 1686 and perhaps in the Killing Times of 1685. Michael Shields’ letter certainly places the event in the Killing Times of 1685, probably before 28 May. A Hind Let Loose had advanced the idea that the women were tied to stakes and drowned by the tide, but those details are not present in An Informatory Vindication and Shields’ letter.

The problem with the Societies’ sources in 1687 is that they were never designed to relay detailed information about specific martyrdoms. Their intention was to discuss their sufferings in general terms to a wider audience. There is no doubt that the Soccieties put their own ‘spin’ on events, which left out uncomfortable information. It could be described as partisan, perhaps even as propaganda, but good propaganda is based on some element of fact. The only martyrs that they mention by name are those of their ministers, Donald Cargill, Richard Cameron etc, and David Hackstoun of Rathillet. They were all high-profile and significant martyrs in the story of the foundation of the United Societies in 1681. Clearly, as even the supporters of Napier must admit, many others died, either on scaffolds after 1681, or in the fields in 1685, but their names are not recorded in the 1687 sources. It is obvious that to expect details of the Wigtown martyrs of 1685 in the sources from 1687 is not a reasonable expectation, when no other victims of the Killing Times are either mentioned, or indications of where they were from, or the year they were killed in, are given. To insist that the 1687 sources provide that information fails to comprehend the nature of those historical sources.

The same criticism can also be levelled at the nineteenth-century vindicators of the Wigtown Martyrs. The Societies’ sources of 1687, on their own, do not prove that women were drowned. What they indicate, on their own, is that the Societies, at the highest level, believed that women had been drowned and that that claim had entered their written records, possibly as early as late 1685, and for certain in early 1687. They also indicate that key elements of the story, that women were drowned at stakes somewhere tidal, probably in 1685, were in the very first accounts.

After the Revolution, new details about the Wigtown Martyrs were revealed by the same brothers. The Societies’ opponents also took to print. However, how the Wigtown story developed was not in the way that either the nineteenth-century vindicators, or sceptics, of their martyrdom ever imagined.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Heartfelt Grief of Baillie McKeand over the Wigtown Martyrs in 1704.

•June 20, 2015 • 2 Comments

Old Mortality

John M’Keand, or McKean, sat on the assize that condemned Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson to drowning in 1685.What does his grief mean for the Wigtown case?

He appears on the Wigtown parish list in late 1684 as ‘Baillie McKeand’. He is also found on the Hearth Tax roll for the burgh of 1695 as ‘John Mckean late bailly’. In 1704, McKeand addressed the kirk session about his ‘grief of heart’ over sitting on the assize nineteen years earlier:

‘At Wigtown, July 8th, 1704.

Post preces sed[erun]t. The min[iste]r., all ye elders and deacons. This day
the tokens were distributed to these in the congregat[io]n., according to the
mind of the Session the former day.

This day Baillie M’Keand, elder, in Wigtown, addressed the Session for ye priviledge of the Sacrament, declaring the grief of his heart yt he should have sitten on ye [as]sieze of these women, who were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685; and yt it had been frequently his petition to God for true repentance and forgiveness for yt sin. He being removed, and the Session enquiring into this affair, and the carriage of the s[ai]d Baillie since yt time, and being satisfied with his conversat[io]n. since, and the present evidence of repentance now, they granted him the privilege; he was called in, admonished and exhorted to deliberation [and] due tenderness in such a solemn address unto God.

Sederunt closed with prayer.’ (Napier, History Vindicated, cviii-cix.)

What does Baillie M’Keand’s grief tell us about the case of the Wigtown Martyrs?

M’Keand had plainly sat on the jury of the assize on 13 April, 1685. It is clear that the jury had found Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson guilty, as ‘these women … were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685’. In reality, the jury had no option except to find them guilty of treason, as McLachlan and Wilson obstinately refused to take the Abjuration oath that renounced the Society people’s ‘war’ of assassinations against their persecutors.

Stewart, in his defence of the Wigtown Martyrs, and Napier, in his case against the martyrdoms, reached radically different conclusions about the significance of McKeand’s grief. For Stewart, it proved that the women had been drowned. For Napier, it proved that the women had been sentenced to die and not drowned. One could quibble about why the session used the word ‘die’, rather than the technically correct ‘drowned’, but that would be a fruitless argument: Derrida once wrote a whole book on why Nietzsche once briefly wrote that he had forgotten his umbrella.

The key passage does not prove one way, or the other, whether they were executed. McKeand felt guilt for sitting on the jury in the assize ‘of these women, who were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685’. The problem with that statement is that it refers to the particular circumstances which caused McKeand’s grief, rather than to the events of the trial and execution in Wigtown in 1685. McKeand felt guilt for his particular part in that process. The kirk session was commenting on the causes of McKeand’s grief, not on whether the execution had taken place or not.

The evidence of the 1704 Wigtown session does not confirm whether the women were executed, only that they were condemned to die.

It is difficult to see why McKeand would have felt ‘grief of his heart’ nineteen years after the trial if they had been pardoned and released. In that case, his grief at participation would surely have been tempered by his knowledge that after conviction that the women had recanted their support for assassinations and successfully obtained a pardon. What mainly Presbyterian sources claim is that the women were executed by drowning. The latter feels like a cause for heartfelt grief.

It is clear that McKeand had felt that guilt for several years or more, as it was ‘frequently his petition to God for true repentance and forgiveness for yt sin’. Clearly his conscience was troubling him. There was something about the nature of the forthcoming communion, nineteen years after the trial, that forced him to go public with his troubled conscience. Sadly, the extract above does not reveal what the ‘mind of the session’ was on ‘the former day’, presumably when the sacrament was agreed.

For some reason, McKeand felt that the ‘sin’ of his part in the trial may hae prevented him from taking the sacrament. He may have had a tender conscience. Others, apparently, even on the kirk session, did not carry the same burden on their conscience.

Both Stewart and Napier point out that some of the members of the Wigtown session in 1704 who heard McKeand’s heartfelt grief and repentance, had been in Wigtown in 1685. Provost William Coltraine had taken part in the trial, but not the execution. Some of the others on the 1704 session are also listed on the parish list of 1684 and were, presumably, there at the time of the alleged drownings a few months later.

Neither Stewart, nor Napier, compared the session list of 1704 with the parish list of 1684. However, when the latter is consulted some of the elders are listed: ‘John M’Keand, younger’, ‘Jo. Lafrize’, under ‘Munkhill’, and ‘Patrick McKie of Auchleand’. Possibly ‘Thomas McClure’ and ‘David McKie’ are the same as the elders who sat on the session in 1704. Among the deacons in 1704, three, ‘Michaell Shank’, ‘John Cavend’ and ‘Jo. Calzie’, or ‘Jo. Calzie, younger’, appear in the 1684 list. Of the twelve names listed in 1704, nine are either found, or are probably found, on the 1684 list.

One question, which has not been previously asked, is if the Wigtown kirk session was actually that keen discussing the Wigtown martyrs? In 1684, most of the burgh elite were, in one way or another, involved in the trial of the two women. Wigtown was not a centre for the militant presbyterian dissent that the two women represented. Of the five Society people said to have been executed in the burgh, four were, either taken in, or from, Penninghame parish, which was a hot spot for militant dissent. None of the martyrs were from the burgh. Today, the town has taken the martyrs to heart, but it is not clear if some of the burgh elite wished recall their part in the trial or executions. McKeand appears have taken nearly two decades to come to terms with his actions. It is possible that his long-held heartfelt guilt was not welcome in some quarters of the kirk session and burgh. It is possible that discussion of the Wigtown case was a difficult political moment for some of the session in 1704 that had to be carefully negotiated by the minister, Mr Ker.

It may be worth noting in relation to that, that when the narrative Presbyterian accounts of the martyrdoms began to appear in 1711 that they came from parishes outside of Wigtown. Nearly all of those accounts were critical of the role played by burgh officials. The Kirkinner session recorded the role of a town officer in the execution. The Penninghame session pointed to the role of Baillie Stewart in the capture of the Wilson sisters and the curious story of how Wilson’s father did not obtain a bond in Wigtown. Cloud of Witnesses mentions the role Provost Coltraine. Patrick Walker notes that the town officers had the hangman scourge Margaret Maxwell, but he also says that the townsfolk did not turn out to see it. The consistent negative references to the burgh elite may indicate that others thought that they had a problematic relationship with the martyrs.

The evidence suggests that the Wigtown Session in 1704 was well informed about what took place in 1685, and in the case of Provost Coltraine, that he was particularly knowledgeable about the trial.

Scottish Parliament

The Riding of Parliament

It is clear that Provost Coltraine had been involved in the trial, probably as a court officer. However, unlike McKeand, he had taken no part in judging whether to convict the women. Coltraine had ordered them to receive their sentence on their knees, a demand that they recognise legitimate royal authority, but that is his only recorded intervention in the trial. Recognition of royal authority was probably not a sin in the view of a provost whose position in society depended on it. Immediately after the assize, he left for Edinburgh to take part in the pageantry of the riding of Parliament and high politics. Baillie McKeand, who almost certainly continued in Wigtown, may have witnessed the last act in the drama.

Wigtown Martyrs

The Baillie with a Halberd
If McKeand witnessed the execution, his guilt, which was only for sitting on the assize, appears to indicate that he did not feel any guilt for anything that he done during the execution. One source, the Kirkinner kirk session of 1711, claims that one of Wigtown’s town officers drowned Margaret McLachlan by holding her under the water with a halberd.

If McKeand did not wield the halberd, as seems likely given the specific nature of his guilt for taking part in the trial alone, one of the other baillies did, if the Kirkinner session is accurate. The parish list of residents of the burgh of 1684 lists six baillies in Wigtown: ‘Baillie Alexander Gordoun’, ‘Baillie [John] McKeand’, who sat on the assize, ‘Baillie Patrick Stewart’, who captured Margaret Wilson, ‘Baillie George Stewart’, ‘Baillie Mcil Roy’ and ‘Bailzie Adam McKie’.

‘These Women’
The session record’s use of the term ‘women’ indicates that the session in 1704 considered those who were sentenced to drown were adults. Cloud of Witnesses states that Margaret Wilson was ‘scarce twenty three years of age’ when executed. The Penninghame kirk session claims that she was ‘Eighteen years’, other sources that she was ‘about twenty’. Agnes Wilson was fifteen when she was brought before court, but the case against her was dismissed and she was liberated under bond.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Wigtown Martyrs: The Curious Case of Agnes Wilson in 1685

•June 18, 2015 • 4 Comments

Agnes Wilson has the distinction of appearing as a statue on a martyrs’ monument when she was not martyred. In 1859, she and her sister Margaret were immortalised in stone in the Old Cemetery of Stirling as the Wigtown Martyrs. Her appearance there is surprising, as even Presbyterian histories did not contend that Agnes was drowned like her sister. She was, perhaps, part of a wave of Presbyterian female exemplars in the latter half of the nineteenth century that produced imagined female martyrs like Margaret Dun, Marion Cameron and Margaret Gracie.

Stirling Wigtown Martyrs Monument

The Martyrs’ Monument in Stirling Old Town Cemetery. Agnes Wilson (centre).© kim traynor and licensed for reuse.

However, within a couple years of the statue being erected, the whole edifice of the Wigtown Martyrs was under assault from Sheriff Mark Napier, who disputed that any women were executed at Wigtown. In a series of Flashmanesque attacks against his Presbyterian opponents, Napier used ‘the beautiful old story of Agnes Wilson’ in particular to undermine the Presbyterian case for the martyrdom of Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan. (Napier, History Rescued, cii-cvii.)

Mark Napier Historian
Sheriff Mark Napier

There is no doubt that Napier delivered a necessary historical corrective to a Presbyterian historiography that had buried itself under layer upon layer of tradition. Napier forced Presbyterian historians of the Killing Times to go back to the sources and justify their claims for martyrdom. However, Napier’s charge for historical veracity, spurred on by his neo-Jacobite zeal, carried him too far. He dismissed all the Presbyterian sources for the Killing Times as propaganda and fabrications, and would not accept them as evidence. He was a brilliant advocate for the defence, but he was no judge of History.

Agnes Wilson was a child swept up in a radical movement, the Society people, and the brutality of the Killing Times. When she was captured, her age was probably the most significant factor in how the case against her unfolded.

What do the sources say about the age of Agnes Wilson?
The Penninghame session record of 1711 states that her sister, Margaret, was eighteen, her brother, Thomas, sixteen and that she was thirteen years old. However, Cloud of Witnesses (1714) states that Margaret was twenty-three, Thomas about nineteen and that Agnes was fifteen. What the source of Cloud’s information was is not clear, but it was not Alexander Shields, who, in 1690, had stated that Margaret was ‘about twenty years of age’ at her death. The latter formulation of words also appears in Popery Reviving (1714). It does not mention Agnes or Thomas, but states that Margaret was ‘about twenty’, from which we may infer that Thomas was about sixteen to eighteen, and that Agnes was somewhere between twelve and fifteen years of age. Broadly, the sources indicate that Agnes was fifteen or younger and that her elder siblings were considered adults.

Agnes first appears on a list of parishioners compiled on 29 September, 1684. The list was designed to be used at the circuit court in Wigtown in October, by which all adults in the shire were expected to have taken the Test oath. It was drawn up by her local minister, James Colquhoun, ‘to furnish nominal Rolls of all persons, male or female, over the age of 12 years, resident within their respective parishes’ and to specifically indicate non-conformists. Agnes and both her older siblings appear at the bottom of the parish list as ‘withdrawers from the publick worship’.

The story of Agnes Wilson appears in two narrative sources, the Penninghame kirk session record of 1711 and Cloud of Witnesses of 1714. They tell a similar story of her flight and capture, but present different versions of her trial.

Her story also appeared in Wodrow’s History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland of 1722, but his version of the Agnes Wilson story does not advance our understanding of her, as it was synthesised out of the Penninghame record and Cloud of Witnesses.

The Penninghame record states that Gilbert Wilson, her father, was ‘harassed’ for the nonconformity of his children. ‘They being required to take the Test and hear the curates [in October, 1684,] refused both, were searched for, fled and lived in the wild mountains bogs and caves’.

Cloud states that Margaret, Thomas and Agnes ‘had been long driven from their father’s house, and exposed to ly in dens and caves of the earth, wandering through the mosses and mountains of Carrick, Nithsdale and Galloway’.

In both sources, Agnes fled with her siblings to the hills. While they were in hiding, they all missed the Abjuration court held in Penninghame parish in January, 1685, at which the inhabitants of the parish were required to take the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ war of assassinations. The oath was to be taken by everyone aged sixteen and over. Only Margaret and Thomas met the age qualification for the oath. Agnes, who was fifteen, or younger, was too young to take it.

After the failure of Margaret and Thomas to take the oath, they officially became fugitives. Becoming a declared fugitive meant that anyone who willingly assisted them risked severe punishment. Agnes, who may have previously been sought for her nonconformity, was not a fugitive for failing to take the Abjuration. However, after the Abjuration court, she was potentially guilty of helping her fugitive siblings evade justice.


According to the Penninghame record, at some point in February, while ‘Thomas [Wilson was] keeping the mountains his two sisters Margaret and Agnes went secretly to Wigtown to see some friends’. They were discovered, taken prisoner, and instantly thrust into the Thieves hole. The two sisters were later moved into the tolbooth.

Cloud states that when Margaret and Agnes ‘secretly’ went to Wigtown, specifically to visit Margaret McLachlan, that they were taken by Baillie Patrick Stewart ‘who under colour of friendship, having invited her and her sister to drink with him offered them the King’s health, and upon their refusal of it, as not warranted in God’s word, and contrary to Christian moderation, went presently out and informed against them;’

Baillie Stewart was only doing his job. A loyal member of the burgh elite, he had subscribed a pledge along with Provost William Coltraine to suppress dissent in the burgh and raise supply for the government in October, 1684. (Morton, Galloway and the Covenanters, 216.)

After Margaret failed Stewart’s simple loyalty test, both she and Agnes were imprisoned. Margaret was not from Wigtown parish and when she appeared in the burgh she did not have a testificate, or pass, that proved that she had taken the Abjuration oath, as she had evaded the oath. A testificate of having taken the Abjuration was required to travel outside of the oath taker’s home parish. Margaret was from Penninghame parish, not Wigtown parish. After capture, she would have immediately faced questions over whether she had taken the oath. Once their identities were established, it would have become clear that both Margaret and Agnes were of interest to the authorities and the siblings of a fugitive brother.

Witch Trial

The Wigtown Trial of 13 April
It is with the accounts of their trial on 13 April that the two narrative sources diverge.

The Penninghame record claims that Agnes underwent trial and faced the same charges as Margaret:

‘After their imprisonment for some considerable tyme’ an assize was called and ‘Indicted these three women viz, Margaret McLachlan Margaret Wilson Agnes Wilson to be guilty of rebellion at Bothwell Bridge, Airds Moss, twenty field conventicles and twenty house conventicles.’

The indictment against them was almost certainly the standard treason charge levelled against all who refused the Abjuraton oath, that accused defendants of many treasonable activities done in the Societies name since 1679, rather than specifying their individual crimes. The Penninghame record chose, somewhat pointlessly, to dispute the indictment:

‘yet it was well known that none of these women ever were within twenty miles of Bothwell Bridge [in 1679] or Airds Moss [in 1680] and Agnes Wilson being eight years of age the tyme of Airds Moss, could not be deep in the rebellion then, nor her sister of thirteen years of age and twelve years at Bothwell bridges tyme.’

The Penninghame session’s naive understanding of the indictment diverts attention away from the reality that the women were accused of treason for refusing to take the Abjuration oath.

It is very doubtful that Agnes faced that indictment, as she was not age to have failed the Abjuration oath. Nonetheless, the Penninghame record presses on:

‘The Assize did sitt and brought them in guilty and those judges sentenced them, To be tyed to palisades fixed in the sand, within the flood mark of the sea, and there to stand till the flood overflowed them and drowned them. They received their sentence without the least discouragement with a composed smiling countenance judging it their honour to suffer for Christs Truth, that he is alone King and Head of his church.’

It is at this point, after conviction, that the Penninghame record reveals that Agnes was released:

‘Gilbert Wilson got his youngest daughter Agnes Wilson out of Prison upon the bond of ane hundreth pound sterling, to produce her when called for, after the sentence of death passed against her; but was obliged to go to Edinburgh for this before it could be obtained.’

Cloud of Witnesses tells a different story about Agnes at the trial. It is emphatic that Agnes was ‘dismissed, as being fifteen years of age, upon her father’s paying a hundred pounds sterl. for her ransom;’

Can the two accounts be reconciled? The issue of whether Agnes was both convicted and sentenced to drowning divides the two narrative sources. In simple terms, it is a matter of the timing of when the case against Agnes was dismissed. It seems improbable that Agnes faced the same indictment as her sister, as she was too young to have faced the Abjuration oath and could not, then, have refused it. She was clearly brought before the assize, but it is likely that the judges, Sir Robert Greirson of Lag, David Graham and Captain Strachan, quickly dismissed the case against her for ‘being fifteen years of age’ and ordered her liberated once her father, Gilbert, produced a bond of £100 Sterling that agreed to her future conduct of living in a regular fashion, attending church and to produce her if she was called back by the court. The Penninghame record uses the technical term that she would be released ‘upon the bond of ane hundreth pound sterling, to produce her when called for’. Cloud uses the very loaded term ‘her ransom’ for the bond, but that clearly meant that she was to be liberated when the bond was produced.

Liberation under bond was the sentence given to Agnes, not death by drowning. The Penninghame record is clumsily framed on that point. Whether it intentionally sought to mislead is an open question.

Whatever was the case, the Penninghame record is almost certainly wrong that Agnes was sentenced to drowning and then released under bond. Cloud of Witnesses is correct that any treason case against her was dismissed and that she was liberated under bond. That did not mean that Agnes was not guilty of crimes of dissent or assisting fugitives, it meant that the court knew she was not guilty of treason for refusing the Abjuration, as she was too young to have taken the oath, and was lenient due to her age on the issue of her assisting her sister evade justice. In comparison to Margaret Maxwell, who was brought before the same assize and ordered scourged through the streets, Agnes Wilson got off lightly.

Although the Penninghame record has obvious flaws as a source, it does briefly record information that casts an unexpected light on the Wigtown case. It claims that Gilbert Wilson, ‘was obliged to go to Edinburgh for this [bond] before it could be obtained.’

That raises two issues. First, why did Gilbert have to go to Edinburgh for a bond? And second, how long did it take Gilbert to obtain the bond?

The bond, equivalent to £1,200 Scots, was quite a sum, even for a relatively well-off sheep farmer like Gilbert. It is clear that he was faced with financial pressures, which probably began well before the trial when two of his children failed to take the Abjuration. As the Penningham session recorded those pressures in the last paragraph of the account, it is difficult to know how they interrelate with Gilbert’s attempts to obtain a bond:

‘Gilbert Wilson was fined [perhaps meaning the bond?] for the Opinion of his children, harassed with frequent quarterings of souldiers upon him [probably after Margaret and Thomas failed to take the Abjuration] sometymes ane hundreth men at once, who lived at discretion on his goods and that for severall years together and his frequent attendance on the courts at Wigtown almost every week at Thirteen miles distance for three years tyme; [c.1685 to 1687?] riding to Edinburgh [to obtain the bond for Agnes?] on these accounts so that his losses could not be reckoned; and estimat to be (without doubt) not within Five Thousand Merks [i.e, £3,333 Scots or £278 Sterling];’

Gilbert’s predicament gives the impression that he and hs wife found themselves isolated from support, even within their home parish. To obtain a bond for Agnes required others with wealth to take the risk of backing it. Clearly, no one in Wigtown or Penninghame parish at that time was willing, or at least publicly willing, to put their names and money to the bond. Until the bond was produced, Agnes would have remained in prison. The Penninghame record bluntly states that Gilbert had to go to Edinburgh to obtain it.

That raises the issue of how long Agnes remained in Wigtown’s tolbooth after the trial of 13 April. Gilbert clearly faced the dilemma that one of his daughters, Margaret, was sentenced to death by drowning and was refusing to take the Abjuration oath to save her life. At the same time, his younger daughter, Agnes, was also in the tolbooth, but she could not be liberated until the bond was produced. We do not know which course of action Gilbert prioritised, but any journey to Edinburgh, a round trip of approximately 220 miles, and the negotiation of a bond, would have taken up to a week. It is reasonably clear that Agnes spent at least a week with her sister in the tolbooth after the trial. She was there on 15 April, when Wigtown’s hangman agreed to return to work in the tolbooth. She may have been there when Margaret McLachlan petitioned the council from the tolbooth prior to 28 April. If one allows for the journey time of that petition to Edinburgh, then it must have been composed prior to 26 April, i.e., at the most, 13 days after the trial. Whether Agnes was there until he sister departed the tolbooth, either to be drowned, or be released, is not known.

What happened to Agnes Wilson after her release is not known. The Penninghame record of 1711 mentions that her father, Gilbert, ‘died in great poverty lately a few years hence’. Gilbert was alive in 1695 when he appeared on the Hearth Tax roll for Wigtownshire under Glenvernoch:

‘Gilbert Wilson in Glenvernoch
William Douglas th[e]r[e]’

Both men were also recorded there in the 1684 parish list.

In 1711, the Penninghame record states that her mother, Jonet McIlwain, was ‘a very aged woman [and] lives upon the charity of friends’. It also records that her brother, Thomas, was then in Glenvernoch and ‘lives to certify the truth of these things’. However, it is completely silent on the fate of Agnes Wilson.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Wigtown Martyrs: Who Condemned the Women to Drown in 1685?

•June 13, 2015 • 4 Comments

Witch Trial

Sir Robert Grierson of Lag is notorious in later tradition as a persecutor in the Killing Times of 1685. Many stories revolve around him in Dumfries and Galloway. He was a sheriff in two shires, Dumfries and Kirkcudbrightshire, and was particularly active in repression in the latter. However, Lag was also involved in a trial in Wigtownshire, which appears to lie out with his jurisdiction. The trial in question was that of the Wigtown martyrs, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, who were condemned to death by drowning for refusing the Abjuration oath. It is the most hotly debated case in the Killing Times. Why was Lag present in the Wigtown court? And who sat alongside him in the court?

The accusation that Lag condemned the two women is found in almost every Presbyterian source. His probable involvement in their trial is also confirmed in official government sources. Even extreme sceptics of the Wigtown case admit that there was a trial and that the women were condemned. However, they argue that the women were not drowned, as official government sources indicate that the women received a reprieve. There is no doubt that the first stage in a reprieve was granted to them, but from that point on, the sceptics’ argument hangs on the charge that the later Presbyterian sources for the drowning of the women are inconsistent fabrications.

How reliable are the Presbyterian sources about a point that all sides in the historical debate agree on, that there was a trial? In particular, how reliable and consistent are they on the question of who condemned the women?

If the evidence demonstrates that they were reasonably consistent in the accuracy of their identification of the judges, then the debate has to move away from the simplistic view that the Presbyterian sources are complete fabrications. If they got that right, what else did they get right?

It is absolutely clear that the early Presbyterian sources did not use the government records of who was commissioned to sit in the court as the basis of their identification of the judges, as those documents were first published by Wodrow in the 1720s.

Let us begin with the most surprising judge connected with the Wigtown trial, Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, as the court took place outside of his usual jurisdiction.

The Jurisdiction of Lag
Andrew Symson, the minister of Kirkinner parish, gives a snapshot of Lag’s western domain in Kirkcudbrightshire in his Large Description of Galloway of 1684. In it he explains that Lag fulfilled the role of the hereditary sheriff of the shire, as the Steward of Kircudbrightshire, William Maxwell, fifth earl of Nithsdale (b.1676), was a minor. Nithsdale’s father had died in 1683.

Symson explains that Lag held his head court in Kirkcudbright and lists the 28 parishes in the shire over which he presided. One of the parishes where he had jurisdiction was Minnigaff parish, which sits on the eastern boundary of Wigtownshire. (Symson, A Large Description of Galloway, 32.)

Minnigaff parish lay in a curious situation. Although it was part of Kirkcudbrightshire and subject to Lag as sheriff, it was, for several practical administrative purposes, part of Wigtownshire. Symson explains:

‘though lying within the bounds of the Stewartrie of Kirkcudburgh, and subject to the Stewart thereof [i.e., Lag], of which more hereafter, yet it belongs both to the Presbytry and Commissariot of Wigton, by reason that it is eighteen miles distant from the town of Kirkcudburgh, and the way not very good ether, when as it is but six miles from Wigton, and that excellent good way, both winter and summer. And it is also most fit it should belong to the Commissariot of Wigton, because having a weekly mercat in it, which is for the most part supplyed by people dwelling in that Commissariot, those people who supply that mercat with meal, malt, &c. would be put to excessive trouble, should they be necessitat to pursue their debitors, which often happens, before the Stewart [i.e., Lag], for small summs at so great a distance.’ (Symson, A Large Description of Galloway, 29-30.)

In October, 1684, Symson took part in a process that highlights how integrated Minnigaff parish was into Wigtownshire. In that month, he and the other ministers of Wigtownshire drew up lists of their parishioners for the use of a court held in Wigtown that dealt with Presbyterian dissenters. The minister of Minnigaff also drew up a list of parishioners, copies of which appear to have been held with the Wigtonshire lists, probably because Minnigaff parish was part of the presbytery of Wigtown.

That practical measure reflected the reality of where fugitives hid. When those who hid fugitives were summoned to appear before a circuit court in late 1684, they were brought before the head courts of their respective shires in Wigtown and Kirkcudbright. Key examples of that practice are those summoned from the adjoining parishes of Penninghame, in Wigtownshire, and Minnigaff, in Kirkcudbrightshire. However, when those summons are looked at in detail, it is clear that the hidden fugitives, rather than those summoned for reset or converse with them, frequently moved across the shire boundary between the two parishes. Fugitives were a cross-boundary problem between the two shires.

It may have been those cross-boundary issues that led the privy council, on occasion, to lift the jurisdictional boundary between the shires. In early 1685, they did just that.

In January of that year, the privy council appointed five commissioners to press the Abjuration oath in both Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, i.e., all of Galloway. They were

Alexander Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure,
Robert Grierson of Lag,
Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon,
Sir Godfrey McCulloch of Myreton,
and Mr David Graham, sheriff-depute of Galloway,

The same Galloway pattern was followed by the council in their sweeping commission to Colonel James Douglas of 27 March to 20 April, 1685. It empowered the same judges to sit in courts wherever Douglas decided to hold one in Galloway:

Alexander Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure,
Robert Grierson of Lag,
Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon,
Sir Godfrey McCulloch of Myreton,
and ‘Mr. David Graham Sheriff[-depute] of Galloway’

However, the commission to Douglas also gave the justiciary powers to military officers, either based in, or partially based in, Galloway. They were

Captain John Strachan and Lieutenant John Livingstone of Strachan’s Troop of Dragoons, Captain-lieutenant Thomas Winram and Cornet John Baillie of Dalyell’s Troop of Dragoons, and Captain-lieutenant Alexander Bruce of Murray’s Troop of Dragoons.

What makes the list of judges and officers commissioned under Douglas of particular importance for the Wigtown case, is that the court of 13 April, which sentenced the two female Wigtown martyrs to death by drowning, was composed of some of the judges drawn from that list.

There is no doubt that the Wigtown case is the most contentious in the historical debate over the Killing Times. The controversy surrounding it is not due the lack of evidence, as the Wigtown case is one of the best recorded events in the Killing Times. It is the interpretation and reliability of that evidence that is in dispute. In particular, sceptics argue that the Presbyterian sources, which are nearly the only sources that claim that they were drowned, cannot be relied on.

All participants in the historical debate agree that a court was held in Wigtown. From the above, it is clear which judges one would expect to find sitting in the court that tried the Wigtown Martyrs. How do the Presbyterian accounts stand up when compared to the shortlist of possible judges found in the government sources?

Lieut Gen Douglas

Colonel James Douglas

1. A Short Memorial, 1690.
In 1690, Alexander Shields accused,

Colonel James Douglas,
Robert Grierson of Lag
and ‘Captain Winram’
of having ‘most illegally condemned, and most inhumanly drowned’ the Wigtown martyrs.

It is not clear from Shields’ text if all of those listed took part in both the trial and the summary execution.

The court was held under the powers granted to Colonel James Douglas. However, the weight of evidence suggests that Douglas was probably not present in the court and was not at the drowning. If Douglas had been at the court, he almost certainly would have presided over it, as he held a senior commission to all the other judges.

Did Douglas play a different role in the process? Douglas was in the area on several occasions before the April trial. Before he had arrived in Galloway, he had boasted that he and his men would succeed in quelling the violence in Galloway that his rival, John Graham of Claverhouse, had failed to do at the end of 1684. However, Douglas’s campaign did not go to plan. In late January, 1685, Douglas was nearly assassinated by Society people at Caldons in Glen Trool, Minnigaff parish. The killing of Captain Adam Urquhart in the same incident almost certainly led to severe repression in the area, as the hunt for those, either suspected of responsibility for his death, or who had sheltered the assassins, would have been intensive. Soon after, or on 11 May, Douglas ordered the summary field execution of Adam MacQuhan in Kells parish. In March, he was on the boundary of Wigtownshire where he raided the house of John Macgill at Arecleoch and allegedly conducted a mock execution to obtain unspecified intelligence. In that context, finding anyone who had evaded the Abjuration oath, which was pressed in the area in January and February, would have been a priority, as the oath renounced the Societies’ war of assassinations against their persecutors. In the wake of the Wigtown court, Douglas and his troops were at New Galloway on 11 May.

It was against that backdrop that the Wigtown court met to deal with the prisoners taken in the shire since January. Among them were the two women, who had both evaded and refused to take the Abjuration oath.

There is little doubt that Douglas played a role in convening the Wigtown court, as his commission granted him ‘full Power to him to call Courts at such Times and Places as he shall find expedient’. It was up to Douglas as to where and when courts met before his commission ended on 20 April. Ultimately, it was Douglas who decided that there would be a court at Wigtown on 13 April, even though he was not personally present in the court room. He would also have been responsible for ordering troops to guard the court and appointing court officers.

What about the other people identified by Shields? Robert Grierson of Lag was certainly commissioned under Douglas to sit in a court in Galloway and is mentioned in every presbyterian account of the trial.

The listing by Shields of a ‘Captain Winram’ raises a number of problems. The only Captain Winram who received a judicial commission under Douglas was Captain-lieutenant Thomas Winram of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons.

However, all the later evidence suggests that ‘Major Winram’, i.e., Captain ‘Major’ George Winram, also of the Dragoons, was in the area and conducted the summary execution of the women.

George Winram was an experienced soldier who held the rank of major through his previous service abroad. He only received his captaincy in the dragoons after the trial of 13 April, as he was appointed to replace Captain John Inglis immediately after a humiliating attack on Newmilns Tower in late April, 1685.

It is possible that Captain-lieutenant Thomas Winram sat on the court in Wigtown on 13 April, but it is clear that Major George Winram is the one who is said to have conducted the summary execution of the women, probably on 11 May.

We can be sure that the ‘Major Winram’ mentioned in the other Presbyterian sources was not Thomas Winram, as he never attained the rank of major. Thomas Winram had been a lieutenant since 1679 and was promoted to Captain-lieutenant on 11 May, 1683. He retained that rank until he retired in October, 1685, to become manager of the invalid stock. He died in November, 1688. (Dalton, Scots Army, 106, 107n.)

It is almost certain that the ‘Captain Winram’ mentioned by Shields is Captain “Major” George Winram and that he was recorded for his part in carrying out the drownings, rather than sitting as a trial judge.

As we shall see, where some, and only some, of the Presbyterian sources appear to be at their weakest, is when they seem to identify Captain “Major” George Winram as one of those present in the court. It appears that some sources rolled George Winram’s later execution of the sentence into the description of who sat in the court when the women’s death sentence was passed.

2. The Penninghame Kirk Session Record, 1711.
In February, 1711, the kirk session in Penninghame stated that

Robert Grierson of Lag,
David Graham,
Captain John Strachan
and ‘Major Winram’,
‘called ane assize’ to condemn the women.

All of the above, with the exception of ‘Major Winram’, are listed on the commission to Douglas. As discussed above, Captain ‘Major’ George Winram could not have been present at the trial.

3. The Kirkinner Kirk Session Record, 1711.
In April, 1711, the kirk session of Kirkkinner parish recorded that Margaret McLachlan was ‘sentenced by Sir Robert Grier[son], of Lagg, to be drowned at a stake within the flood-mark just below the town of Wigtown’.

While the kirk session record mentioned Robert Grierson of Lag, it did not record Winram. It only recorded that one of Wigtown’s town officers had drowned McLachlan by holding her under the water with a halberd.


4. Cloud of Witnesses, 1714.
In 1714, Cloud of Witnesses discussed their martyrdom. It named several individuals as having taken part in the trial. They were

Robert Grierson of Lag,
‘Colonel Mr David Graham’,
Captain John Strachan,

It also mentions that Wigtown’s ‘Provost [William] Cultron’ [of Drummoral], ‘commanded them to receive their sentence on their knees, which they refusing, were pressed down by force, till they received it’. At first, through its use of ‘and Provost Cultron’ at the end of the list of names it appears that the Provost was a judge in the court. However, Provost Coltraine was not commissioned to do so. He was probably present at the court, perhaps in some other function such as the doomster who pronounced sentence. Douglas’s commission granted him ‘full power’ to appoint any court ‘and then and there to create Clerk, Sergeants, Dempsters [i.e., doomsters], and other Members of Court needful’.

It appears that Provost William Coltraine was appointed as an officer in the court by the authority of Douglas.

It is worth noting that Coltraine’s intervention came when the condemned were receiving their sentence, i.e., immediately after the court found them guilty and when their doom was pronounced. His order that they receive their sentence on their knees is a reflection of the fact that he and his fellow members of Wigtown’s council are recorded as having taken the Test oath on their knees on 19 September, 1684:

‘The qlk Day, the haill Magistrats councell and clerk have taiken the test vpon their kneyes, conform to acts of parlia[men]t. and councell maid yranent except only provest Clugstoun and Antony M’Clure, who are not present, and are to talk the same befoir they officiate.’ (Morton, Galloway and the Covenanters, 220.)

The order Coltraine gave to the women to receive their sentence on their knees was a direct order for them to acknowledge royal authority. The women were forced to comply.

One other minor problem with the list in Cloud is that David Graham is listed as ‘Colonel Mr David Graham’. In 1685, Graham was a sheriff in Galloway and received his judicial commission on that basis He also served in his brother’s, John Graham of Claverhouse’s, troop of horse as a cornet, the most junior rank of officer. It is possible that David Graham’s listing as a ‘colonel’ is a typesetting error for ‘cornet’ unless the title refers to a post Revolution rank in the Jacobite forces. Graham had been appointed as quartermaster to Claverhouse’s troop on 25 December, 1682, and promoted to cornet on 21 February, 1684. He remained with the troop through the period of the trial to the Revolution. One of the last acts of King James VII was raise Graham to the rank of major on 7 December, 1688, a considerable promotion given that Graham had not been a captain. He fought at Killiecrankie, became the third Viscount Dundee in December, 1689, and a Jacobite exile. (Dalton, Scots Army, 111, 112n, 135, 143.)

Popery Reviving 1714

4. Popery Reviving, 1714.
Popery Reviving, a pamphlet published in 1714, states that ‘the Sentence of Death was passed against them’ at the assize ‘by Sir Robert Grierson of Lag’.

It also mentions that dragoons led by ‘Major Winram’ carried out the sentence some time later.

Daniel Defoe

5. Daniel Defoe, 1717.
In 1717, Daniel Defoe does not mention the judges, but does say that the women ‘were cruelly murthered by some Men belonging to [Sir Robert] Grierson of Lag,’. The implication of that is that Winram, his men and town officers were acting on the orders of Lag, who had sentenced the women.

6. Wodrow’s History of the Sufferings, 1721-22.
Wodrow largely based his account on the kirk session records of 1711, but when it came to the list of judges he compounded together the list found in Cloud of Witnesses with that in the Penninghame session record.

Wodrow states that:

‘Jointly with Margaret M’Lauchlan, or M’Lauchlison, these two young sisters [Margaret and Agnes Wilson], after many methods were taken to corrupt them, and make them swear the oath now imposed, which they steadily refused, were brought to their trial before the laird of Lagg, colonel David Graham sheriff, major Windram, captain Strachan, and provost Cultrain, who gave all the three an indictment for rebellion’.

Wodrow’s list was closely modelled on that in Cloud of Witnesses of 1714, which omitted Winram:

‘being sentenced to death for their non-complyance with prelacy, and refusing to swear the oath of abjuration by the laird of Lagg, Captain Strachan, Colonel Mr. David Graham, and Provost Cultron, who commanded them to receive their sentence on their knees, which they refusing, were pressed down by force, till they received it:’

The list in the Penninghame kirk session of 1711 was in a different order, omitted Provost Willim Coltraine and added George Winram:

‘After their imprisonment for some considerable tyme Mr David Graham Sheriff, the Laird of Lagg, Major Winram, captain Strachan called ane assize Indicted these three women’.

7. Patrick Walker, 1727
Walker does not list the judges, but he does mention the involvement of Robert Grierson of Lag, apparently at their execution.

8. The Graves of Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, before 1730.
The inscriptions on the two gravestones to the Wigtown Martyrs, which were erected in the early eighteenth century and are unusual in correcting Shields’ text, both state that they were sentenced to die by

Robert Grierson of Lag
David Graham,
Captain John Strachan,
and ‘Winrame’

9. The ‘Petition to be presented to the Parliament against Sir Robert Grierson of Lagge’, c.1724 to 1733.
The final potential source for the judges in the trial is an alleged petition apparently sent, or intended to be sent, to Westminster, perhaps between 1724 to 1733. The latter date was the year of Grierson of Lag’s death. It is not clear if the petition is a historical document or a hoax, as it was first recorded in 1861 and the original of it has, so far, not been traced.

It claimed that ‘Sir Robert [Grierson of Lag], after he had apprehended two women to wit, Margaret Lauchlison and Margaret Wilson — upon no other account but for alleged nonconformity, did, without any conviction or sentence, cause bind them to a stake within the sea-mark’ where they were drowned in May, 1685.

If the document ever existed, it is fairly generic in tone. However, it does, once again, place Lag at the trial.

The evidence of the Presbyterian sources is fairly consistent in identifying those who sat in the Wigtown court: Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, presided, alongside Sheriff-depute David Graham and Captain John Strachan, who commanded nearby garrisons and whose men probably guarded the court.

Those identifications are consistent with those commissioned under Douglas.

The commission to Douglas required that only three judges be present at any of his courts. It stated that ‘in your Absence, any Three of them’ were ‘to follow such Directions and Instructions as they shall from you receive’. The Presbyterian sources consistently identify three judges. It appears that the Presbyterian sources correctly identified the three judges.

Colonel James Douglas was almost certainly absent from the court, but it certainly met both under his authority and at his direction.

Provost Willian Coltraine was probably involved in the as a court officer appointed by Colonel Douglas.

Captain ‘Major’ George Winram was not a judge in the court. His part in carrying out  the sentence of the court on 11 May came after the commission to Douglas had expired. Winram probably carried out the sentencce at the direction of the presiding sheriff, Robert Grierson of Lag.

The other three judges commissioned were probably not present and were not required to meet the hurdle in the commission for holding a court in the absence of Colonel Douglas.

1. Alexander Gordon, Viscount of Kenmure (d.1698).
Kenmure’s appearance at the top of the list of those commissioned would appear to indicate that he would have been the president at the court. However, the Presbyterian sources do not claim that he was there. Instead, they appear to indicate that Lag presided over the court. It appears that Kenmure did not sit in the court.

2. Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon (d.c.1686),
The house at Baldoon had sheltered Presbyterian fugitives in 1679. Dunbar also held the farm at Glengap inTwynholm parish, which had been the home of David Halliday, who was shot near the farm in 1685. At this remove, it is not possible to ascertain whether Dunbar sheltered fugitives in the mid 1680s, or aided in their capture. Whatever he did, he appears to have been consistently commissioned by the Restoration regime.

3. Sir Godfrey McCulloch of Myreton (Executed 1697)
Myretoun, who lived in Wigtownshire, had a terrible reputation in the shire. He frequently clashed with the Gordon family, who had presbyterian sympathies, and was accused of being a Catholic. He was eventually executed for killing William Gordon, the uncle of Elizabeth Gordon, Lady Castle Stewart, in 1697. If Myreton had sat in the Wigtown court, he almost certainly would have been named by the Presbyterian sources, which nearly all post date 1697, as they had every reason to include him. If the presbyterian sources were fabrications, as some claim, then they failed to take the obvious opportunity of placing Myreton at the court.

One final thought. What makes the accusations against Lag in particular interesting, is that he was alive when all the Presbyterian sources were published or erected in kirkyards. If the Presbyterian sources were cases of defamation, i.e., fabricated his role in the drowning of the women, why did Lag keep silent?

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Wigtown Martyrs: The Record of Kirkinner Kirk Session, April, 1711

•June 10, 2015 • 2 Comments

On 15 April, 1711, the kirk session of Kirkinner parish recorded the story of their local martyr, Margaret McLachlan:

‘Margaret Laughlison, of known integrity and piety from her youth, aged about 80, widow of John Milliken, wright in Drumjargan, was, in or about the year of God, 1685, in her own house, taken off her knees in prayer, and carried immediately to prison, and from one prison to another without the benefit of light to read the Scriptures; was barbarously treated by dragoons, who were sent to carry her from Mahirmore to Wigtown; and being sentenced by Sir Robert Grier, of Lagg, to be drowned at a stake within the flood-mark just below the town of Wigtown, for conventicle keeping and alleged rebellion was, according to the said sentence, fixed to the stake till the tide made, and held down within the water by one of the town-officers by his halbert at her throat till she died.’ (Reproduced in Morton, Galloway and the Covenanters, 424.)

In October, 1684, McLachlan lived at Drumjargon in Kirkinner parish.

Map of Drumjargon

In the spring of 1685, she was taken at her house at Drumjargon. She appears to have been taken in a sweep by the dragoons through the area in the psrring of 1685, as she is described as being taken from prison to prison.

Machermore Castle

Machermore Castle © Chris Newman and licensed for reuse.

At some point, her captors brought to ‘Mahirmore’, i.e., Machermore Castle, the former home of the forfeited laird, Patrick Dunbar, younger, of Machermore, in Minigaff parish, Kirkcudbrightshire. Machermore, then a sixteenth-century tower house set among fir trees, lay across the River Cree from Penninghame parish in Wigtownshire. The castle was almost certainly being used as a garrison. In the summer of 1685, some time after McLachlan was held there, Gilbert McIlroy and William McIlroy were possibly held at the castle, as they were described as being kept prisoner at Minnigaff.

Map of Machermore Castle

McLachlan’s imprisonment at Machermore in the spring of 1685 highlights that the garrison there predated the arrival of Major Winram’s dragoons in the area, as they were quartered at Baldoon and around Wigtown. Baldoon lay in McLachlan’s home parish of Kirkinner. If the area had been quartered when she was captured, it would have made more sense for her captors to have held her there, in the vicinity of Wigtown, rather than taking her further north and across the River Cree to Machermore.

From Machermore, a party of dragoons brought her to Wigtown, where she was handed over to the civil authorities.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine