Edward Aitkin: Bad News Travels Fast


Edward Aitken (fl. 1682–1690)

From Abington in Crawfordjohn parish, Lanarkshire.

He is sometimes mistakenly referred to as Edward Atkins or George Atkin. Wodrow states he was of the ‘Abbey-town’ of Crawfordjohn. He was probably ‘Edward Atkin, younger in Abington village’, in Crawfordjohn parish, Lanarkshire, and was perhaps related to Edward Atkin in Netherton in the same parish. Both were declared fugitives by the circuit court at Glasgow on 12 June 1683 and are listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684.

Map of Abington

A delegate to the Societies’ fifth convention at Edinburgh on 12 October 1682, he subscribed a letter taken by James Renwick to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun in the United Provinces vindicating the Societies from charges made against them by James Russell.

He was also one of the ‘expectants’, meaning one of the Societies’ prospective students, who was taught Latin by Andrew Young in early 1683 in preparation for his studies in the United Provinces.

After the convention in Edinburgh in May 1683, he was sent with Gordon of Earlstoun to London and the United Provinces. Aitken travelled under the pseudonym of ‘Edward Livingstone’, allegedly as Earlstoun’s ‘guide and servant’. Aitken was almost certainly sent with Earlstoun to take up his studies in the United Provinces, as at the end of May, Renwick wrote to Robert Hamilton in Leeuwarden that ‘E[dward].A[itken]’ was coming to him with Earlstoun, but that he hoped Hamilton would not ‘meddle with J. N.’, meaning John Nisbit, another Societies’ prospective student who was involved in the Rye House Plots in London. Renwick seems to have approved of Aitken over Nisbet as a candidate for the ministry.

However, after Aitken and Earlstoun left Newcastle, they were captured abroad a ship off Tynemouth and returned to Newcastle on 2 June. Both were then returned to Edinburgh and brought before the Justiciary on 12 July. Aitken was found guilty of converse with Earlstoun and sentenced to be executed on 20 July 1683 at the Grassmarket. Aitken almost certainly knew about the Societies’ response to the Whig Lords behind the Rye House Plots, as he and Earlstoun were carrying the Societies’ letter to the ‘Confederators’ in London.

Fortunately for Aitken, he escaped before his execution could be carried out. He is probably mistakenly recorded as the ‘George Atkin’, a prisoner for high treason, who escaped with George Lapsley, Mr John Dick, Adam Philip and twenty-two other prisoners out of the Edinburgh Tolbooth on 16 September 1683.

According to Renwick, after his escape, Aitken’s ‘carriage in the public matters’ was ‘very hurtful to the cause, and in private very unchristian, opening mouths to reproach and blaspheme’. On 23 September 1683, Renwick wrote to Hamilton that Aitkin again intended to come to Hamilton in Leeuwarden and ‘follow his books’, but on this occasion, Renwick hoped that Hamilton would not ‘move on it, without the General Meetings advice’.

Renwick’s change of heart over Aitken was due to the information which Aitken had brought back to the Societies, that under interrogation, Earlstoun had not carried as ‘became a prisoner for truth’. Aitken was certainly under the impression that Earlstoun had offered to take the Test Oath, as after the Revolution, Earlstoun had to deny that he had offered to take the Test, revealed the Societies’ part in the Rye House Plots or the location of John Haddow’s house in London. Aitken’s forfeiture was rescinded by Act of Parliament in 1690.

Sources: Houston, Letters, 131, 141; Shields, FCD, 66, 372; Wodrow, History, III, 446, 463; IV, 15n; 489n, 502-3.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on August 20, 2010.

3 Responses to “Edward Aitkin: Bad News Travels Fast”

  1. […] refusing the Test. Lapsley was also was indicted with Mr John Dick, but he, Dick, Adam Philip and Edward Aitken, who were all prisoners for high treason, and twenty-two other prisoners managed to make a daring […]

  2. […] next two years, Philip was held in the Tolbooth until he escaped with John Dick, George Lapsley and Edward Aitkin. There is no further record of him, but after the Revolution his forfeiture was rescinded by an act […]

  3. […] on two further occasions before he made a dramatic escape with Mr John Dick, Adam Philips and Edward Aitkin in 1683. Lapsley fled to London, where he heard of the alleged poisoning of Charles II, and […]

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