‘A most obstinate and malicious person’: Robert Garnock, the Covenanters and the Croune of London
Robert Garnock was one of the most unusual Covenanters executed in the early 1680s because he was a prisoner for over two years before his death. He also led a campaign to reject the peace agreed after the Bothwell Rebellion which was in part responsible for the deaths of two hundred Covenanters…
Garnock was a hammerman, or blacksmith, from Stirling. In 1681 he was between 20 to 30 years old, as he had been baptised by the Rev. James Guthrie, the minister of Stirling who was executed in 1661. (Howie, Lives of the Scottish Covenanters, 396.)
A regular at field preachings, he was radicalised a year before the Bothwell Rising. In August, 1678, he heard Richard Cameron and John Kid preached at a communion in Maybole parish and a few days later, after attending a meeting on the borders of Kilmarnock parish, Garnock turned against the indulgences and all compliance with the Restoration regime. (Howie, Lives, 399.)
On 18 May, 1679, he was present at the Rev. Archibald Riddell’s field preaching near the ‘Crags of Ballglass’ in the Campsie Fells that was attacked by troops. (A typographic error in Howie’s first edition of Scots Worthies missed out the ‘1’ of the date of the skirmish and printed it as ‘8’ rather than ‘18’. Howie, Lives, 400.)
Also present at Balglass were five of the assassins of Archbishop Sharp – James Russell in Kingskettle, David Hackston of Rathillet, John Balfour of Kinloch, John Balfour of Gilston and William Dingwall – who were in flight from the killing. (Kirkton, Secret History, 431-2.)
After the skirmish they fled to Arbuckle where they met with Donald Cargill.
Garnock also escaped after the skirmish, but he was captured on his return to Stirling. As a result, he missed the Presbyterian rising that erupted in the West. He was soon joined in prison by Covenanters who were taken at a skirmish at ‘Bewley’ (aka. ‘Bewly Bog’ or ‘Bewley Hill’) on 10 June. (M’Crie (ed.), Memoirs of Veitch, 283; Howie, Lives, 400.)
On 13 July, 1679, he and ‘about 100 more prisoners’ were marched to Edinburgh under a guard of ‘red coats’ and put in Greyfriars Kirkyard with over a thousand prisoners captured at the battle of Bothwell Bridge. (Howie, Lives, 400.)
To find the prison, go through the gate to Greyfriars Kirk and follow the path round the lefthand side of the kirk towards the back of the kirkyard. The Covenanters’ prison is to the left of the path and towards the back of the yard. The gate to it is usually locked.
Garnock in the Covenanters’ Prison
Soon after, all of the prisoners were offered the following bond of peace:
‘I being apprehended for being at the late rebellion; and whereas the lords of his majesty’s privy council, in pursuance of his majesty’s command, have ordained me to be set at liberty, I enacting myself to the effect underwritten: therefore I bind, oblige, and enact myself in the books of the privy council, that hereafter I shall not take up arms, without or against his majesty, or his authority. As witness my hand, &c.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 126.)
The bond of peace was effectively a kind of oath that renounced defensive arms and acknowledged the King’s authority. Bonds were not taken lightly in the seventeenth century, but for the defeated Bothwell rebels, taking the bond offered a way to be quickly released and avoid the potentially severe punishments of either long-term imprisonment, banishment to the colonies under forced indentured servitude or potential execution. The bond proved acceptable to the majority of the remaining prisoners, but, in a divisive stand, Garnock and ‘some’ others imprisoned in Greyfriars protested against it.
It is worth noting that only a few months earlier in the Bothwell Rising that some of the key militant presbyterian leaders, with the exception of David Hackstoun of Rathillet, agreed to John Welsh’s request that the Hamilton Declaration should acknowledge royal authority as far as it was lawful at a meeting on Hamilton Moor. In other words, Garnock and his compatriots agreed with Rathillet’s militant platform. At the same time as Garnock and others were articulating their militant views in Greyfriars, Rathillet was excluded from the communion table at the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam for similar extreme views. Between them, they laid the foundations for the militant platform which would influence Robert Hamilton, James Renwick and the United Societies. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, I, 34.)
According to Garnock:
‘Some of my neighbours desired the bond, so they put it to me, but I refused. However, the most part of them took it. Nay, there were some of them supplicated for any bond. This made some of us conclude it was our duty to testify against it; which piece of employment was put upon me, against which some of the prisoners obtested. So I was rendered odious: but many a day the Lord was kind to me in that yard, and kept me from many a fear and snare; his love was sweet unto me.’ (Howie, Lives, 401.)
It is not clear how many of the estimated 1,200 prisoners taken at the Battle of Bothwell Brig remained in Greyfriars yard when Garnock protested. Many of the prisoners either took the bond or escaped.
According to Wodrow:
The supplication for the bond was signed by near two hundred prisoners who were influenced by a letter from Mr George Johnston. (Wodrow, History, III, 129.)
‘When this petition is a signing among the prisoners, Robert Garnock … joined in a verbal protestation against such who were for supplicating the council. Robert … in the name of the rest signified to as many as would hear him, that he protested against what they were doing, and they resolved no longer to join with them in worship, since, as they conceived, they had denied the cause they had been appearing for, and materially had acknowledged their rising at Bothwell to be sinful.’
Garnock became the figurehead of the small group of militants who opposed to the bond. Their actions initiated a debate among the remaining prisoners and drew the ire of the privy council.
‘As soon as the accounts of this came to the managers, Robert Garnock was immediately carried from the Grayfriars to the iron-house, and put under great hardships, yea, it was resolved he should die. Several in the prisons of Edinburgh and Canongate joined in this protestation of his: and the confusion the prisoners were in, in the Grayfriars, from the hazard Robert was represented to be in, whereto, they reckoned they had been some kind of occasion, with some other concurring things, wrought so upon them, as more than a hundred resiled from the supplication, and sided with the dissenters.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 129-30.)
Garnock and some of his militant brethren where removed from the yard. According to Garnock:
‘The bloody crew came to the yard, and called on me, and asked if I would take the bond. I said, No. They said, I would get no other sentence.—So I was sore put to it:’
‘The men complained of us [Garnock and his fellow protesters] to the commanders, who sent for me and examined me, on the bond and other things: they said, I should be gagged, and every day I was vexed with them, until almost the whole [remaining] prisoners petitioned for it. There was as good as seventy ministers sent into the yard to take it; and they said it was not a head to suffer upon: when they had done, they sent in two gentlewomen with the commission; and they set upon me: I told them, if every one of them had as much of it as I had, they would not be so busy to press it:‘
‘I would often have been at the doing of something; but the Lord would not suffer me. So, in his strength, I fought on against my own heart and them all, and overcame.’ (Howie, Lives, 401.)
Garnock and his militant brethren had scored a significant victory over the moderate presbyterian ministry and the regime by persuading a sizable proportion of the remaining prisoners to refuse the bond of peace. His prominence in the campaign against the bond brought him to the attention of the privy council.
The Hammerman vs. Hatton
‘I was brought out of the [Greyfriars] yard, October 25 [,1679], … So I was brought before the Council-court.’ (Howie, Lives, 401.)
Garnock specifically mentioned that he was interrogated by Charles Maitland, Lord Hatton, the brother of the Duke of Lauderdale. Hatton lived to the west of Edinburgh at Hatton House, which at the time was one of the most impressive houses in Scotland. Today, the house has mostly disappeared, but fragments of it remain off the A71.
The key aspect of Garnock’s defence was that he took no part in the rebellion and thus did not, in his view, have to take the bond of peace.
‘They asked, if I would take the bond? I said, No.
Some of them said, Maybe he does not know it; but [Charles Maitland, Lord] Hatton said, He knows it well enough. So one of them read it. I asked, if they would have me subscribe a lie to take away my life; for I never was in rebellion, nor intended to be so.
They said, they would make another bond for me. I answered, they needed not trouble themselves; for I was not designed to subscribe any bond at this time.
Q. “Will you rise in rebellion against the King?”
A. “I was not rising in rebellion against the King.”
Q. “Will you take the bond never to rise against the King and his authority?
A. “What is the thing ye call authority? They said, If they, the soldiers, or any other subject, should kill me, I was bound not to resist. I answered, ‘That I will never do.'”
Q. “Is the Bishop’s death murder?”
A. “I am a prisoner; and so no judge.”
Q. “Is Bothwell Bridge rebellion?”
A. “I am not bound to give my judgment in that.”
“Then one of them said, ‘I told you what the rebel rascal would say: you will be hanged, Sir.’
I answered, ‘you must first convict me of a crime.’
They said, ‘You did excommunicate prisoners for taking the bond.’
I said, ‘That was not in my power; and moreover, I am now before you, prove it if ye are able.’
They said, ‘They would hang me for rebellion.’
I said, ‘You cannot: for if you walk according to your own laws, I shall have my liberty.’
They said, ‘Should we give a rebellious knave, like you, your liberty? you should be hanged immediately.’
I answered, ‘That lies not yet in your power:’
So they caused quickly to take me away, and put me in the iron-house of the tolbooth.’ (Howie, Lives, 401-2.)
Garnock in the Tolbooth
‘So they brought me to the iron-house, to fifteen of my dear companions in tribulation; and there we were a sweet company, being all of one judgment. There serving the Lord, day and night, in singleness of heart, his blessing was seen amongst us; for his love was better than life. We were all with one accord trysted sweetly together: and O it was sweet to be in this company, and pleasant to those who came in to see us until the indictments came in amongst us. There were ten got their indictments. Six came off, and four got their sentence, to die at Magus Muir.’ (Howie, Lives, 402.)
The four prisoners in the Iron House with Garnock that were executed at Magus Muir were Thomas Brown in Edinburgh, Andrew Sword from Borgue parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, John Waddel in Shotts parish in Lanarkshire and James Wood in ‘Newmilns parish’, i.e., Loudoun parish, Ayrshire.
At around the same time, fifteen other prisoners were brought out of Greyfriars:
‘There were fifteen brought out of the [Greyfriars] yard, and some of them got their liberty offered, if they would witness against me. But they refused; so they got all their indictments; but all complied [i.e., took the bond of peace], save one, who was sentenced to die with the other four at Magus Muir.’
The latter was John Clyde in Kilbride, Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire, i.e., near East Kilbride.
Without any witnesses against Garnock or a legal basis for his execution, he did not share the five other prisoners fate. On 13 November, before the Magus Muir executions were carried out, ‘the intercession of some friends’ resulted in Garnock’s removal ‘to the west galleries on the other side of the tolbooth’, which was, presumably, a lesser form of confinement. (Howie, Lives, 402.)
Brown, Sword, Waddel, Wood and Clyde were executed at the site of Archbishop Sharp’s assassination on Magus Muir, St Andrews parish, Fife on 18 November. Details about their grave can be found here.
On 27 November, 240 prisoners who had followed Garnock’s lead and refused the bond of peace were banished aboard the Croune of London. The ship departed Leith Roads for Barbados, but it was wrecked amid a storm off Deerness, Orkney, on 10 December.
Garnock before the Privy Council Again.
Garnock was called before the Council for a second time on 18 December, 1679. On that occasion, they reported that:
‘Wee find that Robert Garnock, smith in Stirling, is a most obstinate and malicious person, who will neither enact himselfe not to take up armes, nor will he say that the Bishop’s murder was a murder, and excommunicat those of his neighbours who did enact themselves, and therefore that he continue in prison untill he be furder tryed’. (RPCS, VI, 356.)
He continued in prison.
Garnock and the Moderate Presbyterian Ministry
Garnock’s experiences in the Covenanters’ Prison had turned him against the moderate ministry: ‘I never knew the treachery of ministers, and their dreadful hypocrisy and double dealing in the matters of God, before that time, and I could never love them after that; for they made many one rack their conscience in taking that bond.’ (Howie, Lives, 401.)
While he remained in prison, he refused to hear the exercises of any moderate presbyterian ministers brought into the tolbooth until Archibald Riddell, the preacher at the conventicle above Fintry, was brought in.
According to Wodrow, Riddell was captured in September 1680 and imprisoned in Edinburgh tolbooth. He appeared before the privy council on 1 October and 8 December. Since the agreement of presbyterian ministry to cease field preaching after Bothwell, Riddell had restricted his preaching to house conventicles.
Riddell’s presence in the tolbooth from October until early December 1680 must coincide with Garnock’s conference with him According to Garnock:
“[Riddell] asked after my welfare; and if I was going out of prison? I told him, ‘I blessed the Lord for it, I was well, and was not going out yet.’ After some conversation anent field-preachings, particularly one by worthy Mr. [Richard] Cameron at [Swine Knowe in] Monkland [in May-June, 1680], which he condemned, he asked, Why I did not hear ministers? I answered, ‘I desire to hear none but what are faithful: for I am a prisoner, and would gladly be in the right way, not to wrong myself.’
He said, ‘Wherein are they unfaithful?’
I said, ‘In changing their head, quitting the Lord’s way, and taking on with covenant breakers, murderers of his people, &c.’
He said, ‘How can you prove that?’
I said, ‘Their practice proves it.’
He said, ‘That these were but failings; and did not perjure a man; and it is not for you to cast off ministers; you know not what you are doing.’
A. I do not cast them off; they cast off themselves, by quitting the holding of the ministry of Christ:
Q. How prove you that?
A. The 10th of John proves it: for they come not in by the door. You may put me wrong; but I think, that in Gal. i. 6. / marvel, that ye are so soon removed from him that called you, Sfc. you may read that at your leisure, how Paul had not his gospel from men, nor by the will of men. He said, ‘Lay by these: but what is the reason you will not hear others?’ I said, ‘ I desire to hear none of these gaping for the indulgence, and not faithful in preaching against it.'”
Speaking anent Messrs. Cameron and Cargill, this person then said to him, that the former was no minister, and the latter was once one, but had quitted it; and that they received their doctrines from men, their hearers, who said, “You must preach such and such doctrines, and we will hear you,”—to all which, Garnock gave pertinent answers.
“The minister then said, ‘Robert, do not think I am angry that you come not to hear me; for I desire not you, nor any of your faction, to come and hear me, for I cannot preach to all your humours.’ I said, it was all the worse for that. He said, none of these faults would cast off a minister: They were but failings, not principles. I said, I could not debate; but I should let any Christian judge, if it was no principle for a minister to hold Christ head of the church. I told him, that there was once a day I would have ventured my life at his back for the defence of Christ’s gospel; but not now: and I was more willing to lay down my life now, for its sweet and dear truths, than ever I was. He said, ‘the Lord pity and help thee.’ I said, I had much need of it. And so he went away, and rendered me odious.’
(Howie, Lives, 403-4.)
Riddell Condemns the Society people before the Council
Of particular interest are Riddell’s views on the Cargill and the Society people, which he expressed in his second appearance before the Council, as they highlight the divisions between the moderate presbyterian ministry and the militant Society people in late 1680. The following dialogue of Riddell’s interrogation (mainly by the earl of Linlithgow) comes from Wodrow:
‘[The earl of Linlithgow] Sir, the committee has been considering your condition, and do very much incline to show you favour, and to have you set at liberty. You see what a height of extravagances some people are risen unto now, that we are concerned to take notice of persons. Therefore, we would know of you, whether you approve the way of these who cast off the magistrate, or not?
[Riddell’s] Ans[wer]. I hope none questions me of being of such principles.
Linlithgow. However, we desire a declaration from your own mouth.
Riddell’s Ans. My lord, I do in all humility acknowledge the civil magistrate; I own the king’s majesty, the lords of his council, and this honourable committee, as such to whom I owe obedience, and to be subject in the Lord. I cannot deny but I am one of those who are against conformity in all the parts of it; but as for the civil magistrate, I may confidently say, both for myself and all true sober presbyterians in Scotland, that we desire to pay all due respect and homage unto him, and to be behind in nothing reasonable, called for at our hands. It is true, the distresses of that party from the magistrate, (for sad and lamentable have their afflictions been these years bygone) has extorted from them more complaining and resenting of the ruler’s carriage, than from others who have had more countenance and encouragement from authority; and, it may be, an exceeding of just bounds and limits. And from hence hath proceeded this woful evil of denying and casting at the whole magistracy and ministry in Scotland, maintaining the lawfulness of killing and cutting off the king, rulers, and all that do adhere to them, combining and covenanting to execute the same, excommunicating of them, and the own faces, and to charge grievous like, which is such an evil, as does naturally tend to the overturning all government, and subversion of human society, and does indeed open a door for every man to kill, and do whatsoever seemeth good in his own eyes, and pretend religion for it; which we desire to lament, if possible, in tears of blood, and, we judge, hath a language in it both to rulers and people, both to conformists and nonconformists; and it were no small mercy if we could hear the voice of this rod, which prognostics some strange thing to come; but I know no encouragement or obedience that we would willingly or wittingly deny to the magistrate, except when we are put to that strait, that we must either incur the displeasure of our prince or of our God; endeavouring so to carry, as no ground of complaint against us may be found, except it be in the matters of our God.
Justice clerk. Mr Riddel speaks of all the true and honest presbyterians, but how shall we know whom he means by them, since Cargill and his party call themselves so as well as Mr Riddel?
Ans. My lord, we would he glad to know what distinguishing character would he satisfying to you, to distinguish between the one and the other.
Justice clerk. I will name one: the murderers of the archbishop are conversing with you, are hid and entertained with you; if you would deliver up these persons to punishment, it would say you were not of their ways.
Ans. Does your lordship think that these persons converse with me, or such as me? they scar as much at us as any in the land.
Justice clerk. Now we hear they cast at you, but you have promoted that interest; for both James Skene [recently executed 1 December 1680] said before the justiciary, (when told that presbyterian ministers condemn them and their way,) that albeit they condemn them now, they owned nothing but what once they preached, and named Mr Riddel for one; and likewise one Harvey, the other day before us, when I asked her if she heard any minister preach such doctrine, told me she had heard both Mr Welsh and Mr Riddel preach so.
Ans. My lord, I do not think it strange that these persons say these things to your lordship, seeing they have the confidence to say as much in our ill things at their pleasure upon us; but I hope your lordships will little regard these sayings, considering two things, 1st, the great prejudice they have taken up against us, in so much that they would have us rooted out of the world, and stick not what they say or do for that end. 2dly, which I take to be the chief cause, the liberty they take in drawing consequences from our preachings. We preached to them the doctrine of repentance, they conclude they cannot be zealous enough against sin, except they disown, yea, cut off all they judge sinners, and then reckon that what we preached; but, my lord, I hope none will say that I ever preached these doctrines, which I ever judged destructive of the principles of nature.
Linlithgow. I think that must be the true reason.
Ans. My lord, there is no minister in Scotland that party will hear or own, but one.
To this one of the lords said, There are certainly more than one, there is [Donald] Cargill and [Thomas] Douglas.
Ans. I have not heard of Mr Douglas being in the kingdom of a long time.
One of them replied, He was in it lately [i.e., in mid 1680].
Ans. It is more than I knew of.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 200-1.)
The next day, Riddell was liberated, but under the conditions that he was confined to the precincts of his house, did not field preach and found caution of 10,000 merks. He was later imprisoned on the Bass Rock until he agreed to go into exile in America in 1685.
By the end of September, 1681, Garnock appears to have known that his next encounter with the Council would be his last. It was. Garnock was executed with David Farrie, Patrick Foreman, James Stewart and Alexander Russell on 10 October, 1681.
Details of the peculiar circumstances surrounding their execution will appear in a later post.
Additional Text © Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.