The Attempted Assassination of Major Balfour at Glasgow in 1683


Major John Balfour of Mar’s Regiment of Foot commanded the garrison at Glasgow. He was later gained renown as a persecutor of the Society people. In late 1683, the Societies tried to assassinate him…

‘On the 3rd December 1683, some phanaticks at Glasgow make the attempt to kill Major [John] Balfour and some of the officers of the army lying ther. They are apprehended, and wildlie condemne all other churches, even the Scots on[e] of fugitives at Rotterdam, as not pure eneugh. The Privy Counsell sends a commission to 4, at Glasgow, to judge them their; viz. [William,] the Lord Ross, Lieutenant Collonell [John] Winrahame, &c.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 113.)

Although Balfour became known as a persecutor, it appears that the alleged assassination attempt preceded most of his notorious deeds.

Those who allegedly attempted the assassination of Major John Balfour and the other officers were plainly Society people, as they condemned the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam.

The Societies had for some time been considering a protest against their former Presbyterian brethren at Scots Kirk in Rotterdam for their hostility towards James Renwick’s ordination. At the tenth convention at Cairntable in Ayrshire on 1 August, 1683, the Societies had commissioned Robert Hamilton to draft a protest against the Scots Kirk in Rotterdam for consideration by the eleventh convention at Darmead. After Hamilton’s draft of the protest did not appear at the Darmead convention, Michael Shields alleges that the Societies then drafted their own version. That protest was finally agreed at the twelfth convention at Woodside near Glasgow on 28 November, 1683. It was later published by Robert Hamilton in the United Provinces. (Shields, FCD, 98-99, 112.)

Woodside near GlasgowWoodside

The twelfth convention at ‘Woodside near Glasgow’ was probably held at Woodside in Barony parish, Lanarkshire, which lies on the east bank of the River Kelvin. The area probably belonged to John Campbell of Woodside, who was involved in the burgh politics and obtaining Glasgow’s common land. Woodside was probably hostile to the Society people. (RPS, 1681/7/182.)

Woodside lay in the area which is now to the north and south of the Kelvin Bridge on Great Western Road. A Woodside Mill lay by the Hillhead ford and a Woodside Muir to the east. of Woodside. An later image of Woodside can be found here.

Aerial View of Woodside

It would appear that the Society people involved in the alleged assassination attempt against Balfour may have known about the drafting of the Societies’ protestation which was approved only five days before the alleged assassination attempt. The published version of the Protestation can be found here.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Winram of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guards was involved in the trial and execution of five Society people – James Johnston, John Main, John Richmond, Archibald Stewart and James Winning – in March, 1684. It is likely that at least some of them had been involved in the alleged attempted assassination.

He was also involved in the interrogation at Glasgow of prisoners taken after Renwick’s preaching at Paisley in July, 1684.

The Possible Involvement of James Nisbet in Highside
It is possible that James Nisbet in Highside, who was executed June, 1684, was in someway involved in the alleged assassination plot. According to Wodrow, Nisbet was related to one of the five men and knew some of the others: ‘He was acquaint with most part, and had been intimate with some of them’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 64, 65.)

One charge against Nisbet in Highside was that he had been ‘going up and down the country plundering and murdering, and so by their law made liable to punishment, even to the loss of my life; but I declare, who am within a little to appear before the righteous Judge, that I never intended to wrong any man’.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on March 9, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.