The Men Who Sought Out Goats: The Abjuration Oath of 1685

The introduction of the Abjuration Oath at the start of 1685 was an attempt to look inside the minds of Charles II’s Scottish subjects to discover “fanatics” who rejected the King’s authority and posed a danger to the state. Its aim was to sort the moderate-presbyterian “sheep” from the militant “goats” of the Society people…

Image from A Hind Let Loose (1687)

Some of those who later refused the oath were summarily executed.

The oath was pressed on everyone aged fourteen and over at courts held in public in every parish of the Southwest. The text of the oath left no room to doubt what it was about. It was expressly targeted against the Society people’s Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers, which was posted on church doors on Saturday 8 November, 1684.

The oath taken at the parish courts held in January or February, 1685, was as follows:

‘I, A. B. do hereby abhor, renounce, and disown, in presence of the almighty God, the pretended declaration of war, lately affixed at several parish-churches, in so far as it declares a war against his sacred majesty, and asserts, that it is lawful to kill such as serve his majesty, in church, state, army, or country.’

The proclamation of the oath specified that those who subscribed it were to receive a testificate, i.e., a certificate. That testificate was issued by the commissioners in each shire, called ‘A. B. &c’ in the text, to the individual swearer, called ‘C’ in the text, in the specified parish, called ‘D’ in the text. The testificate was as follows:

‘We, A. B. &c. do, by these, testify and declare, that C. in the parish of D. did compear before us, and on his, or her solemn oath, before almighty God, did abjure and renounce the late traitorous Apologetical Declaration, insofarasit declares war against his majesty, and asserts, that it is lawful to kill such as serve his majesty in church, state, army, or country.’

That ‘testificate’ was to be retained by the swearer to ‘serve for a free pass to all who have the same for all time thereafter, and shall preserve them from all molestation and trouble in going about their affairs’

That meant that every household in the shires where people had sworn had a copy of the oath. Knowledge of the oath and its meaning, whether obtained at the public swearing, or through conversation, or by reading the oath – the ability to read was widespread in Lowland Scotland – was deeply embedded in the communities of the Southwest.

It is in that context that those who evaded or refused to take, or scrupled over taking, the oath should be read. Many may have been ignorant of the contents of the Society people’s Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers, but it was public knowledge what the authorities had said that it had meant.

Who were the Commissioners who pressed the Abjuration Oath?
The Commission for the Abjuration Oath empowered the following individuals to press the oath from the beginning of 1685 to to 1 March:

Lanarkshire (5 Commissioners)
‘John [Dalzell] earl of Carnwath,
William Hamilton of Orbiston,
Cromwell Lockhart of Lee,
John Johnston provost of Glasgow,
and James Lundy of Strathardly [i.e., Strathairly, Fife], for the shire of Clydesdale, the said earl [of Carnwath] being convener.’

Renfrewshire (6 Commissioners)
‘To [John Cunningham] the earl of Glencairn,
[John Cochrane] lord Cochran,
[William] lord Ross,
the said William Hamilton of Orbiston,
[John] Houston younger of that ilk,
and John Shaw younger of Greenock,
for the shire of Renfrew, the said lord Ross convener.’

Ayrshire (6 Commissioners)
‘To [John] lord Bargeny,
[Sir William] Blair of that ilk,
Sir Archibald Kennedy of Colzean,
Sir William Wallace of Craigie,
Hugh Cathcart of Carl[e]ton,
and Robert Hunter provost of Ayr,
for the shire of Ayr, the lord Bargeny convener.’

Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire (5 Commissioners)
‘To the said William Hamilton of Orbiston,
[Humphrey Colquhoun] the laird of Luss,
Major [George] Arnot, lieutenant-governor of the castle of Dumbarton,
[Archibald MacAulay] the laird of Ardincaple,
and John Graham of Dougalston,
for the shires of Dumbarton and Stirling, the said laird of Orbiston being convener.’

Dumfriesshire (6 Commissioners)
‘To the earl of Aunandale,
Sir Robert Dalziel of Glenae,
Sir Robert Grierson of Lagg,
Sir James Johnston of Wester-raw,
Thomas Kilpatrick of Closeburn,
and Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton,
for the shire of Nithsdale and stewartry of Annandale, earl of Annandale convener.’

Galloway (5 Commissioners)
‘To John [an error for Alexander Gordon] viscount of Kenmuir,
[Robert Grierson ] the said laird of Lagg,
David Dunbar of Baldune, [i.e., Baldoon]
Sir Godfrey M’Culloch of Mireton,
and Mr David Graham sheriff-depute of Galloway,
for the shire of Wigton and stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Kenmuirconvener.’

Teviotdale/Roxburgh (7 Commissioners)
‘To [Robert Kerr] the lord Jedburgh,
[James Cranston] lord Cranston,
[Henry] M’Dou[g]al of Mackerston,
Sir William Douglas of Cavers,
Sir William Ker of Greenhead,
Sir William Elliot of Stobs,
and William Ker of Chatto,
for the shire of Teviotdale, lord Jedburgh convener.’

Selkirkshire (5 Commissioners)
‘To John Riddel of Hayning,
Sir Francis Scot of Thirlstone,
Thomas Scot of Whiteslaid,
Sir Robert Pringle of Stitchel,
James Murray of Dewchar younger, for the shire of Selkirk, the said laird of Hayning convener.’

The commission also empowered, but did not identify, commanders of garrisons to press the oath: ‘As also to the commanding officer of our garrisons, in the respective bounds and shires’. That phrasing is precise, but it is not absolutely clear which officers were specifically commissioned, as who commanded each local garrison cannot be identified in every case. What that phrasing possibly meant in the months that followed was that superior officers in the field who did not hold a judicial commission where not empowered to press the oath, while junior officers, i.e., lieutenants, cornets etc, or local officials who held one, were empowered to press the oath in the field.

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

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~ by drmarkjardine on December 21, 2014.

5 Responses to “The Men Who Sought Out Goats: The Abjuration Oath of 1685”

  1. Reblogged this on Our Reformed Christian Heritage.

  2. Thank you for such a detailed level of research. I have been following the history of a very distant but direct relative, Kerr of Kersland.

  3. […] January of that year, the privy council appointed five commissioners to press the Abjuration oath in both Wigtownshire and Kirkcudbrightshir…, i.e., all of Galloway. They […]

  4. […] him to New Galloway, a village attached the house of Alexander Gordon, Viscount Kenmuir, who was commissioned to press the Abjuration oath in Galloway in January and February, […]

  5. […] to face some of the same judges that went on to condemn the Wigtown women, but under their commission to press the abjuration oath in January, […]

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