The Wigtown Martyrs: The ‘Petitione for Margaret Lachlisone’ 28 April, 1685
‘“That whereas I being justlie condemned to die be the Lords Commissioners of his Majesties most honorable Privie Counsell and Justitiarie in ane court holden at Wigtoune the threttein day of Apryle instant for my not dissowning that traiterous Apollogeticall Declaratione laitlie affixed at severall paroch churches within this kingdom and my refuising the oath of abjuratione of the saymein, which wes occasioned by my not peruseing the saymein; and now I haveing considdered the said Declaratione doe acknowledge the saymein to be traiterows and tends to nothing but rebellione and seditione and to be quyt contrair wnto the wryt in Word of God, and am content to abjure the same with my whol heart and soull.” She therefore craves the council to consider her case, she being about 70 years of age, and recall the sentence and grant warrant to someone to administer the oath of abjuration to her and liberate her, whereupon she shall live as a good and faithful subject and frequent the ordinances and do what else is prescribed to her. Signed by William Moir, notary, on her behalf because she cannot write; A. Dunbar, witnes; Will. Gordoun, witnes.
(Endorsed) Petitione for Margaret Lachlisone, 1685’.
Margaret McLachlan, or Lachlison, was one of two women said to have been executed by drowning in Wigtown in May, 1685. There are two competing scenarios over where the martyrs were held after they were sentenced to death by drowning at their trial in Wigtown on 13 April, 1685.
According to one scenario advanced by Sheriff Mark Napier in the nineteenth century, the women were taken to Edinburgh at some point after their trial, where a reprieve, the first stage of a pardon, was granted to them on 30 April. For Napier, the granting of a reprieve in Edinburgh clinched his case that the women were not drowned as the Presbyterian sources had claimed.
The other scenario for where the women were held is that they were kept in Wigtown after their trial to await execution.
A key step in the process of trying to obtain a reprieve for the women were petitions from them to the privy council asking for their case to be reconsidered. Only the petition from Margaret McLachlan, or Lauchlison, above, survives in the registers of the privy council. It clearly states that she had changed her mind about refusing the Abjuration oath and that she was, at the time of the petition, willing to take it. Her previous refusal to take the oath was the reason for the death sentence being hand down to her at the Wigtown circuit court. Two days later, the privy council issued a reprieve on behalf of both of the women.
Does the petition of Margaret McLachlan give any indication as to where the women were held in late April, 1685? Yes, it does. From the text of her petition, it is clear that she was interviewed while in prison and that her declaration that she was willing to take the Abjuration oath was recorded, as the petition declares that ‘she cannot write’.
Who conducted the interview and drafted the petition on her behalf? The petition mentions three individuals. William Moir, a notary who recorded the petition ‘on her behalf’ and two witnesses, ‘A. Dunbar’, and William Gordon.
It is absolutely clear that William Moir, the notary who attested the petition, was the same individual as the ‘William Moir, commissar’ listed on the parish list for Wigtown of October, 1684. Moir was a notary who recorded wills etc for the commissary court of Wigtownshire. It is almost certain that Moir and the witnesses interviewed McLachlan in Wigtown’s tolbooth at some point after the trial on 13 April and prior to 28 April, when the petition was recorded by the council in Edinburgh. The evidence of the petition places Margaret McLachlan in prison in Wigtown after her trial, rather than in Edinburgh.
The names of the witnesses may also appear in the Wigtownshire parish lists of October, 1684. It is not clear who they were, but one candidate is perhaps the ‘William Gordon’ recorded on the parish list for the burgh of Wigtown with other Gordons below that of Baillie Alexander Gordon.
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