Known Unknowns: The Act for security of officers of state and others of 1685
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. “
On 4 June, 1685, the Scottish Parliament passed the ‘Act for security of officers of state and others’. The act was, in part, intended to cover all government officers then engaged in the Argyll Rising, which was not put down for another fortnight. However, the act was also retrospective, and as such, would have had a direct bearing on any potential complaints over the shortcomings and actions of army officers and judges involved in the Killing Times in the first half of 1685.
The act granted a wide-ranging indemnity to ‘all and every one of his majesty’s present … judges, both civil and criminal, the officers of the army and all others who have acted’ on commissions from the King or privy council.
It indemnified them ‘against all pursuits or complaints that can be raised against them, in any manner of way, for their actions in his majesty’s service’.
It also indemnified them ‘for their omissions and wherein they have fallen short of their duty, and that as fully as if every particular crime or misdemeanour were particularly specified in a remission under his majesty’s great seal’.
If faced with a complaint about the actions of army officers or judges etc, judges were ‘to interpret this indemnity in the most ample and favourable sense’. (RPS, 1685/4/65.)
The Killing Times had begun in response to the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration against Intelligencers, which threatened persecutors with assassination. At the beginning of 1685, the privy council had enacted the Abjuration oath, which renounced the Societies’ declaration, and granted commissions to judges and military officers that permitted them to carry out summary executions in the field of those who refused the oath. Field justice carried the obvious peril of relying on the judgement of officers faced with all the pressures of operating in the field, rather than on deliberations over evidence in court. It was inconsistent in application and, if the Presbyterian sources are to be believed, mistakes were made.
Governments and states have often suppressed the ability of the victims of state power to seek redress, especially when confronting an insurgency or terrorism. The Scottish Parliament’s act of 1685 falls into that pattern.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine