Daniel Defoe: An Intelligencer in Edinburgh #History #Scotland

Daniel Defoe

After he arrived as an English spy in Scotland in October, 1706, Daniel Defoe lodged at the house of Mr. John Monro, her Majesty’s armourer, at the sign of the Half Moon by the Netherbow gate of Edinburgh.

His correspondence from that period with Robert Harley, England’s Northern Secretary, has been widely used by historians of the Union, as it mainly deals with the negotiations in the Scottish Parliament, the views the presbyterian ministers, his attempts to influence both people and the debates, and the actions of various mobs. However, it also makes reference to the Cameronian Society people and helps to put some of their actions into context.

On 5 November, 1706, he noted that ‘addresses are delivered in from several places and more preparing’ and that ‘are found in the cant of the old times, deploring the misery of Scotland for want of a further reformation and the security of the church and the Lord’s covenanted people, but when the names come to be examined they are all signed by known Jacobites and Episcopal men.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 345.)

Hebronites Humble Address 1706

On 12 November, the Hebronites delivered a similar ‘humble address’ to Parliament that was subscribed by delegates from Society people.

The Societies’ delegation, including John Hepburn, was part of a wider gathering of people from across Scotland in Edinburgh. On 7 November, the Earl of Leven noted that ‘all is quiet here, although I cannot say it would be had we not guards within this city, for there is a very great confluence of people here in town, and the ferment is great amongst the mob.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 346.)


In Defoe’s letter of 5 November he recorded disquiet among the rank and file of the Scottish Army over the impact of Union on them:

‘There has been a further expectation of a mob and some practices have been used to infect the soldiers, but [David Melville] the Earl of Leven[, the commander-in-chief of all Scottish forces and son of George, Lord Melville,]  called the [Foot] guards together today and made a speech to them. They had been possessed with a notion that they should be sent to the West Indies as soon as the Union was over. My Lord Leven, I hope, has re-established them and the proceeding since is more favourable.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 345-6.)

On 13 November, Defoe considered the possibility of an insurrection and how loyal the army would be in the event of one:

‘if any insurrection happen, which I must acknowledge is not unlikely, I crave leave to say the few troops they have here are not to be depended upon; I have this confessed by men of the best judgment. The officers are good, but even the officers own they dare not answer for their men, and some of the wisest and most discerning men here wish two or three regiments of horse or dragoons were sent but near the borders, as silently as might be. All the forces this Government has to make a stand are not 2000 effective men, and of them I question whether 1500 could be drawn together.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 350.)

The Master of Stair

John Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, also wrote to Harley on 26 November:

‘I acknowledge there’s great ground to believe the opposers are so bold and resolute that they will spare no means to obstruct the ratification of the treaty, and will take off foully some persons that may be most forward, or else raise the country in arms, towards which there are too many open steps made already.

We have all the encouragement we can wish from Her Majesty and her ministers there by their firmness to the measure, but I could wish to hear of your troops in the north of England and Ireland, for it encourages our enemies to think you have none near. And though the officers of our few forces are gentlemen of honour, yet the coutinets (sic) may be tainted with popular apprehensions, and the belief that after the Union they shall either be disbanded or sent to the plantations; and if the country should rise, they are few, exposed without help or hopes of relief. It is easier to stifle ill inclinations than to reduce open rebellion upon popular sentiments, therefore I long to hear of the [English] troops [on the Border];’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 359.)

Covenanters Union Scotland 1707

The Hebronites’ printed declaration at Dumfries of 20 November questioned whether the rank and file soldiery were committed to the defence of Parliament.

For Defoe’s next letter of 13 November, see here.

Return to Homepage

Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free 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

~ by drmarkjardine on May 1, 2016.

4 Responses to “Daniel Defoe: An Intelligencer in Edinburgh #History #Scotland”

  1. […] For Defoe’s earlier letters from Edinburgh in the Union Crisis, see here. […]

  2. […] I wish her Majesty would be pleased to have some [English] forces on the border, for if there is the least violence here all will be in blood; an appearance of some regiments on the border would at least encourage the troops here, who are not otherwise to be depended on. […]

  3. […] Daniel Defoe was an English spy was in Edinburgh at the heart of the Union Crisis of 1706 to 1708, the Scotsman, Alexander Selkirk, was marooned on the remote island of Más a […]

  4. […] considered that the rank and file of the Scottish Army, that garrisoned Stirling Castle, was unreliable when it came to facing down any rising. In Defoe’s view, what was required from England was troops on the Border to bolster the Scottish […]

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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.