The Lull before the Storm? A letter of Daniel Defoe an English Spy in 1706 #History #Scotland

Spy 1706

After the drama of his previous letter, the English spy, Daniel Defoe, had curiously little to report to his handler and patron in his next letter of 23 November. He was not a super spy…

Daniel Defoe, spy in Edinburgh, to Robert Harley, Saturday 23 November, 1706:

‘At Glasgow we hear of no more tumults though here was a flying report of 15,000 men got together.’

Defoe had reported the rumour that weather permitting that 15,000 would be in arms against the Union a week before, after he had dined with a Presbyterian minister. Clearly the rumour had grown from ‘would’ to ‘were’ in arms, or at least that was what Defoe chose to report.

There were also reports of anti-Union mustering by the armed Stirlingshire militia in Stirling. Under the terms of the Act of Security of 1703, Protestants (i.e., the vast bulk of the population in 1706) were permitted to muster for the defence of the realm:

‘Col. [John] Areskin [i.e, Erskine of Carnock] is highly blamed even by his own friends [among the gentry] for his imprudences, who being Provost of Stirling drew out the militia to sign an Address, and with his sword drawn in one hand, and his pen in the other signed it, and made the rest do so also, with some very indecent expressions which in any Government but one so mild and forbearing as this would have been otherwise resented; but he is a malcontent and declining in his fortunes, though otherwise a very honest man.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 356.)

The ‘address of the provost, bailies, town council and other inhabitants of the burgh of Stirling’ against the Union was submitted to Parliament on 23 November, the same day that Defoe reported on it. (RPS, M1706/10/31.)

Colonel John Erskine of Carnock, the Provost of Stirling, was a moderate presbyterian who in the mid 1680s had been opposed to the militant Society people but had also been actively involved in arms in the Argyll Rising of 1685. His journal of the mid 1680s is a key source for information about moderate presbyterian plots.

In military terms, Stirling was the strategic key to Scotland, as it lay on the only practical land route that connected both the North and South of Scotland. Control of the burgh with its passage across the Forth at the bridge would be essential in any concerted ‘national’ rising against the Union negotiations, as it linked the mainly Jacobite North with the mainly Presbyterian South-West.

At that time, Defoe and others, both among the political elite and the anti-Union opposition, 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 officers ability to command the men.

Perhaps the most interesting omission in Defoe’s letter is the proclamation against the Union of 540 Society people/Covenanters/Hebronites at Dumfries on 20 November. Perhaps Defoe was unaware of that action on 23 November, although news of it had surely reached his Edinburgh base when he wrote to Harley.

At the same time, armed musters against the Union appear to have been taking place in the heartland of the Society people in Lanarkshire and the anti-Union “tumults” in Glasgow had loosed it from elite control. Something was going on, but Defoe appears to have failed to recognise, or connect, the specifics of it and the threat that it posed in his letter.

Later, Defoe would attempt to portray the events of 1706 as part of a wider Jacobite plot against the Union, but in late 1706, it is clear that the resistance of the Society people and their allies to the passing of the Union was not due to Jacobitism. Instead, the opposition to the proposed Union in the South-West was based on the Society people’s long-standing and principled rejection of a non-Covenanted settlement of the Church and State, which they saw as being further eroded by, and completely undermined by, securing the proposals for the Union of Parliaments in 1706. How would the Parliament deal with that opposition? How would the Society people respond?

For Defoe’s earlier letter of Tuesday 19 November, see here.

For Defoe’s next letter at the height of the Union Crisis on 30 November, see here.

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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

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~ by drmarkjardine on May 7, 2016.

One Response to “The Lull before the Storm? A letter of Daniel Defoe an English Spy in 1706 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] For Defoe’s next secret letter of 23 November, see here. […]

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