The Spy Daniel Defoe’s Secret Letter on Firebrands Against Union #History #Scotland
The author Daniel Defoe was an English spy deeply involved in securing the passage of the Union through the Parliament of Scotland in late 1706. Through elite contacts, support from England and the covert use of English money to lubricate the process, Defoe had some influence over events in Parliament. However, he also had to cast a wary eye to events in the country over which he had almost no control.
In his letter of 19 November, anti-Union events in the strongholds of the Society people in Lanarkshire began to make an impression in his intelligence reports to the English government…
‘I have the satisfaction to write your honour that the Parliament [of Scotland] has now voted the third article [that agreed to form the UK parliament] by a majority of thirty.’
[Three days earlier, Defoe believed that the passing of the third article was the moment that would trigger opponents of the Union into either daring to ‘make any disturbance or no’.]
I am not willing to fill you with the apprehensions of people here [i.e., among the elite allies of Union], nor am I very phlegmatic on that head myself, and therefore when I shall tell you that the Commissioner [Queensberry] has been threatened [in letters] with daggers, pistols &c, and now that the last two sittings being within dark he was insulted by the rabble in the street at his return, great stones thrown at his coach and one of the guards wounded; I yet shall add that I am of opinion his Grace will go through with the matter; confess I thought it an ill concerted measure that last night the Commissioner drove through the town [of Edinburgh] so hastily, the foot guards running, and the horse galloping, at which the mob hallooed and the enemy insults them, the Commissioner was run away &c. Indeed it betrayed too much concern, but that is not my business.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 352.)
Hume of Crossrig’s diary notes that those incidents were brought before Parliament:
‘M[y]. L[ord]. Chancellour [the Earl of Seafield] had told the House, that yesternight [18 November] there was a mob insulted the Q[ueen’s]. Commissioner [the Duke of Queensberry] by throwing stones, and moved, Some course might be taken to enquire who were authors and abettors thereof, and for preventing thereof in time coming. Some discourse was thereon, and it was told the Commissioner’s servants were beat, wounded, and robb’d.’ (Hume, Diary, 184.)
Defoe’s letter of 19 November continues on the collapse of control over Glasgow:
[…] All the West is full of tumult. Glasgow is mad. I was going to see what I could do there but met several of the honest people flying [i.e., among the Glasgow burgh elite who fled to Edinburgh], and all advised me not to venture. So I have much against my will played the coward and made my retreat, but I think to go the next week incognito, if it be practicable, only to observe and be able to give you exact particulars. (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 352-3.)
Events in the the strongholds of the Society people in Lanarkshire also drew his attention:
The ministers [of the Kirk] are quieter here now than before, but in the enclosed petition or address [from the Presbytery of Lanark] you have two in particular who were here in the Commission, and have been in the country to procure it viz. John Bannatyne and [Thomas] Linning, two firebrands and who merit to be marked as incendiaries, of whose actions I doubt I shall have occasion to give you further account, and I wish they don’t bring themselves to want her Majesty’s mercy.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, IV, 353.)
Both the ‘firebrands’ named by Defoe were from Lanarkshire, one of the centres of anti-Union sentiment. They both also belonged to the Presbytery of Lanark, that composed an address against the Union at a meeting on Thursday 14 November which was, according to Hume of Crossrig, read in Parliament on Monday 18 November.
Thomas Linning was the minister of Lesmahagow parish, which had been one of the most formidable strongholds of the Society people in the 1680s. He had been one of the leaders of the Society people in the late 1680s and had led many of them into rejoining the Kirk in 1690. He had been the minister of Lesmahagow since 1691 and married Margaret Ker, a sister of another leader of the Society people, Daniel Ker of Kersland. (Fasti, III, 314.)
John Bannatyne was the minister of Lanark in 1706. In the 1680s, Lanark parish had witnessed significant activity by the Society people. Bannatyne had seized possession of the charge at Lanark at the Revolution and had strong connections to his native Lesmahagow parish. He died on 22 March, 1707, shortly before the Union came into effect. (Fasti, III, 307-8.)
An entry in Crossrig’s diary for 29 November mentions that the parishes of Stonehouse and Shotts were places where calls to muster against the Union were read. Both of them also lay in Lanarkshire, but were part of the Presbytery of Hamilton which also sent a humble address against the Union.
According to Crossrig, ‘one from the Presbytery of Hamilton, of an extraordinary nature, against the Union, says a General Assembly should be called before they proceed further in it [i.e., in Parliament’s passing of the Treaty of Union]’, was read in Parliament on Wednesday 11 December.
The Presbytery of Hamilton’s humble address to Parliament went well beyond that of the Commission of the General Assembly:
‘that which more especially obliges us in Duty and Conscience as Ministers of the Gospel of Peace, most humbly to interpose with your Grace and Lordships is, the Lamentable and Distracted State of the Kingdom, and particularly the People under cur Pastoral Charge, from the sad Apprehensions they have, and have expressed in their several Addresses to the Parliament, of the woeful Effects and Consequences of such an Union to their Liberties both Civil and Religious, and that it cannot be entered into by the Nation in the Terms without incurring the Guilt of National Perjury: And tho’ hitherto we have endeavoured to keep them from Breaking out, yet the Ferment and Dissatisfaction doth so encrease amongst all, that we are justly afraid of what these Things may turn unto.
We do therefore (after serious Supplication at the Throne of Grace) most earnestly Implore, and with all humility beseech in the Bowels of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, That your Grace and Lordships may compassionate the trembling State of this Church and Nation, and listen as it were to their dying Groans: GOD having put it in your Hands to allay their Fears, avert their Dangers, and prevent the dreadful Confusions that threaten this Land, by laying aside this Incorporating Union with England’.
The Presbytery of Hamilton’s ‘Humble Address’ drew a letter from the Commission of the General Assembly on 6 December urging them to suppress any disorders. The Presbytery’s reply of 17 December was very carefully worded. It implies that there had been musters against the Union within the bounds of the presbytery before 30 November:
‘being our first Meeting after its Date of the 6th Instant; wherein there is mention of your being informed of Disorders and Tumults in some parts of the Countrey, which you recommend unto us to discountenance and discourage as we have Access.
We know there have been many Reports spread Abroad of Tumults and Disorders, not only in Glasgow, which is too true, but in other places within the Shire of Lanerk; which as to the bounds of our Presbytery, are grosly false: And we have reason to believe them to be so likewise, as to the rest of the Shire. We have heard also of some calumnious Stories industriously disseminated, concerning some of our Number [i.e., members of the Presbytery], with respect to these pretended Disorders, which are not only contrary to Truth, but to common Sense. We wish the Forgers and Spreaders may be forgiven. They act in this neither the part of good Christians, nor of good Subjects.
As to the Disposition of the People, the plain Truth is, That they are generally most averse from the Union; and many have expressed themselves broadly enough against it, as what they fear may prove an irremediable Evil, if it should be concluded, wishing that some Stop might be put to it.
And we have not been wanting, as there was occasion, to advise and exhort the People to Calmness and Regularity; and to refrain from any undue Keenness might be in their Words. But we must say, That it is utterly false and malicious to suggest, that there hath been the least Tumult or irregular Practice among them, since this Union came in Question, far less any shadow or Appearance of any Undutiful or Disloyal Thought of Her Majesty. Yea there has not been so much as the least Motion towards their accustomed ordinary Rendezvous warranted by Law, since the publishing of a Proclamation and Act [Against All Musters], forbidding the same [on 30 November]: It is true, That some of those Rash Youths who broke out from Glasgow, passed thro’ our Bounds, but they were not allowed to make any stay, nor received the least Encouragement at any Hand, for ought we know:’
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