Thomas Archer, the Battle of Muirdykes and his Execution in 1685 #History #Scotland

In his History, Wodrow devoted a long passage to the life and death of Thomas Archer, a moderate-presbyterian minister who was captured at the Battle of Muirdykes and executed in Edinburgh in August, 1685:

‘It was some longer time before Mr Thomas Archer was executed; and I shall in this place give any short hints I have of this excellent person, and then go forward unto other sufferers, not unto death, upon the score of the earl of Argyle’s attempt [in 1685].

Ayloffe Glasgow

Image ‘King: ‘Coll. Ayloff and 200 more brought in Prisoners to Glascow’ Copyright © The British Museum. released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

The Reverend Mr Thomas Archer, was brother to John Archer […]; and I have the following accounts of him from ministers and others yet alive, who had the happiness of his acquaintance.’

John Archer was a candlemaker in Strathmiglo, Fife, and a nonconformist. He was imprisoned for suspected involvement in the assassination of Archbishop Sharp and released in late 1679. He was imprisoned, again, in 1683, (Wodrow, History, III, 55, 438-9.)

‘The Lord began very early to incline his heart to piety; and when he was little more than a child, that eminent minister, and extraordinary Christian formerly mentioned, Mr Alexander Moncrief, gave him that character, that he made conscience of lifting his bonnet, that is, of the most minute actions of his life, and did all with a holy tenderness, and out of a principle of religion; and yet after he had gone through his university studies, he wanted not shakings and exercise about the state of his soul; at length he got comfortably out of all, and enjoyed much of a life of serenity and consolation through the remainder of his time.

When he received his degrees at the university, I think, of St Andrews, it was with great applause, and the masters who examined him, declared they had not met with his equal in learning for many years.

Some years after, when chaplain to the lady Riddel, in that country, he was licensed to preach the gospel by presbyterian ministers, and his sermons were very judicious, methodical, and most scriptural. He was so exact in what he delivered, that he neglected the manner, being intent upon the matter. He was not so acceptable to vulgar hearers, as some other young men far inferior to him in abilities.’

Margaret Swinton, Lady Riddell, was the third wife Sir John Riddell of Riddell in Roxburgh from 1669. Sir John was the brother of the field preacher Archibald Riddell. Wodrow’s somewhat elitist statement that Archer was not ‘so acceptable to vulgar hearers, as some other men far inferior to him in abilities’ probably alludes to militant young field preachers like Richard Cameron who were licensed at around the same time in the late 1670s.

‘His conversation was very grave, sedate, prudent, affable, and cheerful; he was an excellent scholar, very bookish, and gave himself to reading, meditation, and prayer. When staying in a gentleman’s house in the Merse, he was, about the year 1682, taken prisoner, for no other fault than preaching the gospel now and then; and, as we heard, he was brought in prisoner, and continued some months in the Canongate tolbooth.’

According to Wodrow, he was taken at the same time that ‘Mr [Gabriel] Semple was seized’. Semple was married to a sister of Sir John Riddell of Riddell and Archibald Riddell. Semple was captured by a party of guards in the house of Sir Patrick Hepburn of Blackcastle near Oldhamstocks in late July, 1681. He was probably captured at Black Castle, which has now vanished but lay next to Oldhamstocks in East Lothian. Semple was released under bond of 10,000 merks on 1 October, but failed to appear when called before the council in December. Archer was appointed to continue in prison on 24 November, 1681. He petitioned the privy council to be released to depart for the Dutch United Provinces on 9 June, 1682. He was released and went into exile in Rotterdam. Both Gabriel Semple and Archibald Riddell opposed the militancy of Cameron and the Society people. (Wodrow, History, III, 267, 270, 404-5.)

‘There he improved his time very closely, and in a little, made himself absolutely master of the Hebrew tongue, and was a great master of both the original languages of the scriptures. At length he was banished the kingdom, and made to sign a bond never to return to his native country, without the government’s allowance; and he retired to Holland.

In Holland, he mightily improved in all branches of valuable learning; and while there, was employed to correct the Dutch edition of Pool’s Criticks, then printing. He was there ordained a minister of the gospel by the Scots ministers [at Rotterdam], from their deep sense of his excellent endowments. Mr Robert Fleming, and Mr Alexander Hastie preached at his ordination [in the Scots Kirk].’

Both Fleming and Hastie were presbyterian opponents of the militant Society people.

‘He was assured that his bond was got up by his friends in Scotland, from the council, otherwise it is probable he would not have consented to have come back. Being a youth of great gallantry and spirit, he was prevailed upon to engage with Argyle [in his rising in 1685].’

Battle of Muirdykes

Wodrow then gives a direct account of how Archer was wounded in the battle:

‘After they [Argyll’s Army] were dissipate, he got over Clyde [near Erskine], and was in the engagement at Muirdyke, where Sir John Cochran commanded: his horse stumbling, fell to the ground, and his pursuers might easily have made him prisoner, but such was their barbarity, that before Mr Archer could recover himself, one of them poured in a pair of balls into him, whereby he was sorely wounded, and while lying wounded, he was robbed of his bible, watch, and some gold; and, as we have heard, after he had lain bleeding almost to death, he was, by his friends, carried into a country house, where he was soon taken, and brought into Paisley, where his wounds were dressed, and were extremely painful to him.’

George Brysson’s account of the battle also contains intriguing details about Archer on the battlefield.

‘Thence he was carried into Glasgow, where he remained some days in great distress, and very low; and was sent into Edinburgh, by order of the council.

So extremely weak was he, that he was not able to sit upon a horse, and therefore was sent east upon a cart, and, with no small difficulty, the honest people in Glasgow prevailed to get a feather-bed laid under him.’

Archer’s wounds appear to have left him unable to walk. He was later carried to his execution on a chair.

‘Before the council [in Edinburgh] he was reproached bitterly, that he had broke his engagement by bond. This was no small grief to him, and he regretted very much that he had been made to believe that his friends had got it up; and the council, July 13th, put him over into the hands of the criminal court.

While in prison, great importunity was used with people in power, for his liberation; and it was represented he was in a dying condition by his wounds, and physicians declared so much; but nothing would prevail with them.

In all the turns, they resolved to have some ministers sacrificed to their fury, the great Mr Guthrie after the restoration, the excellent Mr Hugh Mackail after Pentland [in 1666], Mr [John] King and Mr [John] Kid after Bothwell [in 1679], and now worthy Mr Archer.’

According to Wodrow, the appeals for Archer’s life went to the highest levels:

‘[William Douglas] The duke of Queensberry was addressed in a particular manner, and even by his own son [Lieutenant-Colonel James Douglas], who had a high value for Mr Archer, but always received with indignation; and he told his son in very odd terms, his life could not be spared.

All those endeavours failing, a design was laid to have him secretly conveyed out of prison, and it came so great a length, that once the sentinels had money given them. A worthy gentlewoman, yet alive, Mrs Montgomery, servant to the late excellent duchess of Hamilton, bestowed ten dollars that way. In short, every thing was made ready, but he himself broke the project, and told his friends, that he reckoned himself a dying person; and seeing he reckoned he could not serve his Master in any other manner, he did not think it his duty to decline a testimony for him and his truth, by a public death.

August 12th, I find him before the justiciary. He should have been brought before them twice formerly, but was perfectly out of case through bodily weakness, and by every body looked upon as dying: yet those merciless men would take his blood upon them. His indictment was read, and he charged with treason. Probation, his own confession,

“That he had been in company with the earl of Argyle; that the earl had imparted his design to him of invading Scotland; that he went before to Ireland, to prevail with some persons there to join the said earl, but none came; he declines peremptorily to condescend upon their names; that he continued with the rebels till dissipated; that he was with Sir John Cochran’s party near the Stone-fold, and received a shot in his side, and was carried to a house near by, where he was apprehended; that he had a sword. Tho. Archer.”

The assize brought him in guilty by his own confession, and the lords sentence him to be hanged on a gibbet, August 14th, till dead. He was still delayed till Friday, August 21st, when he suffered death. I am sorry I have no large accounts of his Christian and cheerful carriage on the scaffold, but shall here insert his last testimony, which he drew up in prison, and delivered as much of it as he was able at his death, and I give it from the original copy, yet remaining with his friends.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 316-7.)

His testimony can be found here.

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to post this 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 November 17, 2017.

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