The Wigtown Martyrs: The ‘Petitione for Margaret Lachlisone’ of 28 April, 1685 #History #Scotland

Wigtown Martyrs

The drowning of two women at Wigtown is the most hotly debated cases of the Killing Times of 1685. It is a case that has called the veracity of the Killing Times into question. If the well-documented Wigtown case is a fabrication, what of the other cases? Leading the charge against the Wigtown case in the Nineteenth Century was Sheriff Mark Napier, lawyer, vociferus anti-Radical, Neo-Jacobite and Tory. He argued that the women were not drowned as the seventeenth-century evidence indicated, but that they were sent to Edinburgh and released after their petitions were read at the Privy Council on 30 April, 1685.

Case closed…

Or is it? Where was Margaret MacLachlan and the other Wigtown martyr when the former sent a petition to the privy council in Edinburgh on c.30 April, 1685? Was she in Wigtown or Edinburgh? If she was in Wigtown, Napier’s case collapes.

The Petition before 30 April
Endorced ‘The Petitione for Margaret Lachlisone, 1685′

‘Supplication by Margaret Lachlisone, now prisoner in the tolbooth of Wigtoun, as follows:– She is “justlie condemned to die be the Lords Commissioners of his Majesties most honourable Privie Counsell and Justitiarie in an court holden at Wigtoune the threttein day of Apryle instant for my not disowning that traiterous Apollogeticall Declaratione laitlie affixed at severall paroch churches within this kingdom and my refuising the oath of abjuratione of the saymein, which wes occasioned by my not peruseing the saymein; and now I haveing considdered the said Declaratione doe acknowledge the saymein to be traiterows and tends to nothing but rebellione and seditione and to be quyt contrair wnto the wryt in Word of God, and am content to abjure the same with my whol heart and soull.” She therefore craves the council to consider her case, she being about 70 years of age, and recall the sentence and grant warrant to someone to administer the oath of abjuration to her and liberate her, whereupon she shall live as a good and faithful subject and frequent the ordinances and do what else is prescribed to her. Signed by William Moir, notary, on her behalf because she cannot write; A. Dunbar, witnes; Will. Gordoun, witnes’. (RPCS, XI, 286.)

Margaret McLachlan, or Lachlison, was one of two women said to have been executed by drowning in Wigtown on 11 May, 1685.

Two Scenarios
There are two competing scenarios over where the two martyrs were held after they were sentenced to death by drowning at their trial in Wigtown on 13 April, 1685. Nobody disputes that they were tried and condemned to drowning.

According to one scenario, advanced by Napier in the Nineteenth Century, the women were taken to Edinburgh at some point after their trial in Wigtown on 13 April, where a reprieve, the first stage of a royal pardon, was granted to them on 30 April.

For Napier, the granting of a reprieve in Edinburgh on 30 April clinched his case that the women were not drowned as the Presbyterian sources had claimed.

However, the other scenario for where the women were held is that they remained in Wigtown after their trial to await execution. All the Presbyterian sources agree on that.

A key step in the process of trying to obtain a reprieve for the women were petitions from them to the privy council asking for their case to be reconsidered as they were willing to take oaths. Only the petition from Margaret McLachlan, above, survives in the registers of the privy council. It clearly states that she had changed her mind about refusing the Abjuration oath and that she was, at the time of the petition on 28 April, willing to take it.

Her previous refusal to take the Abjuration oath was the reason for the death sentence of drowning being handed down to her at the circuit court at Wigtown on 13 April. After the petition read on c.30 April, the privy council issued a reprieve on behalf of both of the women on 30 April.

Does the petition of Margaret McLachlan give any indication of where the women were held on c.30 April, 1685?
Yes, it does.The supplication describes her as ‘now prisoner in the tolbooth of Wigtoun’.

From the text of her petition, it is clear that she was interviewed while in prison and that her declaration that she was willing to take the Abjuration oath was recorded, as the petition declares that ‘she cannot write’. Not being able to write, did not mean she could not read. Reading the bible and writing a document were different skills. The petition was written for her.

The key question is, who conducted the interview and drafted the petition read before the privy council on c.30 April on her behalf? The petition mentions three individuals. William Moir, a notary who recorded the petition ‘on her behalf’ and two witnesses, ‘A. Dunbar’, and William Gordon.

Where were the witnesses to the Petition from?
It is clear that William Moir, the notary who attested the petition, was almost certainly the same individual as the ‘William Moir, commissar’ listed on the parish list for Wigtown of October, 1684. Moir was notary who recorded wills etc., for the commissary court of Wigtownshire. It was his job to subscribe local legal documents.

The name of one of the two witnesses to the petition may also appear in the Wigtownshire parish lists of October, 1684. It is not clear who the witnesses were, unlike Moir, but one candidate is perhaps the ‘William Gordon’ recorded on the parish list for the burgh of Wigtown with other Gordons below the name of Baillie Alexander Gordon. Dunbar is also a Wigtownshire name.

Moir and the witnesses interviewed McLachlan in Wigtown’s tolbooth in late April, when the petition was drafted. The evidence of the petition places Margaret McLachlan in prison in Wigtown on 30 April, rather than in Edinburgh as Napier claimed.

It is perfectly clear that the two women were in Wigtown on c.30 April, 1685. It was their petitions that made their way to Edinburgh by express post, as did military dispatches, not the two women.

Were the Women rushed to Edinburgh?

No. Transporting prisoners took much longer. For example, Gilbert McIlroy who was captured near Wigtown two months later took six to seven days to reach Edinburgh under guard from nearby Minnigaff, even when we exclude a three day stop at Barr kirk. It is 110 miles from Wigtown to Edinburgh. The elderly McLachlan was not swept to Edinburgh on horse back. Her petition was.

The veracity of Napier’s case that they were sent to Edinburgh after their trial is falling apart.

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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


~ by drmarkjardine on September 14, 2018.

One Response to “The Wigtown Martyrs: The ‘Petitione for Margaret Lachlisone’ of 28 April, 1685 #History #Scotland”

  1. The culprit was residing within St John’s Castle Stranraer, the delay in getting the reprieve to Wigtown resulted in the ‘Twa Margarets’ drowning. The people of Wigtown and Scotlands God honouring Presbyterians, from that day to this are the true custodians of this truth, which has stood the test of time and NEVER REFUTED.

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