Baillie, Robert (d.1684) (DNB00)
|←Baillie, Matthew||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 02
Baillie, Robert (d.1684)
BAILLIE, ROBERT (d. 1684), patriot, the 'Scottish Algernon Sydney,' as he has been named, was son of George Baillie of St. John's Kirk, Lanarkshire, of the Lamington Baillies, though he himself is known as Baillie of Jerviswood. He first appears in full manhood, as the object of suspicion and hatred to the powers then dominant in Scotland. An apparently trivial incident brought things to a crisis. In June 1676 the Rev. Mr. Kirkton, a non-episcopalian minister, who had married Baillie's sister, was illegally arrested in the High Street of Edinburgh by an informer named Carstairs, on the bidding of Archbishop Sharp, himself a renegade presbyterian. Carstairs, not having a warrant, endeavoured to extort money from his prisoner before releasing him. Baillie having been sent for arrived on the scene. It was a mean house near the common prison ('Heart of Midlothian'). Carstairs had locked the door and refused to open it. Kirkton desired of him that he would either produce his warrant or set him free. Instead of compliance, Baillie drew a pocket-pistol, and a struggle ensued for its possession. Those without, hearing the noise and cries, burst open the door, and discovered Kirkton on the floor and Carstairs seated upon him. Baillie demanded sight of the warrant, but none was produced. Thereupon Kirkton and his friends left the house. Upon the complaint of the informer, he procured an ante-dated warrant, bearing the signatures of some members of the privy council. Baillie — the higher victim — was called before the council, and by Sharp's influence was fined 'in six thousand marks' (= 318l., or, according to Wodrow, 500l.), to be imprisoned till paid.' After being four months in prison, he was liberated on payment of half the fine to Carstairs. Needless to say he was a suspected man henceforward. None the less was he bold and outspoken for civil and religious liberty. In the year 1683,. sick at heart and seeing no prospect of relief from the prevailing tyranny in his native land, he joined some fellow-countrymen in negotiations for emigration to South Carolina. The scheme was frustrated. Contemporaneously, Baillie and compatriots repaired to London, and entered into association with Monmouth, Sydney, Russell, and their friends, if possible to obtain mitigation, or perchance change, of government measures. The Rye House plot came to the front, and though Baillie had nothing whatever to do with it, he was arrested and sent north to Scotland. Hopes of a pardon for himself having been treacherously held out to him, on condition of his giving the government information, he replied: 'They who can make such a proposal to me neither know me nor my country.' The late Earl Russell observes: 'It is to the honour of Scotland that no witnesses came forward voluntarily to accuse their associates, as had been done in England.' Baillie had married, when young, a sister of Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston (who was executed in June 1633); and during his imprisonment she offered to go into irons as an assurance against any attempt at escape, if only she might keep her husband company. But permission was denied. He was accused of complicity in the Rye House plot and conspiracy to raise a rebellion, but his prosecutors were unable to adduce one iota of evidence. Therefore he was ordered to 'free himself' by oath. This he refused to do, and was fined 6,000l. He was still held in prison and refused the slightest alleviation. Bishop Burnet, in his 'History of his own Times,' informs us that 'the ministers of state were most earnestly set on Baillie's destruction, though he was now in so languishing a condition, that if his death would have satisfied the malice of the court, it seemed to be very near.' He adds, that 'all the while he was in prison he seemed so composed and cheerful, that his behaviour looked like the reviving spirit of the noblest of the old Greeks or Romans, or rather of the primitive christians and first martyrs in those best days of the church.' On 23 Dec. 1684 the dying prisoner was (afresh) arraigned before the High Court of Justiciary on the capital charge of treason. He was carried to the bar in his night-dress, attended by his sister (Mrs. Ker of Graden). He solemnly denied having been accessory to any conspiracy against the king's or his brother's life, or of being an enemy to monarchy. He was 'brought in' guilty on 24 Dec, early in the morning, and sentenced to be hanged the same afternoon at the market cross of Edinburgh, with all the usual barbarities of beheading and quartering. Upon hearing his sentence he said simply: 'My lords, the time is short, the sentence is sharp, but I thank my God, who hath made me as fit to die as you are to live.' He was attended to the scaffold by his devoted sister. He was so feeble that he required assistance to mount the ladder. When he was up he said: 'My faint zeal for the protestant religion has brought me to this; 'but the beating of the drums interrupted him. An intended speech had to go undelivered, Thus, says Bishop Burnet, 'A learned and worthy gentleman, after twenty months' hard usage, was brought to such a death, in a way so foul, in all the steps of it of the spirit and practice of the courts of the Inquisition, that one is tempted to think that the methods taken in it were suggested by one well studied if not fostered in them.' The illustrious nonconformist divine Dr. John Owen, writing to a friend in Scotland before his death, said of him : 'You have truly men of great spirit among you; there is, for a gentleman, Mr. Baillie of Jerviswood, a person of the greatest abilities I ever almost met with.' '
The Jerviswood family was ruined by the execution and consequent forfeiture of their head. His son George fled to Holland. He returned in 1688 with William of Orange, when he was restored to his estates. The Baillies of Jerviswood have prospered since. An exquisite miniature of our patriot, painted in 1660, is at Jerviswood. It shows a firm yet naturally gentle face, with touches of Cromwell in it.[Contemporary broad-sheet of Trial; Anderson's Scottish Nation, i. 177-9; Burnet's Own Time; Russell's Life of Lord William Russell; Wodrow's Analecta; Chambers's Scotsmen.]