A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Baillie, Robert, of Jerviswood
BAILLIE, Robert, of Jerviswood, an eminent patriot of the reign of Charles II., was the son of George Baillie of St John's kirk in Lanarkshire, cadet of the ancient family of Baillie of Lamington, who appears to have purchased the estate of Jerviswood, also in Lanarkshire, in the reign of Charles I., from a family of the name of Livingstone. It is stated by the jacobite, Robert Mylne, in the publication called "Fountainhall's Notes," that the first circumstance which alienated the mind of Robert Baillie from the government, was his marrying a daughter of Sir Archibald Johnston of Warristoun, who, having borne a conspicuous part in the civil war from its beginning, was executed after the Restoration. Whatever be the truth of this allegation, Baillie appears before the year 1676, to have been otherwise allied to the non-conformist party.
The incident which first brought him forward into view as a subject of persecution, was one of those interferences in behalf of natural justice, where all sense of consequences is overborne by the exigency of the occasion. During the misgovernment of the Duke of Lauderdale, a wretched profligate of the name of Carstairs had bargained with Archbishop Sharpe to undertake the business of an informer upon an uncommonly large scale, having a troop of other informers under him, and enjoying a certain reward for each individual whom he could detect at the conventicles, besides a share of the fines imposed upon them. It may be supposed that an individual who could permit himself to enter upon a profession of this kind, would not be very scrupulous as to the guilt of the persons whom he sought to make his prey. He accordingly appears to have, at least in one noted instance, pounced upon an individual who was perfectly innocent. This was the Rev. Mr Kirkton, a non-conformist minister it is true, but one who had been cautious to keep strictly within the verge of the law. Kirkton was the brother-in-law of Mr Baillie of Jerviswood, by his marriage to the sister of that gentleman, and he is eminent in Scottish literary history for a memoir of the church during his own times, which was of great service in manuscript to the historian Wodrow, and was at length published in 1817. One day in June, 1676, as Mr Kirkton was walking along the High Street of Edinburgh, Carstairs, whose person he did not know, accosted him in a very civil manner, and expressed a desire to speak with him in private. Mr Kirkton, suspecting no evil, followed Carstairs to a very mean-looking house, near the common prison. Carstairs, who had no warrant to apprehend or detain Mr Kirkton, went out to get one, locking the door upon his victim. The unfortunate clergyman then perceived that he was in some danger, and prevailed upon a person in the house to go to seek his brother-in-law, Mr Baillie, and apprise him of his situation. Carstairs, having in vain endeavoured to get the requisite number of privy-councillors to sign a warrant, now came back, resolved, it appears, to try at least if he could not force some money from Mr Kirkton for his release. Just as they were about to confer upon this subject, Mr Baillie came to the door, with several other persons, and called to Carstairs to open. Kirkton, hearing the voices of friends, took courage, and desired his captor either to set him free, or to show a warrant for his detention. Carstairs, instead of doing either, drew a pocket pistol, and Kirkton found it necessary, for his own safety, to enter into a personal struggle, and endeavour to secure the weapon of his antagonist. The gentlemen without, hearing a struggle, and cries of murder, burst open the door, and found Carstairs sitting upon Mr Kirkton, on the floor. Baillie drew his sword, and commanded the poltroon to come off, asking him at the same time if he had any warrant for apprehending Mr Kirkton. Carstairs said he had a warrant for conducting him to prison, but he utterly refused to show it, though Mr Baillie said that, if he saw any warrant against his friend, he would assist in carrying it into execution. The wretch still persisting in saying he had a warrant, but was not bound to show it, Mr Baillie left the place, with Mr Kirkton and other friends, having offered no violence whatever to Carstairs, but only threatened to sue him for unlawful invasion of his brother-in-law's person.
It might have been expected from even a government so lost to all honour and justice as that which now prevailed in Scotland, that it would have had at least the good sense to overlook this unhappy accident to one of its tools. On the contrary, it was resolved to brave the popular feeling of right, by listening to the complaints of Carstairs. Through the influence of Archbishop Sharpe, who said that, if Carstairs was not countenanced, no one would be procured to apprehend fanatics afterwards, a majority of the council agreed to prosecute Baillie, Kirkton, and the other persons concerned. For this purpose, an antedated warrant was furnished to Carstairs, signed by nine of the councillors. The Marquis of Atholl told Bishop Burnet, that he had been one of the nine who lent their names to this infamous document. The whole case was therefore made out to be a tumult against the government; Baillie was fined in six thousand merks, (£318 sterling) and his friends in smaller sums, and to be imprisoned till they should render payment.
This award was so opposite, in every particular, to the principles of truth, honour, and justice, that, even if not directed against individuals connected with the popular cause, it could not have failed to excite general indignation. It appears that a respectable minority of the council itself was strongly opposed to the decision, and took care to let it be known at court. Mr Baillie was therefore released at the end of four months, in consideration of payment of one half of his fine to the creature Carstairs. Lord Halton, however, who was at this time a kind of pro-regent under his brother Lauderdale, had interest to obtain the dismissal of his opponents from the council, namely, the Duke of Hamilton, the Earls of Morton, Dumfries, and Kincardine, and the Lords Cochrane and Primrose, whom he branded, for their conduct on this occasion, as enemies to the church and favourers of conventicles.
After this period, nothing is known of Mr Baillie till the year 1683, when he is found taking a prominent share in a scheme of emigration, agitated by a number of Scottish gentlemen, who saw no refuge but this from the tyranny of the government. These gentlemen entered into a negotiation with the patentees of South Carolina, for permission to convey themselves thither, along with their families and dependents. While thus engaged, Mr Baillie was induced, along with several of his friends, to enter into correspondence and counsel with the heads of the Puritan party in England, who were now forming an extensive plan of insurrection, for the purpose of obtaining a change of measures in the government, though with no ulterior view. Under the pretext of the American expedition, Lord Melville, Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree, Mr Baillie, and three others, were invited and repaired to London, to consult with the Duke of Monmouth, Sydney, Russell, and the rest of that party. This scheme was never properly matured; indeed, it never was any thing but a matter of talk, and had ceased to be even that, when a minor plot for assassinating the king, to which only a small number of the party were privy, burst prematurely, and involved several of the chiefs, who were totally ignorant of it, in destruction. Sydney and Russell suffered for this crime, of which they were innocent; and Baillie and several other gentlemen were seized and sent down to be tried in Scotland.
The subsequent judicial proceedings were characterised by the usual violence and illegality of the time. He endured a long confinement, during which he was treated very harshly, and not permitted to have the society of his lady, though she offered to go into irons, as an assurance against any attempt at facilitating his escape. An attempt was made to procure sufficient proof of guilt from the confessions wrought out of his nephew-in-law, the Earl of Tarras (who had been first married to the elder sister of the Duchess of Monmouth); but, this being found insufficient, his prosecutors were at last obliged to adopt the unlawful expedient, too common in those distracted times, of putting him to a purgative oath. An accusation was sent to him, not in the form of an indictment, nor grounded on any law, but on a letter of the king, in which he was charged with a conspiracy to raise rebellion, and a concern in the Ryehouse Plot. He was told that, if he would not clear himself of these charges by his oath, he should be held as guilty, though not as in a criminal court, but only as before the council, who had no power to award a higher sentence than fine and imprisonment. As he utterly refused to yield to such a demand, he was fined by the council in £6,000, being about the value of his whole estates. It was then supposed that the prosecution would cease, and that he would escape with the doom of a captive. For several months he continued shut up in a loathsome prison, which had such an effect upon his health that he was brought almost to the last extremity. Yet "all the while," to use the words of Bishop Burnet, "he seemed so composed, and even so cheerful, that his behaviour looked like a reviving of the spirit of the noblest of the old Greeks or Romans, or rather of the primitive Christians, and first martyrs in those last days of the church." At length, on the 23rd of December, 1684, he was brought before the court of justiciary. He was now so weak as to be obliged to appear at the bar in his night-gown, and take frequent applications of cordials, which were supplied to him by his sister, the wife of Mr Ker of Graden. The only evidence that could be produced was the confessions forced from his friends by torture, one of whom, the Rev. Mr Carstairs, afterwards the distinguished Principal of the Edinburgh University, had only emitted a declaration, on an express promise that no use was to be made of it. Mr Baillie solemnly denied having been accessary to any conspiracy against the king's life, or being unfavourably disposed to monarchical government. He complained that his friends had been forced to bring forth untrue representations against him. Indeed, there can be no doubt that the whole extent of his offence was a desire to procure some amelioration of the measures, and not any change of the members of the government; we say desire, because it never could be proved that a single step had been taken in the matter, nor is there the least probability that it would have ever been heard of, but for the trials of several innocent persons.
A cavalier and contemporary writer has alleged that Mr Baillie conducted himself on his trial in a very haughty and scornful manner,—"very huffy and proud," is the expression used—but this probably is only the colour given by a political enemy to the Roman dignity, which Burnet saw in his behaviour. After the evidence had been adduced, and when the Lord Advocate had ended his charge, the following remarkable dialogue took place between him and that officer:—
"My lord, I think it very strange that you charge me with such abominable things; you may remember that when you came to me in person, you told me that such things were laid to my charge, but that you did not believe them. How then, my lord, did you come to lay such a stain upon me with so much violence? Are you now convinced in your conscience that I am more guilty than before? You may remember what passed betwixt us in prison."
The whole audience fixed their eyes upon the advocate, who appeared in no small confusion, and said,
"Jerviswood, I own what you say. My thoughts there were as a private man; but what I say here is by special direction of the privy council. And," pointing to Sir William Paterson, clerk, "he knows my orders."
"Well," said Baillie, "if your lordship have one conscience for yourself, and another for the council, I pray God forgive you; I do. My lords," he added, "I trouble your lordships no further."
The assize was empannelled at midnight, and sat till nine in the morning of the succeeding day, when a verdict of guilty was returned against Mr Baillie, and he was sentenced to be executed that afternoon, at the cross, and his limbs to be afterwards exhibited on the jails of four different Scottish towns. The reason for such precipitation was the fear of his judges that a natural death would disappoint the wishes of the government, which called imperatively at this moment for a public example to terrify its opponents. Baillie only said, "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." On returning to the prison he experienced what Wodrow describes as "a wonderful rapture of joy, from the assurance he had, that in a few hours he should be inconceivably happy."
Mr Baillie was attended to the scaffold by his faithful and affectionate sister. He had prepared an address to the people; but knowing that he might be prevented from delivering it, he had previously given it to his friends in writing. It is said that the government afterwards offered to give up his body for burial, if his friends would agree to suppress this document. They appear to have rejected the proposition. The unfortunate gentleman was so weak that he required to be assisted in mounting the ladder: he betrayed, however, no symptom of moral weakness. Just before being consigned to his fate, he said, in the self-accusing spirit of true excellence, "My faint zeal for the protestant religion has brought me to this end." His sister-in-law, with the stern virtue of her family, waited to the last.
"Thus," says Bishop Burnet, "a learned and worthy gentleman, after twenty months' hard usage, was brought to death, in a way so full in all the steps of it of the spirit and practice of the courts of Inquisition, that one is tempted to think that the methods taken in it were suggested by one well studied, if not practised, in them. The only excuse that ever was pretended for this infamous prosecution was, that they were sure he was guilty; and that the whole secret of the negotiation between the two kingdoms was intrusted to him; and that, since he would not discover it, all methods might be taken to destroy him. Not considering what a precedent they made on this occasion, by which, if they were once possessed of an ill opinion of a man, they were to spare neither artifice nor violence, but to hunt him down by any means."
Dr Owen has testified in a strong manner to the great abilities of the Scottish Sydney. Writing to a Scottish friend, he said, "You have truly men of great spirits among you; there is, for a gentleman, Mr Baillie of Jerviswood, a person of the greatest abilities I ever almost met with."
Mr Baillie's family was completely ruined by his forfeiture. He left a son, George Baillie, who, after his execution, was obliged to take refuge in Holland, whence he afterwards returned with the Prince of Orange, by whom he was restored to his estates. The wife of this gentleman was Miss Grizel Hume, daughter of Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth, a fellow-patriot of Mr Robert Baillie. The occasion of their meeting was very remarkable. Miss Grizel, when a very young girl, was sent by her father from the country, to endeavour to convey a letter to Mr Baillie in prison, and bring back what intelligence she could. She succeeded in this difficult enterprise; and having at the same time met with Mr Baillie's son, the intimacy and friendship was formed, which was afterwards completed by their marriage.
- Burnet. Wodrow's account is slightly different.
- Wodrow says £500 sterling, new edit. v. 2. p. 328.
- Mr Rose, in his Observations on Mr Fox's History, relates that the hope of a pardon being held out to him, on condition of his giving information respecting some friends supposed to be engaged with him, his answer was, "They who can make such a proposal to me neither know me nor my country;" an expression of which the latter part is amply justified by fact, for, as Lord John Russell has justly observed, in his Memoirs of Lord William Russell, "It is to the honour of Scotland, that [on this occasion] no witnesses came forward voluntarily, to accuse their associates, as had been done in England."
- Burnet, being the nephew of Sir Archibald Johnstone, was cousin by marriage to Mr Baillie.
- "The Lady Graden, with a more than masculine courage, attended him on the scaffold till he was quartered, and went with the hangman and saw his quarters sodden, oyled, &c."—Fountainhall's Notes, 117, 118. It is scarcely possible for an individual accustomed to the feelings of modern society to believe such a statement.