Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, Archibald (1576-1645)

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NAPIER, Sir ARCHIBALD, first Lord Napier (1576–1645), ninth of Merchiston, treasurer-depute of Scotland, eldest son of John Napier of Merchiston [q. v.] by Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Stirling of Keir, Stirlingshire, was born in 1576. He was educated at the university of Glasgow, where he matriculated in March 1593. He was infeft in the barony of Merchiston 18 June 1597, probably soon after attaining the age of twenty-one. At an early period he, under his father's guidance, devoted special attention to agricultural pursuits, and on 22 June 1598 he received from James VI a patent for twenty-one years for the manuring of all lands in the kingdom by his new method. In the same year he published ‘The New Order of Gooding and Manuring all sorts of Field Land with Common Salt, whereby the same may bring forth in more abundance both of Grass and Corn of all sorts, and far cheaper than by the common way of Dunging used heretofore in Scotland.’ For this work his father was doubtless mainly responsible.

On 12 Dec. 1598 he had a charter of the lands of Auchlenschee in the lordship of Menteith (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. vi. No. 809). On 16 June 1601 Napier was brought before the privy council for assault on a servant of the lord treasurer on the stairhead of the Tolbooth, but was assoilzied through the pursuer failing in his proof (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vi. 259). On the accession of James VI to the English throne in 1603 he accompanied him to London, and was appointed gentleman of the bedchamber. He was sworn a privy councillor 20 July 1615, appointed treasurer-depute of Scotland for life 21 Oct. 1622, and named justice clerk 23 Nov. 1623 on the death of Sir John Cockburn of Ormiston, whom on 25 Nov. he succeeded as ordinary lord of session. On 9 Aug. 1624 he resigned the office of justice clerk. On 14 Jan. 1625 he had a license to transport twelve thousand stoneweight of tallow annually for seven years ‘in remembrance of the mony good services done to his majesty these mony years bigane.’

Napier attended the funeral of King James in London in May 1625 (Calderwood, History, vii. 634). After the accession of Charles I he was on 15 Feb. 1626 created one of the extraordinary lords of session, and on 2 March 1627 he was created a baronet of Nova Scotia. By warrant of the privy seal on 1 May of the same year he received a pension of 2,400l. Scots yearly, for having at the king's desire advanced 5,000l. Scots to Walter Steward, gentleman of the privy chamber. On 4 May 1627 he was created a peer of Scotland by the title of Baron Napier of Merchiston; he was also appointed a commissioner of tithes, and obtained a lease of the crown lands of Orkney for forty-five thousand merks annually, which he subleased to Sir William Dick for fifty-two thousand merks. In March 1631 he resigned the lease of Orkney, the pension, and the office of treasurer-depute, receiving a letter of approbation and an allowance of 4,000l. sterling. The question of the resignation gave rise for a time to some misunderstanding between him and the king, which, however, was entirely removed by a personal interview (Napier, Life of Montrose, i. 107; Douglas, ed. Wood, ii. 293).

The political conduct of Napier during the covenanting struggle closely coincided with that of his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Montrose, who was considerably under his influence. At first he by no means favoured the ecclesiastical policy of Charles, especially in the political prominence given to the bishops, holding that, while to give them a competency is ‘agreeable to the law of God and man,’ to ‘invest them into great estates and principal offices of state is neither convenient for the church, for the king, nor for the state’ (ib. p. 70). With the members of the council he on 25 Aug. 1637 sent a letter to the king explaining the difficulty in enforcing the use of the service-book (Balfour, Annals, ii. 230). He was one of those who subscribed the king's confession at Holyrood on 22 Sept. 1638 (Spalding, Memorialls, i. 107), and he was appointed a commissioner for pressing subscriptions to it.

In the list of commissioners in Spalding's ‘History’ the word dubito appears opposite Napier's name, apparently to indicate distrust of the strength of his adherence to the policy of the kirk. When the king's fleet with the Marquis of Hamilton arrived in Leith Roads in May 1639, he was deputed by the estates to make a conciliatory proposal, and the fleet soon afterwards left the roads. In 1640 he was named one of three to act as commissioner to the Scots parliament in the event of the absence of the king's commissioner Traquair, and on his order; but when Traquair was not sent down, he declined to act as commissioner on the ground that he had no order from Traquair.

Along with Montrose Napier drew up the band of Cumbernauld, which was signed by them and others in August 1640. On this account they were on 11 June 1641 committed prisoners to the castle of Edinburgh. On 1 July he petitioned the estates that nothing might be read in the house ‘which might give the house a bad information of them, until that first they were heard to clear themselves’ (Balfour, iii. 14), and his petition for an audience having been granted he pleaded that not only had nothing been done by them contrary to the law, but that their main motive had been a regard ‘to the honour of the nation’ (ib. p. 20). No decision was then arrived at, and they were recommitted to the castle; but on 20 Aug. they were again brought before parliament, when in presence of the king Napier declared that in the course they had pursued they thought they were doing good service to the king and to the estates and subjects of the kingdom. At the conclusion of his speech, the king, he said, nodded to him and seemed well pleased (manuscript quoted in Napier, i. 355). They were, however, detained in prison until 14 Nov., when they were liberated on caution that ‘from henceforth they carry themselves soberly and discreetly,’ and that they appear before a committee of the king and parliament on 4 Jan. (Balfour, iii. 158). By act of parliament the proceedings of this committee were to be concluded on 1 March 1642, but no proceedings were taken, and on 28 Feb. they presented a protestation to the effect that by the fact that they were not granted a trial they must be held free of all charge (Napier, i. 367; Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. p. 169).

In October 1644, owing to the successes of Montrose in the north of Scotland, Napier together with his son, the Master of Napier, and his son-in-law, Sir George Stirling of Keir, was ordered to confine himself to his apartments in Holyrood Palace, and not to stir from thence under a penalty of 1,000l. (Guthrie, Memoirs, 2nd ed. p. 170). This penalty he incurred on the escape of his son to Montrose on 21 April 1645 (ib. p. 185); and, in addition, he himself and his wife and daughter were sent to close confinement in the castle of Edinburgh (ib.) Thence, on account of the pestilence in Edinburgh, they were transferred to the prison of Linlithgow (ib. p. 190), from which they were released by the Master of Napier after the victory of Montrose at Kilsyth on 15 Aug. Napier accompanied Montrose to the south of Scotland, and after his defeat at Philiphaugh on 13 Sept. escaped with him to Atholl; but there fell sick and had to be left at Fin Castle, where he died in November. He ‘was so very old,’ says Guthry, ‘that he could not have marched with them, yet in respect of his great worth and experience he might have been very useful in his councils’ (ib. p. 209). Montrose made special arrangements for a fitting funeral at the kirk of Blair. In 1647 the covenanting party gave notice to his son that they intended to raise his bones and pass sentence of forfaulture thereupon, but on the payment of five thousand marks the intended forfaulture was discharged (ib. p. 200).

Napier is described by Wishart as ‘a man of most innocent life and happy parts; a truly noble gentleman, and chief of an ancient family; one who equalled his father and grandfather, Napiers—philosophers and mathematicians famous through all the world—in other things, but far excelled them in his dexterity in civil business’ (Wishart, Memoirs of Montrose).

By his wife, Lady Margaret Graham, second daughter of John, fourth earl of Montrose, and sister of James, first marquis of Montrose, Napier had two sons—John, died young; and Archibald, second baron Napier [q. v.]—and two daughters: Margaret, married to Sir George Stirling of Keir; and Lilias, who died unmarried. Both daughters, on account of their devotion to Montrose and the king, were subjected to imprisonment and other hardships, and ultimately took refuge in Holland.

Napier was the author of ‘A True Relation of the Unjust Pursuit against the Lord Napier, written by himself, containing an account of some court intrigues in which he was the sufferer,’ which, under the title of ‘Memoirs of Archibald, first Lord Napier, written by himself,’ was published at Edinburgh in 1793. In Mark Napier's ‘Memoirs of John Napier of Merchiston’ (1834, p. 299) there is an engraving by R. Bell of a portrait of Napier by Jameson; and this is reproduced in the same writer's ‘Memoirs of Montrose’ (i. 108).

[Bishop Guthrie's Memoirs; Gordon's Scots Affairs and Spalding's Memorialls of the Trubles, both in the Spalding Club; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals in the Bannatyne Club; Sir James Balfour's Annals; Wishart's Memoirs of Montrose; Napier's Memoirs of Montrose; Lord Napier's own Memoirs; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 292–4.]

T. F. H.