Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Swinton, John (1621?-1679)

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SWINTON, JOHN (1621?–1679), Scottish politician, born about 1621, was the eldest son of Sir Alexander Swinton of Swinton, by his wife Margaret, daughter of James Home of Framepath, Berwickshire. The father, who was sheriff of Berwickshire in 1640 and M.P. for the county in 1644–1645, died in 1652. Alexander Swinton [q. v.] was his younger brother. John received ‘as good an education as any man in Scotland,’ and devoted his attention especially to law. In 1646 and 1647 his name appears on the committee of war for Berwickshire, together with that of his father. In 1649 he was returned to parliament for the Merse, and in that capacity opposed the despatch of a deputation to Breda to treat with Charles II. His political views were tinged by strong religious feeling. In the following year he opposed the immediate levy of an army to meet Cromwell, and made common cause with those who urged that means must first be taken to purge out from the troops any who had signed the ‘engagement’ or otherwise shown signs of being influenced by carnal motives (Balfour, Annals of Scotland, iv. 80; Baillie, Letters and Journals). In February 1649 he had been appointed a lieutenant-colonel with the command of a troop of horse, but soon after Dunbar he joined Cromwell, and perhaps acted with the western remonstrants under Alexander Strahan who were defeated and dispersed at Hamilton on 1 Dec. 1650. According to Baillie (Letter No. 192), he and Strahan made their peace together. According to his own statement, however, he was made prisoner while visiting his estates in Berwick. In consequence of his defection, on 30 Jan. 1650–1 sentence of death and forfeiture was pronounced against him by the Scottish parliament at Perth, and he was excommunicated by the kirk. Swinton was present at the battle of Worcester on 3 Sept., but took no part in the conflict, in which two of his brothers were engaged on the Scottish side, and in which Robert, the younger, lost his life in an attempt to capture Cromwell's standard.

Cromwell's victory at Worcester gave him complete control of the Scottish government, and he proceeded to remodel the administration. According to Burnet, Swinton was ‘the man of all Scotland most trusted and employed by Cromwell’ (Hist. of his own Time, 1823, i. 218). In May 1652 he was appointed a commissioner for the administration of justice in Scotland, having for colleagues Sir John Hope (1605?–1654) [q. v.], Sir William Lockhart (1621–1676) [q. v.], and four Englishmen of less note. In the following year he was appointed one of the five Scottish commissioners to consider the terms of union with England (Lamont, Diary, Maitland Club, p. 55), and in 1655 he was named a member of the council of state for Scotland. He also sat in the English parliaments of Oliver and Richard Cromwell as one of the Scottish representatives, and served regularly on the committee for Scottish affairs. He was a member of several other committees on English affairs, including that appointed by the nominated parliament of 1653 which recommended the abolition of tithes. In acknowledgment of his services the English government were careful of Swinton's private interests. On 4 Nov. 1656, by order of council, the sentence of forfeiture pronounced on him by the Scottish parliament was revoked (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1653–4 p. 406, 1656–7 pp. 153, 173), and he was further recompensed by a part of Lauderdale's forfeited estates. The restoration of Charles II proved fatal to his fortunes. On 20 July 1660 he was arrested in London in the house of a quaker in King Street, Westminster, sent to Leith in the frigate Eagle together with the Marquis of Argyll, and confined in the Tolbooth at Edinburgh. Brought to trial for high treason in the beginning of 1661, he was condemned to forfeiture and imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle. He was imprisoned for some years, and after his release his life was passed in wanderings, chiefly in Scotland. He had in 1657 embraced the tenets of the quakers, and he adopted their belief with the same enthusiasm which he had at one time shown in the cause of the ‘covenant.’ He was several times arrested in company with his fellow-believers, but invariably obtained his release. He died at Borthwick early in 1679.

He married, first, in 1645, Margaret, daughter of William Stewart, lord Blantyre, and cousin-german of Frances Teresa Stuart, duchess of Richmond and Lennox [q. v.] She died in 1662, leaving three sons—Alexander, John, and Isaac—and a daughter Margaret. Swinton married, secondly, Frances White of Newington Butts, a widow whose maiden name was Hancock, by whom he had no issue.

Swinton was the author of several quaker pamphlets:

  1. ‘A Testimony for the Lord by John Swinton’ (not dated), 4to.
  2. ‘Some late Epistles to the Body, writ from Time to Time as the Spirit gave Utterance,’ 1663, 4to.
  3. ‘One Warning more to the Hypocrites of this Generation,’ 1663.
  4. ‘To all the Friends to Truth in the Nations’ (not dated), fol.
  5. ‘Words in Season,’ 1663, 4to.
  6. ‘Heaven, Earth, Sea, and Dry Land, hear the Word of the Lord,’ 1664, fol.
  7. ‘To my Kinsmen, my Relations, mine Acquaintance after the Flesh,’ 1666, fol.
  8. ‘Innocency further cleared,’ 1673, 4to.

Most of these tracts and broadsides, together with several manuscripts, are in the Friends' Library in Bishopsgate Street.

[Campbell Swinton's Swintons of that Ilk; Douglas's Baronage; Jaffray's Diary, 1832; Nicoll's Diary (Bannatyne Club); Burton's Diary, ed. Rutt; Brodie's Diary (Spalding Club); Besse's Sufferings of the Quakers, 1753; Friends' Records at Bishopsgate Street; Journals of the`` House of Commons, 1653–9; Acts and Minutes of the Parliament of Scotland, vols. v. vi.; Biogr. Brit. (under Barclay, Robert).]

R. B. S.