`King of Scotland': Lauderdale and the Restoration North of the Border: Raymond Campbell Paterson Re-Examines the Fortunes and Friendships of a Key Figure of Charles II's Administration

By Paterson, Raymond Campbell | History Today, January 2003 | Go to article overview

`King of Scotland': Lauderdale and the Restoration North of the Border: Raymond Campbell Paterson Re-Examines the Fortunes and Friendships of a Key Figure of Charles II's Administration


Paterson, Raymond Campbell, History Today


IN EARLY APRIL 1657 John Maitland, then Earl of Lauderdale (1616-82), wrote from his prison in Windsor Castle, one of the several places he had been confined in ever since his capture by Cromwell's troops after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, that `my days of action I think are at an end'. His mood seems to have been one of stoic resignation, rather than despair, as reported by James Sharp, a leading Scots Presbyt erian. But Lauderdale's career was far from over: in a very real sense it had hardly even begun.

When he wrote these words Lauderdale, now in his early forties, could at least look back on a life fuller than most men of his age. In the religious and political crisis that overtook Scotland in 1637 Lord Maitland, as he then was, quickly rose to prominence. Like most men of his background and class he had opposed the attempt by Charles I to impose an Anglican style Prayer Book on the Scottish church. With all the other opponents of royal policy he embraced the National Covenant of 1638, which committed the signatories to one simple but revolutionary proposition: that there should be no innovations in religious practice that had not first been tested by free parliaments and general assemblies of the Church of Scotland. Later that year, in defiance of the King, the Glasgow General Assembly swept away the whole Scottish Episcopal order, set up with such care by James VI and I, and established the Kirk on a new Presbyterian basis.

Lord Maitland, like the sons of other Scots noblemen, was, by Act of Parliament, not allowed to play a direct part in state affairs for as long as his father was alive. But fortunately for him there was another avenue for advancement in the Scottish church, soon to be equal and even greater than the organs of government. In accordance with its Presbyterian constitution, the Church admitted lay elders both to the periodic gatherings of the General Assembly, and to the Church Commission, an executive body set up to look after clerical interests.

As early as the Saint Andrews Assembly, held in the summer of 1642, John Maitland, despite his relative youth, was marked out as an individual of unusual ability. There was no surprise in this. The Maitlands, unusually for their class, had for long maintained a keen interest in education. Leopold von Ranke, the nineteenth-century historian, was to describe Lord Maitland, in his later career, as one of the most learned ministers who had ever lived. He had a particular skill in languages, speaking French, Latin, Greek and even Hebrew. In addition, as he was soon to demonstrate, he had political and diplomatic skills of a very high order. He was appointed by the Kirk to attend the Westminster Assembly in 1643, set up to consider the question of reform of the English Church, and in the same year to carry the Solemn League and Covenant to London, a document which formed the basis of a new alliance between Parliament and the Scots. By the beginning of 1644 he was the leading Scots layman in London, and was one of the early appointees to the Committee of Both Kingdoms, an executive body set up to co-ordinate the war effort against the King. He was later, almost single-handed, to be the architect of the Engagement, a treaty between Charles and the Scots, intended to save the King from the political extremists in England.

Yet despite these talents and abilities, Lauderdale continues to be one of the least understood figures in British political history. A recent study of the reign of Charles II describes him as a `zealous Presbyterian', which he never was. Unlike some of his more extreme Presbyterian colleagues, he never believed in the complete separation of church and state, and was dismissive of clerical interference in state affairs. In this he remained true to Maitland family traditions. Although long settled on the south-eastern borders, the Maitlands had been very much in the second rank of the Scottish nobility until the sixteenth century, when they rose to prominence as servants of the state.

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