Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston

Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston

Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston (1611-1663) was a Scottish judge and statesman, son of James Johnstone (died 1617), a merchant burgess of Edinburgh. He was baptized on 28 March 1611, educated at Glasgow, and passed advocate at the Scottish bar in 1633.


Early career

He first came into public notice in 1637, during the attempt of Charles I to force an Anglican-style liturgy upon Scotland, when as the chief adviser of the covenanting leaders he drew up their remonstrances. On 22 February 1638, in reply to a royal proclamation, he read a strong protestation to an enormous multitude assembled at the town cross in Edinburgh. Together with Alexander Henderson he was the author of the National Covenant of 1638, drawing up himself the second part, which consisted in a recapitulation of all the Acts of Parliament which condemned "popery" and asserting the liberties of the Scottish church.

He was appointed clerk to the tables, and also clerk and afterwards procurator or counsel to the General Assembly held at Glasgow the same year, when he discovered and prsented several missing volumes of records. In June 1639 he took part in the negotiations leading to the Pacification of Berwick, ending the first Bishops War, when his firm attitude was extremely displeasing to the king. After Charles promised a new Assembly and Parliament to settle the church question, Johnston responded by accusing him of playing for time, to which the king replied in anger "that the devil himself could not make a more uncharitable construction or give a more bitter expression"; and on Johnston's continuing his speech ordered him to be silent and declared he would speak to more reasonable men.

In August he read a paper before the Parliament of Scotland, strongly condemning its prorogation. In the following year he was appointed to attend the general of the army and the committee, and on 23 June, when the Scottish forces were preparing to invade England, he wrote to Lord Savile asking for definite support from the leading opposition peers in England and their acceptance of the National Covenant, which drew from the other side at first nothing but vague assurances. In October he was a commissioner for negotiating the Treaty of Ripon and went to London. He continued after the peace to urge the punishment of the incendiaries, and especially of Traquair, and in a private interview with the king strongly opposed the proposed act of general oblivion. On the king's arrival in Scotland in 1641 he led the opposition on the important constitutional point of the control of state appointments, supporting the claims of the parliament by an appeal to the state records, which he had succeeded in recovering.

Lord of Parliament

In September Johnston received public thanks for his services from the Scottish parliament, and, in accordance with the policy of conciliation then pursued for a short time by the king, was appointed on 13 November 1641 a lord of session, with the title of Lord Warriston (a name derived from an estate purchased by him near Edinburgh in 1636), was knighted, and was given a pension of £200 a year. The same month he was appointed a commissioner at Westminster by the parliament for settling the affairs of Scotland.

He was a chief agent in concluding the treaty with the English parliament in the autumn of 1643, and was appointed a member of the Committee of Both Kingdoms in London which directed the military operations, and in this capacity went on several missions to the parliamentary generals. He took his seat early in 1644 in the Westminster Assembly, to which he had been nominated, and vehemently opposed measures tolerating independency.

Besides his public duties in England he sat in the Scottish parliament for the county of Edinburgh from 1643 until 1647, was speaker of the barons, and served on various committees. After the final defeat of Charles, when he had surrendered himself to the Scots, Johnston was made in October 1646 king's advocate, and the same year was voted £3000 by the estates for his services. He continued to oppose concessions to Charles, and strongly disapproved of the Engagement concluded in 1648 by the government of the Duke of Hamilton with Charles at Carisbrooke, which, while securing little for Presbyterianism, committed the Scots to hostilities with the English Parliament and the New Model Army.

The Remonstrants

He now became one of the leaders of the Kirk Party opposed to the engagement, and during the ascendancy of the engagers retired to Kintyre as the guest of Argyll. He returned again after the Whiggamore Raid, met Cromwell at Edinburgh in October after the defeat of the engagers at Preston, and in conjunction with Argyll promoted the "Act of Classes", passed on 23 January 1649, disqualifying the royalists from holding public office. The good relations now formed with Cromwell, however, were soon broken by the king's execution, and Johnston was present officially at the proclamation of Charles II as king at Edinburgh, on 5 February 1649. On 10 March he was appointed Lord Clerk Register. In May he pronounced sentence of death on Montrose, and he is said to have witnessed with Argyll the victim being drawn to the place of execution. He was present at the battle of Dunbar (3 September 1650) as a member of the Committee of Estates. After the defeat he urged the removal of Leslie, afterwards Lord Newark, from the command, and on 21 September delivered a violent speech in Charles' presence, attributing all the late misfortunes to the Stuarts and to their opposition to the Reformation.

After Dunbar the Committee of Estates persuaded the General Assembly that it was necessary to abandon the Act od Classes, to allow a new national army to be raised, to include supporters of the Engagement and other royalists. A resolution to this effect was immediately drawn up. Johnston, along with some of the more implacable Presbyterian, drew up a Remonstrance or Protest against this move. The Act of Classes was duly abandoned, but the division between the majority Resolutioners and the minority Protestors was to haunt the Church of Scotland for decades after.

In the autumn of 1656 Johnston went to London as representative of the remonstrants; and soon afterwards, on 9 July 1657, he was restored by Cromwell to his office of Lord Clerk Register, and on 3 November was appointed a commissioner for the administration of justice in Scotland, henceforth remaining a member of the government until the Restoration. In January 1658 he was included by Cromwell in his new House of Lords, and sat also in the upper chamber in Richard Cromwell's parliament.

Downfall and Death

Upon the latter's abdication and the restoration of the Rump, he was chosen a member of the council of state, and continued in the administration as a member of the committee of public safety. At the Restoration he was singled out for punishment. He avoided capture, escaping to Holland and thence to Germany, and was condemned to death in his absence on 13 May 1661. In 1663, having ventured into France, he was discovered at Rouen, and with the consent of Louis XIV was brought over and imprisoned in the Tower of London. In June he was taken to Edinburgh and confined in the Tolbooth. He was hanged on 22 July at the Market Cross, Edinburgh, the scene of many of his triumphs, and a few yards from his own house in High Street, which stood on the east side of what is now known as Warristons Close. His head was exposed on the Netherbow and afterwards buried with his body in Greyfriars churchyard.

Character and political views

Johnston was a man of great energy, industry and ability, and played a large part in the defence of the Presbyterian settlement of 1638. He was learned in Scottish law, eloquent and deeply religious. His passionate devotion to the cause of the Scottish church amounted almost to fanaticism. According to the History by his nephew Bishop Burnet, he looked on the Covenant as the setting Christ on his throne. He had by nature no republican leanings; all the Royalists in Scotland, writes Robert Baillie as late as 1646, could not have pleaded so much for the crown and the king's just power as the chancellor and Warriston did for many days together. When, however, Presbyterianism was attacked and menaced by the sovereign, he desired, like John Pym, to restrict the royal prerogative by a parliamentary constitution, and endeavoured to found his arguments on law and ancient precedents. His acceptance of office under Cromwell hardly deserves the severe censure it has received. He stood nearer both in politics and religion to Cromwell than to the royalists, and was able to offer useful service in office. Johnston was wanting in tact and in consideration for his opponents, confessing himself that his natural temper (or rather distemper) hath been hasty and passionate. He was disliked by Charles I, and hated by Charles II, whom he rebuked for lack of commitment to the Covenants; but he was associated in private friendship and public life with Argyll.


He had a large family, the most famous of his sons being James Johnston (1643-1737), called secretary Johnston. Having taken refuge in Holland after his father's execution, Johnston crossed over to England in the interests of William of Orange just before the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In 1692 he was appointed one of the secretaries for Scotland, but he was dismissed from office in 1696. Under Anne, however, he began again to take part in public affairs, and was made Lord Clerk Register. Johnston's later years were passed mainly at his residence, Orleans House, Twickenham, and he died at Bath in May 1737.



External links

* [ Johnston of Warriston and the National Covenant of 1638]

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