1685: Archibald Campbell

Add comment June 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1685, the 9th Earl of Argyll went the same way as the 8th.

We’ve addressed in these pages the travails borne by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, whose once considerable power was overwhelmed by the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and came to an end under the blade of the Edinburgh maiden.

While imprisoned awaiting the chop, the 8th Earl composed for his much-reduced heir, also named Archibald Campbell, composed a volume titled Instructions to a son with a variety of foreshadowing maxims.

You have a great task to do, you must from the bottome climb up to the mount of Honour, a very abrupt and difficult ascent; which yet, nevertheless by observing the sure footings of some of your progenitors, and the slips of others, particu?larly those recent slidings of mine own, (for other they are not) you may at last attain the top, and by your own merit and your Princes favour, your House may be Culminant again.

If it shall so happen … have a care then of that Precipice; let no revenge or ambition blind you into destruction; you may poise your self with your wings of Honour and Greatness, but venture not, nor presume to fly.

Covet not with immoderate hast Lands, Riches, Honour, for it is seldom that men whose rash desires and designs are laid out that way, compass their full content, and for the most part meet with a destiny far other then they expected; and when they are once so disappointed, Fortune or rather Providence so much amazeth the judgment even of wise men, as in time of danger they know not what resolution is best to be taken. You will not be necessitated through the want of these three, so as to reach at them unlawfully, and endanger what you have in possession, and your self together

‘Tis folly to complain of life, more to be troubled at the end of it, by the reason we ought more to complain of our birth, that made and produced us mortal, then of our death, which will render us immortal.
To be long or short lived is no more then this, we come either sooner or later (no great choice) to our grave. He is very desirous of life, who is un?willing to dye when all the world is weary of him.

The kid did his late dad proud in the 1660s, regaining the attainted earldom and re-establishing the rank and wealth of their house. Argyll — and by this name henceforth we refer to Argyll fils — nurtured Presbyterian sympathies which told strongly against him when a failed Presbyterian rebellion touched off the fruitful-for-this-site era of the Killing Time.

From this point his position speedily eroded and his evasion of an oath of loyalty to Protestantism — when he finally took it he added his own unauthorized disclaimer, “only in as far as it is consistent with itself” — got him arrested, and a dubious charge of libeling the king was questionably stretched to compass a death sentence. That was around the end of 1681; on December 20 of that year, his daughter Sophia Lindsay visited him, accompanied by their page. When secluded in the dungeon, the page and the doomed man swapped clothes, and Argyll clattered away in servants’ livery to hiding in London safehouses and continental refuges.

Having already been taken for a traitor, this Argyll on the lam went all-in for unambiguous sedition. Ciphered communications of his were among the papers seized from Baillie of Jerviswood after the exposure of the Rye House Plot.

With the passing of King Charles II in 1685 and the long-feared succession of his Catholic brother James II, Scots in Holland mounted an invasion of their home country in an attempt to topple the government. Our man lent it both leadership and title: it’s known as Argyll’s Rising and was intended to complement/support the English Whig rising under the Duke of Monmouth.

Argyll’s expedition turned up in Scotland in May 1685 and instantly went sideways. Amid leadership conflicts and lukewarm recruitment, the rebellion collapsed. Argyll was captured by a militia who “would fain have concealed his rank, as they durst not release him; but he was recognised by their officer. He was led to Edinburgh, where he was treated with the same indignities as had formerly been the lot of Montrose. As the king had ordered him if taken to be put to death within three days, he was executed on his former iniquitous sentence (30th). He met his fate with piety and fortitude; embracing the instrument of death, he called it (in allusion to its name) the sweetest maiden he had ever kissed.”


The Last Sleep of Argyle (1860s) by Edward Matthew Ward: the man was reported to have slept so serenely on his last night on earth that he had to be awakened for execution.

The next generation of Campbell chiefs finally got the political calibration right, supporting the invasion of William and Mary to overthrow James II which elevated the Argylls to the dukedom which their heirs maintain to this day.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Maiden,Nobility,Public Executions,Scotland,Treason

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1661: Archibald Campbell

Add comment May 27th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1661, Presbyterian lord Archibald Campbell, the first Marquess of Argyll, lost his head at Edinburgh.

Once a privy councilor to King Charles I, “Red Argyll” had been in the 1640s a great champion of Scottish national liberty and a leader of the Presbyterians in the many-sided wars that tore apart the British Isles.

Scotland’s Presbyterians — who favored bottom-up church governance as opposed to the crown-controlled selection of bishops that’s known as episcopacy — made an initial alliance with English Parliamentarians to support one another in their mutual hostilities with King Charles I. And in Scotland’s civil war in the mid-1640s, Argyll’s Presbyterians defeated the Earl of Montrose‘s royalists.

But the failure of Oliver Cromwell‘s similarly victorious Parliament to deliver on its covenant fractured the Presbyterian party and drove Argyll to the political sideline.

Argyll’s own opposition to other Presbyterians’ attempted engagement with the imprisoned Charles I became untenable when, to the horror of his countrymen, Charles was beheaded by Parliament. As his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Charles’s execution “completely upset his calculations, which had all along been founded on a close union between the parliaments of Scotland and of England … the results of his safe and prudent policy were ruthlessly annihilated … [and] Argyll lost his presence of mind, and therefore his control of events in this stupendous conjuncture, and became as much a puppet in the hands of contending factions as was Charles II.” His growing ranks of foes derisively nicknamed him the “Glaed-Eyed Marquis”, attributing an obvious metaphorical import to his imperfect eyesight.

“Myself encountered so many difficulties that all remedies that were applied had the quite contrary operation,” he later wrote of those years when his influence waned. “[I was] a distracted man of a distracted subject in a distracted time wherein I lived.” It did not wane all at once: Argyll had the honor of crowning King Charles II at Scone on the first of January, 1651, and even tested the king with dynastic marriage inquiries for his daughter. (No dice.)

But as events ran away from him he fell into debt, disgrace, and irrelevancy.

When Charles II resumed the throne in 1660, Argyll presented himself at the court of his would-be father-in-law, and was surprised to find himself immediately thrown in the Tower. Like the Presbyterian cause itself, he was permanently and tragically alienated from both factions of the English Civil War: Cromwell always suspected Argyll a royalist for that whole crowning-the-king thing, and Charles always resented Argyll for his part in the destruction of his father.

The Glaed-Eyed Marquis found himself shipped off to Edinburgh to stand trial for treason. Although records of the trial are lost, it’s said that he was on the verge of total acquittal when Cromwell’s former commander in Scotland, George Monck, delivered a packet of incriminating letters. This story might be apocryphal but Argyll lost his head all the same, on Edinburgh’s distinctive Maiden.

Peruse here Argyll’s tart and downright comical last will and testament, satirizing many of the surviving figures of the day and bidding his heirs to lay his body “so shallow, that at the next trump of sedition, it may by the same raise-devil directory [i.e., Parliament] be conjured up again, and meet my exalted head, that bound-mark of Presbytery, its ne plus ultra, ‘Hitherto shall you go and no further.'”


Memorial to Archibald Campbell in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral with the epitaph “I set the Crown on the King’s Head. He hastens me to a better Crown than his own.” (cc) image from Kim Traynor.

Argyll’s son and heir, also named Archibald Campbell, was himself executed in 1685 for organizing a Scottish “Argyll’s Rising” against King James II in alliance with the Duke of Monmouth. Their descendants still maintain the rank of Duke of Argyll to this day.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gallows Humor,History,Maiden,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason

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