1680: David Hackston, Cameronian

Add comment July 30th, 2020 Headsman

Covenanter David Hackston was drawn and quartered at the Tolbooth on this date in 1680, for participating in the assassination of the hated (by Covenanters) Episcopalian Archbishop James Sharp a year before.

This primate of a landowning family of centuries vintage was a Cameronian — that is, a follower of Richard Cameron. Cameronians were the most prominent radical faction of Covenanters — Scottish Presbyterians who insisted upon the terms of the Covenant made by Presbyterians to support the restoration of the Stuart monarchy after the beheading of King Charles I.

At the time of that covenant, 1650, the executed king’s son Charles II was badly in need of allies, and in no small danger of fading into irrelevance in continental exile.

If one can test the character of a man by how he treats those who cannot help him, Charles fils failed the exam: as soon as he was restored to the throne in 1660, he renounced the deal and put the screws to religious dissidents, especially the sizable contingent of Scottish Presbyterians, Calvinists who chafed under top-down control of the (to their eyes) Catholic-esque Anglican hierarchy. Religious dissidence and political dissidence were heads of the same coin as Covenanters bid defiance to increasingly stringent measures meant to suppress their field preachers and the unauthorized religious gatherings they led.

The culmination of this hostility was the Killing Time, that period of the 1680s when Episcopalian forces were explicitly licensed to conduct summary executions of apparent Covenanters.

And that turn to the bloodiest phase of the struggle had a great deal to do with the Cameronians.

The aforementioned 1679 assassination of Archbishop Sharp was one such outrage. Our man David Hackston, a prominent dissident, was involved in the plot but stood by during the assassination, allegedly because a pending lawsuit between he and Sharp might have thrown an undue personal taint on a political murder. In images of the event, look for Hackston depicted on the fringes.


Hackson holds his horses while his buddies do for Sharp. (cc) image by Kim Traynor of a memorial to Sharp, at St Andrews.

A year later, Hackston was part of the entourage of Richard Cameron himself when the latter marched into the village of Sanquhar and issued what’s known as the Sanquhar Declaration — an embrace of open rebellion, a gauntlet thrown at the feet of the House of Stuart.

[W]e, for ourselves, and all that will adhere to us as the representative of the true Presbyterian Kirk and covenanted nation of Scotland, considering the great hazard of lying under such a sin any longer, do by these presents, disown Charles Stuart, that has been reigning, or rather tyrannising, as we may say, on the throne of Britain these years bygone, as having any right, title to, or interest in, the said Crown of Scotland for government, as forfeited, several years since, by his perjury and breach of covenant both to God and His Kirk, and usurpation of His Crown and royal prerogatives therein, and many other breaches in matters ecclesiastic, and by tyranny and breach of the very leges regnandi in matters civil. For which reason we declare, that several years since he should have been denuded of being king, ruler, or magistrate, or of having any power to act or to be obeyed as such. As also we, being under the standard of our Lord Jesus Christ, Captain of Salvation, do declare a war with such a tyrant and usurper, and all the men of his practices, as enemies to our Lord Jesus Christ, and His cause and covenants; and against all such as have strengthened him, sided with, or anywise acknowledged him in his tyranny, civil or ecclesiastic; yea, against all such as shall strengthen, side with, or anywise acknowledge any other in like usurpation and tyranny — far more against such as would betray or deliver up our free reformed mother Kirk unto the bondage of Antichrist the Pope of Rome …

also we disown and by this resent the reception of the Duke of York [the heir presumptive, and the future King James II -ed.], that professed Papist, as repugnant to our principles and vows to the Most High God, and as that which is the great, though not alone, just reproach of our Kirk and nation. We also, by this, protest against his succeeding to the Crown, and whatever has been done, or any are essaying to do in this land, given to the Lord, in prejudice to our work of reformation. And to conclude, we hope, after this, none will blame us for, or offend at, our rewarding those that are against us as they have done to us, as the Lord gives opportunity.

It’s stuff like this that helped to catalyze the killing time — but also the destabilized legitimacy of a reigning house that would be seen off before the decade was out.

David Hackston was not around to witness that glorious legacy because he was captured shortly after the Sanquhar Declaration, at the same battle where Richard Cameron was killed. The Scottish Privy Council ordained him a gruesome fate.

That his body be drawn backward on a hurdle to the Mercat Cross; that there be a high scaffold erected a little above the Cross, where, in the first place, his right hand is to be struck off and, after some time, his left hand; then he is to be hanged up, and cut down alive, his bowels to be taken out, and his heart shown to the people by the hangman; then his heart and his bowels to be burned in a fire prepared for that purpose on the scaffold; that, afterwards, his head be cut off, and his body divided into four quarters; his head to be fixed on the Netherbow; one of his quarters with both his hands to be affixed at St. Andrews, another quarter at Glasgow, a third at Leith, a fourth at Burntisland; that none presume to be in mourning for him, or any coffin brought; that no person be suffered to be on the scaffold with him, save the two bailies, the executioner and his servants; that he be allowed to pray to God Almighty, but not to speak to the people; that Hackston’s and Cameron’s heads be fixed on higher poles than the rest.

Those piked heads also rose higher than their persecutors, however. An infantry regiment raised to support the new Protestant rulers William and Mary in 1689 was nicknamed “Cameronians” in tribute to this once-proscribed movement — and had the honor of “rewarding those that are against us as they have done to us” by playing a pivotal role in suppressing the forces still loyal to the deposed King James.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason

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