Siol nan Gaidheal
Andrew Fletcher - The Patriot
In memory of George (Doddy) Hay.
1918 - 2001
Scottish Patriot and Nationalist who introduced me to Andrew Fletcher.
'Na! Na! Laddie, I have NOT Deserted the SNP. The SNP deserted me!'
Quotation taken from conversation with senior SNP apparachnik. In his will, Doddy left me his two most precious possessions, two books on the Life, Times and sayings of Andrew Fletcher. His daughter gave them to me after his funeral and passed on a personal message to me 'Tell Niall to keep up the struggle for Independence and may he have inspiration from Andra's words.'
So, Mo Chairdean choir,
I would like to share with you all, the story of a Scottish patriot, whose life story was an inspiration to Doddy, and is an inspiration today, in my life. Fellow Scots may I introduce:
You may wonder why I should have chosen a man who was of the privileged land-owning class. The answer is simple; landowner and privileged as he was, he was prepared to lay down his Life as well as his worldly goods for the sake of Scotland. Andrew Fletcher's great grandfather came from the MacGregor country and bought land in Achallander. The name of 'fletcher' comes from the anglicised gaidhlig 'Mac an Fleishdair' meaning a 'maker of arrows'. The Fletchers of Achallander served as a sept of the MacGregors of Glenorchy. The family later moved to Innerpeffer and Andrew Fletcher (b1598? - d1650), a prominent lawyer, Senator of the College of Justice 1623 and again 1641, purchased the lands of Saltoun in East Lothian in 1643. Andrew Fletcher (d.1650) was made Lord Innerpeffer in 1623. His son, Sir Robert Fletcher of Saltoun and Innerpeffer (d.1665), married Catherine Bruce, daughter of Sir Henry Bruce of Clackmannan, who claimed ancestry from the grandfather of King Robert the Bruce. Their offspring included Andrew Fletcher and his younger sibling Henry Fletcher.
As a young man, he was educated privately by Gilbert Burnett the Minister of the local Kirk and by the time he was 14 years old, was fluent in Greek, Latin, French and English with a fair grasp of Spanish and Italian. His tutelage included classical history, geography and mathematics. He also studied Divinity and Law at St Andrews University, as it was expected that he would follow in the steps of his father and grandfather, both lawyers of repute. He was also interested in 'Improving' Agriculture by better drainage and enrichment of the soil. Hybridisation of crop stocks to produce heavier yields was his lifelong ambition and before he died, he had achieved this aim, doing away with wasteful land use such as runrig and enlarging fields so that more efficient ploughing could take place.
He entered the Scots Parliament in 1678, at the age of 28 taking the Haddingtonshire seat against the preferred candidate of the Duke of Lauderdale, John Maitland who would later become his implacable enemy. He fiercely argued The Conventicles Act and the imposition of Episcopalian Bishops in Scotland on the grounds that Charles II would be just as tyrannical as his predecessors. To quote from one of his pamphlets distributed at the time, 'Better yet a republic than a blood bespattered tyrant waxing gross and tyrannical upon the throne of Scotland.' As a result of his continued opposition to Government diktat, military policy against the Conventicles, and Ministerial malfeasance he was accused of sedition, by opposing the Duke of Lauderdale's scheme to have the Scots parliament raise the sum of £1,800,000 to pay off the kings debts and ingratiate himself with the King, incurring thereby the great enmity of James Duke of York. (Himself a Catholic who believed in the divine right of kings to rule against which Andrew fletcher had spoken in a public meeting at which he was present, before many leading Scottish Nobles in a clear reference to republicanism.)
Trumped up charges of Treason were made against him (later thrown out as illegal), and as a consequence, Andrew had to flee to England in 1682 and seek refuge with Gilbert Burnett, his old tutor, who was now Lecturer at St Clements and was the most sought after preacher in London. Whilst he was there, Fletcher met the protestant Duke of Monmouth and was persuaded to join the Duke of Monmouth at a secret meeting of the Council of Six in London.
Shortly afterwards he was warned of his imminent arrest and took ship to the Netherlands where he was given sanctuary by William, Duke of Orange. He later returned in May 1685 with the Duke of Monmouth and landed in the west country as Master (General) of the Duke's Horse. But this expedition was doomed from the very start by poor organisation and leadership, and Fletcher was sent to Spain after a bicker with Heywood Dare, Mayor of Taunton, one of the Duke of Monmouth's trusted advisors, in an argument over a horse. Dare accused Fletcher of being a 'Scotch Thief!' and hit him across the face with his whip, cutting Fletcher's face badly and leaving him scarred for life. Fletcher drew his pistol, calling on Heywood Dare to stop and when Dare hit him again, shot him dead!
Had this not occurred, it is certain that Fletcher would have been either killed leading the cavalry at the Battle of Sedgemoor by the king's artillery, which utterly destroyed Monmouth's horsemen, or else hanged, drawn and quartered the same year at Tower Hill with Monmouth and his surviving officers. Instead, he took Monmouth's advice to sail to Bilbao. Shortly afterwards the Alcalde of Bilbao had him imprisoned a few weeks after landing. He was ordered to be delivered up in chains and transported to London for execution as a Rebel. Monmouth had been proclaimed briefly as King James II, having branded James Duke of York a popish usurper. Fletcher, then in Spain, was condemned as a traitor on 4th January 1686, having lost his estates. He was rescued from prison by a stranger who bribed his guards to look the other way. He then travelled throughout northern Spain and the Pyrenees in disguise, buying many rare and curious books and staying a long while with a Scottish banker named Kerr.
Fletcher then went to Hungary to fight as a volunteer with Duke Charles of Lorraine with some distinction in two battles against the Turks in 1688, and was rewarded with the rank of Colonel of Horse after the battle of Mohacs, and whilst he was there he received a letter from Gilbert Burnett on behalf of the Prince of Orange summoning him to return to the Netherlands and join William of Orange at The Hague. On returning to The Hague, he received the news that he had been tried again in absentia, his name declared 'Infamous' (to have one's name blotted out of all records as if one had never existed) and his estates forfeit to the crown and given to a crony of King James II. Andrew was appointed as Inspector General of William's cavalry and spent much time in the Dutch countryside, studying their advanced systems of agriculture which would in years to come, greatly benefit Scotland.
Andrew Fletcher returned on the 4th November 1688, landing with William of Orange's flagship at Torbay at the time of the Revolution when William of Orange assumed the crown. William gave him secret instructions to sound out the state of opinion of the Scots towards him and whether or not they would accept him as King. He did so in the curious position of being a King's Messenger and also a wanted outlaw that anyone could kill on sight. A very dangerous predicament indeed. He reported back to William of Orange that the people of Scotland would require him to be 'King of Scots' NOT King of Scotland on the English constitutional model. He would have to rule through the Estates of Parliament as the Scottish Constitution required, NOT ruling by Divine Right, arbitrary and by Decree. At this William 'blew his stack!' and refused to give any such undertaking because in William's view, the prerogatives, powers and personal conduct of Princes were no subject of discussion by the subjects. Here was an impasse that was to dog Andrew Fletcher for years and help to firm up his republican views over the years ahead.
He returned to Scotland in the company of Andrew Paterson from Dumfries and from him gained many insights into industry and commerce. Paterson was a Banker and generously loaned Andrew monies to help him along the way as Fletcher, being sacked as Master of William's Cavalry, was now destitute. He had to move around from friend's houses to houses as there was still a £1,000 reward out on him dead or alive, and many of his former enemies wanted him out of the way quickly. So Andrew travelled throughout Scotland under an assumed name (Mr Robertson of Strathearn) to find out how the political land lay. He was sought out by James Graham of Claverhouse, with the view of enlisting his support for King James VII and regaining his estate, and Fletcher told him 'You ask me to forswear all my dearest principles, all that I have stood for, and call it no costly price? James Stuart is a tyrant, a fanatic Papist and unfit to rule this Kingdom, his hands stained with blood, much of which has been shed by yourself in his name, not for a score of Saltoun's would I accede to your importunings!' The act and words of a brave man of principle.
In 1690 he appeared in public functions hosted by powerful friends with the intention of urging the Scottish Parliament to having King James declared abdicant. He did not mince his words either. He persuaded many influential men to write up the Deed of Accession for William and Mary on the very same terms Andrew Fletcher had previously outlined to the Prince of Orange and these were eventually grudgingly accepted and signed. Despite his opposition to King James and support for the Prince of Orange his estate still remained forfeit. For many years it was not returned to him, thus revealing a serious flaw in William's character, a pettiness, vindictiveness and small minded spiteful revenge. Eventually in 1691 his forfeited estates were returned to him without even a grudging word of apology or compensation and now Andrew Fletcher embarked on the most productive and effectual part of his life.
Fletcher and the Glencoe massacre.
With his estate newly restored to him, Andrew Fletcher and Andrew Paterson worked hard on building up support for the Darien Scheme and it was at a dinner party in Lord Belhaven's house in early 1692, that there came the news of the massacre of Glencoe that helped to bring the name of Andrew fletcher into prominence throughout Scotland. According to a diarist in the company, Andrew Fletcher first heard the news of the massacre of Glencoe, which must have exploded like a thunderclap in that gathering. In the latter stages of the meal, a courier was ushered in and asked for the Master of the Stair, John Dalrymple, to whom he produced a letter. The letter seemed to elate him and he called out to the Chancellor John Hay Earl of Tweedale. 'John! our trap is sprung! And has caught me the fox! MacIan is dead, and his barbarous brood with him. A notable blow struck for the weal of the realm!' The Earl of Tweedale was astounded and asked what had happened. Dalrymple replied 'This letter is from Campbell of Glenlyon. He mentions nothing of any fighting. Merely that he has carried out my instructions. That all is well. MacIan of Glencoe and sundry of his barbarous tribe of Highland scum, are dead, aye, and Scotland is the better place for the lack of them!' (The actual words spoken have been translated from the late 17th Century English and the plentiful legal Latin terms have been deleted to make the verbal exchanges more understandable.)
As can be imagined, this broke up the dinner party with Stair's friends and the others clamouring for more information. Dalrymple sought to excuse it as necessary for the polity of the peace of the realm. Fletcher challenged him, 'Master of the Stair, are we hearing correctly? Are we to understand that MacIan of Glencoe, that old infirm man and a goodly number of his MacDonald people have been slain? Not in battle, but murdered in cold blood? By Campbell of Glenlyon, acting on YOUR Instructions?' (Like the good lawyer that he was, Andrew had struck at the heart of the matter.) Stair immediately retorted, 'Murdered! I do not like your choice of words Sir! Murder it is not! A ridiculous word to use Sir, regarding traitors and rebels that must justly pay for their misdeeds at the hands of the King's militia, cannot be called murder but necessary justice for the good of the realm!'
Fletcher spoke to him again, 'What! Without a trial? and at the hands of Campbells, their traditional enemies, You Sir, a lawyer holding the highest position in the land, son of the chiefest judge on the King's bench in Scotland, DO SAY THAT?' Stair retorted, 'I do Say! and also that you Fletcher should stop meddling in the affairs of this land, you know nothing of the circumstances and your knowledge of the law has in the past proven defective to your own cost!' Fletcher replied, 'I am the Commissioner for Haddingtonshire in this Parliament. I am entitled, nay more than that, duty bound to seek the law upheld. By whomsoever! On whose orders and instructions were these people slain?' Stair then replied, ' On the King's, Sir. and on mine as Secretary of State. On His Grace's written directive.'
Andrew Fletcher then interjected, 'May I ask what were Glen Lyon's orders? Has he exceeded them? or is this, this massacre happened as you so instructed him, Master of the Stair?' Stair possibly feeling the argument was now going his way replied ' I am not answerable to such as you, Fletcher, I do not need to give account of my actions, nor indeed even to you my Lord Chancellor, may I remind all that I am the King's Secretary of State, not Parliament's. I take my instructions from His Grace, and His Grace's order's were to extirpate that nest of thieves, those were his actual written words. The King's command has been carried out, so Fletcher if you have quarrel with it then it is with the King's Grace not with me.'
Andrew Fletcher now gave his reply, 'Is the King's Grace above the Law, my Lord? Master of the Stair, as Scotland's senior lawyer here can you tell us that?' Stair then replied 'The Monarch is not above the Law, no. In this realm, but he is shall we say the Law's ultimate interpreter and guardian. If he so interprets the law for the best benefit of his subjects as a whole then to challenge it would be treasonable.' Fletcher immediately retorted 'Treasonable or no, I challenge it! as must all here, if we value our honour. I once believed William of Orange to be an honourable man even though, like other men he can act mistakenly. But this, this is beyond all bearing. Execution without trial, without legal sanction, of a number of the King's subjects , in time of peace! Scottish subjects on the orders of a man who has never so much set foot in Scotland!' Stair merely dismissed him, 'On the orders of the lawful King of Scots Sir! I advise you to walk carefully and guard your tongue, your words verge upon treason, Sir, treason!' Stair then delved into his portfolio of papers and produced two letters, 'These are copies of the Orders, read them for yourself!'
To the Privy Council of Scotland.
'We do consider it indispensible to the weal of that our kingdom to apply the necessary severities of law' The letter then went on to require the Privy Council to mobilize troops and support the Commander in Chief 'to cut off these obstinate rebels by all manner of hostility' and furthermore to see that no blame or harm is attached to those carrying out the orders. (Shortened for Clarity and brevity).
Fletcher then read the second order:
To Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon
'For Their Majesties' Service
You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the M'Donalds, of Glencoe and putt all to the sword under seventy. You are to have special care that the old fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues, that no man may escape. This you are to putt in execution at five o'clock in the morning precisely, and by that time, or very shortly after it, I'll strive to be att you with a stronger party. If I doe not come to you att five, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the King's special command, for the good of the country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be treated as not true to the king's government, nor a man fitt to carry a commission in the king's service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof as you love yourself, I subscribe these with my hand.
Master of the Stair
Fletcher then remarked, 'We have a new Gallienus * set over us and he has started in Scotland by the de-Witting of Glencoe.' There is no record of what the Master of the Stair said before he left. But Fletchers words referred to the murder of the Republican De Witt brothers in 1672 which brought William of Orange to power as Stadtholder, and in which he was most certainly involved as the chief instigator. Fletcher had made a dangerous enemy in the Master of the Stair and Stair later made numerous attempts to have Fletcher arraigned for treason, Jacobism, Republicanism and free thinking. Fletcher then wrote letters to the newspapers, and denounced Stair and the King whenever he could. He published many papers on the theme of Gallienus and the De Witt brothers. He attempted to have Parliament recalled, but this was refused by the King, who nonetheless, summarily dismissed the Master of Stair from his Court in London, on account of the embarrassment he had caused him. Two years later he was quietly re-instated into a close group of Scots nobles to bring about the Union of the two Parliaments.
*(Gallienus)A Roman Emperor of the 3rd century who always killed anyone who spoke out against him or questioned his orders.
In a letter of the 5th. March, 1692, after referring to the widespread talk in London about the massacre, Dalrymple says, "All I regret is, that any of the sort got away; and there is a necessity to prosecute them to the utmost." Again, writing to Colonel Hill in April of the same year, he tells him that "as for the people of Glencoe, when you do your duty in a thing so necessary to rid the country of thieving, you need not trouble yourself to take the pains to vindicate yourself. When you do right, you need fear nobody. All that can be said is, that, in the execution, it was neither so full nor so fair as might have been."
Fletcher and the Darien Expedition.
'The only means to recover us from our present miserable and despicable condition'.
Background to the Expedition.
As the 17th century drew to its close, lowland Scotland was in a desperate plight due to the famine brought on by seven years of crop failure in succession. Andrew Fletcher put this down to the feudal system of 'runrig' which was grossly inefficient, and the landowners' failure to improve the quality and fertility of the soil. Fletcher had already abandoned runrig and had spent much time and effort in developing efficient land management. During the hot dry summers, the field drainage systems and composting of the soil on his estate farms allowed the crops to survive the high temperatures and dryness of seven dry summers. Only in the Highlands where composting with seaweed was practiced was there no comparable famine.
Another major factor was the high cost of maintaining a standing army for William of Orange to use in fighting his overseas wars in Europe. Borne completely by the people of Scotland this was a heavy burden in light of the fact that 45% of William's army were Scots. Andrew Fletcher says in a speech to Parliament, 'We have voted His Majesty a standing army, though we had more need to have saved the money to have bought bread for thousands of our people that were starving for want afforded us the melancoly prospect of dying by shoals in our streets, and have left behind them reigning contagion, which hath swept away multitudes more, and God knows where it will end. Have not the Scots, ever since the Union of the Crowns been oppressed and tyrannised over by a faction in England, who will neither admit of a Union of the Nations, nor leave us Scots in possession of our own privileges, as Men and Christians?' (Author's note: nothing has really changed since then!)
Fletcher and Paterson worked hard from late 1691 to 1695 to plan a scheme along with others which would reverse Scotland's ill fortunes and generate trade denied to them by the great English monopolies. Therefore in 1693, to pave the way, Andrew Fletcher proposed 'An bill for the encouragement of Foreign Trade.' This was passed with an overwhelming majority. In its original form, the scheme for the Company had been drawn up by a group of Scots merchants in London and principally by the aforementioned William Paterson, Banker, ex buccaneer and trader whose creative intellect was in advance of his time. He and his companions proposed a joint Scots and English venture, but this was effectively squashed by the English trading companies with their monopolies on Colonial trade and the impeachment of its founders before the House of Commons.
In June 1695, the Scots Parliament passed an act authorizing the establishment of a Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies. The Marquis of Tweeddale was the King's Commissioner, and knew that the King strongly disapproved, however he lent his support to the considerable pressure of the Estates, touched the Act with the sceptre, and thus gave it the royal assent without first giving William the opportunity to read it. The spirit and challenge of this 'noble undertaking' inflamed the imagination of the country. Fletcher said that men and women seemed moved by a Higher Power toward the 'only means to recover us from our present miserable and despicable condition'.. A following attempt to enlist the support of the Hanseatic towns was also stopped by the English merchantile monopoly, and Scotland went bravely ahead alone.
In an atmosphere of feverish enthusiasm, Scots men and women, burghs, corporations and associations subscribed four hundred thousand pounds toward the Company, believed to be half the available capital of the nation. Patriotism was married to profit, and the issue was assured. 'Trade will increase trade,' Paterson had said, 'and money will beget money.' The Council-General of the Company abandoned its earlier thoughts of Africa and decided to establish a colony and an entrepôt on the coast of Darien, the most inhospitable and unhealthy part of the Isthmus of Panama. Ships were bought, built, or chartered in Holland and Hamburg, and the Company's warehouses at Leith and Glasgow were slowly filled with a collection of goods which, it was confidently believed, could be exchanged for the spices, silks and gold of the Orient. 'Darien', said Paterson, would be the 'door of the seas, the key of the universe', reducing by half the time and expense of navigation to China and Japan by the digging of a canal across the isthmus, and bringing peace to both oceans without the guilt of war.
In July, 1698, five ships left Leith upon a great wave of emotion. They sailed north about and down the Atlantic, made a landfall off the coast of Darien in November, and claimed it as the Colony of Caledonia. Many of the colonists were already dead from flux and fever, and their leaders were inefficient and quarrelsome. The splendid harbour chosen was a trap for vessels that could not sail to windward. Ambition, pride and envy, aggravated by ignorant stupidity, destroyed the spirit of those who survived the killing fevers. The town of New Edinburgh was never more than a few palmetto huts, and the ramparts of Fort St Andrew were washed away by the pitiless rain. The Spaniards' claim to Darien had been acknowledged by William and the English government, but their attempt to retake it was repulsed by the Scots in a little jungle skirmish.
The English Parliament then commissioned Admiral Benbow to blockade the colony with a fleet of English Royal Navy frigates to aid the Spanish. This did not deter the colonists who had already dug a half mile section of the canal. When the English colonies of America and the Caribbean were then ordered to give no help to Darien, the survivors lost their courage and abandoned the huts, the fort and the bay. While this was going on, Andrew Fletcher was indefatigable in raising another £300,000 to equip four relief ships from the Forth. In a debate in Parliament he expressed his anger and resentment of English arrogance and contempt,
'They must not think that we have so far degenerated from the courage and honour of our ancestors as tamely to submit to become their vassals, when for two thousand years, We have maintained our freedom, and therefore it is not in their interest to oppress us too much. If they consult their histories they will find that we always broke their yoke at the long run!'
Despite the bitterness of famine, and the shortage of money and supplies, Scotland had assembled another expedition of four ships, and it was already at sea before the failure of the first was known. It reached Caledonia in November, 1699, and found only a 'vast, howling wilderness', but the huts were rebuilt and the fort reoccupied. From the beginning there was jealousy and disunity, fever, desertion and mutiny, and the ministers sent by the General Assembly violently abused the sick and dying for their 'atheistical cursing and swearing, brutish drunkenness and detestable mockery'. Once again the Spaniards attacked, and were once again thrown back in the green wet mist of the jungle by the efforts of the Highland fencibles sent by the Duke of Argyle. When they blockaded the colony by sea and land, advanced their guns and trenches to the rotting ramparts of the fort, the Scots resisted bravely for a month and then surrendered. On April 12, 1700, Caledonia was finally abandoned to the Spanish.
In the first week of May, three ships sighted the hills of Jamaica. Two hundred and fifty souls had died of yellowjack on this voyage to Jamaica. In the following two months, with little relief and no credit, another hundred died. The Darien venture was perhaps the worst disaster in Scotland's history, and few nations can withstand the terrible loss of pride and money. Its exchequer and storehouses were empty, and its challenge to the mercantile power of England was now a mockery. Nine ships which the Company had bought or chartered were sunk, burnt or abandoned. A call had been made upon three-quarters of the subscribed capital, and it was all lost. Only three hundred of the colonists, soldiers and seamen returned to Scotland. Two thousand men, women and children had been drowned at sea, buried in the foetid earth of Darien, abandoned in Spanish prisons, or lost for ever as indentured servants (slaves) in English colonies. The anger of the people was intense, and was not reduced when the King said that their colony had been a threat to peace. Nor was his promise to promote their trade, to repair their losses if possible, more than bitter comfort. Few men blamed the failure of the colony upon the nature of its location, the contentious inefficiency of its leaders, or the blind ignorance of its promoters. English treachery was responsible. Great men who knew this to be an exaggeration, publicly agreed rather than challenge the outraged emotions of the nation.
Part 2 - His Finest Hour will be published eventually...
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