The Earls of Lauderdale

Lauderdale Tower is built on the site of the London house of the Scottish earls of Lauderdale. The first earl was a John Maitland who was made earl of Lauderdale by Charles I in 1624. The most famous member of the family is his son, also named John Maitland, who was the second earl (and in due course the first duke) of Lauderdale.

John Maitland, the second earl, was a devout Scottish Presbyterian. King Charles I tried to force the Scots to adopt the English system of bishops and a formal prayer book. Presbyterians opposed both these things. So, in the Civil War, the Presbyterians were inclined to support Parliament and the Puritans, with whom they shared similar views. During the first phase of the English Civil War (1642-47), Maitland helped ally Scotland with the Parliamentarians.

Maitland seems to have had a complete change of heart after Charles I was taken captive by Parliament in 1647. He strongly opposed the imprisonment of the king and urged Parliament to release him. He became a confidant of the king and was entrusted with the mission of rallying support in Scotland for him. In 1648, the Scots put together an army to invade England in support of the king, but it was defeated at Preston. Lauderdale was not present at that battle. During the next few years he forged a close relationship with the future Charles II. In 1651 he was captured while fighting with Charles II against Oliver Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Worcester.

Maitland was imprisoned in England. But he was freed when Charles II was restored in 1660. The government was run by a group of Charles II’s favourites, known as the Cabal. (“Cabal”, which nowadays means a political faction or inner group, comes from this group of five ministers, whose initials made up the name, Lauderdale supplying the L). Over the course of the next few years he became Charles II’s principal administrator in Scotland. As Secretary of State for Scottish affairs (1660 – 80), he was the virtual ruler of Scotland.

Well before the Civil War many Scots had adopted a Presbyterian as opposed to an Episcopalian form of Protestantism. Episcopalians rejected the Pope but kept the rule of bishops. The Church of England was Episcopalian. Presbyterians rejected both Pope and bishops; instead each church was subject to a synod of elders. (Confusingly, “presbyter” means “priest” in Episcopalian churches, and “elder” in Presbyterian churches). To obtain a Scottish army at a time when the Royalists seemed to be winning the war, Parliament entered into a Covenant with the Scots that the churches of both countries should be unified and that the Church of England should adopt the Scottish Presbyterian system. Once the Restoration of Charles II had occurred, not only was the Church of England restored to its original government by bishops, but bishops were imposed in Scotland too.

Ministers who had been appointed by their congregations or elders had to submit themselves for reappointment to the new bishops. Nearly three hundred, or a third of the total number, refused to conform, and were ejected from the church. Those who held to the Covenant became known as Covenanters.

Many people, particularly in the south-west of Scotland, would not submit. Repressive measures were imposed. In 1663 heavy fines were imposed on anyone who did not attend church. Ejected ministers were forbidden to live within twenty miles of their former parishes. Covenanters were reduced to worshipping on remote moors and hillsides with look-outs on the hill tops. There was a small uprising. The local authorities overreacted in severity. This led to more unrest. The English Government decided to try a policy of reconciliation. Lauderdale, who had opposed the more extreme measures proposed in recent years, was given control. He proclaimed an amnesty by an Act of Indemnity, and disbanded the army. In 1669 he procured the First Letter of Indulgence, which permitted any ejected ministers to return to his parish, provided the position was vacant and provided that he accepted Episcopalianism. This attempt at reconciliation led to forty ejected ministers returning, but it only further embittered the rest.

Lauderdale wanted to keep Scottish affairs in Scottish hands and argued strongly against proposals for a legislative union. His alternative approach was to argue in favour of royal powers being used directly in respect of Scotland, so that English Ministers would have no part in Scottish business. Shortly after the First Letter of Indulgence, he procured the Act of Supremacy which declared the king’s authority to be supreme over all persons and in all ecclesiastical matters in Scotland.

The Indulgences led to an increase in “conventicles” (clandestine religious meetings), and the Covenanters often came armed. In 1670 an Act was passed outlawing conventicles. Religious fervour increased the risk of rebellion. Lauderdale reacted by procuring fresh measures which made local landlords and employers responsible for the conformity of their tenants and employees. This alienated the moderates. Matters came to a head in 1679 when the Archbishop’s coach was intercepted and he was hacked to death. Both sides hastened to arm for war. The Duke of Monmouth, the king’s son, was sent north with an army. He defeated the rebels. Although many of the rebels were deported to Barbados – two hundred died in the shipwreck of one of the transport ships – the king still attempted reconciliation and new Acts of Indemnity and Indulgence was passed.

The king stood loyally by Lauderdale, but his policies and his rule in Scotland had become discredited in view of the conflict, and he left. He had a stroke in 1680 and died two years later. Maitland was already earl of Lauderdale, but he was created duke of Lauderdale in 1672.