A phenomenal piece of original correspondence related to the Scottish Covenanters’ murder of James Sharp [1618-1679], the anti-Presbyterian Archbishop of Saint Andrews.
Having served as the Archbishop of Saint Andrews from 1661 until his death in 1679, Sharp was a staunch supporter of the Episcopalian Church, of the ecclesiastical rule of Bishops, and of the Monarchy. In the eyes of the Covenanters, Sharp was the epitome, the distillation of all that was wrong with Scottish Episcopacy. He was the first Archbishop to serve after the revocation of the Covenanters’ blood-won reforms instituted in 1633. And he did so with a vengeance, forcing all clergy to renounce the Covenant, leading to the dismissal of nearly 300 Scottish pastors.
Those who continued to perform their ministries out in the fields and mountains of Scotland, he either sent to prison or executed as a warning to others. After 18 years of forced conformity and persecution, a small group of Presbyterian Covenanters decided the stakes were too high to allow Sharp to continue. In 1679, they pulled over his carriage on the road and murdered him. The press made great news out of their having done it right in front of his daughter, she being then left alone in the carriage with her dying father.
The letter is from James Butler, First Duke of Ormonde [1610-1688]. He was one of the most committed and powerful enemies of the Covenanters throughout the 17th century. He helped lead a confederacy of forces against Cromwell and the Presbyterians in the 1640’s, and empowered the the Royalist and Episcopalian cause throughout the 1660’s-80’s, until his death.
Fascinatingly, the present primary resource letter appears completely unpublished. And the personages mentioned, including the accused Mr. Rudderford, Simeon Johnson, and Nathaniel Johnson are not found in the histories we have located. Fascinating content on spying, extortion, etc.,
The discreet mention of the Lord of Sunderland is also intriguing. Ormonde and Sunderland had been involved in a behind-the-scenes battle for power, with Sunderland accusing Ormonde of Catholic sympathies, and with Ormonde’s Irish background, such accusations were likely to be believed. Sunderland likely believed that Ormonde was more faithful to Ireland than he was to the Crown and thus wanted to sideline his influence to consolidate London’s power there. Rare insight into the Irish involvement in the Covenanted Wars as well.
Very good on original hand-laid paper, secretarial throughout, and finished, as usual with the final words and signature in the hand of Ormond.
Accompanied by a later, likely 19th century, transcription. This is included, but unnecessary, the original being quite legible throughout.
”Dublin Castle ye 16 July, 1680.
By several copies of a new Scotch Covenant which come to my hands on pretense of intelligence I find great industry is used in dispersing them through this Kingdom, especially through the Northern Counties, in which parts there is lately apprehended one Nathaniel Johnson by one Symon Johnson who came hither in April last with an authority from his Majesty’s privy Council in Scotland to apprehend certain persons suspected of the murder of the late Archbishop of St. Andrews for the putting in execution of which power in this Kingdom I gave him my Warrant of both which I herewith transmit copies.
This Nathaniel Johnson gives information concerning the rebellion in Scotland of one Wallenshaw that was with the King’s forces there under the Duke of Monmouth, ut yet sent intelligence and assistance to the rebels of one Rudderford that was an actor in the murder of the said Archbishop, of divers others that conceal comfort and assist those who were in that rebellion, of gatherings made for the said Rudderford taking notice that he was one of the murderers of the Archbishop. He confessed he was amongst the Scotch rebels and promised if he may have his pardon to make many more discoveries.
I am informed by one Whistler, a Justice of the peace for the County of Londonderry that he believes the said Nathaniel Johnson would be killed by the Presbyterians but that he is under guard, for the prevention of which as also for the getting further information from him. I have directed him to be sent up hither.
I am likewise advised that the Presbyterian ministers have past to and from Scotland more frequently of late than has been observed heretofore.
Tho I cannot doubt but your Grace has had copies of the Declaration set up in Scotland and sent about here, yet observing that most I have seen differ in words, tho they all agree in substance, I send your Grace one of those came to my hands.
Tho Nonconformists in the North of this Kingdom do give a very ill character of Nathaniel Johnson, charging him with many crimes and immoralities, but it behooves them to endeavour to lessen the credibility of one that pretended to accuse them of such treasonable practices and it is no more than the Papists have done to those that have discovered and proved the treasons of some of them. I send your Grace copies of the authority given by the Lords of the Council of Scotland to Simeon Johnson to search for and apprehend the persons mentioned in the Warrant and of mine pursuant thereunto, wherein I do not find the name of Ruderford charged by Nathaniel Johnson to have been one of the murderers of the Archbishop of St. Andrews. And it is said by some of the gentlemen in the Country that Simeon Johnson employed in the service does not discharge his duty as he ought, but makes use of the power he has to exact money from the people which they art with to avoid trouble or being guilty to avoid trial.
These papers I now send your Grace together with a joint letter from me and the Council directed to my Lord of Sunderland, wherewith I presume you will be made acquainted, which will inform you of all that is yet known here of that affair, whereupon I presume such orders will be sent into Scotland and such directions to me as the matter may require. And so I remain,
Your Graces most humble & obedient servant. Ormonde.”