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Johnston, Archibald (DNB00)


JOHNSTON, ARCHIBALD, Lord Warriston (1611–1663), Scottish statesman, baptised at Edinburgh 28 March 1611, was son of James Johnston, a prosperous merchant there, who died on 24 April 1617. He was educated at Glasgow University under his kinsman Robert Baillie [q. v.], principal of Glasgow University, and he graduated M.A. there. His mother, Elizabeth Craig, second daughter of Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton [q. v.], the feudal lawyer, is said to have been a zealous presbyterian. His sister Rachel became the wife of Robert Burnet, and was mother of the bishop. Johnston was admitted an Edinburgh advocate on 6 Nov. 1633. In 1637 he was appointed one of the five advocates to advise the committee formed to resist Charles I's attempt to force the English ritual upon the kirk. He drew up their remonstrances, and acquired great influence in their councils. He doubtless devised the plan by which each of the royal proclamations was at once followed by the reading of a ‘protestation’ and its registration with legal formalities. The earliest of several acts of the kind was on 22 Feb. 1638. After a royal proclamation at the market-cross of Edinburgh the heralds were forced to remain while Johnston read a counter-protestation respectfully but firmly worded. To Johnston was generally ascribed (Gordon, i. 33 note; Burton, vi. 183) the resolution taken at this time to revive for general signature in Scotland the confession of 1591 [see Henderson, Alexander], with the additions required by the new circumstances. These additions were framed by Henderson and Johnston (the contribution of each is specified in Rothes, Appendix, p. 210), and the document soon became known as the national covenant.

When a general assembly was allowed to meet at Glasgow on 21 Nov. 1638, Johnston was almost unanimously elected its clerk. Upon entering on his office he produced several manuscript volumes containing missing minutes of previous assemblies from the date of the Reformation, which were examined by a committee of the assembly, and pronounced to be genuine. The assembly employed Johnston to write in denunciation of the king's conduct, and at the close of its sittings Johnston was appointed procurator of the kirk, with a general control over the publications to be issued on its behalf (Stevenson, p. 347). Johnston was with Henderson specially designated to accompany the noblemen who as Scottish commissioners negotiated the pacification of Berwick on 18 June 1639. Though not a member of the Scottish parliament which met on 31 Aug. 1639, he read in it an energetic protest against its sudden prorogation (31 Aug. 1639). In the following year the convention of estates appointed an executive committee, with complete control over military operations, and authorised Johnston, as best acquainted with the position of affairs, to attend the general of the army, and to be present on all occasions with the committee (Acts of Parliament of Scotland, v. 284, &c.). On 8 Jan. 1640 they voted him a yearly allowance of one thousand merks as procurator of the kirk (ib. p. 279). Before the Scots army crossed the Tweed at Coldstream (20 Aug. 1640), Johnston, apparently on his own responsibility, wrote (23 June) the remarkable letter (printed by Oldmixon in his History of England, ‘House of Stuart,’ p. 141) asking Savile, then in London, to sound some leading English noblemen as to their willingness to aid the Scots in an invasion of England. (On the genuineness of this letter and of an alleged reply to it, see Gardiner, ix. 179–180 note.) Johnston was associated with the Scottish commissioners of estates who negotiated the treaty of Ripon (the preliminaries were signed 27 Oct. 1640), and afterwards accompanied them to London. In September 1641 the Scottish parliament formally recognised the fidelity with which Johnston had discharged the duties entrusted to him. The king, among other concessions to the covenanters, made Johnston a lord of session on 13 Nov. 1641, when he took the courtesy title of Lord Warriston (from his estate close to Edinburgh), and was knighted. Charles gave him a pension of 200l. a year. In the same month he was appointed a commissioner to treat with English commissioners for a permanent settlement of the kingdom.

As commissioner for Midlothian Johnston entered the convention of estates which met on 22 June 1643, and was on all its important commissions and committees. In the following August, on the arrival of commissioners from the English parliament, Johnston protested against a policy of neutrality (Baillie, ii. 90). He had been nominated by the general assembly of the kirk one of three laymen to represent Scotland in the general assembly of divines at Westminster, which began to meet on 1 July 1643, and he took occasionally an active part in its debates, strenuously defending presbyterianism against the independents (ib. ii. 146, and 97). He was appointed on 9 Jan. 1644 one of a special committee of four to represent Scotland in London, which with the addition of English members became the committee of both kingdoms, and supervised the military operations. As one of its members Johnston was sent on various missions to parliamentary generals (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644–5, passim).

While Charles was a virtual prisoner with the Scots at Newcastle he made Johnston, 30 Oct. 1646, king's advocate, an office equivalent to that of the modern lord advocate. The appointment was ratified by the Scottish parliament. In the same year the estates voted him 3,000l., ‘because he had expended himself and his purse’ (Scotch Acts, vol. vi. pt. ii. p. 772). In 1648 the king's party in the Scottish parliament triumphed, and formed the famous ‘engagement’ to support Charles, then a prisoner at Carisbrook. It was vehemently resisted by Johnston. The committee of estates which had sanctioned the ‘engagement’ was dispersed after the battle of Preston, and in a new parliament from which ‘engagers’ were excluded Johnston took his seat as commissioner for Argyllshire. By this parliament was passed, 23 Jan. 1649, the Act of Classes, imposing disqualifications upon all ‘engagers’ and their friends. Johnston zealously supported, and is supposed to have framed, the Act. Although never friendly to the royal cause, Johnston was present officially when Charles II was proclaimed king at Edinburgh, 5 Feb. 1649 (ib. vol. vii. pt. ii. p. 178). He was appointed (10 March 1649) lord clerk register, and as such became the custodian of the Scottish records. He is said to have opposed the despatch of commissioners to Charles II, and the invitation to the young king to come to Scotland on certain conditions (Balfour, iii. 416, iv. 2). Yet he is also said to have drawn up the treaty of Breda, which brought Charles II to Scotland (Blair, Life, p. 331). Johnston was one of the members of the committee of estates who were with David Lesley and the Scottish army before and at the battle of Dunbar. His nephew, Bishop Burnet (i. 74–5), makes him one of the persons responsible for Lesley's fatal abandonment before the battle of his strong position on Doon Hill, which Baillie (iii. 1), without mentioning Johnston, represents as made against Lesley's own wish by order of the committee of estates (cf. Carlyle, Letters and Speeches of Cromwell, iii. 34).

After the battle of Dunbar (3 Sept. 1650) Johnston is said to have had several interviews with Cromwell (Balfour, iv. 2). They corresponded about the Scottish records which fell into the hands of the English (Carlyle, Cromwell, iii. 127–8). Johnston was now in a very perplexing situation. His presbyterianism hindered an alliance with Cromwell, and made him equally hostile to Prince Charles, whom he is said to have irrevocably offended by lecturing him upon his looseness of morals (see Kirkton, p. 173). He was drawn towards the independent section, who, while resisting Cromwell, doubted Charles, and called for the expulsion of all ‘malignants’ from the army. Johnston was present at Dumfries when the remonstrance embodying the independent section's complaints was drawn up (Baillie, iii. 118), and in the committee of the estates, in the presence of the king, he admitted that he had been ‘at the voting of it,’ though he had ‘refused to give his vote therein’ (Balfour, iii. 169). The feud between the ‘remonstrants’ (those who with Johnston supported the remonstrance) and the ‘resolutioners’ (those who had passed resolutions in the parliament and assembly against the remonstrance) lasted after the English rule had been established in Scotland. With the new rule Johnston lost his offices, and seems to have been reduced to poverty.

In 1652 Johnston signed and probably composed a protest against the subordination, under English rule, of kirk to state in spiritual matters (Whitelocke, 6 Feb. 1652). In 1653 Whitelocke reports (7 June, p. 557) tidings from Scotland that ‘the Lord Warriston is angry at everything but himself, and at that too sometimes.’ In 1654 Baillie (iii. 249) speaks of him as generally hated and neglected. In 1655 his action and that of James Guthrie [q. v.] made a conference between the two parties abortive. In 1656 Lord Broghill, president of the council of state at Edinburgh, writes to the Protector of Johnston and Guthrie as ‘Fifth-monarchy presbyterians’ (Scotch Acts, vol. vii. pt. ii. p. 899; Thurloe, iv. 557).

The resolutioners and remonstrants at last appealed to Cromwell. Johnston became one of the commissioners on the part of the remonstrants to proceed to London, reluctantly, according to Wodrow (i. 361), because he justly feared his own weakness. He finally accepted on 9 July 1657 his old office of lord clerk register from Cromwell, who naturally favoured the remonstrants, and one of his first acts after his reappointment was to procure the restoration to Scotland of such Scottish records as related to private matters (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1657–8, pp. 37, 182). Cromwell also made him, 3 Nov. 1657, one of the commissioners for the administration of justice in Scotland, and called him to his House of Peers (January 1658), where he is said to have been a frequent speaker (Omond, i. 1667). He was also summoned to Richard Cromwell's House of Peers. On the restoration of the Rump he was one of those chosen by ballot to form a new council of state, over which he frequently presided. On the sup pression of the Rump he was appointed a member of the committee of safety, and appears to have become its permanent president, and when the form of government was debated, made a stand against a general religious toleration (Masson, Life of Milton, v. 508).

At the Restoration Charles II singled him out for condign punishment (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 30 July 1660). A decreet of forfeiture and death was issued against him in his absence (13 May 1661) as guilty of high treason in accepting office from Cromwell, and sitting in his House of Peers after having been king's advocate. He had escaped to Hamburg, and had gone thence to Rouen, where his place of concealment was discovered. With the assent of the French government he was arrested there, and brought a prisoner to the Tower. On the ground that he was ‘ill with palsy and dropsy,’ his wife petitioned to be allowed to accompany him to Scotland, whither he was transported to be imprisoned in the Tolbooth. Illness, and it was asserted a deliberate ill-treatment of the physicians attending him, had so prostrated him, mentally as well as physically, that he ‘did not know his own children’ (Burnet, i. 351). On his first appearance before the Scottish parliament he showed weakness, but on a second he rallied, and received with calmness the intimation that only a fortnight would be allowed him to prepare for death. His position excited some compassion in parliament, but the king's desire for his execution was so well known that Lauderdale protested against delay (Lauderdale Papers, i. 135, 155; Kirkton, p. 170). Burnet visited him both in the Tower and in the Tolbooth. He was hanged at the market-cross of Edinburgh on 23 July 1663, and his head was fixed on the Netherbow, near that of his friend Guthrie. He met death with firmness. On the scaffold he delivered a long speech (given in Wodrow, i. 358–60, note), and expressed contrition for having taken office under Cromwell, a lapse which he ascribed to ‘too much fear anent the straits my numerous family might be brought into.’ Bishop Burnet (i. 48) says of Johnston that ‘he looked at the covenant as setting Christ on his throne, as out of measure zealous for it,’ and that he had ‘an unrelenting severity of temper against all who opposed it,’ adding that ‘he had no regard to the raising of himself or his family, though he had thirteen children, but presbytery was to him more than all the world.’ Carlyle (Letters and Speeches, iii. 128) calls him a ‘canny, lynx-eyed lawyer, and austere presbyterian zealot, full of fire, of heavy energy and gloom; in fact a very notable character, of whom our Scotch friends would do well to give us further elucidations.’ His son James (1655–1737), ‘Secretary Johnston,’ is separately noticed.

[Omond's Lord Advocates of Scotland, 1883; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice, 1832; R. Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, 1835–56; Burton's Hist. of Scotland, 2nd edit. 1883; S. R. Gardiner's Hist. of England, 1883; Rothes's Relation of Affairs of Kirk of Scotland, 1637–8 (Bannatyne Club); Gordon's Hist. of Scots Affairs (Spalding Club); Lauderdale Papers (Camden Society); Principal Baillie's Letters and Journals, 1841; Sir James Balfour's Historical Works, 1825; Wodrow's Hist. of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, 1829; Stevenson's Hist. of the Church and State of Scotland, 1840; Kirkton's Hist. of the Church of Scotland, 1817; Life of Mr. Robert Blair, 1848; Carlyle's Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, ed. 1871; Whitelocke's Memorials; Thurloe State Papers; authorities cited.]

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