As the Commonwealth government collapsed, General Monck led his army from Scotland to London, and called a parliamentary convention composed of all people who had ever been elected to an English parliament. The convention invited Charles II to return from exile to take up his position as King.

Lauderdale was released from prison, and was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, based in London. The next few years were marked by a struggle for supremacy with the Earl of Middleton, the High Commissioner to the Scots Parliament, in effect, the first minister in Scotland. Lauderdale emerged the victor in 1663, and became the effective ruler of Scotland until his resignation in 1680.

The first nine years of his rule were marked by autocratic enforcement of the royal policy, but in 1672 Britain joined France in a war against Holland, Scotland’s main trading partner and refuge for many Scots (including Lauderdale and Charles himself) in times of trouble. The war was unpopular, and Lauderdale found he could neither manage the Scots Parliament nor keep the peace in south west Scotland in the face of Covenanter rebellion. Despite this, he retained the King’s confidence, and was his longest serving minister.

In 1679 he was superseded as High Commissioner by the King’s brother James, and in 1680, following a collapse of his health, he resigned as Secretary of State. He died in 1682.

We left the Duke a destitute prisoner with no hope of release and a threat to his head as well. The Earl of Derby was swiftly brought before a court martial and executed, whilst the Duke of Hamilton died of his wounds and escaped a similar fate. Cromwell sent Lauderdale to London as “a fit subject for your justice.”
He was taken to the Tower. On the 10th September 1651 a council minute referred to his trial as “to be made an example of justice” and on 16th October orders were issued for his trial as “an enemy of the Commonwealth”

Lauderdale had no English connections and was at all times acting lawfully on behalf of his own government and King. However, he was a prisoner of war, a leading Scots politician and a royalist. Thus he was a danger to the Commonwealth,

But a case could not be made against him, and the intercession of Elizabeth Murray, reputed to be very close to Cromwell, and rumoured to be his mistress, saved Lauderdale, who acknowledged his debt in his will dated 1671 (a year before he married her) with a bequest of £1,500 referring to “My gratitude for the paines and charges she was at in preserving my life when I was a prisoner in the year 1651.” In 1654 he was excluded from the Act of Grace, which granted pardons to many Royalists. In 1655, following a royalist rising he was transferred to Portland, and in 1657 sent to Windsor Castle, where his conditions of imprisonment were eased, so that on at least one occasion he was able to go to Eton to look for a book. Lauderdale, like many eminent and notorious prisoners before and after him, made good use of his time. He completed his education, already extensive, and accumulated a library, some parts of which are now in the Chief’s possession. He was despite his poverty able to buy new books from publishers in Antwerp, and on the flyleaves we see the words in Latin and Greek [our translation]

Durate                        Endure –
Oisteon Kai Elriston  It is to be borne and it is to be hoped

Οιςτεον και ελριςτον


The outlook seemed black. There was no prospect of release, and he was ruined. In 1656 his debts were estimated at £34,000 on estates with a rent roll of £2,200. The estates were confiscated or given away, but the debts remained.

However, in 1658 Cromwell died, succeeded as Lord Protector by his son - a fine legacy from so prominent a republican. Richard Cromwell was soon ejected, and the Commonwealth reinstated, torn by a struggle between civil and military authority. The issue was resolved by General Monck, commander of the army in Scotland who in January 1660 crossed the Tweed with his army, and recalled all surviving members of Parliament, including those expelled by Prides Purge, carried out on Cromwell’s orders to exclude any who might support the King at his trial in 1649. One of Parliament’s first acts was to review the status of all state prisoners. Lauderdale, as a well-known Presbyterian, came high on the list of those to be released, and in March after 8 years and six months imprisonment without charge, he was set free, though without funds to buy boots or visit the King in Holland.

The next stage was for Parliament to determine the future form of government of England, and it decided to invite Charles to return. The situation was very different in Scotland. In England, Charles former opponents decided freely to restore the monarchy, and they did so on various conditions, satisfied by Charles in his Declaration of Breda, which promised indemnity to former rebels and promised a level of religious toleration. Charles did not negotiate with the Scots; he simply overthrew the former English government, and enjoyed a free hand in its replacement by royal government. The Covenants had gone, never to be revived though the General Assembly was eventually reinstated.

The next issue of interest to Lauderdale was his place in the new government. He and John Middleton were regarded as the prime candidates for office, Lauderdale because of his intelligence, ability and influence with the King, who liked him and greatly valued his advice, and Middleton as an ultra royalist soldier who had led the military campaign in Scotland after the defeat at Dunbar in 1650, and who escaped after Worcester in 1651 and joined the King in exile in Holland.
Much of the politics of the next few years is concerned with the struggle for power between Lauderdale and Middleton. There is no indication of any animosity from Lauderdale towards Middleton, but the latter regarded Lauderdale as a dangerous competitor, and worked hard to destroy him. Middleton, whilst a brave and competent soldier had little political finesse, and this defect was ultimately to destroy his career.

Middleton, who had been in exile with the King for nine years and shared the miseries of poverty, was in the best position to secure his preferred post well before the Restoration, and was appointed High Commissioner to Parliament, in effect the prime minister in Scotland, whilst Lauderdale, who only reached the King in Holland a few weeks before the Restoration, had second pick of the posts on offer. Hyde, shortly to become Lord Clarendon, proposed Lauderdale for a minor post in Scotland, well away from influence and the Court, but Lauderdale sought and was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, based in London with close access to the King, but a post of little previous significance. Although there was a new Scots government, real power lay in London.

Charles was no friend to Scotland or the Kirk. He owed the Scots nothing for his restoration, which was an entirely English affair. As King of England, with all the forces available to him, and the Scots nobility enthusiastic supporters, he could and did ignore the Kirk and its entire works. In 1650 and 1651 he had been abominably treated by the Kirk, which also shamefully abused his advisors, Lauderdale and Middleton, both obliged to repent in sackcloth and ashes in order to support their King. The Kirk had also contributed to the defeat at Dunbar by purging the army a few hours before the battle of all its competent officers, deemed malignants (royalists) by the extreme covenanters - 80 officers and 3,000 men were dismissed shortly before the engagement. Middleton and Lauderdale had both commenced their careers as Covenanters, but their treatment left them antipathetic to the claims of the Kirk.

Although Charles had agreed to forgive most of his English opponents, Regicides in England and two leading Covenanters, Archibald Johnston, and Archibald Campbell 8th Earl of Argyll remained targets for vengeance. Johnston, the drafter of the original Covenant and a clerical extremist, fled the country, only to be captured in France, and returned to Scotland for trial and execution. Argyll, a prominent member of the Kirk party which had opposed Charles I and his son for so many years came to London to pay court to the King but was promptly arrested and sent to Edinburgh, once again for trial and execution.

The new administration despite the covenanter background of both Lauderdale and Middleton was profoundly reactionary, much more so than the English regime. Charles was determined to restore episcopacy, and his ministers had no qualms about implementing his policy. Middleton through enthusiasm, and Lauderdale through loyalty. Lauderdale had suffered much from the Kirk of which he had been at one time the staunch and favoured advocate. Now he wrote (in 1663) “My resolution is to prefer the King’s interests [over] all others on earth…….whatever the King commands shall be punctually done.” Lauderdale needed to repair his finances after the civil wars and imprisonment for Charles, and would not imperil his position on debatable policy issues even if he had doubts. Charles first move was to restore episcopacy. In today’s secular world it is hard to understand the significance of this action. Church attendance was mandatory, absence punished by swingeing fines – a weeks professional income for every absence from Sunday worship. People who today would riot for a football team would then fight for the church of their choice. But Scotland was not united. Only part of the country was Presbyterian by choice. The highlands were and are catholic, though some of the islands are fiercely fundamentalist, whilst much of eastern Scotland was Episcopalian. Presbyterians ruled in the south and south west. Middleton determined to restore the bishops, and the nobility and gentry, who had detested the successive dictatorships of the Kirk and Cromwell were glad to recover their influence and restore a pre-reformation style of church government.

Middleton showed his loyalty and command of the Scots parliament by enacting sweeping legislation to annihilate the political influence of the Presbyterians, and provide substantial taxes for the King. Lauderdale accepted the objective but warned that the action was precipitate. In the event, southern Scotland from Fife to Galloway resisted the changes and thirty years of strife commenced.

Although Lauderdale was at court with immediate access to the King, there was little doubt that Middleton had secured the more important post. He was able to manage the Scots parliament, to secure the legislation the King wanted and in general to run Scotland on the King’s behalf. Lauderdale, in contrast, was an advisor rather than an executive, reacting to Middleton’s initiatives rather than driving policy and action. Middleton managed a parliament which did anything the King wanted, including the voting of an income of £40,000 a year for life. Middleton was ambitious, and having secured the execution of the Marquis of Argyll, now aimed at securing his title – Duke of Argyll and his estates. Lord Lorne, as the son of a forfeited traitor could not succeed to the title or the estates, and Middleton contrived his arrest. Lauderdale offered to stand surety for Lorne, life for life, but Lorne was tried for his life and condemned, though Charles forbade execution of the sentence.

Middleton was furious that Lauderdale had frustrated his plans. A new scheme was planned – all office holders were to swear an oath denouncing the Covenant. Surely this would catch Lauderdale, who however, laughed and said he could cope with a cartload of such oaths rather than lose office. The next scheme destroyed Middleton rather than its target Lauderdale.

The Billeting Affair

In September 1662, parliament passed an Act of Indemnity which enabled Charles opponents to purge their contempt for a price (the proceeds of which would go to Middleton and his cronies). Some especially obnoxious covenanters were exempted from the act and declared unfit to hold any public office. This was not controversial, but Middleton persuaded parliament that in addition a further twelve individuals, at this stage unspecified, should also be exempted. He then persuaded the King that this was parliaments will. It quickly became apparent that Lauderdale and his party were the targets. Two versions of the bill were prepared, with and without the exemption clause. Lauderdale received the latter, and only discovered the deceit at the King’s council table. He argued against it, but was overruled.

Preston sees this as the low point of Lauderdale’s political career. Regularly overruled, his advice ignored on most issues, he was now threatened by his King. Middleton now planned the selection of the exempted, by a ballot or billet in the parliament. Members would each nominate twelve people for exemption and those with most votes against would be exempted from the Act of Indemnity. A fair amount of pressure was exerted and Lauderdale duly headed the list followed by his associates. Middleton had manipulated parliament to dismiss a substantial group of the King’s ministers.

Lauderdale asked the King what he would do if he himself was billeted. Charles responded that the parliament would never dare to attack his servants. Lauderdale than revealed that not only had he been billeted, but that Middleton had given the royal assent to the Act without authority.

When Middleton’s envoys reached London with the Act, they were first summoned by Clarendon who asked if they were mad. The King met them with a resounding rebuke, the Act was not even opened, and the envoys sent packing back to Scotland. Middleton was told to remain in Scotland. However, Middleton was still a threat to Lauderdale. Finally in February 1663, Middleton was summoned to Court to defend himself. Lauderdale was chief prosecutor, arguing that he had exceeded his authority, deceived both King and Parliament, and worst of all had shown contempt for the royal prerogative. He was finally dismissed in May 1663.

Lauderdale was now in charge. A new Commissioner was required, but Lauderdale declined the appointment because the first duty would be to investigate the Billeting Affair and as a victim, he was too closely involved. He advised Charles to appoint John Leslie, Earl of Rothes, an associate of Middleton, but not involved in the Affair as Treasurer. No new Commissioner was appointed.

Lauderdale’s inheritance was mixed. So far, despite access to the King, he had enjoyed little influence on Scots affairs and had been mainly concerned to protect his own position. His advice was ignored, and he was regularly overruled on Scots affairs by a council composed of three Englishmen, Clarendon, Monck and Ormonde, plus two Scots, and any Scots Privy Councillors who could attend. Clarendon and Monck, now Duke of Albemarle, had enormous influence with the King, which outweighed other members.

Scotland suffered from English rule again, and from Charles’ own vindictiveness, following his humiliation at the hands of the Kirk in 1650. A particular grievance was the re-introduction of Episcopacy after a hundred years of Presbyterian control. Lauderdale, who had signed the Covenant in 1638 before it became a political necessity, acquiesced in this policy because it was the King’s will. There is no evidence of any enthusiasm here. Another problem was Clarendon’s antipathy and the suspicion of the Scots bishops towards Lauderdale.

On his first official visit to Scotland Lauderdale disarmed the bishops by appointing two to his privy council. He secured the release from prison and sentence of death of Lord Lorne, arranged for him to be created 9th Earl of Argyll and secured restoration of much of his estates. It was support of a friend, and far more effective to let Argyll manage the Campbell territories.

The second Dutch War which began in 1664 dragged Scotland into a war with its principal trading partner from which no benefit would accrue. There were strong trading, religious and emotional links with the United Provinces, which had supported Scots in distress, including Charles himself, and were fellow Calvinists.
The country was restive under Episcopalian rule, and the Dutch were supporting covenanter rebels with arms and money. The Pentland Rising in 1666 was swiftly suppressed by General Dalyell.

However, a benefit to Lauderdale was Clarendon’s fall from office and exile in 1667 as a result of serious reverses, e.g. the burning of the English fleet at its moorings in the Medway.

Failure to secure the peace in Scotland was counterbalanced by Clarendon’s fall. Charles appointed more congenial ministers, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham and Ashley (the last two associates of Lauderdale) and Lauderdale himself – soon to be called the Cabal ministry. A cabal was a secret conspiracy, but the ministry was more open. Lauderdale gained two benefits – he was part of a majority of friends in the Cabal, and there was now, without Clarendon, little English interference in Scots affairs. In contrast, Lauderdale now enjoyed significant influence in English affairs.

Clarendon had always opposed any settlement with the Presbyterians, but now Lauderdale was free to seek an arrangement. An Indulgence was announced, permitting expelled Presbyterian ministers to return to their parishes, but confirming the ban on illegal field assemblies – conventicles. This appealed to neither the Episcopal establishment nor to the Covenanters. One complained of the excessive indulgence, the others of the ban on conventicles.

Scotland was treated by England as a foreign country for trade purposes, and despite efforts by Lauderdale in 1668 to change the situation, Scotland could not offer any concessions of value to convince Parliament to change the situation. Preston considers that Lauderdale had a longer term aim in view, to negotiate a closer union between the two kingdoms. This has been foreseen in the Treaty of Carisbrooke with Charles I, but after the humiliations of Cromwellian rule, there was no appetite for this policy.

At the peak of power

By 1669, he was High Commissioner to the Scots Parliament, and had combined that post with his position in the Cabal as Secretary of State. He was now in sole charge, responsible only to the King. His progress to Scotland was splendid, with large crowds to greet him at every stop.

His main business, apart from The Clanking Act which threatened death to preachers at conventicles (but was never enforced in full) was the union of the parliaments. Lauderdale appeared lukewarm, but took forward Charles’ policy, warning of the lack of enthusiasm in Scotland for anything less than full union (Charles had envisaged a part only of the Scots parliament in the united parliament). Despite the undoubted commercial benefits to Scotland of union, allowing free trade with English colonies, he was not prepared to compromise, or to force through a union which in his view (and of the Scots in general) reduced Scots representation. The measure died. At the end of 1669 he arranged for Argyll to be reinstated in his lands and title as Earl. The Marquisate was, however, lost.

Elizabeth Murray

We now come to a series of changes in Lauderdale’s life, and the peak of his authority. Marriage to Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart, the break with the Tweedales, the Treaty of Dover and his elevation to the Dukedom. This period also saw a souring of his temper, and increased ferocity towards the covenanters.

In 1669 Elizabeth Murray’s first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache, died. In 1670 Ann Home, Countess of Lauderdale left England for Paris, never to return. She died in late 1671. Early in 1672, Lauderdale married Elizabeth Murray. Was Lady Lauderdale’s exile and early death connected with Elizabeth Murray? We don’t know, but the timings show a high level of coincidence. The charges of avarice now levied against Lauderdale were based on his new wife’s life style, and we can see today in the elaborate furnishing and decoration of Ham House evidence of some very heavy spending, with much furniture bought by Elizabeth in Paris after the marriage.

Elizabeth was wealthy, intelligent and regarded as the most beautiful woman at court. She was also independent, and free to marry where she chose. She could take her pick of the men at court, and was attracted by power. Her choice of Lauderdale as a husband must challenge, and refute the suggestions of Burnett and Clarendon that Lauderdale was an uncultured oaf with unpleasant personal habits. There were plenty of other rich and powerful men at court, and she was generally regarded as attractive.

A number of changes in Lauderdale’s connections, character and policies occurred at this time and it is tempting to attribute them to Elizabeth’s influence. Some, for example, Lauderdale’s steadily reducing tolerance of conventicles, a change from his earlier moderation on this topic are reckoned by Patterson to be due to changes in political circumstances, whilst others, the break with Tweeddale and the Hays, increased need for money and extravagance do appear to be due to her influence.

The Hay / Tweeddale connection

Lauderdale’s only child Mary married in 1667 John Hay, Lord Yester, heir to the Marquess of Tweeddale, whose lands near Gifford marched with the Maitland territories near Haddington and in Lauderdale. By a charter of 1665, Lauderdale made Mary the heir to all the Maitland property (his brother Charles was by his marriage to Elizabeth Lauder in possession of the large Lauder estate and had undertaken to take the name and arms of Lauder if his did not succeed to the earldom). A further charter of 1667 confirmed this undertaking, but in 1673 Lauderdale altered his will in favour of his brother Charles and cut Mary and John Hay out of the succession. Elizabeth made a spirited attempt to persuade Charles’s son to marry her daughter, and thus join the Murray with the Maitland estates. This failed, and her daughter later married Lord Lorne, heir to the Earl of Argyll (whose estates had been restored thanks to Lauderdale’s efforts). Other Lauderdale allies, such as Moray were also discarded at this tiem.

The Treaty of Dover

For some time Charles had been keen to avenge to reverses inflicted by the Dutch in 1666 and 1667, but was hampered by lack of funds and the unwillingness of Parliament to support such a policy. In 1670 Charles found a way out of his dilemma as Louis XIV, himself contemplating w war with Holland sought Charles’ support and offered an alliance, the Secret Treaty of Dover. In return for funding England’s part in the war, Louis asked Charles to make a public conversion to Catholicism. The treaty was secret and signed only by the Catholic members of the Cabal, Clifford and Arlington. Some months later, the Duke of Buckingham, in complete ignorance of the treaty, but aware of both the English and French desired to attack Holland, proposed to Charles that he negotiate a treaty with France for a subsidy to prosecute a war in alliance with France. Lauderdale and Ashley supported the move (in a similar state of ignorance), and a new treaty, the public Treaty of Dover was quickly agreed in 1671, confirmed early in 1672 shortly before the attack on Holland.

To celebrate the diplomatic success both Lauderdale and Ashley were promoted, the former to a Dukedom and Marquisate of March, the latter as Earl of Shaftesbury.

The Third Dutch War

A war on Holland, Scotland’s principal trading partner was not popular in Edinburgh, and the subsequent request for funds even less so. Lauderdale, never a sensitive manager of the Parliament, caused offence by seating his wife and her ladies in the chamber as observers, and compounded his error by allowing minor burghs (including Musselburgh, where he had substantial interests) new trading concessions, thus reducing the relative privileges of the royal burghs, including Lauder, in which he had many allies. This cost him the support of Sir Andrew Ramsay, Provost of Edinburgh, on whom Lauderdale relied to manage the burgh representatives.

To add to his troubles the Duke of Hamilton began to lead an active opposition to his rule, and the adverse propaganda against Lauderdale which has been so destructive of his reputation dates from this period.

The Third Dutch War was not popular in England either. The French subsidy covered only a part of the costs, and as Charles sought to placate Parliament whilst he sought more funds he was compelled to concede the infamous Test Act, by which all holders of public office were required to denounce aspects of Catholic belief. This destroyed the Cabal and sparked the concern over James, Duke of York. Clifford resigned, and the Cabal was at an end. He was only one of Charles ministers, and was immediately replaced by Sir Thomas Osborne (later Lord Danby). However, James was a devout Catholic, unwilling to conform, and still worse, the heir to the Throne.

At this stage we must explain the significance of Catholicism for the English (and still more the Scots). The Reformation in England had been forced on a Catholic country, and there was considerable support for the religious practice and faith of the Catholic Church. However, the reformers had made a pact with the Devil, in the form of distribution of church lands (amounting to about a third of all the land in both England and Scotland) to the nobility and gentry, who thus had a vested, and financial interest in the Reformed Religion. Re-instatement of the Catholic Church and papal authority might precipitate a land transfer as great as the original despoliation of the Church. But opposition to Catholic rule came from the people as well as the landowners. England’s enemies in the 16th and 17th centuries were primarily France and Spain, military threats and ruled by absolute monarchs. Both were Catholic powers, so the connection between despotism and Catholicism was regarded as axiomatic. The only countries in Europe with representative government at that time were Britain, Holland and Switzerland, all Protestant. This was not regarded as a coincidence.

Catholicism, regardless of doctrine, was thus seen as a threat to democratic powers won at the point of the sword and to landed estates secured by despoiling the Church. The population, from top to bottom was united against Catholic influence and to the Dutch War which was not only expensive, but was waged against good customers and co-religionists.

Lauderdale now presented the King’s demand for funds to the Scots Parliament to prosecute a war in alliance with France, a despotic and Catholic power against the Dutch, friends, allies, customers and on many occasions hosts to refugee Scots. This was not well received.

A year before, in 1672, William Moor of Inverurie had dared suggest redress before supply, and was promptly jailed for impertinence. However, when the Duke of Hamilton, supported by many peers made a similar demand in response to the request for funds, jail was not the answer. Hamilton demanded an end to three monopolies - salt, tobacco and brandy. Mismanagement of the Mint by Charles Maitland of Hatton was another source of complaint – he was accused of adulterating the coinage, and despite having no legal training had been appointed to a judicial post as a Lord of Session.

Hamilton’s allies were bound only by dislike and envy of Lauderdale, but Lauderdale had never tried to manage the Scots parliament, and had no supporters there, so he was obliged to concede their demands on monopolies after he had adjourned the session until 1674, but it was not to meet again until a new parliament was called in 1681.

In London, Charles met similar problems with the English Parliament, and it is from this point that the real attacks on Lauderdale start, with demands for his dismissal in both countries. They were ignored by the King, who gave Lauderdale an English peerage – the Earl of Guildford, which, however, died with him. Thomas Osborne, now Earl of Danby and Lauderdale became Charles principal ministers, with his strong support.

This is the period from which come the complaints of harsh and arbitrary rule. Lauderdale became increasingly isolated in Scotland, relying on royal support and little else. In 1675 the House of Commons attacked him again, relying on the testimony of Gilbert Burnet who had charged Lauderdale with the intention of bringing a Scots army of 20,000 into England, and to planning to bring an Irish army to Scotland to suppress the dissenters. Before the bar of the House, Burnet wavered and failed to support his testimony, whilst Lauderdale published a pamphlet which quoted Burnet’s extravagant and obsequious dedication of a book, including phrases referring to Lauderdale’s ‘nobility’, ‘illustrious quality’, ‘deep judgement’ and the ‘vast endowments’ of his mind. Burnet was discredited, but his hatred of Lauderdale was enhanced.

Lauderdale’s main problem in Scotland lay with the conventicles – religious gatherings outside the formal structure of the Church of Scotland, now ruled by bishops after a long period of Presbyterian government. Today, with full freedom of worship it is hard to understand the problem, but in the 17th and earlier centuries religious conformity was regarded as vital for the unity and survival of the state. This was as rigorously enforced in Protestant as in Catholic countries, and it may be compared to the concern in the UK and especially the USA over Communist and Russian influence during the period of the Cold War from 1946 to 1985, when adherence to the Communist Party was regarded as disloyal and close to treason.

Lauderdale, a former covenanter, Elder of the Presbyterian church, and its representative in London in the 1640s, nevertheless distrusted the dissenters, but combined a policy of accommodation with one of suppression. Landlords were now required to ensure that their families and tenants attended the Established Church. An army of 8,000 men was raised, mainly from the Highlands, the Host, and sent into southwest Scotland, the heart of the conventicle movement. It was disorderly, given to looting, and useless as a military force. It was withdrawn, the Highlanders leaving, laden with plunder. This destroyed Lauderdale’s reputation in Scotland.
In 1678, Lauderdale’s opponents travelled to London, despite a prohibition on leaving Scotland. The House of Commons attacked Lauderdale, but the motion was lost by a single vote. Charles supported Lauderdale’s policy and made it clear that it was his own. However, by the end of the year it became clear that the policy of coercion had failed, and Charles wrote to Lauderdale to confirm his support, but also to advise conciliation. This marked the beginning of the end of Lauderdale’s independence. He returned to London and Ham House, but his position was no longer unassailable. There were doubts about the continuation of the King’s uncritical support, and whether Lauderdale could survive another attack by Parliament. His health was also declining, as was his temper.

The Popish Plot

Books have been written about this. Essentially it was a fraud, but it convulsed the country and forced both the King’s brother and heir, James, Duke of York into exile and Danby, Lauderdale’s principal ally into the Tower. Lauderdale was accused, unconvincingly of Catholic sympathies. With his covenanting background this was not a convincing charge.

Chaos in Scotland

Scotland, meanwhile, was in chaos, though the stability of the Government was no threatened. Military clashes at Edinburgh, Ayrshire, Drumclog and Lesmahago in Lanarkshire were compounded by the murder near St Andrews of Archbishop Sharp. Covenanter rebels were active, and Charles decided to send his illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth to Scotland with full powers as a plenipotentiary, thereby taking over Lauderdale’s powers. Monmouth decisively defeated a Covenanter force at Bothwell Brig and then conciliated the rebels, thus reversing Lauderdale’s (and Charles’) policies.

Despite this change, Charles commended Lauderdale in a letter to the Scottish Privy Council. However, Charles had lost confidence in Lauderdale’s ability to govern, and also required a suitable post outside England for James, who was appointed High Commissioner at the end of 1679, thus effectively superseding Lauderdale in Scotland. Lauderdale remained in office as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Last months in office

Early in 1680 – perhaps in March, Lauderdale seems to have suffered a stroke or heart attack. Contemporary writers comment of the rapid onset of old age at this time, with a decay in both physical capacity and mental acuity. He also suffered from kidney stones, a source of acute pain, which explains much of the deterioration of his temper. He spent the succeeding months at Tunbridge Wells and Bath, taking the waters, and consequently his influence over Scottish affairs was in sharp decline before his resignation in October 1680.

Was he disgraced?

Many commentators assert that Lauderdale was disgraced, pointing to the loss of his pension. However, the facts point in a different direction.

When Danby and Clarendon lost office, Danby was sent to the Tower as a prisoner, whilst Clarendon was dismissed by Charles and advised by him to flee the country to avoid arrest and impeachment. Dismissal was often followed by attempts to recover embezzled funds.

In Lauderdale’s case, Charles supported him against a wide variety of attacks until the crisis of the Popish Plot (which threatened Charles’ own position and that of his brother James) and Lauderdale’s loss of control in Scotland. Even when action had been taken in 1679 to replace him in Scotland by Monmouth and the Duke of York and to reverse his policies, he retained his post at Whitehall and his emoluments for a year until he resigned late in 1680 due to ill health and incapacity.

His pension of £4,000 a year was stopped by Charles on the advice of the Privy Council for Scotland who advised him to call in all the pensions he had granted, not just Lauderdale’s. The amount was disproportionate, taken from a total Scottish revenue of only £60,000 a year. No attempts were made to impeach him. His influence continued until his death, and he was able to protect his brother Charles Maitland of Hatton against endless attacks, which culminated after Lauderdale’s death in his prosecution and conviction for mal-administration. Although his fall from power gave his enemies scope to attack him, the attacks did not amount to disgrace.

Death and funeral

Lauderdale’s health deteriorated after his resignation and he spent much of his time at Tunbridge Wells where he was finally taken ill on the 22 August 1682, and died two days later on the 24th.

The funeral was spectacular – he was interred in the Lauderdale Aisle in Haddington, where the Bishop of Edinburgh preached the sermon, and attended by a huge gathering, 2,000 horses and 25 coaches, filling the road for four miles, with many of Scotland’s nobility and gentry, though not his daughter who was estranged, nor his wife.

This was followed by a huge row between the new Earl of Lauderdale and Elizabeth Murray. The Duke had bequeathed Lethington, the family home for nearly 350 years since 1345, to his wife. Lauderdale had spent very heavily on Thirlestane as well as Ham, and had mortgaged Ham to finance the works at Thirlestane. Elizabeth argued that as Ham was her house, he should ensure the mortgages were repaid from his own resources. Lethington was accordingly bequeathed to her. Charles Maitland, who had the large Lauder estates including Hatton House near Edinburgh, and now Thirlestane, was furious at this action, and tried to recover the funeral costs from Elizabeth.


John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, was unfortunate that his enemies included the two best historical sources of information on the late 17th century – Gilbert Burnet and the Earl of Clarendon. They detested him, and their commentaries have been taken by subsequent writers as an accurate account of his character and abilities.

The facts, as shown by Raymond Preston, are more complex. Lauderdale started his political career in 1638, just back from his studies in the Calvinist city of Geneva, by signing the Covenant which called on the King to respect the decisions of the Scots Parliament and of the general assembly of the Church. He continued as a Covenanter, commanded a regiment of cavalry at the Battle of Marston Moor in the Parliamentary army in 1644 and represented the Kirk in London until 1645. Then, after the Scots had sold their King to the English Parliament, and realising the Charles’ life was in danger, he became a Royalist.

Lauderdale’s conversion to the royal cause must be regarded as a defining moment in his career, and an important guide to his character. He became a royalist to protect his King, not to gain personal advantage – the King was a prisoner and could give him nothing. His support for the King put him in conflict with the Kirk, and finally into prison himself, with all his estates confiscated. When released from Windsor just before the Restoration, he could not buy a pair of boots.

At the Restoration in 1660, he received his reward with political advancement and recovery of his estates. The twelve years to 1672 showed a skilled and efficient politician who took advantage of the political atmosphere of the restoration era and ensured that the King’s policies were implemented.

Then his career declined as the King’s policy of war with Holland in 1672 aroused opposition. Parliament and opponents became more assertive, but Lauderdale had no parliamentary management skills. The Popish Plot in 1679 shook the monarchy and he was no longer able to keep order in Scotland. This failure led to his supersession, and the collapse of his health led to his resignation. He had retained the King’s confidence and affection for an unparalleled twenty years, whilst other ministers rose and fell. Some fled the country, others went to prison. Twenty years is a long period of office for any politician, and Lauderdale was successful for the bulk of this period.

His enemies described him as an uncouth oaf, though they conceded his scholarship. He was literate in English, French, Latin, reek and Hebrew, but his spelling was variable – he did not even spell his name consistently, using Lauderdale and Lauderdaill indifferently. His taste in furnishing, art and architecture was impeccable, and he married Elizabeth Murray, a wealthy and beautiful widow who was free to choose any man at the glittering Caroline court, and could have succeeded at Louis XIV’s court at Versailles as well. He cannot have been an oaf.

However, there is no doubt that his language was coarse. The words “arse” and “fart” are frequently quoted in his conversations. After his marriage, his character deteriorated, possibly due to the influence of his wife, as most people believed at the time, or to the advance of disease – kidney stones are very painful. In addition to a high income, his wife used her position to sell influence in conjunction with Charles Maitland and corruption, a common practice at that period was rampant.

Overall, we see a man of conscience who turned to support his King at a time when there was no advantage to him, who advised Charles II from 1649 until 1680 – thirty one years, and who held office for an unparalleled twenty years after the Restoration. He was ruined in the King’s service, and repaired his fortunes as minister. Educated and cultivated, he had a rough side, but was one of the most able men of his generation.