Gateway to the Classics: Scotland's Story by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall
Scotland's Story by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

James VII.—A Forlorn Hope

Charles ii. was succeeded by his brother, James vii. At heart Charles had been a Roman Catholic, although he did not dare to own it. James, more honest, openly confessed that he was a Roman Catholic.

Many Protestants who had been driven out of both England and Scotland, had taken refuge in Holland. It seemed to them that now was the time to strike a blow and free Britain, for they knew that many of the people must hate and fear a Catholic King.

They agreed that the Duke of Monmouth, an English noble, should invade England, and that at the same time the Earl of Argyll should invade Scotland. The story of Monmouth belongs to England's Story, so I will only tell you here of Argyll.

On the 2nd of May 1685 a.d. , with three ships full of arms and stores, the Earl set out. His hopes were high, but from the very beginning the expedition was doomed to failure. The men who came with him would not agree to obey him as their general. They all wanted to give orders. Some wanted to do one thing, some another. Much delay was caused by these quarrels, and many mistakes were made. Argyll was not strong-willed enough to be a great leader. He could not carry men along with him, and make them want to do what he knew to be best. So he yielded to his captains, and instead of staying in the Highlands of Argyllshire where he had landed, and where he was sure of a great following of his own clan, he marched southward. But as he marched, his little army dwindled away. Still, when at last he found himself face to face with the royal troops, he wanted to fight at once. The others did not. It was folly, they said, to fight such a great army with their few men. They advised Argyll rather to decamp in the night and try to reach Glasgow.

Once more the Earl yielded to his captains. To deceive the enemy his soldiers lit camp-fires as usual, and leaving them burning, marched away. But the night was dark and his guides mistook the path. Instead of leading the men aright, they led them into a bog. Terror and confusion took hold upon them. They scattered and fled in the darkness, and although they had been a good army at night, in the morning there were scarcely five hundred left. Even they too melted away, until the Earl was deserted and almost alone. Thus was his army shattered before a blow had been struck.

Accompanied by only one friend, the Earl went to the house of an old servant, thinking that he would be safe there. But the man would not receive his former master, and drove him from the door. So, hungry and weary, Argyll and his friend wandered away again. The Earl, disguised as a peasant, walked behind his friend as if he were his servant, hoping in that way to escape.

They had not gone far, however, before they were met by some of the King's soldiers. The Earl's friend tried to draw the attention of the men to himself, so that Argyll might escape. But some of the men, suspecting that he was no common peasant, attacked him. They were near a little river, and hoping to escape that way, Argyll sprang into the water. He got through the river and then turned on his pursuers with his pistol. But alas! in springing through the water the powder had become wet, and it would not go off. The soldiers closed round him, and a blow on the head brought him to the ground. "Unfortunate Argyll," exclaimed the Earl as he fell.

When the soldiers knew who their prisoner was they were sorry. They were paid to fight for the King, yet perhaps their hearts were with Argyll. But they dared not let him go again, and so, bound hand and foot, the great Earl was led to Edinburgh and thrown into the Tolbooth.

Once before, Argyll had been in that prison. He had been seized and condemned to death for a little fault. But he had succeeded in escaping, and had fled to Holland. Now it would have been easy to condemn him for treason and rebellion. But even in those fierce times, that would have meant a trial and delay. His enemies would suffer no delay, so it was decided to condemn him on the old charge, and his head was ordered to be cut off.

Argyll met his fate very bravely and nobly. He wrote many letters to his friends, and, like Montrose, he wrote his own epitaph in poetry. He was not a poet like Montrose, and the verses are not very beautiful, but they are interesting, and they show how calm and brave he was.

"Thou passenger who shalt have so much time

To view my grave and ask what was my crime:

No stain of error, no black vice's hand

Was that which chased me from my native land.

Love to my country, twice sentenced to die,

Constrained my hands, forgotten arms to try.

More by friends' fraud my fall proceeded hath,

Than foes'; tho' now they twice decreed my death.

On my attempt tho' providence did frown,

His oppress'd people God at length shall own.

Another hand by more successful speed,

Shall raise the remnant, bruise the serpent's head.

Tho' my head fall, that is no tragic story,

Since going hence, I enter endless glory."

An hour before Argyll was to die, he lay down to sleep. He had always been in the habit of resting every afternoon, and now on his last afternoon in life, he slept as peacefully as ever he had done. While he was sleeping, one of his enemies came to see him, but when he looked at the Earl sleeping like a child, he hurried from the room and burst into tears.

"What is the matter?" asked his friends.

At first he could not speak. Then he said, "I have been to see Argyll, and found him sleeping as pleasantly as ever man did, within an hour of Eternity; but as for me——" He could say no more.

At last Argyll awoke, and accompanied by his friends, he walked calmly to his death, and there, as he himself said, "in the midst of clouds he found fair sunshine."

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