Law Hall of Fame logo

This avowed Presbyterian was born in Edinburgh in 1611 where he became a lawyer in 1633.

As most of his Scottish brethren, Archibald Johnston had become frustrated with Charles I's imposition of the Anglican religion of England, including a mandatory Book of Common Prayer.

The Covenant attacked the Pope and his bishops and sought to protect the Presbyterian church of Scotland:

"We all and every one of us under-written, protest, That, after long and due examination of our own consciences in matters of true and false religion, we are now thoroughly resolved in the truth by the word and Spirit of God: and therefore we believe with our hearts, confess with our mouths, subscribe with our hands, and constantly affirm, before God and the whole world, that this only is the true Christian faith and religion, pleasing God, and bringing salvation to man, which now is, by the mercy of God, revealed to the world by the preaching of the blessed evangel; and is received, believed, and defended by many and sundry notable kirks and realms, but chiefly by the kirk of Scotland, the King's Majesty, and three estates of this realm, as God's eternal truth, and only ground of our salvation; as more particularly is expressed in the Confession of our Faith, established and publicly confirmed by sundry acts of Parliaments, and now of a long time hath been openly professed by the King's Majesty, and whole body of this realm both in burgh and land.

Archibald Johnston"In special, we detest and refuse the usurped authority of that Roman Antichrist upon the scriptures of God, upon the kirk, the civil magistrate, and consciences of men; all his tyrannous laws made upon indifferent things against our Christian liberty; his erroneous doctrine against the sufficiency of the written word, the perfection of the law, the office of Christ, and his blessed evangel; his corrupted doctrine concerning original sin, our natural inability and rebellion to God's law."

In November of 1637, Scotland openly defied the British monarch by constituting an independent parliament, called the Tables.

At 2 pm, on February 27, 1638, his National Covenant was presented for signature by most of the Scottish nobility before a great gathering at Greyfriars' Church. After the nobles, it was the people's turn; thousands signed the Covenant.

Johnston was suspicious to the point where Charles asked to speak to any Scot but Johnston. But in the result, the Scottish Parliament was reconstituted.

Talks between Charles and the Covenanters soon broke down and the War of the Bishops of 1639 ensued.

The Covenant united the Scots who crossed the border and defeated the British forces. Charles sued for peace and this defeat was the final straw for his people. England was soon thrust into civil war.

In those events, including the tenure of the British Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, Archibald busied himself with judging and supporting Cromwell as an anti-royalist, for which he was handsomely rewarded.

In the meantime, the next British king, Charles II had tried to defeat Cromwell's forces but had failed. He evidently harboured deep resentment towards the Scottish as no sooner did he return in 1660, he issued a warrant for Archibald's arrest. Archibald fled to Holland, then Germany and finally, France. But the French extradited him in 1663 and he spent six months in the Tower of London.

During his trial, he wept openly and loudly, keenly aware of the barbarous punishment awaiting him. He was beheaded in Edinburgh on July 23, 1663.

The Oxford Companion to Scottish History calls the National Covenant:

"... a masterpiece of studied ambiguity.... It succeeded in combining what amounted to a direct defiance of the will of the king with a reaffirmation of its signatories to ... Charles I."

But Archibald risked life and limb in penning the document which electrified and united his country.

REFERENCES:

  • Donaldson, G. and Morpeth, R., A Dictionary of Scottish History (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1977), page 110.
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Dalrymple, James (Lord Stair) 1619-1695
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Lynch, M., The Oxford Companion to Scottish History (Oxford: University Press, 2001), page 436.
  • Magnusson, M., Scotland: The Story of a Nation (New York: Grove Press, 2000), pages 425-430.