Alexander Leighton D.D.  (1568- ca 1643 )

Alexander Leighton was of Scots origin, born about 1568 and educated at St Andrews university and Leyden; his doctorate of divinity was granted at these universities. Sir  Ellis Leighton and Archbishop Leighton were his sons. Although  able,  pious and learned his zealous resistance of episcopacy exposed him to the most murderous and inhuman punishments by the prelates, in particular the detestable Archbishop Laud.

He came to the attention of the prelates and the Star Chamber through his publication of “An Appeal to Parliament; or Zion`s  plea against Prelacy”.  In this he was highly critical  of the episcopal establishment and procedures which he admonished parliament to root out. His comments were soon twisted , misquoted and misrepresented to the authorities. On 29 February 1629 he was seized on the warrant issued by the High Commission Court and forcibly taken to then Bishop Laud`s house. No examination was held,  and he was taken to Newgate Prison to be lodged in what was called a `dog hole` – an open pit, in which he was thrust after being loaded with irons. The pit was overrun by mice and rats and exposed to the elements ; here he lingered for three days (from Tuesday to Thursday noon) without warmth, food or drink. He was kept here without visitors or sustenance brought in by them, or indeed a copy of the charges made against him, for the next fifteen weeks. Meanwhile on the orders of Laud, agents went to Leighton`s home and ransacked it, roughly treating his wife and threatening a five year old child with a pistol if he did not inform them where his father`s books were. The home was wrecked and anything they desired was simply taken away, including apparel  and household equipment and furnishings.

During his incarceration there was reports from physicians that poison had been administered to Leighton as his hair was falling out and skin was shedding. Despite clear medical evidence and legal representations his inability to attend the Star Chamber court was not accepted. He was tried and convicted without making any defence whatsoever. The ten charges against him were at best imprudent statements although the substance was well known throughout the kingdom. Moreover, he had the signatures of some five hundred persons from the last parliament that subscribed the book ere he sent it for printing abroad. By the  time it was done the parliament had risen and he did not even import the book for circulation. This accounted little to Laud whose wounded pride ( nothing else was hurt) demanded the maximum penalties from the court. They duly obliged with the sentence:

That Leighton shall be degraded  from his orders in the ministry, have his ears cut off, his nose slit, and be branded in the face: That he shall stand in the pillory, be whipped at a post, pay a fine of ten thousand pounds and suffer perpetual imprisonment. ”

At this sentence Laud pulled of his hat and raised his hands to heaven, exclaiming “Give thanks to God, who had given him  the victory over his enemies.”

There was thought that the dreadful sentence was staged to `frighten others` and would not be put into execution. But this naive hope was proved wrong as Laud and his minions put the sentence into action. On the 4 November he was degraded and returned to the prison for the physical punishments to be effected on the 10th of November. But the night before Leighton escaped from the Fleet prison. This resulted in the issue of the writ of `Hue and Cry`

A Hue and Cry against Dr. Leighton.

“Whereas Alexander Leighton, a Scotchman born, wbo was lately sentenced, by the honourable court of star-chamber, to pay a great fine to his majesty, and to undergo corporeal punishment, for writing, printing, and publishing a very libelous and seditious book against the king and his government, hath, this eleventh day of November, escaped out of the prison of the Fleet, where he was prisoner. These are, in his majesty’s name, to require and command all justices of the peace, mayors, sheriffs, bailiffs, customers, searchers, and officers of the ports, and all others, his majesty’s loving subjects, to use all diligence for the apprehending of the said Alexander Leighton; and being apprehended, safely to keep him in custody until his majesty shall receive notice thereof, and shall give further directions concerning him He is a man of low stature, fair complexion; he hath a yellowish beard, a high forehead, and between forty and fifty years of age.”

Leighton was apprehended in Bedfordshire and brought back to the Fleet prison where Laud could hardly wait to have the rest of the sentence executed on him. On 26 November at Westminster :

“where having cut off one of his ears, they slit up one side of his nose, and with a red hot iron branded one of his cheeks S. S. for Sower of sedition. This done he was put in the pillory, where he was held for two hours under an intense frost;  after which he was tied to a post , and whipped with a triple cord, with that severity, that  every lash brought away flesh; and though his friends had a coach in readiness to take him back to the Fleet, he was not allowed that small indulgence, but compelled, notwithstanding  his mangled state, and the severity of the season, to return by water. On the 3rd of december, none of his wounds as yet closed, he was taken to Cheapside, where his other ear was cut off, the other side of his nose slit and branded on the other cheek; after which he was set in the pillory and being whipped a second time, carried back to the Fleet where he was kept ten weeks  amid dirt and mire, not being sheltered  from even the rain and the  snow, and then shut up in close prison, where, for ten or eleven years, he was not permitted to breath  the open air.”

When he eventually was brought out of prison his limbs were so numbed that he could not walk, neither could he see or hear. Such was the depravity of the prelates wounded pride. But vengeance eventually came with Laud`s execution in 1645, after his own incarceration in the Tower. Before then the Long Parliament met and Leighton`s case was heard on 21st April 1641 and the following resolutions passed:

1. That the attaching , imprisoning, and detaining Dr Leighton in prison, by the warrant of the High Commission , is illegal.

2.That the breaking up of Dr Leighton`s house, and taking away his papers, by Edward Wright, then shetriff, and now lord mayor of London, is illegal.

 3. That the said Edward Wright ought to give reparation to Dr. Leighton for his damages sustained, by breaking open his house, and taking away his papers and other goods.

4. That the archbishop of Canterbury, then bishop of London, ought to give satisfaction to Dr. Leighton for his damages sustained, by fifteen weeks imprisonment in Newgate upon the said bishop’s warrant.

 5. That the great fine of ten thousand pounds, laid upon Dr. Leighton by sentence of the star-chamber, is illegal.

6. That the sentence of the corporeal punishment, imposed upon Dr. Leighton, the whipping, branding, sliting the nose, cutting off his ears, setting in the pillory, and the execution thereof; and the imprisonment thereupon, is illegal.

7. That Dr. Leighton ought to be freed from the great fine of ten thousand pounds, and from the sentence of perpetual imprisonment, and to have his bonds delivered to him which he gave for his true imprisonment.

8. That Dr. Leighton ought to have good satisfaction and reparation for his great damages and sufferings sustained, by the illegal sentence of the star-chamber.”

Such were the resolutions of the House of Commons, after a mature examination of this affecting case, when it was voted, that he should receive six thousand pounds for damages; though, on account of the confusion of the times, it is believed he never received the money. About two years after this, he was appointed, by the House of Commons, keeper of Lambeth House, which had been turned into a prison. While in this situation, he is said by some to have made reprisals on the purses of the loyal clergy and gentry for the damages he had sustained by their party. How far this is correct there is no means of ascertaining. If false, it was what he had reason to expect from the party. If true, it only amounts to this, that intolerance, persecution, and injustice, are crimes, whatever party or individual be the criminal. In 1643 Dr. Leighton was still keeper of Lambeth prison; but the date of his death is not known.