John Middleton (1619-1674), Soldier, Covenanter, Royalist, Earl of
Middleton, King`s Commissioner, and `outer` of Ministers.
John Middleton, later Earl of Middleton, is remembered primarily for his
role as King`s Commissioner in Scotland following the Restoration of Charles
II in 1661. On the political front he was driven by the desire to establish
the Kings absolute authority in all things and drove through nearly four
hundred pieces of legislation in his first Parliament, including the
infamous Recissory Act. He was responsible for the oversight of what became
known as “The Drunken Parliament” and the production of “Middleton`s Act” – the Order by the Privy Council that led to the `outing ` of over 300 Presbyterian ministers in 1662. But before this event he had a long and, to be fair, a successful, even distinguished military career rising through the officer ranks to command the Scottish Army , before changing sides to fight for King Charles I, and later Charles II.
He was the eldest son of John Middleton of Caldhame in Kincardineshire. Like many of his peers, he joined the army to seek his fortune and reputedly carried a pike in Hepburn’s Regiment in the Huguenot wars in France.
He returned to Scotland where he obtained a position serving under no less a person than James Graham,
later Marquis of Montrose. While serving under Montrose as a Captain Middleton came to notice at the Bridge of Dee on 19 June 1639, when he led a charge across the bridge after the artillery had softened up the defenders. It is
ironic that some soldiers of Montrose were responsible for shooting Middleton`s father in 1645 at Caldhame. Middleton would later have his revenge at Philliphaugh and shortly after
that he accepted Montrose`s surrender before the latter set sail to Norway.
Middleton was a colonel and a lieutenant general in the parliamentary armies from 1642 to March 1645, when he resigned due to the creation of the New Model Army and the “Self denying ordinance”. At the time he was Lieut.- General in Sir William Waler’s Army, and raised his own regiment at a cost of some £12,000 – “Middleton`s Horse” with himself as Colonel of the Regiment. The experienced Gilbert Kerr was Lieutenant Colonel and Lewis Kerr and James Innes were the Majors. The regiment had three ministers assigned to it – Robert Brown, James Barclay and Andrew Affleck or Auchenleck. In August 1645
Middleton and the regiment were in England and accompanied Leslie`s cavalry to Scotland where they distinguished themselves at Philliphaugh. In the October the regiment went south and joined the siege at Newark. Meanwhile Middleton remained in Scotland and was given a cavalry force of about 1680 horsemen with whom he ravaged the Earl of Mar`s lands at Alloa then attacked the Gordons who were besieging Spynie Palace. He then returned south making his presence felt in Aberdeen, which was left an open city. On 4 February 1646 Middleton was appointed `Major General of Horse` to command horse and foot in Scotland.
A feature of 1646 was Middleton`s relative kindness to repentant royalists to whom he gave out many passes and remissions. This may well have earned him some friends at a later date when he, too, forsook the Covenanters and joined the royalist cause. Meanwhile the Estates of Parliament admitted they owed Middleton some £45,786 for raising his regiment and pay. In March 1647 the same body gave him a gift of a gold chain worth £2,666.13.4d sterling, for his services. On 29 January 1647 he was made a major general in the New Model Army and allocated horsemen which were soon deployed in taking and razing Kincardine Castle. He was then attached to Leslie`s forces and deployed against royalists in the north east of Scotland ( the Earl of Huntly and his Gordon clansmen). It was in this period that Middleton was active as an agent of the Duke of Hamilton whom he subsequently supported in the `Engagement` (December 1647).
In April 1648 the Marquis of Argyll and his political allies drafted a document (known as the Tailors Hall petition, after that place in Edinburgh) which supported the Kirk party against the `Engagers` who sought to restore Charles I to the throne of England. Middleton had refused to sign the petition and declared that it seemed mutinous. He altered the document so that it was favour of obeying the parliament and supporting the Engagement. This action secured the signatures of a number of officers who had likewise demurred from signing it. Rewards soon followed as Middleton was made Colonel of Horse for Selkirkshire and Teviotdale, which was followed by an instruction by Parliament to the Commissary General Sir James Wemyss of Bogie, to pay the £45,000 that was still owed. Days later, on 11 May, he was appointed Major General of Horse in the Engager Army and on 10 June promoted to Lieutenant General. It was in this new rank that Middleton led a body of troopers to break up a meeting of Covenanters at Mauchline Moor,12 June 1648. Although a relatively minor skirmish against largely unarmed Covenanters, he was wounded, and gained the enmity of the Kirk party.
Metcalf in his History of Renfrew tells that
the Lieutenant Generall new maid, callit Middletoun, was evill hurt in the heid and cuitt in thrie partis on his back, and verrie hardlie persewit be ane blacksmyth; and Colonell Hurrie evill hurt alsoe on the heid; as for the common trouperis their was almost as many slain as was of the countrie people:
On 6 July 1648 Middleton led seven regiments (about 7,000 men) across the border into Cumberland. although he had preferred a route via Yorkshire which was better suited to cavalry operations. Middleton and Callander argued with the Duke of Hamilton that the cavalry should be separated from the main body because of the heavy quartering requirements; in consequence they were not available when required to provide support to Sir Marmaduke Langdale and his
beleaguered troops at Preston on the 17th of July. Of all things, Middleton twice took a wrong turning and failed to provide a rearguard to the infantry. A succession of poor judgments by the commanders at Preston, 17-19 August 1648, saw the Scots turned and the infantry surrendered at Warrington Bridge. The generals fled north but at Stone in Staffordshire, Middleton fell from his horse and was taken prisoner and sent to Hull and then Newcastle. He escaped from captivity in the spring of 1649 to lead two royalist risings in 1650 against the kirk party which included defeating Major General Brown at Newtyle. But shortly after he signed a treaty with David Leslie at Strathbogie and disbanded the royalists.
On 23 June 1650 Charles II arrived at Speymouth to claim his throne accompanied by a body of Middleton`s old friends including, Lauderdale, Callendar, and Dalziel of the Binns. Middleton`s tangled career took another turn when he was excommunicated by the General Assembly (in practice by James Guthrie) on 24 October 1650, being punishment for his activities in 1648. Somewhat bizarrely he was allowed to do public penance in Dundee on 12 January 1651 dressed in sackcloth. This was a matter of expediency as service with the Army at that time depended on forswearing past malignant behaviour, and it enabled him to respond to an Act of Levy of 23 December. His repentance was followed by an appointment to command the 4th Cavalry Brigade. He was a staff officer in the battle of Worcester and was very popular with the Scots, whom he led into battle. He was again wounded and was captured at Blackstone Edge on the moors near Halifax on 9 September, while he and David Leslie were trying to retreat. He was first imprisoned in Liverpool but then transferred to the Tower of London from where he escaped in 1651 and joined the king in exile.
Middleton returned in 1653 and joined a rising with Glencairn and the Highland lords who remained loyal to Charles; for the best part of two years they managed to tie up the forces led by Colonel Robert Lilburne, and then by Lt General George Monck in a war of attrition that got nowhere. An easement of restrictions on Highlanders and deprivation of stores and supplies, along with Monck`s policy of sending prisoners as slaves to the Barbados eventually broke the Highlanders and Middleton rejoined King Charles in exile. In 1656 he was created Viscount Clermont and Fettercaim, Earl of Middleton. The scene was now set for his political career when he returned with Charles II in 1661. During this time he was Governor of Edinburgh Castle as well as the Kings Commissioner and effectively ruler of Scotland until his political demise in 1662/3 when he was out manoeuvred by Lauderdale whom he had tried to remove from office by the Billeting Act of 9 September 1662. By then, it has to be said, Middleton had already done very considerable damage and had set the scene for a 28 year struggle by the Presbyterian community.
Meanwhile Middleton had been taking extra – ordinary action to fill his own pockets with fines and payments due to the troops ( a standard practice of the day for commanding officers). it was Middelton`s peculation of £30,000 army pay that had caused Lauderdale to investigate him, as well as the penalties collected from dissenters. In addition Middleton`s wife imagined the furniture in Holyrood Palace was hers to dispose of and had to be persuaded otherwise. The rescinding of the Billeting Act was a final demonstration that Middleton was a liar as well as a peculator, and he was demoted and thrust out of the court. He resigned his Commission as Captain-General
on 5 January 1664, and lived in Guildford for a while with Thomas Dalmahoy who had married the widow of William, Duke of Hamilton. He was appointed Lieut.-General of Militia and Governor of Rochester Castle in Kent until May 1667 when he was sent as Governor of Tangiers
for two years. He died in 1673 apparently having broken an arm in a fall (some say in a drunken stupor) and the bone penetrating his side.
John Howie leaves the following epitaph of John Middleton in his Biographica Scoticana appendix “The Judgment and justice of God Exemplified or a Brief Historical Hint of the wicked lives and miserable deaths of some of the most remarkable Apostates and bloody Persecutors in Scotland, from the Reformation till after the Revolution.” ( 1782).
JOHN, Earl of Middleton, first lifted arms with the covenanters, and had a share of the victory of the Gordons at the bridge of Dee. Yea, he was so zealous in that profession, that one time having sworn the covenants, he said to some gentlemen present, that it was the pleasantest day he ever saw, and if he should do anything against that blessed day`s work, he wished that arm (holding up his right arm) might be his death. But finding Presbyterian discipline too strict for his wicked vitious life, he shifted sides and became a major general to duke Hamilton 1648, and came upon a handful of covenanters at a communion at Mauchlin Muir; and, contrary his promise, killed a number of them. He became a favourite of Charles II, and laid a scheme to take him from the convention of estates to the north to free him of any further covenant engagements, for which he was excommunicated by the church.; and though the sentence was taken off upon his feigned repentance, yet is was never by him forgot, till he got the blood of the pronouncer, Mr Guthrie. After the restoration he was advanced to great honour, and sent down commissioner to the parliament 1661, where he got the covenanted work of reformation wholly overturned by the infamous act recissory, – oath of allegiance, – act establishing episcopacy and bishops in Scotland,- the act against the covenants, etc. But this would not do; he must have a glut of the blood of Argyle and Mr Guthrie: and more, he behoved to come west, and grace that drunken meeting at Glasgow by whom several hundred of the faithful ministers were thust out. From thence he arrived at Air, where he and some more drunken prelates drank the devil`s health at the Cross in the middle of the night. It was endless almost to sum up the cruelties by his orders exercised upon those who would not conform to prelacy for the space of two years; in so much that he imposed no less than the enormous sum of one million seventeen thousand three hundred and fifty pounds in the parliament 1662 of fines*. So that in the south and western parts of Scotland, men either lost their consciences or their substance. But being complained of at court, that he had amerced large sums in to his own hands, he hastened up, but was but coldly received by the king, ( who had now got his turn done by him) Lauderdale now being his rival: he lost his office and honour, and lived sober enough, till as an honourable kind of banishment , he was sent off as governor to Fanquirs on the coast of Africa; but he lived but a short and contemptuous life there; till the justice and judgment of God overtook him; for, falling down a stair, he broke the bone of his right arm; at the next tumble the broken splinter pierced his side; after which he soon became stupid, and died in great torment. This was the end of one of those who had brought the church of
Scotland on her knees by prelacy.”
*The fines imposed have been computed as £1,027,353..6s..8d.
Lord Clarendon, said of Middleton: “He was a man of great honour and courage and much the best officer the Scots had.”
” A Regimental History of the
Covenanting Armies 1639-1651″ E M Furgol Edinburgh 1990, p 393
summarises Middleton as ” a man addicted to the bottle and
dissolution, a friend of the episcopalians and an implacable foe of