Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston, c.1611-1663

Presbyterian lawyer and an uncompromising leader of the Covenanter movement; he was finally executed for his involvement with Cromwell's Protectorate.

Portrait of Sir Archibald Johnston of WaristonWariston, as he is usually known, was born in Edinburgh into a prosperous and devout Presbyterian family. The death of his first wife in 1633 threw him into a spiritual crisis, which he recorded in detail in his famous diary, and from which he emerged with deep and uncompromising religious beliefs. He remarried in 1634 and began to establish a successful career in law, counting the lord-treasurer the Earl of Traquair amongst his clients.

During 1637, Wariston became involved in the opposition to King Charles' attempt to reform the Scottish Kirk. He made a specialised study of the legal and ecclesiastical implications and became a key figure in the composition of the Scottish National Covenant of 1638. As the covenanting movement spread across Scotland, Wariston emerged as one of its most uncompromising leaders, working closely with the radical clergymen David Dickson and Alexander Henderson to refute the King's proclamations against the Covenant. He was appointed clerk to the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, which defied the King's commissioner the Marquis of Hamilton and abolished bishops from Scotland, resulting in the Bishops' Wars of 1639 and '40.

During the wars against England, Wariston accompanied the Army of the Covenant as a legal adviser in treaties, negotiations and proclamations. He was among the commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Ripon after the English defeat in the Second Bishops' War. In November 1641, Wariston was knighted and appointed a lord of session when the King travelled to Scotland and attempted to placate the Covenanters with honours and offices. During the English Civil War, he sat on the committee that negotiated the Solemn League and Covenant with the English Parliament. He became a leading member of the Westminster Assembly which sought to impose a Presbyterian church settlement in England and was appointed one of the four Scottish commissioners to sit on the Committee for Both Kingdoms. Wariston divided his duties in England with activity on the Committee of Estates in Scotland and was appointed lord advocate by King Charles after his surrender to the Scots in 1646.

Wariston fiercely opposed the Engagement signed between the Scots and King Charles in 1647. After the defeat of the Engagers at the battle of Preston, Wariston supported the Marquis of Argyll when he welcomed Oliver Cromwell into Scotland and in the passing of the draconian Act of Classes in January 1649 which excluded Engagers from holding public office or a seat in Parliament.

After the King's execution, Wariston cautiously supported the proclamation of Charles II as King of Scots. He was prominent in negotiating the Treaty of Breda in 1650, which imposed a number of harsh conditions on Charles in exchange for Scottish military aid. As a leading member of the Kirk Party, Wariston encouraged the purging of the Scottish army of all but strict Covenanters during the summer of 1650. He was a member of the Committee of War that accompanied the army on campaign and, according to some accounts, he instigated the order to move down from the commanding position on Doon Hill that resulted in Cromwell's victory over the Scots at Dunbar. A supporter of the hardline Remonstrants, Wariston walked out of the Scottish Parliament when it voted to repeal the Act of Classes and to re-admit Engagers in December 1650, and he did not attend the coronation of Charles II in January 1651.

Wariston regarded the defeat of the Scots and Royalists at the battle of Worcester in September 1651 as a divine judgement upon the Scottish government for its compromises with Charles II and his supporters. He remained adamant in his refusal to accept the appointment of Engagers or Royalists into military or civil office, which led to great personal unpopularity in Scotland. This increased during the 1650s as Wariston became increasingly reconciled to the Cromwellian régime. He was granted a number of important administrative offices in Scotland and was appointed to Cromwell's controversial Upper House as Baron Johnston of Wariston in 1658. He supported Richard Cromwell after Oliver's death and was the only Scot to sit on the Council of State after the fall of the Protectorate and the brief restoration of the Commonwealth in 1659.

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Wariston was declared a traitor for accepting high office from Cromwell. He fled abroad but was arrested at Rouen in January 1663. He was hanged at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh on 22 July 1663.


John Coffey, Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 (Newton Abbott 1973)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)