Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh; 'Bluidy Mackenzie''

Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, better known as 'Bluidy Mackenzie', died on the 8th of May, 1691.

Sir George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh was seemingly a contradictory sort of a guy. On the one hand, he was praised by some for his “cultivated and learned” literary and legal skills. On the other hand, he was reviled – still is – by many for his persecution of the Covenanters. MacKenzie looms large in the history of the Covenanters and the years known in Scotland as 'the Killing Times'. If you're a Jacobite, without understanding why as in “I just love yon Bonnie Prince Charlie” you might want to think twice about Charlie's ancestors and the impact they had on Scotland in the 17th Century. Aye, he served well the heirs of Jamie Saxt; Charles II & II and his brother James VII & II, for both of whom MacKenzie's royalist disposition emerged; delivered with a vengeance.

As Lord Advocate or King's Advocate in Scotland, MacKenzie was largely responsible for persecuting the inhuman policies of successive Stuart Kings against the Covenanters. Perhaps those policies should only and ever be seen in the light of the times, but certainly, by modern, western standards, MacKenzie must be held accountable for the deaths of something like 18,000 Covenanters. If around today, he'd be on trial at the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague for crimes against humanity, except, he had the law on his side.

Those crimes took place during the nine years that MacKenzie was Lord Advocate, when there was hardly a prosecution in which he was not involved. Under MacKenzie, torture was routinely employed, in attempts to extract confessions from the accused or, in the case of witnesses, to implicate 'conspirators'. MacKenzie also had a penchant for bending the rules and soliciting perjury in pursuit of his prejudice. According to 'Men of the Covenant' by A. Smellie, MacKenzie had a violent temper and a vicious tongue that cowed defendants and even some judges. However, MacKenzie didn't have it all his own way and there are many tales of fervently religious Covenanters, simple folk and gentry alike, who resisted his bullying, albeit many perished, despite their stoic forbearance.

Brian J. Orr, who has written about the Covenanters at length, suggests that it is probable that MacKenzie's epithet stemmed from the belief and legal tenet that a murdered person's body would bleed if touched by the murderer, because McKenzie had used that belief in a court case and secured a conviction. Orr might be right, but MacKenzie, like John Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee to the Jacobites, mind) certainly earned his 'Bluidy' title for his persecution of the Covenanters.

George Mackenzie was born in Dundee, in 1636, and was educated at that city's grammar school, before entering King's College at the University of Aberdeen, in 1650. Afterward, Mackenzie went to St. Andrews, from where he graduated at the age of sixteen. He then spent three years studying civil law at the University of Bourges, in France. MacKenzie returned to Scotland and was called to the bar, being elected to the Faculty of Advocates as they say, in 1659. According to the on-line 1911 Encyclopedia, immediately after the Restoration, MacKenzie, who had by then become a distinguished lawyer, was appointed a 'justice-depute' and he and his colleagues were ordained by the parliament in 1661 “to repair, once in the week at least, to Musselburgh and Dalkeith, and to try and judge such persons as are there or thereabouts delate of witchcraft.”

Also in 1661, MacKenzie acted as counsel for Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess (Marquis) of Argyle (Argyll). Now that affair only adds to the contradictory nature of the man as MacKenzie was then a defender of  the Presbyterians, hence his role on behalf of Campbell. At that time, according to Brian Orr, MacKenzie professed “to be a sanctuary to such as are afflicted and to pull the innocent from the claws of his accuser.” Later on, he might have said, “I am a persecutor of the afflicted and seek to draw the innocent into the claws of death.” He was knighted around that time, before he was elected the Member of Parliament for the County of Ross. One more thing for which you might want to give MacKenzie credit is that, in 1669, during his early years as an MP, he opposed Lauderdale's move for a Union of the Kingdoms. That momentous event was destined to happen thirty-eight years later.

MacKenzie was appointed Lord Advocate in 1677, when he also then became a member the Privy Council of Scotland, in the aftermath of the Pentland Rising. His predecessor was Sir John Nisbet of Dirleton, who set MacKenzie a good example in mistreating Covenanters. Nisbet was the man who proposed that delinquents from the Rising who had not yet been brought to justice, should be tried in their absence, with no defence and liable to the death sentence. MacKenzie took a bit of time to come round to that way of thinking, but when he did, he went for it in a big way.

At the dethronement of James II and the 'Glorious Revolution', MacKenzie was, unsurprisingly, one of a minority of five against the forfeiture of the crown, but the new King, William of Orange, wasn't a vindictive kind of guy. MacKenzie was allowed to retire in peace to Oxford, where he was admitted as a student by a grace passed in 1690. MacKenzie was allowed to spend the rest of his days in Oxford, pursuing a prosecution of a different sort, that of his literary ambitions. One of his last acts before leaving Edinburgh in 1689, had been to pronounce, on the 15th of March, in his capacity as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, the inaugural oration at the foundation of the Advocates' Library, which much later, in 1925, became the  National Library of Scotland.

As a final titbit in MacKenzie's favour, courtesy of Wikipedia, is that when he was asked, in 1692 to resume the post of Lord Advocate, he declined, because a condition attached was that he should not prosecute the persons implicated in the Glencoe Massacre. Mackenzie apparently refused to concur in such a partial application of the penal laws. He must've been well into his dotage by then, comparing that attitude with his previous behaviour.

Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh died in Westminster on the 8th of May, 1691, and he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, not too far from many of the Covenanters whose execution he ordered.


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