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Alexander Leighton

Alexander Leighton, D. D.—This great sufferer for nonconformity was bora in Scotland, about the year 1568, and educated, most probably, in one of the Scotch universities. He took his degree of doctor in divinity in the two universities of St. Andrews and Leyden.* Granger incorrectly observes, that he was not doctor of divinity, but of physic, though exercised in the ministry; and adds, that when he was interdicted the practice of physic by the president and censors of the college of physicians, in the reign of James I., as a disqualified person, he alleged that he nad taken the doctor's degree at Lcyden, under professor Hrurnius. It was then objected to him, that he had taken priest's orders; and being asked why he did not adhere to the profession to which he had been ordained, he excepted against the ceremonies, but owned himself to be a clergyman. Still persisting to practise in London, or within seven miles of the city, he was censured as disgraceful to the profession.t He was father to Sir Ellis Leighton and the eminently pious Archbishop Leighton, of whom Bishop Burnet gives so excellent a character, and whose works are held in such high reputation at the present day.J

This reverend divine obtained a good reputation for ability, learning, and piety; but his zeal against episcopacy and the oppressions of the bishops exposed him to numerous and painful sufferings. He published a book, entitled, " An Appeal to Parliament; or, Sion's Plea against the Prelacie;" for which he met with unexampled cruelty in the star-chamber. In this book be expressed his sentiments against the hierarchy and the proceedings of the ruling prelates with considerable freedom, and with too much zeal and warmth for the times. The book was dedicated to the parliament, in which some of our historians have observed,$ " That he excited the parliament and the people to kill all the bishops, by smiting them under the fifth rib; and bitterly inveighed against the queen, calling her the daughter of Helh, a Canaanile, and an idolatress. If this account were perfectly correct, and Leighton had excited them to kill all the bishops, surely this would have been no greater crime than the bishops actually killing vast numbers of puritans, by the cruel punishments

• Peirce's Viadlcatioa, part i. p. 181.—Scots' Worthies, p. 141. Edit. 1796.

+ Granger's Blog. Hist. Vo1, ii. p. 180.

1 Burnet's Hist, of his Time, vol. i. p. 134.

S Toiler's Church Hist. b. zi. p. 136.—Walker's Attempt, part I. p. 5.

which they inflicted upon them. And, if oppression make a wise man mad, it can be no great wonder if the intolerable oppressions of the bishops hurried some of the puritans, especially those of warm spirits, to use methods of indiscretion. But the assertions of our authors, that he excited the parliament and people to take away the lives of the bishops, is without foundation. The truth is, says Mr. Peirce, after enumerating a great many grievances and miseries, occasioned by the episcopal establishment, he excited the parliament utterly to root out the hierarchy, that the nation might be delivered from any further danger: but that he ever urged them to put the bishops to death, whether they were guilty or not guilty of any crime, is what I cannot find in the book. Nay, I meet with that which is directly the contrary. Towards the close of the book, he observes as follows: " To make an end of our present subject, we wish your honours might prevail with the prelates, by fair means, to cast off their overcharging calling. If they will not be thus persuaded, we fear they are like pleuritic patients, who cannot spit, and whom nothing but incision will cure: we mean of their callings, not of their persons ; with whom we have no quarrel, but wish them better than they wish either us or themselves. One of their desperate mountebanks out of the pulpit could find no cure for us, their supposed enemies, but pricking in the bladder: but we have not so learned Christ.'"9 Besides, there was no such thing among the charges brought against him in the star-chamber, which most certainly would not have been omitted, if any such expression had been found in the book.* What degree of credit is, therefore, due to men who represent the sense of authors directly contrary to their own express words! What they design by such misrepresentation, is left with the candid reader to judge.. . .

With respect to Dr. Leighton's calling the queen the daughter of Heth, a Canaanite, and an idolatress, though they are indecent and unbecoming epithets, when applied to the queen; yet he obviously meant by these expressions, that she was an avowed papist, and she was, in fact, a most notorious and bitter papist. Archbishop Tillotson afterwards used certain expressions concerning the marriage of foreign popish princes with our own, not much better than those of Dr. Leighton, without giving any umbrage what

• Peirce's Vindication, parti, p. I77, I7S. t Ruihworth's Collec. vol. ii. p. 66, 57.

ever. The worthy prelate styled them " the people of these abominations;" and added, that it was by these marriages for two or three generations, that popery was so much countenanced in his day.* It'this language had been used at the time that Leigh ton's wns, it would no doubt have been equally resented. Though Leighton's book was written in spirit and language too warm for the times, yet Dr. Harris, who had particularly examined the work, says, " It was written with spirit, and more sense and learning than the writers of that stamp usually shewed in their productions."!' But the impartial reader will be the better able to judge for himself, from the following circumstantial account, as collected from the most authentic historians.

On February 29, 1629, Dr. Leighton, coming out of Blackfriars church, was seized by a warrant from the high commission court; and, by a multitude of men armed, was dragged to Bishop Laud's house. From thence, without any examination, he was carried to Newgate, and there clapt in irons, and thrust into a loathsome dog-hole, full of rats and mice; and the roof being uncovered, the rain and snow beat in upon him, having no bedding, nor place to make a fire, except the ruins of an old smoky chimney; where he had neither meat nor drink from the Tuesday night till Thursday noon. In this loathsome and miserable place, he continued fifteen weeks, not any of his friends, or even his wife, being permitted to come near him, and was denied a copy of his commitment. On the fourth day after his imprisonment, the pursuivants belonging to the high commission went to his house, and laid violent hands upon his distressed wife, using her with the most shameful and barbarous inhumanity; and holding a pistol to the breast of a child five years old, threatening to kill him, if he would not inform them where the books were, by which the child was so frightened, that he never recovered. They broke open presses, chests, boxes, &c. though his wife was willing to open all. They carried away all the books, manuscripts, apparel, household stuff, and other things, leaving nothing they wished to possess. During his confinement in Newgate, it appeared from the opinion of four physicians, that poison had been given him; for his hair and skin came off. As he lay in this deplorable situation, sentence was passed upon him in the star-chamber, even without hearing a single word he had to say, though a certificate from four

• Peirce't Vindication, part i. p. 178. t Harris't Life of Charles I. p. 225.

physicians and an attorney was given of the dreadful state of his complaint.*

But it will be requisite to rive a particular account of the charges brought against this unhappy man. June 4, 1630, an information was exhibited against Dr. Leighton in the star-chamber, by Attorney-general Heath, when he was charged with having published and dispersed a scandalous book against the king, peers, and prelates, entitled," Sion's Plea against the Prelacie;" in which, among other things, he sets forth these false and seditious assertions and positions following:

1. " That we do not read of greater persecution, and higher indignity done upon God's people in any nation professing the gospel, than in this our island, especially since the death of Queen Elizabeth.

2. " He terms the prelates of this realm men of blood, and enemies to God and the state; and saith, that the maintaining and establishing of bishops within this realm, is a main and master sin established by law, and that ministers should have no voices in council deliberative and decisive.

3. " He avows the prelacy of our church to be antichristian and satanical, and terms the bishops ravens and magpies, that prey upon the state.

3. " He terms the canons of our church, made in 1605, Wwmctmc-canons.

4. " He disallows and contemns the ceremony of kneeling in receiving the sacrament, alleging that this spawn of the beast was brought forth by the prelates, to promote their own unlawful standing.

5. " He affirms that the prelates have corrupted the king, forestalling his judgment against God and goodness, and most audaciously and wickedly calleth his majesty's royal consort, our gracious queen, the daughter of Heth.

7. "He most impiously seems to commend him who committed the barbarous and bloody act of murdering the late Duke of Buckingham, and to encourage others to second him in the like wicked and desperate attempt, to .the destruction of others.

8. " He layeth a most seditious scandal upon the king, state, and kingdom, wickedly affirming,4 That all who pass by us spoil us, and we spoil all who rely upon us.' And amongst other particulars, instanceth the black pining death of the famished Rochellers, to the number of fifteen hundred

* General Ludlow's Letter to Dr. Hollingworth, p. 22. Edit. 169*.— Eiiay on Charles I. p. 83, 84. Edit. 1748.

in four months. By which passages and wicked assertions, he doth as much as in him lay, scandalize his majesty's sacred person; his religious, wise, and just government; the person of his royal consort, the queen; the persons of the lords and peers of the realm, especially the reverend bishops.

9. " That in another place in the said book, endeavouring not only to blander bis majesty's sacred person and government, but to detract from his royal power, in making laws and canons for ecclesiastical government, he saith, 4 That the church hath its laws from the scripture, and that no king may make laws in the house of God; for if they might, then the scripture would be imperfect.'

10. " And he is further charged in another place in the said book, with these words following, thinking to salve all with an expression of his sacred majesty: 4What a pity it is, and indelible dishonour it will be to you, the states representative, that so ingenuous and tractable a king should be so monstrously abused, to the undoing of himself and his subjects.' "•

These ten particulars contain all the charges brought against Dr. Leighton, and we may be sure they were the worst that could be collected out of his book, his enemies being judges. The unprejudiced reader here sees the worst part of Leighton's character, and will easily judge what degree of criminality was attached to his conduct. Though some of the above assertions were unjustifiable, many of them were certainly true, and too glaringly manifest in the history of those times. Dr. Leighton, in his answer to the above charges, confessed, that when the parliament was sitting, in the year 1628, he drew up the heads of his book; and having the approbation of five hundred persons under their own hands, some of whom were members of parliament, he went into Holland to get it printed. Also, that he printed betwixt five and six hundred only for the use of the parliament; but they being dissolved before the work was finished, he returned home, not bringing any of them into the kingdom, but made it his special enre to suppress them. He confessed his writing the book, but with no such ill intention as suggested in the information. His only object was to remonstrate against certain grievances in church and state, under which the people suffered, that the parliament might be induced to take them into

consideration, and give such redress as might be most for the honour of the king, the advantage of the people, and the peace of the church.

When the cause was heard, the doctor's defence was read at length, and the various particulars contained in his charges were read out of his book. In answer to the first charge, viz. " That we do not read of greater persecution of God's people, in any nation professing the gospel, than in this our island, especially since the death of Queen Elizabeth ;" he confessed the words, and said, " The thing is too true, by the prelates taking away the life and livelihood from many ministers and private men, many of whom have been pined to death in prison; and many have wandered up and down, their families being left desolate and helpless: and besides this, the blood of souls hath been endangered, by the removal of the faithful shepherds from their flocks." This was a most cutting truth; at which Laud was so exceedingly enraged, that he desired the court to inflict the heaviest sentence that could be inflicted upon him. This they did to his lordship's fullest satisfaction. For Leigliton was condemned to be degraded from his ministry, to have his ears cut, his nose slit, to be branded in the face, to stand in the pillory, to be whipped at a post, to pay ten thousand pounds, (though they knew he was not worth so much,) and to suffer perpetual imprisonment. The grateful sentence being passed against him, Laud pulled off his hat, and holding up his hands, Gate Thanks To God, Who


certain knight having moved one of the lords relative to the dreadful nature of the censure, intimating that it opened a door to the prelates to inflict the most disgraceful punishments and tortures upon men of quality; that lord replied, that it was designed only for the terror of others, and that he would not have any one to think the sentence would ever be executed. This worthy lord, however, was greatly mistaken; for Laud and his adherents caused the dreadful sentence to be executed with the utmost rigour and severity.

The ruling ecclesiastics proceeded with proper decorum, and a due observance of ecclesiastical order. Therefore, November 4th, he was degraded in the high commission; and on the 10th of the same month, being a star-chamber day, the barbarous sentence was to be executed; but the

preceding evening he made his escape out of the Fleet, where he had been kept a close prisoner. Information of his escape was no sooner announced to the lords of the council, than they caused the following hue and cry to be printed and published through the country:

" A hue and cry against Dr. Leighton.

" Whereas Alexander Leighton, a Scotchman born, " who was lately sentenced by the honourable court of star«4 chamber to pay a great fine to his majesty, and to undergo " corporal punishment, for writing, printing and publisn" ing a very libellous and seditious book against the king u and his government, hath this eleventh day of November " escaped out of the prison of the Fleet, where he was a • " 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 lor 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 direction concerning him. He is " a man of low stature, fair complexion; he bath a yellow" ish beard, a high forehead, and is between forty and fifty " years of age."»

This hue and cry followed him into Bedfordshire, where he was apprehended, and brought again prisoner to the Fleet. Relative to Dr. Leighton's escape, and the execution of part of the sentence, Bishop Laud made the following memorial in his diary: " November 4, Leighton was degraded in the high commission. November 9, he broke out of the Fleet; the warden says, he got or was helped over the wall;t and professes he knew not this from Tuesday till Wednesday noon. He told it not me till Thursday night. Leighton was taken again in Bedfordshire, and within a fortnight brought back to the Fleet. November 26, part of his sentence was executed upon him at Westminster."; Such was the particular memorial which this reverend prelate preserved of these sacred proceedings!

• Rush worth's Collt'c. vol. II. p. 57.—The account of the doctor's age b here certainly ver_' incorrect.

+ Herein both the warden and the bishop were mistaken. Hit two friends, Mr. Levingston and Mr. Anderson, lent him their clothes, by which means he got out of prison in disguise. This, however, was no sooner found out than bis two friends were prosecuted in tiie star-chamber | when thry were lined each Jive kunlred pounds, and committed to the Fleet during the king's pleasure.—Ibid. p. 58

% Pryonc's Breviate of Laud, p. 16.—Wharton's Land, Voi. 1. p. 45.

The sentence, so grateful to the remembrance of Laud, was inflicted in the following most shocking and barbarous manner: he was carried to Westminster, where he bad one of his ears cut off, then one side of his nose slit; he was branded on the cheek with a red-hot iron, with the letters S. S. for a sower of sedition; he was put in the pillory, and kept there nearly two hours in frost and snow; he was then tied to a post, whipped with a triple cord to that cruel degree, that every lash brought away the flesh; and he himself affirmed, ten years after, that he should feel it to his dying day. And after this shocking barbarity, he was not permitted to return to his quarters in the Fleet in a coach

{>repared for the purpose; but was compelled, in that amentable condition and severe season, to go by water. On that day sevennight, his nose, ear, face, and back not being yet cured, he was taken to the pillory in Cheapside; when the other ear was cut off, the other side of his nose slit, and the other cheek branded; he was then set in the pillory, and whipped a second time. He was then carried back to the Fleet, where he was kept ten weeks in dirt and mire, not being sheltered from the rain and snow. He was shut up in close prison, and not suffered to breathe in the open air for ten or eleven years, until the meeting of the long parliament. And when he came forth from his long and miserable confinement, he could neither walk, see, nor hear.* The sufferings of this learned divine greatly moved the compassion of the people; and, surely, the records of the inquisition can hardly furnish an example of similar barbarity.

The long parliament having assembled, Dr. Leighton presented a petition, November 7, 1640, to the house of commons, complaining of the hard usage he had met with; which the house could not hear without several interruptions with floods of tears.t The petition being read, an order

Eassed the house, " That Dr. Leighton shall have liberty y the warrant of this house, to go abroad in safe custody, to prosecute his petition here exhibited ; and that he be removed out of the common prison, where he now is, into some more convenient place, and have the liberty of the Fleet." A committee was at the same time appointed to take his case into mature consideration,f

• Rushworth't Collec. vol. ii. p. 68.—Ludlow's Letter, p. 84. + A copy of this moving petition, the substance of which ha* been already given, is still preserved.—Essay on CAarla J. p. S3—SO. •f Rushworth's Collec, vol. T. p. 20.

Through the innumerable complaints from all quarters, and a multitude of other concerns which came before the house and the committee, some time elapsed before the result of the examination of Dr. Leighton's case came forth. But, April 21,1641, Mr. Rouse having delivered the report of the committee, the' house came to the following resolutions :

1. " That the attaching, imprisoning, and detaining Dr. Leighton in prison, by 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 sheriff of London, and now lord mayor, is illegal.

3. " That the said Edward Wright ought to give reparations 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. Lcis'hton, by sentence of the star-chamber, is illegal.

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

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

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

These were the resolutions of the bouse of commons, after a mature examination of bis most affecting case. It is observed, that he was voted to receive six thousand pounds for damages, but, most probably, on account of the confusions of the times, it was never paid him.t In the year 1642, Dr. Leighton, by the appointment of the house of commons, was made keeper of Lambeth-house, when

• Roshworth'9 Collec vol. T. p. 228, 229.—Nalson's Collec. vol. i. p. 799,800. + Scots' Worthies, p. 141.

turned info a prison; where, it is said, u he did to tome purpose make reprisals for his damages, and with much, rigour persecuted the purses of the loyal clergy and gentry.*'* How far this may be correct we are unable to . ascertain; but, supposing every word of it be true, it will never justify intolerance and persecution, either in himself or in his enemies. He was keeper of the above prison in the year 1643, but when he died we are not able to learn.t

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