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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

6 - Compassing Allegiance: Sir George Mackenzie and Restoration Scottish Royalism


In his seminal article on ‘John Locke and Anglican Royalism’, Mark Goldie warned scholars to beware axiomatic assumptions that ‘great philosophers only reply to leviathans and other sea monsters, and not to shoals of smaller, but no less dangerous fish’. With regard to Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1689), Goldie persuasively argued that Locke's motivation in dissecting Filmerian absolutism stemmed from dismay at the readiness with which ideas once regarded as extreme in the 1640s had seemingly achieved mainstream acceptance a generation later. In characteristically alliterative and succinct prose, Goldie emphasised the importance of recognising that multiple pens had produced ‘the suffocating plethora of polemic spawned by the triumphant Royalism of the Restoration’. Appearing three centuries after Oxford University's convocation had negatively defined the tenets of Restoration royalism by staging a public book-burning in July 1683 that consigned to the flames works endorsing popular sovereignty, contractual government, elective monarchy and rights of resistance, Goldie's article also drew attention to parallel events outside England. For Goldie, ‘nothing illuminates more the sectarian orientation of Restoration politics than the affairs of Scotland’, where sectarian strife and radical Presbyterianism ensured that ‘English religious rancour seems urbane by comparison’.

Pursuing Goldie's piscatorial imagery, this essay reconsiders a large fish in a relatively small pond: Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (c. 1636–91), often cited by Goldie as exemplifying late seventeenth-century Scots royalism. As well as serving as Charles II and James VII & II's lord advocate, Mackenzie sustained an extensive published output encompassing political theory, jurisprudence, moral philosophy, Scottish history, witchcraft, forensic rhetoric, witchcraft and imaginative literature, with the majority of his works republished in lifetime and posthumous editions. Among his contemporaries, Mackenzie's colleague at the Scots bar, Sir John Lauder of Fountainhall, acclaimed him as simply ‘the brightest man in the nation’ and, outside Scotland, Mackenzie's works were owned and cited by, among others, Abraham Cowley, William Davenant, John Dryden, John Evelyn, Johannes Graevius, John Locke, Samuel Pepys and William of Orange. In popular culture, however, Mackenzie's reputation remains the ossified prisoner of Presbyterian partisanship. Referred to as ‘Bluidy Mackenzie’ by Sir Walter Scott in The Heart of Midlothian (1818), the lord advocate's sobriquet became synonymous with the ‘Killing Times’ delineated in nineteenth-century Whig martyrologies which denounced the brutal suppression of Presbyterian nonconformists by servile Stuart sycophants.