1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 22

Montrose took a deep breath and began reciting. “His Majesty is principally concerned that his subjects granted leave to fight abroad remain in the service of the king of Sweden, not the United States of Europe, with which there exists a state of hostility, short of outright war but nevertheless unfriendly. He is further concerned that in as much as they bear arms in Sweden’s cause, Sweden is closely aligned with the United States of Europe and as such His Majesty’s subjects are bearing arms in support of a nation that espouses the heretical and anarchical doctrine of freedom of religion. In so doing they are in peril of their souls and he is much exercised as head of the church to which they are properly adherent that they remove themselves from the said peril as soon as may be. He requires, in the first instance, that they give undertaking and surety that they serve the king of Sweden only and that only in conflict with avowedly Catholic arms in the Germanies. He also requires that all of the rank of major and above resign their commissions and return to their estates in Scotland to the great benefit of that nation.”

He took another breath. “My charge continues in the same vein for some time, with many places and means whereby delay and obfuscation may occur, but the essence of it is that they should be at home and at peace lest His Majesty take to the notion that they are preparing to levy war against him either here or abroad.”

“Put thus, it seems like a fair command, as commands go,” Mackay said, “although I’ve no means of knowing how any man to whom it may come will see it. His Majesty says as he will of the notion of freedom of religion, but how is it seen by those living with it? There was a time when the reformed religion was declared by kings to be heretical and anarchical, after all, but it was found good in Geneva.”

Montrose answered that with a level stare. “I’m not minded to debate that matter at all, neither with His Majesty nor any of his subjects. I want peace, but when all’s said and done, if His Majesty’s subjects wish to reside in His Majesty’s realm under His Majesty’s peace, the price is obedience to His Majesty. North of the Tweed, through me. I believe it was His Majesty’s father who said all he desired was an outward obedience to the law, and that I am content with also. Those that can’t obey, well, they may sell their lands and settle where obedience is easier, and I mean to make that easy. But those are the choices. You, among others, I ask to present those choices to the men that must make them so they may mull them before anything is said ex officio, and persuade them that, by command of His Majesty I cannot be moved beyond tolerance of mere delay.”

“I’ll send to those I know, my lord. It’s not for me to dictate their answers.”

Montrose nodded acknowledgement of the point. “Nor do I ask it. I merely wish to be sure that I only give the command to those that will obey it, and ensure that those whose conscience bids them remain abroad not find themselves ruined thereby. Conveyed privately, by friends, I hope that that will be clearer than it might be by official letter.”

Mackay nodded. “In this much, then, I am my lord’s servant.”

“Aye, and in perhaps one other thing. You’ve a son out of wedlock who’s been back in the country, do I understand correctly?”

Mackay noted the wording. He had his own suspicions about what Alex and Julie had been up to in London, dark suspicions indeed. But he was sure they’d not left Edinburgh with any provable intent to take part in that, and if their part in it, if any, had been witnessed the Montrose would not be half so cordial today. Indeed, there’d be warrants, summonses and questions to answer, and likely he’d be accused of being an accessory to felony rescue. How a bench of Scots judges would try that Mackay had no idea, but there was plenty of precedent for them taking on such matters whether or not there was strictly any law covering it.

“Aye, for all he’s from the wrong side of the blanket, he’s a fine boy who’s done well for himself.”

“His wife, too.” Montrose was giving nothing away with that remark, but Mackay felt he was justified in assuming the worst.

“A bonny wee lass, and a fair hand with a rifle,” Mackay said. All true facts, not open to debate.

“Aye, and possessed of a barony of Sweden,” Montrose added, also a fact not open to debate. “I’ve no notion of where your boy is, Mackay, but if it turns out he or his wife had anything to do with the prison-breaking at the Tower of London, and you’ve any influence with him, see he doesn’t show his face where I might have to turn my attention to him. I can wink at much, but when a man takes open warlike actions against one of the king’s own fortresses, well, that strikes me as a bit much. What’s more, I don’t want it coming to anybody’s attention that you’re in communication with him if such turns out to be the case. I need your services as intermediary with the veterans abroad far more than I need to hang a crippled man as accessory to treason and felony.”

Mackay glared. “If my lord cares to accuse me publicly of misprision of treason, he is welcome to do that, and be damned to him.”

Montrose growled back. “That’s not what I want, and you know it, man. Strafford did the stupidest thing a man could do by those arrests in England, and while I’ve little use for Campbell the man, Argyll the politician did righter than he knew when he made it known he’d take it ill if there were proscriptions of that kind in Scotland. His Majesty’s father did ill enough proscribing the MacGregor, broken men and outlaw brutes though they were. To have that against decent folk would be more than could be borne. Now, if your boy took a hand in correcting that stupid mistake, I for one care not a whit for it. So long as I don’t have to take official notice of it as Lord Lieutenant of Scotland, and none of the consequences come within this kingdom, I’ll carry on not caring. It is to my benefit, your benefit, your son’s benefit, and Scotland’s benefit if I can keep to not caring. See to it, as well as you may.”

With that, and the most perfunctory of pleasantries to contrive that he did not wish to be unfriendly but had been put out of sorts by their conversation, Montrose took his leave.