Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston

Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston
Born c.1611
Baptised 28 March 1611
Died 22 July 1663

Spouse Helen Hay

Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston was a Scottish Covenanter and leading figure during that struggle. The co-authored the National Covenant of 1638. He was arrested in 1663 and endured poisoning and other harsh prison conditions.  So-called “physicians” administered mind altering and physical destructive drugs, destroying his natural eloquence and brilliant mind. He was hanged on July 22 and his head placed on the Netherbow, alongside his good friend James Guthrie.

Stories from the life of Sir Archibald Johnston

During a dangerous illness of Mr. James Guthrie, some of his friends met to pray for his recovery. Wodrow tells the story. ‘ All that prayed before Wariston wer conditionall in their petitions for ‘ his life. When he came to pray, he was mighty peremptory, ‘ and would not at all take a refusall, and said, ” Lord, thou ‘ ” knouest this Church cannot want him!”‘ He had the conviction that he had close communion with God, — that he saw God face to face. Kirkton has recorded of him ^ that on the night before his execution Wariston said to him ‘ that he ‘ could never doubt of his own salvation, he hade so often seen ‘ God’s face in the house of prayer.’ ‘ He was a great observer ‘ of providences, and, according to the rule, mett with very ‘ many remarkable providences himself.’*^ And Ridpath said to Wodrow, with reference to the lost Diary, ‘ as to his souls’ state, it’s not possible to conceive what atteanments, what ‘ elevated exercise, that man has been under ! He records hou’ it’s with him in prayer, and the answers and returns made * to his prayers, which are astonishing.’ (Source:


The following is an extract from James Aikman’s Annals of the Persecution in Scotland, from the Restoration to the Revolution. (Spelling and grammar was not corrected.)

Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston, had been forfeited and condemned by parliament when Argyle and Guthrie were arraigned, but escaping to the Continent, had remained concealed in Holland and Germany, chiefly at Hamburgh, till most unadvisedly, in the latter end of 1662, he ventured to France. Notice of this having been carried to London, the king, who bore him a personal hatred for his free admonitions when in Scotland,’1 sent over secretly a confidential spy, known by the name of ” Crooked Murray,” to trace him out and bring him to Britain.

By watching Lady Warriston, Murray soon discovered her lord’s retreat at Rouen in Normandy, and had him seized while engaged in the act of secret prayer. He then applied to the magistrates, and, showing them the king’s commission, desired that they would allow him to carry his victim a prisoner to England. The magistrates, uncertain how to act, committed Warriston to close custody, and sent to the French king for instructions. When the question was debated in council, the greater part were for respecting the rights of hospitality, and not giving up his lordship till some better reasons were shown than had yet been given; but Louis, who was extremely desirous to oblige Charles, and sympathized cordially in his antipathies against the Protestant religion and liberty, ordered him to be delivered to the messenger, who carried him to London and lodged him in the Tower in the month of January, 1663.

While the parliament was sitting in June, he was sent to Scotland with a letter from the king, ordering him “to be proceeded against according to law and justice,” and landed at Leith on the 8th, whence, next day, he was brought bareheaded to the tolbooth of Edinburgh. Neither his wife, children, nor any other friend, were permitted to see him, except in presence of the keeper or guard, and that only for an hour, or at furthest two at a time, betwixt eight o’clock in the morning and eight at night. Here he was detained till July 8th, when, no more trial being deemed necessary, he was brought before parliament to receive judgment.

His appearance on this occasion was humiliating to the pride of human genius, debilitated through excessive bloodletting and the deleterious drugs that had been administered to him by his physicians, 2 the faculties of his soul partook of the imbecility of his body, and, on the spot where his eloquence had in former days commanded breathless attention, he could scarcely now utter one coherent sentence. The prelates basely derided his mental aberrations, but many of the other members compassionated the intellectual ruin of one who had shone among the foremost in the brightest days of Scotland’s parliamentary annals.

When the question was put, whether the time of his execution should be then fixed or delayed, a majority seemed inclined to spare his life, which Lauderdale observing, rose, and, contrary to all usage or propriety, in a furious speech, insisted upon the sentence being carried into immediate effect; the submissive legislators acquiesced, and he was doomed to be hanged at the cross of Edinburgh on the 22d of the same month, and his head fixed upon the Nether Bow Port, beside Mr. Guthrie’s.

Mr. James Kirkton, author of the ” History of the Church of Scotland,” who visited him, says-“I spake with him in prison, and though he was sometimes under great heaviness, yet he told me he could never doubt his own salvation, he had so often seen God’s face in the house of prayer.” As he approached his end, he grew more composed; and, on the night previous to his execution, having been favoured with a few hours’ profound and refreshing sleep, he awoke in the full possession of his vigorous powers, his memory returned, and lie experienced in an extraordinary degree the strong consolations of the gospel, expressing his assurance of being clothed with a white robe, and having a new song of praise put into his lips, even salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb!

Words before Death

After spending some time in secret prayer, he left the prison about two o’clock, attended by his friends in mourning, fill of holy confidence and courage, but perfectly composed and serene. As he proceeded to the cross, where a high gibbet was erected, he repeatedly requested the prayers of the people; and there being some disturbance on the street when he ascended the scaffold, he said with great composure —” I entreat you, quiet yourselves a little, till this dying man deliver his last words among you,” and requested them not to be offended that he used a paper to refresh his memory, being so much wasted by long sickness and the malice of physicians.

He then read audibly, first from the one side and then from the other, a short speech that he had hurriedly written-what he had composed at length and intended for his testimony having been taken from him. It commenced with a general confession of his sins and shortcomings in prosecuting the best pieces of work and service to the Lord and to his generation, and that through temptation he had been carried to so great a length, in compliance with the late usurpers, after having so seriously and frequently made professions of aversion to their way; “for all which,” he added, “as I seek God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, so I desire that the Lord’s people may, from my example, be the more stirred up to watch and pray that they enter not into temptation.”

He then bare record to the glory of God’s free grace and of his reconciled mercy through Christ Jesus-left “an honest testimony to the whole covenanted work of reformation”-and expressed his lively expectation of God’s gracious and wonderful renewing and reviving all his former great interests in these nations, particularly Scotland-yea, dear Scotland!

He recommended his poor afflicted wife and children to the choicest blessings of God and the prayers and favours of his servants-prayed for repentance and forgiveness to his enemies-for the king, and blessings upon him and his posterity, that they might be surrounded with good and faithful counsellors, and follow holy and wise counsels to the glory of God and the welfare of the people. He concluded by committing himself, soul and body, his relations, friends, the sympathizing and suffering witnesses of the Lord, to his choice mercies and service in earth and heaven, in time and through eternity: — All which suits, with all others which he hath at any time by his Spirit moved and assisted me to make, and put up according to his will, I leave before the throne, and upon the Father’s merciful bowels, the Son’s mediating merits, and the Holy Spirit’s compassionating groans, for now and for ever!” After he had finished reading, he prayed with the greatest fervour and humility, thus beginning his supplication-” Abba! Abba! Father, Father, accept this thy poor sinful servant, coming unto thee through the merits of Jesus Christ.”


Then he took leave of his friends, and again, at the foot of the ladder, prayed in a perfect rapture, being now near the end of that sweet work he had been so much employed about, and felt so much sweetness in through life. No ministers were allowed to be with him, but his God abundantly supplied his every want. On account of his weakness, he required help to ascend the ladder. Having reached the top, he cried with a loud voice-” I beseech you all who are the people of God not to scorn at suffering for the interest of Christ, or stumble at any thing of this kind falling out in these days. Be encouraged to suffer for him, for I assure you, in the name of the Lord, he will bear your charges!” This he repeated again while the rope was putting about his neck, forcibly adding —” The Lord hath graciously comforted me.” Then asking the executioner if he was ready to do his office, and being answered that he was, he gave the signal, and was turned off, crying-” Pray! pray! praise! praise!” His death was almost without a struggle.

Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston, was an early, zealous, and distinguished Covenanter, and bore a conspicuous part in all the remarkable transactions of the times, from 1638 till the Restoration. . . . His talents for business were of the first order. His eloquence was ready, and his judgment clear. He was prompt and intrepid in action, and adhered steadily to his Presbyterian principles, notwithstanding his officiating under a liberal government of a different persuasion-conduct we now allow to be not incompatible with integrity. His piety was ardent, and, amid a life of incessant activity, he managed to spare a larger portion of time for private devotion than many of more sequestered habits. He habitually lived near to God, and died in the full assurance of hope.

  1.  “The real cause of his (Warriston’s) death, was not his activity in public business, but our king’s personal hatred, because when the king was in Scotland he thought it his duty to admonish him because of his very wicked, debauched life, not only in whoredom and adultery, but he violently forced a young gentle-woman of quality. This the king could never forgive, and told the Earle of Bristol so much when he was speaking for Warriston.”-Kirkton’s Hist. of the Church of Scot. p. 173.
  2. “Through excessive blood-letting and other detestable means used by his wicked physician, Doctor Bates, who they say was hired either to poison or distract him, and partly through melancholy, he had in a manner wholly lost his memory.” Kirkton’s Hist. p. 17
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