Johnston of Wariston was a successful lawyer whose clients included important people in the government, such as the chancellor and the lord treasurer. He also kept a diary which tells us a lot of extra information about events which took place during the 1630s.
He has been described as ‘unusually devout, even by seventeenth-century standards’ and he often prayed for up to three hours at a time. He once prayed from six in the morning till eight at night because he lost track of the time. He wrote in his diary that the success or failure of the Covenanters would depend on their own personal relationships with God.
In 1637, Wariston was involved in the opposition to the Book of Common Prayer and in 1638, at the age of 27, he was given the responsibility of writing the legal section of the National Covenant. This contained a list of all the Acts of Parliament against Roman Catholicism. Wariston’s legal skills, as Charles I’s legal advisors had to admit, ensured the covenant didn’t break the law of the land. At the Glasgow Assembly of 1638 Wariston was appointed clerk and produced the minutes of all the previous General Assemblies since 1560 – using them to argue that episcopacy had always been condemned in the reformed Church of Scotland.
Wariston continued writing for the Covenanting cause, and wrote their official protestations to the king’s proclamations against them. During the Bishops’ Wars he accompanied the army as a legal advisor, and he was involved in peace negotiations with the king. In 1643, he was also appointed as one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly.
In the following years Wariston was very involved in the government of Scotland and in 1649 he was given the responsibility of putting the Act of Classes into practice.
When Charles II was restored as king in 1660, Wariston was charged with high treason and fled to Germany and then France, but he was eventually caught, arrested and hanged in Edinburgh in 1663.
BCW: Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston
John Howie, ‘Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston’ in The Scots Worthies (Edinburgh, 2001 ), pp 298-315 ]
RPS: Decree of Forfeiture against Sir Archibald Johnston of Wariston
DSCHT: Johnston, (Sir) Archibald
John Coffey, ‘Johnston, Sir Archibald, Lord Wariston (bap. 1611, d. 1663)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004