Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun: the Patriot, the man who risked life and limb to protest against the Act of Union, the multi-lingual law expert who coined the phrase ‘parcel o rogues’, great agricultural improver, republican, proto-socialist, an intellectual, gallant and honest.

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun: turncoat, duellist, ardent monarchist as long as it was his kind of king, cold-blooded murderer, convicted traitor, insurrectionist, risk taker, advocate of a sort of union with England, a hothead, advocate for slavery, and very intolerant of other people with a differing viewpoint.

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun: he was all of the above and more, which is why he is one of the most popular and perplexing figures in the history of Scotland.

Chances are that if you ask people with a decent knowledge of Scottish history ‘who was Andrew Fletcher?’, they will reply ‘the Patriot’ who opposed the Act of Union. When the late Nigel Tranter wrote his historical novel about Fletcher in 1982, he called it simply The Patriot.

Yet that simple description misses out on a hugely interesting story, and could also be said to be not fully accurate because Fletcher did indeed oppose the Act of Union of 1707, but he was not against a union with England of some kind. In fact he was one of the first proponents of a federal-style Great Britain, with the two parliaments remaining separate and coming together to discuss such matters as defence of the realm and trade.

We actually have a contemporary account of what Fletcher was like. It was written by one John Macky or Mackay, a gentleman spy. In his 1706 work for Princess Sophia, electress of Hanover, the then heir to the throne of the United Kingdom, Mackay wrote on the “Characters of the English and Scots Nobility”.

He described Fletcher as “a gentleman of fair estate in Scotland, attended with the improvement of a good education”.

After briefly describing Fletcher’s exciting life, Mackay goes on to write: “He is so zealous an assertor of the liberties of the people that he is too jealous of the growing power of all princes, in whom he thinks ambition so natural.”

Mackay added: “He is a gentleman steady in his principles of nice honour with abundance of learning, brave as the sword he wears and bold as a lion. A sure friend but an irreconcilable enemy; would lose his life readily to serve his country, and would not do a base thing to save it.”

Writing that Fletcher was neither Whig nor Tory, Mackay added a physical description, saying that the Laird of Saltoun “is a low, thin man, brown complexion, full of fire with a stern, sour look and fifty years old.”

On that pamphlet which is now in the Library of New York, someone has written in ink that Fletcher is “a most arrogant conceited pedant in politicks (sic), cannot endure the least contradiction of any of his visions.”

We can surmise that the eventual publication of this work – it was printed in 1733 – contained an accurate rendition of Saltoun because one of the promoters of Mackay’s work was the Bishop of Salisbury, Gilbert Burnet, who just happened to be the former Episcopalian minister of Saltoun and Andrew Fletcher’s tutor.

Burnet himself described Fletcher as “a Scotch gentleman of many virtues, but a most violent republican and extremely passionate”.

It was thanks to Burnet that Fletcher was superbly educated. We do not know the exact date of his birth but it was probably 1655. He was the son of Sir Robert Fletcher and grandson of Lord Innerpeffer, and by the age of 14, Andrew Fletcher could speak, read and write both English and Scots, Latin, Greek, and French, and was well-versed in Spanish and Italian. He was a true Scottish ‘lad o’ pairts’ with an all-round knowledge that was considerably added to when he toured the continent – a rite of passage for the sons of landed gentry.

He may have studied law and divinity, and certainly his father and grandfather were lawyers before him – Lord Innerpeffer being a famous judge – but it was agriculture that had first call on Fletcher who became passionate about land improvement and farming innovations. His study of philosophy helped develop his own radical thoughts.

Fletcher first came to public prominence in his 20s when he was elected Commissioner for Supply – a sort of junior MP – for Haddingtonshire in the Scottish Parliament in 1678. He soon picked a fight with John Maitland, the Duke of Lauderdale who was effectively King Charles II’s governor general for Scotland.

The Lauderdale faction would never forgive Fletcher, not even after the Duke retired from government in 1680 through ill health.

Maitland was replaced by the Duke of York and Albany – the king’s brother who would later become King James VII and II – in 1681, when Fletcher was re-elected to the Scottish Parliament where his rhetoric was already famed. His opposition to royal interference in Scottish affairs was hardening all the time, and as a leading member of the so-called Country Party, he opposed the Court Party which effectively just carried out the King’s wishes. With the Duke of York taking against Fletcher from the outset, eventually the enemies he had made ganged up on the Laird of Saltoun.

In 1683, Fletcher was arrested for treason on trumped-up charges and he wisely fled to England where his tutor Burnet introduced him to opponents of Charles II’s increasingly despotic reign. Fletcher was then accused of being involved in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the king, and he had to flee to the Continent. For a while he became a mercenary in Hungary, fighting against the Turks for the Duke of Lorraine.

On his return to the Netherlands, Fletcher joined up with the Duke of Buccleuch and Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II, and in 1685 was made a Colonel commanding Monmouth’s cavalry when that luckless Duke invaded England to try and seize the throne now occupied by the very Catholic King James VII and II.

On landing at Lyme Regis in Dorset, Fletcher typically picked a fight with an arrogant Englishman, the Duke’s paymaster, a Mr Thomas Hayward Dare, and their squabble ended disastrously when Fletcher drew his pistol and shot Dare dead.

Again Fletcher had to go into exile, which was just as well for him as almost everyone associated with the Monmouth Rebellion was executed, many of them in the Bloody Assizes of the infamous Judge Jeffreys. Nevertheless in his absence he was convicted of high treason and his estates were forfeited.

It all worked out well for Fletcher as he linked up with Gilbert Burnet and joined the retinue of William of Orange, who became King William III at the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Fletcher’s estates were restored to him, but he soon disagreed with William – the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692 is said to have enraged him, especially the role of the King and his Scottish Secretary, the Master of Stair.

In 1702, the accession of Queen Anne to the throne meant a new election and this time Fletcher was elected Commissioner for Haddingtonshire. It was to be the start of five years of almost ceaseless argument for Fletcher, who by then had lost the major part of his fortune in the failed Darien Scheme.

One of his arguments was that beggars and vagrants across Scotland – there were many of them post Darien – should be sold into slavery, and hereditary servitude at that. He could not be convinced that slavery was not really an alternative to mendicancy.

The clamour for union with England was growing, and at first Fletcher argued strongly for it, but only if it could be a federal union, with the Scottish Parliament retaining control over Scotland’s political affairs.

He put forward his famous ‘twelve limitations’ that included serious curtailment of royal power. Here’s a sample:

“THAT the King without consent of Parliament shall not have the power of making peace and war; or that of concluding any treaty with any other state or potentate.

“THAT all places and offices, both civil and military, and all pensions formerly conferred by our Kings shall ever after be given by Parliament.

“THAT no regiment or company of horse, foot or dragoons, be kept on foot in peace or war, but by consent of Parliament.”

The last limitation was “THAT if any King break in upon any of these conditions of government, he shall by the Estates be declared to have forfeited the crown.”

He could not get these through the Scottish Parliament and that hardened his opposition to a full incorporating union. He did manage to get the Act of Security passed, which stated that Scotland reserved the right to have a different monarch from England upon the death of Queen Anne.

That really annoyed the Queen and the English, who duly passed the Aliens Act that had the effect of banning imports from Scotland into England. But just when he needed a cool head to argue his case, Fletcher started to lose control and in 1705 he even challenged the pro-Union Earl of Roxburghe – he was later made a Duke for securing the Union – to a duel.

As time wore on, Fletcher’s passionate pleas for Scotland to retain as much independence as possible fell on increasingly deaf ears, and the offer by the English Parliament to pay the debts of those who had lost money in the Darien Scheme and compensate Scotland for taking on England’s national debt – the so called Equivalent payments – was a clincher.

The Act of Union became a reality in 1707. Interestingly, Fletcher eventually took his money from the Equivalent.

Utterly disillusioned by the turn of events, his cynicism worsened by his arrest on suspicion of conspiring with the French for an invasion of England – the charges were thrown out – Fletcher withdrew from public life and concentrated again on agricultural matters at which he was markedly successful. He set up the Saltoun Mill, the first of its kind in Britain, in 1712.

He also began to spend more time away from Scotland than he did in it, and in 1716, never having married, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun died in London.

His final words were said to have been “Lord have mercy on my poor country that is so barbarously oppressed.”