The Scotch parliament had, on the 11th of June, sent an address to the king wherein, after praising his majesty, as usual, for his extraordinary prudence, courage, and conduct, and loading Argyle, whom they styled an hereditary traitor, with every reproach they can devise - among others, that of ingratitude for the favours which he had received, as well from his majesty as from his predecessor - they implore his majesty that the earl may find no favour and that the earl's family, the heritors, ringleaders, and preachers who joined him, should be for ever declared incapable of mercy, or bearing any honour or estate in the kingdom, and all subjects discharged under the highest pains to intercede for them in any manner of way. Never was address more graciously received, or more readily complied with; and, accordingly, the following letter, with the royal signature, and countersigned by Lord Melford, Secretary of State for Scotland, was despatched to the council at Edinburgh, and by them entered and registered on the 29th of June.
"Whereas, the late Earl of Argyle is, by the providence of God, fallen into our power, it is our will and pleasure that you take all ways to know from him those things which concern our government most, as his assisters with men, arms, and money, his associates and correspondents, his designs, etc. But this must be done so as no time may be lost in bringing him to condign punishment, by causing him to be demeaned as a traitor, within the space of three days after this shall come to your hands, an account of which, with what he shall confess, you shall send immediately to us or our secretaries, for doing which this shall be your warrant."
When it is recollected that torture had been in common use in Scotland, and that the persons to whom the letter was addressed had often caused it to be inflicted, the words, "it is our will and pleasure that you take all ways," seem to convey a positive command for applying of it in this instance; yet it is certain that Argyle was not tortured. What was the cause of this seeming disregard of the royal injunctions does not appear. One would hope, for the honour of human nature, that James, struck with some compunction for the injuries he had already heaped upon the head of this unfortunate nobleman, sent some private orders contradictory to this public letter; but there is no trace to be discovered of such a circumstance. The managers themselves might feel a sympathy for a man of their own rank, which had no influence in the cases where only persons of an inferior station were to be the sufferers; and in those words of the king's letter which enjoin a speedy punishment as the primary object to which all others must give way, they might find a pretext for overlooking the most odious part of the order, and of indulging their humanity, such as it was, by appointing the earliest day possible for the execution. In order that the triumph of injustice might be complete, it was determined that, without any new trial, the earl should suffer upon the iniquitous sentence of 1682. Accordingly, the very next day ensuing was appointed, and on the 13th of June he was brought from the castle, first to the Laigh Council-house, and thence to the place of execution.
Before he left the castle, he had his dinner at the usual hour, at which he discoursed, not only calmly, but even cheerfully, with Mr. Charteris and others. After dinner he retired, as was his custom, to his bed-chamber, where it is recorded that he slept quietly for about a quarter of an hour. While he was in his bed, one of the members of the council came and intimated to the attendants a desire to speak with him: upon being told that the earl was asleep, and had left orders not to be disturbed, the manager disbelieved the account, which he considered as a device to avoid further questionings. To satisfy him, the door of the bed-chamber was half opened, and he then beheld, enjoying a sweet and tranquil slumber, the man who, by the doom of him and his fellows, was to die within the space of two short hours! Struck with this sight, he hurried out of the room, quitted the castle with the utmost precipitation, and hid himself in the lodgings of an acquaintance who lived near, where he flung himself upon the first bed that presented itself, and had every appearance of a man suffering the most excruciating torture. His friend, who had been apprised by the servant of the state he was in, and who naturally concluded that he was ill, offered him some wine. He refused, saying, "No, no, that will not help me: I have been in at Argyle, and saw him sleeping as pleasantly as ever man did, within an hour of eternity. But as for me - ." The name of the person to whom this anecdote relates is not mentioned, and the truth of it may therefore be fairly considered as liable to that degree of doubt with which men of judgment receive every species of traditional history. Woodrow, however, whose veracity is above suspicion, says he had it from the most unquestionable authority. It is not in itself unlikely; and who is there that would not wish it true? What a satisfactory spectacle to a philosophical mind, to see the oppressor, in the zenith of his power, envying his victim! What an acknowledgment of the superiority of virtue! What an affecting and forcible testimony to the value of that peace of mind which innocence alone can confer! We know not who this man was; but when we reflect that the guilt which agonised him was probably incurred for the sake of some vain title, or, at least, of some increase of wealth, which he did not want, and possibly knew not how to enjoy, our disgust is turned into something like compassion for that very foolish class of men whom the world calls wise in their generation.