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  John Middleton (c.1608–1674), studio of Sir Peter Lely John Middleton (c.1608–1674), studio of Sir Peter Lely
Middleton, John, first earl of Middleton (c.1608–1674), army officer, was the eldest son of Robert Middleton (d. 1645), laird of Caldhame, Mearns, Kincardineshire, and his wife, Helen Strachan, a daughter of Alexander Strachan of Thornton in the same shire. The family had owned the lands of Middleton, Kincardineshire, from which they took their surname, since before 1154. The future earl began his military career as a pikeman in Sir John Hepburn's infantry regiment in France some time after 1631. He returned home to join the covenanters' army and to get married. In July 1639 he married Grizel Durham (d. 1666), the twice-widowed daughter of Sir James Durham of Pitkerro (her previous husbands were Sir Alexander Fotheringham and Sir Gilbert Ramsay of Balmain). They were to have a son, , and two daughters, Lady Grisel, who married the ninth earl of Morton in September 1666, and Lady Helen, who married the third earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

As a captain under James Graham, fourth earl of Montrose, Middleton distinguished himself in the storming of the Brig of Dee on 19 June 1639. His service during the second bishops' war is unknown, but must have been sufficiently impressive as he joined the English parliamentarian army as a colonel in 1642. He earned a reputation for bravery and generosity during his English campaigns. In late 1643 he served in Sir William Brereton's invasion of north Wales and in August 1644 he was appointed Sir William Waller's major-general of horse. He later became a lieutenant-general. Following the self-denying ordinance, which had a provision for purging foreign officers from the parliamentarian ranks, Middleton resigned his commission.

The war against Montrose

Subsequently Middleton raised a regiment of horse, ‘all for the most part of our owne nation’ (Scotland), partially at his own expense (at least £1000), and on 5 May received permission to join the army of the solemn league and covenant from the Scottish commissioners in London. Middleton and his regiment reached the army on 20 June. He entered the Scottish army not only as a colonel, but also as a major-general of horse. Amid the civil war raging in Scotland, soldiers of his former commander Montrose killed his father in his own house in 1645. Middleton subsequently wreaked considerable vengeance for that act. His regiment was part of the body of 5000 cavalry led north under Lieutenant-General David Leslie to dispose of Montrose, who had become master of Scotland for the king. In the covenanter victory at Philiphaugh on 12 September Middleton served as second in command. For his actions the estates voted him 25,000 merks Scots. He led an army of 800 cavalry into Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in October, then lifted the royalist siege of Spynie Palace in Moray. On 4 February 1646 the estates appointed him commander-in-chief in Scotland and renewed his commission as a major-general of horse. In mid-April he took the field with 800 foot and 600 horse, and returned to Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. Later in the month he successfully led 800–900 horse to raise Montrose's siege of Inverness. Having captured various Mackenzie strongholds, he returned south and seized the royalist base at Fyvie Castle on 29 February. After the king ordered Montrose to disband his army the estates authorized Middleton to negotiate the conditions.

On 22 July 1646 the two commanders had a long meeting in a meadow near the Water of Isla in Forfarshire. There Middleton granted the marquess and his followers more favourable terms than met the approval of the commission of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland. On 29 January 1647 the estates appointed him major-general of horse in the (Scottish) New Model Army and he received command of one of the army's staff troops of horse. In a final effort to rid the highlands of royalist forces Middleton began a campaign in late February. On 3 March his force appeared outside Montrose's castle of Kincardine and commenced a siege. The castle surrendered on 16 March and Middleton levelled it to the ground and had twelve Irish soldiers of the garrison shot. With Lieutenant-General Leslie he pursued the royalist Gordons in March and April, then continued the campaign after his superior departed for Argyll. In July Middleton joined Leslie on Jura with his troops, and accompanied him on the marches through Mull and Moidart. He returned to the lowlands some time in August. Meanwhile on 24 March the estates had voted to provide him with a gold chain worth £2666 13s. 4d. The final four months of 1647 and the first two of 1648 provided Middleton with his first break from active service in five years.

Preston to Worcester

In 1648 Middleton began to follow a more politically conservative course. In late March he refused to sign the original draft of the kirk party officers' Tailors' Hall petition opposing the estates' acceptance of the engagement to restore Charles I to freedom. Middleton altered the document to favour parliament's position, which traded the covenanter movement's insistence upon the permanent establishment of presbyterianism in England for a three-year trial. He subsequently persuaded most of the army to accept the change of political course. On 4 May the estates made Middleton colonel of a horse regiment to be raised from Roxburghshire and Peeblesshire. A week later he received a commission as major-general of horse in the engager army; on 10 June he gained a further promotion to lieutenant-general. On his march south he encountered 2000 kirk party rebels in arms against the engagement at Mauchline Moor, Ayrshire. In the ensuing skirmish on 12 June Middleton was wounded. On 8 July he led the vanguard of the army into Cumberland. In the engager councils of war during the campaign he unsuccessfully argued for the Yorkshire route as opposed to the Lancashire one accepted by James Hamilton, first duke of Hamilton, and commander-in-chief. Later he and Lieutenant-General James Livingston, first earl of Callendar, persuaded Hamilton to divide the infantry and cavalry to provide for better logistic support at the price of leaving the army vulnerable to Cromwell's approaching force. Following the destruction of their English royalist allies at Preston, Middleton commanded the engager rearguard on 18–19 August, fighting bravely at Standish and Wigan, before deserting Lieutenant-General William Baillie and the infantry. Middleton fell prisoner in Cheshire to the parliamentarians after his horse had fallen on him. He was confined initially at Hull, then Newcastle. He was afterwards allowed to reside in Berwick, and then, as some say, broke his parole and returned to Scotland. In mid-April 1649 he joined Pluscardine's rising for Charles II. On 9 May he submitted and was allowed to return home on ‘giving assurance of his dutiful carriage in time coming’. The general assembly threatened him with excommunication for his engager and royalist activities. Middleton appeared before it and pleaded his cause, receiving permission to sign ‘the declaration and acknowledgment’ prescribed for adherents of ‘the engagement’ or ‘in the late rebellion in the north’ (Balfour, 4.419).

In June 1650 Middleton joined the king on his landing in Scotland, but was refused a commission in the army of the covenants. In October he and Lewis, second marquess of Gordon, raised the Gordons to oppose the kirk party. On 21 October Middleton defeated a force of kirk party horse in the battle of Newtyle, Forfarshire, but he failed in his attacks on the covenanters in Bog of Gight and Strathbogie/Huntly Castle. His former superior Leslie marched against him, and as Charles urged Middleton to submit, and the estates offered an indemnity, he agreed to terms in the treaty of Strathbogie on 4 November (Balfour, 4.160). The commission of the church, however, prematurely took action, and on a motion on 24 October made by James Guthrie, the radical minister of Stirling, and carried by the votes of the elders, resolved on his excommunication. This was opposed by many of the leading ministers, and the committee of estates urged delay; but Guthrie carried out the sentence on the following Sunday. At its next meeting the commission resolved to correct what it had done so rashly, and Middleton, having done penance in sackcloth in St Mary's Kirk, Dundee, on 12 January 1651, was restored to communion and the right to hold state offices. As a result of his public humiliation Middleton harboured an intense personal hatred of presbyterians for the rest of his life. In May the committee of estates commissioned him a colonel of a horse regiment, and on 17 May he received command of the 4th cavalry brigade, which contained four regiments. Before and during the Worcester campaign, on which he was a major-general, he became a highly popular member of the officer corps thanks to his convivial drinking habits. At the battle of Worcester on 3 September Middleton commanded the western wing of the Scottish army. Although wounded in the fighting he escaped with David Leslie and 1000–1200 horse. On 9 September Colonel John Birch captured him and most of the fleeing Scots at Blackstone Edge Moor between Parsdale and Halifax. Following imprisonment in Liverpool, his former comrades in arms sent him to the Tower of London. Cromwell wished to try him for treason, but he escaped in his wife's clothes and joined the king at Paris in 1652.

Exile and restoration

Middleton resumed his role as an active supporter of the royal cause. In late 1653 Charles II appointed him captain-general of the forces raised in the highlands by William Cunningham, eighth earl of Glencairn. Middleton took command at Dornoch, Sutherland, in late February 1654. General George Monck, the English commander in Scotland, and Colonel Thomas Morgan marched against him with large forces. On 10 July Morgan surprised Middleton at Dalnaspidal, near Lochgarry. Middleton's cavalry fled and his foot deserted in the ensuing catastrophe. Middleton escaped with difficulty and joined the king at Cologne some time after 15 March 1655. Predictably Cromwell excluded him from the Act of Indemnity in 1654. Meanwhile in the exiled court he became a protégé of the royal councillor and anti-presbyterian Sir Edward Hyde. In 1656 Charles made him an earl. He also received the colonelcy of the Scots foot raised in Flanders in that year. On 24 September 1656 he received a royal appointment as ambassador to the Jews of Amsterdam, and to Danzig and Poland with the aim of raising troops, but he dismissed them owing to a lack of money. He visited Danzig in 1657–8; on his way west in 1658 he stayed with the electors of Brandenburg and Saxony. Afterwards he resided with the king in Brussels, and on his own in Amsterdam. He returned to the exiled court in the summer of 1659. At the Restoration he returned to England with the king. His peerage was then confirmed by letters patent on 1 October 1660 under the title earl of Middleton, Lord Clermont and Fettercairn. He readily entered into a conspiracy with many Scottish nobles against the presbyterian party (Buckroyd, 16). His favour with Clarendon (the former Sir Edward Hyde) and the king gained him appointments as commander-in-chief in Scotland, governor of Edinburgh Castle, and lord high commissioner to the Scottish parliament. He arrived at Holyroodhouse in late December, having been escorted from Musselburgh by many nobles, gentry, and a thousand mounted men.

On 1 January 1661 Middleton opened the Scottish parliament with great state. He quickly implemented a pro-episcopalian and absolutist regime. His passage of the Acts Rescissory, which annulled all the legislation of the previous twenty-eight years, placed the estates in thrall to the monarchy and debilitated the cause of constitutionalism for nearly three decades. On 11 May he presided at the funeral of Montrose, whose scattered limbs had been collected and buried with full honours in St Giles's, Edinburgh—a fitting ceremony for the resuscitation of Scottish royalism. Middleton led the prosecution of Archibald Campbell, marquess of Argyll, who was executed on 27 May—symbolizing the destruction of the constitutionalist/covenanter party. His personal animosity towards James Guthrie, the force behind his excommunication, led the minister to the same fate. In mid-June Middleton steered the privy council to petition the king for the restoration of episcopacy owing to secret instructions from Clarendon. Armed with that resolution he returned to London and personally urged that policy on the king. Now he assured Charles that bishops were ‘desired by the greater and honester part of the nation’ (Burnet's History, 1.234). John Maitland, earl of Lauderdale, a friend of the king and secretary of state for Scotland, thought differently. The feud that ended with Middleton's downfall began over this policy dispute.

In 1662 Middleton continued to ride the wave of extreme royalism. He served as commissioner of the May 1662 parliament, and in July became an extraordinary lord of session. At the end of September he and the privy council met at Glasgow (popularly called the ‘Drunken Parliament’). According to contemporary rumour most of the councillors were drunk when they passed the act which deprived the clergy who refused to conform to episcopacy of their benefices. The council also established monetary penalties for nonconforming protestants. During the period of his dominance in Scotland (from 1662 to early 1663) he wrote For the Good of the Publick (n.d.). At court, Lauderdale so successfully retailed stories of the earl's extremely rigorous acts that Middleton became alienated from Whitehall. Middleton's removal from office was expedited by his attempt to exclude royal favourites Lauderdale and Sir Robert Moray from public office. On 11 February 1663 he was ordered to London to meet the accusation of Lauderdale who charged him with withholding letters from the king on public affairs, consenting to measures without royal authority, taking bribes from presbyterians to exempt them from fines, and other lapses.

In March Middleton lost all his offices, and retired to the house of Thomas Dalmahoy, an old Scottish comrade in arms, near Guildford, Surrey. He had a pension from the crown of £1000 sterling p.a. (albeit one frequently in arrears) and the rents from his estates, of about the same value: nevertheless he certainly had financial problems. He was governor of Rochester from 1663 to 1667, and on 30 June 1666 he became lieutenant-general of the Kent militia. Pepys, seeing him in the aftermath of the Dutch raid on the Medway, noted: ‘He seems a fine soldier, and so everybody says he is; and a man like … most of the scotch gentry (as I observe), of few words’ (Pepys, 8.307). Following the death of his first wife in September 1666 at Cranston, Middleton married on 16 December 1667 Martha Carey (1635/6–1706), daughter and coheir of . In the spring of 1667 Pepys reported that Middleton, ‘a man of moderate understanding, not covetous, but a soldier-of-fortune and poor’ was for certain appointed governor of Tangier, (ibid., 167), a post which he probably owed to the influence of the duke of York. His patent was not issued until May 1668 and he did not set sail until September 1669, in the meantime having importuned Pepys for advances on his pay. The latter, getting to know him, found him ‘a shrowd man, but a drinking man, I think, as the world says—but a man that hath seen much of the world’. They talked of the Dutch war, which Middleton said that he had always disliked, ‘and did discourse very well of it, I saying little, but pleased to hear him talk and to see how some men may by age come to know much, and yet by their drinking and other pleasures render themselfs not very considerable’. Pepys met Middleton a couple of times before learning that this was ‘the great major-Generall Middleton, that was of the Scottish army in the beginning of the late war against the King’ (ibid., 9.325, 328).

At Tangier Middleton seems to have been a conscientious and able governor, extending the fortifications of the town ahead of the permission and authorized funding from England, and maintaining the hospitality that his position required, if also showing at times bad temper as much as affability. He was also frequently ill, and it was while suffering from the flux that he had the fall which brought about his death on 3 July 1674. Getting up in the middle of the night looking for a light he tripped up over the sickbed attendant who was sleeping in his doorway: Middleton ‘in the dark stumbled over him and broke his arm close by the shoulder, and in two or three days died of the fever, which the pain, and his former weakness caused’ (Jones, 24). Middleton had been engaged in buying up the jointure of his wife's stepmother to obviate terms in his 1667 marriage settlement which would effectively have disinherited his son. Moreover, his expenses as governor were great (while the crown's payments to him were also heavily in arrears). Middleton died heavily in debt to both the crown and to Scottish creditors.


Middleton was one of the most successful Scottish professional soldiers. He earned a solid reputation for force of character, courage, and ability as a commander. His patron Clarendon says he was ‘as courtly a person as ever that nation [Scotland] bred, of great modesty, courage, and judgement, worthy of any trust’ (Clarendon State Papers, 4.145). Sir George Mackenzie, the noted lawyer and equally extreme royalist, described him as of ‘heroic aspect, courage, and generosity, manly, eloquent, and as more pitied in his fall than envied in his prosperity’. Baillie, on his appointment as royal commissioner in 1661, wrote that ‘his wisdom, sobriety, and moderation have been such as make him better beloved, and reputed as fit for that great charge as any other we could have gotten’ (Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 3.443–4). Others took a harsher view. Burnet, a conservative whig, observed ‘He and his company were delivered up to so much excess, and such a madness of frolic and intemperance, that as Scotland had never seen any thing like it’ (Burnet's History, 1.363), a view echoed in Walter Scott's Tales of a Grandfather. His reputation is forever black among presbyterians for his apostasy and persecuting inclinations; for episcopalians the corrupt and inebriated nature of his regime made him a problematic hero.

Edward M. Furgol


The letters and journals of Robert Baillie, ed. D. Laing, 3 vols., Bannatyne Club, 73 (1841–2) · APS, 1643–60, i–ii, 7 · J. Turner, Memoirs of his own life and times, 1632–1670, ed. T. Thomson, Bannatyne Club, 28 (1829) · J. Balfour, Works, 4 vols. (1823–5) · H. W. Meikle, ed., Correspondence of the Scots commissioners in London, 1644–1646, Roxburghe Club, 160 (1917) · P. Gordon, A short abridgement of Britane's distemper, ed. J. Dunn, Spalding Club, 10 (1844) · Calendar of the Clarendon state papers preserved in the Bodleian Library, 2: 1649–1654, ed. W. D. Macray (1869) · Burnet’s History of my own time, ed. O. Airy, new edn, 2 vols. (1897–1900) · Scots peerage · J. Buckroyd, Church and state in Scotland, 1660–1681 (1980) · A. F. Mitchell and J. Christie, eds., The records of the commissions of the general assemblies of the Church of Scotland, 3 vols., Scottish History Society, 11, 25, 58 (1892–1909) · Pepys, Diary · G. Hilton Jones, Charles Middleton: the life and times of a Restoration politician (1967), 1–25 · GEC, Peerage


BL, corresp. and papers relating to Tangier, Sloane MSS 1958, 3510–3514 |  NL Scot., letters relating to politics


G. Kneller, oils, Castle Ward, Co. Down · studio of P. Lely, portrait; Phillips, 28 April 1992, lot 6 [see illus.]

Wealth at death  

debts of £6534 owing to treasury were discharged in 1679; there were arrears owing to Middleton of £3345 3s.: Jones, Charles Middleton, 24