Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Fletcher, Andrew, of Saltounfree

  • John Robertson

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1653?–1716)

by William Aikman, c. 1707

private collection; photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

Fletcher, Andrew, of Saltoun (1653?–1716), Scottish patriot, political theorist, and book collector, was most probably born at Saltoun, in Haddingtonshire; a gap in the parish register between 1647 and 1660 leaves the precise date unknown, but 1653 is supported by a family record, and is more probable than 1655. He was the eldest son of Sir Robert Fletcher of Saltoun (1625–1665) and of Katherine (d. 1713), daughter of Sir Henry Bruce of Clackmannan; he had three brothers, Henry, Robert, and John, of whom the last two died young. The family was well established and well connected. On his mother's side Andrew was descended from the Haldanes of Gleneagles and related to the Campbells of Glenorchy. The Fletchers themselves were descended from an old Yorkshire family, and Sir Robert belonged to the sixth generation of the Scottish branch. From Tweeddale the family had moved to Dundee and acquired lands in Angus, including the estate of Innerpeffer. Sir Robert's father, Sir Andrew Fletcher, had risen in royal service; he became a lord of session as Lord Innerpeffer in 1623, and married Beatrix Hay, daughter to Peter Hay of Megginch, brother of George Hay, first earl of Kinnoul and lord chancellor of Scotland. It was Sir Andrew who acquired the estate of Saltoun in 1643. His support for the engagement led not only to loss of office in 1649 but to heavy fines, and on succeeding in 1650 Sir Robert sold the lands in Angus to pay off his father's debts.

Education and early travels

Andrew Fletcher's early education is often ascribed to Gilbert Burnet, minister of the parish of Saltoun, but since Burnet took up the position only in 1665, the previous incumbent, Patrick Scougall, minister from 1658 until his appointment as bishop of Aberdeen in 1664, is likely to have been a more important influence. Scougall was a friend and Burnet a younger protégé of Robert Leighton, spiritual leader of a group of latitudinarian clergy who were not averse to episcopacy but who valued piety before dogma. One of Burnet's first acts as minister of Saltoun was to compose a funeral sermon in memory of Sir Robert Fletcher, who died in January 1665; Sir Robert was held up as a model of lay piety and Stoic morals, with a laudable interest in natural philosophy. The paths of Gilbert Burnet and Andrew Fletcher crossed on several later occasions, and on his death in 1713 the bishop of Salisbury left a bequest to found a school at Saltoun. Nevertheless, it seems that Fletcher had greater respect for the less worldly Scougalls, Patrick and his son Henry (1650–1678), whom Andrew would have known as a boy at Saltoun.

Andrew Fletcher was returned heir to his father in August 1665. In February 1667 he matriculated at the University of St Andrews, almost certainly accompanied by his brother Henry, and was admitted to the bachelor class at St Leonard's College. The choice of university was most probably determined by family tradition. There is no direct evidence as to what he studied, but he would have consolidated his knowledge of Latin, and the bachelor class was meant to concentrate on logic and ethics. Neither Andrew nor Henry graduated, however, and by August 1668 Andrew had left for London, with James Graham as his governor.

By the end of the year Fletcher was in the Netherlands, and he may well have been out of Scotland continuously between 1668 and 1678. The evidence of bills and receipts places him in Paris in 1670, in The Hague and Rotterdam in the summer of 1671 but back in Paris by October, in Paris in 1672 and 1673, and again in 1675. In December 1675 he was in London, but he had returned to Paris by May 1676 and was apparently there continuously until the second half of 1677, when he returned to London. In the course of these travels he learned French and acquired an abiding taste for the life of those cities, by then the largest and most developed in Europe. Most of all he took the opportunity to buy books, combining with the dealer James Fall to scour the back streets of Paris in the search for second-hand bargains.

Opposition and exile, 1678–1689

Fletcher was back in Scotland by 1678, when he was chosen a commissioner for Haddingtonshire in the convention of estates which met in June. He immediately made a name for himself by siding with the duke of Hamilton in opposition to the duke of Lauderdale, the high commissioner and chief minister of Charles II in Scotland. In the first of many episodes of parliamentary outspokenness Fletcher responded to the imprisonment of his brother Henry for smuggling himself into the convention, by identifying one of the high commissioner's servants and forcing Lauderdale to plead privilege to justify his presence. Following the convention he was punished by having soldiers quartered on him, to which he responded by joining in a petition challenging the legality of the privy council's action. He was in trouble with the council again in 1680, for obstructing the implementation of the council's decision to raise and use the militia against presbyterian dissidents. Elected to the new estates in 1681, he was equally forward in opposition to the new high commissioner, the duke of Albany and York (the future James VII and II). John Lauder of Fountainhall reported that he circulated anonymous letters to other members encouraging opposition to the Act of Succession in favour of the duke of York. He also openly opposed the Test Act, alongside the earl of Argyll, Viscount Stair, and Bishop Patrick Scougall. A year later, in April 1682, he was again arraigned by the privy council, this time for obstructing the provisioning of soldiers quartered in Haddingtonshire. By May he was in London, and by November in The Hague. Before he left he made an arrangement with William Fletcher of New Cranston to act as his factor and lift his rents.

Although he was not formally charged with an offence that would have obliged him to flee, Fletcher had effectively made himself a political exile, joining Argyll, Stair, and others in the Scottish exile community in the Netherlands. He certainly did not confine himself to plotting, and immediately resumed contact with James Fall in Paris to obtain news of book prices. But Thomas Chudleigh, English envoy at The Hague, reported to the earl of Sunderland on 10/20 August 1683 that he had been a close companion of William Carstairs during his visit to the Netherlands in April of that year, and was likewise frequently with Stair. A similar envoy's report placed him in Paris in October. Whether he then returned to England at the end of the year to make contact with the remnants of the Rye House plotters is unclear. When Fletcher was charged with high treason in 1685, the libel initially mentioned his part in the conspiracy of 1683, and a century later the historian Sir John Dalrymple suggested that Fletcher had come from the Netherlands to establish connections between the English plotters and potential Scottish allies. At all events Fletcher was back in the Netherlands in 1684, and by the end of that year was in Brussels, where, according to a witness at his trial in 1685, he was often seen dining with the duke of Monmouth. Described by another as 'of low stature and slender', marked by small 'pocks', and wearing a peruke, he evidently cut a distinctive figure (depositions of Anthony Buÿse and William Williams, 19 Aug and 18 Nov 1685, high court of justiciary, NA Scot., JC 39/67/3, 5).

Trusted by Monmouth, Fletcher was privy to the discussions which preceded the attempts by the earl of Argyll and the duke to raise rebellions against James in Scotland and in England in 1685. According to Burnet, Fletcher doubted the success of both schemes, but 'resolved to run fortunes' with Monmouth out of personal loyalty. To Lord Grey's argument that Henry VII had landed with a smaller number, Fletcher responded that he had been sure of several of the nobility, 'who were little princes in those days' (Bishop Burnet's History, 2.310–11). Witnesses identified Fletcher among those gathered at Monmouth's lodgings in Thomas Dare's house in Amsterdam immediately before the duke set out, and he evidently continued to be one of the duke's closest advisers after the landing at Lyme in May. But Fletcher's participation in the rebellion itself was short-lived. In an episode notorious in his own day, he shot Thomas Dare dead after the latter had upbraided him for taking his horse in order to lead a scouting party. What particularly provoked Fletcher was Dare's striking him with a cane. Dare may have affronted a gentleman, but Fletcher had almost certainly deprived the expedition of its banker as well as its most important local contact. (A goldsmith who had previously served as banker to a number of exiles, including John Locke, Dare had already persuaded a number of Taunton men to join the rebellion.)

Monmouth saw no alternative to Fletcher's quitting the expedition, and he sailed for Spain in one of the frigates that had brought them from the Netherlands. Having put in at Santander, the ship was impounded, and Fletcher imprisoned. By the next morning he had mysteriously escaped, leaving behind, as the English consul, William Frankland, reported to Sunderland in July/August, two portmanteaus containing several rich suits, holsters for a horse embroidered with gold and silk, and a substantial credit note from an Amsterdam merchant. According to a later family memoir, he travelled incognito in Spain, and subsequently enlisted in the imperial army in Hungary, then pressing the Turk back beyond Buda. Both stories have been repeated and embroidered by Fletcher's biographers, but no contemporary evidence has come to light to support either of them, and bills and receipts suggest that Fletcher was back in the Netherlands or in Cleves (using the name Ebron) by 1687 if not 1686. In the meantime he was tried for treason by the high court of justiciary in Edinburgh, and on 4 January 1686 was condemned to death, with forfeiture of his estates, which were granted to the earl of Dumbarton. A life of exile was now essential, and for the next two years Fletcher was, for the historian as well as the authorities, more elusive than ever.

By contrast with his leading role in the events of 1685, Fletcher seems to have played little part in planning the invasion of 1688. In October he showed Carstairs a letter from Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, suggesting it be passed to William of Orange, but Stewart was compromised by his dealings with James, and if anything the episode indicates Fletcher's exclusion from William's inner circle. His passage to England was delayed, and he crossed after the main force. Even so, his personal preparations were as fastidious and unstinting as in 1685. Detailed instructions were given to Andrew Russell, the faithful and patient Scottish merchant in Rotterdam, for the storage of his tent and swords, two trunks, and a valise containing a quill, a bolster, and boot skins, and for the stabling of four horses—instructions which Russell was doubtless not surprised to find were accompanied by requests for additional credit. Fletcher was even more particular in arranging for seven boxes of books and a sealed packet of papers to follow him to London and then to Scotland.

By January 1689 Fletcher was in London, where he attended the meetings of Scottish nobles and gentlemen summoned by William to arrange the transfer of power in Scotland. At this point he believed that there should be a union of parliaments between the two countries. On 8 January he wrote to Andrew Russell:

For my owen part, I thinck we can never come to any trew setelment but by uniting with England in parliaments, and Traid. For as for our worship, & particular laws we certainly can never be united to them in thes.

NA Scot., RH15/106/690, no. 7

He was back in Scotland in March, but found himself on the outside of political developments. He was not elected a member of the convention which settled the succession on William, though others who had been forfeited were; he did not recover his estates until 1690. Instead he associated with ‘The Club’, an unofficial group led by Sir James Montgomery and Sir Patrick Hume, whom he encouraged to press for more radical limitations on the power of the crown. For all his record of opposition to James VII and II, Fletcher was regarded with much less favour by the new regime than many who had served James; there is little sign that he expected or would have wished it otherwise.

Saltoun, London, and publications, 1690–1702

Since the same parliament continued in existence throughout William's reign, Fletcher had no other opportunities to be elected a member. Without an institutional forum, he divided his time in the 1690s between Scotland and London. The management of his estates had suffered from exile as well as forfeiture, and required renewed attention. William Fletcher, his factor, had died in 1685, leaving unsatisfactory accounts, the pecuniary loss being aggravated by the additional loss of nurseries of trees, furniture, and books. Another source of difficulty was the Aberlady estate purchased by his uncle Sir Andrew Fletcher in 1668: following the deaths of Sir Andrew and his two sons, it was in the hands of a minor, and the Fletchers of Saltoun were responsible for its management. (Eventually ownership also passed to Saltoun in 1710, under the terms of an entail.) In practice it was Andrew's brother Henry who assumed responsibility for managing the estates. In 1688 Henry had married Margaret Carnegie, daughter of Sir David Carnegie of Pittarrow, who Andrew (who never married) apparently used to say was 'the woman who should have been my wife' (Saltoun papers, NL Scot., MS 17858, fols. 3–6). The resulting domestic arrangements at Saltoun are unclear: given Andrew's frequent absences, he may have become virtually a lodger in his own house. Even in his absence he continued to keep a close eye on the affairs of the estate, instructing Henry on matters ranging from the proper time to fix tenancies to the best methods of planting trees and enclosing fields. But the revenues of the estate were his to consume, and he spent them on travel and on the diversions of the city.

Throughout the 1690s Fletcher divided his time between Saltoun, Edinburgh, and London, often spending the winter months in lodgings in London. Among his closest friends in the south was John Locke, whom he is likely to have met when they were exiles in the Netherlands in the 1680s. Locke described Fletcher in 1694 as 'a person whose word I rely on', and presented him with a copy of the second edition of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1694). Fletcher helped Locke in finding a tutor for William Molyneux's son; in return he sought Locke's advice on several occasions about his mother's, his sister-in-law's, and his own health, though Locke cautioned that he was 'always very backward to prescribe at a distance'. The correspondence suggests that Fletcher occasionally visited Locke and Sir Francis and Lady Masham at Oates, but less than they might have wished: in 1695 Locke chided him in Lady Masham's name to spend 'a few days out of the chocolate house', if only 'to returne from us poore honest country folke, with the better stomach, to the Witts and the Braveries' (Correspondence of John Locke, 5.79, 82, 274–5). Evidently Fletcher enjoyed the company of the chocolate house. Other close acquaintances in London were Walter Moyle and Anthony Hammond, members of the circle of radical, republican-leaning whigs who met at The Grecian tavern. But Fletcher's pleasure in the attractions of the capital city did not mean that he neglected the affairs of Scotland. In 1692 he rallied the duke of Hamilton to resume his role as natural leader of opposition to the king's ministers. More substantially, Fletcher is credited by Sir John Dalrymple with taking the lead in urging the Scots to go it alone in supporting William Paterson's scheme for a trading company to Africa and India. He brought Paterson to Scotland to introduce him to his Haddingtonshire neighbour the marquess of Tweeddale, and in 1696 subscribed for £1000 worth of stock in the resulting Company of Scotland, on the day it opened its books. How much he was called upon to pay is unknown, but he was later to assign certificates for stock to the value of £604.

The relative leisure of his life in the 1690s also gave Fletcher the time and opportunity to write. All his published writings appeared within a period of eight years, between 1697 and 1704, and were posthumously collected in his Political Works (1732). The originals were separate pamphlets, those printed in Edinburgh almost certainly published by Fletcher himself, in several cases using a distinctive italic type which R. A. Scott Macfie suggested he may have obtained from abroad and supplied to the printer. The first three pamphlets were published in the space of twelve months in 1697–8, and were written in direct response to contemporary events.

A Discourse Concerning Militia's and Standing Armies was published in London in the autumn of 1697, as a contribution to the ‘standing army controversy’ which broke out on the announcement of the treaty of Ryswick earlier that year. Led in print by John Trenchard and Walter Moyle, opposition whigs and tories seized on the end of war to demand a reduction in the size of William's army, on the grounds that maintaining a standing army in peacetime was the first step towards establishing a despotism. Fletcher's pamphlet advanced the same argument, but placed it within an altogether more sophisticated historical framework. In Fletcher's view the rise of standing armies was not 'the contrivance of ill-designing men', but the outcome of 'a total alteration in the way of living' which occurred about 1500. Adapting Bacon's trio of modern inventions unknown to the ancients—printing, gunpowder, and the compass needle—Fletcher explained that these had opened up overseas trade, creating new opportunities for consumption which encouraged the nobilities of Europe to dispense with retainers, and thus to give up the power of the sword. For their part the people had preferred to pay taxes rather than take up arms themselves, leaving it to princes to hire mercenary troops, with which in due course they established their arbitrary rule. Until now, Fletcher suggested, England had avoided this fate, but this was due merely to its geographical situation and early loss of continental possessions, not to its ancient constitution, as Trenchard and Moyle believed. The present situation was so dangerous because the war had given William the excuse his predecessors had lacked for maintaining a standing army.

The following year Fletcher republished the pamphlet in Edinburgh in a second edition, under the title A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militia's. There were two substantial changes. One was the inclusion of Scotland in his history of standing armies. In the 1550s the vigilance of the lesser barons (not the greater nobility) had frustrated the attempts of the regent, Mary of Guise, to hire mercenaries, but now Scotland had simply become the recruiting ground for armies which defended English and Dutch interests. Second, Fletcher added a detailed plan for a militia in both England and Scotland. He envisaged three camps in England and one in Scotland, in which all young men should be required to serve for one or two years, returning subsequently for summer exercises. Besides laying down detailed prescriptions for diet and exercise, and urging the youth to read histories in their spare hours, he would have all clergymen banned from the camps. Women too would be excluded, while men who abused their bodies would be punished with death. Well might he claim that such camps 'would be as great a school of virtue as of military discipline' (Fletcher, 3, 6, 29).

Fletcher's next work, Two Discourses Concerning the Affairs of Scotland (1698), addressed the increasingly severe economic and social crisis facing his country. It was written in June–July, as the first ships prepared to sail out of the Forth for Darien, the isthmus in Panama where the Company of Scotland hoped to establish a trading colony. In the 'First discourse' Fletcher underlined how much depended on the venture's success for a country 'which has been the only part of Europe which did not apply itself to commerce'. Suspicious that the crown's Scottish ministers were trying to obstruct a measure to which William and English ministers were firmly opposed, Fletcher urged the Scottish parliament to raise a land tax to support the company's venture. He was equally concerned about the effects of recruiting for the army in Scotland, as a drain on scarce resources and an encouragement to younger sons of the nobility to continue the tradition of becoming soldiers of fortune. The 'Second discourse' addressed an even more pressing crisis, the consequences of successive harvest failures in Scotland in the 1690s. Faced with what he believed to be a dramatic increase in the numbers of poor and vagabonds, Fletcher proposed drastic remedies: transportation of the worst vagrants to the Venetian galleys; the introduction of a system of domestic servitude for labourers and their families; and the imposition of a new regime of landownership, limiting the holdings of the nobility to what they could farm, and entrenching a class of smallholders who would pay rent to those who invested in their farms. The proposals were regarded as unacceptably draconian by Fletcher's contemporaries, and have been a source of embarrassment to later admirers of his patriotism. But they were characteristic of a utopian, exemplary streak in Fletcher's thinking, and are a measure of the extent to which he believed that the existing, noble-dominated structure of Scottish society was responsible for its present crisis. Even if his grasp of the economic implications of his proposals was shaky, the underlying analysis of Scotland's ills won widespread acceptance.

In the same month of July, Fletcher was also writing a third tract, this time in Italian, the Discorso delle cose di Spagna. Bearing the imprint 'Napoli', but printed in the same italic type as the Two Discourses and likewise published by Fletcher in Edinburgh, the pamphlet purported to offer a straight-faced analysis of the prospects of different European claimants to the Spanish succession, on the imminently expected death of the childless Carlos II. Fletcher began with the causes of the decline of Spain, which he attributed to its monarchs' neglect of trade and agriculture, and to the reduction in the population as a result of religious intolerance. But by reversing these policies, and by judicious territorial exchanges, a new ruler could still revive the monarchy's fortunes, and restore it to primacy in Europe. The Discorso has baffled many modern commentators, but Fletcher gave his readers plenty of clues, by his adoption of Naples as the place of publication, an allusion to Tommaso Campanella, the most extravagant proponent of Spanish universal monarchy, and by his extensive use of concepts and even phrases from Machiavelli. In case some still misunderstood, Fletcher added an 'Avviso' making explicit the work's ironic purpose. Informed contemporaries saw the point immediately, Walter Moyle expressing mock surprise that a 'surly patriot … should all of a sudden turn Projector for an Universal Monarchy' (Moyle, 243).

Three years later Fletcher published what was effectively a supplement to the Discorso, A Speech upon the State of the Nation, in April 1701. Supposedly a speech to the English parliament, the tract warned first against acceptance of a French successor to Carlos II as likely to destroy 'the balance of Europe'. But its author was also alarmed by the ambitions of William III. Were William to succeed in uniting the three kingdoms and the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, he would be in a position to establish for ever 'the empire of the sea, with an entire monopoly of trade' (Fletcher, 123, 128).

Although each of these pamphlets was a pièce d'occasion, they were informed by a coherent set of political concepts, helpfully characterized by John Pocock as 'neo-Machiavellian' (Pocock, chap. 8). Fletcher is best understood as seeking to adapt the concepts of the Renaissance Florentine political thinker to the circumstances of the modern world of maritime commerce and great monarchies, and in particular to the predicament of small, outlying societies such as Scotland. It was this analytical purpose, and the historical perspective which supported it, that made Fletcher's writing original, and contemporaries appreciated this even if they found his prescriptions unacceptable. In Scotland in particular Fletcher had set a new intellectual standard in public political debate, just as discussion of closer union with England was beginning in earnest after 1700. At the same time Fletcher's writings also set a new standard in style, his nervous, clear, economical sentences demonstrating that Scots too could be polite authors.

Limitations and opposition to incorporating union, 1703–1707

With the death of King William in 1702, Fletcher finally had his political opportunity. He did not waste it. A new parliament had to be summoned in May 1703 to settle the succession after Anne: specifically, the Scots were to accept the Hanoverian succession provided for in the English Act of Settlement of 1701. But the presumption that the Scots had no alternative but to agree, combined with anger over what was seen as English subversion of the Darien venture, made the new parliament much more difficult to manage. Elected a member for Haddingtonshire, Fletcher quickly took the initiative. In a speech on 26 May he identified the dependence of Scots ministers on their English counterparts as the critical weakness of the Scottish parliament, and moved an act to have all office-holders chosen by parliament. Two days later he elaborated the argument in a longer speech, alleging that Scotland now appeared 'more like a conquered province, than a free independent people' (Fletcher, 133). A month later he drove home the message in further speeches accompanying his proposal of an act of security with limitations, under which any future monarch of Scotland who was also ruler of England would be bound to accept parliament's independence and right to choose royal officers, and the arming of all ‘fencible’ men. In several respects the limitations reproduced the conditions imposed upon Charles I in 1641. Fletcher, however, was careful to distinguish his intentions from those of the covenanters in the previous century, scorning 'bigots of any sort'. Nor was his object the independence of Scotland: his proposals were designed to put the existing union of the crowns on a more strictly confederal footing. Again and again he insisted that the root of the problem was ministerial dependence: this was 'the band that ties up the bundle' (ibid., 135, 145).

Fletcher continued to speak regularly until the end of the session in mid-September, pressing the cause of his limitations in the face of ministers' refusal to adopt them, and shortly after the session closed he had his contributions printed as Speeches by a Member of the Parliament (1703). Characteristically, he then wintered in London. While there he composed a further (and, as far as is known, his last) published work, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind, which he had printed in Edinburgh early in 1704. Written in the form of a letter to the marquess of Montrose and the earls of Rothes, Roxburghe, and Haddington, four young nobles who had supported him in the parliament, the conversation may have had a basis in fact, but the construction of the 'dialogue' (as Fletcher himself called it) was extraordinarily artful, showing every sign of authorial familiarity with the conventions and possibilities of the genre. The participants in the conversation were aptly chosen: Fletcher himself, the earl of Cromarty, a consistent advocate of incorporating union, and two English tories, the veteran country MP Sir Christopher Musgrave and the party's elder statesman Sir Edward Seymour, who played the part of Scotophobe with plausible relish.

Part of the Conversation was given over to a defence of the position taken by Fletcher and his young supporters in the previous session, which Fletcher gradually turned into an anticipatory discussion of the arguments for and against an incorporating union with England. Making clever comparative use of the case of Ireland, and specifically of arguments of William Petty and William Molyneux, Fletcher suggested that Scotland would be similarly vulnerable to England's inclination to draw resources to itself, and in particular to the area around London. At the prompting of Musgrave and Seymour, he proceeded to outline a solution to the problem of union in Britain which was but part of a more visionary scheme for a new political order throughout Europe. Requiring the arbitrary division of existing sovereign monarchies, including those of Scotland and England, the plan showed scant regard for the ideal of national independence. But its real target was the concentration of wealth and power in capital cities such as London. Beginning with praise of London's natural advantages and human pleasures, and ending with its condemnation as another Rome, the Conversation explores its author's deep ambivalence towards the city in which he spent so much of his time and fortune. Fletcher's solution was to spread its benefits more widely, by multiplying the seats of government in Britain and on the continent: as such his proposal, he admitted to Seymour, was the only way to render 'not only my own country, but all mankind as happy as the imperfections of human nature will admit' (Fletcher, 214).

Fletcher was back in Scotland in time for the second session of the parliament in the summer of 1704. He again spoke frequently, and moved a number of motions designed to embarrass ministers. But when the ministry finally accepted an Act of Security in August, it was without his limitations. As Fletcher had anticipated in the Conversation, free trade seemed to many a more valuable concession than guarantees of parliamentary independence. He no longer sought to publish his speeches, and though he later told Robert Wodrow that he had written them all out in order to memorize them, the drafts have not survived. As he lost the political initiative, Fletcher became more fractious, picking quarrels with individuals, even the duke of Hamilton, and treating them as matters of honour. In the autumn he again withdrew from Scotland, and in October was reported by a government agent to be in the Netherlands buying arms in pursuance of the clause in the Act of Security for arming.

The same pattern of behaviour was evident in the 1705 session, held under the shadow of the English Alien Act. Two episodes confirmed Fletcher's growing political eccentricity. On 12 July he proposed that John Law and Hugh Chamberlen should be ordered to attend the house to explain their economic proposals, whose language he described as 'gibberish'. When the earl of Roxburghe observed that in good manners parliament could not oblige Law to answer for his opinions, Fletcher assumed that he was being accused of ill manners and rounded on his erstwhile supporter, challenging him to a duel. Despite the efforts of the commissioner and their seconds to prevent it, the duel was on the point of occurring on Leith Sands when it was halted by a party of guards. In another intervention, on 31 July, he suggested that the Scots should offer their crown to the prince of Prussia, on the grounds that he was at least of their religion, whereas the Hanoverians maintained the absurd doctrine of consubstantiation. Fletcher was apparently oblivious to the oddity of suggesting that what Scots proudly supposed was the oldest continuously held crown in Europe should pass to the continent's newest royal dynasty, the Hohenzollerns.

As an incorporating, parliamentary union became ever more likely, Fletcher simply became more obstinate. He did not join in the increasingly vigorous public debate. (A pamphlet published at this time, the State of the Controversy betwixt United and Separate Parliaments, 1706, has been attributed to him, but its absence from his own lists of his works tells against his authorship.) When the treaty of union was published in the summer of 1706, he was adamantly confident that neither the Scottish nor the English parliament would accept it. Once parliament met to debate the treaty, he was quickly disillusioned. A series of 'studied speeches', in which he argued from history that under such unions weaker states were swallowed up and enslaved by greater kingdoms, had no impact. Soon he was embroiled again in personal exchanges. The house was remarkably indulgent of his temper, though it is unlikely that Fletcher appreciated Argyll's pleading on his behalf on the grounds that Saltoun was his kinsman. What redeemed him was his intelligence, and his friends' knowledge that after he had made his point, he would as readily fall to talking of books and the building of houses.

Last years, 1708–1716

Just a year after the union had been proclaimed, Fletcher was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an attempted Jacobite rising of 1708, and detained in Stirling Castle. Unlike some of his fellow prisoners, he made light of the inconvenience, and was soon released for lack of any plausible evidence. But the episode may well have reinforced his inclination to get away from Scotland. By September he was in London, and the following year he was in the Netherlands, with an excursion to Leipzig. He was back in London in time for the trial of Henry Sacheverell early in 1710, when the whig lords ignored his warnings against provoking the cry of 'the Church in danger'. Increasingly he seems to have found the company of Scots tories such as Lockhart and Henry Maule more congenial, and he strongly encouraged their efforts to move for the dissolution of the union. He was briefly back in Scotland in the winter of 1711–12, when he was caught up in ‘the affair of the Scots' forage’, about which he protested his innocence to Lockhart. Thereafter he returned to London, whence he could easily cross to the Netherlands.

From May 1715 Fletcher was on the continent, watching over his nephew and namesake Andrew Fletcher in Leiden before moving on to Paris in October. His letters from Paris to his nephew show that his relish for the city was undiminished, his appetite for books and eye for a bargain as keen as ever. The young Andrew received a stream of instructions and commissions, to be executed either by himself or by Alexander Cunningham (probably the former professor of civil law at Edinburgh, then resident at The Hague). Likewise undiminished was Fletcher's concern with appearances, his nephew also being given detailed advice on the cut of a new black suit. During the Jacobite rising of 1715 he was in Paris, from where he observed wryly to his nephew on 20 February 1716 that the care taken by the Pretender (James Stuart) to ruin his affairs 'convinces everybody who formerly did not believe it that he is of the family' (Saltoun papers, NL Scot., MS 16503, fols. 127–8). But while immune to Jacobitism, his bodily health was increasingly uncertain: he had been seriously ill in 1713, and during the summer of 1716 bouts of 'looseness' became increasingly prolonged. Much weakened, he was helped to make the journey from Paris to London by his nephew and Alexander Cunningham, but could go no further. His last coherent words, as reported by his nephew to his brother, were, 'Lord have mercy upon my poor countrey that is so barbarously oppressed' (Saltoun papers, NL Scot., MS 16503, fols. 173–4). Fletcher died in his old lodgings at Mrs Duras's in Charles Street, London, on 15 September. In a note scribbled a little earlier, he told his brother Henry that he desired to make no formal will, 'seeing what I have will naturally go to you', but he requested that £200 be employed to relieve Scots imprisoned after the late rebellion, and that 'for the love and favour I bear to Mr Alexander Cunningham', he be paid £100 at Martinmas next. This legacy was punctually paid by Henry, though he also told his son that Andrew had left the estate under 'a vast burden' (Saltoun papers, NL Scot., MS 16503, fols. 175, 186–7). He was buried at Saltoun parish church.

Library and place in Scottish intellectual life

Over a lifetime of collecting, Fletcher built up a library of some 6000 books, almost certainly the largest private library in Scotland at the time. He left two manuscript catalogues of his books (one much fuller than the other), and since the books themselves were not dispersed until the 1960s, it has proved possible to reconstruct the library's contents (see Willems). In buying and arranging his books, Fletcher may have followed the advice of earlier bibliophiles such as Naudé, but the balance of the library clearly reflected personal interests. The largest categories were those of historians, poets, orators, and legislators; rather less space was taken by theologians, physicians, mathematicians, and jurists. Classical authors (often in several editions) were numerous, and he had an excellent collection of histories and modern political works. Protestant and Catholic authors co-existed under theologians, but alongside a disproportionate amount of heterodoxy. Although Galileo, Descartes, and Robert Boyle were represented, Fletcher evidently did not aim to keep up with the new natural philosophy: there was no work by Isaac Newton. There were books in Latin, Greek, English, French, Italian, and Spanish, though he is not known to have spoken Spanish. How well he knew Greek is also uncertain: Lord Hailes believed that he went late to its study, and Fletcher was in his forties when he confessed to his brother on 13 December 1699 that he would willingly exchange knowing it 'for all the knowledge I have of anything' (Saltoun papers, NL Scot., MS 16502, fol. 172).

Fletcher's interests were not confined to books. He liked drawing, and had a long-standing fascination with the design of buildings; through the good offices of David Gregory he obtained a favourable comment on one of his designs from Christopher Wren. Although his temper was notorious, he was respected and his company enjoyed by men across the political spectrum. The overriding impression is nevertheless one of remarkable self-sufficiency, intellectual as well as personal. His thinking is difficult to relate to the main currents in Scottish intellectual life at the time. Towards the end of his life his love of the classics and history was reciprocated by the Jacobite Latinist Thomas Ruddiman, whose preface to his new edition of George Buchanan acknowledged the loan of books from one he called 'Cato nostri seculi' (Ruddiman, xxi). But no similar intellectual fellowship had been possible with the great antiquary of the previous generation, Sir Robert Sibbald. Those whom Fletcher himself held in highest regard among his Scottish contemporaries were the latitudinarian clergy and academics, such as the Scougalls and William Colvin, principal of Edinburgh University, yet there are few traces in his thought of the Stoic moral philosophy which they cultivated as an antidote to the dangers of Epicureanism. Fletcher's own, much more activist, neo-Machiavellian politics were unique in the Scottish context, even among those, like Sir Alexander Seton of Pitmedden, who shared his diagnosis of the ills of Scotland's noble-dominated society. But if his ideas were singular, his application of them was an inspiration: Fletcher not only showed his fellow Scots how to think analytically about their country's predicament, but taught them to do so in a broad historical and comparative perspective. In this Fletcher was the intellectual forebear of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The impression of intellectual self-sufficiency is reinforced by the obscurity—or discretion—of Fletcher's religious opinions. He made no secret of his hostility to bigots of any ecclesiastical stripe, nor of his sympathy for the tolerant eirenicism which Burnet found epitomized in his father. But much more radical views are suggested by his remark to Locke in 1695 that he was 'tracing priestcraft from its first original in Aegipt. Wheir I find lickways many other monsters but none so abominable' (Correspondence of John Locke, 5.275). Such anti-clericalism was characteristic of the republican circles Fletcher was then frequenting in London, but it seems unlikely that he followed John Toland all the way into Spinozism and atheism; Lord Hailes thought that Fletcher had once described Toland as 'a bigotted atheist' (Edinburgh University Library, Laing MS II 588). More probably Fletcher was a firm Erastian, sharing the conviction of many of the Scottish lay élite that church establishments should be subject to the civil powers. Such a position is compatible with the views Fletcher expressed in 1712 in conversation with Wodrow, when he argued that the power of the (clergy-dominated) presbyteries to choose new ministers should be curtailed.


Fletcher's reputation as a 'patriot'—albeit often a 'surly' one—was well established in his own lifetime, and has endured. But the significance attached to the designation has changed several times over the course of three centuries. An important early step in its consolidation was the collection of his pamphlets in a volume of Political Works, published in 1732 by three London booksellers; who or what prompted them to do so is unknown. There was a second edition in 1737, and a separate Scottish edition in 1749. The writings attracted the attention of several Enlightenment thinkers, including David Hume, who admired Fletcher's genius as well as his probity. Campaigners for a Scottish militia in the 1760s and 1770s invoked his name and arguments, and his proposal for domestic servitude also continued to be discussed, often critically. Another whose attention was caught was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who offered to write Fletcher's life—and may have received family papers from the earl marischal to enable him to do so. (If he did, he is presumed to have lost them.) Failing Rousseau, anecdotes and family information about Fletcher were collected by his great-niece Elizabeth Halkett, who did her best to make him a good Presbyterian, favoured at critical moments by the intervention of Providence. Growing interest in the idea of a national biography encouraged Lord Hailes and David Steuart Erskine, earl of Buchan, to use and supplement these materials, but when Buchan wrote Fletcher's life he gave it a fresh twist, rendering the patriot an icon for the radical cause of the 1790s—literally so, the frontispiece reproducing Fletcher's portrait under a cap of liberty. His name was invoked in this spirit by Thomas Muir at the first national convention of the Scottish Friends of the People in 1792. As late as 1840 the Glasgow Chartist Circular celebrated Fletcher, with John Trenchard and Daniel Defoe, as having 'nobly contended for genuine political liberty' (no. 15, 4 Jan 1840).

As such company implied, the radicals' patriot was not a champion of Scottish independence. Nor was Fletcher's name invoked by the first movement to agitate on specifically national issues, the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights in the 1850s. He was, however, taken up by the Scottish Home Rule Association of the 1880s. Drawing particularly on the Account of a Conversation, which the association republished as a pamphlet, John Morrison Davidson represented Fletcher as an exemplary proto-federalist, 'equally opposed to separation and incorporation' (Davidson, 15). Not until the twentieth century did the patriot become a full-blown nationalist. Not surprisingly he has occupied a prominent place in the historical pantheon of the Scottish National Party, whose publicists strive to present his opposition to the Act of Union as the destined climax of his political career. Perhaps equally important to his reputation as a national hero was his inclusion, as the subject of The Patriot (1982), in Nigel Tranter's series of popular Scottish historical novels. On the other hand, scholars have begun to get to grips with Fletcher's thought and intellectual connections, making possible a rather different assessment of his historical significance. As a result, Andrew Fletcher has become a prominent (though by no means the only) example of a Scottish hero whose popular and scholarly reputations are increasingly divergent.


  • NL Scot., Saltoun MSS 16502, fols. 121–2, 152–3, 172, 193, 208–9; 16503, fols. 109–16, 127–30, 141–2, 156–9, 173–5, 186–7; 16809, fols. 10–11; 16831, fols. 9–56, 58–60; 16854; 17450; 17458, fols. 17–18; 17858, fols. 3–6; 17860 [family genealogy]; 17863, 17864 [library catalogues]
  • Political works, ed. J. Robertson (1997)
  • R. A. Scott Macfie, ‘A bibliography of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun’, Proceedings of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 4/2 (1901), 117–48
  • P. J. M. Willems, Bibliotheca Fletcheriana, or, The extraordinary library of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (Wassenaar, 1999)
  • E. Halkett, ‘Memoir of the family of Saltoun’, 1785, U. Edin. L., MS La III.364
  • G. W. T. Omond, Fletcher of Saltoun, Famous Scots Series (1897)
  • [G. Burnet], A discourse on the memory of that rare and truly virtuous person Sir Robert Fletcher of Saltoun (1665)
  • acta rectorum, U. St Andr. L., MS UY/305/3, p. 425
  • NL Scot., Yester MS 14407
  • J. Lauder, Historical observes of memorable occurrents in church and state, from October 1680 to April 1686, ed. A. Urquhart and D. Laing, Bannatyne Club, 66 (1840)
  • The dispatches of Thomas Plott and Thomas Chudleigh, English envoys at The Hague, ed. F. A. Middlebush, 22 (Rijks Geschiedkundige Publicatien, 1926)
  • State trials, vol. 11
  • J. Dalrymple, Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland, new edn, 3 vols. (1790)
  • NA Scot., high court of justiciary, processes in the trial of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun for treason, JC 39/67/3, 5
  • Bishop Burnet's History of his own time, ed. T. Burnet, another edn, 2 (1753)
  • TNA: PRO, state papers, Spanish consuls, SP 94/210
  • G. Gardner, ‘The Scottish exile community in the United Provinces, 1660–1690’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1998
  • NA Scot., Andrew Russell papers, RH 15/106/648, nos. 22–5, and 15/106/690, nos. 7, 10
  • The correspondence of John Locke, ed. E. S. De Beer, 8 vols. (1976–89), vols. 5, 8
  • J. S. Shaw, The political history of eighteenth-century Scotland (1999)
  • W. Moyle, The whole works (1727)
  • J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian moment: Florentine political thought and the Atlantic republican tradition (1975)
  • The Marlborough–Godolphin correspondence, ed. H. L. Snyder, 1 (1975)
  • NA Scot., Montrose correspondence, GD 220/5/75, 220/5/800/13
  • The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891–1931), vols. 4, 8
  • Report on the manuscripts of the earl of Mar and Kellie, HMC, 60 (1904)
  • NA Scot., letters of Andrew Fletcher to Henry Maule of Kelly, GD 45/14/337
  • Letters of George Lockhart of Carnwath, 1698–1732, ed. D. Szechi, Scottish History Society, 5th ser., 2 (1989)
  • D. Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, letter to the earl of Buchan, 26 April 1787, U. Edin. L., MS La II.588 [copy]
  • T. Ruddiman, preface, in G. Buchanan, Opera omnia (1715)
  • D. S. Erskine, earl of Buchan, Essays on the lives and writings of Fletcher of Saltoun and the poet Thomson (1792)
  • Chartist Circular, 15 (4 Jan 1840) [Glasgow]
  • J. M. Davidson, Scotia rediviva: home rule for Scotland (1893)
  • N. Tranter, The patriot (1982)


  • NL Scot., corresp.
  • NA Scot., Dalhousie muniments, GD 45/14/337, 361
  • NA Scot., Andrew Russell papers, RH 15/106/648, 690, 708
  • NL Scot., Saltoun papers


  • W. Aikman, portrait, 1707, priv. coll. [see illus.]
  • eleventh earl of Buchan, pencil and chalk drawing, 1794, Scot. NPG
  • oils (after W. Aikman), Scot. NPG
  • portrait, repro. in Erskine, Essays
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
University of St Andrews Library
W. Cobbett, ed. T. B. Howell & T. J. Howell, 34 vols. (1809–28)
National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh Library
Historical Manuscripts Commission