Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun – The Patriot (1655–1716)
Andrew Fletcher was born in 1655 at Saltoun, East Lothian, the eldest son of Sir Robert Fletcher of Saltoun. Andrew and his brother Henry were tutored by a young Gilbert Burnet, who was the minister of Saltoun at this time.
In 1678 Fletcher was elected as Commissioner for Supply for Haddingtonshire in the old Scots Parliament. He made his presence known and his opposition to those in authority on his first day at the parliament. His brother Henry was thrown into the Tolbooth in Edinburgh for accompanying him to the state opening of the new Convention. His crime was that he had no right to be present. Andrew questioned the presence of the servants of John Maitland, the 1st Duke of Lauderdale, in the chamber. This was the beginning of his opposition to Lauderdale, the representative of King Charles II in Scotland. Andrew Fletcher opposed Lauderdale’s policy of a standing army in Scotland. As punishment Lauderdale ordered soldiers to be stationed at Saltoun.
Lauderdale was succeeded in Scotland by James, Duke of York, who was the brother of Charles II. Again Andrew made an enemy of James, and of the government, during what is called The Killing Times in Scotland. He was forced to leave the country because it was unsafe having James, Duke of York, as his enemy. He fled to England where he met up with Burnet, his former tutor. He then fled to Europe when he was charged with sedition for allegedly taking part in the Rye House Plot (a plot to assassinate Charles II). He went to Paris and then Holland, where he joined ranks with English forces led by the Duke of Monmouth. The Duke led an army opposed to the reign of Charles II and invaded England with Fletcher in tow. However, shortly after landing in Dorset, Fletcher found himself involved in an argument over a horse with the Paymaster General, Heywood Dare, and shot him dead. Again Fletcher had to flee abroad, going to Spain this time. For his part in Monmouth’s uprising in 1684, Fletcher was charged, in his absence, with high treason. This crime carried the death penalty and he lost his estates, which were given over to the crown.
Fletcher decided, very sensibly, to stay out of the country, and spent time in Hungary, fighting with the Duke of Lorraine against the Turks. He returned to Holland where he again met Burnet, who was also in exile. James II was now king and pardoned all former enemies, meaning Andrew was now free to return to Scotland. He and Burnet were confidants of William, Prince of Orange and they returned to England with him in 1688 at the time of The Glorious Revolution. In 1690 the charge of treason against him was invalidated and the estates of Saltoun restored to him.
Fletcher was one of the main supporters of the failed Darien scheme, investing £1,000 of his own money into the scheme. In 1703 he was re-elected into the Scottish Parliament as Commissioner for East Lothian and head of the nationalist party. He became a leader to those who wanted a limitation on the powers of the throne. They saw the power of the throne closely linked to the English Parliament and wanted a Scottish Parliament established that had the power to choose its own successors to the throne and have discretion in the declaring of war. Fletcher was not against a union of the parliaments but wanted a federal union rather than an encompassing union. He envisaged the two kingdoms divided into provinces, each with their own capital, and each with a large measure of home rule. When he failed in his attempts to stop the Union of Parliaments in 1707 he left politics and set about improving agricultural methods at his estate at Saltoun and travelling in Europe. His vocal opposition to the Act of Union of 1707 earned him the title of ‘The Patriot.’
Scotland was a very poor country at this time. It was wrecked by years of poor harvests caused by bad weather, poor farming methods and the devastating aftermath of the failed Darien scheme. Andrew Fletcher saw a way of improving the situation by helping to set up Saltoun mill in 1712. It was the first of its kind in Britain, and with help from some financial backers, his brother Henry, sister- in-law Margaret Carnegie and a talented engineer called James Meikle, he could introduce to Scotland some of the innovative machinery he had seen in Holland.
James Meikle (father of Andrew Meikle) was employed as a mill-wright at Saltoun. The mill was for the production of pot barley, replacing the inefficient method used previously. Henry and Andrew Fletcher drew up a contract with James Meikle to travel to Holland and “learn there the perfect art of sheeling barley … and erect mills for that purpose”. Margaret was in charge of taking the orders at the mill and she did this behind closed doors so that the technology at Saltoun remained secret. Andrew Fletcher encouraged Margaret to travel to Holland and secretly acquire the technology for weaving fine linen. Margaret went to Amsterdam with two engineers (one of them was James Meikle) disguised as servants. The industrial espionage was a success and an establishment for the weaving of ‘Holland’ (fine linen) was set up next to the mill. A bleaching field was also established at Saltoun for bleaching linen.
Fletcher died in London in September 1716 and he is buried in the family vault at Saltoun.
Wyllie, Margaret, A History of Saltoun and the Fletcher Family, 1986
Mackenzie, W.C., Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun: His Life and Times, 1935
Scott, Paul H., Andrew Fletcher and the Treaty of Union, 1994
Fletcher, Andrew, The Political Works of Andrew Fletcher, Esq. of Saltoun, 1737, 1749