1633 Charles came to Scotland to be crowned, accompanied by
William Laud, his new Archbishop of Canterbury. The Coronation
Service was held in St Giles's with candles, crucifix, genuflecting
bishops and full Anglican rites. Edinburgh was made a bishopric
with St Giles's for Cathedral. Archbishop John Spottiswoode
was appointed the King's Chancellor for Scotland. Ministers
were advised to wear surplices. The General Assembly had not
met since 1618 and presbyteries were now threatened with dissolution.
Soon feelings were running high and the word 'Popery' was
on men's lips.
It was in this atmosphere that the
King and Laud raised the most explosive of all questions,
that of the liturgy. They had by now begun to realize that
the English Prayer Book, unaltered, could never be acceptable
to the Scots and a Commission was accordingly appointed
to draw up a Revised Prayer Book for Scotland, its purpose
being to take the place of extempore prayer.
The new book was read for the first
time in St Giles's on 23 July 1637 amid scenes of violence
and disorder which soon developed into a regular riot, in
which the female members of the congregation, egged on according
to tradition by a certain Jenny Geddes, played a leading
part. Before long the resulting disturbances had reached
such a pitch that the Privy Council were obliged to shut
themselves in Holyroodhouse to escape from the mob, while
the Bishop of Brechin, for his part, found it advisable
to conduct Divine Service with a pair of loaded pistols
laid in front of him in full sight of the congregation.
On receiving in London the Privy Council's report of what
was happening, the King, who by now had many other no less
serious cares and preoccupations and but little time to
devote to Scottish affairs, simply sent back instructions
that all who had protested against the Prayer Book should
be punished and its regular use enforced.
In Edinburgh, meanwhile, opposition
to the Prayer Book was becoming daily more formidable and
better organized. During the autumn and winter of 1637 a
committee was formed in Edinburgh known as the Tables. It
included the Earls of Montrose and Rothes, Lord Warriston,
an eminent lawyer, some influential ministers, in particular
Alexander Henderson of Leuchars, and numerous other notabilities,
both clerics and laymen. Known to be in sympathy with them
were Lord Lorne, heir to the Earl of Argyll, and Sir Thomas
Hope, both Privy Councillors.
But the King, oblivious as usual of
the strength and fervour of the opposition he had aroused
and as usual out of touch with opinion in Scotland, persisted
stubbornly in the course on which he had embarked. To the
petitions against the Prayer Book now coming in from all
over the country, backed by men of the utmost weight and
substance, he responded by sending orders that the petitioners
should be dispersed and punished. Finally in February 1638,
before leaving for Newmarket to hunt, he issued from London
a proclamation, to be read in public in Edinburgh and other
cities, summoning the nobles who had resisted the Prayer
Book to submit to the King's will and conform.
This brought matters to a head. There
were angry demonstrations at the Mercat Cross. The Tables
recalled the Lords of Congregation, and on 28 February and
the two days that followed several hundred representatives
of the nobles, the gentry, the burghs and the clergy flocked
to Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh to sign a document which
had been drawn up by Lord Warriston, Alexander Henderson
and others, and which was to be known as the National Covenant.
'The great Marriage Day', Warriston called it, 'of this
Nation with God.'
The Covenant was a skilfully drawn~up
document, calculated to attract the maximum of support.
It incorporated the Negative Confession of I ~8r, which
specifically condemned a number of characteristic Catholic
doctrines, and also appended a whole catalogue of Acts confirming
it. It showed how these had been contravened by the latest
'inovations' and protested against their violation. And
it ended with a pledge on the part of the signatories to
maintain 'the true religion' and, it may be observed, 'His
Majesty's authority'. For the leaders of the movement did
not want, at this stage at any rate, to come out openly
against the King, but only to convey to all and sundry)
the impression that he was badly advised.
Soon mounted messengers were carrying
copies of the Covenant all over the Lowlands and thousands
of signatures were being collected. The countryside was
in a ferment. National feeling was deeply aroused. In the
eyes of many the Covenant possessed more than purely theological
significance. It was also a defence 'against our poor country
being made an English Province'. And so opposition to the
Covenant was vigorously discouraged and ministers who refused
to read it from the pulpits were in due course deposed.
During the summer of 1638 contact of
a kind continued between London and Edinburgh. But Charles
suffered, as he was bound to, from being an absentee sovereign
and his Commissioner, the Duke of Hamilton, an unpopular
figure at the best of times, carried but little weight.
Already the Tables had become the de facto government of
The King, now thoroughly alarmed, had
already told his English Privy Council in) July that he
would have to use force. In order to gain time, however,
he now agreed to a meeting of the General Assembly in Glasgow.
This was called for November 1638, and at once got down
to business. The Assembly knew its own mind. All bishops
were deposed or excommunicated, the Prayer Book, roundly
condemned as 'heathenish, Popish, Jewish and Arminian',
was abolished and a Commission set up to investigate abuses.
To this the King simply replied that none of the Assembly's
decisions were valid because they had been reached in the
absence of his Commissioner, who had walked out at an early
stage in the proceedings. An open breach was now inevitable.
Meanwhile, in Scotland enthusiasm for
the Covenant was growing. In the east this was largely inspired
by the young James Graham, fifth Earl of Montrose, whose
influence extended through Stirlingshire, southern Perthshire,
parts of Angus and even into Aberdeen, where Episcopalianism
and resistance to the Covenant were most deep-seated. In
the west, the Covenant's chief supporter was Archibald Campbell,
eighth Earl of Argyll, the powerful Chief of Clan Campbell,
a convinced Calvinist, deeply distrustful of the King.
All that summer arms had been coming
into Scotland from abroad and Scottish soldiers serving
overseas had been returning to their own country in gryte
numbers upone hope of bloodie war'. In Alexander Leslie,
the 'old, little, crooked soldier' who had fought against
Wallenstein in Germany and eventually succeeded Gustavus
Adolphus in command of the Swedish Army, the Covenanters
had an outstanding and experienced general. The King, for
his part, was in a less favourable position. He had an inefficient
administration, no standing army and no general worthy of
In the early summer of 1639, however,
Charles, having somehow assembled a poorly trained force
of some twenty thousand men, moved to the Border. At Berwick
he came face to face with a far better trained, better disciplined
and above all better commanded force under Sandy Leslie.
Neither side wanted to fight and the First Bishops' War,
as it was called, was eventually brought to an end by the
so-called Pacification of Berwick, under which the King
agreed that all disputed questions should be referred to
another General Assembly or to Parliament.
The new General Assembly's first move
was at once to re-enact all the measures passed by the Glasgow
Assembly. Parliament, when it met, went further still, defying
the King and his Commissioner, abolishing episcopacy and
ultimately freeing itself from royal control. In particular,
steps were taken to ensure that the Committee of Articles,
by which the King had long controlled Parliament, should
cease to be a mere tool of the Sovereign.
A Second Bishops' War followed speedily.
This time the Scots under Leslie and Montrose crossed the
border and quickly captured the important English cities
of Newcastle and Durham. Once again the King, whose disorderly
rabble had melted away before the Scottish onslaught, was
obliged to negotiate. For this purpose and also in order
to raise funds, he found it necessary to summon his English
Parliament, something which, to all intents and purposes,
had not been done for more than ten years. It was to prove
a fateful step. For the Parliament which at his behest now
assembled in Westminster was to be the famous Long Parliament.
By summoning Parliament Charles gave
his English enemies the chance for which they had long been
waiting. The King's Government at once came under severe
attack and his chief supporters, Strafford and Laud, were
impeached and in due course executed. Civil war threatened.
It was now the autumn of 1641. In the
hope of winning Scottish support Charles came to Scotland,
where he distributed a number of titles, making Leslie Earl
of Leven and promoting Argyll to Marquess, and as part of
a package deal, accepted all the decisions of the General
Assembly of 1638 as well as those of the Scottish Parliament
of 1641. Finally he formally gave Parliament the right,
of which it had long been making full use, to challenge
the actions of his ministers.
Events were by now fast reaching a
climax and in August 1642 came the news that civil war had
actually broken out in England between the King's forces
and those of Parliament. The Scots at first held aloof.
The principal purpose of the Covenanters was not political
but theological. They were concerned to secure the suppression
of episcopacy and the establishment of presbytery, not only
in Scotland, but in England and Ireland as well. And they
were prepared to give their support to whichever party promised
them this. They were also far from agreeing amongst themselves.
In the Kirk, meanwhile, extremist tendencies
were gaining the upper hand. To read passages from the Bible
at funerals 'bred', it was now held, 'debosherie'. To repeat
the Lord's Prayer in public was a sign of Popery. To take
cognizance of Christmas or Easter was a special abomination.
At the same time it began to appear to Montrose and others
that the newly created Marquess of Argyll was exploiting
the situation to further his personal interests and consolidate
his personal power. Montrose, while remaining a Presbyterian
and an upholder of the Covenant, accordingly now took his
place at the head of the Moderates and with some of his
supporters signed a pact at Cumbernauld, reaffirming both
his belief in the Covenant and also his loyalty to the King.
In England, meanwhile, one Royalist
victory had followed another until, in the summer of 1643,
the Parliamentary leaders, facing defeat, decided in their
turn to go to Scotland for help. The English Parliament
had one considerable inducement to offer the Scottish Covenanters.
While on the whole satisfied with the state of religion
in Scotland, the latter had the gravest doubts about the
religious practices of their English and Irish neighbours.
Moreover, although they had deeply resented the King's attempts
to bring Scottish religious practice into line with that
of England, they saw nothing wrong in seeking to reverse
the process. Negotiations were accordingly opened and in
the autumn of 1643 an agreement known as the Solemn League
and Covenant was signed by representatives of the Scottish
Covenanters and of what was left of the English Parliament.
Under the terms of this strange document the Covenanters
undertook to attack the Royalist forces from the north -
this in return for the sum of/ 30,000 a month and an undertaking
that there would be 'a reformation of religion in the Kingdoms
of England and Ireland in doctrine, worship, discipline
and government, according to the Word of God and the examples
of the best reformed churches, and that popery and prelacy
should be extirpated'. In the eyes of the Scottish signatories
there was no necessity further to define the phrase 'the
best reformed churches'. It could only mean one thing.
The English now set out to fulfil their
part of the bargain by summoning the Westminster Assembly.
This was a mixed body of clergy and laymen, including eight
Scottish delegates, and was entrusted with the exacting
task of establishing uniformity of worship in Scotland,
England and Ireland. Ironically enough, this predominantly
English body, while leaving but little trace of its deliberations
in England or Ireland, was to have a lasting influence on
Scottish religious thought and practice. To this day the
Westminster Confession of Faith serves as the basis for
Presbyterian worship in Scotland. It is also interesting
to recall that the original version of the metrical psalms,
which have since played so large a part in Scottish life,
also came from England, having been produced by the then
Provost of Eton, a Cornish Member of Parliament named Francis
Rous. For Charles the conclusion of the Solemn League and
Covenant meant serious trouble. Early in 1644 a Scottish
force of 26,000 men crossed the Tweed under the command
of David Leslie, a distant kinsman of Alexander's. And in
the following July, largely thanks to Scottish help, the
Parliamentary forces, now re-organized under Oliver Cromwell,
were able to inflict a heavy defeat on the Royalists at
Marston Moor in Yorkshire.
Taken From: A Concise History
of Scotland, Fitzroy Maclean, 1981, Thames & Hudson