The National Covenant & Civil War
The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear.
But sacred freedom, too, was theirs;
If thou art a slave, indulge thy sneer.
On the Solemn League and Covenant
Many Scots viewed the Union of the Crowns in 1603 as a disaster. It created the problem of one king ruling over two parliaments. To James VI & I, now holding court in London, the English Parliament was by far the more important of the two houses. He assured the English, that the greater would always attract the lesser, and that Scotland would eventually Anglicise. At the time, his plan for a Union of Great Britain proved unpopular on all sides and it was quietly abandoned; it was his son, Charles I, who continued the plan.
Charles saw himself as the Godly Prince, the divinely appointed leader of society, who should be obeyed as such. He sought to bring the Scots Kirk into conformity with England by effectively using his Scots bishops to run Scotland for him. The King, however, had touched a raw nerve in the Scottish people - religion was the politics of the 17th century.
The Road to Revolution
Charles alienated two powerful factions in Scottish society through his actions. Firstly, there were the Presbyterians, who believed that Christ, not the King, was the head of the Kirk, and that spiritual power should flow from the Kirk Elders upwards and not from the King down. In his attempts to tamper with religion, Charles gave the Presbyterians political credibility.
Secondly, by introducing bishops into government, Charles had weakened the traditional role of the Scots nobility. Disaffected, they drew closer to the Presbyterian radicals. The crunch came in 1637 when Charles insisted, without consultation, on introducing an English-style prayerbook into Scotland. It incited a revolution - the National Covenant was signed at Greyfriar's Kirk, Edinburgh, in 1638.
The National Covenant
The signing of the National Covenant has been called the biggest event in Scottish history. In essence it was a document, a contract with God, signed by the Nobles, Ministers and thousands of ordinary Scots, who pledged themselves to defend Scotland's rights by stating what they would and wouldn't agree to in matters of Kirk and state. Drawn up by two of Scotland's sharpest minds, Archibald Johnston of Wariston and Alexander Henderson, it contained radical demands for changes in Scotland's governance.
The Covenant demanded a free Scottish Parliament and a free General Assembly, which means free from the King's interference. Specifically, it demanded the abolition of bishops, who had blindly served the King in matters of Kirk and State, and, in effect, it limited the power of the King by inflating the role of Scotland's nobles and Kirk. The medieval order of divinely appointed Kings was truely over.
The Covenant and the Cromwellian Conquest
The Engagement and the Rule of the Saints (1647-1650)
In 1647 most of the Scots nobilty split ranks with the Kirk and agreed to fight for Charles I against the English Parliament in an agreement known as the Engagement. Scottish society was torn over the issue. The Kirk openly preached against anyone joining the Engagers' army, whilst the nobles made ready for war.
A depleted Scots army invaded England in 1648 only to be defeated by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. The defeat of the Nobles elevated the radical Presbyterians of the Kirk to power, and, in what became known as the Rule of the Saints, they set about creating their vision of a godly society. Tight social discipline was imposed, adultery was to be punishable by death, nobles were humiliated before Kirk sessions for their moral lapses, and those who had supported the Engagement were excluded from office, parliament and the army.
This triumph, however, was completely over-shadowed by a cataclysmic event - the execution of Charles I by Cromwell in 1649. The Scottish Parliament was forced to act - Charles, despite all his faults, had been a Scottish Stewart King. They appointed his son, Charles II, as King of Scotland, England and Ireland on condition he accepted the Covenant, which Charles II had no option but to agree to. At last the Scots Kirk had got what it wanted - a covenanted king.
Scotland Conquered (1651-1650)
From Cromwell's point of view his English republic was in danger. He begged the Scots to reconsider - they wouldn't and he invaded. The Scots fought well initially, cornering Cromwell at Dunbar, but, urged on by their ministers (the political commissars of their day), they descended from their commanding position and were massacred. Within a year Scotland was conquered, its parliament was abolished and the Scots were forced into an incorporating union with England.
Scotland became an occupied country with Cromwellian citadels imposed on Ayr, Leith, Perth, Inverness and Inverlochy. It was the first time in history that the nation of Scotland had been conquered.
The situation wasn't to last. The Parliamentary Union of 1652 and the birth of Commonwealth of Scotland, England and Ireland brought an uneasy peace which people accepted for purely practical reasons. However, when Cromwell died and the republic fell apart, few in Scotland opposed the Restoration of Charles II.
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