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The Family Tree - June/July 2006
The Other 70%

By Judith Lloyd

I don’t know how many of you have been confused about who the Covenanters were and whose side they were on, but I have always wondered about it when I’ve read bits and pieces in literature where it would mention that so-and-so was a Covenanter or an anti-Covenanter.  From what I have gleaned the conflict between these two groups (which lasted more than 50 years from the mid to late 1600’s) pitted Scot against Scot, highlanders against lowlanders, and, of course, the usual English against Scot.  The crux of the whole matter was the religious beliefs of these three opposing groups.  The English government at that time were Anglican and then Catholic, the Highlanders were predominantly Catholic, and the Lowlanders predominantly Presbyterian.

The original Covenant was actually signed in 1638 following an attempt by Charles I to introduce the rites of the Church of England into the churches of Scotland in 1637.  The best known revolt against the rites (the Book of Common Prayer) was in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.  The covenant, known as the National Covenant, basically stated that the people refused to bow to England’s religious demands and would not accept Charles as head of the Church.  Signers of the covenant and their supporters were referred to as Covenanters.

Charles had dissolved Parliament in 1629 and was ruling alone.  In the 1640’s Oliver Cromwell with the assistance of many Scots, with whom he had signed another covenant which would allow the Scots to continue practicing their Presbyterian religion, and Charles own subjects, the dissolved English Parliament, succeeded in defeating him.  He surrendered to the Scots where he thought he would be safe.  However he was handed over to the English, and was ordered by Cromwell to be executed.  Some Scots crowned his son, Charles II, as King of Scotland at Scone, just before he fled the country and after he had signed the National Covenant.   Two years after Cromwell’s death in 1658, Charles II returned and was restored to the throne.  He immediately made himself the head of church as well as state, rescinded Cromwell’s covenant with the Scots and his own signature on the National Covenant, and removed hundreds of Presbyterian ministers from their parishes, replacing them with Episcopalian ministers.  He also had his appointed ministers submit lists of parishioners who did not attend the services, and had them routed out, tortured, maimed, killed.  His thoughts were obviously to cause the Scots to give up their Presbyterian religion and fall into line with the English church. 

In 1678 Charles brought Highlanders from Stirling (and even as far as Caithness – the northernmost point of Scotland’s mainland) to Glasgow and southwestern Scotland to assist in the crushing of the Covenanters.  Lowland families (the Highland Host) were forced to house and quarter the highland army at their own expense.  They were in fact feeding, clothing, and providing shelter to the men who were, under the direction of the English, hunting down and killing their own countrymen.

The most prominent Covenanter leader was Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyll. For the Government forces there were the Grahams, the Earl of Montrose, and at the Battle of Drumclog in 1679, James Graham, later the Viscount of Dundee, as well as the Earl of Nithsdale and the Earl of Annandale.  The Battle of Drumclog was won by the Covenanters, but their victory was short lasting as they were soundly beaten at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on the Clyde just a few weeks later.

1680 until 1685 was known as the Killing Times.  The successor to Charles II had been his brother, James II of England, James the VII of Scotland.  James was a Roman Catholic.  He had the lists of parishes drawn up with the names of everyone over the age of 11 on them.  If anyone was even suspected of being a Covenanter he or she was killed – no matter what the age.  Again this merely tightened the resolve of the Covenanters, who were now meeting in open fields with sentries watching out for not only the King’s men, but their own countrymen bent on removing all trace of them.  These meetings became known as conventicles. Also it created martyrs to the cause; John Brown, who was caught, returned to his doorstep and shot in front of his wife and small children and two women known as the Wigtownshire Martyrs who were tied to poles in Wigtown Bay at low tide and drowned when the tide came in – to mention only a couple.

James brought about his own downfall in his zealous movement against the Covenanters by issuing the Declaration of Indulgence.  In essence it protected Roman Catholics from prosecution for any penal law infraction.  This turned the Anglican Church against him, and when his son, James Stuart (father to Charles Stuart) was baptized Catholic it was the final straw for the English.  Fearing for the loss of the protestant faith in England and Scotland, James’ son-in-law William was approached by Parliament with backing for ascension to the throne for his assistance in removing James.  William succeeded in this in the Glorious Revolution and ruled jointly with his wife Mary, James’ daughter.  Under their reign persecution of the Covenanters and the Presbyterian religion gradually eased.

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