Against sage advice, Charles was determined to bring Scottish and English churches into harmony, by introducing a Scottish Book of Common prayer, and Canons. When the new service was to be used on 23rd July 1638, opponents were prepared.
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Now, I mentioned last time that for all the inflammable materials lying around England to burst into flames a spark was required, and that spark would come from the lights in the north, and we’ll get to that in a wee while. But before that, I thought it might be nice to ask – so what were all these revolutionaries-in-waiting doing during the 1630s? Just to repeat the point I made at the end of the last episode, raising Cain in England in 1640 was nowhere near as easy as in 1440; in times Medieval you had all these powerful regional warlords wandering around in clanky armour with eager loyal tenants ready to stretch a bow at the slightest twitch of the aristocratic ear. I exaggerate for effect, obviously. In 1640 they were all reading the bible, enclosing the commons. Building prodigy house and eying up the latest word in lacy ruffs, and their tenants were busy extending their houses with a nice brick chimney. The importance of the role of parliament as a focus for discontent is incalculable, fire in the north or no fire in the north.
So, I thought I might just look around and see what some of those revolutionaries did with their time – might just keep them in your mind. And also because it’s difficult to get any sight at all of revolutionaries preparing for the day. I don’t know much about the run up to the French Revolution, but it’s categorically not like the Russian Revolution, with revolutionary theories and theorists doing the rounds, and Lenin hanging out in Geneva with Dali and all that. In the words of Mark Knofler, most people appear to go back to their valleys and their farms. You might want to go and look at the post on the website called British Revolutions Biographies, if you get lost in all the names.
Front of house when parliament is recalled will be John Pym of course, and the circle of which he is part – the Earls of Warwick and Lord Saye and Sele, and other colleagues like John Hampden. The super summary by his biographer is that Pym demonstrated in the 1630s his ability to make friends and influence people – and also showing a genius for losing money in colonial ventures despite his undoubted financial skills. He spent much of his time in London, and through projects such as the Providence Island venture stayed in close contact with the likes of Warwick, Saye and Sele, Lord Brooke. This then is one of the themes of the Personal rule; a large group of families, together and independently will busy themselves with the westward enterprise. Some will actually emigrate; two in particular are worth mentioning. One is Harry Vane the Younger, son of the Courtier Henry Vane Senior, who will become the King’s Secretary of State in 1640. The younger Vane started with a diplomatic career and in naval administration, skills he’ll return to, but he emigrated in 1635 to Massachusetts where he became governor for a while. He left after the Anne Hutchinson controversy; Anne was a religious radical with whom Harry had sympathy being a believer in religious toleration; the colony did not however, and Anne weas expelled. The experience marked him in his religious radicalism, part of the independents. He returned home in 1637.
The other worth mentioning is Hugh Peters, a radical minister from Fowey in Cornwall, who spend much time in the Netherlands and travelled to New England with John Winthrop, who was married to his step daughter. Peters was an active minister in New England, minister of Salem for a while, and would return to England in 1641 as one of a Massachucetts delegation. Peters will be an ever present radical and preacher throughout the civil wars, a continual advocate for the independents and congregationalists. He will be a very divisive figure – a massively charismatic man and preacher, soaked in the misogynist traditions of the time, travelling enthusiastically with the army in constant sympathy with ordinary soldiers. His passion and the strength of the impact on his daily life of his religion gave him an enthusiasm bordered on the naïve, and drove his passion for and views of political and social action. He’s a character, is what I am saying, not to everyone’s taste maybe.
If involvement in colonial projects is one theme, staying at home is another; although John Hampden was to some degree, involved in Providence Island, for the most part, he just went back to the business of being a country squire after all the excitement of the Ship Money Case.
Hampden’s Lawyer, Oliver St John, went back to lawyer-ing, but the Patron who had presumably encouraged St John to help Hampden, was one Francis Russell the earl of Bedford. He has an interesting time in the 1630s – but not in the way of a traditional apprenticeship for revolution. On the one hand he is very much involved in the kind of Fenland drainage projects that Cromwell opposed during the 20s and 30s on behalf of the local people – there is still a channel called the Bedford Drain I think after him. A proud boast. But the other concerned what was called ‘a little lane … lately called Russell Street’ west of the city of London. Population was growing like topsy in the area, facilities weren’t keeping up. So with a licence from the king to beautify the growing parts of London, and employing the architect Inigo Jones, Bedford created an exclusive new development, with church and tenements all based around a large open piazza. It was called Covent Garden. All very exciting – again not particularly revolutionary.
And then in the ‘going back to valleys and farms’ category we might also include men like Denzil Holles; who after the excitement in 1629 of holding the speaker in his chair, was robbed of any revolutionary outlet. He went back to Dorset, picked up a few minor government posts, and was described by his biographer over the decade as ‘a sullen country gentleman’. Also in the same category we should include two of the more martial leaders of the parliamentary side in the coming war; Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax.
Cromwell married Elizabeth Boucher in 1620, a marriage that seems to have been loving throughout the extraordinary changes in their lives over the next 30 years. In the 20s and 30s their fortunes fluctuated; never very grand at one stage Cromwell seems to have slipped out of minor Gentry level down to a farmer as they moved to St Ives, although an inheritance improved his fortunes a bit. Throughout, the marriage was close. In 1646, they would both move to London, although obviously Oliver was away from home fighting a lot. A very small number of letters between them survive; Elizabeth comes across as more outwardly affectionate; ‘truly my life is but half a life in your absence’ she writes once; Oliver’s a bit more gruff, and it seems very much in the military man style when he addresses her; ‘thou art dearer to me than any creature; let that suffice’. Elizabeth gets a fair amount of grief from the political nation for being too homely and ordinary during the protectorate, but their relationship seems to have stayed strong.
They had nine children together, 6 of whom survive early childhood, and family seems to be central to Oliver’s life. He had a particularly strong relationship with his second daughter Elizabeth, whom they called Bettie; who was born in 1629. At the age of 16 she fell in love with a parliament soldier John Claypole and was married; Oliver’s grief at her death from cancer in 1658 inspired Andrew Marvell to write a poem about him.
Anyway that’s enough of the lovey-dovery stuff. Four things really to know about Cromwell in this period. Firstly, not only was his marriage close and a source of emotional support through his life, Elizabeth also brought connections to add to those he already had. Although he was very much a poor relation, he was connected to the St Johns, the Wallers and a ream of influential gentry families too numerous to name here – and including his cousin, John Hamden. Elizabeth was the daughter of a London merchant, whose father had estates in Essex and was a Neighbour of the Earl of Warwick. So when Cromwell reaches parliament he will know people, and be known.
Another concerns religion –in a letter dated 1638 records a famous conversion after what he described as a long period of melancholy, reminiscent of many similar events in the lives of the Godly
‘Oh I lived in and loved darkness, and hated the light. I was a chief, the chief of sinners…Oh the riches of his mercy’
His religious fervour, so much part of the make up of the Godly, was reflected also in his patronage of lectureships for Calvinist preachers, another sniff of opposition, to add to his defence of the common people of the Fens. Laud was not keen on these private preachers and tried to close many down – they were rarely of Arminian disposition, and a way round the removal or disciplining of Calvinist minded Church of England ministers by Laud. In trying to save a lectureship he wrote to his local colleague in terms that indicates Cromwell’s opposition to their removal
In these times wherein we see they are suppressed with too much haste and violence by enemies of God
The enemies identified here, then, appear to be the Bishops. Finally, there is a famous remark Cromwell is supposed to have made when the Grand Remonstrance squeaked through a parliamentary vote in the 1640s, when Cromwell whispered in the ear of an MP that he had considered emigrating to New England. Maybe he also considered such a thing during the darker days at St Ives.
Thomas Fairfax, Cromwell’s military boss through the civil Wars, also busied himself in his home county – Thomas, or Black Tom, was a Godzoner, one of those lucky enough to be been born in God’s own county of Yorkshire. The Fairfaxes were I suppose minor barons, or upper gentry; Thomas’s Grandfather bought a barony in Scotland, lord of Cameron, and Thomas was the son of Fernandino the second Baron, and himself a notable MP with a significant role in the wars until his death in 1644. They were however a well known family especially in the East Riding, and proud of their military background. They came under the patronage of the noble family of de Vere, and he married Anne Vere in an arranged marriage – but one that turned out to be happy. Anne Vere will come up later in the sorry; she was a person of strong opinions, and in the idiom of the time Thomas was to get a bit of misogynistic grief for the crime of not being the trouser wearer in the partnership. Anne seems to have rather enjoyed the civil wars, often campaigning with her husband, and on one occasion they escaped after a defeat by riding on the same horse, Anne riding pillion. Whereas the Fairfaxes were probably Calvinist, and mildly presbyterian – Anne was very much more radical, coming from a Dutch radical Protestant tradition.
However, Fairfax was not entirely stay at home during the personal rule; he campaigned under Baron de Vere in the Thirty Years war; not necessarily the longest campaign or the most glorious, but he commanded a troop of Dragoons and saw action; and it was to stand him in good stead when things start to kick off in Yorkshire, and people begin to choose sides.
That then is a third theme – an off to the wars segment. I have said that England had lost the regional military capability it had in days medieval, and I stand by that statement; if I was on hill, I would be digging a little trench with the determination that I would die here if possible. But that was not to say there was no military expertise whatso ever. Maybe as many as 50,000 Englishmen actually fought in the Thirty years war; the vast majority as mercenaries, and most fighting for the Dutch. So just like Fairfax, there were smatterings of knowledge. One of the principal commanders on the parliamentarian side would be Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, who will also be a major political figure. Poor Bob, as I shall never call him again, had spent some years fighting in the Netherlands in the 1620s; he appears to have been mildly successful and very popular with his men, because he fought at their side with no airs ad graces; but the things he learned would not make him popular with the more Gung-ho in the war party; that battle were rarely decisive, and the cost in human life was dear. He was therefore a cautious, and reactive commander; he fought to force a negotiation not to win.
By the way, poor Bob because our Earl of Essex has awful luck with marriage. You might remember his first marriage to Frances Howard, which ended in divorce on the grounds of his impotence – a very public case indeed which set him up as the butt of a nations jokes and giggles. We covered it on the episodes of the Overbury affair. His second marriage was just as bad; Essex married and spent much of the 1630s trying to be a fun-loving regional magnate; but then his wife had an affair, got pregnant, everyone debated whose the baby was and had another general chuckle. Essex did the decent thing and stood by the scrap,but the poor mite then died. So – Poor Bob. He gave up on marriage after that. In addition to Essex of course we have already heard briefly of Ralph Hopton and William Waller, both of whom had brief service and accordingly became commanders, and will have a very famous correspondence of friendship, despite being on opposite sides, in what Waller described as ‘this war without an enemy’. On the royalist side, the earl of Lindsey, Charles’ first Commander before he resigned in a huff, had experience too.
And then of course there is Prince Rupert, one of the more famous figures in the English Civil wars. You may have heard of him – looks like Timothy Dalton. Jokes. Rupert was the son of the exiled Count and Countess Palatine of the Rhine, the Winter King and Queen and all that, Charles’ Nephew, and younger brother of the heir, Charles Louis. He Has a terrific reputation really, and some of it deserved – dashing, good looking brave and energetic cavalry commander, and a stunning civil war afterlife as a naval commander. He’s the epitome of the public image of the Cavalier. He has, however, also been described as a thuggish toff. Now look, we’ll come to an argument sometime about whether the Thirty Years War was really way more brutal than the English civil wars – there is an argument to say that in Ireland in 1642 it was the advents of commanders with continental experience that moderated the brutality of the 1641 Irish Revolt. However, it is Rupert who will be in command at three of the most brutal atrocities of the civil war at Birmingham, Leicester and Bolton. Jonathan Healey described him in his book the Blazing World as a Thuggish Toff. You may decide, but either way, Rupert brought a wealth of experience of European warfare to England when he and his little bro’ Maurice, came to England in August 1642. Basically, there was experience of the latest tactics and formations developed in European warfare – the Brits would not be complete losers. What is true of England is also true of Ireland where many young scions of catholic nobility fought on the Catholic side – one of them Roe O’Neill, will be a particularly important player. It is double true of Scotland, but we’ll come to that.
So – summary then. In general in the 1630s the political nation of the late 1620s returned home to their valleys and their farms, or got involved in colonial ventures, or in a few cases went to the wars; of course most of the courtiers continued in government as was their wont. What they didn’t do was plot, scheme, and develop a vision of a new world – no one seriously built models of a glorious new republic or even monarchy. No one would come to the conflict with a clear plan.
PLACE GAP HERE
OK, that brings us, kicking and screaming, to Scotland. We have been here before of course, so I’ll try not to repeat myself, but hey repetition is the mother of education so if I do, maybe that’s not so bad. Here are the highlights; a population of about 1m, and a society more than usually dominated by the magnate class, who were almost like regional satraps; they held heritable jurisdictions in local courts that elsewhere would be a public office appointed by the king. They and the lairds also held most of the rights to appoint ministers to their local churches, and control over church incomes thereby. There is a deep division between the Gaelic Highlands and the lowland, in language, landholding, rights of lordship; there is some sign that the edges were blurring, for example as towns such as Crieff become entrepots between Highland and Lowland, where cattle were brought down from the hills. But most lowlanders saw the highlanders as barbarous and living in a dangerously wild landscape. Gaelic Highlanders saw Lowlanders as foreigners who had pushed them off the most fertile lands. Population there was much more evenly spread than today, since the clearance of the Highlands by Scottish landholders lies in the future. In addition the focus of Highland chiefs was different; less concerned with the Scottish state which they would prefer to leave them alone, were rather more concerned about the politics of the Highlands than the politics of Scotland. They also have close links with Gaelic Ireland which is, afterall, just a hop skip and a jump away.
The monarchy is even more important as a focus of identity than it is in England, would you believe; there is little of the great reverence for parliament and the form of law you have in England. Scots are proud of the Stuart monarchy which for 300 years has preserved their community, rights, identity and way of life against a gorilla of a southern neighbour, and this provides a glue that brings everyone together. Just as importantly, their king was now largely absent; Scots feared becoming a province of England, not a fear Charles’ attitude helped calm.
Nature abhors a vacuum said Aristotle when he took a break from the bottle, and a stronger source of national identity was needed. For many, religion was that thing. The reformation in Scotland, unlike in England, was bottom up, and Calvinism is deeply, deeply embedded in much of lowland society. The kirk is the centre of community life, supported by kirk sessions which brings together the local nobility, the lairds, and all ranks of society, in a strong sense of solidarity to regulate behaviour in the community. Scots are proud of their kirk; it is far more purely Calvinist than England’s compromise affair, and the Scots considered their kirk the most perfect expression of God’s will. To the point where the idea was strong that the Scots were the Nation of God, the true Israel. Maybe they could lead other nations, such as England into the light. The Presbyterians have a strong voice, and a deep dislike of Bishops, who they saw as agents of the state, a hangover from Catholic days, and no authority for them to be found anywhere in the bible.
However, religion is less of a unifier than it was before the Reformation, and than was the Monarchy. Because take up in the Highlands has been much more patchy, limited to the Campbell lands of the South West Highlands – so for many Gaels, Calvinism smacks rather of the lowlands, and, even worse, of the Campbell clan. In the North East and Aberdeen, Episcopalianism remains popular, and indeed Catholicism survives too.
That’s where we are, a horribly short introduction, so sorry to any Scots out there, but I really don’t want to repeat myself too much.
In terms of the 1630s, emigration from Scotland was even higher as a proportion than England, mainly to Ulster, but again to the wars. The religious motivation was strong, fighting for the Protestant cause; but the tradition of seeking a better life by the route of the mercenary soldier was a strong tradition also, especially in the highlands – there was a long tradition of the mercenary Gallowglass of Highland Scots fighting and making a life in Ireland. Protestant Scots fought in the Dutch provinces, in Poland, Spain and Russia; they fought for Sweden, Denmark, the Palatinate and Bohemia; they fought for the Germans. They were particularly highly valued, particularly in Sweden; the Scot Alexander Leslie in particular will play an important part in our story. He had a long career in Swedish armies, rising to the level of Field Marshal. He earned a debt of gratitude from the Swedes, and this is very important – when the balloon goes up, the Scots will have a talented and experienced military commander; they will have a good supply of arms, from favours pulled in by Leslie when he finished his employment; and a large pool of experienced soldiers on whom to draw. It is one of the factors that will give them a massive advantage for several years, one of the things that will allow Scotland to punch above its weight.
I have definitely told you that on his accession, James I left his son not only his kingdoms; but also a buried bomb that would need great care to manage. No Bishops, no King he had famously said, and the stern Calvinist of his subjects in Scotland had spooked him somewhat. So James had fought hard to protect his bishops and had largely succeeded, and also in maintaining some aspects of the more ceremonial form of religion – such as bowing at the name of Jesus, altar rails – these were embedded in the 5 Articles of Perth, and if you wanted to get chucked out of a Scottish dinner party in 1630 just say, hey, don’t you love those Perth Article things? Your feet would not touch the ground, and you’d find yourself out in the rain. James and his Bishops had managed things with great care, and not confronted the Calvinists, particularly in the heartlands of radical Calvinism – the South, South West, and the ancient kingdom of Fife.
Charles kept a Scottish privy council in Whitehall and in Edinburgh, and managed affairs in Scotland himself keeping Scottish affairs well away from the English Privy Council. This meant he was advised in Whitehall by people who had relatively little understanding of the latest mood north of the border. Of particular importance in this is one James Hamilton. Hamilton at least did have extensive lands in Scotland; but he lived mainly in England, and close to the king. He had been with Charles on their mad Spanish trip, and in 1631 had taken a Scottish army to help the Swedes in the 30 YW, so he had some military experience. His relationship with Charles was as close as could be – they also shared the passion for art collecting, and it was to Hamilton that Charles turned to advice.
Charles’ style with the Council in Scotland also might be described as let us say ‘direct’; it was really not consultative, he gave orders, the Council should carry them out. This was not the consultation Scottish magnates expected of their king, and truth be told, it is by and large a demotivating management style. Attendance at Councils became poor – the Magnates had better things to do than shovel manure for their master. And after all Charles had not started well; in 1625 his revocation, reclaiming crown land granted out, gave everyone very wobbly feelings that their property was not safe in the king’s hands. He’d not even bothered to come and see the land of his birth since becoming king. The news of Charles and Lauds’ church reforms really put the wind up the Scottish kirk – the changes were anathema to them, as much as the most puritanical puritan; and since 1625 Charles had been considering how he might bring the churches across all three kingdoms into uniformity. Add to that concerns that with their king based in London, that Scotland would become a province of England, these were sensitive times in Scotland, handle with care.
That brings us to the 30s and personal rule time – and in 1633 good news then! Charles was going north to visit his kingdom! Yay, hang out that bunting. Once they looked each other in the eyes, once Charles was back in the land of his birth they would surely love each other. And when he arrived in Edinburgh there was a great procession, there was indeed the mother of all bunting, there was much celebration and even drinking., everyone essentially bunted for joy – their Prince was come home.
Sadly, Charles did not behave much like a lover; if he was in a relationship, it might qualify as coercive behaviour anyway. Charles took the sensitive body of Scottish concerns, which were in need of an easing, calming balm, and smeared a salt and chilli powder rub all over them. First of all, he held a service in Holyrood – and guess who was with him conducting the service? Yup. That’s right William Laud. And everything was set up as Laud would like it – altar rails, ceremony, vestments and all; and the king reverently kneeled. I mean, red rag – bull – let it roll. And then just to nail down the coffin cover, they used the Book of Common Prayer. The Scots did not like the BCP they did not like set liturgies generally – it was perilously close to papism in their view, and it was English. So, as starts go – not off to a flyer.
Next, the reason for the visit – Parliament. Now Scottish parliament was different to English – it was unicameral, one chamber, all the estates sat together – nobility, church, towns. They were much shorter – this one would be just 10 days, which was unusually short. Although the estates might meet before hand, most of the hard work was done by the Lords of the Articles who prepared all the bills for approval by parliament; they were easily influenced by the king, included his Bishops, and Charles attended their meetings. The resulting 168 public bills in 1633 were submitted for approval on the penultimate day – none of the estates were permitted to meet separately to discuss them. The bills ratified all the acts of his father – including the hated 5 articles of Perth; and no discussion was permitted. The way voting went in parliament was that everyone went up in order of seniority – the Magnates first, and lairds followed – the lairds traditionally voted the way of their regional magnate. Lairds incidentally, unlike English gentry, are nobility, holding title directly from the king – just a little wrinkle you should know.
What it meant, all of this, was that the King sat in the chamber, everyone was under his eye; the bicameral English parliament had the impact of taking the commons out from under the king’s eye, since he would usually visit only the Lords. But not here he saw it all. So there Charles sat, watching everything, and ostentatiously taking notes; according to a contemporary he gave vent to
A grate deall of splene
And then at one stage, the pinnacle of coercive behaviour, he took a list of names out of his pocket and declared.
Gentlemen, I’ll know who will does me service, and who will not, this day
Wow. Despite this, the key and most unpopular votes were still close – and fatally often relied on officers of state and the bishops to get them passed. Love, sadly, was not in the air. Just to cap it off, while Charles went on a month’s progress, some of the disaffected peers put together a petition to the king, detailing why many had voted against his measures. It criticised the way business had been conducted, and complained of the religious acts figured highly, damming the 5 Articles of Perth, and expressing the fear that Charles would change the kirk in line with England’s church. This, needless to say, was a very important document, signed by fully half the peers. So what did Charles do? He refused to receive it of course. And when he found out that one of them, Lord Balmerino, had copied the document, he was prosecuted and condemned for seditious libel. Charles then created a new bishopric, rubbing the kirk’s nose in the hated church hierarchy thereby – and happily hopped off down to England. Job done.
Good golly Miss Molly. Personal rule at its most impersonal. So, just before we come up to date to 1636, we have the following items in place:
- A king out of touch with his people, with all the signs that he did not care, and out of favour with his natural allies, the magnates
- A people worried about the high handed way in which governance has been carried out
- A people terrified that their native form of religion will be replaced by an alien one and that papistry will arrive in town on its tail
- A people beginning to believe that they were becoming a province of England, and subject to the gorilla’s muscle.
So… Charles had better tread carefully, and with great political skill. Which you can be sure he proceeded to do.
It is a prayer book with which we need to start. Charles did not agree with the Scottish kirk that their church was the most perfect in Europe; he thought that was the English one, with the added, sorry, I mean restored ceremony of Lauds innovations. So he intended to send the BCP prayer and canons of the church, i.e. English church law, north of the wall and order them all to use it, as is. But to give them credit they are rarely due, the Scottish Bishops talked him out of it, and instead they were commissioned to create a Scottish prayer book. By 1637 all was ready; new canons were issued in January, the prayer book by July. Neither of them were designed to make the kirk happy; the canons included the 5 Articles of Perth and excluded the Kirk’s General Assembly; the prayer book was actually worse than the original, since it had removed some verbiage against the real presence and worse in the preamble it said
The churches…under the protection of one sovereign prince …
So the finest of churches, the kirk, was to be rolled into that popish English mess then! More grist to the mill of the concept in Scotland that if there was to be one church throughout the three kingdoms, it should not be the Church of England, but au contraire mon brave and scared blue, it should be a proper, Presbyterian model. So – everyone ignored the new BP. Charles could have made like his father and let the book be used by those inclined that way, but gently gently, in Charles’ playbook, did not catch the monkey, so he ordered his council in Scotland, led by Traqhuair to order everyone to use in on 23rd July.
Now Lord Traquair doesn’t get a great press – there’s some evidence he encouraged all the ensuing mayhem because he rather liked seeing the bishops get it in the neck. But in what follows, Charles rarely made any attempt to sell the benefits of all this to his people – he didn’t even sell the sausage, never mind the sizzle, he made precious little effort to persuade. And secondly he never worked with his council on the spot – just sent them orders – go faster, go harder – despite their pleas to go easy.
But also make no mistake – what follows was no accident, it was co-ordinated by the opponents of the king’s plans. They were forewarned – Scottish ministers from Ulster warned them of Wentworth’s activities; English and Scottish Presbyterians and puritans sympathised with and supported each other – and in February 1637, for example one Eleazer Borthwick, a Scot based in London came back to Scotland to report back on feelings down south.
So on July 23 at the kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh, things kicked off in royal fashion. It is a real hoot, and I wish I could spend more time on it, and if you become a member, you can – there is a more complete coverage in the History of Scotland there. As the Dean read the collects from the SBCP, the congregation in St Giles went mental – stools were thrown. Possibly mythically, a market trader Jenny Geddes threw a stool and cried
De’il gie you colic, the wame o’ ye, fause thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?
That was Davie, doing Jenny. The translation is ‘Devil cause you colic in your stomach, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear? ‘
The crowd outside hammered on windows and doors; women led the protests, by design; I think because it was felt that would lend more seriousness to the message, that this was genuine, not just a riot, but also because the organisers felt retribution against them would be more restrained. Although there was all manner of chaos, and plenty felt threatened – physical violence there was none, this was carefully contained, not a spontaneous riot.
Although the prayer book was temporarily suspended on 29th July from that point on, uncompromising royal orders kept arriving in the morning post of the Scottish Council; they were a bit scared of the boss, and rather glossed their reports back, while appealing directly to Hamilton in London to get the king to compromise. There followed 6 months of petitioning by the Scottish political nation begging the king to change course; resistance spread throughout Lowland Scotland. Petitions came mainly from Fife and the South West, but were extensive; one had burgesses representing 36 of the royal burghs, with 30 peers and 280 Lairds; there were angry riots in Edinburgh, though when things got violent the nobles and Lairds tended to withdraw.
Charles remained obdurate, refused to compromise, and still, failed to make any effort of present an alternative vision of his way and why it was right, other than their role was obey; there is nothing like the proclamation which had followed the 1629 Parliament in England. And indeed he did that thing we’d seen in the 1620s with the English parliament – he made it personal, and he made it a test of loyalty to him. On 19th February 1638 he issued a proclamation saying that he personally had overseen and approved the prayer book; and declared that those who opposed it would be treated as traitors.
So the Scottish political nation changed tack, and created one of the most remarkable movements of the entire civil wars period – the National Covenant. Covenants are a feature of Calvinism; but covenants and bands had been a feature of Scottish society for much longer. Scottish lords decided that what was needed was to mobilise the entire nation, to bring them together to defend what was most important to their community and identity – their kirk, and their king. Yes, and king – at no point do the Scots contemplate republicanism; their problem was that their king was not behaving as he should. Unlike in England, they will never move from the conviction that the king was a critical part of the nation.
The peers therefore called together a committee, led by two men, a lawyer and minister, Johnston of Wariston and Alexander Henderson. They created a document called the National Covenant on 28th February 1638. It was based on the King’s Confession of 1581 – a statement of faith by James I. The Covenant declared two shared aims of the people; to protect the true faith of the Scottish kirk, and particularly against the anti-Christ, aka the Pope; and to protect the King. It proclaimed loudly that it was simply restoring things as they should be – but of course it was nothing of the sort; it was absolutely revolutionary. It took government of the church out of the king’s hands. This was the philosophy of two kingdoms – of Jesus and of the King, and the two were not mixed, and by implication in fact the king and lay government was second fiddle. Neither James nor Charles could live with that – the church was in the king’s gift according to their belief. When he heard about it, Charles’s head exploded – he growled that he would have no more power than the doge of Venice unless he brought them to heel.
There has been something of a continuing debate about the Covenant; was the committee set up by the nobles genuinely inspired by religious fervour, or was it a ploy in a political game, an attempt by the Peers to regain their old ascendency in national and local government? There was opposition amongst them; of the 89 adult male peers at the time maybe 28 were linked to royal government or held offices in Charles’ household, and others such as Catholic courtiers were probably also alienated by the covenant. In 1638, a list of Scottish nobility drawn up suggested more than half were for the king. It’s probable that the two aims, political and religious, were at this point not in opposition, because there’s no doubting the religious fervour present in most Scots involved; but there is a hidden Faultline over the relative importance of kirk and king, which would re-appear much later, in 1648.
The most remarkable thing about the national Covenant was that it was to be signed by everyone.
Noblemen, Barons, gentlemen, burgesses, ministers and commons
After promising that they should defend the power of the king, they also swore not only to maintain their covenant with God, but with each other:
Also to the mutual defence and assistance every one of us another in maintaining the true cause of religion and his majesty’s Authority
And that is what happened. Up and down the country, through 1638, congregations gathered in their parish church to hold up their hands and swear to abide by the covenant. Although only men were required to swear, very often women did too. In the burgh of Ayr, the Covenant was taken by
‘men wemen and all baithe young and old’
In Burntisland, it was taken by ‘the haill people, men women and childrin’ standing side-by-side with their hands upheld.
The Lords and ministers of the Covenant had comprehensively outplayed Charles. And part of their reason for that was not just their understanding of the people, but their extraordinarily effective use of communication and propaganda; petitions gathered, proclamations made at the mercat cross in town after town. They mobilised public opinion against blank royal commands exercising nothing but royal prerogative. The National Covenant was a master stroke. Historian Laura Stewart makes the point that it was not just what people swore to, but the way it was done:
‘The social power of the Covenant emanated from its association with practices and rituals through which people understood themselves as a religious community
It would take a miracle now to avoid war. From this point on Charles might squiggle and squirm, duck and dive, dissemble and deceive but he had no intention of letting this pass. For the Lords of the Covenant, the danger was clear; any agreement they came to now had to be future proofed against a king that would constantly seek for ways to reverse the Covenant – and quite evidently, by using the size, wealth and power of England to do so. So England must be bought into agreement with the Scottish kirk – true safety lay in Charles’ aim – to unite the churches of the three kingdoms – but as a Presbyterian church on the model of the kirk, not of the Laudian English church. That would be the consistent aim of the Scots from this point forward.
More than that, there must be a Covenanted king – Charles must sign the Covenant himself. And this placed centre stage the inherent contradiction of the national Covenant – what would happen if the king and the true religion were in conflict? What then?