views updated May 29 2018


Scottish history in the 16th and 17th centuries presents many instances of covenants, or "bands," binding the signers to common action. The first specifically religious "band" was that signed in December 1557 by the nobles of the Reformation party, the Lords of the Congregation. Another "band," known as "the King's Confession," occasioned by a hysterical antipopery scare, was signed in 1581. The latter covenant was destined to become important in Scottish history because, in the widespread opposition stirred up against Charles I's effort in 1637 to impose a new liturgy on Scotland without the consent of Parliament or General Assembly, one of the leaders of the Presbyterian party proposed the revival of the "band" of 1581, with additions. This document, full of irrelevant but highly inflammatory phrases, was signed by a large number in the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, Feb. 28, 1638.

The document was known as the National Covenant; and its supporters, the Covenanters. Presbyterian elements in the Kirk gained control of the General Assembly held in Glasgow in November 1638, and episcopacy was abolished, despite the opposition of the royalist Duke of Hamilton. The Crown's attempt to suppress the Covenanters failed at Berwick, and Charles I agreed to withdraw the new service book and also to ratify the decision of the Assembly to be held on Aug. 12, 1639. This Assembly confirmed the abolition of episcopacy, and the Parliament, led by Argyll (Aug. 31, 1639), curtailed royal authority in Scotland. The Covenanter leaders decided to invade England in an effort to force the king to accept their demands (1640). They captured Newcastle, and Charles called a parliament that, as the famous Long Parliament, was to be the focal point of the great struggle against his rule in England.

The Covenanters and the English Parliamentarians eventually formed an antiroyalist alliance on the basis of the Solemn League and Covenant, signed on Aug. 17, 1743, which was to safeguard the "reformed religion in the Church of Scotland" and promote "the reformation of religion in the Kingdoms of England and Ireland according to the example of the best reformed churches." It was to the army of the Scots Covenanters that Charles I surrendered in May 1646, and on his refusal to subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant, he was handed over to the commissioners of the English Parliament. Charles later sought to come to terms with the Covenanters by signing the "Engagement" (Dec. 26, 1647), but the subsequent Scottish intervention was rendered worthless by Cromwell's defeat of the Scottish army at Preston in 1648.

After the execution of Charles I, his less scrupulous son, Charles II, accommodated the Scots Covenanter leaders by accepting the Solemn League and Covenant; this availed him little, however, because the power of the Covenanters was largely destroyed by Cromwell's victory at Dunbar (1650). The ascendancy of the Covenanters was a time of great hardship for the Catholic minority in Scotland; the rigor of the penal laws was tightened and, in 1640, reinforced by complete economic boycott. In Scotland the advent of the Cromwellian regime was welcomed as a merciful release by Catholics. The restoration of King Charles II in 1660 was followed by the revocation of all acts passed since 1640 in favor of presbyteri anism; the Solemn League and Covenant was abrogated; patronage and episcopacy were restored.

These measures were accepted peacefully by the majority of Scotsmen. Fanatical Covenanters, however, held out in parts of southwest Scotland, and for a quarter of a century there was intermittent rebellion and repression by the government. Even when the Revolution Settlement of 1689 restored Presbyterian government in the national church, some extremists refused to conform on the ground that the covenants of 1638 and 1643 had not been renewed. The successors of this intransigent group still exist as the small Cameronian Church in Scotland to this day (see cameronians).

Bibliography: j. k. hewison, The Covenanters, 2 v. (Glasgow 1908). d. h. fleming, The Story of the Scottish Covenants (Edinburgh 1904). a. m. mackenzie, The Passing of the Stewarts (New York 1937). g. d. henderson, Religious Life in Seventeenth Century Scotland (Cambridge, Eng. 1937). f. l. cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Catholic Church, 350.

[d. mcroberts]


views updated May 14 2018

covenanters. As supporters of the Scottish National Covenant (1638) they sought to preserve presbyterianism in Scotland and oppose royal interference, in particular imposition of the ‘Laudian’ Prayer Book (1637). After defeating Charles I in the Bishops' wars (1639–40), they forced him to accept presbyterianism in Scotland. The New Model Army's sectarianism thwarted their attempt by the Solemn League and Covenant with Parliament (1643) to impose it on England. Though after Charles I's execution Charles II signed the covenant (1650), Cromwell's victorious army forced the Scots unwillingly to tolerate sectarianism. Revival of Scottish episcopacy (1662) was unpopular and short-lived; presbyterianism was restored (1690).

Revd Dr William M. Marshall


views updated Jun 27 2018

Covenanters Scottish Presbyterians pledged by the National Covenant (1638) to uphold their religion. They opposed Charles I's efforts to impose an Anglican episcopal system and supported Parliament in the English Civil War, in exchange for a promise to introduce Presbyterianism in England and Ireland. The Scots changed sides when this promise was broken, but were defeated by Oliver Cromwell. Covenanter revolts against Charles II were suppressed, but Presbyterianism was restored in Scotland in 1688.


views updated May 09 2018

Covenanters. Scottish Presbyterians who expressed their convictions through the signing of covenants. In particular they signed the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, defending the Reformed faith and in effect rejecting the imposition of episcopacy.


views updated May 18 2018

Covenanter an adherent of the National Covenant (1638) or the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), upholding the organization of the Scottish Presbyterian Church.

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