National Covenant & Civil War
Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear.
But sacred freedom, too, was theirs;
If thou rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.
On the Solemn
League and Covenant
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, 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
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.
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 Greyfriars
Kirk, Edinburgh, in 1638.
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 Scotlands rights
by stating what they would and wouldn't agree to in matters of
Kirk and state. Drawn up by two of Scotlands 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 Kings 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 Scotlands
nobles and Kirk. The medieval order of divinely appointed Kings
was truely over.