Jenny Geddes War: Providence, the Unseen Hand of God is Still at Work. Part 7

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When the time of grace granted by the Government had passed…

…those ministers who still refused to obey the Glasgow Act were required to leave their parishes. The well-known events of 1843, enable us to judge how much suffering must have been the consequence of this earlier severity in the case of those who were subjected to it; but it is remarkable with what a light hand these days of pain and anxiety are treated in the memoirs of those who endured them. The sufferings which followed were indeed of so much graver a kind as to make the first beginnings of persecution seem hardly worth dwelling upon.

The three Presbyteries of Duns, Chimside, and Earlston then contained thirty-two parishes, and of these some seventeen were under the charge of ministers who refused to conform. Three of these men were already deposed by the Synod as Protesters; three more were beyond the direct reach of the Act because they had been ordained before 1648, and were granted a guarded kind of toleration in their respective parishes while they lived; Paterson of Whitsome, Bume of Langton, and Bamsay of Mordington received the same indulgence, the last of these charges being insignificant, and the incumbent related to a powerful family in the area; the rest of these ministers, being six in number, were turned out of church and manse.

Several of the nonconforming clergy contrived to resist the operation of the Act for some time. One of these was Mr John Hardy of Gordon, who continued, under the protection of Pringle of Greenknow, the principal heritor in that parish, to occupy the pulpit there till July 1663. At that date, however, he was cited before the Council for this breach of the law. His sentence bore that he should forthwith remove, and take up his residence in some place which should be not less than twenty miles from his parish, six from Edinburgh, and three from the nearest burgh town. A week or two afterwards these provisions were extended to the case of all the deprived clergy in what was called the Mile Act, but the pastor of Gordon had the honor of being the first sufferer in this way.

The charge which Hardy thus left vacant was presently filled by the appointment of Mr James Stratton, a conformist who had hitherto served the cure at Eyemouth. This settlement, as we should suppose, gave but little satisfaction to the people. The curates, as those were called who fell in with the policy of the Government, were very unpopular, and the parishioners of Gordon soon began to draw unfavorable comparison between their late respected pastor and the man who was now set over them, whom they heartily despised. There is indeed no account of any forcible opposition being made to his entry, such as took place at Ancrum on the induction of the curate who supplanted Livingston in that charge –a slight tumult which the High Commission thought fit to punish by using the scourge and the branding iron on the women and boys concerned in it, and by sending them to the plantations. At Gordon the expressions of popular resentment, if not so violent, were yet significant enough. One parishioner is reported to have said that the new minister was “fitter to be a shepherd than a clergyman,” and another was cited before the Session for declaring that “they who went to hear Mr Stratton should never come to heaven.”

These expressions probably reflect pretty accurately the general feeling of the country. Contempt was naturally felt for the men who had changed their religious opinions at the bidding of the Government, and the character and attainments of those who were hastily pressed into office to supply the places of the nonconforming ministers were far from adding lustre to their party, or crowning the policy of the Government with success. Several notorious instances of immorality which were seen in the case of the incumbents at Iilliesleaf, at Channelkirk, and at Crichton, contributed not a little to increase the odium now generally felt against the State Church, and to confirm a large number of the people in their determination to separate from it.

One of these was Walter Pringle of Greenknow, who found himself obliged in conscience to refrain from hearing Mr Stratton, and this not so much because of any dislike he had to the man himself as on account of the innovations now introduced in the public worship as practiced in the parish churches. Prayers were read from a book by the schoolmaster, the doxology was sung at the close of the Psalms; and though it may be said that these changes imported no more than a return to what had been at least the permissive use of fifty years before in the Scottish Church, when many ministers read from the Book of Common Order, yet to the mind of Pringle –no rude or uncultivated man, let it be remembered –such an innovation represented something of serious consequence. He saw in go it the hand of an authority which he and many others refused to acknowledge when it made itself felt in the spiritual sphere, and a revival of modes of worship which Laud’s Liturgy had rendered odious, and the whole spirit and practice of the nation had for a generation consistently discarded.

The prayers and doxology might be harmless in themselves, but as now imposed they were part of a studied repudiation of that bright past which many at least regarded as the golden age of the Scottish Church, and as such this stout Covenanter and his party would have none of them.

It is indeed customary to take a somewhat false view of the ritual of these days, following the opinion of writers who have represented it as the unchanged worship of Presbyterian times, as if the Government had taken care to avoid offending the susceptibilities of the nation, and had, while giving them Bishops, allowed the old forms of service to continue as they were before. Such would indeed have been the most politic course, and might have done much to conceal from the people the magnitude of the changes that had passed upon the Church, and to secure their adherence to the new Establishment. We cannot suppose, however, that the case of Gordon was an exception to the common rule, and the truth seems to be that while no attempt was made in the meantime, unless at Holyrood or Salton, to use the English Liturgy or any considerable imitation of it –the Government fearing a return of the old tumults– yet a real, and, to some, offensive, innovation was made by restoring the use of read prayers and the chanting of the “Glory” no doubt as a prelude designed to try the temper of the people, and prepare them for further changes so soon as these might be judged advisable.

Besides, the 29th of May, which was ordered to be observed yearly as a thanksgiving for the King’s restoration, St Andrew’s day and Christmas were restored to the Calendar as Holy days, and, most extraordinary of all, the Privy Council repeatedly ordered a strict Lent to be kept, besides three fish-days every week, under civil penalty in case of disobedience. Dispensations allowing the use of flesh at these forbidden seasons issued from the same respectable authority, but as the only one which seems to be still extant was granted to a gentleman of some considerable property –Thomas Scott of Whitslade– it is likely that these indulgences were not to be had save at a price which put them beyond the reach of the people at large. Taking all such details into account, we see how considerable these ritual innovations were, and how respectable was the nonconformity of those Presbyterians who refused to fall in with the new order of things.

A very complete system was now in force for the detection of nonconformists: the curates famishing the government with accounts of all who absented themselves from their parish churches. The standing which Walter Pringle had in his county, and the fact that he was already a suspected person, made it certain that his case would be dealt with both speedily and stringently. He was summoned before the High Commission in July 1664, and that Court sent him to the Bishop to take the oath of allegiance. This he found impossible, scrupling as his master Livingston had lately done, to affirm the king’s supremacy in the ecclesiastical as well as the civil sphere. The Commission told him he must either pay a fine of some hundreds of pounds or else enter his person in ward, and giving him time to consider the matter, sent him home, desiring he would confine himself to his house of Greenknow till further orders.

On the 24th of November a messenger-at-arms riding with three troopers of His Majesty’s Life Guard came to Greenknow and took the laird prisoner. They carried him that night to Whitburn, where they had left one of their party sick the day before, and so by Channelkirk to Edinburgh, where Pringle lay sometime in the Tolbooth. Here he had the sympathy of many friends of the family and cause to which he belonged, and doubtless found much comfort in the visits they paid him, and the interest they promised to use on his behalf with the Government. The Bishops, however, carried it all their own way in the Commission through the Primate who then presided in that Court, and in a little Pringle’s sentence was pronounced and proved severe enough. He was ordered to go to Elgin and be confined within the bounds of that burgh, and if he did not pay his fine before Candlemas, he was to be kept thereafter a close prisoner within the Tolbooth of the town.

After a little respite, which he owed to the delicate state of his wife’s health –their daughter Anna was born on the 30th of January –he left for his northern exile in the wild wintry weather of February 1666, his heart torn by the pain of parting from his wife and children, and their aged mother. His faith, however, was high and strong, and proved a great consolation to him. “For His Name’s sake,” he kept saying to himself as the storms of that tempestuous season beat upon his cheek; and riding by the coast of Aberdeen, he arrived at last in Elgin, taking comfort in the assurance that these sufferings were laid upon him because he would not deny the cause of Christ in Scotland.

Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse” 
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: Providence, the Machinations of Government, and the Silencing of a Voice. Part 6


Looking at the King’s letter to the Presbytery of Edinburgh…

…which came down on the 3rd of September 1660, seems to have been written by the desire of Sharp, who played so great a part in overturning the Presbyterian government of the Church, though he was highly trusted by that party at first. He desired the establishment of Episcopacy as a means to his own advancement, and knew the King was in favor of it, but saw that His Majesty feared what effect such a change might have in alienating the affections of his northern subjects. It was accordingly Sharp’s whole study to prevent the King from becoming aware of the true state of feeling in Scotland, while he diligently told him that the great body of the people there would welcome the proposed change.

It was possible, however, that this policy might be overturned in a moment by some appeal on the part of the Church, which should show the false part Sharp was playing them, and therefore he persuaded the King to send a letter which should keep the Presbyterians quiet. The expressions which His Majesty was thus made to use were indeed most reassuring: for, while he spoke harshly of the Protesting party, he declared it to be his purpose to maintain the government of the Church as by law established. So satisfactory did the Presbytery think this letter that they ordered a silver box in which it might be kept as the palladium of their liberties.

Middleton, who seems to have been a man less subtle in his policy than Sharp, was highly displeased with what had been done, as if the royal letter might prove an obstacle to the carrying out of the designs then on foot at Court in favor of Episcopacy. When he came down to hold the Parliament of 1661, he resolved on a bold stroke of policy, hoping to outdo his rival and at the same time procure favor with the King by setting His Majesty free from all obligation to the Presbyterians. His purpose was to pass an Act by which all the proceedings of Parliament since the troubles of 1637 should be declared null and void.

So extravagant did this proposal seem, however, that at first no one would consent to it. Middleton laid it aside for a time, and then, when his private Council had drunk heavily –for this kind of debauchery was was but too common under his government –he brought them to consent to it. Lord Clerk Register Primrose, who had indeed the honor of suggesting such an Act to Middleton, was ordered to draw it up in due form, and it passed by a majority in the pliable House of Estates, not however without strong opposition and under protest from the Presbytery of Edinburgh, who now began to see how little their cherished letter would serve them as a defense.

When Parliament rose the Scottish Council met in London to advise with the King, Middleton was there, and Rothes, and Lauderdale, who out did each other in their purpose of persuading the King to see no reason for apprehension or delay, assuring His Majesty he might now proceed to carry out his wishes in Scotland without fear of the consequences. Parliament had determined that it lay in the King’s power to order the constitution of the Church. The ‘Act Rescissory’ had cleared the way of all former engagements, and nothing was now required but a sign of the royal pleasure.

The Privy Council by which Scotland was now governed would answer for the carrying out of the King’s purpose. The Council continued their deliberations in Edinburgh on the 5th of September. At that diet a letter was read from the King which accorded exactly with the advice that had been given him. He referred to the pledge granted to the Presbytery, but said that since the passing of the Act Rescissory, the Church “as by law established” could mean no other than that of his father’s time, when the ecclesiastical order was Episcopal. This then was the Church he had promised to uphold, and it was his royal will that Presbytery should now give way to Prelacy. Next day the Council made proclamation in terms of the King’s letter.

Now arose the question of the bishoprics, and who should be appointed to fill them. It is somewhat remarkable that two of the new prelates came from the Merse part of the country, Mr David Fletcher of Melrose, and Mr Andrew Fairfoul of Duns. The former was a mere worldling, the latter a man of some note. Indeed, Fairfoul had been chosen by Sharp’s advice, in the hope that his shrewdness might do the Court party much service.

No sooner, however, had he been consecrated, which happened in December, than he was as it were changed into another man, from the utter failure of his intellect. One may imagine how this was remarked on in the Merse, where indeed the memory of Fairfoul’s incumbency was highly scandalous, as the whole country talked of the criminal correspondence he had kept with a lady of great beauty in that neighborhood. If any thing could have reconciled Scotland to the change from Presbytery to Prelacy it would have been the choice of able and respectable men to preside over the new order. None of this character, however, unless it were the saintly and ascetic Leighton, was willing to lend himself for such a purpose, and the cause of Episcopacy, already deeply prejudiced in the country from the manner of its introduction, was now universally condemned in the persons of its most prominent ministers.

The Parliament which sat in May 1662 was remarkable, as we have already seen, for the fines then inflicted upon Presbyterians in all parts of the country. Much more serious, however, were the Acts then passed censoring the Church. The establishment of Episcopacy was affirmed,the Bishops were received in state to sit and vote as constituent members of the House, and, most serious of all, it was determined that, before the 20th of September next, all those ministers who had been settled in their parishes since 1649 should take presentation to the living from the patron, and collection to the spiritual office of their cure from the Bishop of the diocese.

Hitherto the clergy had felt no concern but that of apprehension in the great changes which had been made in the ecclesiastical Constitution, but now they must either express an actual submission to Episcopacy or prepare to quit their churches.

The reason alleged for restricting the operation of the Act to the case of those who had been settled since 1649 was the fact that patronage had been abolished in that year, but we are assured that a deep stroke of policy was intended here. Sharp, now promoted to the Primacy, thought it best to proceed by degrees, and to make the first attempt with the younger ministers. These he supposed would be more pliable than the veterans of 1638, and their submission might secure the success of the whole scheme. His expectations were entirely disappointed. The Presbyterian clergy had now an understanding among themselves, and remained quietly in their places, doing nothing indeed to offend the Government unnecessarily, but giving no sign of obedience to the late Act.

Fairfoul of Duns had been appointed to the see of Glasgow, a diocese comprehending that part of the west of Scotland where the Presbyterian feeling was particularly strong. The Commissioner now made a progress in the west, and the Archbishop took the opportunity of complaining to him that not one of the young ministers had yet acknowledged him in any way. A meeting of Council was accordingly convened at Glasgow, and upon the 1st of October they emitted an Act in accordance with the suggestions of Fairfoul, who assured them that not ten of the Presbyterian clergy would be found willing to brave their threats.

This famous Act, which was of such consequence to every part of the country, prohibited such of the ministers as had not already qualified in terms of the Act of Parliament from exercising any part of their function, and ordered them to remove from their churches and manses before the 1st of November.

The fatal consequences of this measure were perceived almost as soon as it was passed. Middleton regretted that he had lent an ear to the assurances of Fairfoul when he saw that these would not be fulfilled. Sharp was exceedingly angry at the false step that had been taken at the instance of his Ahithophel, whose counsel was now turned to folly. In the month of December the Council sought to repair matters a little by extending the time for submission until the first of February. All was in vain.

The Government had almost unwittingly –it was said in a state of disgraceful drunkenness –entered on what a well-known author has not unfitly called the ‘Thirty infamous years that completed the misfortunes and degradation of Scotland.”

While these oppressive Acts were passing in the Council, means were also starting to reach many of the older ministers as well. One of the first sufferers was Livingston of Ancrum. He had foreseen for some time the onset of the storm; and his last communion, which fell upon the 12th of October, is said to have been one of the most remarkable of that time and country. Many attended from far and near, indeed the concourse of people and ministers was so great that the Privy Council afterwards took notice of it, passing an Act which restricted the number of assistants to be employed on such occasions.

It had already become usual in these days to hold a thanksgiving service on the Communion Monday, a custom which is said to have dated from the remarkable revival under this minister at the Kirk of Shotts in 1630. Livingston, as he now entered the pulpit, must have done so with tender recollections of that early time. He had found it difficult to deliver his soul freely on the previous day, when he was occupied in the communion service itself, but now he took great liberty, choosing for his text the words –“Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in Heaven, but whosoever will deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father.” After a brief introduction, the preacher came at once to speak of four things, which, he said, were the very pillars of Christianity” –Faith, wherein a man believeth with his heart ; Righteousness, which is received by that faith; Testimony, when a man confesses his faith with his mouth; and Salvation, the capital and consummation of all.

In handling these threads of discourse, Livingston went on to say that Satan often prevails by fear when he has failed to win souls by enticement, and added something concerning the awful sin of denying the Lord, which he said was to religion as poison is to the body or treason to the State. Then hastening to treat what had the most immediate interest for his hearers and himself, he reminded them of what we in our day should never forget, that the least encroachment on Christ’s absolute and kingly right in His own Church is a thing He will not suffer, and one which should be intolerable to His people also. The Government of the land, he said, should indeed be honored by all men as ordained of God; but when the King took upon him to appoint an order to the Church, as he was then doing in the matter of the Bishops, men were bound to resist such interference as they would be answerable to Christ; and not all the love he bore to his flock at Ancrum would tempt him to be silent in this case, or to purchase a new lease of his ministry there by denying his Master in that pulpit.

As to the future, he confessed he had as yet but little clearness on many questions of conduct that were likely to arise, but bade his hearers wait upon the Lord, Who would surely cause light to arise for the upright even out of darkness. With this word of hope he pronounced the benediction, and the great audience, deeply moved, broke up to carry over the country this parting message from the preacher who was so widely reverenced and deeply beloved.

In a little afterwards, Livingston had warning that mischief was indeed intended him. He went at once to Edinburgh that he might gain more exact information, and finding that nothing more serious than exile was the purpose of the Government he resolved to defer his intended flight.

On the 11th of December he came before the Council. They complained that he had neither observed the 29th of May, lately appointed as a yearly thanksgiving day for the Restoration, nor obeyed the summons to take his place as a member of the Bishop’s Synod. He could give them no satisfaction on either head, for, like the rest of his party, he was exceedingly jealous of the civil authority when it prescribed in matters of religion, and found he could not sit in the newly constituted Synod without thereby acknowledging the Episcopal government of the Church. The Council accordingly told him he must, as a suspected person, take the oath of allegiance, or remove from the country. Here also, he found a great difficulty, for, by this oath he was obliged to acknowledge the king as supreme, not only in civil matters, which he was most ready to do, but over the Church as well. He refused the oath, and fixed his dwelling for some months in Leith, till he should go abroad, as the Council would by no means allow him to return home even to bid his wife and family farewell.

Livingston’s exile was delayed till spring on account of a sharp attack of sciatica from which he now suffered. While thus confined to his lodging at Leith, he had the sympathy and affectionate regard of very many who came to see him before he left the country. On the 9th of April he sailed into Holland, and coming to Rotterdam, took up his abode there, where his wife and children shortly joined him. In this town he spent the rest of his days very peacefully till his death in 1672. He often preached in the Scottish Church at Rotterdam, and gave much of his time to critical studies on the text of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, with their modern versions, a congenial task in which he enjoyed the correspondence of the learned Leusden.

Thus a voice, often and gladly heard in Scotland as it pled for the truth, was silenced there for ever.

Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse” 
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: A Young Christian’s Struggle to Find Christ in War, and Guthrie’s Glorious Final Hour. Part 5


About a year before Guthrie left Lauder…

…Livingston came to Ancrum. This proved a great benefit to the young Christian, Pringle, who found in him a minister after his own heart, and one well able to deepen and enforce he impressions of divine things he had already begun to feel. Livingston, in addition to his more substantial gifts, had the gracious manner of the Court, where indeed he had often been, and commanded respect alike by his birth, his breeding, his intellect, and his piety. His manner of preaching Pringle found very impressive, as that of one who had seen the glory of God in some divine vision, and who spoke out of that hidden knowledge things which himself had both seen and heard. The young laird traveled from Stitchel to Ancrum every Sabbath-day, thinking the pains of his journey well spent for the sake of such company and privilege.

In his Memoirs, from which most of these particulars are derived, Pringle speaks of an event which gave him much concern, and made Livingston’s advice peculiarly valuable to him. He had been engaged at the fatal field of Dunbar, where he took such a prominent part that it became unsafe for him to remain in his own house while Cromwell and the English army occupied Scotland. He accordingly fixed his dwelling at Torwoodlee, paying visits to his wife and family at Stitchel as he found opportunity. It thus happened that returning thence one night in his brother-in-law’s company, he met one of the enemy’s troopers, who attacked him very fiercely. Pringle stood on his defense, and, proving the better swordsman, killed his opponent out of hand, –the man asking no quarter, and it being impossible to get any prisoners carried thence to the army in the north while the Lothians were held by the English.

This violent action, however necessary and justifiable, left him under serious apprehensions. He now reflected more than ever on the sins of his past life,and so nearly fell into a settled melancholy that it was a matter of the greatest moment to him, and one on which he ever afterwards reflected with thankfulness that he now had the guidance and help of his new spiritual teacher to save him from despair. Under the winning and able ministry of Livingston his unquiet spirit found peace, and henceforth the bond which united him to his chosen pastor was one of the closest and most enduring kind. It is singular, indeed, to remark the number and quality of the natures over which the minister of Ancrum exercised this commanding influence. He owed his preeminence to the art he had of bringing men to a greater Leader, even to Jesus, Whom he himself constantly owned and obeyed. His influence was perhaps the highest of that time in our country, and may be clearly traced in not a few of the events which followed.

It might have been supposed that the part which Pringle played at Dunbar, and in his midnight rencontre, vouched for by the fact that his family had paid a hundred pounds as indemnity for the trooper’s death, should have saved this tender-hearted, brave, and loyal gentleman from the sufferings endured by so many of his rank on the king’s return. On the contrary, however, he was marked out as one of the first victims, being cast into the castle of Edinburgh on the 26th of September 1660, where he lay for fifteen days in the company of Sir Andrew Ker of Queenhead. The charge on which the Committee of Estates proceeded against these gentlemen was that of ”aiding ,assisting, and partaking with the remonstrators and seditious persons”: so close a correspondence had Pringle kept with Livingston, and so soon was he made to suffer for that friendship. Two years later he shared the general losses of his party, being fined 3000 Pounds by Middleton’s Parliament.

Most of those whom the Committee of Estates had laid in prison on the 23rd of August were in a few weeks; but their leader, Mr James Guthrie, remained still in confinement, being reserved as an example to the rest. He had indeed, like Pringle, been a sufferer for his loyalty to the king,” the Commonwealth quartering soldiers upon him for some time in Stirling, because of the uncompromising way in which he upheld the cause of the monarchy. This, however, did not suffice to save him from the malice of his enemies. Middleton was now in power as the Royal Commissioner in Scotland, and Middleton had never forgotten that his excommunication of ten years before had been pronounced by the minister of Stirling. He perceived that the time was now come to execute his long cherished purpose.

On the 20th of February 1661, Guthrie stood at the bar of the Estates to answer a charge of treason involving capital pains. It is significant that of the five articles in the indictment four refer to affairs of ten years before,when Middleton himself was so highly concerned in what took place. Guthrie was accused of venting treasonable matter tending to the strengthening of the usurper Cromwell, and the confusion of His Majesty’s cause, a charge so utterly contrary to the truth that nothing but malice could have suggested it.

He had, it was said, drawn up a paper called the “Remonstrance”; he had followed it by another publication of the same kind in “The Causes of God’s wrath,” which appeared in 1638; he had contrived the petition lately drafted for presentation to the King, and had also presumed to design the calling together of the lieges in support of that paper: such were the main articles of the indictment. As it were by an afterthought, his declining the Civil Authority in 1651 was further alleged against him; and, to render the prisoner more odious in the eyes of his judges, the extraordinary assertion was made, that in 1660, or the following year, he had moved in a meeting of ministers that the King should be secured in the castle of Stirling,and that, upon the objection being offered that to do so were as good as to take away His Majesty’s life, Guthrie had answered that the time for that was not yet ripe, but that imprisonment might be a step to that conclusion.

To the first and last particulars of the charge the accused gave an absolute denial: he had not composed the remonstrance, nor had he spoken a word against the King’s life or liberty. It is unnecessary to speak of the rest of his defenses in detail. They were very able, for not only had he the help of good counsel, but himself showed such knowledge of the law and acuteness in applying it as to make his advocates wonder.

In another place, or at another time, no doubt, he would have been absolved, but in the Court where Middleton presided his death was already determined on. The King, it is said, would have spared Guthrie, and expressed some resentment at his doom, but the High Commissioner was of another mind, and pushed affairs relentlessly to the end he had designed.

When sentence came to be pronounced in the Estates, many rose and left rather than record their votes against such a man, or become accessory to his death. Lord Tweeddale ventured to move for a sentence of banishment, a measure of favor to the prisoner which was taken notice of and represented to his Lordship’s disadvantage with the King. This was overruled, however, and doom was voted in the harshest terms to which Middleton could secure the assent of the House. Guthrie had meanwhile waited without in great calmness, notwithstanding the confused crowd of soldiers, officers of the Courts and others among whom he was kept, and the critical posture of his own case. He was now recalled, and heard sentence of death pronounced against him. He said very simply in reply, “My Lords, let never this sentence affect you more than it does me, and let never my blood be required of the king’s family.”

A number of affecting circumstances occurred during the prisoner’s last days. He was led back from the Court to his place of confinement in the Tolbooth, and, as the time allowed him to prepare for death was short, he desired his secretary to draw up a fair copy of his dying testimony that it might be given to his son when he should become of age. His estate indeed was forfeited, and he had no other legacy to bequeath his children than the assurance thus given under his own hand that he had died a faithful Covenanter and Martyr for the Truth. When this was done, and the paper signed, taking his boy on his knee, he said “Willie, they will tell you and cast up to you that your father was hanged, but think not shame of it, for it is in a good cause.”

The sentence further ordered Guthrie’s coat-of-arms to be defaced. In humble submission to this indignity, he sealed his testimony twice, turning the seal, so that the impression of the coat was lost, and that of the cross appeared instead. “I have nothing more to do with coats-of-arms,” he said.

One more act of humility remained to be performed. His birth, which was noble, conferred on him, at least by prescription, the right to die as the Marquis of Argyll presently did, by the axe and not by the cord. His sentence, however, condemned him to the gallows instead of the block. Speaking to his wife of this extraordinary severity, he took occasion to glory in it. “Argyll,” he said, “is to be beheaded, but I am to die on a tree, as Christ did.”

It was indeed this thought of conformity to the sufferings of Christ, never absent from his mind, and sometimes rising to the pitch of a longing he thought sinful,which now returned in all its force to sustain Guthrie during the supreme hours of his life and martyrdom. He was uncommonly cheerful in prison, and received with unfailing courtesy the many visitors who came to bid him farewell. Rising early on the morning of his execution, he spent some hours in private devotion, after which he saw his wife for the last time, and bade her adieu.

The orders ran that his hands were to be bound as he went to the scaffold, but his infirmity of body made this pretended precaution not only ridiculous but impossible, and the cord was loosed so that he might have the use of his staff Bent with age, and weakened by months of prison and sickness, but filled with an inward peace which made his heart light, the martyr passed slowly down the few yards of causeway which separated the Tolbooth from the Cross. The High Street was densely thronged with people, and from the lofty windows on either hand, many looked out to see him die. He is said to have mounted the scaffold with such surprisingly lightness of foot, and bearing so bright a joy in his looks, that, to the apprehension of those who saw him, he seemed half-way to heaven already, a notion which the spirited words and manner of his dying testimony, now delivered,did much to increase and impress.

“I saw him suffer,” says Bishop Burnet; and adds, “He was so far from showing any fear, that he rather expressed a contempt of death. He spoke an hour upon the ladder, with the composedness of a man that was delivering a sermon rather than his last words.”

It was a great hour, and never, we may feel sure, either at Lauder or Stirling, had Guthrie addressed such a crowd, or spoken with so much conviction and power. His last words were heard as he was actually in the hangman’s hands, and fell upon his hearers with that power of surprise which is the supreme secret of effective speech. All eyes were bent upon the martyr, and every breath stilled in a silence which could be sensibly felt,when Guthrie, raising suddenly as in a rapture the napkin bound upon his face, broke that awful stillness with a cry of triumph, as of one who in the very article of a great agony had wrestled with God for a blessing and had prevailed.

“The Covenants,” he cried, “the Covenants shall yet be Scotland’s reviving,” and so passed to his incorruptible crown, leaving with his latest breath a testimony which Scotland was not soon to forget.


Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: The Return and Revenge of the King, Breaking of the Covenants, and the Departure of Hope and Peace. Part 4

General Monck Receiving Charles II on the Beaches of Dover

THE shire of Berwick, forming as it does the extreme south-east corner of Scotland, where that kingdom borders upon England, still bears many traces of ancient wars and of an armed defense. These were even more plainly to be seen in 1660 than they now are.

But the Commonwealth had come to an end with the death of Cromwell…

General Monk, while lodging at Coldstream, had received as his counselor in that emergency Mr James Sharp, then minister of Crail, and had ventured to read at the head of his troops the declaration which opened the way for the king’s return: a paper drawn and pressed upon him by that crafty clerical hand. The royal exile, who had been in Holland ever since his defeat at the battle of Worcester, soon made good his landing on the banks of the Thames, and the transports of welcome with which His Majesty was received were very notable in Scotland, where the Covenanters had hitherto, even in their extreme party, remained thoroughly loyal to the throne. The bonfire which Guthrie kindled before his manse door in Stirling in honor of the Restoration showed how the Protesters regarded the change of government, which was indeed extremely popular with all classes in the country.

These hopes were destined to a sudden downfall, in the hearts of the Presbyterians at least, who learned their Ne in principibus almost before the last glass of welcome had been drained, and the last fire of joy had sunk in its ashes. So far from the Restoration commencing a period of prosperity and of peace, it brought new dangers, and began a new period of trial.

The wide field of civil and religious liberty was now to be debated, always keenly, and at last in open war, where our Covenanters played their part nobly, and in a way to deserve the honors of succeeding time. “It is not now Episcopacy and ceremonies,” wrote Livingston of Ancrum, “that is the controversy, and but whether Jesus Christ be King of His own Church” –a cause which many thought dearer than all the world’s favor, or even than life itself.

At his first coming to Scotland in 1650 it had been feared that the king brought the plague in his sails, so hurtful to that country were the dissensions which His Majesty’s presence awakened. These were nothing, however, to the sufferings which followed his return to Britain at the time of which we now speak. On the former occasion he had said to Livingston at Dundee, when that minister counseled him to temporize with the Government of the Commonwealth, “Would you have- me sell my father’s blood?” The same fixed purpose of revenge seems to have animated him still, when now for the first time he had the power to carry it into effect.

Those who had openly complied with the Government of the Protector were naturally the first victims of the royal vengeance, and as there was no statute of indemnity for Scotland, the king’s anger encountered few obstacles in that country. In the month of July 1660, John Swinton of Swinton was seized in London, and thrown into the Gatehouse prison there till he should be sent down to Scotland for trial. He had sat as one of Cromwell’s judges, which was the chief ground of accusation against him; but, being a Quaker, great interest was made on his behalf by the Queen Mother and the Jesuits, who made no secret of their favor to that sect. He was finally brought before the Parliament of 1661, where he stood with a great deal of confidence at the bar, refusing to take off his hat, so that it had to be removed by an officer of the Court. His estate was forfeited, and the Duke of Lauderdale enjoyed it; but, probably on the application of Swinton’s influential friends, it was restored to the family on the death of that nobleman.

The same Parliament passed a like sentence of forfeiture upon John Hume of Kello, and Pringle of Torwoodlee was another sufferer about this time, having also taken a commission of Justice from the Protector. Pringle’s son gives us to understand, indeed, that this severity proceeded upon the information of those to whom his father’s strict administration of the laws had been an offense; and the eagerness of the Government to take up these cases must have greatly encouraged the malice of such informers. The Parliment of 1662 put the crown on this unworthy work by exacting enormous fines from all parts of the country. The sum then levied is said to have exceeded a million Sterling.

The King’s anger soon appeared not only against those who had served in offices under the Commonwealth, but was more widely still, in the cases of all whom the Protector had favored; and in this way the Protesting party at large soon felt the severity of the royal displeasure. They had indeed hastened to take a step which made them peculiarly odious at court. On the 23rd of August 1660, while the Committee of Estates sat in Edinburgh, twelve of that party, among whom were Guthrie of Stirling and Ramsay of Mordington, met in a private house there to draw up a petition to the king.

His Majesty, though nominally a Covenanter, had already shown that he did not mean to keep the oath he had sworn. The Episcopal government was already restored in England, the Service Book and Ceremonies began to appear in the royal chapels, and there was too good reason to think that great changes in the same direction now threatened Scotland. The Protesters accordingly, while expressing the utmost loyalty to the person and Government of the King, and the most earnest wishes for his prosperity, ventured in this petition to remind him of his solemn engagements, and to urge the fulfilment of them.

The right of approaching the Sovereign by petition has ever been regarded as sacred even by the most autocratic Governments, but in this case it was violated without compunction. The Committee of Estates seized the petitioners while their work was still in scroll, and lodged them in the castle of Edinburgh.

Now began a general persecution directed very widely against all who belonged to the Protesting party or were in any way associated with their councils. A letter which the king sent down to the Presbytery of Edinburgh on the 3rd of September contained some expressions which were eagerly interpreted as an encouragement to this action. The Committee emitted a proclamation on the 20th of the month denouncing the pulpit freedoms of the Protesters, and inviting all men to lodge information which might lead to their punishment. The Church Courts, where there was a majority of Resolutioners, took up the matter warmly, as these men now saw some prospect of prevailing over their old opponents. In this work the Synod of Merse and Teviotdale was very active, and among the ministers whom they now proceeded to deprive of their livings as Protesters were Mr Edward Jamieson of Swinton, Mr Daniel Douglas of Hilton, and Mr Samuel Bow of Sprouston. It should be added that Mr Andrew Rutherford of Eccles had already been dealt with in the same way before the Restoration, on which occasion Livingston and the other Protesting members of Synod entered their dissent from the proceedings. An even more notable case was that of Ramsay of Mordington, who was one of those concerned. In drawing up the petition to the King. He lost his reason in prison, and was therefore liberated after only a few days’ confinement; but, as if they feared to err on the side of leniency, the Committee of Estates sequestrated the stipend of that parish.

This sharp persecution affected not only the clergy, but also the principal landowners belonging to the part; which was so unpopular at Court. One of these was a gentleman –Walter Pringle of Greenknow, –whose sufferings were so notable that his case deserves some particular attention. He was the second son of a considerable inheritor in the country from a Robert Pringle of Stitchel, –who had taken some part in the campaign of 1644 under the Earl of Argyll, his eldest son predeceased him, leaving a young family, so that Pringle of Greenknow succeeded to what was a heavy charge indeed. Besides his own extensive estate, he acted as tutor to his brother’s orphan children –an office he afterwards found very thankless. Walter Pringle had long been of a deeply religious temper, and used to recall with pleasure the serious impressions he had received at Guthrie’s last communion in Lauder. About that time he was married by Guthrie to a cousin of his own, Janet Pringle, Torwoodlee’s daughter. The marriage took place at Stow, and the young people came to live at Stitchel, that they might care for Pringle’s widowed mother, and the children of his brother,who had their home there.

This “old Lady Stitchel,”as she was called, had a warm attachment to the Covenanting cause, and her dower-house became in after years a noted refuge for the persecuted party.


Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: Our Favorite Heroes, with New Adventures! Under Darkening Clouds. Pt. 3



It would appear that after so many signal victories…

…and after so many times that the hand of Providence had been so prominently displayed on behalf of the Protestant Covenanters, that things would become easier for these committed Christians. But such was not the case. Serious disunion began to appear, even among the Covenanters themselves.

In 1648 when the life of the late King had been in danger, the Parliament of Scotland levied a new army in his defense. The expedition had been defeated by Cromwell at Preston, and the Churchmen who had protested against the enterprise immediately acquired a new influence in the national councils. This beginning of strife was now to assume more serious proportions.

When Cromwell heard that the young King was come to Scotland, he marched north and defeated the royal army at the battle of Dunbar. All parties in Scotland were agreed that there should be a new levy in the King’s interest, but great difference of opinion soon showed itself as to the manner in which the troops should be embodied.

The party of the Court distrusted the Covenanters, whose counsels, they held, had caused the late defeat at Dunbar. These, on the other hand, desired that none should be admitted to fight for the King unless they had taken the Covenant. As the King himself had already done so, this condition would seem to have been an easy one. In fact, however, it proved the cause of a schism which cut deeply into the unity of the Church herself,” some of the Covenanters going with the Court party under the name of “Resolutioners,” and the rest, fewer perhaps in numbers, but full of zeal and determination, making a stout stand for what seemed to them the only safeguard of national and religious liberty. From the form which their opposition took they came to be known by the name of the “Protesters.”

One of the chief leaders of the Protesting party was a minister who for ten years previous to this time had filled one of the most important charges in Berwickshire. This was Mr. James Guthrie, late of Lauder, and since 1649 one of the ministers of Stirling, then a city of some note, where the Court often came, and meetings of Parliament were sometimes held. He was of gentle birth, the son of Guthrie of that ilk in Forfarshire, and had been trained at St Andrews, where for a time he avowed himself of the Episcopal party. In a little while, however, he came under the powerful influence of Samuel Rutherford, who had been sent by the Assembly of 1638 to fill the pulpit at St Andrews, and counteract the Episcopal tendencies of the place. In this enterprise, Rutherford was very successful, not only by his preaching, which proved most attractive, but also by the private meetings he encouraged in the place, and which formed centres of influence acting upon many of the finer spirits in the University. One of these was James Guthrie, whose heart a great disappointment had just opened –he had paid his addresses to Spottiswoode’s daughter and had been refused, –and who was therefore peculiarly apt at this time to seek the help of a master in the divine way of life.

Rutherford, we may believe, spoke much to him of the love of God, and thus found the key to his wounded heart. This was indeed the peculiar excellence of that great teacher, and one which appears very clearly in his famous letters, where he treats with melting power of the Nuptials of the Soul to Christ, of the heavenly delight which breathes in these moments of conscious union with the Beloved, and of the ease and sweetness with which even desertion and loneliness may be borne for the Saviour’s sake. Thus, a noble champion was won for the cause of the Covenant in Scotland, –Rutherford, who attached great importance to the open confession of Christ, urging his pupil to sign that engagement, and inducing him to do so before he left St Andrews.

Guthrie is said to have had perhaps the greatest mixture of fervent zeal and sweet calmness visible in any man of his time, a disposition which must have been partly natural to him, but was doubtless much heightened by the use he made of Rutherford’s instruction and appeals. This temper he carried to the work of the ministry in Lauder, where he was ordained in 1642. His gifts and breeding were publicly honored a few years afterwards, when he was chosen one of the three commissioners from the Assembly to King Charles I, then with the army at Newcastle. When Guthrie was translated to Stirling, the imposing and affecting scene witnessed at his last communion in Lauder bore witness to the worth of his services among the people of our shire.

In his ministry at Stirling, Guthrie not only displayed such courage and constancy among his flock that he was known there by the name of “sicker foot,” but showed the same qualities on a wider stage, to which his new position gave him access. He preached against the Resolutions, and even employed his pen in the same cause; drawing up for his party the paper called “The Causes of the Lord’s Wrath.” The Committee of Estates called him to account for his bold words, but he declined to acknowledge their authority in a matter touching the liberty of the pulpit, and in company with his colleague Mr Bennet, who had concurred in his action, he was sent into a brief exile beyond Tay.

More serious perhaps, as indeed the event proved, was the collision which occurred between Guthrie and Middleton. This was a soldier of fortune, who stood well with the young King, and unfortunately gained great influence in the royal councils. Middleton succeeded in persuading His Majesty to escape from Perth on the pretext of a hunting expedition in the north, with the purpose of placing himself in the hands of the Highland chiefs, who were pledged to rise with their clans in the royal interest. This wild scheme soon miscarried, the King, after a brief absence, returning and placing himself in the hands of the Presbyterians. Middleton was attainted of treason, and was condemned by the ecclesiastical courts to be excommunicated. The Spiritual sentence was put in the hands of Guthrie, who with great and intrepid solemnity proclaimed it from his pulpit at Stirling.

In spite of the advantage derived from the leadership of such a man as Guthrie, the Protesters found themselves in a decided minority in the national councils. There the Resolutioners carried all before them, and matters being in this posture the misfortunes of the army in the field were not only in the interest of the Protesters, but proved a real advantage to the kingdom at large, by tending to compose these unhappy differences, which indeed grew less and less evident under the resolute government of the Protector.

The more favorable turn of affairs which took place in the Commonwealth soon showed itself in the quickening of religious life throughout the country. The state of religion had indeed begun to amend some time before this, but now, in the enforced peace which the strong hand of Cromwell knew how to secure so well, even greater advances were made. The preaching of the Word was frequent and earnest, especially at communion seasons. Great multitudes assembled on these occasions, and there was reason to think that never since the Reformation itself had so many souls been converted to Christ in Scotland.

We owe this testimony to the pen of one well qualified to judge, and whose favorable opinion may be supposed to relate to the shire at least as much as to any other part of the country. Mr. James Kirkton, the author of the “Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland,” was settled in the parish of Merton for five years before the troubles which followed the Restoration, and his testimony is strengthened by that of Livingston, who gives us to understand that the flourishing state of religion was particularly evident in the Merse and Teviotdale.

Mr John Livingston made so great a figure in this part of the country that we may well take some account of his position and services. Like that of James Guthrie, his origin was noble, his great-grand father having been the son of the Lord Livingston of a former day. His early principles as an adherent of Presbytery stood in the way of his obtaining a charge as long as the Bishops were in power. He therefore took the situation of chaplain in the Earl of Wigton’s house at Cumbernauld, and while here preached his famous sermon on the Communion Monday at Kirk of Shotts in the year 1630, when there were such evident signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and so glorious a revival of God’s work in that part of the country. Eight years later he was settled in the church of Stranraer, and in 1648 he came to Ancrum upon a presentation by Lord Lothian, and the call of the people there. He became, as we should expect, a strong adherent of the Protesting party, leading that cause in the Synod of Merse and Tdaelveiot as Guthrie did in the north.

The Protesters were favored indeed by Cromwell, and thus enjoyed much power and influence during the times of the Commonwealth. This was not due to any want of courage on their part in declaring their sentiments of affection and loyalty towards the exiled king; for when Guthrie was summoned to preach before the Protector, he spoke as boldly in that presence as he had formerly done in the court at Perth, defending the King’s right to reign with the greatest plainness and courage. Cromwell, however, had the magnanimity to remain tolerant in the face of these utterances. He even conceived a great favor for Guthrie, and for Livingston too, who also had the honor of preaching before him, seeing them to be thoroughly honest men, and resolving to give them and the party they represented his best countenance and help.

In 1654 Livingston was appointed one of the Protector’s “triers,” that is, one of those deemed fit to examine the claims of preachers before their admission to parishes. He had already acquired much influence in the surrounding district by the weight of his character and the brilliance of his gifts, and the new position he now enjoyed was one which enabled him to do much towards supplying all that country with like-minded ministers. Thus the times of the Commonwealth not only secured peace and religious prosperity but were a true preparation for the coming trials. The Protesters were simply Presbyterians in earnest, and the strong hold which that party gained contributed greatly to the success of the good cause in the Merse.


Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: The Prayers of an Army, and the Glorious Commitment of a Nation. Pt. 2

(c) City of Edinburgh Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

THE events which immediately followed the tumult in St Giles’ Church are well known to all students and lovers of Scottish history.

A Parliament was summoned by the popular will alone, and it sat down in four “Tables,” as they were called, to discuss the affairs of the country, and to offer a serious remonstrance to the King. The famous Covenant was drawn up, and carried to the Greyfriars’ Churchyard, where it was signed by thousands of people amid a scene of the greatest enthusiasm. The nation and the Church now began to realize their power, and in a kind of fierce emotional transport many opened their veins, and signed that league against Prelacy, Popery, and the Prerogative with their blood.

In 1638 the first Free Assembly held for a generation in Scotland gathered in Glasgow. Here the Bishops were impeached, their Order declared null and void, and several of their number deposed and excommunicated. They had indeed been men of loose and evil lives, and had done much by the scandal of their immoralities to make Episcopacy unpopular with many who knew no other objection to it. We may here note, as a matter more particularly concerning this history, that the first man to give his vote upon these great questions was the minister of Polwarth, Mr Alexander Cass, whose remarks on that occasion are said to have been very pointed and witty, so much so, indeed, as to give great offense to those who bewailed the great changes now on foot.

Lest it should be supposed, however, that the ministers of the Merse were not cut of the same cloth as that of Polwarth, we may here allude to a circumstance very creditable to our county which had happened some five years before. In 1634 the Bishop of Edinburgh wrote to the different presbyteries of his diocese, requiring the ministers to observe carefully the Articles of Perth, and the Canons of the Church, and in particular,to see that they failed not to minister Holy Communion in their congregations on Easter Sunday, nor to prepare their flocks for that occasion by “preaching the Passion” on Good Friday. To this the Presbytery of Duns sent a stout refusal by the pen of their Moderator, Mr David Hume of Greenlaw, who ventured to tell the Bishop that the wrath of God would certainly come upon him if he persisted in urging obedience in matters not commanded in Holy Scripture. Mr David Hume died in the month of April 1637, only a very little before his fearless words were fulfilled to the letter.

The King, who deeply resented the revolt of the Scottish Church and country, came with his army to the Border, and here the forces of the Covenanters met him, making such a warlike appearance “they were 20,000 strong” that without a blow being struck, articles of peace very favourable to their interests were concluded.

General Leslie, who was in command of that force, consented to disband it, but on the condition of a Free General Assembly being summoned to meet, and a free Parliament to sit thereafter for the ratification of the Assembly’s Acts. The Covenanters’ camp had been set on Duns Law, a circumstance which gave rise to the jest that the Scottish Bishops had been deposed, neither by civil, nor by canon law, but by Duns Law. Thus the first appeal to arms in that long constitutional struggle which issued in our modem liberties was made in the cause of the Covenant, and it was the Merse which had the honour of being chosen as the seat of this righteous resistance and signal victory.

The army of Duns Law was, in some ways, the most remarkable that Scotland has ever seen.

The wonderful unity in which the nation here stood to the defense of her civil and ecclesiastical liberties appeared in the number of noblemen then commanding, and of gentlemen who served in the ranks. The officers had their quarters in the Castle of Duns, where a copy of the Covenant is still preserved, bearing the names of many who subscribed it at that time. Lord Cassilis’ troop was quartered in the following year at Choicelee wood, between Langton and Polwarth. They carried with them as their chaplain was none other than the famous preacher, Mr John Livingston.

In his Memoirs, Livingston tells us that having made known from his pulpit at Stranraer that he was appointed to go to the army, a woman in his congregation came to him with eight gold pieces for the good cause, saying that she had kept them as a marriage portion for her daughter; but since God had been pleased to take the child to Himself, He should have her money too, –a touching proof that the country regarded the cause of the Covenant as that of the Lord, and the expedition sent to the Merse as a solemn appeal to the God of Battles.

It was indeed their piety no less than their gentility and culture which distinguished the soldiers of the Covenant. In the camp at Duns Law and Choicelee was heard every night the sound of praise and prayer from the huts and among the guards. Every Sabbath able and devout ministers from many parts of Scotland gathered to the army and drew with them crowds of the neighboring country people. The religious exercises of Cromwell’s Ironsides would seem to have been borrowed hence, and when, in the next generation, the Covenanters were driven to the fields that they might there worship God according to their conscience, those of our shire could make choice of many a place which had been hallowed in that way before.

The success of the Covenanting army was eagerly watched by the leaders of the Parliamentary party in England. The long struggle for constitutional freedom called the Civil War was just commencing; and very shortly the popular party in the south, whose interests were so closely joined with those of our Covenanters, entered into the Solemn League and Covenant with them, a union of hearts which was presently cemented when the Westminster Assembly sat, uniting in its councils both Presbyterians and Puritans together.

As the close of the conflict drew near, the King, hard pressed by the Parliamentary forces, took refuge with the Scottish army, then at Newcastle. This expedition had been sent under the new alliance to help the cause of the Parliament, and Scotland gave a somewhat extreme proof of confidence in her allies by rendering the person of the king to their mercy. This surrender made way for a series of events which ended in a situation of the utmost consequence for the Covenanters.

His Majesty, as is well known, was soon brought to the scaffold at Whitehall, and the royal family passed to their exile abroad. Scotland, however, had always been loyal. It was with little apprehension of the dread event that their army had surrendered the person of the King, and the execution of Charles began a strong reaction there in favor of the monarchy, a new current of feeling which acted strongly upon many of the Covenanters.

An embassy was soon sent to Holland, one of whom was John Livingston, and in their company the young King returned to his native land in 1650. He signed the Covenant in his ship at the mouth of Spey before he was suffered to land, and renewed the same solemn act at his coronation, which took place a few days later. Under this engagement he was now welcomed by the nation as their lawful sovereign. It is easy to see how these events began to open a division between Scotland with her Covenanted King and the Parliamentary party in England.


Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown

Jenny Geddes War: “King Craft” and the “Lords of Erection” Pt. 1

jenny_1THE events we are about to study lie mostly in the years succeeding 1660…

…when the King was restored; but it is necessary for the right understanding of these times that we should know something of the struggles that preceded them. Therefore, we shall consider briefly the earlier history of the Covenants, and trace the rise of that party and cause which was afterwards called to endure so much, and was crowned at last with so glorious a victory.

James had inherited a nervous and timid disposition from the shocking circumstances which surrounded his birth. He is said to have shuddered whenever he saw a drawn sword, and in these days swords were so commonly carried and so lightly drawn that the King could hardly fail to live in a constant state of apprehension. A braver and sounder spirit would have met steel with steel.

Such an appeal to arms, however, was quite foreign to James’ nature, and, like all weak men, he found his refuge in cunning in “king craft” as he called it, –in which he sought, like a skilful rope-dancer with his pole, to balance one party in the State against another so that he should himself remain master of them all. To his nobles he held out the bribe of the Church lands, and by constantly creating new “Lords of Erection,” as the men were called who accepted these estates and revenues, he ruled supreme in their councils. The Church he subdued by even more subtle means; for he dreaded her power, and knew well that any but the most cautious policy would here be thrown away.

images (3)James desired in fact to govern the Church by restoring the order of Bishops, and in 1610 he judged the time ripe for the open prosecution of his design. The Assembly was accordingly summoned to meet at Glasglow, and Archbishop Spottiswoode, (We are concerned with the history of this Churchman, since his policy was one of the causes ‘though he intended nothing so little,’ which led to the first rise of the Covenants in Scotland) who proved perfectly pliable to the royal purpose, and was already appointed titular Archbishop of the see in that city, came down from Court to preside over its deliberations. Money was freely employed to secure the assent of the clergy to the royal will, the constitution of the Church was corruptly voted to be henceforth Episcopal, and Bishops were now the order of the day in Scotland.

The next reign matters went somewhat differently, the temper of the new King being narrow and fanatical, and quite without that subtlety which had stood his father in such good stead in his conflicts with the Church. But unfortunately for his designs, the King had found in England a new counselor on whose advice he was more apt to rely. This was Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in concert with the younger race of the Scottish Bishops, constantly pressed Charles to complete his father’s work by reducing the Church of his northern kingdom to an exact conformity with that of England. At last their influence prevailed over the more moderate counsels of Spottiswoode.

Book_of_common_prayer_Scotland_1637Laud received a commission entirely to his mind: he was ordered to prepare a Liturgy for the Church of Scotland on the model of the English Prayer Book, and being then in terms of close correspondence with the Papal Court (they say that Flood the Jesuit, had constant access to him, and was ever well received at Lambeth), he sent a copy of his book thither that he might compliment the Cardinals by enquiring their, opinion of his work. These princes of the Church seem to have entertained a higher opinion of Laud’s erudition and devotion than of his policy. Interestingly, the Sacred College gave signal proof of their shrewd comprehension of the situation when, in answer to the over-zealous Primate, they wrote, saying, “that they liked well that the Scots should be trained in a form of prayer and service, but, considering the temper of that people, they feared the book would breed some stir and unquietness if imposed there.”

This, then, is the setting of the historic scene in the High Church of Edinburgh when Dean Hannay opened his book and began the Collect for the day. It is easy to misunderstand the tumult which arose upon the utterance of this quiet and even beautiful prayer; but those who think that this disturbance strange forget the great constitutional question which was then in keen debate. For what rang through the church that day was a loud popular protest, not against the use of a form of prayer “for Scotland had been more or less accustomed to some Book of Common Order ever since the days of the Reformation” nor even the suspected Popery of Laud’s Liturgy (though we must confess this notion went far with the commonalty), but rather against the abuse of the royal prerogative.

3884924002Over against St Giles’ Church, on the north side of the High Street, stood the Archbishop’s town house: a lofty and magnificent pile of building,distinguished by the great balcony of wrought brass which adorned the first story. Hence, on that eventful day, might Spottiswoode have watched, had he cared to do so, the crowds that streamed into the church as service time drew near. He could not, however, regard the scene without apprehension, knowing the temper of the nation, and able to forecast only too well the issue of this unwise experiment against which he had made it his business to warn the King very earnestly. All his pains had been thrown away, and Spottiswoode, the traditions of whose life forbade him to think of breaking with his master, found himself in a cruel position indeed, being forced to appear at the head of a movement which he dreaded and disliked.Jenny Geddes throwing stool  St Giles' Cathedral High Kirk Edinburgh worship Church Scotland King Charles I Book of Common. Image shot 2011. Exact date unknown.

The rough Scottish tongue of the old herb-woman suddenly crying, “Dost thou say mass at my lug?” cleared the air of these mists as speedily and surely as her famous stool, and the tumult that followed swept the Dean and his assistants from the desk. Standing up very quietly in his place, Spottiswoode faced awhile the angry storm in which all his hopes were wrecked and all his fears realised. Few will refuse him in the moment of so supreme a trial, the tribute of a certain admiration and even sympathy, considering the courage and self-command he now displayed, “ordering the Provost to have the church cleared, and thereafter taking coach without a word for his country house at Gilmerton, where it is said a great collation had been ordered to celebrate the day. But surely his supper that night was garnished with bitter herbs; for the hour of the royal reckless experiment had indeed struck, and its issue was in the Scotland of the Second Reformation, the Scotland of the Covenants. What wonder if Spottiswoode, fleeing to England as he shortly did, should have uttered in rage and despair the memorable words, “Now all that we have been doing these thirty years is cast down at once.”


Thoughts and excerpts taken and adapted from, “The Covenanters of the Merse”
Written by, James Wood Brown