Covenant Signing (1638)




Scotland was different to England in that the preservation of the people’s freedom was done through the Church (Kirk) rather than through Parliament. All these rules that prevented ministers having a voice, putting them under the complete control of the bishops meant that the freedoms of the people were attacked. The king, ignoring the presbytery and the assembly, and assuming that the Presbyterian system did not exist, imposed a new liturgy in place of Knox's Liturgy or the Book of Common Order. It was the composition of archbishop Laud, and in several respects it was distinctly more hierarchical than the authorised books of the English Church. The new Service Book had more than a smattering of Roman Catholic doctrine; in fact some words were taken directly from the mass. The 23rd of July, 1637, was fixed on for beginning the use of the new Service Book.

Those who had grown up after the Reformation saw this as returning to the days of Roman Catholicism. Everything that had been fought for: through the death of the Martyrs, the banishment of reformed ministers, the persecution of many; seemingly looked lost. Some of the Scottish bishops knew the mood of the people, and advised Charles to hold back for a while, but they were told that the liturgy had to be enforced.

The first instance of the introduction of the new Liturgy was at St Giles, Edinburgh. There was a vast crowd both inside and outside the church as the dean went into the pulpit to start the service. As he began people cried out from every direction, and one threw her stool at him. The dean was frightened, so he fled. The bishop thought that the people would give him greater respect so he went up to start the service, but he was greeted with even louder shouts, including, ‘A Pope – a Pope – Antichrist! Pull him down!’ He managed to escape and was escorted home by magistrates. These outbursts were the only way the citizens could express their feelings about their liberties being taken away. The Privy Council wrote to the king to tell him of the thru feeling of the Scots, but as usual Charles would not listen to anyone questioning his divine majesty, and he responded by insisting on the Liturgy being enforced, saying that it was treason for anyone to oppose it. This was all that was needed to rouse the Scots. Noblemen, gentlemen and burgesses flocked from all the cities and shires of the Lowlands to Edinburgh, to concert united action.

There were four committees; one of nobles, one of barons, one for the boroughs and one for the Church, and they all put forward recommendations to a General Committee. There were attempts to divide them, so it was decided to renew the National Covenant of Scotland that had been signed so many years ago. They promised and swore, ‘all the days of our life constantly to adhere unto and to defend the true religion; and to labor by all means lawful to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel as it was established and professed before the introduction of the late innovations; and that we shall defend the same, and resist all these contrary errors and corruption, according to our vocation, and to the utmost of that power which God hath put into our hands, all the days of our life.’ The Covenant further pledged its swearers to support ‘the king's majesty, and one another, in the defense and preservation of the aforesaid true religion, liberties, and laws of the kingdom.’

The people came to their church to sign the Covenant, several signing it with their blood. This appears to have sparked off a significant revival in Scotland.


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