Now I am going here to try a bit of an experiment, rightly or wrongly. At the time of writing we are well into the story of the Scottish Revolution, an exciting period of Scottish history from lets us say 1637 to 1660, which we will cover in 11 episodes, episodes 57 to 67 inclusive. It has come to my attention that some people have become a little lost; there’s the normal problem of absorbing all the names, then it’s a period of great political upheavals, so events, dear boy, events in the words of Harold MacMillan. And then to make things harder, the Revolution forms one part of civil war and political change across all the northern Archipelago, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales. So that’s more than just another twist, it’s the full port and lemon experience. So here’s what I am going to do; this episode will provide an overview, and framework for the whole period, so you have something to glue to, just as though you, gentle listener, were clay being daubed onto the wattle of history. this episode will for ever more, or at least until Charlton kneels in despair before the statue of liberty, sit at the start of the series of episodes series, as an initial guide to the period. It will be a sort of overview with as few plot spoilers as possible for an erring human. have no idea if this will work; I have tried to avoid plot spoilers again, but inevitably you’ll get an idea, so if that’s not your jam, turn away, burn or eat this episode now. Before you get out the knife and fork, though, let me just tell you that I have also made some resources available, twofold, to be found at the history of Scotland.co.uk. They are a timeline of key events across the three kingdoms, focussing on Scotland; and a brief list of some of the major names. So hie thee to history of Scotland.co.uk and fill up your boots and britches, though I realise that’s difficult on the comment, run, ironing board and so on.
Let me take you to Scotland around the year 1636. King James VI has been dead 9 years, and his nipper Charles is on the throne. James of course may be acknowledged to have been a very successful king, and although he came but once to Scotland after 1605 when he became also James I of England Wales, and Ireland, his remote rule was still largely successful, served as he was by very diligent chief ministers and Privy Councillors in the old Country who believed full well in the royal prerogative. But he did leave an unexploded bomb, should his son not tread carefully in the jungle of state politics. These were the 5 articles of Perth, and an unfinished argument about whether or not Bishops had any role in Scotland’s perfect Presbyterian, Calvinist church. Although we will often talk about the Kirk as one body, one flesh, like anything of note there is always a spectrum of opinion, in this case from Radicals, who believed kings had no role in the Kingdom of Christ and church matters, to moderates who were willing largely to find accommodations and compromise, and recognised that Bishops had always been, contrary to Radical claims, part of the kirk. To the royalists who saw king as integral to church and religion. So, the Five articles took a royalist view of religion and governance, as well as some matters of ceremony such as kneeling for communion, and offended the Radicals – I mean, really offended them. But the moderates were there to be won over. But it would be a brave man that shook the rather precarious balance James had achieved – indeed James was aware of this, and did not push the articles hard.
James’ son was indeed a brave man. The line between brave and foolhardy has ever been narrow. I should know, I tread on said line frequently. Charles also was an absent man – staying in London and not visiting the land of his birth. That didn’t mean that Scotland was ruled by the English – Charles had his very own Privy Council of Scots. But to be honest, they were almost as out of date as was Charles himself, and also it meant the English Privy Council was uninformed about Scottish affairs when the balloon went skywards. As it it will, ladies and gents, as it will.
Well, religion is super important in our story in all three kingdoms. And although Scots and English were good protestants, they had a slightly different flavour. The Irish were of course not good protestants, they were good Catholics. And the Highlanders of Scotland really didn’t know, thy just wanted to kill the Campbells. Unless they were a Campbell of course, in which case they were having a riot and eying your land with interest.
OK, alles clar? As I say Charles was brave. He wanted to have one religion throughout his kingdoms or at least align them more closely. So he devised a Scottish Book of Common prayer and a set of canons, devised by Bottish Scishops, but alarmingly close to Cranmer’s English work of genius. These were introduced into Scotland in 1637 by the king’s chief minister, John Stewart, Earl of Traquhair, a man with a thankless task – devil and the deep blue see, rock and a hard place sort of thing. In summary, it’s fair to say that the new prayer book and canons did not go down very well. Stools were thrown.
The long and short is that there are all kinds of protests which becomes ever more complex, but initially going through a traditional process of petitioning by subjects to their king, until a very structured organisation of committees comes into existence – these are the so called ‘tables’. In 1637 and 1638, the protesters get really quite bold while the King remains obdurate, and write a document called the National Covenant. The Covenant built on the traditional band, or bond, that groups would traditionally form to achieve various purposes. It also built on a covenant the King James himself had once made, the so called Negative Confession. The National Covenant defined the state as a combination of the perfect Presbyterian church, and a Covenanted king. Oh, and death to the anti Christ also known as the Pope. The really thrilling thing about the Covenant was that all over lowland Scotland communities gathered together and swore to abide by and defend the Covenant, often worn to by ordinary folks not just their parish elders. The Covenant doesn’t have the fame of today as things like the Declaration of Arbroath, mainly because of it’s virulent anti Catholicism, but it is none the less a really impressive and rare example of building deep, community wide awareness and shared purpose. Though not for highlanders and Islanders, who were viewed as barbarians by their lowland cousins, and who didn’t care about Covenanters and just wanted to get on with their traditional way of life and crossly get the Campbells out of their soup.
There are a few names I should introduce you to; but let me keep it clean, and minimal, and I will give you just a few with apologies to all the other movers and shakers of the time. We’ll keep it to four, as examples of the various groups. Let’s start with a radical Covenanter where one name will stand out – Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyle. Actually Argyle did not join the Covenanters until 1638, at that point finally leaving the Privy Council. But once gone, he stayed gone, and will be a key figure throughout.
Next we get men like the John Campbell, Earl of Loudon, who became good Covenanters and opposed the king, but remained loyal to the concept of the traditional Stewart monarchy – if only they’d behave and be Covenanted. These kind of men will become Engagers in 1648. There are a lot of tags in Scottish politics, and we’ll come back to that one of Engagers.
Then we have a group who start off as Covenanters, and protest the king, but come back quite quickly to the royal fold; the prime example, is James Graham, Marquess of Montrose. Who will have a year of victories, nudge nudge, wink and I say again wink.
And finally convinced royalists – James Hamilton, Duke of Hamilton being a great example. By 1642, Hamilton will be the king’s main representative and leader in Scotland.He has a tarnished reputation, often being thought to be out for himself and remaining suspiciously talkative with Argyll – but he seems to me to have taken many slings an arrows for his king.
Now many Scots fought in the Thirty Years War for the Protestant cause, and so in the early period the Scottish army rules the roost, led by talented, Covenanter commanders such as Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven. King and Covenanters square up in the two Bishops Wars in 1639 and 1640 after failing to come to political compromise, but do come to various agreements thereafter, as a result of which Charles does come to Scotland in 1641 and to Parliament to agree the changes enforced on him by the Scots, which were genuinely radical, more so than the later English parliamentary demands. But the thing is that Charles would seem to have decided that he could afford to make concessions in his smallest kingdom; and then maybe use the resources of the richest, England, to reverse them later. Anyway, so we have the state of Covenanted Scotland which will last until 1651. Charles is not happy – but the problem is that the Scottish conflagration also encourages English political protest and he can’t deal with both at the same time, so you know, needs must and all that. But then darn it all if the Irish don’t rebel to boot. It never rains but.
A few things about 1641. Firstly, never underestimate the importance of the Irish rebellion in 1641. It lives with us still in the north, though elsewhere in Ireland it’s probably the reverse of the old saying so let me change it round; it’s a thing the Irish of the republic can never remember while the Irish of the North can never forget. The atrocities of the 1641 were bad enough, but not a patch on the story told back home in Scotland and England. The news of Scottish and English protestants being slaughtered by Catholic Irish in wildly, wildly inflated numbers would colour everything in Ireland, including Cromwell’s few months there in 1650. The Scots would maintain an army under Robert Munro in the north to fight for the Scottish planters until 1648. If you think Scotland and England are complicated, then you don’t know Ireland. But we’ll leave that for the detail of the following episodes.
Second thing about 1641 is that Scots know their man – they do not trust Charles as far as the very weediest of them could throw him; and I don’t mean one of those caber tossing highland gamers, I mean weediest, skinny, pasty white and knocked kneed. So forever they will search for security for Covenanted Scotland in some sort of alliance with English parliamentarians to keep the king chained, a sort of federated Britain. There are commissioners constantly talking to the English, and what the Scots push for is a federated union of England and Scotland. Not a full union, but one where the Scottish parliament sits at the top table of a British state alongside the English and therefore can influence and control British policy.
Trouble is, us English are like onions too – complex, sensitive, many layered, and surprisingly good looking. There are several strands of religious opinion that emerge in additional to political roundhead and cavalier stuff – Anglicans who support bishops and the Elizabethan church of England or even Laud’s bastardised version; Presbyterians who largely align with the Scots’ idea of the perfect kirk, which must, incidentally be uniform across the whole country to enforce the right moral behaviour; and then the Independents. Now although a pretty rigorous, puritanical lot, Independents like Oliver Cromwell are unusually tolerant for their time. They call themselves congregationalists, and believe that each congregation should choose their own governance and forms of religion. With the rather significant proviso that the Pope is the anti-Christ, which would be a big proviso for the Catholics of course. None the less, in an intolerant world, unusually open minded. The Scottish kirk did not approve of such open minded pluralism and view the Independents with suspicion. Meanwhile the Independents wondered why they would be interested in a federated union where a country 20% their size would be able to stop them choosing the future and religious settlement they wanted.
So in episodes 61 and 62 we’ll hear how the English and the Scots manage to collaborate quite closely for a while – they agree a joint National Solemn League and Covenant, the Westminster Assembly Convention of faith, the Scots join the war against the their Stewart king in England and for the Protestant cause in Ireland – but there is also a tension. Because the Independents in England dominate the army, and as the New Model Army gains in strength, so the Independents gain political power in England, and they do not want to dance to the Scottish Presbyterian tune.
In 1644 to 1646, the great Montrose runs amok for the royalist cause in Scotland, a story we cover in episode 63, but nonetheless the Covenanter Scots gain the person of the king, then fail to reach agreement with him, and regretfully leave him when their army leaves England as demanded by the English Independents. The Covenanters regret this failure with the king very deeply; both because deep down and despite their religious differences, the Stewart dynasty is where Scottish national identity largely resides; and because their policy of a federated union with England has failed, because the Independents think the idea sucks. So now their security has crashed and indeed burned, and the new security strategy relies on the King’s authority to bring the English to the party, to enforce the Covenant on them, and protect the Scots from any kickback from the Independents. With which the current king will not play ball.
So, as the English Revolution unfolds, the Scots come back to the idea that they must support the King of Scots in his rights to be king of all 3 Kingdoms. This is called the Engagement – because the Covenanter state agrees a treaty and Engagement with the king in 1648. Actually, Scottish Society and the politics is very, very divided about this; a key resolution is passed by just 1 vote. The traditional view is that this is just a political struggle between the conservative royalists and the radical covenanters. More recent historiography has stressed that actually this division shook the very foundations of the Covenanter state, that the struggle between Engagers and anti Engagers comes close to destroying the unity won through the Covenant. You will hear all about the Engagement and how that pans out in episode 65. At the end of the period of the Engagement, there is an event called the Whiggamore Raid, where the Radical Covenanters violently object to said Engagement. The Engagers have a bad moment – and are banished to the political wilderness. At this stage, Hamilton leaves the stage of History.
This division rumbles on, and it becomes a fundamental issue; how does the Scottish State re-establish its unity? By this stage Charles I’s son, cunningly called Charles II, is the royal pretender to the Scottish, English and Irish thrones and Welsh Principality, and therefore the Covenanters pick up with him too, aiming to re-establish him on his throne, while ringing him round with hoops of iron so that he does what they want to protect the Scottish Covenant. Now Charles II can see no other way, so he sort of signs the Covenant which his Dad had resolutely refused to do. There’s no doubt he hates it and that’s pretty obvious; in later years he declared that he’d rather be hanged than return to Scotland – but hey, he’s a king with nowhere to sit, so he goes along with it all for the moment after 1649.
Many in the parliament and kirk realise that if they are going to put Charles back on the English throne, they not only need God’s help, which of course being Covenanters and members of the most perfect church in Christendom, they absolutely have, but also they need unity. And so the General Assembly passes a series of resolutions forgiving the Engagers of 1648 and bringing them back inside the tent of state. These people who pass these acts are called Resolutioners; we like tags in the story of the Scottish Revolution. Covenanters, Engagers, whigs, Resolutioners – I should do a glossary too. Anyway,this doesn’t really establish unity – because the Radical Covenanters hate this Resolution, hate it; forcing this king on their English allies they see as a sin and a breach of the Solemn League and Covenant, and anyway, they quite clearly see Charles doesn’t really believe a word of the Covenant, and trust him just as little his Dad. So they protest – and are known to history as, would you believe, the Protesters. So – Engagers and Anti Engagers at stage one of the re-alignment with Stewart monarchy in 1647 to 8; Resolutioners vs Protesters in stage 2 after 1649. You’ll hear all about this in episode 66.
Stage 2 ends at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and we have a period of 9 years which is curiously absent from the poplar history of Scotland, the Commonwealth. Which leaves surprisingly little obvious legacy though we can talk about that – there could be one big one. Anyway, we’ll hear about the Commonwealth in episode 66.
Now, I hope that gives you a bit of a framework. There’s the establishment of the Covenanter state between 1637 and 1641. There are the civil wars between 1641 and 1647. There’s a period of Engagement led first by Hamilton and Chumps, and then by the kirk party. And then all is replaced by the Commonwealth, a union between Scotland and England.
I hope this helps you navigate the Scottish revolution. If you can find time in front of a screen, which I know if difficult if you listen while commuting, running and so on, then do have a look at the History of Scotland site, the historyofscotland.co.uk, and look at the timeline and summary of names. And then you will be ready to launch, and when you arrive at the chaos that is 1651 and the Resolutioner Controversy, you will be ready.
Thank you for listening everyone, and let me know if this helps and I should do a similar thing for periods of history. So long, and thanks for all the fish.