I thought this week we would have a bit of a wander around early 17th century Scotland, and introduce you to some characters and what they were doing before everything kicked off with all the throwing around of three legged furniture; and talk about the politics of Charles’s reign up to his furniture problems.
Why don’t we talk about religion and catch up on the Reformation in Scotland? The kirk at the time of Charles’ arrival consisted of about 1000 parishes still. While most aspects of the Reformation in Scotland seem so much more decisive than in England, a sort of wham bang thank you Sam Reformation parliament in 1560, and nothing like the flip flopping of English monarchs; and unlike the sort of monarchical or Erastian outcome in England with the broadly Calvinist theology but survival of ritual, the Scottish church felt much more like a complete, well formed Calvinist church, organised along Presbyterian lines. What exactly does that mean? Well, religious culture was dominated by what you might call a puritan ethos, with a strict adherence to the doctrine that salvation was attainable by faith alone, a preaching ministry unconstrained by prescribed forms of worship such as, for example, Books of Common Prayer as in England. There were some forms of guides for the structure and content of services, such as the Book of Common order produced in Geneva in 1556, but the kirk was generally hostile to liturgies and Prayer Books. There was instead a deep focus on bible study and prayer, and rigorous social discipline in pursuit of the Godly society.  So, in that little lot you might identify some potential for conflict, and if not, time will tell; in the meantime though it is worth noting that Scots felt some pride in their church, seeing it as a model very much closer to reformed perfection than most others, certainly more so than their southern and western neighbours.
A core part of that self belief was defined also by their absolute opposition to the Pope and the Church of Rome. It’s not just that they disapproved of his theology, or the way he did things or a preference to manage without the position – the Pope was the Anti Christ. The agent of the Devil. The language of the church towards the Pope was virulent. Although a bit of a plot spoiler, it’s worth quoting here from the national Covenant about which we’ll hear in a future episode, because as a statement of faith it spends a lot of time detailing exactly what it was about the Catholic church to which they objected – and it’s a long list, followed by
And seeing that many are stirred up by Satan and that Roman Antichrist … to corrupt and subvert secretly God’s true religion within the Kirk
The point I am making here is that in the minds of many in the kirk, this is an active struggle against the agents of Satan seeking to corrupt their true church.
Also, the idea that there might be toleration for other religious approaches or views was not within the Calvinist lexicon. It was inconceivable that the Lord in her wisdom could have designed a world where everyone had different views about what the true religion was so if you didn’t follow the true version, you were wilfully defying the word of God. As elsewhere in Europe, this would of course lead to problems.
Part of the reason for the Scots belief in the purity of their kirk was the part about the Godly Society; the idea was that the Presbyterian church sought to govern itself, through a hierarchy of courts staffed by clerics and laymen known as elders. The lay elders were not appointed by some higher part of the hierarchy, but elected by the congregation themselves. There was much belief also that congregations could call their own ministers, through a process of potential ministers coming to the church to preach, to be selected, or ‘called’ by the congregation. At a parish level, the basic form of administration was the Kirk session, a local body of the elders that imposed church, social and moral discipline. The success of kirk sessions in inserting themselves as a fundamental part of parish life was part of the reason why Scottish society was so much less pluralist in religious terms – there was a very high level of conformity throughout the country. The kirk was a fundamental, and relatively constant, part of the daily rhythm of parish life.
At the head of the kirk was the General Assembly, the physical expression of the two kingdom’s concept; the idea that the secular and ecclesiastical spheres were separate, but mutually supporting. The General Assembly was very careful not to extend its competence into what it considered secular jurisdiction. The General Assembly was composed of representatives of as many of the parishes as could make it, and was supposed to meet annually.
So this all sounds very good, but of course James had been unhappy about the idea of a fully presbyterian church, so from 1603 he’d managed to re-impose elements of a more traditional church structure which had begun to fall into disuse, but which had not been formally abolished by any means – namely Bishops, 13 of them, including their Boss the Archbishop of St Andrews. The Bishops ran their own ecclesiastical courts, and ran their own half yearly synods, attended by representatives from their regional Presbyteries, of whom there were about 49. James had also managed to establish the principle that the General Assembly could only be called by the king – as a result, there were no General Assemblies called between 1616 and 1638. And in addition, James had interfered with various aspects of ritual in the Five Articles as we have heard, that upset many. So essentially, James had in the eyes of many managed to mess up the purity of the church into a sort of hybrid model. It is also worth stressing that this was but one view, the activist view if you like; many others were perfectly prepared to acknowledge that the king had rights, and that Bishops remained a part of church life as they had been for centuries.
Another object of pride for the kirk lay in the quality of their ministers; although a poor country, their ministers were generally better paid and better educated than their southern neighbours. Now members of the kirk were constantly fulminating about the quality of education, and how it needed to be improved and all that. But actually, the Scottish tradition and achievement in education stretching back to pre-reformation times was impressive. By the 17th century probably 700 or more of the 1000 parishes had a school; and meanwhile the vast majority of parish ministers were graduates from one of 5 universities established variously as – St Andrews in 1413, Glasgow in 1451, Kings Aberdeen in 1495, Edinburgh in 1582 and Marischal College Aberdeen of 1593.
The survival of Catholicism was the most enduring exception to the general picture of conformity, coupled with a generally less successful introduction of reformed religion into the Highlands and western isles, which I think we have covered before. It’s difficult to be precise, but by 1680 it looks as though a generous estimate would be that 5% of the population considered themselves Catholics, probably falling to 1-2% by the mid 18th century. These were by a large scattered across the Hebredian islands, the mainland west and the north East. Scotland wasn’t a focus of interest for the Papacy, so this was a church without a priesthood. Although James VI had been seemingly disinclined to continue Elizabethan persecution in England, none the less through the 17th and 18th century in Scotland the same kind of profile of anti catholic laws were in force. Harbouring priests was a treasonable offence, just taking mass could be severely punished, Catholics could be excommunicated from the community. The rhetoric of the church was quite hysterical, against imagined ‘swarms’ of papists in the Highlands. As in England, it was the nobility where Catholicism survived most strongly, maybe 20% of them including the Marquis of Huntly, and it was the nobility that sustained its survival.
I mentioned that Scotland was a relatively poor country compared to England, and its population was probably also much smaller – maybe around 1m as opposed to 5m of the English, though interestingly less smaller relatively speaking than today, when I think I’m right in saying Scotland is one tenth the population of England rather than 1/5th. At the time, Scottish landlords had not yet visited the infamous clearances on the Highlands, and so the population was relatively evenly spread between Lowland and Highland. Scotland had slightly belatedly gone through many of the same pains as the rest of western Europe – a period of high population growth which drove inflation; and which also drove the same obsession with the itinerant poor, or the ‘strong and idle beggars’ which reflected that the economy was not yet flexible enough to cope with population growth. There was other evidence to support that idea, with serious famines and subsistence crises in the 1590s and 1620s resulting from bad harvests. Despite this, there seems to have been little sign of rural protest – possibly because the drive to maximise rents from a commercially minded landowning class had not yet ridden into town.
Power structures were very localised; most Scots lived in small communities called Fermtouns; their local lords, the Lairds, had extensive rights through Barony courts which had become heritable, as had many of the Crown agents positions, the Sheriffs. Also James had introduced a system of local Justices of the Peace. It’s quite important to remember incidentally that Lairds are not directly comparable to English Gentry – Lairds held much of their land directly from the king, they are properly nobility on a continental European model.
By the 1630s some of the heat had come out of population growth, and a period of stability began to appear; meanwhile although towns like Edinburgh in particular flourished, the burghs suffered from competition from English mercantile classes determined not to suffer competition from Scottish merchants. None the less, overseas trade was expanding, especially in established Scottish markets – Scandinavia, the Baltic, Dutch Republic. Despite that, life was still pretty hard especially for labourers and cottagers, those without land, and that was at least partly the impetus for one of the features of Early Modern Scotland – emigration.
Emigration was substantial rather earlier than traditionally thought; it’s now estimated that between 1600 and 1650 85,000 to 115,000 people may have left Scotland, which is a significant percentage of the total population; it’s also worth bearing in mind that the vast majority were single young men; so the proportion of young men that left Scotland in the period may have been as many as 1 in 5. It must have had a major impact on society, drastically reducing the number of marriage partners for women.
The destinations for Scots were many and various but the largest by far was Ulster. After the Nine Years’ War and the Flight of the Earls the land of most of the 6 counties of Ulster were considered by James VI to be forfeit to the Crown. Eagerly the land was parcelled up into three main groups; English servitors who were encouraged to settle the land; English and Scots undertakers, who agreed to build defensible settlements and settle their lands with English or Scottish tenants; and loyal Irish. Something like 81,000 acres went to English, the same to Scots, 94,000 acres to Irish; and then also substantial amounts to the church, to University College Dublin and English Merchants. By 1641, about 100,000 settlers had arrived in Ulster; about 30,000 of those were scots. There appears to have been relatively little antagonisim between English and Scottish settlers, and the ties of religion helped. None the less the Scots often remained distinctive, creating what one described as ‘a Scottish World in miniature’; Lord Kirkcudbright for example insisted his settlers followed Scots law; Scots tended to marry other Scots. The settlement in Ulster was different to most other forms of migration at the time, because the Scots came to Ireland as colonisers, so about 40% of the arrivals were women; they were also socially diverse, including Lairds and Merchants as well as the working population.
There were many other destinations for emigration though; there was no doubt migration to England, but they left little mark, since the society they joined was pretty similar to their own, and so they assimilated well. Scots had long had close relationships with France, and these were not broken by the events of 1603, and many Scots moved to the Huguenot towns. Other trading centres also attracted emigrants – 500 Scots lived in Gdansk for example; in early modern Poland, Polish laws against restricting residency and banning peddling often bracketed Jews and Scots into one category. A small number joined the Dutch East India company, and communities in the Dutch Republic, especially taking the opportunity to print religious materials that would have been censored back home. But emigration across the Atlantic was relatively low before 1650 – a few hundred, then maybe 9,000 after 1650 – small, but to be of great significance in the 18th century, a foundation for enthusiastic Scottish involvement in Empire and the Slave trade.
Now then, there was one other major destination for Scots seeking their fortunes in the early 17th century, a destination that was both conceptual as well as geographical – the 30 Years War. The theme these days is very much to emphasise that the 30 Years War was not a series of religious Wars; while that might have been a factor, thoroughly secular desires for dynastic and material gain and the continuing conflict between France and the Hapsburg Empire being centre stage. But despite all that, it doesn’t do to underestimate how the element of religion attracted many ordinary Scots to take part in the conflict.
In both Scotland and England, many of the hotter kind of protestant were frequently urging their governments to pile into European conflict in defence of Protestantism; look at the pressure Elizabeth came under in England to prosecute the war in the Netherlands a bit more enthusiastically. Generally speaking they struggled; Elizabeth was too mean, and James VI seems to have been genuinely determined to be more peacemaker than warmonger. It meant often that people went private – and travelled to take part anyway, driven by a sense that Scotland was part of a larger struggle to defend the Protestant faith.
Although the religious motivation was important, the principle motivation that holds together all of these migrations was the desire to make a better life for themselves, and going soldiering in the 30 Years War was no exception. Scots had a long tradition of going to fight for other people for a long time; I might ask you to throw your mind back to the Anglo French wars for a moment, and the famous Scots bodyguard for the French royal house. The tradition of the mercenary Gallowglass of Highland Scots fighting and making a life in Ireland was a rich one all the way through to the end of the 16th century. So often, the desire for a better life trumped religion; thousands joined the armies of France, encouraged by Henrietta Maria. Scots fought in the Dutch provinces, in Poland, Spain and Russia; they fought for Sweden, Denmark, the Palatinate and Bohemia; they fought for the Germans.
While not specifically joining the 30 Years’ War, none the less Elizabeth, James and even Charles initially often allowed recruiters to come to the Archipelago to drum up support and hire mercenaries; it had some advantages after all, supporting the protestant cause by stealth, giving an outlet for the unemployed and potentially violent young men, because some young men can get violent if the circumstances are right. And parts of Scotland, despite a marked decline in feuding, remained highly militarised societies – the Highlands, and the Borders in particular. Younger sons of Lairds might look forward to a reasonably bleak future while their elder brothers lived it up – a good reason to leave the hearth and go soldiering – to make a better future. Sometimes young men found themselves fighting against their will – prisoners given Hobson’s choice, or men impressed into service. But the long and short was that maybe 41,000 young Scottish men went to fight in the European armies between 1624 and 1637, until resistance to recruitment from the authorities began to grow, and the siren call of trouble at home began to call people back.
Let me emphasise also that the Scots were far from being canon fodder, or target practice; they were highly prized and noted for their endurance and determination. There is a wildly delightful wood cut of Scottish mercenaries from the 30 years war, totting various weapons, complete with beards and kilts. But Scots also rose into the highest echelons of the waring armies; and this allows me to segue neatly into the careers of a couple of characters that will be central to the story of the Revolution. The sub text of their stories is not only their own role in the Revolution, but an illustration of a wider point; experience gained in the 30 Years War played a crucial role in the success of the Covenanters for whom many of them came home to fight. The 30 Years War gave the Covenanters access to thousands of battle hardened Scots, well up to date with the latest military hardware and tactics; it also gave them access to superb military leadership, and together gave the Scots a level of military dominance for a while pretty exceptional in Anglo Scottish relations which allowed covenanters to deeply influence the War of Three Kingdoms.
That gives us an opportunity, gentle listeners, to talk not of shoes and ships and sealing wax – though conversations about such things are almost as excellent as the cabbages and kings we spend most of our time on – but to talk about a couple of right Leslies – Alexander and David, of whom we’ll hear much more in the story ahead, but mainly because they provide a neat little illustration of the importance of the 30 Years War.
Alexander first; Alexander was the illegitimate son of one George Leslie; of his mother we know nothing other than one reference to, quote, a ‘wench of Rannoch’. Alexander seems to have spent his early life in the household of the Campbells of Glenorchy; the concept of fostering was a long standing tradition, particularly in highland clanship, and if true may account for Alexander’s later relationship to the Marquis of Argyll who also seems to have been fostered in the household – I’ll introduce you to Argyll later, he’s possibly the most influential of leaders through the Revolution. Anyway, our Alex doesn’t seem to have had much of a formal education, and as an illegitimate son, possibly not much of a future; so what did he do? Why he took himself off to the wars of course as a young man. He seems to have started fighting for the protestant cause in the Dutch Republic in his mid twenties. It took him a while to earn fame and fortune though; in the late 1620s he started in the Swedish service while in his forties, by which time he was married; though reputedly ‘in mean condition’.
But in the Swedish service his career slowly took off; he won great renown as head of a group of Scots as part of the Swedish defence of Straalsund; by 1627 he was a colonel and had been knighted by the great man Gustavus Adolphus himself. By 1631 after a stint as Governor of Straalsund, he put together a force of 6,000 together with another Scot, the Marquess of Hamilton, who will also play a significant part in our story. In this venture, Hamilton rather crashed and indeed burned, but not so Leslie, who was part of the Swedish occupations of a series of German cities. Leslie also seems to have been trusted by Gustavus with diplomatic duties, to persuade German cities to come to his side. By 1635, Leslie was a man of wealth and fame, who returned to his native Fife to invest in land, as you do when you make it big; he was a Major General of the Swedish army, consulted on military matters by the great Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna.
His loyalties at this time, approaching the Covenanter Revolution in Scotland, appear to have been firmly royalist. He saw Hamilton as his patron, he corresponded and even visited Charles I; he saw himself as part of Charles’ desire to restore his sister and husband to the rule of the Palatine of the Rhine. But in 1638, a visit to Scotland changed his mind; and he threw in his lot with the Covenanters. I take it you are picking up from this, just in case you have no basics in the history of Scotland, that there will be a revolution in Scotland by some folks called Covenanters – plot spoiler. Anyway, By this stage also, Swedish policy seems to have changed to supporting the rebel Scots in their homeland; and so by hook and by crook, Leslie was able to bring substantial men and crucially canon and military supplies back into Scotland with him. These supplies were given to him because when he announced to his Swedish employers that he planned to retire, and the Swedes of course suggested something nice like a plastic trophy or maybe an engraved watch, Alexander Leslie asked instead for 300 officers in Swedish employ, for canon and a supply of muskets. You might want to try that with your employers when you retire and see how they respond – you can use Alexander’s example in the unlikely event that they quibble.
In 1630, Alexander Leslie was joined by a younger namesake – David Leslie, a legitimate scion of the Leslie clan, fifth son of one Patrick Leslie again from Fife. Fifth son – that’s well back in the dressing room, not even a chance of a later substitution in a search for a last minute goal. So time to up sticks and seek his fortune. David served under Alexander in the Swedish army; in 1632 he seems to have followed Alexander to service in Russia – and later he’d have testimonials from Charles I which quoted service in France, Germany, Sweden, and the Low Countries; and in 1634 he was a colonel of cavalry in the Swedish army. On 10 August 1640, David Leslie’s homeland was calling him back, along with a fellow Scot, James Lumsden. For their retirement presents, they asked for you guessed it, not a gold watch, but 200 muskets and 200 suits of armour each; history doesn’t record if they were engraved or not. Leslie also asked for a pension of 1000 riksdaler and a gold chain, which is terribly traditional of him. As it happens, then, David Leslie was later to Covenanter military service than his namesake Alexander, since he didn’t start with the Scottish army until 1643; David however was, should he know it, in training for a military showdown with one Oliver Cromwell.
So I’ve introduced three folks to you – James Hamilton, a convinced royalist; and David and Alexander Leslie who would find themselves on the other side. Before we get back to the political events, would you mind if I introduced you to one more? This person is one James Graham, whom you might know better by the title he will later acquire as Earl and then Marquess of Montrose. Now I have been keen to introduce Montrose, and not only because he would produce a song called Rock Candy Baby in the 1970s. Not really, really, it’s because Montrose is one of those figures of my youthful memory and enthusiasm for history, pretty much on a level with the likes of Richard I, Alfred the Great, Horatio Nelson and Warwickshire opening bat Dennis Amiss, so in my pantheon of the greats, that’s pretty much top tier. You might notice an absence in my youth of notable figures of literature, moral improvement, fighters against social injustice, and the promotion of peace and equality; I apologise for my general shallowness and lack of humanity.
Anyway, Montrose. I became aware of Montrose when the bearded History teacher Mr Collingworth was attempting to explain some complicated and nuanced aspect of British Colonial history, and was interrupted by one callow youth, with frankly disingenuous and dishonest intentions, who demanded to know what sir’s favourite military hero was. We liked Mr Collingworth, for not only was he relentlessly enthusiastic and upbeat, but he had that favourite quality of a teacher – he was easily distracted. Usually, it was because one of Beardy Collingworth’s ancestors was one Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, who fought with Nelson – and no doubt the evil child was expecting a story about Cuthbert so that he could carry on kicking the crap out of some other student on he back row while Beardy warbled on with his head in the clouds. But we didn’t get Cuthbert – no, Beardy dropped a shoulder, gave a little shimmy and sold us all a dummy – and warbled instead about James Graham, fourth Earl of Montrose. The student presumably still got his kicking though. So, I then went and read a novel about Montrose, and indeed C V Wedgewood’s classic 1950s biography about the gilded and beautiful youth. I filled my head with a romantic story of the highland campaigns with the doughty Alasdair MacColla, mowing down Covenanters by the billon, a great, tragic and really quite good looking hero, with his wavy brown locks. Obviously, it is the job of historians to grind the dreams and romance of the young beneath the willow pattern tea saucer of historical truth, so I have learnt something more of the reality since, but the Montrose of my youth, like the Coeur de Lion of my youth, will never really leave me. Hopefully anyway. Incidentally, one of the reasons Beardy Collingworth was such a good teacher was his technique of getting us all to draw his iconic ‘titchy pics’ next to our notes of iconic events or historical concepts in our exercise books. Simple, traditional, non digital, but I commend it to unto you, it worked for me.
Anyway I have warbled long enough; James Graham. And at this stage in the game there’s not a lot to relate. Unlike Alexander Leslie, the illegitimate son of a minor Laird, or David Leslie the legitimate younger son of a reasonably significant Lairdly family, James Graham was of the Peerage, the drawer at the top of the dresser, son and heir of the 4th Earl of Montrose and heir to Clan Graham, many of whose previous clan chiefs had been slaughtered by the English at Flodden and Pinkie and so on; though I guess they’d also done their fair share of slaughtering at some point. Anyway, young Jimmy Graham was given the education worthy of a young nobleman, sent away to Glasgow to learn under tutors, and orphaned by 14. At the age of 17 James set an example I was to follow many centuries later by taking up his studies at St Andrews. Now my period in St Andrews was largely spent in the library struggling with the great historical questions of the day. And otherwise in the Whey Pat playing arras, working the slot machine and playing Gauntlett. Montrose’s days were apparently spent hunting, hawking, in practising archery, golf, and chess. And who’s to say he did not spend his time more wisely than I?
I do the lad an injustice actually, because he was also a great fan of the classics, and was inspired by them, and his head filled with all kinds of notions. Montrose would not just be earl, politician, warrior, but also a poet, and he started setting his sights high early, as he wrote:
Though Caesares Paragon I cannot be,
In thought yet shall I sore as high as he.
There then is another parallel with me – two youths inspired to dreams of greatness by reading. In Montrose’s case by the writings of Xenophon, Suetonius, Caesar, Cicerio; in my case by the Ladybird books and 1066 and all That. An almost identical education, I’m sure you will agree, the parallels are spooky. In 1629 he married Magdalene Carnegie and concentrated on heir production at Kinnaird Castle in Angus, and then gained permission from the King to go on an early version of the Grand Tour, leaving, I assume Magdalene behind to do the dirty work while he um, studied in France and Italy for 3 years; and quite possibly spending some time at the French military academy at Angers, which would make sense in terms of his later career.
Anyway, as you might see, Montrose was probably destined to be in the king’s camp; and certainly he beat a path to Charles’ side in 1636 in Westminster. When there, though, it seems that Charles’ dropped one more diplomatic clanger; possibly through the machinations of the Marquis of Hamilton, who had no desire for rival Scottish lips breathing warm air into the pink lug of the king. We don’t quite know what happened but either way, in 1637 just as things were kicking off in his home country, Montrose returned home, very much unhappy with the attention he had received at court. Now Montrose was a charismatic and dynamic man of action, who attracted people with a ‘wonderful civility and generosity’ towards people from all kinds of background. But he undeniably did have something of an ego on him, the lad, of sort of barn door proportions, he was rather jealous and suspicious of his social equals or superiors, had a very high opinion of his destiny in the affairs of man. So being slighted and ignored by his king would not have gone down well.
Now, you might imagine that Charles would be keen to get his bottom up to his new kingdom and get himself crowned anointed and blessed. Well if so you would be mistaken. Partly this was because Charles’ English subjects were already cutting up rough about his religious goings on, his non standard tax raising and foreign policy, and this rather kept him occupied, and led him to make peace in Europe so that he could do without calling parliament in England to raise taxes – this, starting from March 1629 and the dissolution of parliament, is known to history as the Personal Rule.
However, do not think that Charles and his Scottish advisers did not have plans for Scotland, and here it’s probably worth talking a bit more about Charles’ religion and one William Laud, and before him a Dutch theologian called Jacobus Arminius. Arminius had got a little worried about some aspects of Calvinism, and argued against them as part of a movement known as the Remonstrants; the big battlefield was about the doctrine of Predestination, where Arminius disagreed with Calvin’s admittedly harsh doctrine of the Elect, in the Netherlands. Arminius’ views were discussed at the Synod of Dort in 1616 the Remonstrants were voted down and Calvinist doctrine re-inforced. Though I understand that Arminianism survives to this day and underpinned John Wesley’s Methodism, but that’s for another day.
Anyway, William Laud was something of a fan, though in England what became known as Arminianism rather broadened, so I suppose maybe we call it Laudianism. Despite the struggles of the Elizabethan Church, by the time of the Old trout’s death the strand of Puritanism remained strong, but the core theology was well established and the church accepted; Laud challenged all of that. It wasn’t just about predestination, it was also about various ceremonial aspects of the church a theme that keeps coming back in English Protestantism, ad nauseum I might say. So, where as in the Elizabethan church you gathered round a communion table and shared communion, Laud and his cronies insisted on an altar rail separating the Altar from ordinary mortals again. Did I ever tell you that there’s a church near my mothers place in Lyddington, where the vicar, twisting and turning to get away from Laud’s inanities, put up an altar rail as ordered, but put it all the way round the altar, so that communicants could still gather as though round a table? A fine example of compromise. Anyway, kneeling for communion, that was another thing Laudians wanted, and in this they imitated James VI and his five Articles of Perth, for this requirement was one of those articles. It also got mixed up with the strength of royal authority in the church, which was controversial even in England – but which in Scotland tweaked the continual and long term debate about the Bishops, their role, their representation of royal power and indeed their existence.
Laudianism was a problem because Charles I rather liked it. Is it scurrilous of me to connect the well heeled with a love of display and ritual in their religion? Well Charles’ favourite Buckingham liked Laud, so did Charles, and he liked Laudianism, and he promoted Laud up the chain to the Bishop of St Davids thence to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, on to the Bishop of London, single whammy after single whammy as far as good Calvinists were concerned. The progression would get more worrying in 1633, when Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury; that was a double whammy; because not only was this high church, and suspected crypto Catholic to the Calvinist mind, now enormously powerful and a bosom pal of the king, but also the reassuring George Abbot, previous Archbish, had now gone. When I say reassuring, I mean reassuring if you were a fully paid up Calvinist and lover of anti Catholic bile, as were indeed the mainstream of Scottish religious opinion and observance.
Now, why am I telling you all this English stuff? Is this just yet another example of cultural imperialism? Well to a degree the Scots were, yes, worried about cultural imperialism. Actually they had a very firm idea of what the Scottish kirk was and ever should be, they were thoroughly convinced it was the closest thing around to a true church, and a good deal closer than the English approach. And yet they recognised Charles’ desire to standardise; and they worried that the kirk would have a church of England imposed on it. Several episodes ago when talking about James VI I mentioned that it was becoming less clear who was the defender of Scottish institutions, culture and independence. Once that had very much been the king; under James it had become less clear, and maybe the kirk was the font of all things Scottish. Well, with Charles, that worry become ever stronger. As the threat of a unified church of Three Kingdoms appeared in Scottish minds they worried also about becoming a province of England.
And they had some reason for so worrying; because as early as 1629 Charles was thinking about standardising the liturgy and cannons across the three kingdoms, even though he’d held off so far really enforcing the 5 Articles of Perth. In his ear, Bishop Laud’s cherry lips breathed the idea that the English Book of Common prayer was exactly what the Scots needed, and Charles leapt at the idea. However, although Charles was increasingly seen in Scotland as an English prince, it is easy to overdo the anglicisation of Charles; let me stress again that all his political advisors on Sottish affairs were Scots, and he took this idea to the Scottish bishops.
Well, when he mooted the idea, there was a general wobbling of episcopal chins, and the chins advised strongly against it; Charles seemed to have one surviving iota of compromise in him, so he promised to leave it for a few years to think about it. But rumours ran riot; the idea that Charles would align the perfect Scottish kirk with the ropey Anglican one was seen as just a first step; next would be reconciliation with the Lutherans, then with Catholicism. And this was the fate of a people who saw themselves as God’s Chosen people, as the new Israelites. It’s an important point I think if you’ll forgive maybe a bit of hyperbole; the show down when it comes will in some ways pit the Chosen People against the ruler endowed with Divine Right. I exaggerate a bit because I wouldn’t like t suggest that compromise wasn’t possible or that immutable battlelines were drawn so early; but from the sense of conviction on each side you can see there’s a potential problem ahead, and without the music and laughter and love and romance they could be facing the music without dance.
Anyway, Charles finally managed to find space in his diary to visit the land of his birth in 1633.
It is probably not true to say that there were a bunch of constitutional issues brewing in 1633, which then fed through to the changes of 1641; except the desire to have the king perform his function in listening to counsel. But there were background issues affecting the mood as discussed – the Revocation made people concerned over their status and land; folks were worried about what Charles might be planning in religion, and did not want to become Scotlandshire. Plus, Charles’ excise taxes had come at a time of failed harvests and economic hardship; and the Burghs were concerned about royal monopolies, the integrity of the coinage, and a downturn in trade. It is incidentally worth talking briefly a bit more about Burghs; generally speaking as one of the parliamentary estates they speak louder in Scottish affairs than he did in England, providing much more of a central leadership role.
Scotland was one of the least urbanised regions in Europe still in the 17th century; maybe 10-12% lived in towns of more than 2000 people. There were now just over 50 Royal burghs, mainly along the eastern seaboard and on the coastline facing Ireland – there were none in the Highlands. They had their own convention of estates which of course really helped collective action, they elected their representatives to parliament, and they voted their taxation separately from the other estates. There were non royal burghs too – but generally they were small and they had none of the parliamentary rights.
OK, so Charles started to make his way north to Scotland, setting off from Westminster on 11th May 1633, and he took his time and smelled the roses on the way, taking the time to show himself in the north of England too, who generally saw far less of their kings than most Scots. As he came, he rather stumbled over the grouse and sent them up, in the sense that he demonstrated he was having a bit of a downer on English Puritans; one Catholic paper reported how he refused to hear any puritan preachers; he has some boys whipped in Lincolnshire because they presented him with a petition on behalf of a Puritan minister, which seems tough on the boys to be fair, while the minister took the opportunity to make himself scarce. He had a man called John Cosin appointed as Royal Chaplain – it did not escape notice that Cosin was something of an Arminian and lover of symbolism and display. These were runes, and the runes were not good if you were a Calvinist Scot.
Anyway, let’s stop all the gloom and doom – on 15th June Charles entered Edinburgh to a carefully staged civic entertainment in the Edinburgh tradition, everyone clamoured to see their prince and drank his health; there was a feeling maybe of a fresh start and that all would be well.
Well, next up was the king’s coronation; held not at Scone as was traditional but at the abbey kirk of Holyrood. And if Charles was looking to place the wind firmly up his subjects, the wind was so placed. William Laud of all people was beside him; a bunch of the Scottish bishops were all wearing that flowery Anglican gear. The communion table was all decked out like a Catholic altar. The service, get this, was conducted according to the English Book of Common prayer and the oath was different, with a phrase to defend the ‘bishops, and the churches under their government’. So that was like a poke in the eye with a blunt stick. The contemporary John Spalding wrote that the event ‘bred great fear of inbringing popery’, and although the bonfires were lit all over Edinburgh in celebration, there were furrowed brows, ladies and gentlemen, furrowed brows and a fair amount of side eye going on.
Now Charles had also called a parliament. Traditionally the Scottish parliament has been considered easier to manage than its English sister; as you may remember it was unicameral composed of the three estates of Burghs, Clergy and Nobility; it tended to mean there was less opportunity for the development of a super bolshie House of Commons. Meanwhile, the Convention of estates was sort of a mini parliament called regularly by the king, which could pass laws and taxation and was more easily dominated by the king; and finally, a group called the Lords of the Articles met to determine the legislative program to be put before parliament – which the king got to influence, and control the agenda thereby.
However, it is also clear that the nobility in particular expected Parliament to be a real event of consultation; that interest in parliamentary proceedings was high. It’s also clear that Royal managers under James had to work very hard to control the agenda and manage the whole event. So expectations were high, this was no royal poodle.
Well, the process started raising hackles from the start; everyone with business had to submit their petitions to the Clerk Register, a man described by a contemporary as ‘a slave to the Bishops and the court’. Petitions that were unpopular were of course kicked into touch – like the one detailing objections to the power of bishops and the Five Articles of Perth just FYI. Part of the problem here was that even if you accepted the power and role of the bishop in the church, it was another step further to accept their power in parliament and the Scottish Privy Council, which was surely the kingdom of the monarch not the kingdom of God – it was mixing up those two kingdoms.
Well, the Lords of the Articles presented 168 public and private measures to the parliament; which seems a substantial amount; especially when you bear in mind that Scottish Parliaments tended to be short – this one was but 10 days in length. Which meant there was a lot to get through, and almost no debate – just vote yes or no would you? Or indeed Charles’ attitude was more like just vote yes if you don’t mind. The business included ratifying old stuff – like the frankly terrifying Revocation and even the really old Five Articles of Perth which had never been ratified in Parliament.
Now, the manner of voting in the Scottish parliament is interesting. The Lairds who came to parliament would often line up behind their patrons, so you got a good idea of who was supporting whom; the vote was taken in order of precedence by rank; so, Peers first, most senior peers first; Lairds to follow. So senior peers could give a lead. But also everyone including the King could see who was voting for what.
And the king was there watching it all, and it was not a kindly king that oversaw all the events. He very ostentatiously took notes throughout the proceedings; at one stage he took a list of members out of his pockets and declared
Gentlemen I’ll know who will do me service and who will not this day
It’s impossible to do Charles I without doing it in the style of Alec Guinness isn’t it?
Outside of the sessions, members were tapped up, others were pressurised, and others bribed with titles; there was an atmosphere of fear. And yet some of the votes were close especially on the Five Articles – and that was even bearing in mind the royalist votes of the Bishops and the officers of state – the officers who incidentally got two votes each, one as a member of the noble estate, and another for their office.
So the parliament did not appear to have been an occasion for reconciliation, and the tenor of the king was becoming clear. He expected not consultation, public service and openness, he expected one thing and one thing only – obedience. Well, there were plenty who were not up for this approach – Parliament was supposed to be more than that. So, a solicitor called William Haig drew up a petition explaining why there had been so much opposition; it expressed concern at how things had been managed, and expressed dissatisfaction with the Five Articles of Perth; it warned the king that there was
Now a general fear of some innovation intended in the essential points of religion
Now, it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that opposition to Bishops and the Five Articles of Perth represented everyone’s view. The majority of moderate ministers probably, outside of the more radical, were pretty comfortable with the Bishops and accepted that the king should have a say in the running of the church; there’s a danger of listening to the shouty activist people in any culture war and assuming they are the majority opinion – they are not necessarily, they are just the most gobby. But nonetheless, the petition was signed by 35 nobles – which is more than half the number of the full noble estate that had just sat in parliament. And all this should have been a warning to Charles that he needed to tread very carefully, speak very softly, and put the big stick down. Certainly, his father would have read the bones and listened to the water.
Not our Charlie Boy though, oh dear no. He refused to even receive the petition. And when he found that Lord Balmerino had been showing a copy around – he had him arrested, while William Haig fled to the low countries, in panic for his life. Balmerino went on trial for seditious libel; it was a cause celebre, the jury was split down the middle, which put the Earl of Traquair, now the king’s lead on the Privy Council, in a horrid situation. He was forced to place the casting vote on guilty. Traquair advised Charles not to carry out the sentence, and this time Charles listened – but the damage was done, the outcry was outraged, the Bishops were blamed.
Before leaving, just to make sure he put the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top, the gilding on the Lilly and so on, Charles decided that another Bishop was required – of Edinburgh. Given Edinburgh’s importance this was of course sensible, but now was not the time with feeling running high against the office. Ho Hum. Charles also made the Archbishop of St Andrews the new Chancellor and appointed 5 Bishops to the PC. So, more Kingdom mixing then. Increasing the number and political power of the Bishops was really rubbing the face of the Scottish political nation firmly into the dirt.
Off went Charles, job done. He should have carried away a message that the temperature was rising in Scotland, he needed to tread with care. This is categorically not the message Charles went away with. The message he went away with was that he had faced unacceptable opposition to the policies in which he was utterly right and entitled to impose; he went away furious with those who had no right to oppose his will, the will of the Divinely appointed monarch.
So what did he do, knowing that his religious policies were panicking everyone, and no one wanted to have an Anglican church imposed on the most perfect kirk? Why he published a Scottish version of the English Book of Common prayer. The Scottish Bishops laid eggs, and convinced Charles and Laud that this must be a Scottish liturgy. So Charles reluctantly drew back just a little tiny bit, and allowed the Scottish Bishops to prepare a Scottish prayer Book and set of Scottish Cannons. The work was to be finished by 1636. And in the next episode we’ll find out how they go down amongst the no doubt grateful Chosen People.
 Stewart, L & Nugent, J Union and Revolution p150
 Harris, T Rebellion p364