Now last time I left you on a bit of a cliff hanger; the King, was not turning up to the expected party of war on the Scottish-English border; the Scots were all dressed to kill, but no one to kill, as it were. Before discussing the answer to this conundrum, it might be worth nipping, just for a moment, across the Irish Sea, to talk about Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford. Because to a degree, it was Strafford who had put Charles in this mess, what with all his confidence and chutzpah and stuff – always a mistake.
Strafford had been appointed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1632, and in super summary his career there up to 1640 had been at once supremely successful, and dangerously unifying. Being a force for unification is normally of course considered a positive thing, but the unification in this case is the bringing together both the previously irreconcilable and previously entirely loyal into unity against government by the King. In his efforts to raise money and achieve his master’s desire for religious uniformity, he had offended pretty much every one – Catholics and the Gaelic Irish of course, you’d expect that. The Old English were beginning to rather agree with the Gaelic Irish in their opposition to the Crown’s policies which is less unexpected than you might think, after all the Old English and the Gaelic Irish lords had been intermarrying and loving together for generations. But Strafford had even managed to alienate the New English; both with his efforts to raise money but also in his abhorrence of church authority that was not subject to the king. Obviously, this was a traditional reason for distrust of Catholics – the Pope and all that jazz – but now, with the plantations in Ulster there was another group that met with Strafford’s disapproval, with whom you’d think he’d be natural allies, good protestant and that – the Scots. Because of course, the Scots were presbyterians who wanted the king and the bishops out of the kingdom of God. Given that in the 1630s Ireland was gripped by economic distress and hardship which worried ordinary people a good deal more than all the rest, and you have essentially a full house of the disaffected and generally grumpy, all living, as Cliff would have it, Living in harmony.
But I was talking success, and to Strafford and Charles all these things were simmering underneath the surface; a bit like when you are cooking a big pan of porridge near boiling point, and it all looks great, though every so often you get a sort of mini eruption from the solid mass of simmering oat soup. Is this image working for you? Anyway, Strafford ruled with an iron hand, and with threats and intimidation had managed to wring a subsidy from the Irish parliament to fund an army of 9,000 for use for the king. So he was feeling bullish, and was ignoring those little porridge eruptions. He wanted Charles to go on an offensive war and bring the Scots firmly to heel don’t mess around with conciliation.
Go on an offensive war as you first designed loosed and absolved from all rules of government
Ge declared, and he told Charles he was confident he could do the same in England as he’d done in Ireland – wring money from the dishcloth of parliament. The result was the short parliament, and no money, and so no invasion breaking down the door into Scotland. There was an army; the king had managed to exploit northern fear of the Scots, and scrape together conscripts under the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Conway, to the tune of about 15,000. But that was less than Chares had wanted, and he dithered, reluctant to press the button of violence; it was not until August 1640 that he even went north to York.
His army raising task had very probably been knobbled by a puritan conspiracy; it seems that a group of English puritans centred on Viscount Saye and Sele and John Pym had been working with the Covenanters for a while, and managed to delay the king raising of the Yorkshire militia in time to face the Scottish army.
But the trouble remained. The Scots knew they had to move their army and move it fast – supplying an early modern army was not easy, you couldn’t just phone up Tescos and order 15,000 sausage rolls through Ocado, the economy was still principally built around subsistence not the market. So they had to get going; and if they could invade, the Scots were supremely confident that they would win because
- God was with them and
- They had a super effective army and
- The English army sucked big time
But if they invaded, without provocation they also feared the English reaction – suddenly surely the ancient rivalries and hatreds would re-assert themselves, the English would rally round the king. And the Covenanters very much did not want to infuriate the English. Their aim was to promote a union, a union of a format they designed, based on their perfect protestant, Presbyterian church. Because
- Their church model was the only and best model for a Godly society and
- Only in a shared model of society and partnership with England could they be sure that they would be safe in the future from English and royal revenge.
Essentially this had to be a joint venture between the Godly to succeed in the long term so that went the dust had settled and all the armies had gone home, there wouldn’t be a knock on the doors of the rebels and the words ‘open traitor in the name of the king!’. So, in July the executive committee of the Covenanter parliament, the Committee of Estates wrote to John Campell, Lord Loudon who was at that time in London. Loudon had been a convinced covenanter ad Presbyterian from the start of this crisis, had been there at the forefront of the first bishop’s war. He’d fallen foul of the king – a letter written in his hand ‘au roy’ had been found asking for help from the French king. Only the argument that it had never been sent saved him from worse punishment than a spell in the Tower. Anyway, so, convinced covenanter, in London; and the committee of Estates asked him to square this circle – by getting an invitation from the English to invade Then it’d be all above board – we’re only here because you asked sort of thing. It’s a technique that’s been used since I think. And it’s true that many of the puritan faction in the English parliament were indeed keen to have their Scottish friends invade; and why? Because surely the King would need money for a better army, and for that he’d need parliament. And then parliament would have their king over a barrel, which is the best place for a king.
Well Loudon fell in with a peer called Lord Saville, who would become the Earl of Sussex. Saville would be a famous trimmer in the civil war, hunting and running with all sorts of hunting animals and game, but Saville was a bonefide honest to goodness, no poo Strafford hater having had run ins with him in Yorkshire throughout the 20s. So he was keen to help. But the best Saville could organise was a letter from a handful of lords – Bedford, Essex, Brooke, Warwick, Scrope, Mandeville. And they couldn’t put an invite in writing asked for and invasion from a foreign power because that would be – ooh what’s the word? Oh yes – High treason and they’d have their entrails removed and roasted over an open fire. Also of course they’d not be popular with the General Public for encouraging the Scots to invade. But they promised to stand by the Scots in a legal and honourable way if such a thing happened. This didn’t do the job at all for the Covenanters, and so they asked Saville to do better please. And would you imagine – they received a letter, gaily sent by Saville, with a full invitation and signatures from the previously reluctant lords! Wild, how did you manage that Thomas Saville? Well, he’d forged the signatures of the 6 peers of course, they didn’t have a barney about the letter. On such foundations are nations made and unmade.
But with the letter, at last the Committee of estates agreed on 3rd August that the good times should roll. By 20th August, the same time Charles left London to come to York, the Scots had already crossed the border into England, and arrived shortly at the River Tyne where Lord Conway tried to resist their river crossing; there was a short fight, before the English ran away. To, the Scots assumed, one of England’s richest cities and fortresses, the coal rich Newcastle, where it was feared the Scots could be held up on the open ground, subject to camp fever and all the problems of re-supply until they died. To their astonishment, English morale was so low Conway withdrew the garrison and left Newcastle open to the Scots, which they entered without a fight on 30th August. A generous gift indeed – here you go, here’s Newcastle, enjoy. It was the first Scottish victory against the English for 300 years. And it was complete and abject. The few remaining royalist strongholds in Scotland also fell at the news, and Charles’ national and international prestige lay in ruins around him.
Charles hurriedly arranged a Council at York, between Nobles of the Covenanters and English peers – surely the aristocracy, the great pillar that supported monarchical power would be able to arrange a deal; and unlike the Treaty of Berwick Charles largely stayed out of the discussions. But the agreement simply confirmed his humiliation. The Covenanters insisted on the calling of an English parliament. Why? Because they were convinced that only an English parliament, dominated by their English, puritan chums would give them the security and united state what they wanted. They insisted also that Charles pay for the upkeep of the Scottish army on English soil, which is a fact so remarkable that it always surprises how little comment there is about it. Essentially, the Covenanters were telling the king that he had forced them to spend loads of money hitting him in the face, which was really annoying of him, so he should pay for the cost of the face hitting. So, if you are planning to hit someone in the face – take a cheque book or a card reader along with you.
Of course the Scots were desperate not to annoy the good people of Newcastle and northern England by preying on them; and they tried – with draconian penalties for stealing by their soldiers. But it was inevitable – they were forced to make levies on the people of the northern counties to maintain their army of occupation, and were roundly hated for it there as a result. It’s a constant theme – however hard the Scots tired, and they did try, to be seen to be working with their English compatriots, it was impossible to avoid rousing the traditional hatreds and preying on the locals – armies just did that at the time.
However, Charles was forced to call a parliament, and for both Scots and Charles’ English opponents, that was a good thing; to earn a subsidy, Charles would need to satisfy his Subjects’ grievances.
Right so, from there, the Scottish commissioners moved down to live in London where they arrived in November to be part of the horsetrading and keep their English allies’ noses on the grindstone of righteousness. And there they were much flattered it has to be said by their English religious friends, preaching to large Puritan congregations in London. We should talk a little about what Argyll and the Covenanters were aiming for at this point, what their objectives were, and the pressures they faced at home.
Well as for pressures, despite the essential unity of the Covenanters, there were factions. Montrose and his Cumbernauld banders was evidence of a group that were concerned that the traditional powers of the king should be preserved; the Highlanders remained still aloof from the whole quarrel, and outside Argyll’s Campbell lands were not supporters of the Covenanters. But the pressure they could exert at this moment was weak indeed. They were not organised, the king gave them no leadership to bring them to his side. Within the Covenanter movement there were also currents; many moderate covenanters sure, wanted the King to support their Covenant; but did not want his powers to be swept away either. Throughout, to the very end of all this revolting stuff, the Scots would remain convinced that there was no alternative to their own, Stewart kings.
But Argyll and the more radical wing had very effectively captured the mainstream the Radical Mainstream as one historian has called them. Their propaganda was very effective; there was never be the outpourings of press and social radicalism in Scotland that there will be in England. The Covenanters absolutely controlled what was a very small press industry, they had created enormous unity around the Covenant, and there was no effective opposition. So Argyll and the Committee of estates essentially had a free hand.
As to objectives then they are twofold really, just to re-state them for you – sorry for the repetition, but it’s important. First of all, the Scots were brimming with confidence and conviction about the rightness of their cause. Their outstanding success of arms, the convictions embedded through out lowland society by the Covenant all told them that they were God’s Chosen people. There was an almost apocalyptic expectancy among the Radical Covenanters that the Presbyterian Model must be adopted throughout the Three Kingdoms, the Bishops banished forever and the international fight taken to combat Papistry.
However, there was another, more practical consideration going on too. Looking beyond the current crisis, then, let’s say everyone sorted things out, the King returns and all, and no one, absolutely no one was seriously or even jokingly talking Republicanism here although there was the odd accusation. So what happens then, when the army are all back tilling their fields? What would stop the king from taking his revenge and turning back the clock? The answer of the Radical Covenanters was about more Union with England not less. That Union rather than less, but on Scottish lines, not English – it needed to institute one version of Presbyterianism everywhere. It needed a civil organisation that inserted Scots into the heart of parliamentary decision making, a committee of both kingdoms.
And of course at this stage all looked possible; the English parliament appeared to be dominated by a puritan element that might be persuadable that Presbyterianism would be a good model. The English parliamentarians were desperate for the Scots army to help them with their quarrels with the king on secular and religious matters and so were keen to say what the Scots wanted to hear. But there will always be a problem, and although just a couple of small seedlings now it would grow into a very tangled thicket. There were royalists, very wedded to the episcopy and parliamentarians very wedded to the church of England too and the involvement of the state in religion. The English were very proud and wedded to their own traditions, particularly of parliament and common law in a way the Scots had no such established tradition. There was humiliation among the English at their current subjection to Scottish military dominance. And there was a nascent Independency. Let us talk about Independancy.
The independents were at this stage a small radical movement in English religious thought; it was about about every congregation doing their own thing, finding their own way to God – within a Protestant framework, the ultimate in religious toleration essentially. Well – for Protestants, obs. The Scots were categorically not in favour of such a thing; although the Scottish model separated church and state in a way the Independents might like, it was very much a national model, the Godly society, very rigidly about uniformity. It was categorically not about finding your own way to God. The independents and Presbyterians would not get on; in July 1641 the General Assembly of the Kirk passed a law against independent conventicles, worrying that the Godly might be drawn into
Error, heresie, schism, scandal, self conceit and despising of others, pressing above the common calling of Christians and usurping that which is proper to the personal vocation…idle and unprofitable questions which edifie not, uncharitable censurings
It’s an interesting law; the Kirk was not in favour of the explosion of debate that would occur in England, as mentioned; such debate as was allowed must be carefully targeted at what the kirk considered the truth.
Ok, hows that? So in summary – the Scots wanted a Union on a Scottish model, both religious and secular. The English parliamentarians needed them right now – but there was fertile ground for future division. The whole thing’s unbelievably complex actually, so many eddies and currents and shallows in the river of politics and religion across three differing kingdoms, it’s not surprising that Charles found it impossible to keep a lid on things. So it might be worth making another point about Charles here. So far in this story, Charles has looked inflexible, unwilling to compromise, and guilty of not taking his northern kingdom seriously enough. And Charles’ reputation is generally of a man whose political ineptitude made this dispute worse. Well there is another argument, which points out that, especially from this point forward, that many of the things his subjects demanded of him were simply diametrically opposed to his beliefs, and the long embedded beliefs of Scottish and English kingship. Bishops had always been part of the Scottish kirk – including the Reformation kirk it might be added, whatever the Radical Covenanters now claimed. The idea of removing Royal supremacy or governorship of the church was wildly radical and against Charles’ coronation oath. The idea that Charles was a closet papist was without doubt false. From this point forward, there is no one group that corners the market on inflexibility and unwillingness to compromise – and in fact the Covenanters very probably win the inflexibility prize.
Which they demonstrate right now. Before the English parliament sat, Charles attended meetings with the Scottish commissioners in London; but they would not negotiate with the king’s commissioners alone, only with commissioners appointed by king AND parliament. Indignantly Charles complained they kept telling him they wanted to present their grievances, now they wouldn’t do so!
Away with trifles of law, but lett us go to business
By November then, the English parliament had been called, this is the so called Long Parliament which formally with many wriggles and convenient fictions will last until 1660. The negotiations between king and Covenanters dragged on as the King and the English parliament slugged it out; but a new factor enters the king’s calculations; now, as things head toastwards with his southern kingdom, he might have to consider where his priorities lay; and losing control of England was, without wanting to annoy the Scots out there, even more nuclear than losing control of Scotland. So the pressure for Charles to make concessions and bring the Scots back into his grace was ever more powerful; no more was there any prospect of using the riches of his southern kingdom to subdue the northern.
It took months for the Covenanters and Charles to come to an agreement, but by August 1641 it was finally done. And there was much compromise on Charles’ side let it be said. He agreed to publish the Acts of the 1640 parliament – and by doing this he was accepting all the religious changes brought about by the 1638 and 1639 assemblies, and that was a major concession. He agreed to forbear from any vengeance against those that had signed the covenant – and yet in return was unable to get the Covenanters to make a reciprocal promise about not pursuing his fiercest royalist supporters – dubbed the ‘incendaries’ by the Covenanters. Some form of words were agreed, but the Covenanters would return to this theme, and if you are looking for evidence that the Covenanters can hardly themselves claim to be evenhanded, their one-eyed approach to the Incendaries is part of it. Charles hated it, and he raged at the Covenanters and called them Jesuitical, outraged at the unfairness of it – but he gave in at the end.
The king and parliament agreed £300,000 for the cost of being hit in the face, described under the impressive euphemism of ‘brotherly assistance’ – and broadly for parliament this had indeed been money well spent, having a Scottish army in the field as a stick with which to beat their king. One payment of the first portion, that stick would then leave England.
In fact all this was agreed quite quickly; the delay came about because of the dispute about the incendiaries but also about future joint governance of the two kingdoms. The Covenanters demanded religious unity, and regular meetings of the two parliaments every three years; and the establishment of a group of permanent officials called Conservators, to keep the peace between Scottish and English parliaments. Well, to be honest the English radicals were feeling much more confident than they had been about dealing with their king, and weren’t terribly interested in being dictated to by the Covenanters; so half a loaf was all that would be conceded – the setting up of Conservators, an agreement for future discussion, and agreement that neither country would declare war on the other. The Covenanters demanded the king should visit his country regularly which seemed fair but received only vague assurances in return. But with deep irony, when Charles announced he would visit Scotland this very year, the Covenanters were appalled and suspicious and feared he was coming to drum up support. The Treaty of London though was signed by August 10th.
One of the reasons the treaty was agreed, with so many concessions by Charles, concerned the reappearance of the Marquis of Hamilton. Remember him? Charles’ representative at the revolutionary parliaments of 1640, the man who had to have the door to the chamber of the parliament building broken in to escape his humiliation? Well he’s back, and still the king’s most effective adviser in Scotland, alongside Hamilton’s brother William Hamilton, the Earl of Lanark, who we shall refer to, insofar as we need to refer to him at all, as Lanark. Otherwise it’ll be you know, Hamilton this and Hamilton that, and you won’t know what’s going on.
So the Marquis of Hamilton was at his king’s side throughout these negotiations. And he was urging concessions, and it’s interesting to ask why, James, why? Certainly, Montrose was asking himself that question, a bit suspicious that suddenly Hamilton seemed to be all about coming to an accord with the Covenanters. His suspicions were further ruffled when in February 1641 Hamilton supported an idea that his son should marry Argyll’s daughter; which looks suspiciously like being in a state of cahootship with the leader of the Covenanter cause; maybe he was a little friendly with Argyll, and Montrose would no doubt have noticed that Hamilton’s lands and wealth after all were all in Scotland. So, Montrose voiced his suspicions that Hamilton was running with the hounds and hunting with the hare, well other way round, applehood and motherpie, and now did a bit of whistle blowing to the king claiming that Argyll had mused about the possibility of removing Charles from the throne; actually Charles was not inclined to trust Montrose, and so ignored him, but Montrose’s actions came out and became public; and this was important. Because along with the Cumbernauld Band, Montrose’s behaviour had seriously cheesed off the Covenanters now; as one of them put it his
pryde was long ago intollerable, and meaning verie doubtsome
Montrose was duly slung into Edinburgh castle and put on trial, and despite pleading for Charles’ ear, would not escape until November 1641. All this meant that Montrose had been outed as a closet royalist; he could no longer work from within the Covenanter movement in the king’s interests; he was branded a ‘plotter’ and a ‘bander’, and although the King’s supporters were undeniably limited there were others who would like to have spoken for the king’s cause – Lord Napier for example wrote a paper on royal power, threatening that without the existence of the king to moderate noble behaviours, chaos and disorder would be the result – and it was an argument that appealed to moderates.
Hamilton meanwhile would no doubt argue that working with Argyll was now a better strategy for the king, that a relationship with Argyll was a route to influencing the Covenanters. But meanwhile Covenanters were not to be deflected – and were already proceeding against those they considered ‘incendiaries’, thus Alexander Colville was claimed by the Maiden in July.
Parliament then was already sitting when Charles reached Edinburgh by 14th August 1641. Shortly after he arrived, the Scottish army had left Newcastle after receiving what they were owed money wise from the English parliament; most was then disbanded, except 3 regiments.
Now there can be little doubt that Charles hoped at this parliament to bring the Scots back to his side, to mend the fences with Covenanters and rebuild trust; after all in the Treaty of London just sighed he had effectively conceded everything they had asked for in 1639 and 1640, in the Revolution. So there must surely be some benefit to that, correct? A quid pro quo, you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the Gander and any other grandmother’s saw you care to mention.
But apparently not. The parliament started out fractiously and carried on in the same vein. Many of the king’s royalist supporters who had not signed the Covenant were refused admission to their seats, so a number did reluctantly sign, others didn’t attend. There was an immediate barney about the appointment of the chancellor and Treasurer, Argyll and Charles could not agree on a name. Then an even more significant argument, a further demand and a critical one in constitutional terms – the Covenanters demanded the right to approve the appointment of the king’s ministers. This was very radical; the king had always been at complete liberty to choose the minsters of his own government. This is one of those occasions where it’s important to adjust our thinking – these days of course it seems entirely obvious that the legislature selects the government. That had never been the case before. It was the king’s government, parliament was there only to advise, and council; in Scotland even the right to approve legislation and taxation was novel. In the end a compromise was sort of reached, where parliament was given the right to advise on and approved those the king nominated. It was still a significant concession – a strong parliament could withhold approval.
By the time the end of September arrived and a Chancellor had finally been agreed b y Charles and Argyll – not the Treasurer though – Charles was in a bad way, exhausted, and depressed, clearly beginning to realise that his plan to attract the moderate covenanters to his side as struggling. One wrote sympathetically of the king’s state of mind
It would pity any man’s heart to see how he looks; for he is never at quiet among them, and glad he is, when he sees any man that he thinks loves him
Moreover, even among his own supporters there was distrust and faction; suspicion was increasingly falling on Hamilton who had arrived in Scotland with his king but still seemed overly friendly with Argyll; the Earl of Crawford even challenged Hamilton to a duel. It didn’t help that Lord Kerr, an ardent royalist, came to parliament with a contingent of several hundred armed supporters. In a wild and disastrous moment, a group of royalists decided that with the Scottish army disbanded this would be the perfect time for a coup, and started recruiting. One thing led to another, as it does, and on 11th October Alexander Leslie warned Hamilton, Argyll and Lanark that there were ultra royalist plots against them, they fled the capital. There was uproar and indeed things were so bad there was probably downroar as well. In vain did Charles protest that the ‘incident’ as the affair became called, had nothing at all to do with him. But Any good work he had managed with moderates was lost.
Into this unhappy situation was lobbed a brand new hand grenade – news arrived in November of an uprising in Ireland. There are many complicated things about the wars of the Three Kingdoms – few of them approach the level of mind bending complexity of Ireland. But to boil it down, the rebels, who quickly gained control of most of Ireland outside the Pale, wanted to end Catholic persecution to various degrees, and reverse the protestant plantations in Ulster, which as we have discussed, were very significantly a Scottish affair as well as English.
The rebels in Ireland claimed to be acting on the king’s orders – which they weren’t of course – but there was immediate suspicion that when the king asked for help to repress the rebellion, he was throwing sand in everyone’s faces, and just trying to trick money out of them, so that he could raise an army and crush the rebels in Scotland. The Scots refused to do anything to help Charles, without the English parliament. The English parliament would of course be no keener to put an army into the king’s hand.
Charles now wanted nothing more than just to leave, to get back to London to deal with this new crisis. Which meant that when it came to appointing a Privy Council to supposedly rule Scotland in the name of the king, he allowed himself to be rolled over, and most appointees were covenanters, and his own supporters left disappointed. They were left further disappointed when Charles desperately tried to curry favour with come leading Covenanters by distributing honours – Argyll for example was made a Marquis. The commander of the army which had brough Charles low, Alexander Leslie, was made Earl of Leven. A royalist, the earl of Carnwath, bitterly remarked that to win his king’s favour he’d do better to go and join the rebels in Ireland.
On 17th November, Parliament was dissolved, and Charles left for England. When he left, he had effectively surrendered government of Scotland to Argyll and the Radical covenanters – I mean I realise they’d taken control in 1640, but now their government was officially sanctioned by the king. And yet still they did not feel safe; if the King were to win the English parliament round, the Covenanters were aware all could change, and once more the wealth of the southern kingdom could be used against the northern.