Last time we looked at the Rebellion in Ireland, and the cat that was duly placed among the pigeons. An army had been duly sent by the designated Cat controller, in the form of an army paid for by the King and his English subjects to set sail for Ulster and put the cat back into its basket. Initially things went well for Munro until the returning veteran of the Thirty Years war and senior O’Neill, Owen Rua O’Neill, returned and turned the tables on his opponent.
In England meanwhile, the civil war was going badly for parliament; and for the Covenanters this was alarming; if the king won, they firmly believed that all they had achieved and won from the king would be for nowt. Slowly through 1642 and in 1643 although business was formally conducted through the Scottish Privy Council, with the ear of the Earl of Dunfermline and the Marquis of Hamilton representing the king’s interest, the Covenanters increasingly distrusted it, and felt the king had too much influence there. So the Council began to be sidelined, with real business being conducted through parliamentary committees that had been set up by the Covenanters. As the king’s cause in England seemed likely to succeed, the Scots were desperate to influence the result. And in November 1642, the Scots received their first request, sotte voce, from the English parliament asking for military help – in England itself this time.
Of course, despite events so far, this would be a big step for the Covenanters; taking up arms again against their king would be likely to put more strain on the body politic. Would the moderate Covenanters go along with it? How would the royalists respond? Avoiding open conflict was to be avoided if at all possible, and an alternative wizard idea presented itself; maybe the Covenanters in the Kirk could bring peace, harmony and small furry creatures to the three kingdoms by offering a mediation service for the king and parliament? Act as an honest broker you know, crack a few heads together, let’s really think this thing through, extend the envelop, think outside the box run a few ideas up the flagpole and see who salutes – all that. In Edinburgh the debate raged – as far as Hamilton was concerned the argument between king and parliament was not about religion – so why should they meddle? But the kirk’s reading of the situation was very different; as far as they were concerned, the king’s court and army was riddled with Papists, and he must be freed from them, and they called for
The taking up of arms for rescueing his majestie from that captivity wherein papists hold him
By January 1643, Charles had also started considering the idea on the other hand that he might treat with the Irish Confederates; make a deal around some level of toleration, in return for military support in England; so, essentially both the antagonists in England were looking for allies to break the deadlock. So, Charles therefore gave his Lieutenant in Ireland, the Earl of Ormond, the authority to treat with the rebels and cut a deal.
So, consider then the various pushes and pulls on Charles again. If he did well at the war in England, the pressure grew in Scotland to intervene on the side of parliament – because the Scots believed parliament to be more positive towards the idea of protestant religious unity, on which they firmly believed the long term success of the Covenanter revolution depended. Meanwhile, if the king asked for Irish support as he was planning, because the war started going badly, that would also annoy his protestant subjects in both Ireland, England and Scotland. It’s almost like a self correcting machine, where equilibrium is set to the civil war setting. But Charles’ imperative had to be to win the civil war in England, without which everything would crash and burn. With England under his control, he might hope to then subdue Ireland and Scotland later. If the situation was reversed and he lost England but retained Ireland and Scotland, the resources of Scotland and Ireland were unlikely to allow him later to recover his throne in England. Charles was constantly caught in this machine; conciliate the Catholics in Ireland, lose support among protestants in Ireland, England and Scotland. Fail to do so – and the fires of rebellion would continue to burn. It’s worse than that in fact; for Charles’ Laudian, Anglican supporters – and he was of course of that ilk himself – the Scottish Covenanters with their more radical Calvinism were themselves suspect, both in religious practice and loyalty. So – tricky, yet another see saw to walk over. Charles has been seen as inflexible and foolish; it is not clear what Soloman would have done in this situation, and he was reputed to have been a bright bloke. For the moment, Charles prioritised winning the war in England – and who’s to say he was wrong.
So, for the Covenanters one way through the woods of maintaining their loyalty to their Stuart king, while protecting their future lay in this idea of mediation. If the king would only accept the little tiny weeny thing of the primacy parliament over the royal prerogative, and ooh, the adoption of radical Calvinism and Ooh, yes the abolition of the Bishops – maybe all the circles could be squared. So despite Hamilton’s misgivings, in January 1643 Charles gave permission for the Covenanter commissioners to come to Oxford, where Charles had set up his court and parliament.
The meeting was not a success – was it ever likely to be? Charles was in an impossible position – none of the suggestions and proposals the Covenanters’ commissioners brought with them were in any way yes-able. But maybe, if he had wined and dined them, stroked them, made them feel special and listened to, some sort of good propaganda might have come out of it. Sadly, that’s not what happened. They were largely ignored by the king and received very coldly when they did get in front of him; on 23rd February they finally presented their proposal to mediate with Charles and the English. The frost descended on the meeting like the little; ice age, and Charles frostily replied he could see nothing in the commission of the Scottish PC that gave them the right to, as he put it, meddle in English affairs. Charles dragged the conversations out until April 19th to give himself as much respite as possible from the idea of a Covenanter Parliamentary alliance, and when he finally closed them down, refused their request to help. He also denied their desire to summon a parliament in Scotland. During their stay, the commissioners had also been roundly insulted by Scottish courtiers. So, ignored, insulted by their king, humiliated, they went home to the warren, very unhappy bunnies, and no remembering the King’s cause fondly.
Charles tried to limit the damage of the impression his summary rejection would cause – sending letters to Hamilton and his supporters instructing them to publish an open letter from him, denouncing Papistry and promising to stick to his commitments, an attempt at a bit of propaganda among the political elite. But it was too little, and it was too late to boot, as it happens. Argyll had already received the Oxford Commissioners, heard their news & the damage was fully complete. Argyll didn’t trust the king as far as he could throw him, and he was notoriously weak in the arms. He was fully resolved to try and force the issue – if the king would not support the cause of true religion, then maybe it was time for the cause of true religion to teach the king a lesson, and declare publicly for the English parliament. That would be quite a step, and Argyll knew he’d need the full force of the Scottish parliament behind him.
That was a problem though – because the king had nixed the idea of holding a parliament you might remember, and of course you needed a king to call a parliament. So Argyll persuaded the council to call a parliament light – the traditional Convention of estates. Now that in itself was a dangerous innovation – that again was surely the King’s gig. What was the advice of Hamilton and the royalist supporters in response? Well, in a letter to the king, Hamilton advised that he not try to have the Convention nixed; according to Hamilton it would go ahead anyway and the king’s authority would once more dragged through the mud. So he advised Charles to make a play of willingly supporting the convention and authorise its calling – but to sneakily limit its scope to raising money for the army in Ireland. The priority was to stop an alliance between Covenanters and English parliament to send an army to England; Hamilton was confident he could stop that happening at the convention.
Sitting in Oxford thinking this through, Charles had James Graham, the Earl of Montrose whispering in his lug – Hamilton’s reputation was seriously damaged in the eyes of the more extreme royalists like Montrose and others they worried he was in effect a collaborator. But Charles was still inclined to back Hamilton, who was still trusted by the moderate royalists and moderate covenanters. And so the scene was set in showdown mode, spurs and leather chaps were applied to legs, tickets bought for the OK Coral, 6 shooters and holsters strapped to waists. Who would win? Argyll and the Rads? Or Hamilton and the mods?
At this stage in the story, I think I need to take a small diversion and introduce you to Henrietta Maria, Charles’ Queen. Henrietta Maria was the daughter of the great Henry IV of France, born in 1609 so about 9 years younger than Charles. The pair were married in 1625, and I think it’s fair to say that the marriage didn’t get off to the easiest start; Henrietta was not impressed with the ins and outs of conjugal relations, especially at such a terribly young age of 16; she was horribly homesick, isolated her with her French companions and very, very catholic. On June 1626 she ostentatiously knelt before the gallows where English Catholics had been executed; it appears she didn’t trouble herself to kneel before the fires of Smithfield. She was emotionally mercurial, presumably because she also felt so lost and alienated, and anyway her husband spent so much attention on his favourite Buckingham.
In the end Charles banished her French advisors, but what really seems to have made the difference was the death of Buckingham, and gradually from being a source of worry, the marriage became one of strength and mutual support. Charles clearly loved her, Henrietta learned to love him right back. One of the most attractive things about Charles was that he was very much a family man, had no more favourites after Buckingham, took no mistresses which I know shouldn’t be a gold star occasion but you know, back in those days, it was pretty unusual king-wise, and he was full of love for the children.
Henrietta Maria was something of a firebrand, contemptuous of Protestantism, contemptuous of the outrageously presumptuous Scots and Parliamentarians, who simply deserved in her view, to be crushed. She got very much involved, and at this stage in our story she was in the Netherlands, tirelessly raising funds for the royalist cause. In January 1643 she crossed back to England in a dangerously risky journey, eagerly sought by the parliamentarians, and set herself up in York with the Earl of Newcastle and the royalist army of the north, revelling in the fact that there were so many Catholics in Newcastle’s army. She grew something of a reputation for being at the head of a Catholic crusade, which obviously put the wind up various parts of various peoples’ organs. She loved the drama of the whole thing, calling herself ‘her she-majesty generalissima’.
While in York, two Scottish nobles appeared at her court at the King’s House where she was staying – One James Graham, Earl of Montrose, and the Marquis of Hamilton. Who immediately began showing off of course, and if you can bear it C V Wedgewood tells a rather extraordinary story of a dog fight in front Henrietta and her Household ladies. Thinking they were frightened by the dogs fighting, Hamilton took out his sword and ran the hounds through. Well, I have no idea what their reaction was, but all I’ll say is that It’s a good job the RSPCA wasn’t around back then. Montrose wrote a nasty poem about the incident, Hamilton got to see the poem and its nastiness about him, and another seed of conflict was sewn. Such are the ways of court life. Anyway, Montrose seems to have impressed the Queen; but in the absence of instructions from Charles, he would not help her in a certain scheme she proposed, and legged it back home to Kincardine.
So I get to the certain scheme. The scheme comes under the general heading of ‘plots and Strategems’, and should be accompanied by twiddling moustachios. Royalists even more extreme than Montrose, Lords Aboyne and Nithsdale seem to have drawn the queen into reviving a plot with the Earl of Antrim; the old one about an attack from the Catholic McDonnels in Ireland to link up with the MacDonalds of Western Scotland, and thence take fire and sword to the Covenanters in the cause of the king. The very thing that kept Argyll up at night. Meanwhile, the king would agree a truce with the Catholic confederates, while the Earl of Newcastle launched an attack into Scotland from England. Charles appears to have known of the idea; but while not actively supporting it, made no effort to stop his queen doing so. The fact that a royalist as passionate as Montrose would have nowt to do with it at this stage gives you an idea of just how incendiary the news would be if it got out. Hamilton might not agree with Montrose about dog training techniques, but took exactly the same view as him on this one. Because what this looks like is the king talking co-operation, friendship and fellowship with his Scottish brothers; while at the same time plotting an invasion to blow their house down and reverse all that which had been achieved. If Argyll was looking for a causus bellum, and excuse to ras everyone up to declare for the English parliament and against their king, evidence like this that the king was plotting against his own people might be just the ticket. We have been there before I think.
Given the questions in front of the Convention – whether or not to declare their hand for parliament against the interests of their own king, or whether to trust that their king meant what he said, and would be true to the 1641 settlement, you can see that Henrietta Maria had better hope the Earl of Antrim was discreet with his post and kept the idea secret.
Well, Antrim might have been discrete, but he was also, in May 1643, captured. By Robert Munro, who found some interesting papers, some very interesting papers indeed thank you very much. And sent them straight back home to his mate Argyll.
Well this was like dropping a large rotten melon on the head of a small child. Mayhem. It transpired also that 6 Scottish earls had also sent letters to the Queen advising on how best to give parliament a good kicking. The revelations made a mockery of Hamilton’s claims that the king could be trusted; Robert Bailie wrote that the plot
‘wakened in all a great fear for our safety and distrust of all the fair words that were or could be given to us
I should Koko. By June the matter was settled – prosecutions were undertaken against several nobles by the Covenanters for treason. The convention was presented with the proposal that Scotland should send an army to England to help the parliamentarian cause and although 19 nobles voted against it, the proposal was passed to treat with parliament to provide one army for the use of, sah. There was dithering in the English parliament – the house of lords were rather reluctant to take such a radical act of asking the barbarian Scots into the garden of Eden, but by July Sir Harry Vane led a party of lay commissioners and English ministers north to old Reekie and arrived in August.
What followed was in retrospect lightening quick for such a radical and fundamental change in policy. There was obviously a tension in the discussions between the primary objectives of the Scots, and those of the English; as one person put it
The English were for a civill league, we for a religious Covenant
For the Scots religious uniformity on the Kirk’s Presbyterian model was of first importance; The English were not so convinced. But there was a deal of sweeping under the carpet opportunity available for both parties, because both now were convinced that a royalist victory spelt disaster. There was recognition of the difference in views about religion. It was realised that Vane
Were more nor we could assent to, for keeping of a doore open in England to Independencie
To remind you, independency was the religious movement that allowed complete toleration for individual congregations to choose their protestant religious settlement. That might be Anglicanism. It might not. It might be Presbyterianism. It might not. It was not, however in any way a national church. Scottish Presbyterianism was very much a national church that enforced rigorous uniformity.
So, the Scots insisted that religion therefore was discussed and sorted out before there could be any discussion about civil matters and, you know, an army. By 17th August the results of the discussions were ready to go before the General assembly of the kirk, and then to the Convention; said result was the draft of a document called the Solemn League and Covenant.
The idea was that this document would be signed up to by both English and Scots, a renewal of the Scottish National Covenant made international. The Solemn League and Covenant included 2 main religious clauses, but also some civil ones, but the guts of it was to preserve the true protestant religion in the church of Scotland, to do all they could to extirpate popery, prelacy, superstition, heresy and you know, so on. To preserve the rights and privileges of parliament and its liberties, and ooh, to preserve the king’s person and authority in the defence of true religion. They were to seek and destroy incendiaries and malignants, and preserve the 1641 treaty. The draft so approved, and headed south, where the Westminster Assembly, a religious convention that would soon include the Scots too, and The English parliament. Now, before approving it, they made a few tweaks, which re-introduced a bit of vagueness in the matter of religion. No doubt the Scots saw the significance of these changes, in once more keeping the door open for independency; but hey, needs must when the devil drives, or indeed, when the anti christ drives.
The final Solemn League and Covenant was signed by the commissioners of the Kirk, committee of Estates and the English commissioners by 13th October 1643; the Scottish PC added their names on 2nd November and it was done.
The king wrote desperately to his councillors protesting at the convention’s alliance with parliament
We believe they have forgot they have a king
He howled, and you can understand why; by ‘eck how much more did he have to compromise to gain agreement and loyalty? At base the problem was one of trust – no one trusted Charles or his promises. There was little more he could give, except that commitment, completely impossible in his firmly held belief, to institute Presbyterianism in England, and abolish the bishops, a part of English governance for so long. The Convention refused to publish or register his letters; and defended their position by saying that the army they had agreed to provide was defensive only – by intervening in England they said, they were defending the religious settlement made in Scotland. It has a sort of crazy logic. Defensive war. It reflected their priorities, when one wrote
Better the king weep for the childish trifle of a prerogative than Popery be erected and three kingdoms be destroyed
This is an interesting statement for the modern ear. I may be going out on a limb here, but it is hard to remember that while for us political discourse is basically secular and takes the priority – the kingdom of God was more important for many in early modern Europe – including the radical covenanters puritans, Jesuits and the like. We have to adjust our thinking I believe, and here endeth the lesson.
Meanwhile proceedings were started against royalists who had refused to sign the Covenant, the so called incendiaries and malignants that needed to be up out rooted, and if they were in England and out of reach of the Covenanters their assets frozen; dissent was to be crushed. Hamilton had comprehensively failed, clearly, his confidence that he could outmanoeuvre Argyll and the radical covenanters had been an empty confidence, though to be fair Antrim and the Queen had dealt him no more than a pairs of twosies in the poker game of life, and as we know a pair of twosies always loses. All he could do was tell the king to prepare for the worst, and that really there was not much point in hoping for the best. Because it wasn’t going to happen.
Now, the point of all this was to provide an army. In September, it was then to this task that the Committee of estates turned.
Last time we left the Covenanter’s committee of Estates setting out to deliver their part of the Solemn League and Covenant. And it was a major task; and worth remembering how major the financial strains were, in a country as small as Scotland, with an economy far less well developed than its southern neighbour; less urbanised, less rich. And yet they were to raise an army of at least 21,000 men. Now, the English were supposed to pay for it once it existed – £30,000 sterling, and rates of pay far higher than those expected by the Scots normally; but when English money would actually arrive was moot, or even if. And anyway, the cost of raising the army had been agreed to be the responsibility of the Scots. It is also a mark of the success of the Scottish revolution that the English should so confidently accept that a Scottish army would bring success and an important contribution to the struggle down south; although also a recognition of how much military success the royalist cause had achieved earlier in the wars.
And in fact, the Covenanters put the bar even higher. The Committee of Estates established numbers to be raised in each shire, and when put together, it all came to a total of 32,000 foot and 2,700 horse. The actual agreement with parliament had defined 18,000 foot, 2,000 horse and 1,000 dragoons, plus a train of artillery, which is no small extra. Incidentally, hands up those of you who don’t quite understand what a dragoon is? Just in case you are wondering, my hand is raised, and I am speaking with one hand. The name apparently comes from the word for a Dragon, because there was a musket or Carbine once called a dragon, because it breathed fire just like one – obviously named by someone recently returned from an encounter with Smaug on the lonely mountain. As someone wrote in 1622
the late invented Dragoones (being not aboue sixteene inch Barrell, and full Musquet bore)
Before long this became associated with a particular type of infantry soldier; who although expected to fight mainly on foot, would have a horse, and presumably therefore be very mobile. While we are on words I don’t understand I just also used another one, a carbine; this turns out to be a weapon of the same type as a musket, but shorter, and therefore, I suppose, much easier to use on horseback. This is a feature of writing podcast, I can reveal, it does allow you to scratch obscure itches that have been worrying you for some time.
Now part of the new army had in fact already been recruited – in July a small troop of horse and 600 foot had been sent to seize Berwick before the royalists could do so and thus fortify it. But as for the rest, on 28th September the committee of Estates sent the order to muster all men between 16 and 60 in October, and for Colonels of the shire to deliver their defined number; instructions later were for 25,000 men to muster near Berwick on 29th December – a slightly smaller number than the 35,000, since recruitment in the highlands was proving tough, and it was felt worth leaving some men in the royalist north East.
But the success in recruiting tells us a lot about the covenanter state. Firstly, there is the extraordinary sight of such a large army being paid for, even if only initially, and the Committee of Estates developed an enormously enhanced revenue raising power that allowed them to punch way above the weight a country the size of Scotland should have had. There were fiscal reasons for this; the basic tax, or ‘Cess’ as it was called, was based on an assessment of land values, values which had become debased over the years. Well, Covenanting Scotland had these re-based, and was now based on real land values which ramped up tax yields massively. Meanwhile, the nobility and lairds were asked for voluntary contributions and the process went on. At the same time excise and customs dues were revised; previously these were based on periodically implemented specific levies; now excise was levied on a whole range of products nationally.
Alongside this though was the psychological impact of the Covenant. It’s been emphasised that all this tax raising was supported by a huge imposition of administrative structure; but that administration although again ramped up, also included and involved local power structures, lards and burgesses. Meanwhile the process of signing up to the National Covenant, and now later to the Solemn League and Covenant lent legitimacy to the new impositions and taxes that accompanied it. Although the Kirk fervently advanced its model of two kingdoms, a separation of church and state – the truth was in practice that lay lords were every bit as involved in the kirk as ever, in fact more so – as Elders, in the kirk session, in the General Assemblies. All of which reinforced unity, the existing social structures, and engagement with the state by all classes of people. The Covenanter regime had essentially made ordinary people as well as their social superiors feel part of a national effort in a way that Charles’ government never quite had.
Finally, expectations and confidence of success were sky high. There was as far as the Covenanters could see, nothing that stood in their way. In military terms, the king’s armies had melted away in the face of the Covenanter army in the Bishops Wars – there seemed to be no reason why the same would not happen again. Such success had fuelled the belief that the Scots were the chosen people, that God was on their side, they were the successors of the Israelites, to be led from victory to victory, with the truest church in Christendom which was the best hope for the world, with the covenants forming a bond between Scots and God; all Scots were part of the elect.
It had been intended that part of the army to invade England would be drawn from the battle hardened troops of the New Scottish Army of Ireland. But in fact that was never to happen; the Scots were worried about their role in defending the settlers, and then in September came further, bad news that made concerns there yet more acute.
The Confederacy was torn between several factions, notably the uncompromising returned exiles like Owen Roe O’Neill, and those keen to make an accord with the king, if only greater toleration was possible. In 1643 those committed to negotiating with the king were in the ascendancy – and they made a proposal for the benefits of a truce, and discussions for a treaty – they would provide the king with an army of 10,000 men to defeat his enemies. Which is quite an offer. As far as Charles was concerned the same kind of rules held as they did with Scotland; clearly there were limits to the amount he was prepared to compromise, but regaining his English kingdom took priority. So in September 1643 Ormond finally signed what would be called the Cessation; a truce supposedly of all the king’s forces in Ireland. Under the agreement, none of the British soldiers in Ireland would plunder or attack any of the Confederates or the Irish in any way. For the Scots, newly committed to the war against their king, they were now facing a confederacy no longer distracted by war with the government forces – and in fact even united with the kings forces in Ireland. The game was afoot.