Scotland, it might be noted, had banned celebrating Christmas in 1640, which is one reason I am told, that Hogmanny is such an important thing in Scotland. That and the fact that the Scots are good for a party. So there was nothing standing in between Charles and his coronation on January I by way of dancing and balling.
This should have been a glorious occasion for Charles; he was much more central to daily government, the Resolutioners had finally re-admitted many of his closest supporters to government, his authority grew. The levies were coming in to join the glorious army of the Covenant to expel the English, and set Charles back again on his thrones. There was a new spirit of unity, many were serving under satisfyingly royalist colonels.
Sadly, The coronation was however, not a memory on which Charles would like to dwell in future years, though I am told he talked incessantly about oak trees and dressing up in women’s clothing. Before the occasion, the Kirk put in place a series of national fasts to make sure the coronation was acceptable to God, not an encouraging start. One of those fasts was to repent for the sins of the royal family. In my limited experience kings do not like to be reminded of their sins; certainly Mary didn’t appreciate the various strips torn off her by Knox, but the Calvinist Scots had proved unimpressed by the excesses of their monarchs. Argyll meanwhile sought to dominate the young king – this was the time when he suggested marriage with his daughter, to be avoided by Charles elegant swerve and dummy, courtesy of his mother’s sage advice. Not that this should reflect on the daughter of course, I think the prospective father in law was at issue here.
Anyway, there is an allegorical woodprint of the event by a Dutch artist. In the Foreground it has Ireland arming up ready for the fight ahead, while Scotland hands Charles a pistol. ASll very marital, and suitably king-like. But in the background, quite a way back, is the real message. There Charles being crowned. In the idiom of the day, you might expect there to be angels, the hand of God, clouds, rays of sunshine all that sort of thing. But no – there’s just the Marquis of Argyll placing the crown on the royal bonce. Rather emphasising the chains that still bound the new king – he was there by grace of Argyll, and he’d better not forget it. In addition the Kirk had banished anything as superstitious as the anointing of the king, which had been quietly filed in the ‘Poppycock’ drawer in the cabinet of public life. Then there was sermon to which the king was forced to listen. The preacher, Robert Douglas, kindly pointed out that he
Hath not absolute power to do what he pleaseth…for he was tied by the conditions of his covenant with his people…
Amongst other clear and helpful explanations of the limit of his power under the doctrine of two kingdoms and the rights of a people to remove religiously errant rulers. Charles did not have a guitar to gently weep, instead I suspect his blood gently boiled. The Scots resolute placing of Charles in the correct position in priority order is no doubt why in later life Charles would declare than rather than return to Scotland, he would prefer to be hanged.
While the government tried to build an army against the day when Cromwell would recover from his illness and re-start the campaign, division though continued behind te new spirit of unity. Parliament repealed the acts barring Engagers from public office, but the General Assembly of the Kirk in debating the move was racked by dissent ‘with great heat and fury on both sides’ – both sides being the Protesters objecting to the alliance with their king, and the Resolutioners for whom a national struggle against the hated English was the thing. But the division extended now, as it had not done so quite before, to a split between the radical Protesters and lay leaders; the extremist ministers had lost the support of lay covenanters for whom the priority was putting Charles back at the head of the three kingdoms and kicking out Cromwell. The stresses and strains were now dragging the Protesters to consider leaving the Kirk – a truly radical step. Since the Reformation, the ministers of the kirk had taken enormous pride, and rightly so I guess, in the impressive level of unity they had achieved in kirk and lay community, in the lowlands, if not the highlands. Especially when compared to its southern and western neighbours in the archipelago. Now that unity for the first time was stretched to breaking point and it would never quite recover.
In July 1651, unwelcome news arrived. Cromwell had recovered from his tummy ache, and the English were once more on the move, crossing the forth into Fife; by the time the Scots had reacted, John Lambert had 4,000 men in Fife, and at Inverkeithing defeated the Scots; while the main Scottish army marched and counter marched the enemy, Cromwell, sold them all a dummy and appeared suddenly at Perth, cutting the Government off from their potential royalist support in the North.
Charles, Argyll and his advisers had been given a choice. Cromwell had calculated that if he attacked Stirling from the South, Charles could retreat to northern Scotland – a hard chase, not achieved I think since the days of Aethelstan – I could be wrong. It would mean a long supply line, and potential extra Scottish support for the Scottish army – not to mention midges. If he attacked from the north, he’d cut Charles off from his potential supporters; true enough, he’d expose England to attack; and Charles had a substantial army now of 13,000. But an attack into England would at least leave him on his own and isolated from his powerbase of supporters – and Cromwell was pretty confident Charles would receive little support from the north of England.
Well Charles and Argyll calculated had really little choice, and that Cromwell had once again proved his genius. But they were far from excited at their prospects. Lanark remarked, hopefully not in a pre invasion inspirational speech to the army, because it’s hardly Bruce, or William Wallace stuff, that
We must either starve, disband, or go with a handful of men into England. This last seems to be the least ill, yet it appears very desperate to me
As so began yet another Scottish invasion of England, of which there had been so many. Lanark had been reasonably accurate in his prediction; Cromwell chased Charles southwards through England, until he caught up with them at Worcester, by which time the English army was more than twice the size of the Scottish army. 2,000 Scots were killed and 10,000 captured. Charles managed to escape, including hiding in an Oak tree, and made it to France, as story which he would never tire of retelling. When suggested in France to him that he should return to Scotland to stand beside the nation that had shed so much blood on his behalf, he then rolled out his famous bon mot that he’d rather be hanged. It would appear to be the end of the line for the Stewart dynasty. RIP.
Once more the Scots tried to rally; but the army regathering in Fife were scattered by General Monke. He then advanced on Dundee, which refused to surrender, was stormed and subjected to 24 hours of sack before order could be restored, and maybe as many as 800 Scots died, including some women and children. The Committee retreated to Dumbarton, trying to hold a new parliament, then found the English breath down their necks, and retreated to Rothesay off Bute in the west. By October it was clearly the end of the line, and Argyll wrote to Monck suggesting negotiations; and although he did not make his peace with Moncke until August 1652, after that he essentially offered little resistance. In the North the new Huntly offered a few more weeks resistance before signing articles with the English in November, and all of Lowland Scotland had submitted. One Scottish author summed it up at the end of 1651, writing that his chronicle was over because he had ‘neither heart nor encouragement to proceed’. The book was closed on Covenanter Scotland.
In a sense, the Scottish Revolution had failed; or at least that was the way it seemed to contemporaries and to the Scottish historians of the Restoration and 18th century. In a very basic way it had – it had failed to maintain its independence, and pursued a strategy of federal union which had ended in disaster. But while some commentators at the time – the English historian Edward Hyde in particular – saw the Scots actions as wild and incomprehensible – I hope you have understood that this is not really fair. Argyll and Covenanters were surely not wrong to distrust Charles and understand that if he regained his authority in England, he’d be back. They also clearly understood that they faced the same dangers from a future England, from which they also needed a strategy to secure their future security. Although they’d managed hundreds of years so far, they were clear that they wanted a guarantee against English aggression, a union, but one that gave them a say in the affairs of the joint kingdom while retaining their independence. They found it difficult to understand that for the English, this was the tail wagging the dog, but none the less while the Presbyterians in England were supreme, and the Scottish army the strongest in the three kingdoms, it looked as though they had a chance to pull it off. That chance died with the New Model, the execution of Charles I and the rise of the Independents.
Nor is it true that nothing was achieved. Scotland was alone in establishing a viable state through the revolution, which suffered less from Civil war until Montrose picked up the Crown for his king. The swearing of the Covenant was an extraordinary and successful experiment in building a shared and national effort which along with fiscal reform, allowed Scotland to punch way above its weight. However, the net result was a different kind of Commonwealth to the one they’d envisaged, as we will find out.
The thing about Cromwell’s conquest of Scotland is, to a degree, all about what he did not do rather than what he did do. It’s quite frequent for Scotland and Ireland to be tarred with the same brush, taken as a pair, a job lot. But really, apart from neither having the privilege of being English – just a joke, don’t shout at me – the differences between them were profound. One of this is reflected in Cromwell’s attitude – his letters betray a sort of confusion about why the Scots, good Godly people, had made alliance with the king; ‘God hath a people here fearing his name’ he wrote, there was none of the Barbarous Wretches stuff as there was in Ireland.
There was no brutal campaign of conquest; indeed, Montrose’s rebellion claimed many more lives than did Cromwell and the Commonwealth. There was nothing to compare with Drogheda and Wexford, or even the sack of Aberdeen at MacColla’s hands, not even with Moncke at Dundee. Nor was there the level of resistance that you might expect, though there was not nothing, if you’ll excuse the double negative, but I rather like double negatives, I am a fan. Not nothing seems very different to something. Anyway, there’ll be a spot of bother in the west, but that’s about it. There was to be none of the wholesale redistribution of land no rigorous attempt to change the social and political make up of the kingdom. So much so, that Cromwellian Scotland will be almost forgotten, parked in a dusty corner of Scottish history.
It is not that the Commonwealth did not have plans, and made no impact on the lives of the Scots. The Cromwellian leadership were rather horrified at the amount of power wielded in Scottish society by the nobility, a power that seemed untrammelled to English eyes; this must be changed, and power given to the social levels below the nobility, who were described as the meaner sort. I assume the nuance associated with ‘meaner sort’ has changed somewhat, or else someone should have been fired in the Commonwealth’s copy writing department. On the other cheek, the Commonwealth had other reasons to be suspicious of the Scottish Nobility; they strongly felt that the magnates were the architects of Charles’ re-appearance and resurgence – and they weren’t far wrong of course.
So, the Commonwealth set out to undermine the institutional, financial and military status and power of the Magnates. At the forefront was the structure of the very state. So in February 1652, a crowd gathered at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh to hear a proclamation, to be repeated in towns up and down Scotland, of the, and I quote, Tender of Union. The Union was not the federal type that had underpinned the 1638 revolution; nor yet was it Argyll’s revised strategy in the face of the rise of the Independents, of withdrawal and independence, gaining benefits of loose union through control of the king. Nope, this was union in the English model, the kind of Union for which Edwin Sandys had argued in James VI’s day – a full, incorporating union. The oath to be taken in acceptance of said Commonwealth described it that
Scotland be incorporated into and made one commonwealth with England
It was a partnership of sorts – though quite clearly there was a junior partner, no prizes for guessing which was which. The Scottish parliament was to be abolished, and 30 Scottish representatives to be elected to a new Parliament of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. There was to be an Anglo Scottish Council of State which would run Scottish affairs – so to that extent I guess, Scotland retained its independence, though its composition was to include both English army officers and Lairds, the meaner sort as it were. Various designs of flag were tried – the final affair being the 1606 Flag of St George with St Andrews cross, with the Irish lyre popped into the middle in a most awkward sort of way. Advanced flag design it was not. There were to be proportionate taxes across the three kingdoms, which since the Scots had been heavily taxed under the Covenanters was probably a benefit; as was the introduction of free trade, most certainly expected by the Scots to open exciting opportunities for them, and much desired.
Three days later, in a rather bizarre ceremony a bit like Thomas Cromwell burning that picture of St Derfel in the Reformation or the later disinterment of Oliver’s remains, the royal flag was ceremonially hanged from the public gallows. Distinctly odd, but highly symbolic of course. There was little resistance to the idea, in the Lowlands in particular; 29 of the 33 shires would assent to the Tender, and 44 of 59 Burghs subscribed to the oath.
Reform was set to go a level deeper to protect and empower the meaner sort; heritable jurisdictions, the array of legal powers enjoyed by the greater nobility, were abolished, and all forms of vassalage with them. To those below the ranks of the nobility, protection was given against possible reprisals by nobles sequestering or confiscating property. Justice was to be rejuvenated – central law courts abolished, but Scottish law maintained, and from 1652 English Judges started their circuits. The posts of Sheriff and JP were revived and re-appointed throughout the lowlands in particular.
This all sounds very interesting; and indeed a tradition would grow in the 18th century of a sort of liberating modernity delivered to a blessed and grateful nation by the effective, fair and efficient English administration – and I’m not talking English historians here, I am talking red-blooded, buttock-clenchingly bright and renowned Scottish brainiaches like David Hume no less.
The truth was rather different. It quickly became clear that the idea of reforming Scottish administration root and branch was at best optimistic, and worst, well, wildly optimistic. Any effective local administration would need to rely at least in part on existing institutional structures, at least in short term, and crucially on existing social structures in the form of the lesser nobility, the lairdly class. So, the existing sheriff courts and Burgh courts began operating again. No attempt was made to reform or change the Kirk – although religious toleration was introduced, which was not to the Kirk’s liking. But religious toleration would not have long enough to make much of an inroad into the Scottish way of life, and the kirk’s control of parish life through the kirk sessions was not interrupted or messed with, and the General assembly continued to meet.
That is not to say that were was no division in the Kirk; the Protesters positively supported the regime, while the Resolutioners ran public prayers for the absent king; the unity of the kirk remained broken. But neither tried to overturn new Commonwealth or raise rebellion. Indeed, more than that, many Protesters saw the regime as God’s judgement on their sins, and added to the general air of defeatism; both Kirk parties engaged with the Westminster parliament, employing agents in London to argue their case on various matters. Meanwhile Broghill, and Anglo Irish peer made President of the Council, managed to draw together the support from men of property within the council, or at least from the Lairdly class, and made genuine attempts to create an effective settlement.
All this sounds reasonably positive, but it has to be said that the new Commonwealth was a thoroughgoing military occupation, however you spin the relative benignity of the government. An Englishman General George Moncke, was the Governor in Scotland and he oversaw the building of a network of fortresses throughout Scotland. There were citadels at Ayr, Perth and Leith, and 20 smaller forts as far as Orkney and Stornaway. There were fortresses too at key points in the Highlands – Inverlochy, and Inverness. There were never less than 10,000 soldiers in Scotland. From June 1651, passes were required to move from one part of the country to another, and firearms allowed only under licence.
None the less there was a flicker of resistance at least, which flared under the leadership of William Cunningham, the Earl of Glencairn in 1653. Glencairn gathered together a group of nobles in August to plot rebellion, inspired by the Anglo Dutch war, which promised to be a major distraction of Commonwealth men and resources. There were Highland lords like Argyll’s son, and the Marquis of Athol. It’s possibly surprising there were not more, because the nobility had indeed suffered a loss of influence and power under the Commonwealth, pursued for debt, suffering their loss of status and judicial power. Robert Baillie, a leading Chronicler of and player in the Scottish Revolution wrote what amounts to an obituary of the class
Our noble families are almost gone; Lennox has little in Scotland unsold; Hamilton’s estate…is sold…the Gordons are gone; the Douglas little better; Eglington and Glencairn on the point of breaking; many of our chief families are crashing.
Glencairn‘s rebellion started small – a small force of 60 horse and some foot, which nonetheless managed to defeat an attempt to suppress them by the Governor of Stirling castle, a mark of success which gave the rising much needed kudos. Charles got to hear of it and sent the Lowland veteran of the wars, Middleton with a commission, to take command of any army, and recruitment reached maybe as many as 5,000 at its height. The strategy of the rising was not to be the glory and ambition of a Montrose – from the start it was guerrilla tactics, to burn and destroy, and then melt away into the hills.
The rebellion struggled from the start from a cocktail of all the problems we’ve heard about before. One was that of noble demand for precedence and honour, which led to duels between leaders, such as Glencairn and George Munro which you know should really no have been a priority. They couldn’t even agree on the weapons to use. Taking potshots at your colleagues appears in few strategic management manuals. Though perhaps it should, who knows.
The combination of lowland and highland didn’t really work; the lowland officers regarded the highlanders who came to join them as ‘a pack of thieves and robbers’. The tactics of burn and harry seemed like a good idea, but Monck proved effective at limiting their successes, with forced march after forced march to keep them on the run. And anyway -whose lands were they burning but their own? Recruitment became harder and harder.
Eventually Monck caught up with Middleton; the Anglo Dutch war came to an end; and enthusiasm and morale was rock bottom. Glencairn surrendered to Monck, Middleton fled for France, and by 1654 the rebellion was toast. Even the penalties were far from severe; nobles involved were fined rather than having their lands confiscated and in the end most of them were let off with a slap on the wrist and bit of finger wagging. All very low key.
In 1658, Oliver died, his son Richard was not the stuff of leadership. In the winter of 1659-60, Moncke marched south to reconcile the Commonwealth to the Restoration of Charles II; interestingly, he took with him a petition from the shires and burghs of Scotland, which argued in favour of continuing the union – but on better terms for Scotland. The experience of the Commonwealth appears once again not to have raised the fires of nationalism and independence. As it happens, the petitions were ignored, and Scotland, against her wishes apparently, once more became a separate independent nation after 8 years of Union.
It’s a funny thing this Commonwealth then. I mean if someone came up to me in the Whey Pat on a Saturday night in St Andrews or took me into a bar on Sauchiehall street or whatever, and asked me how the Scots felt about Cromwellian Scotland I would until a few short weeks ago, have fully expected the full broadside of Irish style invective, the full injustice and flag waving experience before we repair to the darts board. But no, even these days on Twitter there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fury. There’s a history to this; throughout the 18th and 19th century, Scottish historians queued up to denounce the feudal customs of their country, until the English had arrived to enlighten and free them. Yes – I know, houdi elbow, could you imagine that now? Golly. The Union under the commonwealth had borne the fruits of liberty – that liberty being the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and the resulting Claim of Right, followed by the benefits of peace, stability and security. Ok, so the defeat at the hands of the Auld Enemy was a bit of a downer; but even Walter Scott was prepared to see that ‘degradation’ as he called it, a reasonable price to pay for liberation from ‘Feudal oppression’.
The Commonwealth it was agreed, brought impartial good governance to Scotland. And for sure, it achieved what had always eluded every Scottish king since the destruction of the MacDonalds as Lords of the Isles – peace in the highlands, though as much due to that massive citadel at Inverness as anything else, but none the less, an end to raiding and clan warfare at last. The learning from the Revolution and Commonwealth was that the oppressions and indignities suffered by the Scottish people were those suffered from the arbitrary power of the British monarch, not the Union itself.
It’s an argument which ran until relatively recently, or at least until the last 50 years. Now attitudes to history have changed, and more importantly more work has been done – work which emphasises just how shallow were the changes wrought by the Commonwealth, and the extent to which the Commonwealth worked within existing institutions. The fact remains though, that this is almost a forgotten corner of Scottish history, and it’s worth asking if there was a legacy and if so, what was it, or did the whole thing go down like a Iced gem, in one gulp without touching the sides of Scotland’s historical throat to be digested and excreted into the night soil.
One opinion is that it is the fact of defeat that helped smooth the path of the Commonwealth, and make resistance so muted. Scotland had prided itself on a myth of being unconquered, of resolute and doughty resistance to the invader, whether it be Rome, England or France. After the inconvenience of Cromwell, it was better for this particular bit of national legend for everyone to conveniently forget it had ever happened – I think I have already quoted James Hodges in the 18th century proclaiming that the Scots had always defended their natural rights and liberties. And yet for contemporaries, it was inescapable, and devastating for national morale and confidence.
It was devastating in another way too; the Scots had also prided themselves on the purity of their brand of Calvinist religion and moral purity, they were the rightful successors to the Israelites, God’s chosen people. The force providence, as previously discussed, was strong in these ones. So for the more radical – the Cromwellian victory was God’s judgement. The Scottish people had been weighed, and found wanting. It was the sins of the people that was to blame. So strands of defeatism ran through Scottish Society at the end of the 17th century – the state of religion in the eyes of God, the national military confidence, the Restoration Magnates blamed it all on the wildness of the Covenanters. There is an argument which identifies this knock to public confidence as smoothing the path to Union. It might be noted though that another lesson was learned at the withdrawal of the nobility from the Commonwealth, and their subsequent restoration. The lesson a future generation both sides of the border would learn, was that a lasting union could not be built on conquest; the 1707 Union whatever your view of it, was negotiated, not the result of military conquest.
In the end, it was relatively easy to forget the Commonwealth and defeat at the hands of Cromwell – because in 1660 the soldiers left, they were gone, an independent Scottish government was revived. That new regime at the restoration though would be heavily affected by the experience since 1638 and in the 1650s. While many of them had been enthusiastic Covenanters – where had that led them? It had ended in hideous ruin and combustion, down to the bottomless perdition of defeat at the hands of the English of all people. It had led to social chaos, the sight of Lairds being advanced before their natural superiors, the Magnates and Peers. It had led to an invasion from the barbarous Highlanders along with the humiliation of defeat at their hands and the sacking of several towns and cities. And it had led to their financial ruin and political marginalisation.
The Covenant must be forgotten, consigned into forgetfulness, and never be allowed to happen again. The Restoration must re-establish the primacy of the rightful and ancient leaders of the Scottish nation, and the ancient monarch of Scotland, stretching back beyond Kenneth MacAlpine, and that would surely deliver the benefits of union – peace, prosperity, free trade, security – while protecting their people from English dominance. These legacies of the Scottish Revolution would be felt in the manner of the Stuart Restoration.