Covenanters


Conventicle

The Covenanters were adherents to the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. These documents were attempts to unite the nation in defence of the Presbyterian religion against Catholicism and the imposition of an Episcopalian regime by the king. The Covenanters defeated Charles I and his allies in this battle between the power of the church and the divine right of the king, quickly becoming the most powerful religious and political force in Scotland.

Charles saw himself as spiritual head of the church and in 1637 he introduced the Book of Common Prayer to Scotland and declared that opposition to it would amount to treason. The Covenanters rose up against him and the Bishops Wars ensued closely followed by civil war in both Ireland and England. The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 marked an alliance between the Covenanters and the English parliament. When Charles was executed in 1649 many Scots were horrified and the English parliament had failed to provide the religious settlement the Covenanters wanted so they convinced Charles II to sign the covenant and crowned him king at Scone in 1651.

Cromwell invaded and the new king fled. The occupation of Cromwell was bloody as many rebels rose in support of their covenanted king, of course when Charles was restored in 1660 he thanked them by bringing back episcopacy. Armed rebellion continued in one form or another until William of Orange arrived in 1689.

The Covenanters were persecuted and executed. They held services known as conventicles in private homes or even out in the open air in fields in defiance of the authorities. Attendance was eventually made a capital crime and the persecution continued for many years with the last execution of a Covenanter as late as 1688.

Although Presbyterianism had become the national religion the Covenanters ultimately failed in their attempt to establish church dominion over the state and to have Presbyterianism accepted as the official faith in Ireland and England.