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The English Civil War, Covenanters and Puritans



The English Civil War between the Protestant Parliament and the Royalists occurred between 1642 and 1648, and fell into two distinct phases, before and after the execution of Charles. (In fact the dispute with Scotland and the Kirk helped precipitate the Civil War. In June 1640 a Covenanting army was occupying Newcastle and Durham. When Charles convened Parliament – what later became ‘the Long Parliament’ to raise funds for a campaign against the Scots, the Parliamentarians seized their opportunity and began the Great Rebellion – with far reaching consequences for Scotland.) It was time for the Scottish Presbyterians to forge new alliances. Fearing that the winner of the war might decide to march upon Scotland, they entered the conflict, taking the side of the Parliamentary forces.


The “SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT was drawn up and signed in 1643, with it’s object being the formation of an alliance with the English Puritans. The basis of this covenant was that the Church of Scotland would be preserved, the Church of England reformed, and Presbyterianism would become the national religion of the British Isles. In the same year, the Westminster Confession of Faith was drawn up, to provide a basis for complete British conformity, and adopted for the Kirk in Scotland by the Scottish Parliament. The covenant failed. (It is noteworthy that the great declaration of Presbyterianism, readily adopted by the Scottish church, which would later guide the Kirk in methods of worship, government and doctrine, and upon which future Presbyterian ministers would declare their loyalty, was decided not at the Reformation, or in Edinburgh, but in London, at a gathering attended by only eight Scottish ministers, and without voting rights, among over one hundred Englishmen.) It was a vain hope that the Confession of Faith would unite the Presbyterians and the Puritans. It did not succeed for two reasons,

1. It was impossible to enforce Presbyterianism in England, as required under the Solemn League and Covenant, in the face of opposition from the powerful lobby of Independents (Congregationalists).

2. Not everyone in Scotland was happy with opposing the king. There were differences among the Scots as regard to Royalty, but generally, the Scots adopted the position of Rutherford’s LEX REX, that the king ruled, not by divine authority, but that kingship was conferred contractually by the people of the realm. The majority, therefore were actually conditional royalists. One of the leading signatories to the National Covenant, The Marquis of Montrose, led a military campaign in the defence of the king was defeated in 1645, and executed

A party known as the ENGAGERS was formed in 1647 to fight for the king. In promise for a settlement on the issue of Presbyterianism, they engaged the Roundheads in battle at Preston and were defeated. This movement prompted the Scottish parliament to pass the Act of Classes in 1649, allowing only the strictest of Covenanters into public office, an act that had disastrous consequences for the management of the army.

Still, the Scottish/Parliamentary alliance was formed, and few would have anticipated that just seven years later the Covenanting cause would lie in ruins below the sword of an English republican general whom though uncompromisingly Puritan was vehemently anti-Presbyterian. (The Puritans were often dissenting members of the Church of England. The Independents [Congregationalists] and the Baptists also had a heavy influence upon Cromwell.) Oliver Cromwell’s roundheads, (Cromwell’s army was a well trained and well disciplined force, who following their defeat of the Royalist forces, went on to subdue Scotland and to put down rebellion in Ireland.) victorious with the help of the Scots, established Cromwell as the leader of the Parliamentary party in England. With the execution of Charles I (Charles had been captured by the Scots, and had subsequently surrendered to the English at Newcastle), following Cromwell’s urging in 1649, the Scots felt betrayed; after all, Charles was Scottish. Royalist sentiments in Scotland reached new heights and the two parties to the Solemn League and Covenant, Scotland and England, parted company. Following the execution of Charles, Cromwell dismissed the Long Parliament, and was installed as Lord Protector in 1653. He died in 1658.

Another complicating factor enters the equation here. Charles’ son, Charles II, declared his acceptance of both the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant. The Scots enthroned Charles II at Scone in 1651, and defected to the side of the Royalists. In doing so they were acting true to character. The Covenanters were not republicans, as was Cromwell.

The threat posed by this new situation was sufficient to cause Cromwell to invade Scotland, and this led to heavy defeat by Cromwell’s model army, for which the Scots, led by their covenanting generals, were no match. (Battle of Dunbar 1650)

From → Covenanters

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