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1662 – The Expulsion of the Ministers


Continuing to look at the history of 17th Century in Scotland, we come to the events of 1662, when the dissenting ministers were ousted from their pulpits…


The Marquis of Argyle, one of the nobles present at the enthronement of Charles, and the very man who had placed the crown upon his head, became suspected of supporting and promoting the Presbyterian cause.  Charles had him arrested, accused of fourteen counts of treason.  Witnesses were difficult to persuade to come forward, and it looked at first that the trial would be abandoned.  At the last minute a messenger from London brought letters which Argyle had written to Cromwell during the civil war and supportive of Parliament.  On the strength of these letters, Argyle was found guilty and condemned to death.  He died by guillotine at the Mercat Cross at Edinburgh.  A member of the nobility was the first martyr to die for Christ’s Crown and Covenant.  Many more would die.


In 1662 a new law was passed, (The ‘Middleton’ Act) under which a minister could only serve in a parish if a Bishop or a Patron had nominated him.  All ministers were required to swear allegiance to the crown.  By passing this act, Charles thought that he could remove the remaining few dissenting Covenanters from the parishes, thus allowing fuller implementation of his Episcopalian enactments.

In fact nearly four hundred ministers left or were forced to leave rather than accept the dictates of the Patronage Act.  One third of Scotland’s clergy were excluded from their pulpits, to be replaced in most parishes by Episcopalian curates.   The ‘outed’ ministers took to the fields, preaching and conducting services of worship in the open air.  These field meetings became known as Conventicles.

The response from the government was to dispatch squadrons of Dragoons to hunt down the worshippers.  Preachers became wanted men and many were forced to arm themselves.


One of the preachers so expelled was the minister of New Luce, Alexander Peden. (I’ll post a fuller biography of Peden later)  Forced to leave the pulpit, he wept openly in the Kirk as he preached his farewell sermon, based on Paul’s departure from Ephesus in Acts chapter twenty.    Leaving his pulpit for the last time, he banged on its door with his Bible, and said, three times over, “I arrest thee in my Master’s name, that never none enter thee, but such as come in at the door, as I did.”  No minister occupied the pulpit at New Luce until 1693, when William Kyle became the minister. (This seems to be verified by Robert Gordon, minister of Kirkmichael, who wrote that ‘Peden fenced the pulpit of Glenluce, and declared that none of the curates should ever set foot in it’.   Quoted by John C Robinson in ‘The Prophet of the Covenant’  (Mourne Missionary Trust 1988))

In 1663 a change happened in the government of Scotland.  Middleton (John, the 1st Earl of Middleton was royal commissioner in Scotland after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and remained in that position for just around two years.  He was a professional soldier, without either faith or common human decency.  Middleton had been on the side of the Covenanters fighting under David Leslie in 1644 and 1645.  He became a close friend of Charles II, fighting his cause during the time of Cromwell’s commonwealth, and when Charles turned his back on the Covenants, Middleton did likewise.  He became a peer after the Restoration, and was appointed the king’s representative in Scotland.  His most notable action during his time as commissioner was to implement the Act which ousted the Covenanter ministers from their pulpits, and which became known as the ‘Middleton Act.’) had gone, and was replaced by the Earl of Rothes.  Some have assessed the temperament of Rothes as that of a man of quick mind clear judgement, but in personal character he was an illiterate and vulgar debauchee.  (Smellie, Men of the Covenant, Banner of Truth, Pg 156)  Rothes was barely able to write, his letters being large and widely separated.  His chief advisor was none other than that turncoat from Presbyterianism, Archbishop Sharp of St. Andrews.  When the Scottish Parliament ended its session in the autumn of 1663, it was for the last time.  Its members were never recalled, and the Privy Council, a body in which Sharp and Rothes ruled supreme and unchallenged replaced them.

Sharp was already determined to wreck revenge upon the Presbyterians, and he was further enraged by the fact that parishes in the lowlands were refusing to accept the curates as their ministers.  It seemed as if the congregations, especially in the west, were more willing to allow the church buildings to fall into disrepair and be forsaken rather than to accept an Episcopalian minister.  Sharp resolved to crush all opposition, and he travelled to London, where he persuaded the king to reinstate the obsolete Court of High Commission, a body that had arbitrary powers to try and convict all recusants.  Sharp himself was the president of this court, and he sat with nine prelates and thirty-five laymen.  The verdicts of this court were final, and often reached without recourse to evidence of any nature.  Men and women of rank were fined for allowing conventicles on their land, field preachers were imprisoned or banished, women were flogged, and children were sold as slaves.  The grip of the royalist party on the Presbyterians was increasing, and a phase of persecution that would last a quarter of a century was beginning.


To be continued…

From → Covenanters, History

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