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The Glorious Revolution 1688



A seismic change was about to occur in the British Isles, a bloodless revolution (Bloodless at least in England in 1688) that would radically alter the shape of both monarchy and nation.  At its centre was the young Prince of Orange, William III of the Dutch House of Hanover,

William had an English mother, Mary Stuart, and a Dutch father, William II, Prince of Orange.  His cousin, Mary Stuart, later to become his wife, was brought up as a Protestant in England, despite the fact that her parents were the Duke and Duchess of York, (The Duke was James, the brother of Charles II) who had converted to Roman Catholicism.  The fact that the two daughters of James remained Episcopalians and married Protestants (Princess Anne married George of Denmark in 1683) was largely due to the political necessities of Charles, who despite his secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV of France, needed to maintain good relations with the Protestant princes of continental Europe.  The marriage occurred in 1678.

Mary somewhat reluctantly settled down to the worship of the Dutch Reformed Church.  William had always been a convinced Calvinist, but he tolerated some of Mary’s more ‘Anglican’ practices, such as kneeling to receive communion, which she practiced in her private chapel.

In 1685 on the death of Charles II, (It is recorded by Jock Purves that Charles II died as a Roman Catholic.  Apparently the Duke of York, the King’s brother had a priest smuggled into the King’s bedroom, whereupon Charles made his confession, received the sacraments and died a Papist, thus showing at the end where his true colours had lain all throughout his treacherous life.  (Jock Purves, Fair Sunshine, Banner of Truth, Pg 102)) the Duke of York had become James II.  Since her father had no other children, Mary became the heir to the English throne (William was keen to protect that heritage.  After the accession of James, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth rebelled.  (Monmouth was Mary’s cousin, although illegitimate).  William offered the services of his regiments to James to help quell the rebellion.) until three years later, when a male child was born.  The birth of the male heir caused ripples of fear to spread across Europe.  A new Catholic dynasty was being born and the Protestant nations of the continent banded together to prevent its emergence.  Their answer was to fund a Protestant army under William of Orange, to invade England.

On 5th November 1688, William landed at Torbay, upon which James, his wife and infant son took refuge in France, leaving William to celebrate Christmas in London.  The support for James had been so low, that William’s army, half the size of the English army, was victorious without any major battle, and William and Mary were crowned by Dr Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, (a staunch Protestant), in April 1689.  This remarkable revolution was further facilitated by a mass defection of troops from the army of James into the army of William.

In Scotland the Covenanters were divided regarding support for William.  William would not support the Solemn League and Covenant, and it remained illegal in Scotland.  But the power of the Bishops was broken, and the people quickly evicted the curates from their churches.  The new government of Scotland called on the Societies to raise an army to fight for William, arguing that only in the United Societies could be found a trustworthy and sufficiently patriotic band of men to form such a force.  Again this caused great debate.  There were those who readily agreed, on the condition that the Societies had the right to choose officers under whom they would serve, and that other demands were met.  A compromise was agreed, and the Cameronians Regiment was formed. (This regiment continued within the British Army until recent times when it was merged with other regiments.) Robert Hamilton and others refused to support such a regiment, on the grounds that it would mean that Christians would be serving alongside, and perhaps under the command of, men who were malignants, or who had not sworn the covenants.

One of James’ last acts as king, before he fled from the country had been to appoint John Graham of Claverhouse to the position of Viscount of Dundee, knowing that, thus so favoured, Clavers would continue the resistance against the new royal house.  In July 1689 Graham raised an army of Highlanders, Irish Catholics and Royalists and met in battle with William’s army at Killiecrankie.  The Williamite troops, still relatively inexperienced in Scotland, were terrified at the sight of a horde of half naked, (The Highlander often army fought naked from the waist down – with the kilt tucked into a belt.) sword waving highlanders advancing on them, panicked and were easily defeated.  The only bright spot for Protestantism in that dark day was when Clavers was struck and mortally wounded.  He was helped to the ground from his horse by one of his own soldiers, but he died on the battlefield, and afterwards someone found his body and stripped it of his clothes. It was an ignominious end for a haughty and proud soldier.

The Cameronians had been too late to take part at Killiecrankie, and they met the highlanders and Irishmen at Dunkeld, a little town surrounded by hills.  The Cameronian’s commander, Lt. Col. Clelland, ordered his men to shoot their horses, so that everyone would know that there was no retreat from this battle, it would be a fight to the death.  Surrounded in the town and outnumbered six to one, the Cameronians bravely fought until they were on their last keg of powder, when, for some reason the highlanders decided that they would not win against these stubborn and resolute men, gave up, and went home!  The last challenge to William’s rule had died, and a band of brave Covenanters had prevented Britain from falling once again under the rule of tyranny and arbitrary power.

In 1690 Mary was faced with the dilemma of watching her husband and her father do battle in Ireland for the crown of Great Britain.  William was victorious, securing the Protestant succession, and the defeated James fled again to France where he remained until his death, a pensioner of the ‘most Christian King of France’.

However, William, although a Calvinist, was not a Presbyterian!  The development of Calvinistic theology in Holland had been along the lines of individual piety, exhibited in a routine of daily devotions and adherence to the faith in every home, rather than the wider concepts of reformation of church and state, as was the case in the development of reformation in Scotland. So, William’s first instinct as king had been to unite his kingdoms with one form of church government, and his preferred system was the Episcopal method.  From this course of action his advisor on Scottish affairs, William Carstairs, dissuaded him. (William Carstairs was four times the Moderator of the General Assembly, and was instrumental in negotiating the Union of Parliaments in 1707.) Carstairs was an old Covenanter who had some ten years before been imprisoned for his views and he pointed out to William the folly of trying to impose a system of prelacy upon the Scots.  William, wanting no more martyrs, readily acquiesced.


Assessment of the Effects of the Revolution.

The events of 1685 to 1690 had a solidifying effect on Scottish Presbyterianism, marking the end of the period of change and evolution that had started with Knox.  With the fierce persecution of the ‘Killing Times’, the Covenanters were almost defeated and only the brutality of the troopers was keeping the covenanting cause alive, as martyrdoms and cruelties inspired others to take up the cause.  The upper classes of society would no longer have supported their cause, had it not been for the new king, and his Popish convictions.  It was the one thing needed to unite the Scots again against the crown, and to fan the old flames of Covenanting zeal.  Added to that, James’ determination to pursue a policy of toleration for all creeds, including of course Romanism, and his attempt to return to arbitrary government, made an overthrow of his reign a certainty.  With elements of opposition in both England and Scotland, James was forced to flee, leaving the way open for William to occupy the throne.  The Scottish bishops, who had backed James as ‘the darling of heaven’ found themselves once again on the losing side, and gaining nothing but public opprobrium.

A new constitution for the Kirk was drafted.  It was overtly Presbyterian.  Bishops were abolished, the General Assembly restored, and synods, presbyteries and Kirk sessions put back in place.  Worship and theology were based upon the provisions of the Westminster Confession.  The church remained subject to parliamentary statute, so the autonomous theocratic system so longed for by Melville and his followers was given no place.  This settlement remained in place until 1921.  Some curates were allowed to remain in place, becoming Presbyterian in name, for although the new acts required a Presbyterian form of government, they did not require a denunciation of Episcopalianism, (This was because such a denunciation may have offended William, who had allowed each kingdom to regulate its own practices.) and this was a situation that many of the Indulged, and not a few former curates could tolerate.

Around five hundred clergy refused to accept the settlement, and wished to remain as Anglicans, practicing the worship of the Book of Common Prayer, and working within an Episcopal arrangement.  These left the Kirk, much in the manner as the Covenanting Presbyterians had been forced to do in 1662, and from their number the Scottish Episcopal Church was born.  Initially it was mostly successful in the North East, and it remained unrecognised as a church until 1792 (The Episcopalians were not permitted to worship in Scotland until 1707, when the Union of Parliaments occurred, and especially after 1712, when the Act of Toleration was passed, although this was only granted to the Episcopalians on the condition that they renounce any remaining disposition to Jacobitism.    In 1766 it was formally reconstituted and in 1792 recognized by the government.)

On the other hand, a number of Covenanters refused to enter the new Kirk system, preferring to remain outside the national church.  These became known as the Cameronians, or more properly the Reformed Presbyterian Church.  The majority of these churches joined the Free Church of Scotland in 1876.

It would be fair to say that neither of the dissenting groups caused much trouble for the government in the years following the 1690 settlement.




From → Covenanters

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