The Return of the King


The Return of the King

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. His son, Richard, succeeded him, but lacked the ferocity of will of his father, and in the face of a seriously debilitating financial situation, political manoevering, and the increasing distrust of the New Model Army, power was wrested from him in 1659. He left for exile in France in 1660, almost two months after Charles II had been invited to return to England, where he was subsequently crowned monarch. The Union of the Crowns between Scotland and England was revived, and there were celebrations at the return of a king. However, Charles II’s own political machinations soon fell foul of what the Covenanters had expected. He did not adhere to the Covenant.  Instead, he renounced all covenants and  ordered that copies of the Solemn League and Covenant, which had been signed on 25 September 1643 by the Scots and the English Parliamentarians, be collected and burnt by executioners. Episcopacy was established as the official religion of Scotland, with James Sharpe appointed as Archbishop of St Andrews and primate of Scotland. Any ministers who opposed the changes were again expelled from their churches.

It was an affront to everything the Covenanters had hoped for. The ministers who adhered to the Covenant still preached, in open-air meetings called Conventicles. However, as this was deemed a capital offence, many who attended these Conventicles came fully armed and ready for the fight.

Field preachers such as Alexander “prophet” Peden, Donald Cargill, and James Renwick, became hunted men by the Government, heroes to the Covenanting faithful, and martyrs to their cause when they died: Peden died a free man, hiding from Government troops, but his buried body was disinterred and gibbetted; Cargill was captured, then taken to Edinburgh where he was hanged then beheaded in 1681; and James Renwick was captured and hanged in Edinburgh in 1688 – almost the last of the Covenanting martyrs. The  South West of Scotland was particular supportive of the Covenanters and many of the notable struggles occurred here. Alexander Peden took extreme measures to disguise himself – adopting a leather mask to conceal his face while he travelled around the country – you can view it in the National Museum of Scotland.

It was a brutal time, with outrages perpetrated on both sides. Archbishop Sharpe, loathed by the Covenanters, had been taken by chance and shot and hacked to death in front of his daughter, near St Andrews, on May 3rd 1679; and on June 1st 1679, a conventicle at Drumclog became the backdrop to a well-orchestrated plan by the Covenanters to confront and oppose the Government troops, led by  John Graham of Claverhouse (known as  Bonnie Dundee by Government supporters and Bloody Clavers by the Covenanters). They faced them, fought them and defeated them. The Covenanters may have thought that things were going their way – but only a few weeks later, their army was defeated at The Battle of Bothwell Bridge and the prisoners were marched to Edinburgh and herded into Greyfriar’s Kirkyard – the very place where the National Covenant had been signed decades before. Those considered the most radical were executed  by hanging in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, but around 250 people endured the winter weather in what is still known as The Covenanters’ Prison, before being put on board a transportation ship in December 1679. It was meant to carry them to America, but it foundered and sank off  a headland called Scarvataing, on Deerness, Orkney, and most perished there: around 50 managed to escape the boat, but most were re-captured.

Many of the the more radical Covenanters, who remained at liberty, formed themselves into “Societies” – small guerrilla bands, who released treatises and proclamations, and took revenge on any Government bands they found. The Government, however, had realised that the high profile executions created martyrs and brought in The Abjuration Oath. Anyone who would not take the oath – which claimed loyalty to the King and a renouncing of the Covenant – could be killed on the spot. This was brutal but effective order and it was an efficient, callous method of eradicating Covenanters without the spectacle (and perhaps cost) of public executions.

But then, in 1685, their persecutor, Charles II died. His brother, James, was unopposed as his heir, but that left a Catholic King on the throne. His Protestant nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange, who had been at war with Catholic France off and on  for several years, was mindful of yet another powerful Catholic monarch, and he formed an invasion force.  James' support within the court withered and he fled – another Stewart monarch exiled in France. There had been no battles, no deposing of the king, no desperate last stands by loyal lords to protect their monarch. Political expediency came to the fore: James had not been deposed, he had abdicated in favour of his nephew and son-in-law. A Protestant King and Queen now sat on the throne. It was the end of the bloodiest years of the Covenanting cause – but, with the rise of the Jacobites, the time of peace, such as it was, would not last so very long.