1638-1643: The Covenants



In 1637 the Scots born Charles I—monarch of the three kingdoms of Scotland , England and Ireland—ordered, without consultation,  the use of a modified version of the English Common Prayer Book in the Church of Scotland . This interference by a Stuart monarch on the Scots Kirk initially provoked public riots in the streets of Edinburgh which later developed into an organised campaign with representation from the nobility, gentry, burgesses and clergy.  A National Covenant was drawn up bonding together these parties and although it declared Scotland’s loyalty to the king it demanded adherence to doctrines previously enshrined by Acts of Parliament and for untried “innovations” in religion.


Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh (Robert Guthrie)

On the 28th February 1638 a large crowd gathered in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh to sign and show their adherence to the National Covenant. Copies were sent throughout the land.

General Assembly, Glasgow

By the end of that year the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotlandmeeting in Glasgow Cathedral abolished Episcopacy, i.e. rule by Bishops, from the Scots Kirk . The Covenanters had established themselves as the major political and religious for in the kingdom of Scotland.

The Bishops Wars

The King’s ill thought out military campaign of 1639 against the well organised  forces of the Covenanters  concluded with a face-saving truce . His second attempt to subdue the Covenanters the following year ended after the Scots march unopposed into Newcastle and hostilities ceased with the signing of the Treaty of Ripon bringing to an end what were known at the Bishops Wars.



In August 1642 Civil War broke out in England pitting together Royalist and Parliamentarian forces. After some early set backs the Royalists began to strengthen their position. In October 1643 the Covenanters and Parliamentarians entered into an alliance the terms of which were defined in The Solemn League and Covenant. The Covenanters would provide military support and in return the Scots form of Presbyterian worship and church government would be adopted in the kingdoms of England and Ireland; or so they understood.

The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear;
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs:
If thou’rt a slave, indulge thy sneer.

Robert Burns