The National Covenant
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
In 1633, the year in which Wentworth was to go to Ireland and Laud was to become Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles visited his northern kingdom in company with Laud. He had already entered on the dangerous course of appointing Laudian bishops. The ritual of the services attended by the King of Scotland was alarming to Scottish Protestantism.
The parliament summoned at Edinburgh was hardly permitted to express its antagonism to the bills laid before it by the Lords of the Articles, who in the nature of things were practically all king's men; moreover, it was placed in a difficulty by being required to reject or to pass the whole series en bloc.
Even under these conditions the bills were passed with difficulty, though Charles may have been unaware of the intensity of the antagonism which they aroused. In the main, they were confirmations of the Acts of the last reign and of the Act of Revocation.
Soon after Charles left Scotland a widely-signed protest was drawn up by Lord Balmerino; whereupon he was prosecuted for treason, though the only punishment inflicted was a short imprisonment. For the first time since the Reformation a bishop was appointed to the Chancellorship — a fresh grievance to the nobles, and a fresh ground of hostility towards the bishops at large.
Book of Canons
In 1636 a Book of Canons, or Ecclesiastical Regulations, was issued, with no warrant save that of the royal authority, in which the Presbyterian constitution of the Church was ignored; and in the following year was issued a new Service Book, which differed from that used in England only in some details which rendered it more anti-Calvinistic. It was assumed that Laud t was responsible; erroneously, as it happened, because the most objection-able details had been introduced against his judgment at the instance of certain Scottish bishops, who were more Laudian than Laud himself.
A mere perusal of the new Service Book was all that was needed to drive the still existing moderate party into full opposition. On the first attempt to read the new service in St. Giles's in Edinburgh, an unseemly riot broke out. Tradition affirms that it was opened by a woman named Jenny Geddes, who flung her stool at the head of the officiating Deans.
Popular feeling was overwhelmingly on the side of the rioters, whom the magistrates did not dare to punish. All over the country, it became manifest that half the ministers would refuse on their own account to use the Service Book in spite of the Royal injunction, and the other half would not be allowed to use it by their congregations.
The National League and Covenant
Petitions poured in against the innovations. A vast gathering of protestors was resolved into a group of elected committees known as the "Tables," who acted practically as if they had been a legally assembled parliament of the nation. The Tables formulated the National League and Covenant for the defence of religion, and in March 1638 the whole Scottish nation was signing it.
The document was based upon a Covenant of 1581 "against popery," which had been signed by King James himself; but it was accompanied by explanatory clauses explicitly condemning recent innovations. It was expressly and even fervently loyal to the Crown, but it was an emphatic refusal on the part of the whole nation to have forced upon it a form of religion which it regarded as intolerable, though it did not actually denounce Episcopacy.
Faced with such a unanimous resistance the king sent the Marquis of Hamilton to negotiate, with full powers, while Puritan England looked on and sympathised with the Scots. The Scots insisted on a free parliament, a free General Assembly, and the revocation of the new Service Book and the Book of Canons; and they would not listen to the king's demand that the National Covenant should itself be withdrawn, Charles was obliged to give way.
The Episcopate dissolved
At the end of the year a General Assembly met; the bishops refused to recognise its authority over them. The Assembly insisted; when Hamilton dissolved it, it paid no attention, but continued to act on its own responsibility, deposed the bishops, and abolished the Episcopate.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.