OVER the last two weeks we have looked at the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 and how these two documents changed Scottish history. By their intervention in the English Civil War, the Covenanters showed not only that they were in control of Scotland in the mid-1640s, but that they were prepared to enforce their rule by military means.

They had to do so when Scotland’s own civil war broke out in 1644. We will deal with this complex subject in the forthcoming two-part account of the life of the Marquis of Montrose as he was the central figure in the conflict between the Covenanters and those who remained in the diminishing camp of King Charles I.

When he surrendered to the Covenanters in 1646, Charles’s stubborn belief in his divine right to rule cost him his head. He refused to accept the Covenant and eventually the Covenanters handed him over to the Parliamentary forces, although, in truth, they could not have known that Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army, who were now really in control of England, wanted Charles Stuart dead.

Even as the king lay in prison, some of the Covenanters were prepared to “engage” with Charles and after he promised to support Presbyterianism in England, these “Engagers” formed their own army under the Duke of Hamilton and invaded England in 1648.

A large faction of the more radical Covenanters, who became known as the Kirk Party and were led by the Marquis of Argyll, disapproved of the Engagement with Charles and would not support the new army.

Without Scotland’s normal army leaders, such as David Leslie or the Earl of Leven, Alexander Leslie – no relations – and with too many inexperienced soldiers, the Engagers’ invasion ended with a shattering defeat at the Battle of Preston in 1648.

In the wake of that defeat, the Kirk Party took over the running of Scotland after various raids and skirmishes in what had become a second Scottish civil war between the Engagers and the Kirk Party, the most famous conflict being the Whiggamore Raid (named after the nickname for the Kirk Party’s adherents ), which ended with them in charge of Edinburgh and the country.

Their radical Presbyterianism saw even more suppression of anything the Covenanters did not approve of, so that the period became known as the Rule of the Saints.

When Charles I was executed in January 1649, the Covenanters were shocked. That had not been part of their plans and despite his faults – and they were legion – many Covenanters were still loyal to the Stuart monarchy and protested vehemently before the execution. Shortly after the regicide, Charles’s son, Charles, Prince of Wales, was declared king of Scots by the Scottish Parliament.

Thus in 1650 the Kirk Party signed the Treaty of Breda with King Charles II, who came to Scotland in June of that year, and who conceded that Presbyterianism would be the state religion.

In hindsight the Treaty was a dreadful error, for it brought Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army to Scotland.

Famously, Cromwell sent a final letter of appeal to the General Assembly asking it to desist from its devotion to the Crown: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

War was only days away, however, and the Scots were up against probably the best army in the world at that point. After their crushing victory at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 – another story in itself – the English occupied most of Scotland.

Despite his increasing dismay at the antics of the Covenanters, who themselves were split into factions – the radical Protesters and the moderate Resolutioners, led by Argyll – Charles agreed to be crowned King of Scots at Scone on Ne’erday 1651. He was the last King of Scots to be crowned in the traditional way at Scone.

Charles marched south with a new royalist army that was defeated by Cromwell’s much larger force at the Battle of Worcester. The king fled abroad, and Cromwell proceeded to subjugate nearly all of Scotland.

The Covenanters were no longer in charge. Instead General George Monck was governor of Scotland and he set about suppressing all resistance. After the death of Cromwell in 1658, Monck realised the monarchy had to be restored and he marched south to Westminster where Parliament voted for the Restoration.

Charles II soon showed he could be more ruthless than Cromwell, and the Covenanters earned his particular wrath. He showed immediately that he had no intention of enforcing Presbyterianism as the state religion, as he had promised.

Indeed he was barely on the throne before he had the Covenanting Marquis of Argyll executed for treason. Charles then had the Rev James Guthrie arrested and charged with high treason. His crime had been to publish a pamphlet in 1653 called Cause of God’s Wrath – the king and all who supported him were evil, basically.

Guthrie’s last testimony was recorded: “The matters for which I am condemned are matters belonging to my calling and function as a minister of the Gospel – such as the discovery of sin and reproving of sin, the pressing and the holding fast of the oath of God in the Covenant, and preserving and carrying on the work of religion and reformation according thereto, and denying to acknowledge the civil magistrate as the proper competent judge in causes ecclesiastical – that in all these things, which – God so ordering by His gracious providence – are the grounds of my indictment and death, I have a good conscience, as having walked therein accordingly to the light and rule of God’s Word, and as did become a minister of the Gospel.”

He pleaded guilty to the charge and went to the scaffold shouting “The Covenants, the Covenants, shall yet be Scotland’s reviving.”

CHARLES was in no mood to let up – he had the Rescissory Act of 1661 passed which rescinded all the laws made since 1633 and gave himself the power to appoint bishops for Scotland.

The power of the Covenanters as governing force for Scotland was finally over, due as much to the internal divisions in their ranks as Charles’s restoration.

More than 400 ministers were threatened with losing their positions unless they accepted the new laws. About a third did not do so and, in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire in particular, the Covenanters and their ministers took to the fields to hold small gatherings that became known as Conventicles.

The image we have of them with ministers preaching to their flocks while the king’s troops searched for them is very accurate.

Even after the Scottish Privy Council, which governed Scotland for Charles, offered the Covenanter ministers their homes back if they took an oath of loyalty to the king, almost all who had first been ejected refused to do so.

Mass arrests and imprisonments of ordinary folk who were Covenanters did not deter them. Those who refused to attend churches staffed by men who became known as “King’s Curates” were known as recusants and faced stiff fines if caught.

Ministers such as “Prophet” Peden and Donald Cargill dashed about the countryside preaching at conventicles – that soon became an offence punishable by death.

The Covenanters who were arrested had a choice – stay in prison or take the following oath: “I being apprehended for being at the late rebellion; and whereas the lords of his majesty’s privy council, in pursuance of his majesty’s command, have ordained me to be set at liberty, I enacting myself to the effect underwritten: therefore I bind, oblige, and enact myself in the books of the privy council, that hereafter I shall not take up arms, without or against his majesty, or his authority. As witness my hand, &c.”

Hundreds of took the oath but many did not swear allegiance, even with the threat of execution hanging over them.

Covenanters wanted to do more to oppose the forces trying to crush them and in 1666 they broke out in armed resistance in Galloway which ended with a near massacre of their untrained, poorly armed force, at the Battle of Rullion Green near Penicuik in Midlothian.

Samuel Pepys wrote of the event in his diary: “For certain the Scott rebells are all routed; they having been so bold as to come within three miles of Edinburgh, and there given two or three repulses to the King’s forces, but at last were mastered.

“Three or four hundred killed or taken, among which their leader, one Wallis, and seven ministers, they having all taken the Covenant a few days before, and sworn to live and die in it, as they did; and so all is likely to be there quiet again.”

Only for a while, as Charles’s Privy Council brought in 6000 troops from the Highlands to police the lowlands – never a good idea. The smashing of conventicles and the killing of Covenanters – many fled to the Netherlands and the protection of the House of Orange – went on throughout the 1670s until events came to a head in 1679.

Archbishop Sharp, who had been chief persecutor of the king’s opponents, was murdered on the Magus Muir by a small group of local Covenanters, all of whom were caught and executed. The murder was the signal for an open uprising.

George Gilfillan in his detailed book Martyrs and Heroes of the Covenant describes the Covenanters of the time: “They were terribly in earnest. The passion that was in them, like all great passions, refused to be divided.

‘‘Their idea possessed them with a force and a fullness to which we find few parallels in history. It haunted their sleep, it awoke with them in the morning – it walked , like their shadow, with them to business or to pleasure – it became the breath of their nostrils and the soul of their soul.”

All over southern parts of Scotland you will find memorial stones to Covenanters, either individuals of groups, who died as martyrs to their cause after a law was passed to allow the killing on sight of anyone attending a conventicle.

Next week, in the final part of this brief look at the Covenanters, we will examine two famous battles and give details of the period that the Covenanters are most famous for – the Killing Time.

It will not make for easy reading.