The Bishops Wars and Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1639-1646)

 The best known events of the Covenanters tend to be the pivotal National Covenant (1638), the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the horrors of "The Killing Time" (1684-5). But in between there were other events of significance which should not be overlooked. Not least of these were "The Bishops Wars" and the ongoing interference of the three countries - England, Ireland and Scotland - in one another's affairs.

Over the course of 1639 and 1640 Charles I was to clash twice with his Scottish subjects in the Bishops Wars, so-called because of the resistance by the Presbyterians to the rule by bishops (episcopacy). But there were also in a short space of time the rebellion of the Catholic Irish (and Old English settlers from Norman times) in October, 1641, for which a Scots army went to Ireland in 1642. Meanwhile, Civil War erupted in England in August 1642 in which the Covenanters' Army became embroiled after the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643. And as if that wasn't enough, an Irish force under Alasdair McColl (or MacDonald) landed in Argyll in 1644 and joined up with the royalist forces under the Marquis of Montrose. Thus Scotland was involved in wars on three fronts for three different reasons: the Covenanters for religion; the political objectives for a Greater Britain; and, the private ambitions of Argyll over the Lordship of the Isles.

Following the National Covenant of 1638 there was a wave of euphoria that surged through the Presbyterian leaders resulting in dreams of extending "the royal prerogative of King Jesus ... through all the earth". For the King there were significant dangers as not only were the Covenanters challenging his authority in Scotland, it also stimulated the Puritan movement in England who for  very long time had been pressing for simplification in the Church of England. What did emerge from the short rule of the Covenanters was a more representative Parliament  and thereby the establishment of  a Scottish House of Commons.

The Bishops Wars were almost non-events with little real fighting at national level, but was an excuse for feuding between local families in the north east and west of Scotland. Following the signing of the National Covenant the Marquis of Hamilton, the King`s Commissioner, is thought by some to have thrown in the towel. But he was in fact trying very hard to get the King to acknowledge the Covenant and take the sting out of the potential rebellion. In June 1638 he fobbed off representations for an Assembly and Parliament; twice he returned to the Court in London to consult with the King and tried to get him to change his confrontational approach. At this time there was still goodwill among the Presbyterians generally and had Charles accepted an explanation of the Covenant as not being rebellion, there was potential to win over a substantial proportion of the middle of the road Presbyterians. Hamilton meanwhile had also drawn up lists of  25 Covenanters divided into five categories - nobles, barons, burgesses, ministers and advocates. The nobles included the Earls of Rothes, Lothian, Weymes; Lords Eglinton, Lindsay, and Balmerino. A second list was of  46 nobles who might be supporters of the Crown and included those who were waverers or at least pragmatists who would listen to reason. These included  the Duke of Lennox, Marquis of Huntly, Earl of Traquair, and the Catholic Marquis of Douglas and the Earl of Abercorn. Among the pragmatic waverers were the Earls of Southesk, Lauderdale, Dunfermline, Glencairn, Haddington and Tullibardine. Thus armed Hamilton had at least a chance of brokering an agreement or dividing the Presbyterian opposition. But Charles was his arrogant and adamant self, and a chance for compromise was lost. Charles then encountered problems recruiting militia in the North of England, while a force of 5000 troops was placed on board a naval expeditionary force that arrived in the Forth in May 1639. The problem with this was that the men were untrained and less than 200 of them had ever held a musket. To make matters worse most of the guns were broken. With the royalist forces in disarray it was fortunate that avenues of communication remained open and both sides came round to seeking a solution before a battle actually broke out.

The Bishops Wars

 The first Bishop's War began in March 1639 and lasted for about five weeksbishop1.jpg (24646 bytes) during which there was skirmishing in Invernessshire. Covenanters under the command of the Marquis of Montrose and General Leslie took the city of Aberdeen marching under flags bearing the legend "For Religion, the Covenant and the Country". The rank and file wore a blue scarf across their chests and under the left arm called "the Covenanter's ribbon". In this campaign the Earl of Huntly was seized and taken to Edinburgh, although the first serious blood to flow occurred on May 10, in the "Trot of Turriff", which was a victory for the royalists followed by their recapturing Aberdeen. However, Montrose and Leslie chased them out again within the month.

In the south, the Covenanters took control of the strong castles of Dumbarton and Edinburgh and by May they had some 20,000 men in arms. On May 9, Leslie was commissioned to command it "for defence of the Covenant, for religion, crown and country". King Charles meanwhile was approaching with an army of about 21,000 and had issued a proclamation at Newcastle offering representation in Parliament and requiring the Scots to withdraw ten miles from the border. Leslie and his troops camped at Duns Law 12 miles away.

The main battle proposed by Charles never developed: instead there was a low-key standoff at Duns Law in the Borders on June 5, 1639, followed by the Treaty of Birks (Berwick) thirteen days later. This  came about through Wentworth in Ireland despatching  John Lesley, Bishop of Raphoe, to counsel Charles. The king was in dire straits with his commander in chief , the Earl of Arundel; and Lord Holland as General of the cavalry. Both were totally incompetent favourites at court, without any military experience, which they proved in the field and justified Wentworth`s contempt for them. Lesley, a Scot, knew the lie of the land and his countrymen and concurred with the advice sent to postpone the attack on Scotland for at least a year and keep the Scots  in play with treaties. At last Charles saw light and privately sent a message back with Lesley, for Wentworth to come to Whitehall as soon as he could. The Covenanters withdrew with Charles' undertaking to accept civil and ecclesiastical control by the Parliaments and Assemblies respectively, ringing in their ears.

bishop2.jpg (32419 bytes)The treaty was at best a convenient breathing space but was rejected by the Assembly and The Estates. In August, 1640, the Second Bishops War saw the Covenanting army make a pre-emptive strike and pushed the Royalist forces back to the River Tyne, defeated it at the battle of Newburn on August 28 and entered the city of Newcastle on the 30th. Although some pockets of resistance remained for a while - Caerlaverock Castle and Edinburgh held out till September, the Treaty of Ripon on October 26, 1640, concluded hostilities.  The detail was referred back to the English Parliament which had offered 200,000 towards a settlement ( not as the King and Wentworth had hoped - to fund further war).

 It is of note that that the leading dissenting nobles - Loudon, Eglinton and Rothes - led regiments in the First Bishops War and many feudal nobles regained their status of old as warlords. Their troops also included a backbone of professional officers and sergeants - the army commander was Alexander Leslie, a former field marshal in the Swedish Army. Many of the regiments also had their own ministers with them such that over a third of the ministers of the Kirk served in the dozen or so armies of the Covenant conveying the message of it being a holy war. But there was also an element of settling old scores, with Archibald Campbell, the eighth Earl and first Marquis of Argyll, engaged in a private war in the Braes of Mar, Atholl, Angus and Rannoch before he moved on to secure Dumbarton Castle against a threat from Ireland.

The Bishops Wars did not, however, bring a feeling of security to any of the combatants. In Scotland there was a move for political change and significantly no representation was given the Covenanters on the newly formed executive, "The Committee of Estates". The English Parliamentarians meanwhile, were fearful of the price the Scots might ask for their support whether in terms of money or religion.

 The Marquis of Argyll, meanwhile, had his own agenda and saw the prospect of further war between himself and the MacDonalds, both Scots and Irish, which had centred on Kintyre and the islands of Colonsay and Islay in 1639. Moreover, any such attack on him by the Earl of Antrim would be with the support of the Crown. It was a situation that could well have been a stand off,

The reaction of the Covenanters to the English Civil War was to try and keep out of it, however, in August 1643 the English parliament appealed to the new and political Committee of Estates. Within days a draft of the Solemn League and Covenant was produced. In return for a promise to give military help to the English Parliamentarians opposing the King, the Covenanters entered into a "Solemn League and Covenant. .solemnleague.jpg (73415 bytes) This sought complete uniformity of religion in Britain - the adoption of Presbyterianism as the approved church in England and Ireland. The Covenant was adopted by the Kirk in Scotland but it was never formally endorsed by the English Parliament. At last it seemed to the Covenanters that their goal was in sight but joy was relatively short lived. Three months later a Scottish Army of the Covenant under Alexander Leslie (now Earl of Leven) crossed the Border and were met with resistance at Newcastle which they bypassed. Attacking York, they were able to play a significant part in Charles' defeat at Marston Moor in July 1644. Returning to Newcastle, the Covenanters besieged the city which finally surrendered in October.

After the King's execution in 1649 the Scots immediately proclaimed his son Charles II King of Scotland (and also of England and Ireland) conditional upon him accepting Presbyterianism and the Covenants. Under considerable pressure the King signed in June 1649. This was unacceptable to Cromwell who now ruled England, and there followed a bloody battle at Dunbar where he showed no mercy. Many were killed and hundreds exiled to the Plantations in Ireland, America and the West Indies. From then until 1660 the Covenanters were again repressed under the civil law, although they enjoyed the same toleration that Cromwell allowed for all Non Conformist creeds, including Catholics.

Montrose Changes Sides

 There was dissension in the ranks as James Graham, fifth Earl and firstmontrose2.jpg (35822 bytes) Marquis of Montrose had formed the "Cumbernauld Bond" which was a pledge with other nobles who were concerned by the politics of Argyll, to promote the public aims of the Covenant against the private advantage. Montrose also had second thoughts about the National League and Covenant, objecting to the pledge under cover of religion, to wrest the regal authority from the king. Whether this was so, or pique at not being made the commander of the armies, or more likely that his arch enemy Argyll had pride of place among the Covenanters. Whatever the reason he took up arms for the king.

So 1644 also saw the direct intervention of the Irish soldiers in Scotland. Led by Alastair MacDonald, son to Coll the left handed of Colonsay (ousted by the Campbells from Colonsay), and a MacDonald of Dunnyveg, he was close kin to the Earl of Antrim. With him came some 1000 clansmen with families and cattle who landed at Ardnamurchan on the west coast of Scotland and joined up with Montrose at Blair Atholl.  There followed a golden year for Montrose and his army with victory at Tippermuir near Perth on September 1, 1644, where 1300 Covenanters lay dead and 800 captured. At the Bridge of Dee his troops saw off the best the Covenanters could offer and sacked Aberdeen with three days of pillage, rape and murder. They then dashed headlong through the passes of the southern Highlands to attack and loot Castle Campbell at Dollar, in the heartland of Argyll and Clan Campbell. Argyll himself managed to escape only to be thrashed again at Inverlochy, on February 2, 1645, where 1500 Campbell clansmen lay dead on the field of battle. Further successes followed at Auldearn near Nairn (May 9) with 2000 Covenanter troops killed, Alford (July 2) and at Kilsyth (15 August) on the Borders where he swept the Covenanter army down the hill to have Scotland at his feet.  With the government and Argyll fled into England, Montrose made peace with the local noblemen and burghs. But fate and the self- interest of his supporters deserted him with his Gordon soldiers leaving in a huff, and the Irish left to go and settle some more old scores with the Campbells. Thus weakened, his luck ran out at Philiphaugh in September, 1645, where lacking good intelligence he was routed by David Leslie and the Covenanter Army. Montrose fled to exile on the Continent to return over four years later in support of Charles II, but he ended his life on the gallows in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile the alliance was under strain with the Scots complaining that the promised monies for the army was much delayed, its needs were not being met wyliealexleslie.jpg (24145 bytes) and the hope of religous uniformity was fading. The English Parliamentarians saw Scottish forces being withdrawn to meet Montrose and feared another deal with King Charles.  Elsewhere, Alexander Leslie, Lord Leven, turned to towards Newark, the last surviving stronghold in the Midlands that Charles held. The seige began in November 1645 and was still in progress on May 5, 1646, when Charles made his way to surrender to the Scottish Army.

The Civil War was at an end leaving the hard line Covenanters once again in charge of Scotland. King Charles meanwhile was taken to Newcastle where he was held prisoner, much to his disgust. On 24 July the Propositions, the final ultimatum of the Solemn League and Covenant, were put to the king. These required him to accept the Covenant, establish religious uniformity in Scotland and England, yield his partisan supporters and surrender control of the militia for twenty years.

 The Scots wanted to get out of the alliance and to withdraw its army but the English Parliamentarians resolved that they could do as they wished with the king while he remained on English territory. This placed the Scots in a dilemma as they either had to give up "their" king or face the might of the Independent's army - the New Army of Cromwell. Practical considerations finally held the day with the Scots accepting 400,000 in full discharge of their claim for arrears of pay etc. On February 3, 1647, half payment was made and on the same day Charles was handed over to the Parliament's Commissioners.

Here ended the aspirations of the Solemn League and Covenant. But there was yet more intrigue to come - a split in the Covenanter ranks and another treaty with King Charles (the Engagement) which would end with the Kings execution and the Union of three countries into the Republic of Britain, under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.

Next: Montrose`s campaign.

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