Solemn League & Covenant 25 Sept 1643.

 At the end of the Bishops` Wars and the return of the English Long Parliament in November 1640 there was a public dissatisfaction with the bishops and episcopacy in the church. This gathered momentum  with the attempt to arrest the Five Members. Subsequent to that a bill was passed that removed the bishops from the House of Lords . In 1643 when the Civil War had commenced Parliament passed ordinances that abolished bishops, deans  and chapters . However, the organisation to replace that of episcopacy was much more difficult as the English had to placate  both the Scots who sought to extend Presbytery throughout the three kingdoms, and the army who were much more inclined to nonconformity that included religious tolerance. In these circumstances there was little prospect of a full blown Presbyterian system being accepted right away.

 Simply put the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 was a political agreement between the English Parliamentary party and the Scottish Presbyterians. For the Scots it was a religious covenant with the ultimate aim of extending Presbyterianism as the official faith in England and Ireland, and the extirpation of Popery and Prelacy. For the Parliamentarians it was a military treaty whereby the Scottish army would support them against King Charles I in the English civil war that had broken out. But as ever was the case, the different interpretations of the Covenant would lead to division among the parties.

The agreement came about through an approach by the English Parliamentary party to the Estates in Edinburgh and to the General Assembly in August 1643 for a reciprocal military alliance. The English Commission consisted of Sir William Armyn, Sir Harry Vane (the younger), a Mr Hatcher, Mr Darley a Member of Parliament, and two ministers Mr Stephen Marshall who was Presbyterian and Philip Nye an Independent from the Westminster Assembly of Divines. In the discussions the Church of Scotland representatives, which included Robert Blair, made it clear that it preferred a religious bond and set Alexander Henderson, then the Moderator of the General Assembly, to the task of drafting the document.

 The English Parliamentarians were unhappy with a clause that would have committed them to reject episcopacy and also to take action against the Independents or Congregationalists for which Oliver Cromwell stood. There was moreover, a strong undercurrent amongst the people of England for a form of episcopacy founded on a tradition of 1500 years. There was also much less objection to abolishing  the Laudian changes. This led to amendments that left the door open for  the Independents in England phrasing the agreement as :

 …the reformation of religion in the kingdomes of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, and discipline, and Government according to the word of GOD, and the example of the best reformed churches

 The amendments were made and the document presented to and approved by the General Assembly on 17 August 1643. At this juncture the Estates made its price clear requiring £30,000 a month for providing the forces and also three months payment in advance.

 The Solemn League and Covenant was sent to London with Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, Mr Hatcher and Mr Nye to be approved and subscribed to by the House of Commons and the Westminster Assembly in a joint meeting on 25 September 1643. After this it was returned to Scotland to be subscribed and sworn to by the Commission of the General Assembly and the Committee of the Estates of the Scottish Parliament. It is pertinent to note that only the Scots actually swore to the document and thus were particularly held to it by their conscience. The document was again sworn to in 1648 and 1649, and was subscribed to by Charles II at Speymouth in 1650, and finally on his coronation on New Years Day 1651.

 In a separate treaty of 29 November 1643 the details of the arrangement were confirmed. The Scots would provide an army of 18,000 foot, 2000 horsemen, 1000 dragoons and a train of artillery. The English Parliament agreed to a subsidy of £30,000 a month which was later increased to £31,000.

 The trouble that the Covenanters went to agreeing and publicising the Solemn League and Covenant is quite remarkable, but also very prudent  for it left no one in any doubt what it was they intended. The General Assembly followed up the treaty, which was widely sworn to by the people, by requiring ministers to report anybody who disapproved or would not swear to the Covenants. It also became a requirement to subscribe to both covenants for very many public and semi public duties. This for example included students entering universities, even to persons taking the Holy Communion for the first time. A consequence was that the acceptance of the Covenants was debased as the people `s self interest sought jobs, preferment and power. This is why James Guthrie wrote in his The Causes of the Lords Wrath against Scotland  about the ignorance people had as to the importance of the Covenant, and the lack of sincerity by many who swore to it.

J Vos in The Scottish Covenanters points out that the requirement to swear to the Covenants was a mistake and should have been a voluntary action. By making it compulsory the zeal of the Covenanter leaders exceeded their wisdom   because it unintentionally tempted many to accept the Covenants in a dishonest, careless, or least implicit way  The Independents remained in opposition to the extension of Presbytery throughout 1644 which delayed the creation of classes (courts) and later the adoption of the Directory for public worship. A start was made with the division of the Province of London into 12 classes  and foreshadowed the splitting of the counties into Presbyteries. Progress then began to grind to halt as it encountered a groundswell for an Erastian settlement and constraints on the appointment and powers of elders. Moreover, since the victory at Naseby there was no real need for the Scottish Army and thus no underlying need to agree with their wishes. Thus a half a loaf compromise was adopted by the Scottish Commissioners with an effort to implement in London. There is some evidence that the Scots Army was deliberately sidelined - they were given no `marching orders`, and the payment agreed upon witheld by Cromwell`s order.

Since 1645  when the New Model Army came into being, and especially from 1647 onwards, Presbyterians either resigned or were expelled from the army with most of its officers being sectaries. Despite their wide range of beliefs they were, however, united in championing toleration. Thus the Scottish aspirations gradually crumbled in the face of this major disagreement of principle, and were dealt mortal blows by Cromwell`s subsequent victories at Dunbar and Worcester.

 

 

 Commemorated at the Biggar Museum is the above quote made about the Solemn League and Covenant. Robert Burns spoke in reply to sneering comments about the sufferings of Scotland for conscience  which called the Solemn League and Covenant  fanatical and ridiculous. He retorted :

The Solemn League and Covenant

Cost Scotland blood - cost Scotland tears:

But it seal`d Freedoms sacred cause -

If thou`rt a slave, indulge thy sneers.

18/07/2011

  

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