The Origins of the Scottish Episcopal Church


Wherever I have been in Scotland I have found that little is known about the origins of the Scottish Reformation except for a few inaccurate tales about John Knox, Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Geddes and the riot in St Giles, and the Covenanters. The Reformation of the Church in Scotland was a long drawn out process, which lasted from 1560 to 1690, during which the pendulum swung between Episcopalianism (government by bishops) and Presbyterianism (government by presbyteries). It is also a common fault to refer to the Episcopal Church as the ‘English’ Church, whereas the Scottish Episcopal Church is entirely independent from the Church of England in its government, liturgies, and in the election of its bishops etc. it is, however, in full communion with the Church of England, as is the Church in Wales, the Church of Ireland and all the other members of the Anglican Communion (such as the Anglican Church in Japan or in Southern Africa).

Accordingly, some 12 years or so ago, I produced a series of articles in the magazine of St Ninian’s Episcopal Church in Castle Douglas, which attempted to give a short history of the Scottish origins of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and this booklet is based on those articles.

I am no historian, and so I have had to rely for my information on the writings of various church historians. (I have listed some of their books at the end of this booklet.) As the poet wrote in another context, ‘I have made a posy of other men’s flowers’.

David Main
March 2009

Chapter I: The break with Rome – both abroad and at home

As with the Reformation in England, the origins of the Reformation in Scotland are to be found in the process of reform initiated in continental Europe, mainly in Germany and Switzerland. In the early part of the 16th century, there was much dissatisfaction in some quarters in the Western (Roman) Church as regards both its theology and its practices. Too much emphasis had been given in its teaching to salvation by works rather than by faith: for instance, time spent in purgatory could be lessened by carrying out good works or even by buying indulgences. The Church was also too much concerned with temporal affairs and was getting increasingly richer: the Pope and bishops were too involved in politics and the religious orders paid little attention to their vows of poverty. In other words, the Church was corrupt and in need of reform.

The leader of reform in Germany was a monk, Martin Luther who launched, at Wittenberg in 1517, a protest against abuses of the Church. He quickly received backing from supporters throughout Germany. He was tried for heresy in Rome, but he was given the protection of his prince, Frederick III of Saxony. He was duly excommunicated by the Pope in 1521, but his ideas continued to spread throughout Germany and beyond and, by 1526, the German princes had won the right to organise national churches. But in England Henry VIII opposed the teachings of Luther in a pamphlet in 1521, which won for him, from Pope Leo X, the title of Defender of the Faith, a title still held by the Crown today.

However, in 1529, Henry wished to obtain an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, no male heir having been produced, but the new Pope, Clement VII, refused to grant it. In 1533, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, dissolved Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and Anne Boleyn became the new Queen. As a result of this, Pope Clement excommunicated Henry. In response, Henry got Parliament to pass an Act in 1534 making him ‘Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England’. The break with Rome was thus total; but in matters of reform Henry was still a conservative: although in 1537 orders were given for a Bible in English to be available in every church, the Latin Mass continued in use, and the King tried to maintain a balance between Catholic and Protestant sympathisers.

Meanwhile on the continent (also in 1534) the Frenchman, John Calvin, resigned his benefices in the Roman Church. The next year, in danger from the persecution of Protestants by the French King, Francis I, Calvin fled to Switzerland, where he remained until his death in 1564. He was more radical in his reforms and theology than Luther, setting up in Geneva a church-run state on Old Testament lines and teaching that some men were predestined by God to salvation, and others were predestined to damnation.

In Scotland, in 1541, James V exhorted his bishops to reform their manner of living, and this prompted the Scottish Parliament to pass an act ‘for reforming kirks and kirkmen’ – but this reform was not concerned with the Church’s theology but with its discipline and the morals of its clergy. After James’s death, and the succession of his infant daughter Mary, it looked as if a Reformation on the conservative lines of that in England might take place – for instance, in 1543, an Act was passed permitting people to possess the scriptures in Scots or English. However, this gentle move towards reform came to nothing, and the Protestant preacher, George Wishart, was tried and executed for heresy in 1546. His accuser, the far from godly Cardinal Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews, was murdered shortly afterwards by Wishart’s supporters. At Easter the next year, John Knox openly attacked the doctrines of the Church from the pulpit and administered the Communion according to the practice of the continental Reformers.

Just a few months before this in January 1547, Henry VIII had died and had been succeeded by his young son, Edward VI. The young King, who was Cranmer’s godson, was in sympathy with the continental Reformers, and so the Archbishop was given the freedom to proceed with the task of full Reform which he had not had under Henry. This resulted in the production of the first English Book of Common Prayer in 1549, in which the Communion Office was a relatively conservative revision and translation of the Latin Mass. A further, more radical, edition of the Prayer Book was produced in 1552. One of the persons involved in this production was John Knox who had come for sanctuary to England, where he was made a Chaplain to Edward VI; it was even proposed that he should be made a bishop. It should be noted that the structure of the Church of England, founded on the historic Order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, remained intact throughout the process of Reform.

Edward died in 1553 and was succeeded by Mary Tudor, who at once set about restoring Catholicism to the Church of England. Knox fled to Calvin’s Geneva, and Cranmer was tried for heresy and burnt at the stake in 1556. On Mary’s death in 1558, her half-sister Elizabeth succeeded to the throne. Elizabeth disliked the Catholics (who denied her legitimacy) and the Calvinists (who opposed episcopacy). Being a pragmatic politician she sought a compromise between the two extremes, and a third revision of the Prayer Book was issued in 1559, which softened some of the more radical parts of the 1552 Book. Later excommunication of Elizabeth by Pope Pius V, and his encouragement of the Queen’s subjects to rebel against her, led inevitably to the persecution of English Catholics.

In Scotland, those in favour of Reform were in close touch with what was going on in England and on the Continent. However politically Scotland was, out of necessity, in alliance with Catholic France (as a defence against English attack) and in 1557 the 15-year old Queen Mary married the Dauphin, who was given the courtesy title of King of Scotland. (She had been sent to France in 1547 as his betrothed.) Also in 1557, certain nobles in Scotland, known as Lords of the Congregation, forsook the Roman Church and pledged themselves to establish a reformed kirk. They tried to achieve, by negotiation, the replacement of the Mass by the Reformed Communion Service and the holding of services in the common tongue; but both Parliament and the Provincial Council of the Clergy refused assent to their requests.

In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland and, on 11th May in the Parish Kirk at Perth, he preached a rousing sermon in which he declared that the Mass was an idolatrous rite. This produced a riot and all the images were smashed in the church and in neighbouring churches. This scene was later repeated in St Andrews. The Government, under the Regent, Mary of Guise, was unable to do anything, and an Army under the Lords of the Congregation advanced on Edinburgh causing the Regent to retreat. However, in due course, the rebel Army melted away and, with the help of reinforcements from France, the Regent regained power.

Meanwhile, Mary had become Queen of France as well as of Scotland, her husband having succeeded as King. She also claimed to be the legitimate successor to Mary Tudor in England, the Pope having declared Elizabeth illegitimate, and so she assumed the English arms as well as those of Scotland and France. Elizabeth thus saw Scotland with its French troops as a very real threat to her own position so, in 1560, a strong English Army was sent to support the Lords of the Congregation, and this resulted in the expulsion of the French from Scotland.

Then, in August 1560, the Scottish Parliament repudiated the supremacy of the Pope, forbade the celebration of the Mass, and adopted a reformed Confession of Faith. From then on the Scottish Church has been Protestant – but it was to be another 130 years before it was finally established in its present Presbyterian form.

Chapter II: The Scottish Church and Mary, Queen of Scots

Scotland having come late to accepting Reform, thus seemingly managed to achieve at one stroke what had taken place much more gradually in England and elsewhere. However, Parliament was only one faction and had acted in defiance of the Crown: Queen Mary, who was still in France, had expressly forbidden it to act in matters of religion. Also many of the bishops, another faction, were related to powerful members of the aristocracy and, though they could be forbidden to say Mass, which in many cases would not have worried them as they were not keen to perform any clerical duties, they could not legally be dispossessed. But, in spite of this, there was a willingness among some of the bishops to go some way to accepting Reform – indeed Bishop Gordon actively implemented Reform in his Diocese of Galloway (as likewise did the Bishops of Orkney and Caithness). Had more of the bishops at the time been more wholehearted in their support for reform, the Church in Scotland might have reached a settlement right at the outset similar to that in England. But, with so little support from the bishops, there was no desire to consecrate new ones when vacancies occurred, and so the succession lapsed.However, in 1561, superintendents were appointed to administer the Dioceses. A ‘superintendent’ from its Latin roots means an ‘over-seer’: likewise ‘bishop’ from its Greek roots also means ‘over-seer’. But the superintendents were not intended to have the temporal and political powers exercised by bishops in the past, nor were they considered to be a superior order of clergy. The Bishop of Galloway actually became superintendent of his former See but, presumably, with a different form of authority.

Meanwhile, in France, the young King Francis II had died in December 1560 and his widow, Mary, had found herself without a significant role to play there. So she came back to Scotland, at the age of 19 in the autumn of 1561, to take up the reins of government which had previously been held by Regents on her behalf. In a proclamation after her arrival, she declared that she had no intention of changing the state of the Church as it then was, but she demanded for herself and her household the freedom to worship in the ancient way. It was by this proclamation in 1561, rather than by Parliament’s declaration in 1560, that the Reformed Church of Scotland became effectively, but not legally, established.

In 1565 Mary married Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, according to the Roman Catholic Rite. Darnley, like herself, was a grandchild of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. The marriage was a love-match, but it also strengthened Mary’s claim to the English throne: thus it was seen as a potential threat to the Reformation in both countries. This threat was increased by the birth of a son and heir (the future James VI and I). However, Mary soon found Darnley to be a fool and a hindrance to herself in Government, and he was conveniently murdered in 1567 – by whom, or by whose orders, is still a matter of speculation. Soon afterwards Mary married, in a Protestant ceremony, the prime suspect, the Earl of Bothwell. This act provoked a rebellion – Bothwell fled abroad and Mary was imprisoned: there she was forced to abdicate in favour of the infant James, and the Earl of Moray was appointed Regent. It was in this new reign, in 1567, that the Reformed Church was finally established legally both by the Crown and Parliament.

The following year, Mary escaped from imprisonment and mustered a small army of supporters, but these were defeated at Langside, south of Glasgow, by the forces of the Regent. Mary fled to Galloway and, after holding her last Council in Dundrennan Abbey, crossed the Solway to England and threw herself on the mercy of her cousin, Elizabeth. Being a rival for the throne, she was not a welcome visitor and was held prisoner. Plotting by English Catholics in her support eventually led to her execution in 1587. But we must return to what happened in the Scottish Church during her reign.

In the early stages of Reform in Scotland there were two distinct ecclesiastical structures – that of the Reformed Congregations, and that of the entire hierarchical structure of the old regime from Archbishoprics downwards. What is more, the teinds (or tithes) and other endowments were still legally due to the old structure. Although the bishops’ spiritual authority was no longer accepted, they still sat in Parliament and possessed their former revenues. They were however persuaded to part with one-third of these for the upkeep of the Reformed Kirk. The monasteries were not dissolved: the abbots continued to draw their revenues for life, and the monks went on living in their quarters – but the Mass was no longer said and no further monks were recruited. Over the whole country, at least a quarter, and in some areas more than half, of the parish clergy continued to serve under the new regime, usually ministering in the same church and to the same congregation as before. Many other ministers too were recruited from men who had been in orders before the Reformation.

The Reformation in Scotland was thus effected less drastically and with certainly less bloodshed than in England. But the financing of the Reformed Kirk continued to be a problem for a long time, the stipends of Ministers being made up in most cases by payments from a variety of sources. In fact it was only in the reign of Charles I that the Kirk’s claim to receive the teinds was finally accepted.

The General Assembly first met in December 1560 but, in its composition, it was more like the Parliament (with its Three Estates of Nobility, Lords Spiritual, and Gentry) than the present-day structure of Ministers and Elders; though, as it developed, the clerical representation increased.

With the deposition of Mary, the Crown’s patronage of ecclesiastical appointments came into the hands of the Protestant government. A meeting of the General Assembly in 1572 resulted in an agreement with the Government to retain the ancient bishoprics. When a vacancy occurred, the Crown nominated, and a chapter of ministers elected, but had the right to refuse to do so: this was followed by a ceremony of inauguration with laying on of hands. Where superintendents already existed in the old Dioceses they appear to have exercised the role of suffragan bishops. It is evident from this that, in the early stages of the Reformation, the Kirk was not against episcopacy as such: the aversion was to the pre-Reformation style of prelacy with bishops concerning themselves with the temporal affairs of state and not with the spiritual affairs of their dioceses.

Incidentally, no condemnation of episcopacy has been found in the writings of John Knox: his refusal of an English Bishopric in Edward VI’s reign was not out of disapproval of that office, but from the foresight of trouble to come (as did indeed happen in Mary Tudor’s reign). Likewise, his refusal later of an appointment as a superintendent in Scotland was not in opposition to that office but for the good reason that, as Minister of Edinburgh, he already had high status and influence (and, as it happens, a good stipend too). Knox’s approval of the appointment of bishops in a letter to the Assembly in August 1572 was one of his last acts: the great Reformer died later that year.

Chapter III: The Coming of Presbyterianism: Reign of James VI and I

With the death of Knox, the first phase of the Scottish Reformation can be said to have ended. The Government of the Church, though modified in nature, was still Episcopalian: Presbyterianism had yet to come.

At this stage, it seemed likely that the Scottish Church would move towards conformity with the Church of England. However, this trend was upset by the arrival from Geneva of a fresh idea – that of Presbyterianism. Although in Scotland idle bishops had been replaced by efficient ones, any sort of bishop was contrary to the tenets of Presbyterianism which allowed for no superior order in the clergy – oversight was to be exercised by the presbytery (a council of ministers and elders from the congregations in a particular area). The Presbyterians also argued that church and state were separate ‘kingdoms’, the sovereign being only a member of the church, over which he was not permitted to exercise any authority. To this day, the Queen, or her Lord High Commissioner, addresses the General Assembly from a gallery, not from the floor of the Assembly, which signifies that she is no part of that Assembly nor has any authority over it.

The Presbyterian missionary from Geneva to Scotland was Andrew Melville, who came back to his native country in 1574. Somewhat earlier, a Presbyterian movement had become active in England, so in no way should Presbyterianism be thought of as having been ‘home-produced’ in Scotland. Melville, who was an able scholar and teacher, was appointed Principal first of Glasgow University, then of St Andrews, posts which gave him considerable influence; but, unlike Knox, he never had the experience of serving as a parish minister.

The essential difference between the original structure of the Reformation Kirk and that proposed by Melville and his supporters, mostly of a younger generation, was that supervision in the former was normally in the hands of individuals whereas, in the latter, it would be in the hands of committees (or courts) of ministers. An advantage of the Presbyterianism system however was that there would be stricter control and prevention of abuses in financial matters. On the other hand, those who supported episcopacy argued that it was a divinely appointed form of government – as the Archbishop of St Andrews put it in 1586: ‘The office of a bishop, as he has it in his person, in all heads hath the ground of the Word of God, and in purity hath continued from the days of the apostles until this time.’

The establishment of some presbyteries came about in a piecemeal way in the 1580s – initially in towns in central and southern Scotland. But such action was contrary to statute law, Parliament continuing to support the authority of bishops and superintendents in an Act in 1584. This Act also affirmed ‘the royal power and authority over all estates, as well spiritual as temporal’. As a result, Melville and some of his disciples fled to England; but most of the older ministers seemed willing to accept Episcopal administration and crown supremacy.

There were now, within the Kirk, two clearly defined and opposing parties – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – and, for over the next hundred years or so, the Kirk was to be riven by disputes between the two factions. Not surprisingly, considering the views of the Presbyterians as to the role of the sovereign, the Crown favoured episcopacy. However, much of the history of that period shows attempts to obtain a compromise between the opposing views: and both Episcopalians and Presbyterians remained within the same Kirk.

With a change of Regent in 1585, the pendulum did indeed swing towards a compromise solution, and Melville and his disciples returned from England. The existence of presbyteries was accepted; but bishops nominated by the King (James VI) and admitted by the General Assembly were to be permanent moderators of the presbyteries in their places of residence: a bishop was also to be the minister of a particular congregation. So, in 1586, the Assembly provided for 52 presbyteries to be formed with 16 synods each supervising a group of presbyteries. In practice, though not legally, the power of bishops waned and that of the presbyteries waxed. An Act of Parliament in 1592 fully legalised the presbyteries, but still reserved the rights of the Crown in calling meetings of the General Assembly. Also the office of bishop was not abolished and the holder of the office still had a seat in Parliament.

Although the Kirk was not in all, but only in name, Presbyterian, Melville still resented the King’s remaining powers. In a famous meeting with James at Falkland Palace, he plucked the King’s sleeve and called him ‘God’s sillie vassal’ and reminded him that, in Scotland, there were two kingdoms, in one of which Christ was King and in which James was ‘not a king, nor a lord, but a member’. It is not surprising that James therefore acquired a lasting antipathy to Presbyterianism: as he was to say later, ‘It as well agreeth with a monarchy as God and the Devil’.

When, in 1603, James succeeded to the throne of England, he found there a Church which suited him admirably and one whose leaders were well skilled in flattering their sovereign – a pleasant contrast indeed to the ill-mannered attacks of the Scottish ministers! So, in 1606, Melville and some other ministers were summoned to London and subjected to preaching from Anglican divines on the advantages of episcopacy – but to no avail. Indeed, in return, Melville lectured Archbishop Bancroft of Canterbury and, for writing a lampoon deriding the worship of the Chapel Royal, he was exiled to France, where he spent his last years lecturing to Huguenot students.

For obvious reasons James thought it was disadvantageous to the Crown for there to be two different kinds of church government in the two kingdoms. So, in Scotland, the vacant bishoprics were rapidly filled and their ecclesiastical jurisdiction was gradually restored, with or without the consent of specially picked assemblies. But, in the somewhat anarchic situation of preceding years, what bishops there were had not been properly consecrated: accordingly three of the bishops were summoned to London for consecration: on return to Scotland they consecrated their remaining brethren, thus restoring the Apostolic Succession.

In 1617, James returned to Scotland for the first and last time after his accession to the English throne. Straight away he set about reforming Scottish worship, the upshot of which was the presentation to an Assembly in Perth in 1618 of Five Articles, namely:

1. that the Holy Communion be received kneeling;
2. that it might be administered to the sick privately;
3. that in necessity baptism might be administered in private houses;
4. that children should be presented to the bishop for confirmation; and
5. that Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Whitsun should be commemorated.

To us today, even to some Presbyterians, the ‘Articles of Perth’ may not seem unduly revolutionary, but the first three were, in fact, contrary to the teaching and the practice of the Reformed Churches. Under considerable pressure and threats from the Crown, the Assembly approved the articles. However, in the country at large the Articles were frequently disregarded and even the bishops were slow to enforce them, hoping that in time they would be accepted peacefully. But, by his action, James had rekindled in the Kirk the embers of opposition to the Crown. His son, Charles, who succeeded him on his death in 1625, was to fan these embers into a conflagration.

Chapter IV: The Reign of Charles I, The National Covenant, Civil War, and Cromwell

Bishops had been restored by James VI and I in Scotland in order to establish some uniformity in government between the Churches in his two kingdoms. However, James, understanding the Scottish mind – he had reigned as boy and man in Scotland from 1567 until moving to England in 1603 – had gone as far as he dared, and further than was perhaps wise, in trying to reform the Kirk. His successor Charles I, on the other hand, had little understanding of the Scots or of their Kirk, having left the country at the age of three, and he was also less politically skilful than his father. He thus set out on a course which inevitably led to alienation of his Scottish subjects. The nobility found that the tenure of the church property which they had acquired as a result of the Reformation was now threatened; they were also jealous of the political power that Charles gave to the Bishops by appointing them to high offices in the State. Heavy taxation caused discontent among the merchant class; and the proposed imposition of the English Prayer Book upon the Kirk provoked opposition.

As regards the Prayer Book, even the bishops themselves argued for a distinctly Scottish one; and it would seem that they won the argument, for the 1637 Scottish Prayer Book (although modelled on the English one) was in its principal characteristics the work of the Scottish bishops, and not of Archbishop Laud of Canterbury as has often been supposed. The Scottish influence is most evident in the Communion Office, where an ‘epiclesis’, or invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine, is included in the Consecration Prayer: this is still to be found in our present day Prayer Book, Grey Book and Blue Book Liturgies. It also used the term ‘presbyter’ instead of ‘priest’, a term still retained in our Ordination Service. However, it permitted the presbyter to stand in front of the Holy Table with his back to the people when consecrating the elements: and this to many Scots smacked too much of the Roman Mass. Accordingly, when the new liturgy was used for the first time in St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh in July 1637, the citizens, already seething with discontent over many grievances, found this the last straw. It is a popular legend that one Jenny Geddes hurled her stool at the Dean crying, ‘You mauna sing Mass in my Lug’. Whether or not this is true, there was undoubtedly a serious riot. The Privy Council suspended the introduction of the Prayer Book, but Charles insisted on persevering with it. The upshot was further rioting and numerous petitions. Eventually, early in 1638, a National Covenant to maintain the ‘True Reformed Religion’ was signed in Edinburgh by nobles, ministers, burgesses and commons. Copies of this were circulated throughout most of the country and signed by all who wished to do so. later in that year, Charles was forced to withdraw the Prayer Book and to summon a General Assembly of the Kirk.

This Assembly, which was packed with opponents of Charles’s reforms, met in November. When it was clear that it intended to abolish episcopacy, the Commissioner dissolved it in the King’s name; but it nonetheless sat on, abolished episcopacy and declared the Articles of Perth and the Prayer Book unlawful. Charles’s response was to raise an army in England: the Covenanters in turn raised an army in Scotland. Negotiations led to the disbanding of both armies on the condition that the King would summon another Assembly in 1639, to be followed immediately by a Parliament. This Assembly repeated the Acts of its predecessor, and the Parliament (in defiance of the King) ratified these Acts. A Covenanting army then crossed the Border and occupied Newcastle and Durham. Charles then summoned, in November 1640, a Parliament in England, later to be known as the Long Parliament; this was strongly Puritan and Presbyterian in sympathy and considered the Scots to be allies. In the end, Charles was forced to agree to ratify the Acts of the Scottish Assembly and Parliament and, in August 1641, the Covenanting army withdrew, after having received a pay-off from the English Parliament. Charles then tried to win the trust of the Covenanters by coming to Edinburgh and showering honours and titles on their leaders – but to no avail.

Meanwhile in England, the Parliament began its attack on episcopacy in that country. The result was inevitable: Charles raised his standard at Nottingham in August 1642 and the Civil War began. The English Parliament appealed to the Scots for help, and they, seeing a prospect of episcopacy being abolished in the Church of England, drew up a Solemn League and Covenant with the English in 1643 to achieve that aim. A Covenant army then marched into England in support of the English Parliament. From then, the tide of war began to turn against the king.In July 1643, an Assembly met at Westminster to advise the English Parliament how to proceed with reforming the doctrine, worship and government of the Church of England. Most of the Assembly were Presbyterian in sympathy, but a few were Independents (Congregational, in modern terms). Absent, in obedience to the king, were those who were in favour of the Church of England as it then was. Representatives of the Scottish Kirk attended the Assembly and took part in the debates, but were not empowered to vote. One of the productions of this Assembly in 1647 was a strongly Calvinistic ‘Confession of Faith’ which was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly of the Kirk for the sake of uniformity between England and Scotland. This so-called Westminster Confession is still an official formulary of the Church of Scotland today. The English Parliament had also approved earlier, in 1645, a quasi-Presbyterian Form of Government for the Church of England, but it was not put fully into effect outside London, the Sectarians (Independents and Baptists) being dominant in Cromwell’s Army and averse to Presbyterianism.

Clearly losing the War, Charles decided in May 1646 to enter the camp of the Scottish army, then besieging Newark, in the hope that they would come to his aid; (the Scots were becoming disillusioned with the sectarianism and republicanism of Cromwell’s troops). However, Charles was not prepared to accept the principles of the Solemn League and Covenant so the Scots, accepting payment from the English Parliament for their expenses, marched home abandoning Charles to his fate. Cromwell’s army seized Charles and demanded his trial: this in turn produced sympathy for the king among many Scots who were not against the monarchy as such, but only against the king’s policies. An army was thus raised by the Scottish Parliament, but was defeated by Cromwell at Preston in 1648.

In spite of protests from the Scottish Parliament, Charles was then put on trial by the English Parliament, from which the Presbyterian party had been excluded, and he was subsequently executed in January 1649. As soon as the news reached Edinburgh, the King’s son, then in exile in Holland, was proclaimed King as Charles II. After some prevarication, Charles signed the Covenant in June 1650, arrived in Scotland amid great rejoicing, and was crowned at Scone on 1st January 1651. An army was once again equipped and, with Charles at its head, marched into England but was defeated by Cromwell at Worcester in September 1651. Charles once more had to flee into exile and Monk, the Cromwellian general, took over the occupation and military command of Scotland. The Civil War was finally over.

During the period of the Commonwealth under the Protectorship of Cromwell, there was a state of near-anarchy in the English Church. ‘Popery and prelacy’ were excluded from toleration, but otherwise clergy and people were allowed to worship as they desired. Instituted rectors and vicars could thus be Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Unitarian or whatever. However, the Kirk in Scotland did not approve of such toleration and clung tenaciously to Presbyterianism. Cromwell, as a Congregationalist himself, was no lover of Presbyterians and was often in disagreement with the Scottish Church’s Assembly: in a letter to them in 1650 he wrote, ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken’. Later, in 1653, at the orders of Cromwell, the Assembly was forcibly dissolved and forbidden to meet again.

Chapter V: Restoration of Charles II, the Covenanters, James VII and II

Cromwell died in 1658 leaving a political vacuum. In 1660, General Monk marched from Scotland to London, ostensibly to restore to the English Parliament the power that had been usurped by the Army, but also to reconcile the Parliament to the restoration of Charles II. On crossing the Tweed at Coldstream, he ordered his troops to lay down their arms in the name of the Commonwealth and to pick them up again in the name of the King – hence today’s Coldstream Guards. In May 1660, Charles II was proclaimed King in all three kingdoms, and Scotland regained its Parliament and Government.

At first it seemed as if Charles would preserve the Presbyterian form of Church government in Scotland, but he soon made it clear that this was only to be regarded as a temporary situation. The presbyteries in the south, especially in Galloway, became alarmed and expressed their opposition to change but those in the north, especially in the Aberdeen area, were more amenable to the prospect of change. In September 1661, the King proclaimed that Presbyterianism was unsuitable to monarchy and that, in the interest of harmony with the Church’s government in England and Ireland, ‘he was resolved to restore the Church to its right government by bishops’. Before the end of the year, Charles nominated bishops to the various sees in Scotland. Only one bishop had survived from those in office in 1638, so it was necessary for some of the new bishops to be consecrated in England: they then consecrated the remainder on return to Scotland in 1662. In May, Parliament passed an Act re-establishing ‘the ancient government of the Church by Archbishops and Bishops’. Throughout all this process, the ordinary clergy had not been consulted! In October, the Bishops summoned the clergy to attend the Diocesan Synods. The northern synods were well attended but, in Glasgow, Ayr and Argyll, there were many abstentions and, in Galloway, hardly any ministers turned up. This pattern of support for episcopacy in the north, and opposition to it in the south-west, was maintained throughout the reigns of Charles II and James VII.

There was in fact little difference between Episcopalian and Presbyterian worship. The Bishops were eager not to re-open old wounds, so no attempt was made to re-introduce the Prayer Book of 1637 (though the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer were again used in worship): metrical psalms were sung and the clergy wore black gowns. The main differences were in the form of church government: the King was the Supreme Governor and ruled through the bishops; the powers of the presbyteries were reduced, but Kirk Sessions continued as before.

However, trouble arose when all ministers were required either to accept the authority of the new hierarchy or to vacate their Charges. The great majority of the ministers in the south and the west took the second option and were replaced by ‘curates’ from elsewhere. The people in Galloway and Ayrshire refused to worship under the new men, and open-air conventicles were held. Such gatherings were regarded as seditious and troops were sent in to punish the ‘rebels’.

Some attempts to reach an accommodation were made on the part of the Government by allowing ministers to return to their parishes under a Royal Indulgence – and some ministers did take this up. But, on the other hand, the death penalty was imposed for field preaching. The ‘Covenanters’ in the south-west refused to give up their conventicles and rebelled openly: this rebellion was crushed with the defeat of the Covenanters at Bothwell Brig. However, a further rebellion was led by Richard Cameron, and this led to the ‘Killing Time’ from 1680 to 1688: many memorials are to be found in Galloway to those ‘martyred’ in those years. These ‘Cameronians’ were in fact extremists who were not supported by most Presbyterians.Charles II died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother, James VII, who was a Roman Catholic. In order to let fellow Romanists have freedom to worship, James allowed all ‘non-conformists’ to worship in their own way, provided they remained loyal to the Crown. The moderate Presbyterians welcomed this, but the Cameronians were not prepared to accept loyalty to the Crown. James, however, had got into political trouble in England and took refuge in France, but did not abdicate. Nevertheless, Acts of Parliament in both England and Scotland declared as joint sovereigns James’s sister, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, both of whom were protestants.

William would have favoured the continuation of episcopacy in Scotland, but the Scottish bishops to a man felt they were bound by their oath of allegiance to James. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury and six other bishops felt likewise and were forced out of office. Meanwhile, in the south-west, the Covenanters had taken the law into their own hands and ‘rabbled out’ the Episcopalian clergy from their Charges.

In July 1689, the Scottish Parliament abolished prelacy: a further Act in 1690 re-established Presbyterianism, and all clergy who had been ‘rabbled out’, or who had refused to pray for William and Mary, were deprived of their Charges. The re-establishment of Presbyterianism was confirmed by a General Assembly in October 1690, at which none of the ministers or elders came from north of the Tay, and only one represented the Universities. It has been reckoned that a fully representative Assembly would have been two-thirds or more in favour of episcopacy.

From 1690, therefore, the Bishops and those who supported them, were forced out of the Church of Scotland: thus was the Scottish Episcopal Church born, and it has continued as a separate body ever since. Its origins, as I have endeavoured to explain, were firmly laid in the period of the Scottish Reformation, a period which lasted from 1560 until 1690. Its history thereafter is another story!

‘A Church History of Scotland’ J.H.S. Burleigh (OUP)
‘The Scottish Reformation’ Gordon Donaldson (CUP)
‘Scotland: Church and Nation through Sixteen Centuries’ Gordon Donaldson (Scottish Academic Press)
‘Scots and English in the Episcopal Church’ Patrick Rodger (General Synod Office – Edinburgh)
‘The Scottish Episcopal Church – A New History’ Gavin White (General Synod Office – Edinburgh)