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October 13th 1578

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Secret conventicles

Though King Charles 2nd had been crowned at Scone in 1650, it was not until 1660 that he was declared King at Westminster and his effective reign in Scotland began.

All the evidence suggests that the great majority of the Scottish people rejoiced in the restoration. Those supporters of the League and Covenant remembered Charles’ promise to uphold the Covenant at his coronation at Scone. The nobles and gentry for their part were delighted to be rid of the English occupation under Cromwell and the exactions and humiliations placed upon them by that government.

The state of euphoria did not last very long. The Scottish parliament met on January 1st 1661 and according to one observer, “Never was any parliament so obsequious to all that was proposed to them.”  It was agreed that the King should have “the sole choice and appointment”  of all the chief officers of state, the right of summoning and dissolving parliament at his pleasure, of making war and peace and concluding treaties. In other words he was to be an absolute monarch.

The consequences of this state of affairs was soon made apparent. In spite of his promises made at Scone ten years earlier, Episcopacy was to become settled by law. We were to revert to the days of the Five Articles of Perth, lay patronage was to be restored and those ministers refusing to conform to the new principles were to lose their livings. It was a recipe for religious bitterness and struggle, which at times became armed struggle. Some ministers attempted to continue their ministry by holding so-called conventicles in secret locations outside their towns or villages, but both the ministers and their followers were persecuted with increasing severity.

Perth had always been a centre of dissent and it was not surprising that conventicles should have been held in areas surrounding the town. One such meeting was held at Methven and the religious passions, bravery, determination and intolerance of the times are well illustrated by the following letter written by Anne Keith, wife of Patrick Smythe of Methven Castle who was away in London. Both Patrick and his wife were ardent Royalists and Episcopalians.

My precious love,
A multitude of men and women from east west and south came the 13th day of October to hold a full conventicle two bows draught above our church. They had their tent set up before the sun upon your ground. I, seeing them flocking to it, sent messengers through your ground and charged them to repair to your brother David, the Bailie and me, to the castle hill where we had sixty armed. Your brother with drawn sword and pistol, I with the light horseman’s piecebert on my left arm, and a drawn tuck in my left hand, all your servants well armed marched forward and kept the one half of them well fronting the other that were guarding their minister and their tent which is their standard. That rear party which we yoked with, most of them were St Johnston people. Many of them had no wish to be known but rode off to see what we would do. They marched towards Busby (a wee village north of Methven). We marched betwixt them, and gained ground before they could gather as a body. They sent off a body of 100 men to see if we meant to hinder them to meet. We told them that if they would not go from the parish of Methven presently, it would be a bloody day, for I protested, as did your brother, before God, that we would wear out our lives upon them, before they should preach in our parish. They said they would preach. We charged them either to fight or to fly. They held a council amongst themselves what to do. At last, about two o’clock in the afternoon they said they would go away, if we would let the squadron above the church with the tent, march freely with them. We were content knowing that they had ten times as many as we were. They have sworn not to stand such an affront, but have resolved to come back next week; and I in the Lord’s strength, intend to accost them with all who will come to assist us. I have written to your nephew, the treasurer of Edinburgh, to send me two brass hagbuts if found. If they come next Saturday I shall have them with us.

My blessed love comfort yourself in this, if the fanatics chance to kill me it shall not be for naught. I was wounded for our gracious King and now in the strength of the Lord God of Heaven, I’ll hazard my person with the men I may command before these rebels rest where ye have power.

Sore I miss you but now more as ever……I’ll do your will. God give the blessing is the prayer of your
Anne Keith.

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