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December 23rd 1688

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The Glorious Revolution

Charles 2nd when he was crowned at Scone in 1651 promised to uphold the League and Covenant which meant the continued establishment of the Presbyterian faith in Scotland. But these promises did not survive for long once Charles assumed real power. An obsequious Scottish Parliament, ‘the drunken Parliament’, in 1666 passed a series of acts which left Charles in effect an absolute monarch.

The flavour of this Parliament was well demonstrated both by the oath of allegiance which was to be sworn by all persons in office of trust, that the King “is supreme Governor of this kingdom over all persons and in all causes,”  and by their agreement to the Recissory Act which declared null and void the proceedings of every Parliament since 1633. This meant among other things that the Five Articles of Perth had once again superseded the League and Covenant and Episcopalianism was back. In the next year the consequences of these acts were to be seen all too clearly.

The Parliament of 1649 had abolished patronage, but this was re-established and in addition the ministers were told either to submit themselves to their bishops or leave their church. Between two and three hundred, about a third of the total, demitted office rather than submit to the new regime. In parts of the country, particularly in the south-west, large open-air meetings or conventicles took place at which many of the ousted ministers held services. Later, this led to open rebellion by the so called Covenanters. In the name of religion men were killed with savagery and gusto and for the next nine years there was intermittent revolt within the kingdom - the capture and execution of Donald Cargill to a large extent ended organised armed resistance.

During these nine years there had been various Acts of Indulgence and it is possible that with tact and toleration the great mass of the clergy might have been prepared to forget and forgo the doctrines of John Knox, but in 1681 the King’s brother James, Duke of York became Royal Commissioner for Scotland. In July of that year he opened the first Parliament to sit in Scotland for nine years. One of his first acts, the Act of Succession , was passed declaring “that no difference……can alter or divert the right of succession and lineal descent of the Crown.”  The divine right of the Stewarts was back with a vengeance, and as James was a Catholic and the presumptive heir to the throne, Charles 2nd having no children, the implications were ominous. The remnants of the Covenanters were still hunted “like partridges on the mountains,”  and when James became King in 1685 the persecution of the Covenanters became even more severe - “all persons, preachers or hearers, proved to have been present at a Conventicle were to be punished by death and confiscation.”  In the following year he asked Parliament to repeal the law against “his innocent subjects, those of the Roman Catholic religion.”  Parliament, though anxious to please, was alarmed and hesitated so James decided to by-pass them and instructed his Privy Council to rescind the laws against the Catholic faith.

In a period of three years, James 7th had succeeded in frightening and antagonising the great majority of his Scottish and English subjects and when William of Orange landed in England there was enthusiastic support from Scotland. James left England on December 23rd 1688 and the Glorious Revolution had indeed begun.

As a revolution it was distinctly patchy. In the south-west of Scotland, where the Covenanters were strongest and the people had suffered most, there was both rejoicing and a settling of old scores against the Episcopalian curates who had been thrust upon them. Many were deposed from their parishes in the middle of winter with little ceremony and a certain amount of violence.

At the other extreme, in the north-east which had always been a stronghold of Episcopalianism life went on very much as before. Though some Presbyterian ministers were sent to these northern parishes their reception was far from friendly and it was another twenty years before they were accepted and Presbyterianism started to make real headway.

In the Highlands of Perthshire, there was a tendency to ignore the changes altogether. In Fortingall, the minister was a little more pliant and merely became a Presbyterian (Though he remained a Jacobite and was later deposed for supporting the 1715 rising.) In Kenmore, the minister Alexander Comrie, carried on as a Jacobite and Episcopalian until he was finally expelled from the manse in 1723.

A somewhat similar state of affairs existed in Killin where Robert Stewart remained until his death in 1729, a staunch Episcopalian, a Jacobite and by all accounts a very lazy minister. In Aberfoyle and Balquhidder the Episcopalian ministers also retained their livings. Apart from the fact that in the Highlands Episcopalianism was popular there was an added difficulty that there was an extreme lack of Gaelic speaking Presbyterians and for this reason the church at Callender was vacant for almost twenty years.

With hindsight it might be suggested that the revolution of 1688 was not particularly glorious but that it was a revolution there is no doubt.

In the next thirty years, Presbyterianism as a doctrine became the dominant religious force throughout Scotland.

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