Meeting Report: Bishops and Covenanters: a Galloway Perspective

8 November 2013
Revd Dr Ann Shukman

Rev Dr Ann Shukman came to live in Scotland twelve years ago. As a member of St John’s Episcopal Church in Dumfries she began to question how the split arose with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and why one has bishops while the other one does not. How does it happen that the head of the church in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the Prime Minister, while in Scotland Church and State are separate? The course of study on which she embarked was the topic of a well-presented, detailed talk to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society: Bishops and Covenanters — The Church in Scotland 1688–91, which is the title of her book on the subject.

At the time of the Reformation Scotland did have bishops. The Bishop of Galloway from 1559 to 1575, Alexander Gordon, was a friend of John Knox and he renounced papistry at the Reformation Parliament of 1560, which meant that he could acknowledge his wife and have his children legitimised!

In 1610 James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England) restored episcopacy in Scotland, thereby asserting his belief in 'divine right'. It was a time of intense debate but there was no persecution. He invited Andrew Melville and other divines to London to discuss the doctrine of the 'two kingdoms', the kingdom of Christ and the secular kingdom of the State. These differing ideas dogged Scottish history from that time. Melville adhered to the belief that the church in Scotland should be 'pure'.

Dr Shukman proceeded to cover the misrule of Charles I; the National Covenant of 1638; the outbreak of the Civil War during which Cromwell opposed both episcopalianism and presbyterianism; the restoration of Charles II who executed leading Covenanters and who restored episcopacy, but retained presbyterian structures. The fact that all ministers were obliged to accept episcopalian oversight and lay patronage was anathema to the protesters, who proved to be more violent than any others. They were totally against bishops. They were prepared to take up arms against the civil authorities and cited the Old Testament Book of Numbers as justifying violence, instead of the more tolerant New Testament.

The opposition of the Cameronians in the South-West was the fiercest where the idealogues were Samuel Rutherford, minister at Anwoth, and James Stuart of Goodtrees. James Graham of Claverhouse came to Dumfries and Galloway to wield royal authority and to have the military judge prisoners harshly. The 1680s ushered in the harsh 'Killing Times'. Yet the religious fervour continued unabated. The great revivalist movement found expression in open-air conventicles: 10,000 massed at Maybole and 7,000 at Durisdeer.

Charles II died in 1685. His Catholic brother James was tolerated until his second wife, also a Catholic, had a son who became the heir to the British throne. The outcome of the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688–91 was that William of Orange, the Protestant hero of Europe and husband of Mary, the Protestant daughter of the deposed James, sat on the throne along with Mary as joint rulers. Strangely enough William had quite a close relationship with the Vatican, one of many anomalies that permeate the religious turmoil of the period.

In July 1689 the new Scottish Parliament abolished bishops and in July 1690 the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was established. In October 1690 the new Protester General Assembly ordered the purge of the universities and the removal of all the remaining episcopally-ordained parish clergy.

Thus the situation arose whereby the Scottish Episcopal Church is ruled by bishops, while the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is ruled by elders.