Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 5: The Two Crowns

It is important to remember that during the reign of James as king of both Scotland and England, the two nations retained their separate parliaments and privy councils. They passed their own laws and enjoyed their own law courts; they had their own national church, their own ways of levying taxes and regulating trade, and to a certain extent, they could pursue their own foreign policies. Scotland itself was practically two distinct nations. There was a huge division between Highland and Lowland. James's attempts to persuade the clan chiefs to adopt the Protestant faith were a failure. They clung to the military habits of their ancestors and continued the Gaelic tongue when most of Scotland had abandoned it in favor of English.

James can be attributed for the sorry mess in Ireland that continues to divide Catholics and Protestants, Nationalists and Loyalists. Anxious to expand Scotland's influence overseas, the king unwisely encouraged the plantation of Ulster, in 1610. Thousands of Scots settled on lands that rightly belonged to the native Catholic population. Their influence gave Ulster that staunchly Presbyterian character that so strongly resists attempts at Irish reunification today. James also encouraged Scottish emigration to Arcadia, one of the maritime provinces of Canada, part of which became Nova Scotia (New Scotland.)

James died in 1625 and the throne passed to Charles I. The new king was born a Scot, but had very little understanding of Scottish affairs and even less of prevailing Scottish opinion. He knew nothing at all about the Highlands and not enough about the Lowlands. A devout Episcopalian, he distrusted the Kirk and Presbyterians and greatly mistrusted democratic assemblies, religious or not. He failed to try to understand his Scottish subjects; he did not wish to. As a ruler by Divine right, he had the sacred duty to bring the Scottish Kirk in line with the Church of England. It was an obligation that eventually cost him dearly.

The Act of Revocation, decreed by Charles in 1625, restored the lands and tithes to the Church, which had been distributed among the Scottish nobles during the upheavals of the Reformation. It did nothing to endure the king to those who could have given him support in Scotland. Neither did his outright, outrageous demand of 1629, in which he demanded religious practice in Scotland conform to the English model. It was as if Charles were deliberately setting out to antagonize everyone north of the border. His elaborate coronation as King of Scotland at St. Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1633 was sufficiently "high church" to smack of popery to the assembled congregation. It was the wrong time to raise the question of the liturgy. Charles and Archbishop Laud went ahead anyway.

In July, 1637, the first reading of the Revised Prayer Book for Scotland was met with nothing less than a riot. Even the Privy Council had to seek refuge from the angry mob in Holyroodhouse. The Bishop of Brechin was able to conduct only with the aid of a pair of loaded pistols aimed at the congregation. Charles's answer was simply to demand punishment for those who refused to obey his orders concerning the use of the new Prayer Book. All petitioners against the Book were to be dispersed and all the nobles who had resisted its use were to be submit to the King's Will. The unwise and ill-advised King of England and Scotland had not reckoned with the strength of his opposition.

In Edinburgh, a committee of representatives from the clergy, the nobles, the gentry and the Scottish burghs drew up the National Covenant. It was known as the Tables. Briefly, the document, signed on what was called "The great marriage Day of this Nation with God," pledged to maintain the "True Religion." Copies of the Covenant were carried throughout the country; its theological implications often lost. Though it had been signed "with His Majesty's "Authority," it served almost as a declaration of independence from English rule. Let it be known that it was not Charles's representative in Scotland who made decisions, but the Lords of the Tables.

In November 1638, Charles met with the General Assembly in Glasgow. He didn't know what he was in for. The Assembly deposed or excommunicated all bishops, abolished the Prayer Book as "heathenish, Popish, Jewish and Armenian." Completely unwilling to compromise his position on the Church, Charles once again showed his naiveté by brusquely informing the Assembly that all their decisions were invalid. To enforce his commands, he decided on war. By this further example of rashness, he sealed his fate.

Chapter 5: The Two Crowns Continued