Covenanters

Covenanters (Scottish Gaelic: Cùmhnantaich) were members of a 17th-century Scottish religious and political movement, who supported a Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and the primacy of its leaders in religious affairs. The name derived from Covenant, a biblical term for a bond or agreement with God.

Covenanter flag

The origins of the movement lay in disputes with James VI & I, and his son Charles I over church structure and doctrine. In 1638, thousands of Scots signed the National Covenant, pledging to resist changes imposed by Charles on the kirk; following victory in the 1639 and 1640 Bishops' Wars, the Covenanters took control of Scotland.

The 1643 Solemn League and Covenant brought them into the First English Civil War on the side of Parliament, but they supported Charles in the 1648 Second English Civil War. After his execution in 1649, the Covenanter government agreed to restore his son Charles II to the English throne; defeat in the 1651 Third English Civil War led to Scotland's incorporation into the Commonwealth.

After the 1660 Restoration, the Covenanters lost control of the kirk and became a persecuted minority, leading to several armed rebellions and a period from 1679 to 1688 known as "The Killing Time". Following the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Scotland, the Church of Scotland was re-established as a wholly Presbyterian structure and most Covenanters readmitted. This marked the end of their existence as a significant movement, although dissident minorities persisted in Scotland, Ireland, and North America.

Greyfriars Kirkyard, where the National Covenant was signed in 1638