1638 - Signing of National Covenant

The National Covenant

Charles I's attempts to impose an English-style service book on Scots led to riots in Edinburgh. The king, far from backing down, demanded that his privy council punish the organisers of the protests. But the control of Scotland was slipping from his grasp. The protest movement gathered pace and excitement. It now decided to band together and to openly defy the King - but how? Edinburgh lawyer Archibald Johnston of Wariston helped to draw up the document which nailed the dissidents' colours to the mast: the National Covenant. Swearing it was more than a political statement: for many it was a religious experience. It welded thousands of Scots together, ready to live or die to defend what they believed in. Here are Wariston's accounts of the swearing of the Covenant in Edinburgh and Currie kirk.

Upon Wedensday, 28 Februar [1638], that glorious mariage day of the Kingdome with God, I was al foranoone with the Commissioners of the barons, quho [who] after long reasoning upon Perth Articles [James vi's innovations in the church] did al appreive [approve] except the Laird of Ethie; so the burroues [burghs]. The noblemen haiving apoynted the body of the gentrie to meit at tuo [two] hours in the Grayfrear Kirk to hear bot copyes of it read and to aunsuear [answer] objections, I propons [proposes] and resolves to haive the principal ready in parchment in al hazards, that, in cais [case] of approbation, it might be presently subscryved [signed]. I mett al the gentlemen in one troupe going up the cassie [street] to the Kirk. I resolved to read and did read the parchment itselth publikly, quhilk, after som feu [few] doubts of som, was approvin; and, after ane divine prayer most fit for the tyme and present purpose maid be Mr. Al. Henderson, The Covenant was subscryved first by the noblemen and barons al that night til 8 at night. On Foorsday [Thursday] morning I had wryting in the night foor [four] principal copyes in parchment; at nyn [nine] hours it was subscryved be al the ministerie; at tuo [two] hours be the burroues [burghs].

On Frayday, [Friday] in the College Kirk, after ane sensible exhortation be Mr. H. Rollok, taiken from 4 v. 3 c. Jer., and Samson's mothers aunsuer to Manoah, and ane pithie prayer forcing the [thee] to tears, thou read it publikly befor the people of Edr. [Edinburgh], quho [who] presently fell to the subscryving of it al that day and the morrou [morrow] . . .

On Sunday, the 18 day of Merch, 1638, after motion [emotion] in your familie prayer ye went to Rothau [Rothes], heard Mr. J. Hamilton follou [follow] out his text verry sensibly. Ye went with sense to the second taible [at communion] of the morning service; got motion and tears at the taible; ryde presently away with your familie and Riccarton, conferring on the sermons til we came to Currie, quhair Mr. Jhon [John] Chairtres minister was reading the 28 and 29 of Deuteronomy, quhilk he pressed in his exhortation. He preatched on 17 Genes. 1 v., 'I am thy alsufficient God; walk thou befor me, and be perfyte [perfect].' After sermon, being a solemne fast day apoynted for subscription of the Covenant, he read it al over again as he had doone the Sunday of befoir; he syne [then] explained to the people al the pairts of it. Thairafter, to schau [show] his warrand for seiking [seeking], and thairs for giving, ane oath at the renovation of the Covenant, he pressed the 10 ch. Nehemiah. v. 28 and 29, 'Al the rest of the people, thair wyves [wives], sons, and daughters, every on haiving knouledge and understanding; they claive [adhered] to thair brethren, the nobles, and entred into a curse, and unto ane oath to walk in Gods lau [law]'; and the 2 Chronicles. ch. 15 v. 12, 'And they entred into a covenant to seek the Lord God of thair faythers with al thair heart and al thair saule; that quhosoever [whosoever] would not seek the Lord God of Izrael sould be put to death, whither great or small, man or woman. And they suare [swore] unto the Lord with a loud voyce, with schouting, trumpets, and cornets. And al Judah rejoyced at the oath: for they had suorne [sworn] with al thair heart, and sought him with thair whol desyre; and he was found of them; and the Lord gaive them rest round about'; quhairof applied verry weal every word. Yet in al this tyme thair was no motion [emotion] nor tears in any of the congregation; bot immediately thairafter at his lifting up of his hand, and his desyring the congregation to stand up and lift up thair hands and sueare [swear] unto the aeternal God, and at thair standing up and lifting up thair hands, in the tuinkling [twinkling] of ane eye thair fell sutch ane extraordinarie influence of Gods Sprit upon the whol [whole] congregation, melting thair frozen hearts, waltering [watering] thair dry cheeks, chainging thair verry countenances, as it was a wonder to seie [see] so visible, sensible, momentaneal [momentous] a chainge upon al, man and woman, lasse and ladde, pastor and people, that Mr. Jhon, being suffocat almost with his auin [own] tears, and astonisched at the motion of the whol people, sat doune in the pulpit in ane amazement, bot presently rose againe quhen [when] he sau [saw] al the people falling doune on thair knees to mourne and pray, and he and thay for ane quarter of ane houre prayed verry sensibly with many sobs, tears, promises, and voues [vows] to be thankful and fruitful in tym-coming. Honor and prayse be to the naime of the aeternal God, quho only can work wonders and maiks us daylie seie wonders, as this a pryme remarquable [prime remarkable] one quherby [whereby] he testifyed from the heavens this work to be his auin [own] work, his real reentrie [re-entry] in the Covenant with his people, his acceptance of thair offer, his reservation of ane work of mercie for the congregations of this land, albeit personal plauges [plagues] schal [shall] light upon particular persons. 'Lord, let me never forget that I was ane spectator and actor in it; bot proove thankful and fruitful in it,' as the Lord maid thy heart and the hearts of thy familie sensible in the mean tyme, and had maid the instruct thy tenents and servants befor hand for it . . .

Edinburgh April 1 - Thairafter he [Henry Rollock, minister of Edinburgh] desyred the nobles, and al the people, stand up unto the Lord; and first desyred the noblemen, Montrois [Montrose], Boyd, Laudin [Loudon], Balmerino, to hold up thair hands and suear be the naime of the living God, and desyred al the people to hold up thairs in the lyk maner; at the quhilk instant of rysing up, and then of holding up thair hands, thair rayse sik a yelloch [such a yell], sik aboundance of tears, sik a heavenly harmony of sighs and sobbes, universally through al the corners of the churche, as the lyk was never seien [seen] nor heard of. The Sprit [spirit] of the lord so filled the sanctuary, warmed the affections, melted the hearts, dissolved the eyes of al the people, men and women, poore and noble; as for ane long tyme they stood stil up with thair hands up unto the Lord, til Mr. Hery after he recovered himselth, scairse [scarce] aible to speak, after ane schort exhortation to thankfulnes and fruitfulnes, closed al up in ane heavenly prayer and prayse, and gart sing the 74 Ps. fra [the] 18 v. Thou was mooved unto many tears in his first exhortation and prayer befor sermon; and in al the tyme of the solemnity both of the exhortations, prayers, lifting up of hands, and the praysing, thy heart was lyk to burst; thou got aboundance of tears and sobbes, blisse the Lord for they particular motion; bot, above al expression, blisse his naime for that glorious work of his immediat presence, and unexpressable influence of his Sprit upon the whol congregation, testifying from heaven that he directed the work, did nou blisse it, and wald croune [crown] it with some great mercies to the quhilk he is, by this livly, pouerful, spritual maner of reneuing [renewing] his covenant, praepairing this poor nation, albeit our persons sould suffer. We heard that, in the Grayfrier Kirk, it pleased the Lord both foranoone and afternoone at the suearing [swearing] of the Covenant thair, by the lyk motion, to schau [show] the lyk presence of his Sprit. The Lord maik us never forget his presence in it, bot rayther maik us tell it to our posteritie, and maik us walk worthy of it, and within the compasse of this Covenant, as Mr. H. R. concluded in his prayer, 'Give to us, O Lord, quhat thou asks and requyrs of us; and then ask quhat thou wil.' O Edinburgh, O Edinburgh, never forget this first day of Apryle, the gloriousest day that ever thou injoyed; blissed, ten thousand tymes blissed, be the naime of the aeternal God.

Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston 1637-1639, ed. G. M. Paul, Scottish History Society, 1911.

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