Killing Time - Restoration of Charles II

The Killing Time  - Charles II to William & Mary

When Charles II was restored to the thrones of Scotland and England, he should probably have clambered onto his knees and thanked God for his return to power.

His father had been executed, he was viewed with suspicion by his own subjects, and he had been forced into exile after losing a battle against parliament's forces. Given his track record, it is astonishing that he was given another chance to rule.

However, instead of simply being grateful and trying to do a good job as monarch, Charles brought his vengeance and arrogance back with him. The result was that Scotland was virtually plunged into yet another spell of religious intolerance.

Once restored to the Scottish throne, the king decided to get his own back on the Scots Presbyterians who had lectured him and ridiculed his family when he had first been given power. Those who supported Scotland's Covenant, he decided, were to be taught a harsh lesson.

The Scottish parliament, the Estates, was recalled in 1661. It became known as the Drunken Parliament, but its actions were far from slow or muddled. It wiped out all the Covenanter legislation of the previous 30 years, The Privy Council was brought back, bishops were restored to the Kirk, and the covenant was declared illegal.

The new Estates decided to keep the efficient system of tax gathering that had been instituted under Cromwell, but much else was changed. The main trouble was caused by an edict that said Kirk ministers could no longer simply be chosen by local congregations, but had to be approved by local patrons and bishops.

All ministers were ordered to conform to this ruling. They were furious, and more than 250 of them resigned their charges instead of complying. Instead of preaching in churches, they began to do so on the Scottish moors.

These meetings quickly became known as Conventicles, and those who attended them were named Covenanters. By 1665, they had become extremely popular, though attending them was a dangerous business. Attending them was illegal, and government troops were often despatched to break them up and levy fines. In reply, the Covenanters often stationed their own guards nearby when services were in progress.

Tensions between the two sides grew, particularly in strong covenanting areas of the country such as Galloway. In 1666, the Covenanters captured the commander of government troops in south western Scotland, Sir James Turner, and paraded him towards Edinburgh in his nightshirt.

This act of insurrection led them into direct conflict with General Tam Dalyell, the commander of the army in Scotland. At Rullion Green near Edinburgh, a force of 900 of the covenanters was defeated by Dalyell. The leaders of the rebellion were hanged, others tortured or imprisoned, and even women and children murdered.

Charles II's secretary for Scotland, the Earl of Lauderdale, tried to soften the policy on Kirk appointments, but things simply went from bad to worse. By 1670, attending a Conventicle was viewed as treason and to preach at one was a capital offence. The effect of this kind of repression, needless to say, was to turn the covenanters into martyrs.

In 1679, tensions between the two sides rose yet again when the Archbishop of St Andrews, James Sharp, who was driving home in a carriage, was stopped, forced out and hacked to death. Only days later, government troops were defeated by a covenanter force at Drumclog on the Ayrshire-Lanarkshire border.

The government forces struck back later in the year at Bothwell Bridge, when they won the battle and put nearly 1200 prisoners on a forced march to Edinburgh.

Charles II was determined that no quarter should be given to the rebels, and that the Kirk should be run his way. A small group of Covenant hardliners known as the Cameronians, named after the Fife-born rebel Richard Cameron, who was executed after challenging Charles in 1680, published an Apologetical Declaration declaring war on the enemies of God and the Covenant.

The government insisted that anyone who failed to reject this declaration could and would be shot. Still, however, the Covenanters held fast. The 1680s became known as The Killing Time, and some appalling atrocities took place as Charles sought to keep the unruly Scots in line.

Some of the worst suffering took place in southern Scotland. One of the most horrific instances was at Wigtown in Wigtownshire, whew two female Covenanters, Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLauchlin, were tied to a stake in the river estuary and allowed to drown as the tide slowly rose.

Slowly but surely, the Covenanters were losing the fight. Brave though they undoubtedly were, they could not withstand the might of Charles's forces. Then, in 1685, the king suddenly died, and the whole religious nature of both Scotland and England suddenly changed.

Charles was succeeded by his second son James, who had become a convert to Catholicism and who introduced a new period of religious toleration. But his enthronement infuriated many in Scotland and England, who wanted to depose him and replace him with the Protestant Duke of Monmouth instead.

A rebellion in favour of Monmouth was organised in Scotland under the Marquis of Argyll, but the government moved quickly to head if off and Argyll was captured near Renfrew and executed.

However, James was in deep trouble in England, where his policies of religious toleration were invoking suspicion over his Catholicism. With much of the country ranged against him, he fled in 1689. The English parliament than asked his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange to rule jointly.

In Scotland, the decision as to who should rule was left to the Estates. It was clear from the outset that it, too, would choose William and Mary, though James did not help by writing a letter to the parliament which was little short of insulting.

The deal was that if William took the throne, the Episcopal form of church government insisted on by Charles should be dropped. This was agreed, and Scotland once again became officially Presbyterian. The killing time was over.

However, other tensions emerged to take the place of the religious problems the country had suffered. James VII, now in exile, was the last of the Stewarts, and he had plenty of supporters who wanted the family to return to the throne. Those who supported the cause of James found a new name applied to them - Jacobites.

An attempt by John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, to raise an army in support of James in the Highlands led to an uprising which government troops were sent north to quell. The two sides clashed in the Pass of Killiecrankie. James's supporters probably came off better, but Dundee was killed in the battle and his cause then quickly fizzled out after the subsequent Battle of Dunkeld fought around Dunkeld Cathedral

With James gone for good and a tolerant but firmly Protestant monarch on the throne, the Kirk once again found itself master of its own house. Royal authority over the church was abolished, deposed ministers were reinstated, and the Westminster Confession of Faith first drawn up in 1647 was adopted.

For the first time in Scotland's long history, church and state were starting to unravel from each other and become distinct entities. Both would face huge problems in the century ahead, but they would never again operate in forced unison with each other. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, the structure of modern Scotland was beginning to emerge.

Meanwhile...

  • 1666 The Great Fire of London destroys much of the city
  • 1687 Nell Gwyn, actress and mistress of Charles II, dies
  • 1687 The University of Bologna is founded
  • 1689 Louis XIV declares war against Spain and England
  • 1689 The French playwright, Racine, writes "Esther", a biblical tragedy

 Print