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The Bishop's Wars of 1639

The Bishops' Wars are a pair of conflicts between England and Scotland between 1639-40. They were primarily caused by the strong Scottish reaction against King Charles I's attempts to reform the Scottish church. The King planned to replace the Scottish Presbyterian system of church government with the Episcopalian or High Anglican system in order to harmonise the two churches of England and Scotland. Furthermore, Charles intended to finance his reforms by re-possessing lands formerly held by the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, which had been sold off at the Reformation (The Act of Revocation). The proposed reforms alienated both landowners and noblemen whose holdings were threatened as well as the general Protestant/Presbyterian population of Scotland. He further infuriated the Scots with the style of his enthronement at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where he insisted on a full English style of service. A riot ensued.

 

Opponents of the reforms united around the Scottish National Covenant of February 1638 (see separate article). The Covenanters became the leading political and religious force in Scotland after they succeeded in dominating the Glasgow Assembly the following November. With neither the King nor the Covenanters prepared to compromise their religious convictions, a military solution to the crisis became inevitable.

First Bishops' War, January-June 1639

Preparations for war began in January 1639. The covenanting Lords Argyll, Montrose, Rothes, Balmerino and others (called The Tables)met in Edinburgh to co-ordinate strategy. Instructions were issued to Scottish shires to start recruiting and training for war and an appeal was issued calling upon Protestant Scots serving abroad to return and fight for the Covenant. Among those who responded was Alexander Leslie, who was appointed commander of Covenanter forces. Meanwhile, King Charles proclaimed his intention of raising an army against the Scots and summoned his nobles to attend him in arms at York in April. The King planned an ambitious campaign: he would raise an army of 20,000 men to attack Edinburgh, the Earl of Antrim would invade western Scotland with troops from Ireland while the Marquis of Hamilton would command a naval expedition to land troops behind enemy lines on the east coast. With Royalist clans attacking from the Highlands, it was expected that the Covenanters would be quickly overwhelmed. However, the King's preparations proceeded slowly, hampered by a lack of funds. There was little enthusiasm for the war in England, where most Puritans were sympathetic to the Covenanters' cause.

During March 1639, the Covenanters moved swiftly to secure major ports and strongholds. General Leslie secured Edinburgh Castle without loss after blowing in the main gate with a petard. Lord Rothes seized the King's main arsenal and the Scottish crown jewels at Dalkeith, the port of Dumbarton was captured against the possibility of Royalist reinforcements arriving from Ireland. Support for the King was concentrated in Aberdeenshire, where the Marquis of Huntly rallied his forces at Kintore. In mid-February, however, Huntly withdrew from a potential confrontation with several hundred Covenanters assembled at Turriff. The Earl of Montrose occupied Aberdeen unopposed at the end of March, after which Huntly virtually abandoned his leadership of the Scottish Royalists and allowed himself to be arrested at Edinburgh in April 1639. Sir George Ogilvy of Banff and other Royalist lairds remained in arms in Aberdeenshire. On 14 May, they drove the Covenanters out of Turriff in an action known as the Trot o' Turiff from the speed with which the Covenanters fled from the village. Ogilvy's Royalists briefly occupied Aberdeen and plundered the houses of leading Covenanters, but dispersed when Montrose began concentrating Covenanter forces in the region.

The King rode for York in March 1639 to lead the main English army against the Scots in person. With no standing army to call upon, a special levy of 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse was raised, then another 4,000 troops were recruited by mobilising the Trained Bands of the northern border counties. King Charles also revived the medieval practice of summoning his nobles to attend him in person, each accompanied by a troop of armed horsemen, which caused further resentment amongst the nobility. Although by June the English army was 18,000 strong, it was mostly made up of raw conscripts. The Earl of Arundel, earl-marshal of England and lord-general of the army, had no previous experience of war. His second-in-command, the Earl of Essex, was demoted in favour of one of the Queen's courtiers, the inexperienced Earl of Holland. Veteran soldiers like Sir Jacob Astley, commander of the infantry, despaired at the English army's lack of training and equipment — many of the northern Trained Bands were armed with bows and arrows.

While the King marched north from York, the Marquis of Hamilton's fleet sailed from Yarmouth with 5,000 men, most of whom were completely untrained. Hamilton anchored off Leith in the Firth of Forth early in May 1639 but the Covenanters' control of the region made landing impossible. The Marquis of Huntly's younger son Viscount Aboyne went north with some of Hamilton's ships to occupy Aberdeen and lead the Royalist Gordons early in June. From Aberdeen, Aboyne marched to Stonehaven. He intended to advance further south but was driven back by Covenanter forces on 14 June and took up a defensive position at Brig of Dee which guarded the approach to Aberdeen. Montrose mounted an artillery bombardment of Brig of Dee on 18 June. The Royalists were driven from the town the following day.

In mid-May 1639, King Charles issued a proclamation announcing that he would settle all Scottish grievances as soon as order was restored in the kingdom. He would not invade Scotland providing the Covenanter army remained at least ten miles north of the border. The King joined his army camped near Berwick on 30 May. Lord Arundel led a detachment across the border to Duns to issue a proclamation promising to pardon all rebels if they submitted within eight days. In response, the Covenanter army advanced to Kelso, well within the ten-mile limit. The Earl of Holland's cavalry advanced to probe the Scottish position on 3 June. Although the Covenanter army was still undermanned, the professionalism and discipline of its officers overawed Holland, who retreated to Berwick. When General Leslie advanced to Duns, morale in the English camp collapsed amid rumours that the Scottish army overwhelmingly outnumbered the English. The King was unnerved and decided to negotiate with the Covenanters.

The Pacification of Berwick, June 1639

Treaty negotiations opened at Berwick on 11 June 1639. The chief spokesmen for the Scots were Lord Rothes, Johnston of Wariston and AlexanderHenderson. They negotiated with King Charles in person. The Covenanters' demands were: that the King would ratify all acts of the Glasgow Assemblyincluding the abolition of episcopacy; that all ecclesiastical matters in Scotland would in future be settled at the General Assembly and all civil matters in Parliament; that all forces sent against Scotland would be recalled; that all "incendiaries" who had caused the troubles should be returned to Scotland for punishment (i.e. the excommunicated bishops who had tried to introduce Laud's reforms).

Although the King apparently conceded that church matters should in future be governed by assemblies, he was adamant in his refusal to ratify the Glasgow Assembly of 1638. The Covenanters were aware that their military position was not as strong as was widely believed and, after a week of legalistic wrangling, they too agreed to modify their position. A treaty was signed on 19 June 1639. The King agreed to authorise a General Assembly of the Kirk at Edinburgh in August, to be followed by a meeting of the Scottish Parliament. Both sides agreed to disband their armies. Other controversial issues were left deliberately vague or as verbal agreements only. The treaty was poorly received in Edinburgh where Covenanters complained that the commissioners had made too many concessions.

During the following weeks, relations between the King and the Covenanter leaders deteriorated. In an atmosphere of mutual mistrust, King Charles left Berwick and returned to London In July 1639.

Second Bishops' War, 1640

King Charles was determined to subdue the Covenanters by force and summoned Sir Thomas Wentworth from Ireland as an adviser. Wentworth was created Earl of Strafford in January 1640. He coerced the Irish Parliament into granting funds to raise an Irish army for service against the Scots and advised the King to summon a Parliament in England to raise further funds. The Short Parliament duly assembled in April 1640. When Parliament refused to grant funds for the war, the King appealed for a loan from Spain while the Queen appealed to her brother the King of France and even to the Pope. These appeals were in vain, however, and the King was left to his own devices. The northern militia from the First Bishops' War was disbanded and a new levy was raised in the south. Untrained and poorly-disciplined, many of the southern levies deserted on the march to the north. Others were prone to mutiny: two officers found to be Catholics were lynched by their own men, who then dispersed. Violent disorders were reported from all parts of England that the levies passed through. By August 1640, the King's forces had mustered in Yorkshire and Northumberland, most of them poorly-armed, unpaid and underfed. Strafford's Irish army was not ready in time to take part in the campaign against Scotland.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Parliament appointed the Committee of Estates to direct the defence of Scotland. The Earl-Marischal William Keith occupied Aberdeen for the Covenanters in May 1640 while Major-General Robert Monro invaded the lands of the Royalist Gordons in the north-east. In June, the Earl of Argyll was granted a commission of "fire and sword" and led 5,000 Campbells in a six-week expedition to pillage and burn the lands of Royalist clans in the Highlands. Once the Scottish Royalists had been subdued, Argyll besieged Dumbarton as a precaution against the possibility of Strafford's Irish army landing in western Scotland.

Several regiments of the Covenanter army had remained in arms after the First Bishops' War and, with another war imminent, new levies were quickly raised. By early August 1640, the Covenanter army massed on the border with England was around 20,000 strong with an artillery train of sixty guns. The English army was concentrated in two areas of assembly: one in central Yorkshire awaiting the arrival of the King, the other in Northumberland. The Earl of Northumberland, commander-in-chief of the English army, had fallen ill. The commander of the northern army, Viscount Conway, concentrated on building up the defences of the border town of Berwick and seems to have disregarded the mustering of the Covenanters until it was too late.

Faced with the difficulties of keeping the Covenanter army supplied while it remained on the defensive, the Committee of Estates unanimously decided to mount a pre-emptive invasion of England. On 20 August 1640, General Leslie crossed the River Tweed at Coldstream and marched into England. Leslie thwarted Conway's defensive preparations by simply bypassing the well-defended town of Berwick and marching straight for Newcastle and the rich coalfields that supplied London with coal. As the King hurried north to York, the Scots arrived at the outskirts of Newcastle on 27 August.

The Battle of Newburn, August 1640

Rather than attack the strongly-fortified northern approach to Newcastle, Leslie marched west along the River Tyne to Newburn Ford, the first crossing point over the Tyne, a few miles upstream from the city. He intended to secure control of the northern and southern banks of the Tyne and then to encircle Newcastle.

Viscount Conway sent 1,500 horse and 3,000 foot to reinforce the troops guarding the ford. Two improvised earthwork forts had been constructed on the south bank of the Tyne, each manned by 400 musketeers and defended by four light artillery pieces. However, the forts were poorly placed. Leslie's expert artillery officer Alexander Hamilton, who had served under the great Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, deployed Scottish field artillery on higher ground on the north bank of the Tyne. Light guns were hoisted to the top of Newburn church tower so that the Scottish artillery completely dominated the English position.

Leslie sent a messenger to Conway saying that the Scots did not wish to fight but only wanted free passage in order to petition the King. Conway had no option but to refuse. The first wave of Scottish cavalry advanced towards the ford in the early afternoon of 28 August 1640 but was driven back by gunfire from the English entrenchments. In the ensuing artillery duel, Colonel Lunsford was unable to restrain his raw troops. Under intense bombardment, they deserted the earthworks and fled. The Covenanters poured across the ford to take possession of the undefended river bank. Henry Wilmot, commander of the English cavalry, led a gallant charge to try and drive them back but was overwhelmed as disciplined Covenanter musketeers were posted to secure the position. Most of the English infantry fled in panic towards Newcastle. Colonel Monck managed to retain control of his regiment and retreated in good order with the English artillery.

General Leslie ordered his troops not to pursue the fleeing English to avoid causing ill feeling by inflicting unnecessary casualties. To the amazement of the Scots, Viscount Conway decided that Newcastle could not be defended and withdrew the garrison to Durham. On 30 August, the Covenanters marched unopposed into Newcastle.

The Treaty of Ripon, October 1640

The morale of the English army stationed in Yorkshire collapsed after the defeat at Newburn. On 24 September, King Charles summoned a Great Council of Peers at York — a revival of an institution that had not been used since the reign of Edward III. The Council almost unanimously advised the King to negotiate a truce with the Scots and to summon another Parliament in England. While the Council of Peers continued to sit in York, English and Scottish commissioners met at Ripon in October 1640 to negotiate a treaty.

The Treaty of Ripon was signed on 14 October. A cessation of hostilities was agreed. Negotiations for a permanent settlement were to be negotiated and ratified by a new Parliament to be summoned in London. Meanwhile, the Scottish army was to occupy Northumberland and Durham, exacting an indemnity of £850 a day from the English government for its quarter; furthermore the Scottish government was to be reimbursed for its expenses in prosecuting the war against England.

The Treaty of London, August 1641

In desperate need of money, King Charles was obliged to summon the Long Parliament, which first assembled on 3 November 1640. A week later, the Scottish commissioners arrived in London to finalise the treaty. Despite King Charles' denunciation of the Scottish army as rebel invaders, the commissioners were welcomed by the Puritans of London, and the King retracted his remarks.

The negotiations between the Scottish and English commissioners continued through the spring and summer of 1641. Against a background of civil unrest in London and the impeachment by Parliament of his principal ministers Strafford and Laud, King Charles was anxious to settle the treaty as quickly as possible. He therefore made a number of unexpected concessions: the resolutions of the General Assemblies that banished episcopacy from the Scottish church were ratified; the royal castles at Edinburgh and Dumbarton were to be used for defensive purposes only; no Scots were to be censured or persecuted for signing the Covenant; the Scottish "incendiaries" regarded as being responsible for creating the crisis were to be prosecuted in Scotland; all Scottish goods and ships captured during the war would be returned; all books, publications and proclamations published against the Covenanters would be suppressed. It was also agreed that the Scots would receive the sum of £300,000 as recompense for the wars, which Parliament regarded as "brotherly assistance".

The Scots were also anxious to conclude the negotiations. The commissioners had outstayed their welcome, particularly after they issued a denunciation of episcopacy in the English church and an attack on Strafford and Laud that were regarded as interference in matters that did not concern them. Covenanter proposals to adopt Presbyterianism throughout the Three Kingdoms and other contentious demands were quietly dropped. The Treaty of London was signed on 10 August 1641.

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