The Covenanters and Queensferry

On the 3rd of June 1680 an episode took place in Covenanters Lane at a house then an inn, which resulted in the discovery of the ‘Queensferry Paper’ (also known as the “Fanatics Covenant”) a covenanting manifesto severely critical of the King and Government for imposing an Episcopacy.

Covenanters Lane is located at the west end of South Queensferry High St., between the Priory church and Harbour Lane. It is a site of historical interest, which reflects a turbulent period in Scotland’s 17th century religious history. The ‘Covenanters’ was the name given to Presbyterians who signed the Covenants, which swore to uphold their systems of worship and church organisation.

After the Reformation in Scotland, Protestantism was declared the official religion. The newly established Church of Scotland adapted the Presbyterian system of church government; elders and Minister democratically elected and series of church courts at local, regional and national levels. Whereas in England Protestantism had adapted the Episcopalian system of church government; Bishops who were appointed by the Crown. Theoretically Presbyterianism was considered to be a more spiritual system, thereby more Godly, because it was less open to the secular influence of the State.

On the 3rd of June 1680 an episode took place in Covenanters Lane at a house then an inn, which resulted in the discovery of the ‘Queensferry Paper’ (also known as the “Fanatics Covenant”) a covenanting manifesto severely critical of the King and Government for imposing an Episcopacy. Unfortunately all the buildings in Covenanters Lane were demolished in the 1930s, as part of a Housing Improvement Scheme and the house at which the incident took place, known as the ‘Covenanter’s House’ can no longer be seen. The only depiction of the House available (so far discovered) is an illustrated lithograph in William Wallace Fyffe’s book ‘Summer on Land & Water at South Queensferry’ published 1851.

The incident involved an altercation between Middleton the Governor of Blackness Castle and two Covenanters, the Reverend Donald Cargill and Henry Hall of Teviotdale; both men belonged to a small sect of Covenanting Presbyterians, variously known as Society People, Wanderers, Wild Whigs, Hillmen and latterly as Cameronians. Information was received from James Hamilton and John Park, Ministers at Bo’ness and Carriden, that Cargill and Hall were in the vicinity. Middleton set out in pursuit and tracked them to the House, then an inn, at South Queensferry. Posing as a fellow traveller, he professed friendliness to the two unsuspecting covenanters by sharing a drink with them. Following a suitable interlude, he divulged who he was and that they were to be his prisoners.

Neither Cargill nor Hall were impressed by this surprising and undoubtedly unwelcome invitation and responded by making a bid to escape. Hall grappled with Middleton, allowing Cargill time to flee, which he did on Middleton’s horse. A week later “one Margaret Wauchope is brought in prisoner from Queensferry for being accessory to Mr Cargill’s escape”(Wodrow P207).

When Hall tried to escape; he was not so lucky. He had the misfortune to encounter Thomas George, a Tide Waiter or Custom’s Officer, who struck Hall a blow to the head with a Carbine. Although seriously hurt, Hall, with the help of some women who had gathered outside, managed to get clear of the town as far as the Echline, where he collapsed. He was taken to a country house where medical aid was sought, but to no avail, his injuries were too severe. General Dalyell of the Binns was alerted and sent a troop of Dragoons to arrest the dying man. Hall died on the journey to Edinburgh. His body lay in the Cannongate Tollbooth for three days. Distressingly for his friends, they were not allowed to take the remains away. Some time later he was “buried clandestinely in the night”. Such was the savagery of the times.

After the restoration of Charles II, attempts were made to unify religious differences between Scotland and England. The Act of Rescissory cancelled all legislation after 1633. Effectively the Covenants were banned, episcopacy established and lay patronage introduced. This caused a storm of protest, whereas previously Presbyterian congregations had chosen their own ministers, now their appointments had to be confirmed by the lay patron and the Bishop. Existing ministers who refused to obey the new rules were ‘outed’ from their pulpits. Many took to field preaching (conventicles) where their faithful parishioners followed. Out of doors, often with armed members in the congregation, listeners were entreated to rousing sermons by dissident clergy preaching fire and brimstone and divine wrath upon a tyrannical government.

To defuse this potentially volatile situation the King introduced letters of Indulgence, if ministers agreed to provisory terms they could return to their parishes. Some accepted but many did not and conventicles continued. The authorities viewed such meetings as a menace to public order and tried to eradicate them by intensified persecution, which culminated in open rebellion. Government forces defeated the Covenanter’s army at Bothwell Brig.

Possibly fearing the demise of Presbyterianism altogether the more moderate Covenanters agreed to accept Episcopacy, albeit reluctantly. However, the more extremist faction refused because it was against their conscience to do so. Conventicles continued, two ministers were particularly active Donald Cargill and Richard Cameron after whom the Cameronians took their name. This group produced a series of extremist documents of which the Queensferry Paper was one. It was discovered after a search of Hall’s belongings. The paper, written in eight parts, did not contain any signatories but it was thought to be the work of Donald Cargill; it became known as the Queensferry Paper after the place where it was discovered.

The paper begins by binding all adherents and setting out its purpose,

  • 1) acknowledging the Trinity and the scriptures to be the rule of faith,
  • 2) pledging to free the Church from the corruption of prelacy,
  • 3) that the doctrine of the reformed churches especially Scotland is “the only true doctrine of God”,
  • 4) to ‘endeavour to overthrow the Kingdom of Darkness…. with worship and prelacy, with its hierarchy, as we are bound in our Solemn League & Covenant,
  • 5) ‘The hand of our King’s and Rulers…hath been a long time against the throne of the Lord’; and having ‘degenerate from that virtue, moderation, sobriety and good government’ the government was to be rejected and the people ‘free to choose another’,
  • 6) Indulged clergy were unacceptable, as they had abjured the Covenants by submitting to the King’s own government (and so is not God’s),
  • 7) The ministerial office was to be refused ‘unless rightly ordained’, anything other than the ‘true doctrine’ was inadmissible,
  • 8) It ends by declaring to defend themselves against all those who would overcome them in ‘our worshipping of God and our natural and civil liberties.
  • A full transcript can be found on p207-11 in the “History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland” by William Wodrow; Vol. III

    1560 Reformation brings Protestantism to Scotland
    1638 National Covenant signed in Greyfriars Church Edinburgh 28th February
    1643 Solemn League and Covenant
    1660 Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II.
    1661 Act of Rescissory – Episcopacy restored.
    1662 Lay Patronage restored
    1663 Ministers ‘outed’ and coventicles begin
    1679 Bothwell Brig Covenanters defeated by Government forces
    1680 Richard Cameron killed at Airds Moss
    1681 Rev. Donald Cargill executed at Edinburgh 27th July.

    © 2000 Ann McPherson & Queensferry History Group