The Scottish Revolution 1637-1644: The Triumph of the Covenanters

The Scottish Revolution 1637-1644: The Triumph of the Covenanters

The Scottish Revolution 1637-1644: The Triumph of the Covenanters

The Scottish Revolution 1637-1644: The Triumph of the Covenanters


In 1637 Scotland exploded in rebellion against King Charles I. The events that followed have traditionally been interpreted in terms of religious conflict, but while accepting the importance of religious inspiration, The Scottish Revolution provides a narrative and analysis which stress the importance of political motivation. First published in 1973, this study is pioneering in seeking to interpret the upheaval as part of the wars of the three kingdoms - Ireland, England and Scotland.


When my books The Scottish Revolution (1973) and Revolution and Counter Revolution in Scotland, 1644–1651 (1977) were first published, research into seventeenth-century Scottish history was a much neglected area. It had, long before, been annexed by Church historians, who tended to use it to stage replays of the sectarian Protestant controversies of their own day (Church of Scotland versus Free Church versus Episcopalian Church, etc.) in a two-centuries’ old setting. Demonstrating that in the seventeenth century controversies either Presbyterian or Episcopalian had been ‘right’ scored a powerful point, for surely it proved that the descendents of the winner were in the right as well.

In an increasingly secular age, seventeenth-century Scotland treated in this way came to be perceived as a monotonous wasteland of squabbles over matter that seemed not just petty but boring. Moreover, as Churches themselves became embarrassed by sectarian pasts and turned to creating images of themselves as all being essentially of one faith, seventeenthcentury fanaticisms became an embarrassment. Perhaps it was best to give them—and the century—a low profile.

I came to the period as an atheist, though Scots-born and conscious that I was influenced by the Presbyterian tradition in which I had been raised. Living first in a firmly Presbyterian part of Belfast and then in Episcopalian England, I subsequently studied history in Catholic Dublin—but in a university that was Protestant-dominated because the archbishop of Dublin forbade Catholics under his jurisdiction from enrolling as students. Thus though I reacted against an approach to Scotland’s past that presumed only religion mattered, I was primed against the equally distorting secularist assumption that religious controversy was unimportant.

As a student I was drawn to the seventeenth century partly through the boom in the study of the English Civil Wars created by Marxist influences that sought to detect, in the overthrow of the monarchy of Charles I and the establishment of a republic dominated by Cromwell, signs of deep social changes creating a moment of revolutionary potential that aspired to a more equal and democratic society. This revolutionary potential had . . .

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