Covenanters (kəvənăn´tərz), in Scottish history, groups of Presbyterians bound by oath to sustain each other in the defense of their religion. The first formal Covenant was signed in 1557, signaling the beginning of the Protestant effort to seize power in Scotland. It was renewed thereafter at times of crisis, most notably in the 17th cent. The National Covenant of 1638 aimed to unite the Scots in opposition to the episcopal innovations of King Charles I and William Laud, especially the adaptation for Scottish use of the English Book of Common Prayer. The Covenanters successfully resisted the king's armies in the Bishops' Wars (1639–40). In the English civil war they supported the parliamentary party only after the English Parliament had accepted (1643) the Solemn League and Covenant, which provided for the eventual establishment of a Presbyterian state church in England and Ireland as well as in Scotland. After the first civil war, however, the Independents in the English army secured control of affairs and prevented implementation of the Covenant. The Scots, therefore, concluded the agreement known as the
with Charles I, by which the king agreed to establish Presbyterianism in England if restored to the throne. As a result, the Covenanters fought for Charles I in the second civil war (1648) and, after his execution (1649), they fought for Charles II, who also subscribed (1650) to the Solemn League and Covenant. They were subdued, however, by Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Scotland (1650–51). After the Restoration (1660), Charles II resumed his father's effort to impose episcopacy in Scotland. The Covenanters were subjected to alternate attempts to conciliate them and to hunt them down. The result was a series of new compacts of resistance among them and new attempts to suppress them. A rebellion in 1679, which culminated in a rout at Bothwell Bridge, was met with harsh repression, as was the resistance of Richard Cameron and his followers, who issued the Sanquhar Declaration in 1680. The troubles ended with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which restored the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.
See study by J. D. Douglas (1964).