- The Covenanters were the most militant faction of scots who resisted the imposition of English Anglican control in the 17th-century Church of scotland.When James I (r. 1603-25) ascended to the English and scottish thrones, he attempted to bring the Church of scotland (which since the Reformation had been Presbyterian in belief and organization) to conform to the Anglican principles of the Church of England. In 1612, having largely succeeded in reintroducing bishops into scottish church life, he tried to have the church adopt a brief document known as the Five Articles of Perth. In the context of the times, they were seen as a major step toward Anglicanism, if not Catholicism. It called for bishops to bless children following their catechetical instruction, and for the church to commemorate the days designated in the Western liturgical calendar for Christ's birth, passion, resurrection, and ascension, and for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). The articles were passed by the assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1618, and by the Parliament in 1621.Charles I (r. 1625-49) reaffirmed the Five Articles. A short time later, he moved to increase the powers of the bishops by naming them to powerful civil posts. His attempt in 1637 to impose a new book of worship services, prepared by Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), on all the scottish congregations was apparently the last straw and led to a riot in Edinburgh and other locations.Opponents of the prayer book wrote up a national covenant pledging continued loyalty to the Presbyterian church while still defending the person and authority of the king. Issued on February 28, 1638, the covenant met with popular support, and the great majority of Scots signed it. An assembly in the fall moved to depose the bishops, withdraw the prayer book, and annul the Five Articles of Perth. Charles sent an army to quell what he saw as open revolt, but it was defeated.In 1643, the Scots sided with Parliament in the Civil War against the king and entered into the Solemn League and Covenant to establish true (i.e., Protestant) religion in the land. The Scots, however, broke with their English allies following the execution of Charles I, and while Oliver CROMWELL ruled in England, the Scots set Charles II on their throne. Charles quickly reneged on his promise to acknowledge the covenants of 1638 and 1643 and moved to reintroduce bishops into Scotland. Those most opposed to supporting the Church of Scotland under such conditions began to meet separately in their homes and in the open air. The struggle continued until James II finally allowed a Presbyterian church order to be reestablished in the 1680s.By the time William II and Mary ascended the throne of England in 1689, the dissenting Covenanter party, which had come to see the Church of Scotland, even with its new Presbyterian order, as corrupted, was reduced to a small lay following until joined in 1706 by minister John McMillan (c. 1669-1753) and in 1743 by Thomas Nairn. That year they founded the Reformed Presbytery, the mother organization of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.Some Covenanters moved to North America (in some cases after being banished by the government), where they established Reformed Presbyterian presbyteries in the 1700s. The largest branch survives as the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.In Scotland, the Reformed Presbyterians grew rapidly for more than a century. In 1863, the great majority united with the Free Church of Scotland. The surviving Reformed Presbyterian Church has been reduced to four congregations. It enjoyed somewhat greater success in Northern Ireland, where work was established in the 1740s. The Irish Covenanters, though only a few thousand strong, support mission work in Ethiopia, Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus, and supply ministers for the Scottish congregations.Further reading:■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds. The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)■ Robert Benedetto, Darrell L. Guder, and Donald K. McKim, Historical Dictionary of Reformed Churches (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1999)■ James H. Smylie, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.