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The Scottish Covenanters and the drive for a godly society 1639-1651

Young, John (2007) The Scottish Covenanters and the drive for a godly society 1639-1651. Recherches anglaises et nord-américaines, 40. pp. 25-35. ISSN 0557-6989

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Abstract

This paper examines aspects of the attempts of the Covenanting movement to establish a godly society in Scotland. The Covenanting movement played an important role in Scottish history between 1637 and 1651. By 1641 it was in political control of the country. The Scottish Parliament, under the control of the Covenanters, increased its political powers at the expense of the king, Charles I. Post-Reformation Europe witnessed the drive for a godly society in areas and regions where the Reformation had largely succeeded. The Church of Scotland had a presbyterian structure from 1638 onwards (in terms of the period of Covenanting rule) and it lobbied the state (in terms of church-state relations as separate spheres of interest) for a godly society. Kirk sessions and presbyteries were important institutions of the Church of Scotland at the local level for ‘enforcing’ the Reformation and attempting to implement a godly society. The period of Covenanting rule has received comparatively little attention in the historiography of the godly society in post-Reformation Scotland. Examples are drawn from the kirk sessions of Elgin and Old Machar (Aberdeen) in the north east of Scotland and the presbytery of Lanark records to highlight the experiences of ‘ordinary’ people outside the Covenanting elites in church and state. An overview of the main forms of punishment is described. In general a high versus low culture perspective is given in the context of the Covenanting elite high culture focused on national institutions (such as the General Assembly and Parliament) and low culture based on examples of the experiences of people at the local parish and presbytery level when the Covenanters sought to establish a godly society as part of a second Scottish Reformation.