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James VI and I: 1603

Unlike his mother, James is a Protestant. He is also undeniably the next in line of succession to Elizabeth's throne. Elizabeth is the last surviving descendant of Henry VIII, the only adult son of Henry VII. With her death the succession moves to the line of Henry VII's eldest daughter Margaret - married in 1503 to James IV of Scotland.

Margaret's two senior grandchildren are the first cousins Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Darnley, the parents of James VI. His claim is clear. But Elizabeth refuses to acknowledge him as her successor, until finally indicating this intention on her deathbed.


No doubt Elizabeth reasons that an element of uncertainty will keep her Scottish cousin (almost exactly the same age as her last favourite, Essex) on his best behaviour. She is proved right.

James is a skilful politician. During the last two years of Elizabeth's reign he is in secret correspondence with Robert Cecil, by now the queen's chief minister. At the same time James avoids any actions which might alarm the Roman Catholics in England and prompt a rebellion. As a result his succession in 1603 goes as smoothly as if he were Elizabeth's own son, rather than the king of a country where hostility to England has been the norm. James VI of Scotland now gains a new title as James I of England.


The second kingdom: 1603-1638

Between his accession to the throne of England in 1603 and his death in 1625 James VI returns only once to his Scottish kingdom. But the government which he has established and his undoctrinaire Church of Scotland continue to serve the country well. Scotland's high educational standards are rooted in this period. In 1616 the privy council orders the founding of a school in every Scottish parish.

A renewal of conflict between the Church of Scotland and the Stuart monarchy comes in the 1630s. It is prompted by the policies of James's son, Charles I, and his English archbishop, William Laud.


The Bishops' Wars: 1639-1640

In 1637 Charles I and Laud try to impose the full liturgy and hierarchy of the Anglican church on Scotland, where James I - in his more tactful early period - has put in place a workable compromise between the presbyterian and episcopal systems. This solution has held good for several decades.

Now the king's demands lead to riots in Edinburgh, in 1638, and the emergence of the Covenanters. It has been a tradition for members of the Church of Scotland, when confronted by a crisis, to covenant themselves to a shared cause. They do so now in a National Covenant, first signed in Greyfriars' churchyard in Edinburgh in 1638 and then circulated throughout Scotland.


In 1639 the Covenanters take control in Edinburgh, Stirling and other Scottish towns. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland declares episcopacy abolished north of the border. A truce is agreed with the king later in 1639, but a second Bishops' War breaks out in 1640 when a Covenanters' army marches into England and seizes Newcastle.

The new crisis prompts Charles to summon parliament in London in 1640. But far from being willing to help the king against the Scottish presbyterians, the House of Commons - itself now predominantly presbyterian - presents Charles with unprecedented demands.


The shifting alliances of the kirk: 1643-1690

The increasing friction between Charles I and the English parliament during the 1640s causes both sides to seek a Scottish alliance. Compared to the complex political currents flowing south of the border, the position of Scotland's dominant party is relatively simple. The Covenanters want a religious settlement. Their aim is to establish a presbyterian church as the only form of Christianity in both Scotland and England.

Their natural ally would therefore seem to be the predominantly presbyterian parliament in Westminster. An alliance is made, in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, pledging Scottish armies for the English parliamentary cause in return for religious support.


The Scots believe that the Solemn League and Covenant commits the English parliament to securing a national presbyterian church in both kingdoms. English failure to honour this pledge (partly because Cromwell and the army do not favour presbyterian rule) causes the Covenanters to revise their commitment. They consider instead an alliance with the Stuart royal family.

In 1646 Charles I surrenders to a Scottish army at Newark. On this occasion, after several months of negotiation, the Covenanters fail to reach agreement with the king. They hand him over in 1647 to his English enemies. Yet only a year later a Scottish army invades England on the king's behalf, launching the second phase of the English civil war.


This royal alliance is renewed, with equally disastrous results, when Covenanters fight for Charles II against Cromwell in the final stage of the civil war. The army defeated with Charles at Worcester in 1651 is Scottish. The result is the submission of Scotland to English parliamentary rule, and the enforced administrative union of the two countries in 1652.

With the Stuart Restoration the religious system in Scotland is also restored, to the compromise achieved by James VI in the late 16th century. In 1662 Charles II imposes bishops once again north of the border, but in a manner enabling them to coexist with presbyterian assemblies.


The final stage in Scotland's religious saga derives, as at the Restoration, from English politics. When William III becomes king, he reverses the policy of his Stuart predecessors.

Bishops, the bone of contention for so long, are removed in 1689. In 1690 the Church of Scotland is formally given the presbyterian form of government which it retains to this day. (In 1712, after the Act of Union with England, episcopalians in their turn are granted religious freedom. An Anglican church, with bishops, becomes a minority sect north of the border under the name Episcopal Church in Scotland.)


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