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Book Review – The Covenanters of Scotland 1638-1690 by David Dobson

The Wars of the Covenant covered the years between 1639 & 1651, when Scotland & England were two independent countries, though both were subject to King Charles I. The cause of the Covenanter movement lay in the attempts of the Stuart kings to impose Anglicanism on a basically Presbyterian Church of Scotland & to make the Stuart kings head of the Church of Scotland in line with their position in the Church of England.

In 1638 a National Covenant was subscribed to throughout Scotland, which demanded that general assemblies & parliaments be free of royal control. Charles duly raised an army to subdue the Scots. As there was no standing army in Scotland, the Covenanters were faced with raising one from scratch. However, there were thousands of Scottish soldiers of fortune in the service of the Netherlands, Sweden & Denmark who were persuaded to return to form the basis of a Scottish army. Besides the former mercenaries, this Scottish army was composed of Lowlanders & Highlanders from Argyll.

After many military skirmishes & battles both in Scotland & northern England, in 1647 King Charles I surrendered to the Scottish Army, which handed the King over to Oliver Cromwell. King Charles I was tried & executed in London. England became a republic while Scotland chose to remain a kingdom. Charles’s son, then in exile in the Netherlands, was brought to Scotland & crowned at Scone as King Charles II of Scotland.

In response, Cromwell’s army invaded Scotland & defeated the Scottish Army in 1650. Thousands of Scots were taken prisoner & many were transported for sale to the colonies or plantations & elsewhere. King Charles II escaped to exile in Holland, where he remained until the Restoration in 1660.  When the monarchy was restored in 1660 the Covenanters were again subject to unacceptable policies. This led to armed Covenanter risings in Scotland. In the aftermath, executions, deportations & fines were used to impose the policy of King Charles II. Many Covenanters went abroad, mainly to the Netherlands & Ireland. The government also banished significant numbers of Covenanters to the plantations or colonies in America & the West Indies.

In 1685 King Charles II died & was succeeded by his brother as King James VII of Scotland & King James II of England & Ireland. King James, however, was a Catholic–something unacceptable to the Protestants of England & of Scotland. In 1689 the Scots Parliament offered the crown to William of Orange & his wife Mary Stuart, which was opposed by followers of King James II. A Jacobite army unsuccessfully clashed with the government army in 1689. This & the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in 1690, ended the rule of the Stuart kings.

Our Review


In this work, David Dobson has identified nearly 2,500 Covenanters by name, verdict, date & vessel of banishment, place of exile, often additional particulars about the individual & the source of the information.

The book also contains a number of relevant images including the Covenanter Flag, The National Covenant of 1638, The Covenanter Memorial at Greyfriars as well as drawings of some of the places & events mentioned in the entries.

To give you a feel for the kinds of entries you might expect I have provided a few examples: -

CUNNINGHAM, George – a prisoner in Edinburgh Tolbooth, was banished to the Plantations on 24 July 1685 [RPCS.XI.114]

HAMILTON, Robert – of Monkland, Lanarkshire, was found guilty of conversing with the assassins of the Archbishop Sharp in July 1684, was sentenced to death but was reprieved [ETR]

MCBRIDE, John – was liberated from Edinburgh Tolbooth on 29 July 1685 [ETR]

MONTGOMERY, Hugh – Viscount Ards, supported fervently Calvinist Ministers in Ulster, such as Josias Welsh [SHR.99]

STRANG, James – in Westdrum, Kilbride, a fugitive in 1683 [RPCS.VIII.648]

The book is A5 & runs to 263 pages.

You can purchase this book via your usual bookseller or the Genealogical Website


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