The Covenanters

In 1638, the year after the Prayer Book Riot in St Giles, a manifesto known as The National Covenant was drawn up, protesting against Charles I’s ecclesiastical policies in Scotland. It pledged those who signed it to ignore his intended changes unless these were approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It was composed by Alexander Henderson, who would the following year become one of the St Giles’ ministers, and Archibald Johnston of Wariston, an advocate who was a member of the congregation. Signed on 28 February 1638 in the nearby Greyfriars Church by leading nobles and barons, parchment copies were intended to be circulated for signature to every burgh and parish in Scotland. Many of these documents have been preserved, including the Linlithgow copy which was presented to St Giles’ by Alexander Wallace W.S. in 1926 and is displayed in the Preston Aisle in a special wooden stand.

Armed conflict swiftly followed in 1639, with The Bishops’ Wars, and the King’s opponents were originally known as Covenanters, although later they split into separate groups. During the subsequent Civil War, a captured royalist named Sir John Gordon of Haddo was imprisoned in a room above the North Porch of St Giles’ before his execution just outside. The prison came to be known as Haddo’s Hole. After the Restoration of Charles II, a group of Covenanters continued to oppose royal policies and were defeated at the Battle of Rullion Green in 1666. Some were then imprisoned in Haddo’s Hole, before being executed, deported or released.


Montrose and Argyll

James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, has gone down in history as a romantic royalist hero, while his great enemy Archibald, 1st Marquis of Argyll, has been revered as leader of the more radical Covenanters against Charles I. Both men signed the National Covenant in 1638 but, suspicious of Argyll’s motives, Montrose soon led an army supporting the King. Three times in 1644-5 he routed Argyll’s Covenanting forces but was captured in 1650 and hanged outside St Giles’. His head was placed on a spike on the Tolbooth, while his limbs were sent to other leading Scottish towns, to be displayed as a horrible warning to all royalist supporters. Meanwhile, dismayed by the execution of Charles I in 1649, Argyll had changed sides; but he soon changed back again to support Oliver Cromwell.

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he ordered Montrose’s body to be reassembled and given a state funeral in St Giles’, where the Marquis’s grandfather was buried. The following year Argyll, charged with treason, was beheaded outside the Cathedral. His head was displayed on the same Tolbooth spike for three years, and then buried beside his body in his family mausoleum in Kilmun, Argyll.

In 1886 Queen Victoria visited St Giles’ and asked why there was no memorial to Montrose. As a result, the handsome, seventeenth-century style monument above his burial place was erected. Nine years later, a campaign was started to produce a similar monument to Argyll. It was agreed that this would be appropriate, for the Cathedral was seen as a temple of reconciliation. Argyll’s memorial was unveiled in 1895, on the 234th anniversary of his execution.