The National Covenant of Scotland

Displayed in a tall wooden case in the south east corner of the Cathedral is a copy of the famous document known as The National Covenant, the manifesto drawn up in 1638 by those who objected to the changes Charles I intended to introduce into Church of Scotland worship. It was composed by Alexander Henderson, who would the following year become one of the St Giles’ ministers, and Archibald Johnston of Wariston, a lawyer who was a member of the congregation.

Beginning with the Confession of Faith signed by the King’s father, James VI, in 1581, it gives a long list of past Acts of Parliament affecting the Scottish Church. While swearing profound allegiance to the King, the signatories now emphasised their determination to defend what they firmly believed to be ‘the true Religion’. Signed in the nearby Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, parchment copies were made at the time for circulation throughout the country, so that people could add their signatures. The clash between the King and the Covenanters led to the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 and 1640.

Various original copies of the National Covenant have survived, in the National Records of Scotland and elsewhere. This one, signed by notabilities such as the Marquis of Montrose and the Earls of Rothes and Cassilis, was sent to Linlithgow and given to the Laird of Dundas. It remained in the keeping of his descendants until 1924, when it was passed for sale to Messrs Andrew Baxendine & Sons, Edinburgh booksellers. It was then purchased by Alexander Wallace W.S., one of the elders of St Giles’. He had it placed in the plain oak frame with a carved thistle in each corner, and presented it to the Cathedral on 31 May 1926.