#OnThisDay in 1643, Parliament signed its alliance with the Scottish
25 September 2015
What was the document, signed on this day in 1643, that brought two nations together in arms against their shared king?
The Solemn League and Covenant was an agreement between Parliament and the Scots to unite in opposition to King Charles I during the First English Civil War, but it had begun life much earlier and in a different guise.
Drawn up in February 1638, The Scottish National Covenant was a political bombshell. Copies were distributed throughout Scotland and were signed by everyone from noblemen to gentry, and the clergy to thousands upon thousands of common men.
Although it stressed their allegiance to the King, by signing the document ‘The Covenanters’ as they were known undertook to protect the Scottish church against what they claimed was the introduction of Roman Catholic modes of worship by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who was trying to impose a new liturgy and prayer book across England and Scotland.
The document – and the popular movement behind it – sparked the two Bishops’ Wars, which preceded the English Civil Wars and began the slide into a much wider conflict.
In 1643, The Covenant was incorporated into the Solemn League and Covenant, the agreement that secured a military alliance between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters against Charles’ forces.
An alliance between Parliament and Scotland had been proposed before by the Parliamentarian leader John Pym, but it wasn’t until 25th September 1643 – when the war seemed to be going badly for Parliament – that the deal was finally done and both houses of Parliament and commissioners from Scotland signed the document.
In return for Scottish troops and support, Parliament promised to preserve the Church of Scotland and to reform the churches of England and Ireland.
While Parliament viewed this as a military alliance and one of necessity, the Scots saw it as a religious one. They hoped to unify the churches of Scotland and England under Presbyterianism, a stricter style of church government that rejected the top-down structure of bishops and archbishops, in favour of churches run locally by ministers and elected elders. However, although Parliament promised to uphold the Protestant religion and root out any trace of ‘Popery’, the clauses regarding enforcing Presbyterianism on England, Wales and Ireland were vague at best and provided Parliament with plenty of space to later renege on its commitments.
However, the agreement had an immediate effect – in January 1644, the Army of the Covenant marched into England and, after tying up Royalist forces in the north of England, they proved decisive at the Battle of Marston Moor on 2nd July 1644. The defeat of Prince Rupert’s army by the combined armies of the Covenanters and Parliament’s Northern Army and Eastern Association saw the King lose control of the north, dashing any hope he had of linking up with his forces in Scotland.
Although the alliance would eventually fracture as the Independent faction in Parliament came to prominence, leading to the Scots making a disastrous alliance with King Charles and later his son Charles II in the Second and Third English Civil Wars, the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant was instrumental in bringing about the defeat of the King's cause.
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