The ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh hosts the records of the established Church of Scotland, but there are and were many other Presbyterian church factions within Scotland - if you cannot find your ancestor in the OPR records, they may well have belonged to one of these other denominations. But what were these other factions? Hopefully the following article will help to shed some light...!
The Scottish Reformation of 1560 happened as a reaction against the corruption and spiritual decline of the Roman Catholic Church which had up to that point guided the nation’s morality for hundreds of years. ‘Heretical’ ideas from the continent were already penetrating the country through preachers such as George Wishart, later to be martyred, and with the increasing resentment of the population against the French, who were turning Scotland into a puppet state, revolution was inevitable.
Shortly after Wishart’s execution, the man responsible, Cardinal Beaton, was murdered by protestant sympathisers in St. Andrew’s, and the town’s castle briefly captured, before returning to French control. One of Wishart’s protégés, a priest by the name of John Knox, was taken prisoner for 18 months, but upon his release made his way to England. Progressing to Switzerland, he studied under the reformer John Calvin, who had created a Protestant mini-state in Geneva based on the principle of the Godly Commonwealth, by which the church controlled the education and discipline of its population.
Impressed, Knox returned to
The Reformation secure, a new social order was introduced into
Initially, the Kirk had actually retained the structural role of bishops by creating ‘superintendents’ to oversee the parishes. In 1572, the Concordat of Leith, with the blessing of John Knox, agreed to appoint Protestant bishops nominated by the Crown. But when Andrew Melville came to inherit Knox’s mantle, he sought and achieved the abolition of these bishops. To him, Presbyterianism meant that no man should be held up in authority over another, as he could see no evidence in the Bible that the earliest Christian churches had ever been hierarchical. Melville also neutered the General Assembly, turning it into a talking shop for ministers. The Crown no longer had a vehicle to exercise its control, and refused to ratify the new Kirk’s presbyterian structure until conceding in 1592.
Desperate to regain its influence, the Crown in essence bribed the Kirk in 1610, seven years after the
In 1636 and 1637, Charles I revealed new proposals to assimilate the Church of Scotland with that of
After Charles’ execution, his son (also Charles) landed in
By 1685, Charles II had given way to his brother, James VII. To the Scots, things were now much worse – James was a Roman Catholic. Matters came to a head in 1688 when James was forced to leave
Many of those who had adhered to the Anglican cause remained within the Scottish Episcopal Church, which drifted ever closer in tone towards a more Catholic flavour, becoming very heavily identified with the Jacobite causes of the Eighteenth century. Another church which remained separate from the established church after 1690 was that of the covenanter Cameronians, later to become the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
But with Presbyterianism now secured, the mainstream churches soon began to turn in on themselves over various aspects of doctrine, with one sticking point in particular – patronage. With the loss of bishops and then superintendents, landowners began to assert their rights to influence the choice of appointments in Presbyterian kirk sessions and ministries. Many church ministers became increasingly uneasy about this, and it was not long before factions began to remove themselves from the establishment church in protest, such as the Associate Presbytery, formed by Ebenezer Erskine in 1733. This later split in 1747 into two camps, between those who would and who would not take the Burgher Oath, which was in fact designed to prevent Roman Catholics taking office after the second Jacobite rebellion.The opponesnts became the Anti-Burghers. The Burghers then split in 1798, and the Anti-Burghers in 1806, both forming two camps, the Auld Lichts and the New Lichts, with the New Lichts in each camp on a more theologically liberal course. Both New Licht factions united in 1820 as the United Secession Church, merging with the Relief Church in 1847 as the United Presbyterian Church.
Meanwhile, by the early 19th century the established Church of Scotland was still dominant, but losing its grip, particularly within the developing large urban populations, with which its archaic parochial structure could not cope. As the urban civil authorities tried to assume responsibility for the masses, another Kirk minister, Thomas Chalmers, and his evangelical wing of the Church of Scotland tried to relaunch the Calvinist concept of a Godly Commonwealth, by trying to address the issue of patronage once and for all, with a return to the values of the true Presbyterian church which they believed had lost its way. However, when the established church refused to challenge the state authorities on the issue, Chalmers and a third of the delegates at the 1843 General Assembly meeting walked out in protest, forming the Free Church of Scotland.
Unfortunately for both the Free Church and the established church, their timing could not have been worse in terms of their Protestant objectives. Within a few years, thousands of Roman Catholic Irish people were arriving in Scotland to flee the Famine in their homeland. With both the mainstream Protestant churches doubling up on their efforts to create new ministries and missions, both became seriously weakened at the time that Roman Catholicism was able to embed itself again securely within the country – and with State backing.
In 1900, the Free Church merged with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland. Eventually, both it and what was left of the established church were soon forced to realise that reunification was the only way to regain their dominant position, but by the time they got their act together in 1929 it was too late. Education and discipline were by now firmly in the hands of what was now a fully secular Scottish state. As the churches merged, they were also disestablished, and the idea of the Godly Commonwealth breathed its last.
i) “A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830” – T.C. Smout, Fontana, 1998 (first pub William Collins and Son, 1969)
ii) “Religion & Society in Scotland Since 1707” – Callum G. Brown, Edinburgh University Press, 1997.
iii) “The Sword and the Cross – Four Turbulent Episodes in the History of Christian Scotland” – Matt Barrett, Chris Paton & Ann Muir, foreword by Richard Holloway, pub. Saint Andrews Press, 2003.
BBC Scotland - Church of Scotland
Chart showing Schisms:
Chart showing Schisms:
The Disruption of 1843 (Wikipedia)
The Disruption of 1843 (Wikipedia)