On February 17 1688 James Renwick, the last Covenanter martyr, was executed.
Renwick had been declared a rebel after renouncing his allegiance to Charles II in 1680 and declaring him a tyrant and usurper. He was ruthlessly pursued all over Scotland until finally he was caught and hanged.
Now this is part of our history I know less of, The Killing Times as they are known was a shameful time and all to do with religion. All subjects were to swear allegiance to the king and renounce the Covenant.
The desire of the covenant was to maintain ‘the true worship of God, the majesty of our King, and the peace of the kingdom’, for the happiness of those who swore it and their children. They also promised to live lives that showed they were in covenant with God, and to be good examples to others.
In Scotland in 1638, the National Covenant set out the belief that there should be no interference by kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Covenanters, as they were known, were Scots who signed the National Covenant. However, the Stuart kings believed in the Divine Right of Kings – amongst other things, they believed that they were the spiritual heads of the Church of Scotland. The Covenanters and their supporters could not and would not accept this; no man, not even a king, could be spiritual head of their church.
The entire Covenanting struggle was built around this conflict of beliefs – people against king. King Charles I had introduced the Book of Common Prayer to Scotland in 1637, to the anger and resentment of the populace. Famously, Jenny Geddes, at the first introduction of the new liturgy, is reported to have stood up in church, thrown her stool at the priest and shouted out Dare ye say mass in ma lug? That particular service was abandoned. Trouble and resentment continued under Charles I. After his beheading, under the Protectorate support for Cromwell waxed and waned within the Scottish Church. However, when Charles II landed at Garmouth in Moray in Scotland in 1650, he went on to sign the National Covenant, to the delight of the Scots. He was crowned King (of Scotland) at Scone in 1651. However, it was not until after Cromwell’s death that Charles took, in 1660, the crown of Great Britain. But Charles II went back on his word to the Scots and assumed superiority over the church. He appointed bishops and declared that opposition to the new liturgy would be treason. The Scots would have been loyal to this member of the Stuart dynasty but for that one sticking point.
A great deal of death, torture, imprisonment, and transportation would follow. These times, particularly between 1680 and 1688, became known as The Killing Times.
Because of the fundamental conflict in beliefs the Covenanters were obliged to hold their religious services in secret, and these services were known as Conventicles, held in out of the way places, often in the moors.
If a Scot was found under suspicious circumstances by the troops, he could be asked on the spot to swear allegiance to the King; if he was also found to be carrying a bible his life was immediately in danger. The moors of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire (and elsewhere) hold many memorials to Covenanters killed on the spot by suspicious troops.
Back to Renwick, while I said at the top he was the last martyr this is not strictly true as with most things, the ordinary person is forgotten, while he was the last of the preachers to die for their faith, the very last Covenanter, and one of the youngest to be martyred, was a sixteen-year-old youth, George Wood, shot down by trooper John Reid at Tincorn Hill, outside Sorn, in the summer of 1688. Reid allegedly commented on the shooting - that the boy was a Covenanter and it was the thing to do. Thus far had the regard for human life fallen in the twenty eight years of persecution since Charles II returned from exile.
There are countless memorials throughout the country to Covenanters Renwick himself has at least three that I found, not all the memorials for those killed during this time are on the Covenanter side, many Royalists were killed. The MacDougalls suffered most when 300 hundred men at the garrison of Dunaverty were slaughtered.
The painting is of Renwick being taken to execution in 1688 down the West Bow.