The Covenanters and Queensferry

Queensferry has an interesting Historical connection to the Covenanters – 1638 – 1680.

Covenanter Lane

King Charles I attempted to overthrow the Presbyterian form of religion, which had been established in Scotland in 1560 during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

“Covenanters” was the name given to Presbyterians in Scotland, of all ranks, who signed the covenants in 1638, which swore to uphold their systems of worship and church organisation, confirming  their opposition to the interference by the Stuart Kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

King Charles I after original by Van Dyck. Wikipedia Public Domain

The repercussions of the attempt by Charles1 to establish the episcopal form of religious service in Scotland, leading to the riots in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, were severely felt in Queensferry. The Scottish nation had been aroused to organise resistance. The failure of the Scottish representatives to effect a settlement with the crown, followed by the Kings command for submission angered the people. Copies of the covenant were distributed to all parts of the country in order that people might signify their will to support and maintain Presbyterianism. The Queensferry copy of the Covenant was signed by 83 persons.

James, the 1st Duke of Hamilton was the Kings chief advisor in Scottish affairs. He dissolved the general assembly which was held in Glasgow Cathedral in 1638. However the determination of the Assembly to maintain the Presbyterian religion led to a state of war. In 1639, Hamilton was chosen to command an expedition to the Forth to attack the Covenanters and faced the might of the Scottish Army of the Covenant under command of the Lord General Sir Alexander Leslie.  Realising the strength of his opposition, the proposed plan to land was impossible. This forced the King to sign the Treaty of Berwick. But the struggle was not ended.

James Hamilton, First Duke of Hamilton, by Anthony van Dyck. Wikipedia Public Domain

 The summer of 1640 saw Charles raise an army against the Scots, but the Scots led by Alexander Leslie, penetrated England, defeated the ‘auld enemy’ and this compelled the King to sign a permanent treaty leaving Scotland in the hands of the Presbyterians.

Alexander Leslie – Wikipedia Public Domain

 During this struggle between the Crown and the Scottish Nation, Queensferry was not inactive. Alarmed by threat of invasion, the magistrates and council ordered Samuel Wilson to procure arms from wherever he could. 9 muskets and 10 pikes were purchased for the defence of the town.  A drill master was employed to train the men in the discipline of war. The sight of men old and young emerging from their doors and the loud voice of the drill master instructing the recruits in military exercise in the new kirkyard, the haste of constructing earthworks east of the harbour and the mounting of a gun with its muzzle directed toward the sea, could not fail to cause wonder and alarm.  All inhabitants who possessed a musket were called to arm themselves with sufficient powder, match and balls. Watchmen were posted at the East and West ports of the town and 6 men went to Inchgarvie Island as volunteer defenders. The fear of invasion vanished after the defeat of the Kings forces and the inhabitants returned to their normal business.

Inchgarvie Island 1651 – Queensferry History Group Collection

This was the nub of the entire Covenanting struggle. The Scots were, and would have been, loyal to the Stuart dynasty but for that one sticking point, and from 1638, when the Covenant was signed, until the Glorious Revolution – when Prince William of Orange made a bloodless invasion of Great Britain in 1688 – a great deal of suffering, torture, imprisonment, transportation and executions would ensue.
There followed a period of very severe repression. Ministers with Covenanting sympathies were “outed” from their churches by the authorities, and had to leave their parishes. Many continued to preach at meetings in the open air or in barns and houses. This became an offence punishable by death. Citizens who did not attend their local churches (which were now in the charge of Episcopalian “curates”) could be heavily fined, and such offenders were regarded as rebels, who could be questioned, even under torture. They could be asked to take various oaths, which not only declared loyalty to the king, but also to accept him as head of the church. Failure to take such an oath could result in summary execution by the muskets of the dragoons, who were scouring the districts looking for rebels.

Covenanters House. Artist: Ian Slee. Queensferry History Group Collection

‘The Palace’, latterly known as the ‘Covenanters House’, situated at the West end of Queensferry, in Covenanters Lane, between Priory Church and Harbour Lane, was an Inn at the time of The Covenanters.  It was an old red tiled house, two stories high. The doorway to the north was upon the gabled front, led by a spiral staircase up to the rooms above. It was on this staircase that in 1680, Covenanters Henry Hall of Haughhead, Teviotdale, who played an active part in most of the transactions of the Covenanters,  and Rev. Donald Cargill, an outed minister from Glasgow, were accosted by Middleton, a Papist and  Governor of Blackness Castle, where many Covenanters were imprisoned.

Blackness Castle  -Andrew Shiva, Wikipedia CC, BY-SA 4.0
Donald Cargill, Wikipedia Public Domain

Middleton had been informed of their arrival in the Queensferry area and set out in pursuit accompanied by a servant, when he tracked the two men to the Inn, he sent the servant to call out the troops.  As he seized the two men he called for the people in the house to help him “in the Kings name” and was was assisted by a waiter of the Inn, named Thomas George.  While Cargill escaped, the waiter struck Henry a fatal blow on the head with a carbine. Henry escaped helped by the women of Queensferry, however he was mortally wounded and fainted in the street. Carried to a house in Echline, medical aid was brought to him, to no avail and he fell in to the inhuman hands of General Dalyell of the Binns, and the Kings Guards, when he died while being dragged to Edinburgh. His body lay in Cannongate Tolbooth for three days before being buried secretly.

Canongate Tolbooth, 1890: image with permission from Peter Stubbs,

Rev. Donald Cargill was arrested and executed at Edinburgh on 27th July 1681.

Despite being scrubbed, the blood stain on the stairs was said to show until the building was demolished in the 1930’s.   Henry Hall was found to have papers in his pocket, written by Cargill, in which the subscribers renounced allegiance to the existing king and government, and engaged to defend their rights and privileges, natural, civil, and divine. There were no signatures. This declaration is named the “The Queensferry Paper” named after the place it was found, (also known as the “Fanatics Covenant”).  A copy is kept in Queensferry Museum.

The alternative name of “The Palace” may arise from it occupying the site of a palace erected for Queen Margaret as a resting place during her crossings to and from Dunfermline, the Binks nearby forming a natural pier for the ferry across the Forth.   Unfortunately all the buildings in Covenanters Lane were demolished in the 1930s, as part of a Housing Improvement Scheme and the house at which the incident took place, known as the ‘Covenanter’s House’, “one of the most ancient covenanting landmarks to which Scotland could lay claim” can no longer be seen. 

Source of information: Summer Life on Land and Water at South Queensferry, William Wallace Fyfe, published 1851.
The History of Queensferry, Dr John Mason, 1963, unpublished.
West Lothian Courier archives.
Queensferry History Group.

Saint Margaret, wikipedia public domain -artist; Stefano di Giovanni 

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