A Necessary Union with a Powerful but Divided People: The Covenant-Centred British Agenda of the Scottish Covenanters during the British Civil Wars

  • Esko Nevalainen


The article concentrates on the international, and particularly British, dimension of the collective identity of the Scottish Covenanting elite during the British Civil Wars from 1637 to 1649. The Covenanters’ identity is studied by the interconnection of the key concepts within the reformation scheme and the Covenanting schema and also by the Scots’ images of the English. The Covenanting Scots’ aspirations seemed to communicate a strong sense of British identity as they reached for a reformed and covenanted British union. The Protestant Reformed Christianity that the Covenanters represented was, and still is, an international religion, and it is notable that the Covenanters also had greater pan-Protestant visions, such as their plan for a Palatinate expedition, inspired by their Providential beliefs. The Scottish sense of Britishness was linked to European Protestant culture and politics and, in the spirit of the Second Reformation, they displayed outward-looking ideas about the future.

The Covenanters’ images of the English reflect ambivalence. Clearly the English royalists and the “Canterburian faction” were seen as enemies and the “godly Puritans” as brethren. But even the English Parliamentarians, due to their factional rivalries and strengthening of the Independents, were seen as weak, indecisive and factional people. However, the English nation’s power was duly recognised, not underestimated. References to English divisiveness seemed to reflect the inverse ideal self-image of the Covenanters as unified, dutiful to the Covenant, standing for a Reformed and orderly church government and also for a limited monarchy.

It is useful in an aspirational sense to discuss a British Protestant identity in regards to the Scottish Covenanters and say that the Scots were “more British” and internationally oriented than their English counterparts. They understood that it was necessary to achieve their aspirations in cooperation with the English. This “Britishness” seems to have increased a sense of national identity among the English Parliamentarians just as fervently with a Protestant spirit as that of the Covenanting identity. In this discourse of cooperation and disputes between the Scottish Covenanters and English Parliamentarians, the Covenanters’ unrealised ideal supplied the English with additional resources; the political turmoil eventually led to a revolution but not to the British union to which the Covenanters aspired. Regarding the mid-seventeenth-century Anglo-Scottish relations, the English resolutions mattered greatly to the Scottish people, just as they seem to do currently in the case of “Brexit”. Indeed, the unifying essence of British identity is hard to perceive in both cases, though there clearly were and are reflections of it to be found.

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joulu 9, 2020