National Covenant

Text prepared by:


signed at South Kirk, Edinburgh
Archibald Johnson and
Alexander Henderson
1108mm x 1191mm

  The Museum of Edinburgh, The City of Edinburgh Council Museums & Galleries, UK
EMu user since 2014

National CovenantThe National Covenant was a petition in response to a gradual reintroduction of elements of practice and doctrine to the Church of Scotland by King Charles I. In 1618 James VI had brought back practices such as kneeling during Communion and private baptism which were regarded by staunch Presbyterians as too Catholic in nature, but the last straw was the 1637 introduction by Charles I of a new Prayer Book in Scotland. Riots ensued at St. Giles Cathedral when the book was first used, and took days to settle. A group of church elders and nobles gathered to prepare a petition, the National Covenant, which firmly but respectfully reaffirmed to Charles I his position with the Church of Scotland. The text of the Covenant was largely drawn up by lawyer Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston and theologian Alexander Henderson. Essentially it lists previous Acts of Parliament which defined the authority the King had over the Church. The Covenant was signed in Greyfriars Kirk by church elders, nobles and ordinary people on February 28th 1638, and a copy of the text sent to every parish in Scotland. This one is from the South Kirk, Edinburgh (no longer extant and location unknown) and was signed on three consecutive Saturdays, 13th, 20th and 27th March.

On the Covenant there are 4150 signatures: nobles and church ministers first, then burgess, notaries and everyone else next. The first signature on the Covenant is that of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, who went on to become one of Scotland’s greatest military leaders.

The momentum picked up by the Covenanter movement became unstoppable and what had begun as a peaceful complaint but still in favour of Royalty eventually turned into an extreme anti-Royalist and fervent Presbyterian revolution in Scotland. In time this led to the outbreak of civil war throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland and the abolition of the monarchy in 1649.

National CovenantNational Covenant






Acknowledgements: © The City of Edinburgh Council Museums & Galleries