Alexander Henderson, c.1583-1646

An opponent of Archbishop Laud's attempt to reform the Scottish Kirk, he helped draft the Scottish National Covenant and became a leading member of the Covenanter movement.

Portrait of Alexander HendersonA clergyman in the Church of Scotland, Henderson was a protégé of Archbishop Gladstanes who granted him the kirk of Leuchars in Fife in 1612 where Henderson encountered opposition from his anti-episcopalian parishioners. Around the time of Gladstane's death in 1615, Henderson himself became a convert to the Presbyterian cause, possibly as a result of hearing a sermon by the charismatic preacher Robert Bruce.

In 1637, Henderson emerged as one of the leaders of the opposition to Archbishop Laud's innovations in the Scottish church. He helped organise the prayer book riots in Edinburgh when the new liturgy was introduced and was among the Supplicants who petitioned against the innovations after he was ordered to use the new prayer book in his parish or face prosecution. In February 1638, Henderson and the lawyer Johnston of Wariston were commissioned to draft the National Covenant to unite the Supplicants. As the Covenanter movement gained momentum, Henderson and Wariston agitated for a General Assembly to settle all religious controversies, resulting in the calling of the Glasgow Assembly of November 1638, at which the Covenanters abolished episcopacy from the Kirk. Elected moderator of the Assembly, Henderson preached a famous sermon known as The Bishops' Doom and pronounced the sentence of excommunication on the Scottish bishops.

Early in 1639, Henderson left his parish at Leuchars to become minister at the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh. He wrote several tracts that helped gain support for the Covenanters amongst English Puritans. After the Bishops' Wars of 1639-40, Henderson was one of the six Scottish commissioners who negotiated the initial Treaty of Ripon then went to London to finalise the Treaty of London in 1641. When King Charles visited Scotland later in 1641, Henderson was appointed dean of the Chapel Royal at Holyrood and preached before the King several times. His cordial relationship with King Charles aroused suspicion amongst some of the Covenanters. However, Henderson was a leading member of the committee that negotiated the Solemn League and Covenant with the English Parliament and he attended the Westminster Assembly which imposed a limited Presbyterian church settlement in England.

Henderson assisted the commissioners of the English and Scottish Parliaments at the unsuccessful Uxbridge Treaty early in 1645. After the King surrendered to the Scottish army in May 1646, Henderson was one of the commissioners who attempted to negotiate the Newcastle Propositions as a basis for a settlement between the King, Parliament and the Scots. Henderson is said to have fallen to his knees and wept as he pleaded with the King to accept the Propositions, but to no avail. The strain of the negotiations had an adverse effect on Henderson's health, which was already fragile. He died in Edinburgh on 19 August 1646 and was buried in Greyfriars churchyard.


John Coffey, Alexander Henderson, Oxford DNB, 2004

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44, 1973