Crisis in Scotland 1638-41: political overview

England versus Scotland

The King's insensitive religious reforms lead to the emergence of the Covenanter movement
and the Bishops' Wars between England and Scotland

King Charles' eleven-year personal rule was brought to an end in 1640 when rebellion broke out in Scotland. During the 1630s, Charles tried to harmonise the administration of the churches of England and Scotland by forcing through Archbishop Laud's episcopalian reforms without consulting either the clergy or the Scottish parliament. Charles also planned to raise funds by repossessing Scottish lands formerly held by the Roman Catholic church and sold off at the Reformation. So his proposed reforms alienated landowners whose holdings were threatened as well as the clergy and general Presbyterian population of Scotland.

Opponents of the reforms united around the Scottish National Covenant, introduced in February 1638. The Covenanters became the leading political and religious force in Scotland after they succeeded in dominating the Glasgow Assembly and throwing out the King's bishops. With neither the King nor the Covenanters prepared to compromise their religious convictions, a military solution to the crisis became inevitable. Charles raised an army to assert his authority and the Covenanters responded by creating a new administrative body for the defence of Scotland. This resulted in the two Bishops' Wars of 1639 and 1640.

The First Bishops' War ended in stalemate. King Charles was forced to call a Parliament in London to raise revenue for the continuation of the war against Scotland. However, Parliament refused to co-operate with his plans and no subsidies were granted. Charles dissolved the 1640 parliament after only three weeks. It became known as the Short Parliament.

The Second Bishops' War ended in a humiliating defeat for the English army. Major concessions were granted to the Covenanters under the treaty of London. The war also left the King desperately short of money. He had no option but to call another parliament to raise funds and to ratify the treaty with the Scots. The Long Parliament first met in November 1640. Opponents to the King's policies at Westminster were now better prepared to challenge his authority. The renewed power struggle between King and Parliament eventually led to civil war in 1642.

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or move on to the next overview in the Church and State thread: the First Civil War