The Solemn League & Covenant
The alliance between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters was sealed with the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant by both Houses of Parliament and the Scottish commissioners on 25 September 1643. It was a military league and a religious covenant. Its immediate purpose was to overwhelm the Royalists, who in 1643 seemed in a strong position to win the English Civil War.
An alliance between Parliament and the Scots was first proposed by John Pym early in 1643. Parliament was anxious to secure military help from Scotland in order to counter Royalist victories in England. The Convention of Estates in Edinburgh favoured the alliance after the discovery of the Earl of Antrim's conspiracy to bring over an Irish Catholic army to support a projected uprising of Scottish Royalists. However, the Covenanters regarded the alliance principally as a religious union of the two nations. They hoped to unite the churches of Scotland and England under a Presbyterian system of church government.
In August 1643, the four commissioners appointed by the House of Commons arrived in Edinburgh. They were: Sir Henry Vane, Sir William Armyne, Thomas Hatcher and Henry Darley. They were accompanied by two clergymen: the Presbyterian Stephen Marshall and the Independent Philip Nye. Although the House of Lords had voted in favour of the alliance, no peers were prepared to go to Scotland to take part in the negotiations. Sir Henry Vane emerged as the leading spokesman of the English delegation.
Both sides were eager to defeat the Royalists so the negotiations proceeded quickly. The Westminster Parliament ratified the new covenant within two weeks of receiving it at the end of August 1643. Certain alterations were made to avoid an immediate commitment to strict Presbyterianism and these were accepted by the Convention of Estates. The Scots agreed to send an army into England on condition that Parliament would co-operate with the Kirk in upholding the Protestant religion and uprooting all remaining traces of popery. Although it was implied that Presbyterian forms of worship and church government would be enforced in England, Wales and Ireland, the clause was qualified to read that church reform would be carried out "according to the Word of God" — which was open to different interpretations. Reform of the Anglican church was debated at the Westminster Assembly, but a Presbyterian religious settlement for England was strongly opposed by Independents and others. The settlement that was eventually imposed was regarded as a compromise by the Covenanters.
In January 1644, the Army of the Covenant marched into England to take the field against the Royalists. Parliament decreed that the Covenant was to be taken by every Englishman over the age of eighteen. Although no penalty was specified, the names of those who refused to sign were to be certified to Parliament. Signing the Covenant became a prerequisite for holding any command or office under Parliament until King Charles I made his own alliance with the Scots in 1648.
After the execution of Charles I, Kirk leaders pressed the Solemn League and Covenant on his son Charles II at the Treaty of Breda (1650). However, the defeat of the Royalist-Scots alliance at the battle of Worcester in September 1651 ended all attempts to impose Presbyterianism in England.
Shortly after the Restoration of Charles II, the Solemn League and Covenant was declared unlawful by the Cavalier Parliament under the Sedition Act of 1661. It was to be renounced by all persons holding public office and a copy of the document was burnt by the common hangman. Clergymen were required to renounce it under the Act of Uniformity of 1662.
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vols. i and ii (London 1888-9)
S.R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate vol. i (London 1903)
David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44 (Newton Abbott 1973)
David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)
Full text of the Solemn League and Covenant www.constitution.org