Outed Ministers, Curates, Conventicles. and the Blink.

An important indicator of the support for the outed ministers was the absence of successors nominated by the patrons, but this had an unwanted side effect - the appointment of curates to fill the vacancies. The direct consequence of the outing of ministers was their illicit preaching in house and field `conventicles` that would eventually be deemed illegal and rebellious, with participants liable to instant execution if caught.

Following the excessive action against the Rullion Green Covenanters there was a period of relative calm, called "the Blink" that lasted for about four years. It coincided with Rothes being transferred to the position of Chancellor and the appointment of John Maitland, Earl  (later Duke) of Lauderdale as the King`s Commissioner. Credit is also due to three advisers of his - sensible men who urged a balanced approach with less confrontation. These were the Earl of Tweedale, who led the Committee of Inquiry into Sir John Turner`s activities and had been the sole vote against sentencing James Guthrie to execution. Secondly, Alexander Bruce, Earl of Kincardine who favoured a qualified toleration. And third - the eyes and ears of Lauderdale, his secretary Sir Robert Moray - he was very much the man on the ground who went out among the people and saw for himself what was going on.

 The Blink was a time during which the conventicles took place with greater frequency throughout the land and had attendances reaching several thousands. The attendances to hear the curates were correspondingly less - much to the concern of the Prelates who continued to press for action. During this time the likes of Gabriel Semple, John Welch and John Blackadder rode far and wide to hold meetings, perform baptisms and weddings and deliver the Communion service. By the time of the meeting at the Hill of Beath, Dunfermline, in the summer of 1670, the Covenanters were taking arms - swords and pistols, with them in case of attack. At a huge conventicle at East Nisbet that year watchers or guards were placed in three concentric rings round the location. Covering a radius of over fifty miles from the site, the guards could give  early warning of any military movements.

 January 1668 had seen the introduction of the heavy handed Bond against attending conventicles.  It became a device for attacking anybody, not just Covenanters, who declined to take the all ensnaring declaration and oath. It was especially odious because it bound the person not only for the conduct of his immediate family, but also his servants. Thus it was possible, and eventually happened, that lairds and persons of property could be ensnared and subjected to fines, and allegations of treason with all that entailed.

In 1669 the introduction of the (First)  Indulgence brought another category of persons to the fore - the ministers who accepted the Indulgence. These were unkindly referred to as the "King`s Curates" because they had accepted the royal authority. The ordinary curates imported to fill the vacancies created by outing, were called the "bishops curates".

It is quite remarkable that various historians from both sides of the divide, are unanimous in their opinions of the "bishops`curates". Overall they were seen to be  "worthless, contemptible creatures". Bishop Burnet, an episcopal minister, historian and later Bishop of Salisbury, said :

"They were the worst preachers I ever heard; they were ignorant to a reproach; and many of them were openly vicious. They were a disgrace to orders, and the sacred functions; and were indeed the dregs and refuse of the northern parts."

The historian Kirkton agreed with Burnet:

" a sort of young lads, unstudied and unbred, who had all the properties of Jeraboam priests... and so profane and void of conscience themselves  that they believed that there were none in any other...."

The Earl of Tweedale , a member of the government, described them to Lauderdale as:

  "insufficient, scandalous, impudent fellows".

The allegations and complaints against the curates were investigated independently by Lauderdale`s secretary, Sir Robert Moray. He concluded that it was impossible to support  such ignorant and scandalous men "unless the greatest part of them could be turned out." Moreover, it was not just in Scotland where the episcopal church was failing to support the people - similar, even stronger, criticism was being voiced in Ireland.

Against this background it was inevitable that the people, well accustomed to the care of `their` minister, would not placidly accept  "the substitution of lewd clodpates for their loved and learned leaders". This showed in several instances of resistance to the intrusion of the curates, notably in the parish of Irongray, the charge of John Welsh (grandson of the noted John Welsh of Ayr and great grandson of John Knox). From the nearby parish of Keir the curate Bernard Saunderson brought armed supporters with him to fill Welsh`s pulpit, and was met and driven off by a barrage of stones  thrown by a crowd of local women, led by a Margaret Smith, who had manned the walls of the churchyard.  Here  a William Arnot of Little Park drew his sword as he placed his back against the church door, declaring  boldly "Let me see who will place  a minister here this day". The Fasti vol 2 p   gives detail of Sanderson`s career and tells of the action of the Covenanters.

 KIRKPATRICK-IRONGRAY   Fasti vol 2 p 288.

BERNARD SANDERSON, M.A. (St Andrews 1625); master of the Grammar School of Leith 8th Oct.1629, "under condition that he continue for five years, and shall not countenance or resort to any public exercise of theologie in any Presbyterian meetings, nor present himself to any pulpit, and shall seldom resort to Edinburgh or other places." He entered on trials for license before the Presb. Of Haddington, 10th Sept. 1634, and appears to have been assistant at South Leith before 13th July 1637. He was min. of Keir, 1638-59, and of this parish in 1663, to which he was admitted under the protection of an armed force. The opposition arose mostly from women of the humbler class, led by a certain Margaret Smith, who was afterwards tried for it, along with William Arnot of Little Park. Smith was ordered to be banished to the Barbados, but this sentence was not carried out. Arnot was fined 5000 merks, and required to acknowledge his offence upon two Sundays in the parish kirk. S.'s manse was plundered by the Covenanters on 15th Nov. 1666 and 4th April 1607. He died at Edinburgh, 14th Sept. 1667, aged about 58, and was buried in Greyfriars, Edinburgh, He marr. (1) Dec. 1630, Elizabeth Scott, in the parish of .South Leith, and had a numerous family: (2) Lilias Somerville, who died Feb. 1644: (3) 11th Aug. 1646, Euphemia Macmichael; (4) Jean Dalzell, who survived him, and had five children. A daugh. marr. George Lang, min. at Newry, Ireland.

Subsequent investigation by  Commissioners appointed by the Privy Council ( the Earls of Linlithgow, Galloway and Annandale, Lord Drumlanrig and Sir John Wauchope of Nidrie) revealed that Arnot had held several meetings opposing the interdiction of Saunderson and that he had refused the request  of the Rev John Wishart  to hold the women off. He was taken prisoner and removed to Edinburgh and an accomplice George Rennie of Beoch, was ordered to find security for his future behaviour. Meanwhile, the military were quartered on the inhabitants of Irongray till the following Monday. Arnot was fined 5,000 merks , ordered to stand two Sabbaths at the Repentance stool in the church, and ordered to be banished if he failed to pay.

Another significant indication of unrest occurred shortly before in Kirkcudbright which was also investigated by the Commissioners. This  involved the women of Kirkcudbright who objected to the curate John Jaffray of Monquhitter who had been `rabbled`. The Commissioners descended on the town in a huge show of force with 100 hundred horse and 200 foot guards, who immediately claimed claimed free quarters and generous pay from the local inhabitants. They then interviewed Lord Kirkcudbright ( an old friend of Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston)  who had opposed the appointment and declined to intervene in the disturbance. John Corsan or Carson of Senwick ( later a Provost) and John Euart or Ewart who had been elected a Provost but declined the post and refused to give advice about the disorder. They also interviewed some thirty three women, widows, and servants.

They concluded that the three men and five women rioters should be removed to prison and trial in Edinburgh. A further fourteen women were removed to the tolbooth  till they found caution (bond) of 100 sterling to appear before the Council when called. Some of the men went to prison instead of their wives. The Council subsequently fined Corsan 8,000 merks, Euart was banished. The five Kirkcudbright women - Agnes Maxwell, Marion Brown, Jean Rennie (or Rome), Christian M`Cavers, and Janet Biglaw (or Biglam), were ordered home to stand two market days at the Cross of Kirkcudbright with notices pinned on them stating their crime, and the magistrates encouraged to scourge and banish criminals  if they tried to avoid punishment.

The Privy Council`s Order:-

The Bond against conventicles.


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