Bishop`s Dragnet and the Cess.
The Bishops Dragnet was
another name for a law passed by Parliament on 10 July
1663 “ An Act for Separation and Disobedience to
Ecclesiastical Authority “. It ran hand in hand with the
infamous Middleton`s Act which evicted ministers who had
not obtained patrons and presented themselves to bishops
for approval. This Act stipulated that ministers
appointed before 1649 had to obtain collation
(approval or licence by a bishop) by 30 September;
absentees and non conformists were suspended and deposed.
In October the Privy Council enacted that all who had not
complied forfeited their livings and had to leave
the locality by 1 November. Over 300 stepped down.
These `outed` ministers continued to preach and conducted
services in homes, barns and open fields – the conventicle
now replaced the kirk as the focus for the faithful. The
flagrant disregard by the ministers, for what was the law,
infuriated the government, the prelates and the curates
who had been appointed to the vacancies.
The secondary purpose of the
` Bishops Dragnet ` was to force people to attend their
own church on pain of fines and, worst of all, required
names of delinquents to be sent to the Privy Council who
could order corporal punishment. This was the first of the
measures intending to force conformity to the Episcopal
Church of Scotland. Shortly the collection of fines was
passed to the military while the curates kept records of
church attendance and reported absentees to the military
for follow up action.
It was the heavy handed
collection of fines by soldiers that was the cause of the
Pentland Rising. This happened when soldiers arrested an
elderly farmer named John Grier for failing to attend
church, they bound him hand and foot and threatened to
strip him and roast him on a hot gridiron but local
Covenanters intervened and released him. From there the
resistance developed to a spontaneous march through the
south west of Scotland – Dumfriesshire, Ayrshire and
Lanarkshire and culminating in a defeat for the
Covenanters at Rullion Green,
south of Edinburgh, on 28 November 1666.
The `cess` was the tax
imposed to pay for military occupation but it was not only
charged in the post Restoration period (after 1660). It
was also a requirement to pay it as a levy for the
Engagement in 1648. In this period the infamous Sir John
Turner was sent to Renfrewshire to enforce obedience. In
his Memoirs Turner wrote :
I found my work not
very difficult, for I shortly learnt to know that the
quartering of two or three troopers and half a dozen
musketeers was an argument strong enough in two or
three night`s time to make the hardest-headed
Covenanter in the town to forsake the Kirk and to
side with the Parliament.
Another method that Turner
adopted was to quarter troopers, often in excessive
numbers, “on none but the Magistrates, Council and Session
“ and their supporters. This rigorous pursuit of the
religious people (most of whom had some assets and money)
brought rapid responses. “In ten days they
cost a few honest people… above forty thousand pounds
During Cromwell`s occupation
the country people had to bear their share of providing
`coal and candle` equally with the burghs when
the soldiers were acting as garrisons. The elected members
of the first joint Parliament made representations to
Cromwell about the charges who commented that “the
Ministery did preach uppe the interests of
Charles Stuart .” The garrisons continued for some time
because of the Jacobite sympathies that persisted, with
the cess charged until the time of Colonel Monck`s march
on London in 1659. Cromwellian soldiers lingered in Ayr
and district until 1661.
In September 1678 three
regiments of horse were added to the army of King Charles
II for service north of the Cheviot Hills and in the
Solway region. These regiments were commanded by the Earl
of Airlie, the Earl of Home and John Graham of Claverhouse,
later to become Viscount Dundee. The purpose of these
regiments was to maintain order and to repress the holding
of conventicles. The Convention of Estates
ordered in June 1678 that the means to pay for these
soldiers was the `cess`. It was regarded as
particularly obnoxious by the people at large as another
burden for them brought about by the activities of the
Covenanters. Many of the Covenanters themselves paid
the tax although the die hard element reasoned that paying
an unjust tax was conniving at the injustice.
To add to the bitterness was
the view of Richard Cameron, John Dickson and others that
paying the cess was on par with accepting an Indulgence so
that more division occurred amongst the Presbyterians.
John MacMillan, the first full time preacher of the
Societies, for example, enquired of parents at baptisms
whether they had paid the cess.If they answered `yes` he
would refuse to baptise the child. The Society Terms of
Communion included the provision that no one could be
accepted as a member who had paid the cess, locality or
militia money to the civil authorities.
James Renwick was charged,
amongst other things, with refusing to pay the cess
giving as his reasons :
For the present cess,
enacted for the present usurper, I hold it unlawful to pay
it , both in regard it is oppressive to the subject, it is
for the maintenance of tyranny, and it is imposed for
suppressing the Gospel
There were several
polemical writers about the Cess chief amongst them
was Robert McWard of Wamphray who wrote a
Testimony against Paying of Cess to an unjust and unlawful
Government or wicked Rulers. And Alexander Shields in
A Hind Let Loose has a vindication.
grouped under the label of the Cess were other needs for
money and not all the taxation was in fact used for the
suppression of conventicles.
1661 An act to raise
£40,000 for the King`s use.
A War tax
derived from a rate of forty shillings on each
Act requiring £72,000 monthly
for a year in
shires and burghs.
1670 An act for £360,000 for the
1672 A requirement for £864,000
Scots for war against the
States General (Holland, at this time was a Spanish colony).
1678 A supply of £1,800,000 Scots
for suppression of conventicles.
1681 The supply to continue for five
1685 A supply of £216,000 yearly
for life to James II.
1685 An act for Poll monies from
parishioners to relieve heritors
paying the supply.
to Restoration of Charles II.