Find your ancestors in Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688

These records document a brave and sad period in Scottish history known as The Killing Times. Discover if your ancestor signed the National Covenant and was considered a rebel of the state. Alexander Peden, one of the Covenanters leading figures, can be found in the records.

The transcripts were created by sources found at The National Archives and the National Library of Scotland. The sources include records of the High Court of Justiciary, the Court on Circuit, the Dittay Books, Edinburgh Tolbooth Prison Records, Trial Papers and Fugitive Rolls. Other sources include lists of prisoners brought into Edinburgh from Bothwell Bridge together with the Porteous Rolls of every County in the Covenanting area.

The detail found in each record can differ, but most will include:

  • Name
  • Place
  • Place as transcribed – this field show the place exactly as it was recorded by the transcriber
  • County
  • Description – may include occupation or relatives
  • Source
  • Archive reference

Discover more about these records

These records document the names of those who were labelled as rebels or covenanters by the English government. They signed the National Covenant to defend their faith against the intrusion of the government.

Reformation came to Scotland in the 1560s and by the end of the 16th century the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was established. In 1603, the crowns of England and Scotland were united under James I. Then in 1637, his son, King Charles I, introduced the Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. The new liturgy was similar to the Church of England, but had not been approved by the Scottish National General Assembly. Any opposition to would be considered treason. Many of the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland walked out of their churches when they were being forced to introduce the new liturgy.

In response, the Scottish Presbyterians gathered at Greyfriars Kirk on 28 February 1638 to sign the National Covenant. The Covenant stated that Jesus Christ was the head of their church and not the King. They not only dreaded the monarchy’s control of religion, but worried that the church would eventually be brought back under papal authority.

Civil War had broken out in England and the Scottish Covenanters formed an alliance with Oliver Cromwell against King Charles I and the Royalists. When Charles I was executed, the Scots supported Charles II as the new King who made promises of religious tolerance. Charles II ignored his promise to the Scots, outlawed Presbyterian services and tried to restore Episcopacy. Cromwell was outraged by the Scottish alliance with Charles II and invaded Scotland. Charles II went into exile until Cromwell died in 1658. Relief for the Scottish Presbyterians did not come until the Glorious Revolution with William of Orange in 1688.

During these years of Civil War, the covenanters were hunted, tortured and executed. It was known as the Killing Times. 18,000 Christians who would not compromise their beliefs suffered. Ministers preached at conventicles, secret open air meetings. If caught they were executed. Those who were not executed would be imprisoned or could be banished to the colonies. Thousands were banished to America. The names of those who were not attending the established Episcopalian Church were given to the Royalists. They were heavily fined, questioned and even tortured. Battles between the covenanters and the Royalists occurred at Rullion Green 1666, Drumclog 1679 and Bothwell Brig. They were fighting not only for their religious freedom, but also for the freedom of speech. After the Battle of Bothwell Brig, 1,400 covenanters survived and were imprisoned at Greyfriars Kirk. Many of them died of suffocation, starvation or exposure.