Religious comprehension and toleration in Scotland, 1689-1712
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date02/07/2022
This thesis examines the religious divisions that Scotland experienced after the revolution of 1688-89, and how the authorities responded to them. It shows how the nation went from having one established Church in 1689, to having two churches in 1712. These were the presbyterian Church of Scotland, and the new episcopalian church that was erected under the toleration act that was enacted on 3 March 1712. The thesis argues that this development was a combination of political, intellectual, and social processes that culminated in a begrudging acceptance of legal pluralism and the end of the established Church’s exclusive national status. After episcopacy was abolished in 1689, and presbyterianism and the Westminster confession were re-established as the Church’s ecclesiological and doctrinal standards in 1690, there was a substantial episcopalian minority who refused to accept these standards. The government of William II, the re-established presbyterians, and the episcopalians, all supported a national church but disagreed over how it should be organised. Many episcopalians were willing to be received into the Church under a flexible presbyterian settlement that did not pressure them to accept the Westminster confession. William’s government adapted this idea to try and convince the presbyterians to receive episcopalians into the Church under a flexible settlement that did not require them to fully accept the re-established standards. However, the presbyterians felt that ministers should accept presbyterian government and subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith before they were received. Comprehension, or the modification of the established Church’s structure to accommodate nonconformists, was promoted in the early 1690s to solve these divisions, but its meaning was not fixed. Four national settlements attempted to implement comprehension in the 1690s. These were the Act ratifying the Confession of Faith and settling presbyterian church government in 1690, the ‘Church Union’ that was proposed to the 1692 general assembly, the 1693 Act for settling the quiet and peace of the Church, and the formula for entry that was implemented by the 1694 general assembly. Comprehension was also practised in the localities when ministers negotiated an arrangement with a Church court or visitation commission to be received. As the terms of national comprehension gradually became associated with the presbyterians’ demands, most episcopalians became alienated from the Church. The 1695 Act concerning the Church addressed this problem and had widespread uptake. It allowed episcopalians to minister in their parishes and exempted them from accepting presbyterianism and the Westminster Confession, if they qualified by swearing certain state oaths. Despite the compromise that was reached in 1695, the differences over comprehension caused some politicians and younger episcopalians to argue that their co-religionists should be legally tolerated as a separate church. These men organised themselves into a tolerationist movement and used Anne’s accession to propose a toleration act to the Scottish parliament in June 1703. The act failed, but the movement continued to claim that it was necessary because comprehension had failed to preserve a national church in the 1690s. After the union of 1707, the tolerationists used the political and constitutional arrangements within the new British state to push for a broader toleration that allowed episcopalians to use the English liturgy. The 1712 act was the culmination of a successful campaign by the movement to convince the British authorities to enact such a toleration. The thesis concludes by examining the previously unexplored proposals for a Scottish model of England’s 1689 toleration act that were unsuccessfully made by some presbyterians to counter the broad terms of the 1712 act.