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Title: Politics and religion in Edinburgh, 1617-53
Author: Stewart, Laura A. M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2003
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The Covenanting experiment ended for Edinburgh's inhabitants when their burgh was occupied by the English, but the 1640s cast a long shadow over the burgh's development. Lives were undoubtedly destroyed by disease and war. The prosperity of the burgh must have been seriously affected by the contraction of trade and the depletion of reserves of liquid capital which had sustained moneylending and property speculation. On the other hand, Edinburgh as a political entity endured, stoically as it seems, the pressures of war and the ignominy of English occupation. Remarkably, its constitutional structure and social make-up remained almost entirely unaffected, in marked contrast to London.108 Although the Covenants were consigned to the dustbin of history by nervous political leaders, its impact on the shaping of a Protestant national identity amongst the burgeoning professional classes of the capital was arguably a deep and lasting one. More tenuously, the 1640s may also have entrenched Edinburgh's sense of itself as a capital of a sovereign nation. The Covenanting regime had owed its existence to the country's leading urban centre, which gave it a home with access to the finest lawyers and the richest merchants. Edinburgh was confirmed in its status as the watchtower of the church and as the home of a legal establishment now increasingly being seen as distinctively Scottish.109 Edinburgh's sense of its own uniqueness must have been intensified by a realisation that, regardless of who wielded power in England, they were fundamentally uninterested in closer cooperation with Scotland. For historians, the Covenanting era is a vital moment in the transition between medieval kingdom and early modern state. It proved that the apparatus of government could function without the presence of the monarch, paving the way for the development of a constitutional monarchy which worked with, rather than dominated, bureaucratic institutions. The connection between locality and centre was intensified through the modernisation of Scotland's antiquated tax regime. Constitutionally, the Covenanting committee structure was, in anybody's terms, a revolution. It brought to a natural conclusion the idea posited by Knox, that it was the responsibility of the lesser magistrates to assume power if the Prince had become incapable. It was no social revolution, however, and David Stevenson's work has been confirmed in this respect.111 The complete absence of violence or disorder in the localities before 1644, with the notable exception of the north-east, suggests that the maintenance of the accepted social hierarchy was crucial both to the legitimation of the movement's aims -this was not government by the 'promiscuous and vulgar multitude'112 -and to the speed with which the movement was able to exercise authority. In Lowland Scotland, a regime which could have become intrusive and domineering, while it was also taxing the kingdom in a distastefully efficient way,"4 was still able to engender loyalty - the same regime was far less successful at establishing itself in the north and west.115 The contrast between the regime's agenda and the prevailing cultural and religious influences in these areas made it difficult for the Covenanters to do as they had done in Lowland areas, and co-opt the traditional local elite into the regime. Edinburgh provides an excellent example of how this was achieved, so that instead of being threatened by the creation of novel bureaucratic and military structures, local communities actually supported and participated in them. In Edinburgh, the merchant oligarchy retained control of the town council throughout the 1640s, and even the purge of 1648 did not fundamentally alter its composition. The type of man who had been the burgh's representative at parliaments and conventions also attended the committees. There were attempts to influence who would be provost of Edinburgh but crucially, Argyll never tried to circumvent the town's established customs, as Charles I had done, by imposing his own candidate. This was in marked contrast to the situation in England, where the imposition of competing bureaucracies after 1642 generated a 'march towards chaos' in local administration. The local dimension remains essential. Edinburgh's inhabitants were engaged in debates about the nature of the religious settlement in Scotland and their relationship with the English church. They were aware of the campaigns of 1630 and 1633, which sought to find some means of bringing the king's attention to a growing sense amongst the political nation that they were alienated from the executive. Nonetheless, local politics was primarily driven by local concerns and Edinburgh was a particularly self-aware community; provosts who forgot that their most basic function was the protection of Edinburgh's interests rapidly became very unpopular. As a consequence, issues were given different emphases depending on who was talking about them. Historians can construct theoretical models, identify over-arching themes and discuss ideological frameworks, but people do not usually see their lives in those terms. For most, the reality in Edinburgh was that the differences between royal and Covenanting regimes had little direct bearing on their everyday activities; to a certain extent, this even remained the case after 1651. It was the town council which gave order to their existence, because it permeated every corner of burgh life, to an extent that even the church was unable to match. If this thesis has one unifying thread of continuity, therefore, it is the remarkable stability of Edinburgh government. In 1660, Edinburgh town council disavowed the Covenant; there would be no elect nation, and the capital abandoned the idea of being the new Jerusalem. Never again would a religious ideology threaten to disrupt the burgh's ability to protect its own 'particular',118 which was, after all, what Edinburgh was best at.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available