The Scottish Covenanters
in Making and remaking saints in nineteenth-century Britain
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The Covenanter Martyrs of the later seventeenth century were national heroes in nineteenth-century Scotland, yet their commemoration was fraught with risk. Whether through civic events, the marking of anniversaries, or the raising of historical statuary, any attempt to remember the Covenanters carried with it dangerous associations with idolatry. The sanctification of anyone – let alone their Protestant heroes – was anathema to Scottish Presbyterians. Or was it? Embodied in Scott’s Old Mortality, maintaining the grave sites of martyred Covenanters had long been a tradition within Scottish Presbyterianism. Combined with the publication of stories of the martyrs as instructive tales, the Covenanting flame was kept burning throughout the eighteenth century. Yet by the mid-nineteenth century, as this chapter argues, the Martyrs occupied a central role in Scottish memory. To remember the Covenanters was to keep alive the ideals they died for: the spiritual independence of the Church, the rejection of popish ritual and episcopacy, and – more broadly – the Scottish-national virtue of civil and religious liberty. This paper concentrates on commemorative practice as a means of understanding the role played by the Covenanters in nineteenth-century Scottish society. It draws on newspaper reports of commemorative events, as well as collected essays and published sermons, to throw light on a neglected corner of the burgeoning field of collective memory and commemoration studies.

Editor: Gareth Atkins

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