These records document a brave and sad period in Scottish history known as The Killing Times. The transcripts were created from a variety of sources from The National Archives and National Library of Scotland. 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:
Place as transcribed – this field show the place exactly as it was recorded by the transcriber
Description – may include occupation or relatives
These records document the names of those who were labelled as rebels or covenanters by the Scottish 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.
One of the most famous and controversial leaders of the Covenanters was Alexander Peden. The charismatic preacher was born in the parish of Sorn in Ayrshire. Multiple records for Peden can be found in the Scottish Covenanters 1679-1688. In 1663, he refused to teach the new Book of Common Prayer and left his church at New Luce in Wigtownshire. Peden began to preach illegally at conventicles and slept in caves in the hills and moors. He was declared a rebel in January 1666, when he failed to come before the Privy Council. A letter from the Privy Council described how Peden travelled, ‘the said Mr Alexander rides up and down the country with sword and pistols, in grey clothes.’ For 11 years he was on the run. To escape capture he wore disguises. One of his masks is held at the National Museum of Scotland. It was made with leather, fabric and hair.
Alexander Peden was eventually captured in December 1678 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at Bass Rock, then banishment to an American plantation. When the American ship captain, who was charged with taking Peden to America, learned of why he was being exiled, he helped Peden escape to Ireland. He lived in the north of Ireland and continued to preach and support other covenanters there. He did return to Scotland and preached all over Southern Scotland. His impact on the area is clear by the many place names attributed to him: Peden’s Isle in the Galloway Hills and Peden’s Pulpit on the summit of Ruberslaw. He was said to be able to prophesize and even predicted the end of The Killing Times and his own death. In one story, as he was preaching in an open field, soldiers arrived to arrest him and the congregation. Peden prayed to God for help and a heavy fog descended on the field, ensuring everyone’s escape. In 1682, he performed the wedding of John Brown, another famous Covenanter who became a Presbyterian martyr when he was executed.
Alexander Peden died a free man of natural causes on 26 January 1686 near his birth place. Six weeks later troops arrived at his grave and exhumed his body. They intended to hang him from the gallows but was stopped by the 2nd Earl of Dumfries. Instead he was reburied at the foot of the gallows as a final sign of disrespect from the Royalists.
Below is a full list of the sources used to create this index and descriptions of each piece provided by Alan E. Laurie. There is a lot of specific Scottish legal terminology in these descriptions. Language specific to 17th century Scottish law.
The Books of Adjournal JC2 - The books form the main record of the High Court of Justiciary. They were created from the minute books and papers produced in court. They give the indictments a record of the proceedings and the verdicts. They contain the witness statements of witnesses and sometimes a statement from the accused.
JC2/15 3 June 1678 – 4 July 1682
JC2/16 5 July 1682 – 21August 1685
JC2/17 25 Aug 1685 - 22 March 1690
High Court Minute Books JC 6 - These volumes were written in court by the clerks and give a full account of the proceedings, verdict and sentence.
JC6/10 27 Nov 1677 – 10 Apr 1682
JC6/11 6 May 1682 – 16 July 1685
JC6/12 16 July 1685 – 21 Aug 1690
Circuit Court Minute Books JC10 - These volumes were compiled by the Court on Circuit comprise minute books which fully report the cases. A case could reach a conclusion on circuit or be continued to an Edinburgh sitting.
JC10/3 29 Aug 1679 -3 Oct 1684
JC10/19 Circuit Court Minute Book List of persons summoned at Ayr, 2-11th Sept 1679
JC10/20 Circuit Court Minute Book List of persons summoned at Ayr, 4 May 1683
Dittay Rolls JC17/1 (1652-83) - These contain lists of crimes and evidence gathered against accused persons in preparation for a later circuit court.
Registers of Lawburrows, Hornings and Poindings JC18/4 5 and 6 (March 1672 to April 1721) - Formerly called the registers of criminal letters these contain hornings and poindings in justiciary cases. Hornings were the public declaration of debtors who had refused to comply with the proper legal procedure by reason of being a rebel or traitor. Poindings also refer to Scottish law and debt – it is when goods were carried directly to a creditor.
Small Papers JC26 - These Justiciary processes are the case papers associated with each case. They repeat much of the information already recorded but may contain further precognitions or variations on precognitions recorded in the Books of Adjournal or Minute Books. They are filed broadly in the same order as entries in the books and volumes. They contain the original Porteous Rolls and other listings of 1679, 1681 and 1683 where the clerks produced lists of those indicted for involvement in the rebellion of 1679 with the witnesses cited to appear to give evidence against the accused and covering all the Covenanting counties. The rolls are often many metres in length.
Remissions JC24 - Remissions, or a release of debt, to those convicted of a crime had to pass the Great Seal of Scotland. There is a modern typed index of remissions granted between 1668 and 1906.
Records of Actions against Covenanters JC 39 (1679 to 1688) - In 115 bundles, this huge repertory contains lists of accused, lists of people taking the Test, depositions of prisoners and witnesses, processes and appeals for release from prison. Many of the papers bear only broad dates or are not specifically dated at all. It is usually possible to associate a named individual with a Parish
Lists of Accused and returns of prisoners JC51 - 1 Box, although described as “containing lists of outlaws, fugitives including persons indicted and accused of treason, rebellion rising and continuing in arms without and contrary to His Majesties authority,” it is a disappointing source.
JC51/4 Roll of Diets Western Circuit 3-29 Jul 1684
JC51/5 Porteous Roll of Kinross held at Cupar 2 Sept 1679
JC51/15 Roll of delinquents in Lanarkshire and Haddingtonshire 17th Cent.
JC51/17 Rolls of delinquents and fugitives and records of fines and sentences imposed with reference to various courts 1653-1701
National Library of Scotland Ms 5447 - Deals with actions against Lanarkshire Covenanters. Some of the material is duplicated in either JC39 or JC26
The Great Lanarkshire Process of March 1681 - Over 100 heritors, or privileged people who owned property, and others accused of being at Bothwell Bridge, created a logistic problem for the central authorities. In JC26 a cross-referenced list of witnesses and accused appears. JC51 has the reverse – a list of each accused and the witnesses who could testify against him.
Privy Council Papers 3rd Series
PC1/42 1678 - 1682
PC2/20 1678 - 1681
PC8/8 25 Sept 1684 – 15 Dec 1684
PC12/6 1678- 1680
PC12/7 1681- 1682
PC12/8 1683- 1684
PC12/9A & B 1684
PC15/13 1676 - 1681
PC15/16 1680 - 1683
PC15/18 1682 –1683
PC15/19 1684- 1684
Exchequer Papers E28/235 & 236* - Provide lists of witnesses in various case and their expenses while E57/28 & 32 prove evidence of the real rent of some of the rebels and others in E57 provide details of fines.
Gift and Deposits (GD)
GD1/1009/12 Warrants signed by the Lord Justice General and Commissioners of Justiciary to the Provost and Baillie’s of Edinburgh for execution of death sentences on persons found guilty of treason and rebellion 1683-84
GD10/462 List of the persons within the sheriffdom of Wigtown who craved the benefit of the Act of Indemnity and subscribed the bond and received "dismise" from Richard Murray of Brochton 1679
GD16/51/28 Depositions of witnesses before the Earl of Airlie on charge against Mr. Alexander Heastie of preaching at conventicles. Straven, 28 August 1680
GD16/51/33 Miscellaneous papers relating to the Covenanters in Ayrshire and Galloway including lists of names and information regarding Cameron and conventicles. C1680
GD16/51/80 Papers containing information about rebels in Ayrshire No Date
GD109/2582 Disposition by James Edmonstoune of Broich to David Fergessone in Barbae, of moveable goods and gear belonging to Andrew Mcilwrath in Barbae, as a fugitive after battle of Bothwell Bridge 9 June 1680.
The Stent on the inhabitants of Lanark following the Privy Council fine of 6000 merks
Edinburgh Tolbooth Warding and Liberation Books 1657-1816 in HH11 - State the prisoner’s name and designation, and sometimes the court dealing with the case. Sadly many of the designations are not recorded and the crimes for which the individual was incarcerated are missing.
Many of the accused were tried in absentia. When they were finally captured they made a brief court appearance when the original death sentence was confirmed and a date appointed for their execution. This generally produced an appeal to the Privy Council which normally granted an extension of a few months but sometimes only days. There may be a 2nd or 3rd prorogation and even a recommendation of mercy recorded in the printed Register of the Privy Council.
Many ordinary people were held without trial for what we would now feel were unacceptable lengths of time. They too appealed to the Privy Council for their liberty. These applications may be recorded in JC39 or in the printed Register of the Privy Council