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Battle in the Burgh: Glasgow during the British Civil Wars, c.1638-1651

Battle in the Burgh: Glasgow during the British Civil Wars, c.1638-1651

Andrew Lind


​[1]​ Despite flourishing research on Scotland during the British Civil Wars (c.1638-1651), there remains much work to be done regarding the Scottish burghs. Most discussions of the burghs in this period focus on the remarkable control that the Covenanting regime was able to enforce over the kingdom’s urban centres, or the divisions which emerged amongst the Covenanting elites of the burghs, which fractured that control (DesBrisay, 2002; Macinnes, 1991; Stewart, 2006). It is widely believed that the pragmatically minded urban elite initially welcomed the reform that the Covenanters promised. In 1987, David Stevenson gave a cautious assessment of the burghs, highlighting the remarkable solidarity they showed following the leadership of Edinburgh in pledging support for the Covenanters, while postulating that this show of support must have been for economic as well as religious reasons. Alan MacDonald (2000 & 2007) has produced similar conclusions from examining the participation of the burghs in the Scottish Parliament but has pointed out that the only times when the burghs were truly of one mind was when their rights and privileges were under threat. Allan Macinnes (1991) and John Young (1996) have stressed the essential role of the burghs as facilitators for the ‘radical oligarchy’ that, they argue, was able to take control of the Committee of Estates from 1641 to 1650. Young (1997: 167-168) has gone as far as to argue that this resulted in the establishment of a ‘Scottish Commons’, by which the burghs and shire commissioners provided the radical backbone of the Covenanting movement.

​[2]​ These arguments have largely been based upon parliamentary records and the fragmented accounts of the Convention of Royal Burghs. Thus, these national sources have been used to reach national conclusions. However, these sources can also mask the complexity of the political situation within individual burghs. Laura Stewart’s study of Edinburgh (2006) and Gordon DesBrisay’s revision of Aberdeen (2002) form the only recent investigations into the politics and conflicts acted out within the burghs during the 1640s. Indeed, both studies found that there were active Covenanting and Royalist factions within these cities; a fact missed when examining national records. In both cases, underneath the outward projection of conformity lay social division and conflict. While it is regularly argued that the Covenanters enjoyed popular support (Brown, 1992: 112-14; Goodare, 2014: 85-7; Harris, 2014: 389-390), Scottish Royalism outwith the nobility is often marginalised, if not disregarded completely (Robertson, 2014: 22). This then asks an important question: to what extent has Royalism within the Scottish burghs been overlooked?

​[3]​ Emphasis on local studies within the historiography on England during the Civil Wars has radically transformed our perception of how populations reacted to the conflict, and how individuals aligned themselves with one side or the other (Eales, 2001; Everitt, 1973; Hughes, 1987; Hutton, 1982; Scott, 1992). In particular, Mark Stoyle’s work on the county of Devon (1998) has revolutionised our understanding of local responses to the outbreak of civil war. Stoyle found that there were regional hotspots for both Royalist and Parliamentarian allegiances, which confirmed the earlier research of David Underdown (1979; 1981) and Christopher Hill (1972). However, most other areas were deeply divided. Stoyle’s case study of Exeter epitomised this point (1998; 96-107). Stoyle concluded that ‘people from all ranks of society possessed very definite political views’ (ibid; 229). A similar picture has appeared in Ireland through the work of Micheál Ó Siochrú (2011) who has found that, while provincial cities exercised a policy of ‘strategic neutralism’ and pragmatism, there were powerful factions within their populations that sought the pursuit of ideological goals. Ó Siochrú has used Limerick to demonstrate this, where local aldermen backed by significant popular support opposed the official stance of the ruling council in order to engage with the Irish Confederates (ibid; 36). Similar studies on German towns and cities during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) have produced comparable findings (Finucane, 2017; Medick and Selwyn, 2001). These new approaches ask serious questions of the current interpretation of Scotland’s urban centres during the Civil Wars.

​[4]​ This article answers some of these questions by examining Glasgow’s burgh politics during the Civil Wars, and by following the emergence of a Royalist faction within the burgh’s council. Glasgow, like most of Scotland’s burghs, is rarely connected with Royalist activity following the subscription of the National Covenant. Older studies of the city (Mure, 1830; Wallace, 1882) have either hailed its commitment to the Covenant or explained its inhabitants’ Covenanting adherence as self-preserving and pragmatic. George Eyre-Todd’s history of the city recorded that Glasgow played a ‘decided and vigorous part’ within the Covenanting rebellion, and that even its contribution of supplies to the Royalist army in 1645 was a sign of the magistrates’ pragmatism in the face of a military threat, rather than an indicator of Royalist sympathy (1931: 255). In one of the most recent surveys of Glasgow’s civil war politics, Allan Macinnes argued that the city supported the Covenant ‘ideologically, financially and militarily’ between 1638-1641, and then ‘tended to back the radical mainstream’s political direction of the Covenanting movement’ (1990: 15-16). However, several studies have noted that political consensus within the burgh broke down after 1645. William Shepard’s doctoral thesis (1978) which examined Glasgow’s society and politics between 1648 and 1674, mentions that the burgh split into two factions following James Graham, Marquis of Montrose’s occupation of the city in 1645. These two factions then opposed one another during the Engagement (1647-1648), when moderate Covenanters and Royalists attempted to restore Charles I and seize power from the increasingly radical party led by Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll. While Shepard did not believe that Royalism within the city was at the root of the conflict, he found that the resulting infighting plagued Glasgow’s city politics for the following decade (1978: 32-44). Kirsteen MacKenzie has recently supported Shepard’s thesis in an article which examined the burgh’s council between 1650 and 1653. MacKenzie argued that burgh politics in Glasgow had become polarised by 1650 between an alliance of Covenanting and Royalist burgesses who supported Charles II and Remonstrators led by Patrick Gillespie who advocated support for Cromwellian forces (2016: 71-76). Perhaps what is most surprising about the recent scholarship on Glasgow is that, despite the common acceptance that the burgh became politically divided after 1645, there has not been any previous attempt to trace the origins of Royalist opposition within the burgh.

​[5]​ This article will argue that, far from being a stronghold of Covenanting support, Glasgow was deeply divided, by as early as 1638, and that a strong Royalist faction was active in the city, drawing on the support of individuals from all ranks of society. This case will be made by examining Glasgow’s internal politics during three key moments in the Civil Wars: the eve of war and the Glasgow Assembly (1638); the occupation of the city by the Marquis of Montrose (1645); and the Engagement (1647-1648). These conclusions will not only force us to re-evaluate the ideological temperament of Glasgow but also encourage us to reassess the reach and success of Scottish Royalism.

​[6]​ In order to reconstruct the narrative of Glasgow’s experience of the Civil Wars, a wide variety of printed and manuscript source materials were consulted, including burgh records, correspondences, memoirs and official records. While the focus of this article is on Glasgow’s burgh politics and the Royalist faction formed by members of the city’s burgess elite over the course of the 1640s, it is possible to glean invaluable details of widespread political participation, whether in public acts such as rioting or petitioning, or individual actions. It is hoped that this will both stimulate further studies and add to the growing body of research which is uncovering the complexities of loyalty and allegiance during the Civil Wars.

The Eve of War and the Glasgow Assembly (1638)

​[7]​ From the moment that Glasgow became an archdiocese in 1492, the burgh found itself under the controlling influence of the Archbishop of Glasgow. The archbishop’s power over the city survived the Reformation and had been renewed under James VI who granted Glasgow royal burgh status in 1611, with the added caveat that the archbishop would retain municipal control by reserving the right to nominate the provost and bailies (Goatman, 2017: 127). While the city had profited from the support of the Kirk and the crown, the constant influence of the archbishop produced significant tension between the city’s elite and the prelate. In particular, the archbishop’s control over the election of the burgh council denied Glasgow the freedom to elect its own magistrates, a privilege enjoyed by many other burghs. This produced what Allan Macinnes has described as ‘constitutional sparring’ between the burgh’s mercantile and craft elites and successive archbishops (1990: 11). In the years that preceded the Prayer Book Riots (1637), these sparring matches had escalated, with Glasgow’s magistrates launching a legal battle against Archbishop Patrick Lindsay. The dispute arose following a complaint from the burgh council that Lindsay had not supplied the payment of a minister’s stipend, which the archbishop argued was the responsibility of the council. Relations broke down in 1636 when Charles I intervened on the side of the archbishop. The king also took the opportunity to reiterate Lindsay’s authority and jurisdiction over the burgh’s elections (Goatman, 2017: 121, 181-182). The episode made it clear to the burgh magistrates that the crown would not support them against the archbishop, which undoubtedly played on the minds of Glasgow’s urban elite as the Prayer Book Riots unfolded the following year.

​[8]​ Over the summer of 1637, Charles I’s government set about introducing a new book of prayer and canons to Scotland. Composed by Charles and William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and given a timid seal of approval by the Scottish bishops, the new liturgy imposed an Anglican service upon the Scottish Kirk. Opponents of Charles’s religious policies accused the new prayer book of backsliding into Catholic church practices and endangering the purity and liberty of the Kirk. On 23 July, at the prayer book’s inaugural reading at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, a riot broke out, sparking open resistance to the new liturgy across the kingdom. In Glasgow, the city was quiet in the immediate aftermath of the St Giles riot. However, in August 1637, when William Annand, a minister from Ayr, and John Lindsay, a minister from Carluke, attempted to preach from the new prayer book at the invitation of Archbishop Lindsay, they caused a ‘great dinne’ amongst female worshipers in Glasgow’s Cathedral (The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie, 1637-1662, 1841: 20-21). In Annand’s case, between thirty and forty women reportedly cursed, scolded and threatened the minister which resulted in two ‘of the meanest’ women being arrested (ibid). Matters became worse for Annand a few days later when he and a group of ministers were attacked by ‘some hundrdths of inraged women’ brandishing ‘neaves, staves and peats’, from which the clergymen were lucky to escape without serious injury. When reflecting on the incident, the Covenanting minister Robert Baillie suspected that a number of the ‘best qualitie’ within the burgh must have been responsible for orchestrating the attacks (ibid). The entire incident bears striking similarities to the prayer book riot that occurred in Edinburgh. In both instances, women were prominent and it was believed that the disturbances were overseen by burgh elites (Macinnes, 1991: 159-160; Stewart, 2016: 56-58).

​[9]​ The burgh council was initially resistant to involve itself in the unfolding crisis, and like Edinburgh (Stewart, 2006: 227), Glasgow’s council records make no mention of the protests. However, on 20 September a supplication was brought before the Privy Council from the ‘burgh and citie of Glasgow’ which petitioned the king to take the matter of the prayer book before Parliament or the General Assembly in order to ‘delyver us from our fears’ (Leslie, 1830: 48). A month later the council was convinced by Robert Baillie – who originated from Glasgow but was the minister of Kilwinning in Ayr – to send a commissioner to Edinburgh in order to sign a general petition against the prayer book (Extracts 1573-1642, 1876: 390; Letters and Journals: 21). Unlike other burghs, Glasgow did not send its provost to sign the petition. Instead, the council sent Walter Stirling, a senior burgess and guild member (Complaint against the Book of Common Prayer, 1927: 314-383). Paul Goatman has suggested that this was due to Provost James Stewart’s reluctance to place himself in open opposition to the archbishop, his political patron (2017: 182).

​[10]​ As the prayer book opposition started to solidify into physical resistance, fracture lines fissured Glasgow. On 28 February 1638, the National Covenant was signed at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards, copies of the Covenant were dispatched to the four corners of the kingdom, with the Covenanters seeking the oaths and written assurances of nobles and commoners alike. The Covenanters’ acquirement of oaths and bonds of support escalated the political situation. Despite the Covenant’s promises of allegiance to the king, the physical action of swearing the Covenant gave the Covenanters a legitimacy which they used to establish the Tables – the executive body formed by the Covenanters to represent themselves – as the de facto ruling regime. In August, the Convention of Royal Burghs met at Stirling and commissioners were required to swear the Covenant. One of Glasgow’s representatives, Colin Campbell, suddenly resigned his commission shortly after arriving in Stirling. When word of this reached Glasgow’s council, it berated his recklessness, fining him for having ‘indangerit’ the burgh (Extracts 1573-1642, 1876: 390). While no explanation is provided in the council’s report of the incident, given Campbell’s later involvement in Glasgow’s Royalist faction, it is likely that this was a response to the Convention’s decision to make the signing of the National Covenant a prerequisite for commissioners’ entry (Spalding, 1841: 106). According to Gilbert Burnet, many of the burgh commissioners had been coerced into obedience by leading Covenanters (1852: 72-73). Thus, Campbell’s departure is likely to have resulted from his refusal to comply. However, many within the burgh did not share Campbell’s stance. In a letter from Archbishop Lindsay to James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton and the king’s Commissioner to Scotland, Lindsay complained of disorders within the Presbytery of Glasgow and urged Hamilton to find some solution to the ‘generall combustioune’ (National Records of Scotland [NRS], GD406/1/355).

​[11]​ As the situation across the kingdom deteriorated during the summer of 1638, calls for a Parliament or General Assembly had become deafening. Faced with this crisis, key intelligence gatherer Walter Balcanquhall, Dean of Rochester, advised Charles I that an assembly was inevitable and that the only thing the king could do was choose the field of battle (National Library of Scotland [NLS], Wodrow MSS, Vol. 66, No.37). Reluctantly, Charles agreed to a General Assembly and chose Glasgow as its host. The king’s choice of Glasgow as the venue was no accident, it reflected the belief of his chief advisors that Royalist resistance could be staged from the city. From Glasgow the crown could draw upon the clout which the Marquis of Hamilton could exert from his local estates (Macinnes, 1990: 10-11), as well as benefit from the influence of Archbishop Lindsay and the apparent sympathy of the burgh council and the burgh at large to king’s position.

​[12]​ Glasgow’s council had put off signing the National Covenant until 8 September. Moreover, less than two weeks later, on 22 September, the council welcomed the announcement of the General Assembly and the publication of the King’s Covenant. The King’s Covenant was an officially sanctioned alternative to the National Covenant that the king and his advisors hoped would undermine the Covenanters’ support base and threaten their legitimacy. When the proclamation announcing the King’s Covenant was read aloud at the Mercat Cross in Glasgow, Robert Baillie complained that ‘it was applauded to by the town, by too many with too much joy, without any number of protesting’ (Letters and Journals: 106). The council wrote to the Marquis of Hamilton, thanking him for his efforts and pledging its support to the king (NRS, GD406/1/442). The news was also welcomed by members of Glasgow’s clergy, some of whom wrote to Hamilton echoing the council’s praise (NRS, GD406/1/445). Baillie believed several members of Glasgow’s council and presbytery were working with Hamilton, including Provost Patrick Bell and Bailie William Neilson, (Letters and Journals: 106). Baillie feared that the King’s Covenant had the potential to be ‘the most dangerous divisive motions yet used’ as those who refused to sign it could be branded ‘traitors’ (ibid). These fears were not unfounded. The King’s Covenant had officially created a national Royalist faction in opposition to the Covenanters. This had the effect of polarising the political situation and demanding that individuals take sides.

​[13]​ Amongst the clergymen who had welcomed the King’s Covenant in September were John Strang, Principal of the University of Glasgow, and William Wilkie, Regent of the University of Glasgow and minister of Govan. Both men had been in active communication with Balcanquhall and Hamilton in efforts to galvanise support for the king’s party within the burgh. This was part of a larger campaign, co-ordinated by Hamilton and William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, to secure ‘moderate and discreet’ men within the burghs of Glasgow and Edinburgh to support the king’s prerogative at the upcoming assembly (NRS, GD406/1/596). In this regard, Wilkie and Strang had been hard at work. On 6 November, two weeks before the opening of the General Assembly, Wilkie gleefully reported to Balcanquhall that he had secured a number of signatures for the King’s Covenant, including seven from fellow ministers (Letters and Journals: 482-483). Meanwhile, Strang had galvanised support for the king within the university. After manoeuvring to boost the university’s representation in the assembly from one vote to four, Strang had ensured that these four representatives would be ‘non-covenanters’ (ibid: 133; Reid, 1817: 275). Thanks to the efforts of Strang, Wilkie and Patrick Bell, Robert Baillie stated that, on the eve of the Glasgow Assembly, the city was the greatest opponent to the Covenant in the west (Letters and Journals: 63).

​[14]​ Despite the designs of the king’s supporters in Glasgow, their plan to resist the Covenanters within the assembly began to unravel. The first blow came as the Aberdeen Doctors excused themselves from proceedings. The Doctors were a group of theologians predominantly from King’s and Marischal’s Colleges in Aberdeen who had led the king’s print propaganda war during the summer of 1638 (Macmillan, 1909). Hamilton had planned on using them as a theological battering-ram to test the foundations of the Covenanters’ religious justifications. However, fearing for their safety, the Doctors reneged on their promise of physical support, and instead offered only vocal encouragement (NRS, GD406/1/457; NRS, GD40/1/466; NRS, GD406/1/665). The king’s position deteriorated further when Principal Strang withdrew his twenty-eight-page objection against the Covenant just as Hamilton was about to read it aloud to the assembly (Letters and Journals: 135). Strang had penned the objection to highlight the dangers of signing the National Covenant and to encourage people to sign the King’s Covenant (NLS, Wodrow MSS, Vol. 31, No.2). According to Balcanquhall, upon discovering Strang’s plan to make his objections public at the assembly, John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun, and John Lindsay, Earl of Lindsay, both of whom were leading Covenanters, threatened Strang that ‘he must never looke to live quietly in Glasgow, nor anywhere else in Scotland’ if he made his complaint public (1639: 268). Strang withdrew his protest and the university was stripped of its votes. It was only the friendship which Strang shared with Patrick Bell and Robert Baillie that saved him and the university from further repercussions after Bell and Baillie fought off demands from within the assembly for action to be taken against the university (Letters and Journals: 172). At the same time, Patrick Bell’s attempt to distribute copies of the King’s Covenant to burgesses was interrupted after Loudon confronted the provost about this plan (Letters and Journals: 481-482). Matters were made worse by the fact that the Covenanters had been able to assert themselves amongst the lay representatives at the assembly. Local Covenanters, co-ordinated by the Covenanting leaders, had managed to influence the election of local commissioners with astounding success, far more successfully than their Royalist rivals. If this was not enough, the assembly was also attended by dozens of ‘assessors’, sympathetic laymen who travelled to the assembly in order to lend their physical, but non-voting, support to the Covenanting cause (Mason, 1989: 19-21).

​[15]​ However, the most grievous blow to Royalist prospects came from Glasgow’s burgh council, which instructed its representative at the assembly to vote against Hamilton’s attempt to disband the assembly and then voted in favour of the abolition of Episcopacy and deposition of the Scottish bishops (Extracts, 1573-1642: 394-395). The collapse of the king’s party during the assembly, the reality of what that meant, and the opportunity to oust the archbishop proved too tempting for Glasgow’s magistrates to pass up. The details of how this shift transpired are not clear within the surviving source materials. Indeed, there is no way to tell whether Hamilton’s men on the council such as Patrick Bell put up any resistance to this plan. However, this should not be mistaken as a watershed moment for popular allegiance within the city. Few attending the assembly could have predicted that war would erupt in a matter of months. Indeed, in Glasgow’s case, the aftermath of the assembly rejuvenated anti-Covenanter resistance.

​[16]​ In the months that followed the Glasgow Assembly, attitudes in Glasgow towards the Covenanters soured. Wilkie reported to Balcanquhall that visiting Covenanting ministers received cold receptions within the city, with the masses ‘not so Jesuited by ther Covenant’. This obduracy was noted by the Tables who, according to Wilkie, ‘upbraidet [Glasgow] as being Aberdein’s sister, and of a Laodicean temper’ (Letters and Journals: 487-490). Equating Glasgow to Aberdeen was an astonishing statement. Aberdeen had exemplified Royalist allegiance during 1638-1639 (DesBrisay, 2002; Reid, 1990: 10-30); by connecting the two it is clear that the Tables were concerned by the fact that, as the kingdom slid into civil war, the Covenanters could not rely on Scotland’s second largest city. When war finally broke out in March 1639 following Charles I’s decision to raise an army, the Covenanters were able to mobilise much of the lowlands for their cause. However, ‘the toun of Glasgow was, through the perversness of some few men, much doubted’ (Letters and Journals: 194). While Baillie fails to name these ‘few men’, presumably he was referring to those who had attempted to resist the Covenanters at the assembly, namely Strang, Wilkie and Bell. The Tables became so concerned that they dispatched Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, from Perth to Glasgow in order to ‘keip them right’ (Extracts, 1573-1642: 398; Letters and Journals: 487-490). No details survive of how Argyll achieved this, but his visit was enough to keep the burgh in check.

​[17]​ Such evidence shows the dangers of interpreting political allegiance purely through official records, such as the voting patterns from the General Assembly. It is clear that Glasgow was divided and confused during the opening stages of the Covenanting rebellion. There was substantial support for the anti-prayer book rioters and petitioners, yet support for the Covenant was more subdued, with the King’s Covenant receiving a far warmer welcome in September 1638. Despite this, Glasgow’s council voted in favour of the abolition of Episcopacy. It has been suggested above that this was largely due to the growing resentment of the archbishop within the city coupled with the concerns which surrounded the introduction of the new prayer book. However, we should not mistake this for explicit support for the Covenant. Indeed, when the Covenanters asserted their influence in early 1639, we can see early signs that many within Glasgow were not comfortable with Covenanting rule. The next section will show that anti-Covenanter resistance continued to grow within Glasgow’s burgh council, with Glaswegian Royalists patiently awaiting an opportunity to throw off Covenanting rule.

Montrose’s Occupation and its Aftermath (1645-1646)

​[18]​ In the time between 1639 and the beginning of Montrose’s Royalist rising in 1644, Glasgow had largely conformed to Covenanting rule. Resistance was centred on a faction of burgesses, led by the merchants Colin Campbell and James Bell, the brother of former provost Patrick Bell. The Royalist leadership had been able to influence the council elections of 1641 that saw a sympathetic council elected, led by William Stewart as provost who had been nominated by the Marquis of Hamilton (Extracts, 1573-1642: 432-433). However, this was quickly countered by the Covenanting Parliament passing legislation which secured Glasgow’s right to hold free elections in the future, resulting in a delicate balance of power developing (Extracts, 1630-1662: 47-49). Local Covenanters had also increased their influence, none more so than George Porterfield whose favour amongst the Covenanting leadership had seen him become the de facto commander of Glasgow’s levies and a powerful force within burgh politics.

​[19]​ This uneasy balance was shattered following Montrose’s victory at Kilsyth on 15 August 1645. The day after Montrose’s decisive victory, Glasgow’s council, led by Provost James Bell, surrendered to the marquis and opened its gates to the Royalist commanders. George Wishart, Montrose’s biographer, recorded that upon hearing of the Royalist victory, ‘those who had hitherto concealed their favour to the king’s cause no longer feared to show themselves openly’, especially in Glasgow (1893: 127-128). As the Royalist officers entered the city they were greeted with ‘the joyous acclamations of the people’ (ibid). Glasgow’s council even made sure that the local clergy bowed as the Royalists paraded past them (NRS, PA7/23/2/42; Shepard, 1978: 37). As well as seeing that his men were fed and resupplied, Montrose instructed the council to oversee city-wide celebrations which included lighting bonfires to mark the king’s victories in England, and the publication of a thousand printed reports commemorating the Battle of Kilsyth (NRS, PA7/23/2/42). As Edinburgh had been quarantined due to the plague, the king instructed Montrose to hold a parliament in Glasgow, ordering a meeting for October in order to bring the kingdom back into ‘sound Order’ (NRS, PA7/23/2/34).

​[20]​ For Glasgow’s Royalists, their celebrations were short-lived. On 13 September, the Royalist army was completely routed by David Leslie’s Covenanting force at Philiphaugh. Devastated and disordered, Montrose led what remained of his army back into the north, leaving the lowlands open to the Covenanters. The defeat was compounded by the collapse of the Royalist movement in England following the king’s defeat at Naseby on 14 June, which extinguished any hope that English reinforcements might be used to turn the tide against the Covenanters (Royle, 2005; 353-363). Seventeen days after Philiphaugh, William Hamilton, Earl of Lanark, arrived in Glasgow at the head of a committee formed by the Estates to question the burgh’s council as to their conduct during the late occupation. Lanark, the brother of the Marquis of Hamilton, had been a key figure within the Royalist camp until falling into disfavour with Charles in 1643 and subsequently joining the Covenanters (Scally, 2004). The choice of Lanark as the leader of this committee was undoubtedly intentional, as the earl had been closely involved with developing Royalist networks within the city shortly before his fall from grace (Extracts, 1630-1662, 1881: 57-59; Letters and Journals: 480). His knowledge of who was sympathetic to the king within Glasgow was weaponised to purge the council. The entire council, with the solitary exception of George Porterfield, was removed from office for being ‘accessorie to the sending to and capitulating with James Grahame [Montrose]’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 80-81). Colin Campbell – who was not even part of the council that year – was included within the group exiled from public office. Even the town clerk, Henry Gibson, was ejected from his office for having written the city’s letter of surrender (ibid: 82-87).

​[21]​ On 29 September, Provost James Bell was called to the city’s tolbooth to answer questions from Lanark’s parliamentary committee. The committee asked Bell why the city did not send any men to fight in the Covenanting army at Kilsyth, what advice the city’s clergy gave when Montrose advanced upon the city, why supplies and shelter were given to the Royalist army, and whether there were any within the burgh’s council who wilfully submitted to Montrose. These questions suggest that the committee had reason to believe that the burgh had, at best, dragged its feet, or worse, had been in active support of the Royalist army. Unsurprisingly, Bell denied any wrongdoing. The provost argued that the burgh had no men spare to send to Kilsyth, and to have done so would have left the burgh defenceless. Bell then accused the city’s clergy of offering no advice on the matter and defended the city’s resupply of the Royalist army as a necessity, claiming that anything which was not voluntarily given was liable to be taken anyway. When concluding his defence Bell shielded his fellow councillors, stating that none of them actively sought the city’s capitulation, but when the town’s inhabitants and clergy had met to discuss their options, none were willing to take up arms against Montrose’s army (NRS, PA7/23/2/42). Bell’s track record suggests that his steering of the burgh into Montrose’s arms was based upon more than pure pragmatism and survival instinct. However, it was a powerful defence.

​[22]​ Unconvinced by Bell’s explanations, the Estates created a committee from Clydeside – which included the Covenanting commander at Kilsyth, Lieutenant-General William Baillie – to oversee the election of a replacement council. Led by John Lindsay, Earl of Crawford-Lindsay, the committee supported the election of Porterfield and his allies. The ousted magistrates were barred from taking up any public offices, and all of Glasgow’s merchants and craftsmen were ordered to recognise the newly elected council as the only legal authority within the burgh (Extracts, 1630-1662: 83-86). The ousted council had been publicly tarred as Royalist dissidents, even if they held no genuine affection for the king’s cause. To ensure that the entire city knew who was in control, three Royalists soldiers captured at Philphaugh were publicly beheaded at the Mercat Cross (Government of Scotland under the Covenanters, 1637-1651, 1982: 7).

​[23]​ Burgh politics, which were already divided, would not recover from this episode until the Restoration. Factional lines were hardened and in the years that followed, both the Royalist Campbell-Bell party and the Covenanting Porterfield bloc exhibited a more strident commitment to their respective causes. This can be seen the following Michaelmas – 29 September, the traditional date for the council’s annual election – when the Estates banned new elections and instructed Porterfield’s council to remain in their positions for the coming term in order to prevent ‘all disorderlie courses, uther mistackis [mistakes] and prejudices’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 97-98). Not only did this order impose the overtly Covenanting council upon the city for another year, it also overrode the burgh’s right to hold free elections, a fact that must have alienated even moderate councillors. In defiance of the Estates, James Bell summoned the magistrates to the tollbooth on the usual date of the election to select a new council. Porterfield’s council refused to attend. Those that did come re-elected Porterfield as provost, presumably in an attempt to curry favour with the Estates, and elected Colin Campbell, John Anderson, and William Neilson as bailies, all three of whom possessed links to the Royalist faction within the city (ibid: 100).

​[24]​ When news reached the Estates that Bell and his allies had held this unauthorised election, the result was immediately declared illegal and the Estates sent word to the Presbytery of Glasgow to punish those involved. In response, Bell and Campbell rallied around themselves an ‘unordourlie convocatioune of the multitude of the citie of Glasgow’. Under the pretence of seeking forgiveness for their actions during Montrose’s occupation, the crowd forced its way into a presbytery meeting and proceeded to ‘laden’ them with ‘heavy imputations and unjust aspersions’ (Extracts, 1630-1662: 102-107; Records of the Parliament of Scotland [RPS], 1646/11/44; The Records of the Commissions of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, 1646-1647, 1892: 126-128). The presbytery, with the support of Porterfield’s council, denounced the rioters’ ‘malignant and tumultarie cariages’ (Records of the Commissions of the General Assemblies: 126). Parliament responded by branding the rioters as ‘spiritis long sopped in malignancie’ and authorised the arrest of the riot’s leaders (RPS, 1646/11/44). Eleven were identified as the ringleaders and brought to Edinburgh for incarceration within the city’s tolbooth. Four of those arrested, including James Bell and Colin Campbell, spent fifty days in the tolbooth, while lesser figures – like Walter Neilson – spent as little as six days in confinement (Extracts, 1630-1662: 110). During this imprisonment, the Estates received petitions from the ‘inhabitants of the toun of Glasgow’ urging them to release the magistrates. The Estates eventually agreed to release the ringleaders on the condition that they repent their wrongdoings, including those committed during Montrose’s occupation (RPS, 1646/11/55).

​[25]​ Following their release from the tolbooth, the Royalist magistrates were ostracised from burgh politics, with Porterfield solidifying his control over the burgh in a snap election in January 1647. Twice in the space of a year, James Bell, Colin Campbell and their allies had been publicly denounced as Royalists and hazards to the wellbeing of the burgh. Despite this, they had been able to gather significant support within the city, both when they stormed the presbytery and when they benefitted from the petitioning efforts of their supporters. Not only had many Glaswegians defied the orders of the Estates, they had done so on behalf of open Royalists. The presence of Montrose’s army in the area must have given Royalists like Bell a renewed confidence. Indeed, Charles’s call for a return to good order would presumably have been well received by Glasgow’s mercantile elite. However, as the opportunity passed with the Montrose’s defeat at Philiphaugh, Royalists were forced to look to themselves and secure their own safety and security. Nonetheless, the episode had laid Glasgow’s inner conflict bare for all to see, and the ramifications would be felt for years to come.

The Engagement (1647-1648)

​[26]​ The Covenanting council that had recovered control of the burgh in the 1647 elections was confronted with a dilemma after the Engagement was signed on 26 December 1647. The Engagement was a treaty between Charles I and a coalition of moderate Covenanters and Royalists who agreed to fight for the king in exchange for confirmation of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and the establishment of a Presbyterian church settlement in England for a trial period of three years. Crucially, the Engagement did not require Charles nor his supporters to subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant. Led by the Duke of Hamilton, the Engagers soon gained a powerful majority within the Scottish Parliament. Yet when a new levy was called to raise men for the Engager army, it was met with a cold shoulder from Glasgow’s staunchly Covenanting council.

​[27]​ Following the suppression of Glasgow’s Royalist faction, the burgh had been subdued for most of 1647. While Porterfield was not re-elected at the 1647 Michaelmas election, he appears to have reverted to organising the military contribution of the burgh to the Estates (Extracts, 1630-1662: 125). However, the Covenanting faction retained firm control over the council with the election of Robert Mack, John Graham and William Lightbodie, all of whom were close allies of Porterfield (ibid: 124-125). Upon receiving the Engagers’ call to arms, the council simply ignored the appeal to mobilise (ibid: 133-135). When the local Committee of War inquired why Glasgow had remained inactive, the council blamed the ‘generall unwillingness to engadge in this warr’ within the city (ibid: 134). Unwilling to entertain such dissent, the Engager Parliament ordered that those within the burgh who refused to give obedience to the Engagement would be arrested and held within Edinburgh’s tollbooth (RPS, 1648/3/182; 1648/3/195). In an ironic turn of events, Porterfield and his allies were all detained and sent to Edinburgh to occupy the same cells only recently vacated by their Royalist rivals. The Engager Parliament justified the arrests by citing written assurances sent to Hamilton from the eight wards of Glasgow, pledging their support for the Engagement and the associated military contributions desired from them (RPS, 1648/3/188). Unfortunately, the details of these assurances do not survive, nor are any of the subscribers’ names mentioned in the parliamentary records. Once the anti-Engagers had been removed from office, Parliament instructed the ousted council from 1645 to take up the vacated positions and organise a fresh election (Extracts, 1630-1662: 137-139). The newly elected council was led by Colin Campbell as provost and staffed exclusively by members of the Royalist faction (ibid: 141-142). The divisions within the city are best seen in the memoirs of Sir James Turner, the commander of the Engager garrison quartered on Glasgow. Turner noted that the populace was split, with the ‘honest and loyall men’ following ‘Coline Campbell, James Bell and Bayliffe James Hamilton’, while the ‘refactorie’ faction was spurred on daily by clergymen who preached ‘disobedience of all civil power’ (Turner, 1829: 53-54).

​[28]​ However, following the defeat of the Engager army at Preston on 17 August 1648 and the signing of the Treaty of Stirling on 27 September 1648, the Engagers’ dominance was crippled, causing yet another shift in Glasgow’s internal politics. Once again, the radical Covenanting Parliament, which had replaced the Engagers, had forced the Royalist council in Glasgow from office. Unsurprisingly, the council was supplanted by Porterfield and his allies who had firmly declared their allegiance to the radical Covenanting faction led by the Marquis of Argyll (Extracts, 1630-1662: 149-150). The retaliation was not limited to the city’s magistrates. Individuals who were deemed Engagers or Royalists were pursued by the new regime through the Act of Classes which was enacted by Parliament on 23 January 1649 (RPS, 1649/1/43). This included the cleric William Wilkie, the Royalist informer from 1638-1639, who was deposed for his refusal to condemn the Engagement (Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Vol. III: 411; RPS, 1649/1/43).

​[29]​ Divisions remained rife within Glasgow for the remainder of the civil war period. Like most other burghs, the city levied support for Charles II and his Army of the Kingdom during 1650 and 1651 (Extracts, 1630-1662: 160-161, 180-181, 188-197, 202-203). Even after the city was occupied by Cromwellian forces, significant amounts of money continued to be transferred from the city into the king’s coffers (MacKenzie, 2016: 76). Nonetheless, this patriotic accommodation did not translate into a ceasefire between the two Glaswegian factions. Indeed, James Bell and Colin Campbell could still be found on the list of those barred from taking the sacrament in May 1649 due to their excommunication following the defeat of the Engagement (Shepard, 1978: 52). There are also several indicators that Royalists remained active within the city. In 1650, during the public reading of a proclamation damning the Marquis of Montrose as a rebel and traitor, a member of the audience ‘callit Johnne Bryson’ started a commotion by defending Montrose as ‘als honest a noble man as was in this kingdome’. Bryson was subsequently arrested and sent to Edinburgh’s tollbooth (Nicholl, 1836: 7-8). Further dissent was recorded by Covenanting ministers who complained in 1651 that the divisions within the Kirk had led to the ‘Malignant partie…gaining in strength within the town [Glasgow]’ (NLS, Wodrow MSS, Vol. 25, No.97). These actions serve as a testimony to the resilience and persistence of Glasgow’s Royalists, but also of their ultimate failure to enact permanent change.


​[30]​ From the evidence presented above, we can draw a number of conclusions as to the situation in Glasgow during the 1640s. Firstly, it is clear that Glasgow was far from a bastion of Covenanting support. The actions of the Bell-Campbell party clearly demonstrate that there was support for the king’s cause from all sectors of Glasgow’s urban society, as demonstrated by the burgh’s acceptance of the King’s Covenant in 1638, the Royalist celebrations of 1645, the storming of the presbytery in 1646 and the popularity of the Engagement within the city. The importance of local leaders, such as Bell, Campbell and Porterfield, is also evident. Using their influence and pull within the burgh’s politics, they were able to lend support to their respective causes. While there are signs of support for the king’s party in 1638, it seems that the opportunity to rid the city of the increasingly tyrannical Archbishop Lindsay was a major influence on the way the burgh voted within the Glasgow Assembly. The fact that Glasgow experienced its own prayer book riot in 1637 and that there was no discernible backlash following the abolishment of Episcopacy suggests that Royalist allegiance was not determined by a commitment to Charles I’s religious settlement. This challenges the arguments of Glenn Burgess who has stated that Scottish Royalists might as well be referred to as Episcopalians (2009: 204-205). The Royalist support from established merchant families is particularly interesting. For some merchants, the crown was undoubtedly associated with stability, trade and the protection of rights. Any hopes that Covenanting rule would be easier on merchants’ purse strings would have been swiftly dispelled between 1640 and 1643 (Macinnes, 1991: 205-206). Therefore, conservatism, the desire for stability and local pragmatism all played a role within Royalist allegiance. The fact that there was clear Royalist support outwith the ranks of the nobility and gentry means that we must re-evaluate our understanding of the movement. Likewise, the weak correlation between Episcopacy and Royalism heightens the importance of further localised studies in order to untangle the connecting strands of allegiance. As has been demonstrated above, the Royalist leadership was invested in fostering local support networks and there are undoubtedly more examples of this yet to be uncovered.

​[31]​ This case study may also help us reflect upon the issues of loyalty in other Scottish burghs and encourage us to rethink the complexities of allegiance. The collapse of the Royalist leadership network following its defeat in 1640 meant that many Royalists were forced either to conform to Covenanting rule or endure persecution. Glasgow demonstrates that, while Royalist sympathisers were willing to offer superficial compliance to the Covenanting regime, the burgh was far from unified under the Covenant. It is unlikely that Glasgow was alone in experiencing these kinds of events, and thus, the reality of life within the Scottish burghs appears to share much in common with the models developed by Stoyles and Ó Siochrú.

​[32]​ A key theme of this article has been the centre’s ability to influence the locality. In Glasgow’s case, the burgh elections were manipulated by both sides during the 1640s, often resulting in the election of a sponsored candidate as provost. As the provost was often the burgh’s representative at Parliament and other official forums, using the sources from these meetings can give a misleading picture of local allegiance. Indeed, it is apparent from Glasgow’s example that Covenanting uniformity could be, and was in some circumstances, coerced. The reality on the ground was that the city was bitterly divided. Glasgow experienced its own civil war, with local leaders opposing one another and using their influence to create disparate factions. The wider political developments tended to dictate which faction was in ascendance at any one time, but even after the fighting stopped the conflict continued to haunt Glasgow. The fact that Colin Campbell was chosen by the Restoration government in 1660 as its candidate for Glasgow’s provostship shows the longevity of the conflict within the city, and the commitment of those involved (Extracts, 1630-1662: 450-452).

​University​ of Glasgow


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Macinnes, Allan. 1991. Charles I and the Making of the Covenanting Movement, 1625-1641 (Edinburgh).

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Joshua Calhoun, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and the Ecology of Texts in Renaissance England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020)

Joshua Calhoun, The Nature of the Page: Poetry, Papermaking, and the Ecology of Texts in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020), ISBN 978-0812251890, 288 pp., $55.00/£45.00.

Reviewed by Meaghan Pachay

[1] Endeavoring to bring together two fields of literary scholarship ‘not typically linked,’ book history and the environmental humanities, in The Nature of the Page Joshua Calhoun directs our attention to the oft-overlooked medium of the media we study: the page itself (p. 3). He traces handmade paper from its roots to its replacement by machine-produced tree pulp in the late 1800s. In doing so, he seeks to broaden our understanding of what the text is – not just at the moment it is held in human hands, but in its past lives as seed, plant, fiber, rag, and toward its future in an era of climate change. In the process, Calhoun aims not just to change our understanding of Renaissance texts but also to expand our field of view in order to incorporate the ecosystemic relationship that has always underpinned the material instantiations of human ideas. The Nature of the Page offers a timely extension of D.F. McKenzie’s ‘sociology of texts,’ instead envisioning an ‘ecology of texts’ that accounts for the natural matter that makes books, and arguing that accepting natural resources as a given rather than a variable impoverishes our understanding of the literature we study and distorts the histories we tell about Renaissance books.

[2] The Nature of the Page is guided by three overarching questions: ‘(1) How has scarcity of nonhuman matter altered human communication? (2) How have humans creatively imagined or reimagined the textual possibilities available to them in a given ecosystem? (3) How has human communication been altered by the corruptibility of the nonhuman matter used to make texts?’ (p. x). To answer these questions, Calhoun divides his five chapters into two sections: ‘Legible Ecologies,’ which examines how Renaissance writers, readers, and printers made use of local ecologies in producing books, and ‘Illegible Ecologies,’ which extends an ecological reading to account for aspects “that were less visible to the average sixteenth and seventeenth-century book user and that are nearly invisible to us now” (p. 14). Chapter 1 narrates a history of paper in reverse chronological order, largely through a close reading of Matthias Koops’s Historical Account of the Substances which have been used to Describe Events, and Convey Ideas (1800), a book printed on paper made from straw. In this chapter, Calhoun develops his argument regarding the role of scarcity in the history of books, showing how local ecosystems drove how paper was made, from the exploitation of natural resources to the labor of slaves. The second chapter, born out of a 2011 PMLA article, picks up a reading of Henry Vaughan’s ‘The Book’ begun in the Introduction to offer a methodology for reading plant fibers and their rhetorical effects in the varied colors and qualities of paper used in printing English vernacular Bibles. This methodology suggests the ‘poetics of paper’ is one of corruptibility as words are recorded on slowly decaying substrates (p. 47).

[3] Together, the two chapters that make up ‘Legible Ecologies’ sketch out a broader ecology of the text as visible to Renaissance readers and writers; the last three chapters turn to less apparent aspects of book ecology. Chapter 3 uses one of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s First Folios as a case study to consider how to read imperfections, be they a stain on a page of 2 Henry IV or any of the forms of correction used by Renaissance printers. Reading both metaphorically and materially, Calhoun argues that interpreting a page of text as mixed media deepens our understanding of how book users recorded and revised history and challenges standard book historical wisdom about the pursuit of the ideal copy. Moving from stains to sizing, Chapter 4 demonstrates the continued significance of animals in paper books through the role of gelatin sizing in book survival. In this chapter, Calhoun makes his sharpest intervention into book historical practice: he argues that current scholarly data on book use and survival is skewed because it fails to account for differential survival rates in sized and unsized paper. Recognizing the animals present on pages made from plant fibers will produce more reliable data for future work. Following this thread on book survival and book loss, Calhoun concludes The Nature of the Page by turning to the future: Using Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Of the Book’ and Shakespeare’s Sonnets, he considers the ethics of the archive and natural resource consumption in the midst of climate change by examining how Renaissance writers and Renaissance scholars imagine book biodeterioration.

[4] As the above may suggest, The Nature of the Page casts a wide net. To make an argument about how we study English Renaissance books, Calhoun draws together Vaughan and Shakespeare and Donne with everything from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac to articles in mSystems and Frontiers in Microbiology. In the process, he makes a convincing case for widening the scope of book historical work to consider a text’s ecology, what it was before it was a book and what it will become after. He argues that when we study the lives of Renaissance books, we also study the lives of the plants, animals and minerals made to carry human ideas. Notwithstanding the forestalling of decay created by our archives, the fragility and corruptibility of Renaissance handmade paper must force us to reckon with the ecosystemic relationship between human immaterial idea and nonhuman material book. If at times the boundary between what is ‘legible’ and ‘illegible’ both then and now is blurred, it is in the service of a methodological intervention that both opens new territory for our scholarship and reminds us of the precarity of the work we can do. For as Calhoun reminds us, ‘there is little chance that Shakespeare’s Sonnets will endure in this paper format for another four hundred years. The truth is more poetic’ (p. 144).

Ohio State University, October 2020

Olaus Petri and Josephus Flavius: A Comparison

Andrey Scheglov (Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences)

Editors’ Note: This article is an expansion upon Scheglov’s previous Polaris contribution ‘Olaus Petri: A Protestant reformer who approved of dissection’, posted in August 2018.


Olaus Petri’s A Swedish Chronicle (En Svensk krönika) was a pioneer work in Swedish historiography. In modern scholarship, attention has been paid to the question of which ancient historians could have served as examples for Olaus Petri. Olle Ferm has pointed to the fact that A Swedish Chronicle has parallels with ancient historical writings, especially with the works by Polybius.[1] This article demonstrates that there are parallels between Olaus Petri and another ancient classic, Josephus Flavius.


[1] Alongside his activities as a theologian, Olaus Petri wrote an historical work which he called A Swedish Chronicle.[2] After the death of Olaus, King Gustav Vasa read the chronicle and was displeased. The king blamed the author for a lack of patriotism and declared that Olaus had betrayed the course of the Reformation. The king stated that Olaus expressed too much respect for the rulers of foreign origin and for the Roman Catholic clergy. Gustav Vasa ordered to confiscate Olaus Petri’s library, as well as the manuscripts of his chronicle. A Swedish Chronicle remained unpublished until the nineteenth century. However, handwritten copies of the work circulated in Sweden, Finland and Denmark. As a result, Olaus Petri’s chronicle was read and appreciated by many North European authors of the Early Modern Age.

Modern scholarship on Olaus Petri’s chronicle

[2] Since the end of the eighteenth century, A Swedish Chronicle became an object of scholarly studies. Specialists concluded that Olaus Petri’s chronicle was partly based on the work Chronica regni gothorum written by Ericus Olai, the Swedish historian who lived in the fifteenth century.[3] It was ascertained that Olaus verified and complemented Ericus Olai’s data with the help of other sources. Many parts of A Swedish Chronicle must be regarded an independent work by Olaus Petri.[4]

[3] Analyzing Olaus Petri’s thoughts concerning history, Olle Ferm detects common features between Olaus Petri and Polybius. Both Polybius and Olaus stress that historical works must be studied due to their practical usefulness. Both Polybius and Olaus Petri thought that a historian must pay attention to the causes of events. Both stated that historical works must be truthful: otherwise, they are but useless fables. Polybius and Olaus were convinced that a historian must be objective. Both authors were strict in their selection of sources and refused to rely on oral tradition.[5]

[4] However, Ferm remarks that similar ideas were expressed by ancient historians other than Polybius. In this context, it is interesting to study the parallels between Olaus Petri and an ancient classic whom Ferm does not mention in his monograph – Josephus Flavius.

Why precisely Flavius?

[5] As we all know, Flavius was one of the most respected historians in Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Age. His works were also known in Sweden. One historical work by Flavius is mentioned among the books which King Gustav Vasa ordered for the education of his sons – princes Erik and Johan.[6] Flavius’ works could be useful for Olaus Petri in a number of ways: firstly, as a sample, due to the fact that their subject was the history of a people, historia gentis. Consequently, they could inspire Olaus and provide him with ideas, because he focused on the history of the Swedes.

[6] Flavius’ historical works could also be useful due to their didactic character. Flavius attempted to demonstrate that God punishes the evil and rewards the good, a feature which is also present in Olaus Petri’s chronicle. There is an evidence of Olaus Petri’s acquaintance with a work by Flavius. In a theological treatise, A Useful Teaching (Een nyttwgh wnderwijsning) Olaus reminds how God punishes people for the sin, quoting the Old Testament and two historical works – The Ecclesiastical History by Eusebius and The Jewish Antiquities by Flavius.[7] The idea that Flavius could have influenced A Swedish Chronicle can be supported with the help of a comparison of the chronicle mentioned and Flavius’ works.

A Swedish Chronicle and The Jewish Antiquities

[7] There are a number of similarities between Olaus Petri’s chronicle and Josephus work The Jewish Antiquities. To begin with, both authors stress the usefulness of history:

The Jewish Antiquities A Swedish Chronicle
Those who essay to write histories are actuated, I observe […] by many widely different motives […] Many have been induced by prevailing ignorance of important affairs of general utility to publish a history of them for the public benefit. Of the aforesaid motives the two last apply for myself.[8] God who created all things for the use and benefit of the people has […] ordained and arranged that the lives and the deeds of those who lived in the world in the past shall be described for the instruction and warning of their descendants […][9]


And because this Chronicle is written for the sake of those who are simple-minded, so that they derive some instruction from it, therefore it contains not only stories and accidents; but alongside with them, when appropriate, some special teaching is included, so that one could draw a certain moral […][10]

Both historians, Josephus and Olaus, claim that their predecessors wrote historical works in a wrong way:

The Jewish Antiquities A Swedish Chronicle
For, having known by experience the war which the Jews waged against the Romans […] I was constrained to narrate in detail in order to refute those who in their writings were doing outrage to the truth.[11] But there were many of those who wrote chronicles, yet there were few who did it in an appropriate way.[12]

Both declare that chronicles should educate by demonstrating how God rewards the righteous and punishes the sinners:

The Jewish Antiquities A Swedish Chronicle
But, speaking generally, the main lesson to be learnt from this history by any who care to peruse it is that men who conform to the will of God, and do not venture to transgress laws that have been excellently laid down, prosper in all things beyond belief, and for their reward are offered by God felicity, whereas in proportion as they depart from the strict observance of their laws, things (else) practicable become impracticable, and whatever imaginary good thing they strive to do ends in irretrievable disasters.[13] In the same way, God who taught people that the events of the past must be written down, did not mean that such writings should be read only for leisure and entertainment. His intention was that people should see the flow, the vanity and the instability of this world […] Also, we […] must realize that although the devil plants all kind of evil […], God often reduces his malice to nothing and drives everything to a better end […] This is the main thing which we, being Christians, must observe in all historical works, both pagan and Christian. And if they are read in such a way, people benefit from them, and history is used in an appropriate manner.[14]

[8] In connection with this understanding of history writing, both authors reject myths as a historical source. Flavius advises the readers “to fix their thoughts on God, and to test whether our lawgiver has had a worthy conception of his nature and has always assigned to Him such actions as befit His power, keeping his words concerning him pure of that unseemly mythology current among others”.[15] Olaus, too, criticizes historians who rely on myths: “As a rule, the things which are not written down but transferred orally from one to another, are not perfectly reliable”.[16]

[9] At the same time, both historians stress the modesty of their work, implementing the so-called humility topos.[17] Flavius confesses that he experienced doubt regarding his ability to accomplish such a monumental work:

[…] as time went on, as it wont to happen to those who design to attack large tasks, there was hesitation and delay on my part in rendering so vast a subject into a foreign and unfamiliar tongue […][18]

In the case with Olaus Petri, the humility topos is implemented in the following way: the author presents his chronicle as small and secondary (“But presently also I have taken up the task of compiling one small chronicle from the others”) [19], while in fact it is a large and in many respects independent work.

A Swedish Chronicle and The Jewish Wars

[10] The similarities between Josephus’ other important work, The Jewish wars, and Olaus Petri’s chronicle are even more striking. In both works, the authors declare that the previous historical works were written in a wrong way. Both explain the nature of the predecessors’ errors, firstly that they based their chronicles on rumours; and secondly that they hated alien peoples:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
The war of the Jews against the Romans […] has not lacked its historians. Of these, however, some, having taken no part in the action, have collected from hearsay casual and contradictory stories which they have then edited in a rhetorical style, while others, who witnessed the events, have, either from flattery of the Romans or from hatred of the Jews misinterpreted the facts, their writings exhibiting alternatively invective and encomium, but nowhere historical accuracy.[20] And much was written by biased people. Such people extolled those whose side they took, and treated their opponents with contempt, and they did not count with verity at all. This can be clearly seen in Swedish and Danish chronicles: the Danes boast with the outstanding deeds which their rulers committed in Sweden, and the Swedes evaluate high their heroic deeds performed in Denmark. Thus, presently, it is but impossible to learn the truth from Danish and Swedish chronicles, even if one has the desire and the necessity to do so.[21]

Both authors expand on the issue:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
Though the writers in question presume to give their works the title of histories, yet […] they seem, in my opinion, to miss their own mark. They desire to represent the Romans as a great nation, and yet they continually depreciate and disparage the action of the Jews […][22] Since the ancient times (let God improve that!) there has been a concealed and, probably, natural hostility between the Danes and the Swedes: they look down on each other, and none of them wants to concede. That is why the chronicles which we have now are similar to the thoughts of those who wrote them. For this reason, the Swedish chronicles do not agree with the Danish, and neither part writes anything good about the other; therefore, it is not even worth trying to derive any benefit from these chronicles.[23]

In both historians’ opinion the predecessors did not try to understand the causes of wars. Both think that a historian must ascertain the origin of wars:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
…Parthians and Babylonians and the most remote tribes of Arabia with our countrymen beyond the Euphrates and the inhabitants of Adiabene were, through my assiduity, accurately acquainted with the origin of the war.[24] It is not enough to know that wars occurred frequently in this world; one must know the origins of them […]


They all write about wars; yet why these wars occurred, and on which side the justice was, concerning these matters too little is said; that is why the descendants cannot derive the necessary benefit from the history of their ancestors.[25]

Feeling sympathy with compatriots, both historians, however, refuse to exaggerate their deeds:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
I have no intention of rivalling those who extol the Romans by exaggerating the deeds of my compatriots.[26] Our Swedish chronicles laud the Swedes immensely for the fact that the Goths who, according to the writers of the chronicles, came from Sweden, performed so many deeds in alien lands. But, judging fairly, there is little honour in these deeds.[27]

They declare that they strive for objectiveness and truth:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
I shall faithfully recount the actions of both combatants…[28] …And I included the things which I found most plausible, for I wish to write what is true…[29]

Both authors criticize foreign historians for lack of objectiveness. Josephus blames Greek historians. Olaus expresses a sceptic attitude towards Danish and German chronicle writers:

The Jewish Wars A Swedish Chronicle
Let us at least hold historical truth in honour, since by the Greeks it is disregarded.[30] Also, the accounts of Sweden which the foreign chronicle writers – the Danes and the Germans – included in their chronicles, are not reliable, because these writers based their chronicles on bare rumours.[31]

[11] Declaring the wish to be objective, both authors express respect for certain foreign rulers who governed their country. Flavius mentions the good deeds of Emperor Titus – “how often Titus, in his anxiety to save the city and the temple, invited the rival parties to come to terms with him”.[32] Olaus acknowledges the merits of King Hans, the Danish monarch who ruled Denmark, Sweden and Norway: “King Hans ruled well…”. Although this motif – the good rule of King Hans – was apparently borrowed from an earlier source, the Chronicle of the Sture Regents (Sturekrönikan), Olaus, by quoting it, shows that he shares the view of King Hans as a good ruler.


[12] A Swedish Chronicle has clear parallels with The Jewish Antiquities and The Jewish Wars. We can conclude that the parallels between A Swedish Chronicle and The Jewish Wars are especially distinct. Flavius’ intention to depict the Jews’ interaction with the Romans, and his desire to be objective when describing his compatriots and their opponents likely inspired Olaus to implement similar principles in his description of the Swedes’ cooperation and rivalry with the Danes.  The present article provides new arguments proving that the impact of the Renaissance on Olaus Petri has been underrated by some modern specialists. Olaus Petri took a scholarly interest in ancient thought, and he shared antique and Renaissance ideas concerning history writing. As I have demonstrated in my earlier research, he also shared Renaisssance thoughts regarding war and peace, as well as humanist views concerning dignity and virtue.[33] In these respects, he was a scholar influenced by Renaissance thought.


[1] Olle Ferm, Olaus Petri och Heliga Birgitta: Synpunkter på ett nytt sätt att skriva historia i 1500-talets Sverige, Stockholm 2007.

[2] See Andrey Scheglov ‘Olaus Petri: A Protestant reformer who approved of dissection’, Polaris, August 2018. Consulted 22 September 2020.

[3] See Louis Félix Guinement de Keralio, Notice d’un manuscrit suédois de la Bibliothèque du roi, Paris 1787; Gustav Löw, Sveriges forntid i svensk historieskrivning, Stockholm 1908; Gunnar T. Westin, Historieskrivaren Olaus Petri: Svenska krönikans källor och krönikeskrivarens metod, Lund 1946.

[4] See Westin 1946, passim.

[5] See Ferm 2007, p. 101–153.

[6] See Westin 1946, p. 182.

[7] OPSS I, p. 10.

[8] Josephus / With an English translation by H. St. J. Thackeray. Cambridge (Mass.), 1961. Vol. IV, p. 3.

[9] OPSS IV, p. 1. Translated from Early Modern Swedish by Andrey Scheglov.

[10] OPSS IV, p. 15. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[11] Josephus, Vol. IV, p. 3. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[12] OPSS, IV, p. 2. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[13] Josephus, Vol. IV, p. 9. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[14] OPSS IV, p. 15. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[15] Josephus, Works, Vol. IV, p. 9. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[16] OPSS IV, p. 6. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[17] Ancient, medieval and early modern writers often presented their works as small and insignificant, though in fact these works were voluminous and fundamental. This motif, humility topos (Bescheideheitstopos) was especially frequent in the Middle Ages.

[18] Josephus, Vol. IV, p. 5. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[19] OPSS IV, p. 2. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[20] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 3. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[21] OPSS IV, p. 2. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[22] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 7. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[23] OPSS IV, p. 2. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[24] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 5. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[25] OPSS IV, p. 2. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[26] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 7. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[27] OPSS IV, p. 9. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[28] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 7. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[29] OPSS IV, p. 2–3. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[30] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 11. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray.

[31] OPSS IV, p. 6. Translation by Andrey Scheglov.

[32] Josephus, Vol. II, p. 17.

[33] See Andrey Scheglov, ““THEN FRIDH MAN FÅÅR VTAN ÖRLIGH” – Tankar om krig och fred i Olaus Petris verk En svensk krönika”, in Historisk tidskrift 139:3, p.553–566; Scheglov, ”” Men om Finland är clart noogh…” Erik den helige och hans korståg till Finland i Olaus Petris krönika, in Finsk tidskrift 5/2019, p. 7–25.

Works Cited

Ferm, Olle. Olaus Petri och Heliga Birgitta: Synpunkter på ett nytt sätt att skriva historia i 1500-talets Sverige. Stockholm, 2007.

Gunnar T. Westin. Historieskrivaren Olaus Petri: Svenska krönikans källor och krönikeskrivarens metod. Lund, 1946.

Josephus / With an English translation by H. St. J. Thackeray. Cambridge (Mass.), 1956–1961. Vol. II–IV.

Keralio, Louis Félix G. Notice d’un manuscrit suédois de la Bibliothèque du roi. Paris, 1787.

Löw, Gustav. Sveriges forntid i svensk historieskrivning. Stockholm, 1908.

Petri, Olaus. Samlade skrifter, vol. 1–4. Uppsala, 1914–1917.

Scheglov, Andrey. ““THEN FRIDH MAN FÅÅR VTAN ÖRLIGH” – Tankar om krig och fred i Olaus Petris verk En svensk krönika”, in Historisk tidskrift 139:3, p.553–566.

Scheglov, Andrey. ““Men om Finland är clart noogh…” Erik den helige och hans korståg till Finland i Olaus Petris krönika”, in Finsk tidskrift 5/2019, p. 7–25.