Political thought and Protestant intellectual culture in the Scottish Revolution, 1637-1651

  • Karie Schultz

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis examines how ecclesiological debates informed the languages of political legitimacy advanced by royalist and Covenanter leaders during the Scottish Revolution (1637-1651). During King Charles I’s reign, Scottish Presbyterians faced a Protestant king who attempted to secure supremacy over the kirk by imposing ‘popish’ Episcopalian reforms. Covenanter leaders challenged the king’s authority over determining the ceremonies and polity of the Reformed church to uphold Scotland’s status as a covenanted nation. To formulate their theories about the king’s civil and ecclesiastical sovereignty, royalist and Covenanter leaders engaged with Lutheran, Calvinist, and Catholic scholastic debates taking place in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe about the relationship between church and state. This thesis is the first attempt to comprehensively compare royalist and Covenanter political and ecclesiological ideas while placing them in a cross-confessional context that transcended a Reformed or ‘British’ tradition. It demonstrates how royalists and Covenanters merged analyses of legal categories drawn from a Catholic scholastic tradition with standard Protestant interpretations of the duty of the Christian magistrate. It argues that royalist and Covenanter leaders articulated ‘secular’ political ideas (i.e. absolute sovereignty, popular consent, and self-defence) to solve a crisis about the nature of the church, but not as a way to marginalise religious concerns. Instead, they reassessed the king’s relationship to Parliament and civil law for ecclesiological ends. This challenges narratives in the history of political thought which contend that ‘secular’ political ideas emerged as the church became increasingly distanced from the state. Instead, concerns about the ceremonies and polity of the church drove the expression of ‘secular’ political ideas in Covenanted Scotland. The church was therefore not an oppressive institution that had to be marginalised to bring about political change. Instead, debates about the theoretical nature of the church itself underlay the political and cultural transformations of the Scottish Revolution.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsEC-Horizon 2020
SupervisorCrawford Gribben (Supervisor) & Ian Campbell (Supervisor)


  • Political thought
  • ecclesiology
  • early modern history
  • reformed theology
  • Scottish Revolution
  • Covenanters

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