THE LIFE & LETTERS OF JAMES RENWICK
The Last of the Scottish Martyrs
William H. Carslaw
"Mr. Carslaw has skillfully interweaved the martyr's letters with the details of his life, and produced a thrilling picture of bloody and bygone days" (Dumfries Courier).
"The most complete collection yet published of the correspondence of this noble and manly Scotchman" (Govan Press).
"The Letters reveal a singularly religious and devout spirit, and give us a striking insight into the sweetness and light that existed in the rugged depths of these stern and uncompromising pillars of the Covenant" (Scottish Weekly).
A major work to be consulted for the study of this period, as well as for insight into the life and death of the faithful martyr and covenanted Presbyterian minister James Renwick.
In 1688, the fugitive preacher James Renwick was captured an executed at the scaffold in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, the last Covenanter to suffer a public execution. He was born in Moniaive in Dumfriesshire on 15th February 1662, the son of a weaver, Andrew Renwick. He was always interested in religion and it is said that, by the age of six was able to read and question the contents of a bible. His parents scrimped and saved to ensure James received an education and after attending school in Edinburgh was able to attend the University. After graduating with an MA degree in 1681, he began to question the King's authority over the church after witnessing the public hanging of a number of Covenanters. He moved to Lanark and started to attend a series of conventicles and in October 1682 was chosen to study for the ministry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. He was ordained in May 1683 and arrived back in his homeland in October that year. On 23rd November 1683 a large conventicle was held at Darmead at which he commenced his ministry, preaching to many hundreds.
Thus began one of many close shaves with the authorities. In July 1684 he was travelling with three others across Strathaven Moor. They were spotted by Dragoons and a chase ensued. He galloped towards the summit of Dungavel Hill, dismounted and hid in a hollow until nightfall before he moved on. In the next few months he was responsible for the baptism of over 300 children and also performed many marriages and funerals, all held in remote farms and on the moors.
In September 1684, the Privy Council had issued a warrant for his capture and the following year Renwick was at the head of 200 Covenanters who affixed a declaration on the cross at Sanquhar, in which James VII was denounced as a murderer an idolater. After this he made sure there was a lookout stationed wherever he went and at any conventicle at which he was preaching and there was always a horse standing by, saddled and bridled, on which the fugitive could make a swift getaway.
His last conventicle took part at Riskenhope in Selkirkshire in January 1688. According to an onlooker, James Hogg, "When he prayed that day, few of his hearer's cheeks were dry. My parents were well acquainted with a woman whom he there baptized". Renwick was apprehended on 1st February 1688 on one of his secret visits to Edinburgh. A group of excise men visited the home of his friend and trader John Lackup under the guise that they were checking up on him. In reality they were hoping to capture Renwick and claim a reward. A scuffle broke out and the preacher made a bid for freedom, running down the Castle Wynd. However he was easily caught, taking a number of blows in the process and then taken to gaol. Patrick Graham, Captain of the Guards, looked at the 26 year old and asked "Is this boy the Mr Renwick that the nation hath been so much troubled with?"
Placed on trial, the witnesses for the prosecution included such notables as Claverhouse himself. He was sentenced to die on 8th February 1688 and the execution was postponed for two weeks. In which time Renwick received numerous visitors including the Bishop of Edinburgh and the Lord Advocate who pleaded with him to accept at least some rule of the King, but he refused. On the day of his hanging he was allowed to see his mother and sister who had made their way up from Dumfriesshire, his father having died when James was twelve.
On the scaffold Renwick attempted to address the crowd, but all the time the soldiers beat their drums in order to drown out his words. The hangman sprung the trapdoor and he dropped to his death. His remains were taken from the scaffold by a follower and rolled in a winding sheet before being buried in Greyfriars' Kirkyard.
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