History of Leith, Edinburgh

December 20, 2003

Presbyterianism Triumphant

With the exile of James II and the succession of William and Mary (William was William of Orange,son of William II, prince of Orange and Mary, daughter of Charles I. William in 1677 married his cousin Mary daughter of James II) the Episcopalian Clergy were removed from the Leith Churches and Episcopacy came to an end in Scotland and the Church of Scotland was established as it now exists today

The days of persecution in Leith were about to end. In 1685 Charles II died and was succeeded by James II. He was the second son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria and was created Duke of York in 1634. Later during the English Civil War he was able to escape to the Netherlands and then to France in 1649 where he rejoined his Mother. At the Restoration he became Lord High Admiral and New Amsterdam was seized at this time from the Dutch and renamed New York in his honour. However James had a serious problem in 1669 he became a Roman Catholic and not only this he married Mary of Modena. By 1678 James Catholicism was creating a atmosphere of panic and three successive Parliaments tried to exclude James from the succession but they all failed. And despite serious rebellions taking place during his reign under Monmouth in England and Argyll in Scotland they both failed.

Even in triumph he couldn’t trust his people and so he imposed Catholic officers into new regiments that he raised. This caused uproar in Parliament however Parliament was closed in 1685 never to meet again. Then Catholics were admitted to the Privy Council and to other high offices of state. This situation could have lasted like this but the Queen became pregnant which caused shockwaves and the prospect of a Catholic succession. He then issued a “Declaration of indulgence” in 1688 to defeat the penal laws against Roman Catholics and was called the “Liberty “in Leith. This allowed the ministers who had left their Churches in the Killing times to return and were allowed to preach in the meeting-houses in Leith. People like Thomas Stark and Robert Douglas of Coatfield who still believed in the Covenants in North and South Leith formed a congregation in the Sheriff Brae with Mr William Wishart as minister. This proved to small and so they moved to a larger meeting house called the “Ark” in the “Meeting House Green” just of Cables Wynd.

Many English started to panic and asked William of Orange to take over as King and plans were laid to invade England. However with so many desertions from James’s army, and when his daughter Ann went over to the enemy, James fled and was deemed to have abdicated. His last chance to re establish himself came in 1690 with the Battle of the Boyne which ended in bitter defeat for James and he returned to France never to return. However in a sense he did return in the form of the 1715 and 1745 Rebellions to re-establish the Stuart monarchy which eventually was buried forever on Culloden Moor in 1746

With the exile of James II and the succession of William and Mary (William was William of Orange,son of William II, prince of Orange and Mary, daughter of Charles I. William in 1677 married his cousin Mary daughter of James II) the Episcopalian Clergy were removed from the Leith Churches and Episcopacy came to an end in Scotland and the Church of Scotland was established as it now exists today.

In South Leith the Episcopal Session were thrown out of the Church and the Presbyterian Session returned from the Ark. In the Words of the Session Records which says “Mr Kay (who was the Episcopalian minister of South Leith) was suspended about this time (1693) for non-jurying (they were still loyal to the stuart cause). In this manner the conflict ended, and Mr Wishart became possessed of undivided authority. Mr Kay died in the Yardheads in November 1719 and was buried at South Leith Churchyard. That was 26 years after he was forced to leave the Church. Mr Kay was followed later by Rev Arthur Millar and by Rev Robert Law. This congregation eventually led to the formation of St James Episcopalian Church which is now to be found in John’s Place.

James II has a Leith connection in that as Duke of York he played Golf on the Links with George Paterson against two English Lords and won. Paterson was given the winnings with which he built Golfers Land which was at the foot of the high Street and a plaque now marks the spot.

Thankfully as far as Leith is concerned most of this interdenominational rivalry is disappearing and being replaced with more co-operation and friendship. Accepting diferences where they exist and building on the parts which all denominations can accept will make for a more open, tolerant and Christian society in the future. Next month Leith, Trade and the Darien Expedition sails from Leith to the Isthmus of Panama.

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