James Renwick (Covenanter)
Inscription on the Renwick Monument, Moniaive
15 February 1662
|Died||17 February 1688 (aged 26)|
|Occupation||Minister, Covenanter, Martyr|
|Tradition or movement||Presbyterian|
James Renwick was born at Moniaive in the Parish of Glencairn, Dumfriesshire, in 1662. Renwick's father Andrew (or in some sources, Alexander) was a weaver by trade. His mother, Elizabeth Corson, had borne several children prior to James' birth, but all had died in infancy or early childhood. The young James was credited with having an affinity for the church from a very early age. Alexander Shields (and later John Howie) wrote:
- "By the time he was two years of age, he was observed to be aiming at prayer, even in the cradle and about it..."
In 1675, Andrew Renwick died and James went on to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied religion, in particular the presbyterian religion of his forefathers. In 1681, he saw several Covenanters martyred in Edinburgh, including Donald Cargill. At this point Renwick fell in with the United Societies; with their help he went abroad to study in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, Groningen, and Leeuwarden. While in the Netherlands Renwick was ordained. Upon his return to Scotland in 1683 he gave his first sermon, at Darmead, Cambusnethan, choosing passages from the book of Isaiah. Renwick spent the next five years travelling around Scotland ministering. By July 1684 he was being actively pursued by the King's men. In 1688, he was finally captured and ordered to swear fealty to the King (James VII and II). He replied,
- "No! I own all authority that has its prescriptions and limitations from the Word of God; but I cannot own this usurper as lawful king, seeing both by the Word of God such a one is incapable to bear rule, and also by the ancient laws of the kingdom which admit none to the Crown of Scotland until he swear to defend the Protestant Religion, which a man of his profession cannot do."
Renwick was thereupon sentenced to die by hanging. The sentence was carried out on 17 February 1688, in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh. Following his execution, Renwick's head and hands were severed and affixed to the gates of the city. Before the year was out, the Stuarts were in exile, and persecutions was closed. He died as the herald of a more gracious day. "He was of old Knox's principles," his adversaries said, when they noted his unassailable steadfastness. But we may take our farewell of him in words which were written by one who loved him dearly: "When I speak of him as a man, none more comely in features, none more prudent, none more heroic in spirit, yet none more meek, more humane and condescending. He learned the truth and counted the cost, and so sealed it with his blood."
Renwick, being the last of "the Covenanter martyrs", was extensively written about by many Scottish biographers, among them Alexander Shields and John Howie, as already mentioned. In 1865, Renwick's collected writings were published with an extensive biographical preface penned by Thomas Houston. Also in the mid-19th century, John Mackay Wilson published his Tales of the Borders, which contained a detailed narrative of Renwick's capture. The 2016 historical novel Last Execution at Grassmarket by H. Michael Buck also deals with Renwick.
- ^ Reverend James Renwick
- ^ The Life of Mr. James Renwick, from Howie's Biographia Scoticana, 1775.
- ^ "Last Execution at Grassmarket by H. Michael Buck". Retrieved 2018-07-04.
- ^ Smellie, Rev. Alexander. The Men of the Covenant. Scotland, 1903
- Paterson, R C. A Land Afflicted, Scotland And The Covenanter Wars, 1638–1690. Edinburgh, 1998