First Bishops' War

The First Bishops’ War 1639

In 1637, Charles I attempted to force a new prayer book on the Scottish Church. This met with immediate opposition, including riots in Edinburgh. The opposition eventually organized into a group called the Covenanters who formed an army in order to guard their religion against the King.

The First Bishop’s War

In order to make their presence known, the Covenanters captured the houses and castles of several royal agents and supporters of the King. They then marched south to the border with England in order to force the King to recognize their Presbyterian religion. The main issue at stake was the role of the Bishops. Scottish Presbyterians saw no need for such religious hierarchy, but Charles I saw this as a challenge to his royal authority.

England had no army at this time, only a number of ‘trained bands’, professional militia groups used to guard cities. Charles I also had no money, since he refused to call a parliament to issue taxes. Despite this, Charles set about forming an army. He called upon all the settlements in the north to send men. He eventually rounded up 20,000 men, but they were untrained, poorly equipped, and likely had little spirit for fighting an enemy that posed no real threat to hearth and home. Moreover, since England had been at peace for several generations, it lacked trained commanders.

On the other side, the Scottish had a much smaller army, but one that included more experienced and better equipped soldiers who marched in support of a cause in which they believed. Also, they were led by Alexander Leslie, a man who had gained significant military experience fighting in the Thirty Years’ War. That said, the Scots were not specifically looking for a fight.

In June of 1639, Alexander Leslie marched his army to Duns Law, a mere dozen miles from the Royal Army, and there he waited, knowing that Charles couldn’t afford to keep his army in the field for long. On June 4, a 5,000 man Royalist force advanced on the Scots, but lost their nerve before serious fighting began. With neither side wanting a fight, Charles called a meeting, and on June 18, both parties signed the Peace of Berwick.

The Peace of Berwick

Although the Peace of Berwick ended the First Bishops War, it resolved almost nothing. The English Army disbanded and the Scottish army would be compensated, but the actual question of religious governance was left cloudy. However, the main result of the treaty was that it finally forced Charles to call a parliament.