Renwick, James (DNB00)
|←Renouard, George Cecil||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
RENWICK, JAMES (1662–1688), Scottish covenanter, youngest child of Andrew Renwick (d. 1 Feb. 1676), a weaver, by his wife Elizabeth (Corson), was born near the village of Moniaive in the parish of Glencairn, Dumfriesshire, on 15 Feb. 1662. Several previous children had died in infancy; James received the careful training of an only child. He obtained a liberal education at the university of Edinburgh, supporting himself by tuition in families of good position, where he mixed in somewhat gay society. He qualified for his M.A. degree in 1681. It is said that he declined the oath of allegiance (referring possibly to the loyal clause in the ‘sponsio academica’), was refused public laureation, and laureated privately, with two others. This is not borne out by the university books, which mention ‘Jacobus Renwick’ among the publicly laureated who had signed the ‘sponsio.’ The ‘juramentum,’ to which he might have objected, was not introduced till 1683.
He witnessed the execution of Donald Cargill [q. v.] at the cross of Edinburgh on 27 July 1681, and the spectacle determined him to cast in his lot with the adherents to the Sanquhar declaration of 22 June 1680, popularly known as Cameronians, from Richard Cameron [q. v.] Accordingly, in October 1681, he organised a secret meeting of members of this party, probably a field-conventicle, and by his earnest zeal did much to rally them to renewed action. A correspondence was instituted between the ‘societies’ of sympathisers in various parts of the west of Scotland. Renwick, at Lanark, on 12 Jan. 1682, publicly proclaimed what was known as the Lanark declaration. He was not its author (it was written on 15 Dec. 1681), and admitted that some of its vehement language against the existing authorities (‘a brothel, rather than a court’) was ill-advised. Sir Alexander Gordon (1650–1726) [q. v.] of Earlston, who had been commissioned to Holland by the ‘societies’ in March 1682, made arrangements for Renwick to pursue his theological studies there, with a view to ordination. He spent a session at the university of Groningen. His ordination was promoted by the interest of Sir Robert Hamilton [q. v.] with Brakel, a Dutch divine. Renwick objected to subscribe the Dutch formularies as inconsistent with the covenant, and was allowed to substitute a subscription to the Westminster confession and catechism. His ordination certificate is dated 9 April 1683; a day later a remonstrance reached Groningen from the Scottish ministers of Rotterdam. On 10 May he received commendatory letters from the Groningen classis, and proceeded to Briel, to embark for the return voyage. He abandoned the first ship, on which he had taken passage, on account of ‘profane passengers’ pressing him to drink the king's health, and transferred himself to a vessel bound for Ireland. After some adventures he reached Dublin, where he found the nonconformist ministers very indifferent to his cause. Proceeding by sea to Scotland, he at once entered on his ministry there. His first sermon (September 1683) was in a meeting at Darmead Moss in the parish of Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire. He soon became noted as a field-preacher, and was proclaimed a rebel by the Scottish privy council. Though his fame spread, his position was variously misconstrued, some charging him with ‘the delirious and detestable blasphemies of Gib,’ the reference being to John Gib, shipmaster of Borrowstounness, Linlithgowshire, who, in April 1681, had started a semi-mystical sect of ‘sweet singers.’ Occasionally Renwick and his followers crept into churches by night and held their meetings. In 1684 efforts were made to apprehend him. In July he was nearly taken by a party of dragoons, but escaped with the loss of his papers. Letters of intercommuning (interdiction) were issued against him on 24 Sept. His followers hereupon urged the defiant measure of a new declaration, to which Renwick was at first averse. But in October he drew up ‘the Apologetical Declaration’ which, by concerted action, was affixed to a number of market crosses and church doors on 8 Nov. 1684. It claimed the right of dealing with the agents of authority as enemies of God, and ‘murdering beasts of prey.’ Two gentlemen of the king's lifeguards having been slain in an onset upon a field-meeting, the privy council ordered the death penalty for all who refused to disown this declaration on oath. The Scottish parliament, in April 1685, passed a statute making any acknowledgment of the covenant an act of treason. This led to the second Sanquhar declaration, promulgated by Renwick and his followers on 28 May 1685.
Renwick refused to join the insurrection of 1685 under Archibald Campbell, ninth earl of Argyll [q. v.] He was in sympathy with its object, but held aloof from a movement not distinctly put on the basis of the covenant. Hence he alienated many of his own party. His old friend, Sir Alexander Gordon, then a prisoner at Blackness, turned against him. He was viewed as a man who would only act by himself. Robert Cathcart, a Wigtonshire covenanter, protested against him; Alexander Peden [q. v.] was estranged from him, though they were reconciled on Peden's deathbed; Henry Erskine (1624–1696) [q. v.] peremptorily rejected his overtures. He found associates in David Houston, a turbulent Irish covenanter (see Reid, ed. Killen, 1867, ii. 328 sq.), and Alexander Shields [q. v.], his biographer.
James II's Scottish proclamations of indulgence (12 Feb. and 28 June 1687) gave full liberty for presbyterians to assemble for their worship in meeting-houses or private residences, on condition of registration and taking an oath of allegiance. Field conventicles were still prohibited. The conditions were satisfactory to all but Renwick and his followers, who would acknowledge no royal prerogative of dispensation, and insisted on maintaining their field-meetings. On 5 Oct. a proclamation ordered the utmost severity against such meetings; and on 18 Oct. a reward of 100l. was offered to any one who would deliver up Renwick, dead or alive. His friends must have been very faithful to him, for he made his way about the country, and, narrowly escaping arrest at Peebles, reached Edinburgh, where he lodged a protest against the indulgence with Hugh Kennedy, moderator of the Edinburgh presbytery, and afterwards got it promulgated. At the end of the year he preached for several Sundays in Fifeshire; on 29 Jan. 1688 he preached for the last time at Borrowstounness. Returning to Edinburgh, he lodged on the night of 31 Jan. at a smuggler's receiving house on the Castlehill. A customs officer, John Justice, who was watching the house, heard him at family prayer, and suspected who it was. Next morning (1 Feb.) Justice surprised him and endeavoured to effect his arrest. Renwick defended himself with a pistol, and got away to the Castlewynd in the Cowgate, where he was seized and taken to the Tolbooth. Graham, the captain of the guard, struck with his slight build, small stature, and youthful look, exclaimed: ‘What, is this the boy Renwick that the nation hath been so much troubled with?’
Under examination by the privy council he concealed nothing, and made a favourable impression by his frankness and courage. He was indicted (3 Feb.) on three counts—disowning the king's authority, maintaining the unlawfulness of paying the cess, and the lawfulness of defensive arms. Before his trial his mother and other friends were admitted to see him. On 8 Feb. he was tried by the court of session and a jury of fifteen. The trial was conducted with unusual moderation, but Renwick's answers to interrogatories fully admitted the truth of all three charges, and he was sentenced to be hanged in the Grassmarket on 12 Feb. Subsequently, and contrary to his wishes, he was reprieved to 17 Feb. After sentence his friends were denied access to him, but he was visited by numbers of the clergy, catholic, episcopalian, and presbyterian of the moderate sort. John Paterson [q. v.], archbishop of Glasgow, was frequently with him, trying hard to get him to petition for a further reprieve, which would certainly have been granted, and his life might have been saved. But Renwick was immovable in his determination to suffer for his principles; it became a proverb, ‘Begone, as Mr. Renwick said to the priests.’ On 16 Feb. he penned his dying testimony and a letter to his followers. Even on the morning of his execution he was offered his life if he would sign a petition for pardon. On the scaffold he sang a psalm, read a chapter, and prayed at length. He suffered on 17 Feb. 1688, having just completed his twenty-sixth year. He is celebrated as the last of the martyrs of the covenant, James Guthrie [q. v.] being one of the first. The two are thus commemorated in the inscription upon the ‘martyrs' monument’ in the Greyfriars' churchyard, Edinburgh, the Westminster Abbey of Scotland:
Which truths were sealed by famous Guthrie's head,
And all along to Master Renwick's blood.
The monument marks Renwick's burial-place, being fixed to the wall close to the spot where criminals were interred. An ‘Elegie’ on his death, by Shields, was published in Edinburgh, 1668, 8vo. A monument to his memory has been erected near his birthplace. Renwick seems to have published nothing, but after his death was issued ‘A Choice Collection of very valuable Prefaces, Lectures, and Sermons, preached upon the Mountains and Muirs … transcribed from several Manuscripts,’ &c. To the fourth edition (Glasgow, 1777, 8vo) were added his ‘Form and Order of Ruling Elders,’ and other pieces. It may be noted that ‘prefaces’ are exhortations before prayer. In the John Rylands Library at Manchester is a manuscript volume containing transcripts of letters by Renwick and others, made soon after his death.[Life, by Shields, reprinted from the edition of 1724, in Biographia Presbyteriana, 1827, vol. ii., abridged in Howie's Scots Worthies (Buchanan), 1862, pp. 612 sq., further abridged in Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1872, ii. 339 sq.; Wodrow's Hist. of the Church of Scotland (Burns), 1828, vol. iv.; Catalogue of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 117; Grub's Ecclesiastical Hist. of Scotland, 1861, iii. 280 sq.; Irving's Book of Scotsmen, 1881, pp. 430 sq.]