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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

VIII. Religion

VIII. Religion

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  • 1 The General Assembly is the highest court of the Church of Scotland, and is thus the Church’s gove (...)

1Between 1834 and 1843 there was, between Moderates and Evangelicals in the Established Church, an intense conflict known as the Ten Years’ Conflict (the two parties disagreed over the issues of patronage and the church’s relations with the state). The Ten Years’ Conflict began in 1834 when the General Assembly passed the Veto Act. The Act gave parishioners the right to veto a minister presented by a patron. In the following years there was a series of complicated cases in which the ministers who had been chosen by the patrons but refused by the parishioners appealed to the civil courts to get their rights enforced. In 1838 the Court of Session in Edinburgh took a decision that upheld the rights of patrons over those of the church courts. The judgement was confirmed one year later, in 1839, by the House of Lords, the highest jurisdiction in the country. The Evangelicals vehemently protested against a decision that put the Church under the control of the State. In 1842 the General Assembly issued a Claim of Right, a document that affirmed that the State had no authority over the Church. The Ten Years’ conflict reached a climactic point on 18 May 1843 when the Evangelical Party walked out of the General Assembly1. A third of the ministry and a large proportion of the active membership of the church leftthe Church of Scotland to found the Free Church (also called Free Kirk).

2Some areas were greatly affected by the split in the Established Church, which became known as the Disruption. A large number of the ministers of Aberdeen joined the Free Church and in many parts of Argyll, Inverness, Wester Ross and Sutherland, the parish churches were deserted. In the Highlands and Hebrides, where most of the landowning classes supported the Established Church, the vast majority of the people joined the Free Church.

3In 1844 the Free Church Magazine boasted that:

  • 2 Quoted in C. Brown, op. cit., p. 21.

It is a notorious fact, and one openly confessed and lamented by friends of the Establishment, that the best ministers have left it… It is a notorious fact, that the really good elders, the men of spiritual character… have… gone out of the Establishment. […] It is a notorious fact, that the people who have gone out are the most faithful in their attendance on public ordinances, most liberally contribute to missionary and other objects, and are the most distinguished of their knowledge and love of Scripture truth.2

  • 3 Thomas Chalmers quoted in A. R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution 1789 to the Present (19 (...)

4The founding fathers of the Free Church were convinced that they were “the advocates for a national recognition and national support of religion.”3 They immediately set up a national network: by 1847 the Free Church had 700 churches of its own. The Free Church established the New College in Edinburgh, which was to train their future ministers. New schools were created: by 1869 nearly 600 schools had been built.

5The Free Church was not the only expression of religious vitality in the middle of the nineteenth century. After the Disruption there was a revival of church life in the Established Church that managed to retain considerable support in Edinburgh, Glasgow and throughout the Lowlands. The ministers of the Established Church made every effort to demonstrate that their church was the only national church.

6There was also a revival of Catholicism mainly due to the great influx of Catholic Irish. In 1878 there were about 300,000 Catholics in Scotland living mostly in the industrial towns of the west of Scotland, Dundee and Edinburgh.


1 The General Assembly is the highest court of the Church of Scotland, and is thus the Church’s governing body. The General Assembly usually meets for a week of deliberation once a year in May.

2 Quoted in C. Brown, op. cit., p. 21.

3 Thomas Chalmers quoted in A. R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution 1789 to the Present (1961), Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971, p. 58.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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