It is the 26th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1681.
We will frame today's show in the British Isles. We've been around these parts and these times on the show before. It was the year that William Penn received the royal charter for Pennsylvania. And you might remember that King Charles II granted him the land. Charles I, his dad, was the victim of regicide in 1649, and there was no crown until the restoration of his son on the throne, Charles II, in 1660. The Protestants had a suspicion that these Stuart monarchs were secretly loyal to the Pope and wanted to re-catholicize the island. Frankly, when leader after leader switches the countries' religious affiliation one after the next, you might start to hold everyone in suspicion.
Scots now not only had to contend with someone seen as too friendly to Rome, but to those who would make them submit to bishops as well. The Stuarts would have none of that "presbyterian" or independent business. Charles II's grandfather, King James, once famously said, "no bishops, no king," an allusion to the power of the bishops to enforce national conformity to said king.
In 1681, Oliver Plunkett became the last Roman Catholic to be tried and sentenced to death in England. Plunkett was the last person killed on account of the so-called "Popish Plot." This conspiracy theory alleged a Jesuit plot to kill Charles II. Titus Oates, the man behind the plot, was arrested this year for his involvement with the plot. He lived through the events and was eventually pardoned with William and Mary's ascension to the throne.
In 1681, the Duke of York, the King's Catholic brother and future King James VII lived in Scotland. Between Charles's ascension and his Catholic brother's presence in the North, the Scottish Presbyterians were harassed, imprisoned, and killed. There was no such leniency, as for Catholics, for the Presbyterians and their radical offspring, the Covenanters.
The covenant was a bond agreeing to the Presbyterian polity and the Scottish Presbyterian church's supremacy to the Church of England. Between 1666 and 1688, at least 80 Covenanters were publicly executed. Of those 80, there is the curious case of Marion Harvey and Isabel Alison, the only two women executed for belonging to the sect. They were executed at Grassmarket in Edinburgh on the 26th of January in 1681.
Isabel Alison was 25 and from Perth in Central Scotland. Marion Harvey was roughly 20 and from a small town to the east of Isabel, on the coast. They were members of an offshoot known as Cambellites, an especially extreme Covenant community. After their leader was killed, the ladies followed Donald Cargill. Together, they affirmed the Sanquhar Declaration that rejected Charles as king and affirmed the Presbyterian church as the only true polity. They furthermore would not condemn the assassination of the Archbishop of St. Andrews by their fellow Covenanters. But why were only they killed?
New research into their story suggests that the women's death sentence was largely because of their particular influence and the outsized influence of Covenanting women in general. The public execution was not merely to serve as a public warning, but hopefully as a public display of repentance. Criminals would hopefully recant, publicly affirm the "proper" authorities, and be let go. It was a public event designed to affirm the status quo and make a show offering of grace. Marion and Isabel would have no such moment. The women defiantly read from the Psalms and loudly proclaimed their innocence in the name of the Covenanters. After the hangman did his damage, the women were likely taken to Greyfriars and tossed in the common grave for the king's enemies. Isabel Alison and Marion Harvey, martyrs for the radical Covenanters, were put to death on the 26th of January in 1681.
The last word for today comes from St. Jerome, a word on the church and martyrdom.
"The Church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of January 2021, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose least favorite plots include the Popish Plot, the Gunpowder Plot, and the Plot for the last season of Lost, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.