Alexander Henderson Steers Scotland Through Troubled Waters

This is the day that …Alexander Henderson died in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1646.

Henderson was born in 1583 at Criech, Fifeshire. He graduated at the University of St Andrews in 1603 and in 1610 was appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy. Shortly after this he was appointed to the parish of Leuchars by Archbishop George Gladstanes.

Henderson’s sympathies were with the organised church, which made him extremely unpopular at first. He subsequently changed his views about church government and became a Presbyterian in doctrine and order. This paved the way for him becoming an outstanding leader and statesman for the Presbyterian cause in the resultant clashes with the English monarchy.

He was a natural leader and was eloquent and effective in dealing with the Crown. When King Charles I sought to impose episcopacy (the rule of bishops) upon the Church of Scotland, it was Henderson who led the fight against it. He helped with the final draft of the “National Covenant” which began its public signing at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh on March 1st, 1638. He debated the famous Aberdeen Doctors and was later chosen Moderator of the Scottish churches at the Glasgow Assembly on 21st of November 1638. That gathering deposed all the Scottish bishops, excommunicated a number of them, repealed all acts favouring episcopacy, and reconstituted the Scottish Kirk on thorough Presbyterian principles.

As leader of the Covenanters he steered the Scottish Church as their elected moderator (1638-1658) through twenty stormy years. Through his handling of the First Bishop’s War he made a favourable impression on King Charles. When the Scots saw that the King was preparing for the Second Bishop’s War they took the initiative and invaded England, securing a decisive victory. King Charles acceded to all their demands, however the formal development of the treaty was a long process, which was overseen by Henderson.

His crowning achievement could well be that he oversaw the establishment of the Solemn League and Covenant, which passed through both houses of the British Parliament, which thus allowed for the two systems of church government to co-exist.

For the last six years of his life he was rector at Edinburgh University.

“His name,” writes W. Barker, is “revered as second only to John Knox in the Church of Scotland”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at