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Henderson, Alexander (1583?-1646) (DNB00)


HENDERSON, ALEXANDER (1583?–1646), Scottish presbyterian divine and diplomatist, was born about 1583 in the parish of Criech, Fifeshire. According to tradition his father was a feuar (tenant farmer), a cadet of the Hendersons of Fordel House, Fifeshire, and his birthplace between the villages of Luthrie and Branton. To the maintenance of a school at Luthrie he left two thousand marks Scots in his will. On 19 Dec. 1599 he matriculated at the college of St. Salvator, St. Andrews, and graduated M.A. in 1603. Soon afterwards he became regent in the arts faculty, and questor. He was licensed to preach in 1611 (before 4 Sept.), and between 17 Dec. 1613 and 26 Jan. 1614 was presented to the parochial charge of Leuchars, Fifeshire, by George Gladstanes [q. v.], archbishop of St. Andrews, whose patronage he had courted. His appointment was obnoxious to the strongly presbyterian parishioners. It is said that the church was barred against his induction, entrance being only effected through a window. In a very few years his views on church government fell in with the prevailing sentiment around him; the story of his being affected by a sermon of Robert Bruce (1554–1631) [q. v.] is a late tradition recorded by Robert Fleming the elder (1630–1694) [q. v.] The early date of his change may be concluded from the fact that John Spotiswood [q. v.], who succeeded Gladstanes in 1615, and was full of zeal for the episcopalian policy, showed him no favour; and that in July 1616, when the degree of D.D. was first conferred at St. Andrews, Henderson was not on the list of those to whom it was offered. In August he took the presbyterian side at the Aberdeen assembly. Two years later at the Perth assembly (August 1618) he distinguished himself by his opposition to the ‘five articles.’ The assembly proposed, without effect, to translate him to Edinburgh with William Scott. On 6 April 1619 he was reported to the synod as having administered the communion not according to the prescribed order. He pleaded that he acted according to his conscience, and disclaimed any intention of behaving with contempt. In the following August he was cited before the privy council as the supposed author of a tract called ‘Perth Assembly,’ really written by David Calderwood [q. v.]

During the next eighteen years Henderson took no prominent part in ecclesiastical affairs, but was acquiring influence in the subordinate church courts of his own locality; between 1626 and 1630 he attended, sometimes as commissioner from his presbytery, the conferences of clergy held in default of a regular convened general assembly. Petitions from these conferences for the convoking of an assembly were disregarded; and in 1630 a royal mandate pressed upon Spotiswood the adoption in Scotland of the English prayer-book and church order. Henderson's importance to the party opposed to these innovations is shown by the efforts made for his promotion to Stirling (29 Sept. 1631), and to Dumbarton (1632). In 1634 and 1635, after Charles's visit to Scotland, a service book and canons, on the English model, were drawn up; the new prayer-book being finally adjusted in December 1636. The attempt to enforce its use caused an outburst of popular feeling which placed Henderson at the head of a strong movement for presbyterianism. On 10 Aug. 1637, shortly after the riotous outbreak in Edinburgh, Spotiswood, carrying out an order of council, charged the clergy of his diocese to procure copies of the service book for public use; the moderators of the several presbyteries were directed to enjoin compliance. In the presbytery of St. Andrews, Henderson, with two others, refused to obey. A messenger-at-arms served them with an order to use the book within fifteen days, under penalty of imprisonment. Henderson and his friends petitioned the council on 23 Aug. to suspend the order, on the ground, among others, that the book had not been ratified either by a general assembly or by parliament. They declared that they had offered to take a copy of the book in order to study its contents before deciding on its use, but this had not been conceded. On 25 Aug. the council temporised, explained the previous order as extending only to the purchase of the book ‘and no farder,’ and addressed the king on the subject of the prevailing discontent, asking him to summon a deputation from their number to London. The answer of Charles (10 Sept.) was a peremptory injunction of conformity. Henderson's example was immediately followed by a crowd of petitioners, and a general remonstrance in the name of nobility, clergy, and burgesses, who had resorted in great numbers to Edinburgh, was presented to the council on 20 Sept. by the Earl of Sutherland. Communications between Edinburgh and London served only to make plainer the unyielding attitude of Charles. At length on 17 Oct. a proclamation from the council ordered the petitioners to quit Edinburgh within twenty-four hours. With great determination Henderson seized upon this act as the ground for a new remonstrance, in which objection should be taken, not simply to the service book, but to the presence of bishops in the council as inimical to liberty. At a meeting of the petitioners on 18 Oct., held while the populace of Edinburgh was in a condition of dangerous ferment, this document was adopted and signed, not in the form drafted by Henderson and Lord Balmerino [Elphinstone, John, second Lord Balmerino, q. v.], but in a shape proposed by David Dickson [or DICK [q. v.] ] and John Campbell, first earl of Loudon [q. v.] Its plea for bringing the prelates to trial had the effect of causing them generally to absent themselves from the council. The petitioners did not disperse till 17 Nov., and they left behind them in the parliament house a representative body of sixteen, meeting at four ‘tables,’ and appointing a committee of four as a ‘table’ of final decision. In this presbyterian cabinet Henderson and Dickson were ‘the two archbishops’ (Baillie). Suggested by the council as a means of creating divisions in the presbyterian party, this plan of the ‘tables’ became under Henderson's management an agency for gaining all information and directing every movement.

On 20 Feb. 1638 the council was to meet at Stirling and proclaim the petitioners' meetings as treasonable. To be beforehand, Traquhair and Roxburgh made the proclamation at the cross of Stirling on the 19th. The petitioners at once affixed their formal protest to the cross. The scene was repeated on the 22nd at Edinburgh. Next day, amid an enormous concourse, Henderson proposed a renewal of the solemnity of national subscription to a bond of common faith and action. The response was a mighty outburst of popular enthusiasm, which spread over the whole country. The instrument henceforth known as the ‘national covenant’ was prepared by 27 Feb. It consisted of the document known as the ‘king's confession’ or the ‘negative confession,’ drawn up in 1581 by John Craig (1512?–1600) [q. v.], followed by a recital of numerous acts of parliament against ‘superstitious and papistical rites,’ and concluded with an elaborate oath to maintain ‘the true reformed religion.’ In the afternoon of Wednesday, 28 Feb. 1638, this covenant was read in the Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, after prayer by Henderson and an address by Lord Loudon. The Earl of Sutherland was the first to sign. On 2 March a copy was sent for signature to every parish in Scotland. At first discrimination was exercised in the admission of names; Henderson's statement is that the signatures of prominent men, reckoned unsound, were rejected. But the multitude used threats and violence to those who withheld their adhesion. The universities of St. Andrews and Aberdeen had formally condemned the document, but by midsummer the city and shire of Aberdeen stood almost alone in opposition to it.

Henderson's diplomatic ability was conspicuous in the skill and firmness with which he met the tactics of James Hamilton, third marquis of Hamilton [q. v.], sent down in June as the king's commissioner to procure the renunciation of the covenant, and failing this to temporise till Charles was ready to put down the movement by force of arms. In July Henderson was a leading member of the deputation despatched to Aberdeen to argue with its divines and win over the opponents of the covenant. The doctors of Aberdeen were unconvinced, but five hundred signatures were gathered in the town, as well as those of some fifty ministers of the district. The burgh of Dundee made him a burgess on the ground of his public services (28 May 1638; his name is given as ‘Henrysoune’ on the burgess ticket). After many ineffectual manœuvres, Charles convened a general assembly, which met at Glasgow on 21 Nov. 1638; on the 23rd Henderson was elected moderator, with no opposing vote except his own. At this critical meeting the prelates were condemned, and the presbyterian organisation of the Scottish church reconstituted on its existing lines. Hamilton, the royal commissioner, on the 28th took his leave of the assembly, declaring it to be dissolved. Proceedings were continued on the constitutional ground that the king's right to convene did not interfere with the church's independent right to hold assemblies. In his proclamation of 27 Feb. 1639, Charles treated the assembly's attitude as inimical to monarchy, and appealed to arms, reaching Berwick on 28 May. Henderson was one of the commissioners who arranged on 18 June the pacification of Berwick, after much personal discussion with Charles, who was satisfied of Henderson's loyalty, and spoke highly of his ability and prudence. The validity of the Glasgow assembly was left an open question, but its policy was confirmed, and Charles promised to convene an assembly yearly.

By this time Henderson had been promoted to an Edinburgh charge. On 4 May 1638 the town council elected him as one of the city ministers, but he was not released from Leuchars till 16 Dec. Dean Hannay was deposed from the charge of the high kirk on 1 Jan. 1639. Henderson was admitted on the 10th. At the Edinburgh assembly in August 1639 Henderson was again proposed as moderator; he declined, on the ground that the expedient of a permanent moderator had been a means of restoring episcopacy. David Dickson was elected, but Henderson was the ruling spirit. The assembly passed the first ‘Barrier Act,’ prohibiting new legislation till the motion had been approved by the consent of synods, presbyteries, and kirk sessions. The object was to prevent the court from obtaining a snatch vote in a thin assembly; but the reference to kirk sessions (repealed in the Barrier Act of 1697) is of importance as showing that, at this date, the Scottish presbyterians, like the English puritans, gave an independent voice to the church court of the individual congregation. Henderson preached before the parliament which met on 31 Aug., immediately after the close of the assembly, but was prorogued before it could ratify the assembly's acts.

In the following year he made himself unpopular in Edinburgh by his opposition to religious meetings, somewhat on the plan of the ‘prophesyings’ of the earlier puritans, which he regarded as promoting independent conventicles. At a conference in his house he brought over Dickson to his own view, and in June 1640 issued a series of caveats on the subject. Next month, at the Aberdeen assembly, in Henderson's absence, Henry Guthrie or Guthry [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Dunkeld, took exception to the issue of caveats as quasi-episcopal, but procured an act prohibiting private religious worship except in single families, and forbidding any but ministers and licentiates to ‘explain scripture.’

Meanwhile Henderson was with the covenanting army, which, crossing the border on 21 Aug., mastered Newcastle-on-Tyne and Durham before the end of the month. Disclaiming offensive war, the invaders petitioned the king to remove their national grievances. Commissioners on both sides met at Ripon on 1 Oct.; the conference was adjourned to Westminster. On 14 Nov. Henderson, who had fallen ill on the way, reached London, where the presence of the Scottish commissioners cemented the alliance of the covenanters with the party against Laud. While in London Henderson laid before Charles a plan for subsidising the Scottish universities from the bishops' rents. The office of rector of Edinburgh university had been revived in his favour (January 1640) by the town council, and he was annually re-elected till his death. His exertions in behalf of the education of his country, both in its colleges and parochial schools, were great and successful. He introduced at Edinburgh the teaching of Hebrew, and the system of honour classes known as ‘circles.’ For the colleges he secured a monopoly in the teaching of Greek and logic.

The treaty with the covenanters was not ratified till 7 Aug. 1641. It promised conformity of church government between the two kingdoms, by which Henderson understood a uniform presbyterianism; but Charles had taken care not to commit himself against a uniform episcopacy. Henderson had left London to attend the assembly at St. Andrews on 20 July. As he had not arrived, the assembly was adjourned to Edinburgh, where on 27 July he was elected moderator for the second time. On 28 July he carried a proposition for a confession of faith, a catechism, and a directory for worship. The object is made plain in his official reply to a letter, received 9 Aug., from London divines; he there pleads, in the assembly's name, that the same formularies should be binding on both kingdoms. The duty of drafting these formularies was put upon Henderson by the assembly. His other occupations stood in the way; moreover, he saw the necessity of co-operation with England. ‘We are not to conceive,’ he wrote to Baillie, on 20 April 1642, ‘that they will embrace our form. A new form must be set down for us all.’ Pleading his health, which always suffered in Edinburgh, and the weakness of his voice, he asked to be transferred to a country charge. He declined the principalship of St. Andrews, and was released from active duty, but was persuaded to remain in Edinburgh. On Sunday, 15 Aug., the day after the arrival of Charles at Holyrood, Henderson preached before him. His remonstrance, when the king went to golf instead of to afternoon service, was taken in good part; he was made royal chaplain, with the rents of the deanery of the Chapel Royal, and was in close attendance on Charles, who for the moment conceded all the covenanters' demands.

The favours Henderson received from Charles, and the moderation of his sermons, gave offence to the more rigid covenanters. He was not sent with the new commissioners to London in 1642, and in the St. Andrews assembly in July he was openly accused of temporising. He usually sat silent under misconstructions (Baillie), but on this occasion he made a ‘passionate vindication of his conduct’ (Aiton). The assembly appointed him to frame their answer to a communication from the English parliament; in doing so, he urged his proposal for an ecclesiastical uniformity. The reply of the English parliament (received 21 Sept.) invited the assembly to send deputies to an assembly of divines in England by 5 Nov. The civil war had now broken out, and the project was delayed.

At this crisis Henderson exercised all his diplomacy in the interests of neutrality. His suggestion that the queen should come from Holland to Scotland as a mediator was distrusted by Charles. Empowered by the council and the commission of assembly, Henderson, with Loudon, was despatched to Oxford at the end of February 1643, to urge on the king the calling of a parliament in Scotland as the only means of preserving loyalty. The negotiation was fruitless, though protracted till the beginning of May, when Henderson returned to Scotland, having declined a disputation on episcopacy with the Oxford divines. Equally fruitless was his conference with Montrose at the bridge of Stirling.

The invitation to an assembly of divines was renewed by English commissioners (Sir Harry Vane the younger, Stephen Marshall, and Philip Nye) to the Edinburgh assembly in August 1643, when Henderson was moderator for the third time. The Westminster assembly, already in session, having been convened by ordinance of 12 June, added its formal request to the missive of the English parliament. Private conferences were held with members of the Scottish convention of estates as to the terms on which the assembly's delegates were to go to England. It was at length decided to enter into a league with the English parliament. The English commissioners were for a purely civil engagement; their Scottish allies insisted on a religious bond. Drafted by Henderson, the ‘solemn league [Vane added this word] and covenant’ was introduced to the assembly on 17 Aug. and unanimously adopted. It is an instrument of impressive power and singular skill, vowing the extirpation of prelacy, but leaving the further question to be determined by ‘the example of the best reformed churches.’ With a definition of prelacy, introduced to meet the scruples of Cornelius Burges [q. v.], it was accepted by the general body of puritans throughout the three kingdoms. At the taking of the ‘league and covenant’ by the Westminster assembly on 25 Sept. at St. Margaret's, Henderson delivered an oration on the good effects of previous covenants in Scotland.

The growing influence of the independents, with whom, but for the advice of Baillie, he would have come to an open rupture, marred his endeavours for uniformity. Henderson's work in the Westminster assembly was chiefly that of drafting the directory for worship. With his scheme of uniformity was connected, according to Aiton, the plan of an authorised psalm-book, the metrical version by Sir Francis Rous being taken as the basis. He would have had the assembly sit on Christmas day, and succeeded in getting parliament to keep a solemn fast at this season (Wednesday, 27 Dec. 1643), when he preached before the commons.

To the Uxbridge conference, opened 30 Jan. 1645, Henderson was commissioned both by the Scottish assembly and the English parliamentary committee as a manager of the proposed religious settlement. On leaving Uxbridge he obtained a passport for Holland, but appears to have remained in London. He thought of returning to Scotland in October, but sent Baillie in his stead. On 27 April 1646 Charles left Oxford for the Scottish army, reaching Newcastle-on-Tyne on 13 May. In hope of inducing him to take the ‘league and covenant,’ Henderson was sent for. He arrived on the 26th, and proposed a personal correspondence on the two points at issue, the divine institution of episcopacy, and the obligation of the coronation oath. Charles would have preferred a discussion of divines on both sides, but yielded to Henderson's plea for saving time, though thinking him ‘mistaken in the way to save it.’ The papers in Henderson's crabbed hand were copied for the king by Sir Robert Murray. The letters extend from 29 May to 16 July, and leave the impression that Charles was a more adroit debater than Henderson. The most interesting things in the correspondence, which was without the desired result, are the references by both men to their early training.

The failure of this last enterprise was fatal to Henderson's already broken health. In June 1645 he had suffered from gravel, and tried the Epsom waters; he now showed symptoms of decline. Baillie, on 7 Aug., wrote that he heard he was ‘dying most of heartbreak.’ He sailed from Newcastle to Leith, and got home to Edinburgh. Here he dined with Sir James Stewart, and was extremely cheerful and hearty, but said, ‘there was never a schoolboy more desirous to have the play than I am to have leave of this world.’ He made his will on 17 Aug., and died on 19 Aug. 1646, ‘at his duelling-house, neir wnto the hie schoole.’ Aiton says, but the statement needs confirmation, that he was buried in St. Giles's churchyard, near to the grave of Knox, and that when the churchyard was formed into the Parliament Square, his body was removed to the ground of the Hendersons of Fordel in the Greyfriars churchyard. There a monument was erected by his nephew, George Henderson. It was demolished by an order of parliament in June or July 1662, but it was restored at the revolution of 1689, and still stands. The existing inscription (misread by Aiton and others) correctly gives the date of death as 19 Aug. Henderson never married; he left property valued at over 2,350l. sterling, besides the small farm of Pittenbrog, near Leuchars, purchased in 1630. In person he was under middle height, well formed, with small and shapely hands; his countenance was pensive and careworn; his pointed beard rested on a huge ruff. Aiton enumerates six original portraits of him in Scotland, of which the finest, a three-quarter length, is at Duff House, Banffshire. There is an engraving by Hollar; another, by Freeman (reproduced by Kelly), from the Glasgow College portrait; a third, by R. Scott, from the portrait at Fordel House, is prefixed to Aiton's ‘Life.’ He was a man of learning and refinement, temperate in speech, and conciliatory in bearing. He had great capacity for organisation, and his power of giving effect to popular sentiment is indisputable.

His publications, which were not numerous, include: 1. ‘Reasons against the Rendering of our Sworn Covenant,’ &c., 1638, 4to. 2. ‘The Bishops' Doom,’ &c., 1638; reprinted, Edinburgh, 1762, 8vo. 3. ‘A Sermon … before the … General Assembly, 1639,’ &c.; reprinted Edinb. 1682, 8vo. 4. ‘The Remonstrance of the Nobles … within the Kingdom of Scotland,’ &c., 1639, 4to. 5. ‘The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1641, 4to. 6. ‘Speech … before the taking of the Covenant by the House of Commons and Assembly of Divines,’ &c., Edinburgh, 1643, 4to. 7. ‘The Reformation of Church Government in Scotland cleared,’ &c., 1644, 4to. 8. ‘A Sermon … to the .... House of Commons,’ &c., 1644, 4to. 9. ‘A Sermon … before the … Lords and Commons,’ &c., 1644, 4to. 10. ‘A Sermon … before the … House of Lords,’ &c., 1645, 4to. Posthumous were 11. ‘The Papers … betwixt His Sacred Majestie and M. Al. Henderson,’ &c., 1649, 8vo; another edition, ‘Certaine Papers,’ &c., Haghe (sic), 1649, 4to. 12. ‘Sermons, Prayers, and Pulpit Addresses,’ &c., Edinburgh (1867), 4to (edited from manuscript reports by R. T. Martin; they were delivered at St. Andrews and Leuchars between February and November 1638). He was an indefatigable writer of ecclesiastical state papers; several will be found in Rothes, Baillie, Wodrow, and Stevenson. His literary executors were John Duncan, minister of Culross, and William Dalgliesh, minister of Cramond, but they do not seem to have published any of his manuscripts. Wodrow possessed three of them, viz. ‘Instructions about Defensive Arms,’ 1639; ‘Directions as to the Voicing in Parliāt,’ 1639; ‘Answers to some Propositions in Defence of Episcopacy’ (about same time). In 1648 was published in London, 4to, ‘The Declaration of Mr. Alexander Henderson … made upon his Deathbed.’ There is no external witness of its authenticity; the general assembly, on 7 Aug. 1648, pronounced it a forgery. Internal evidence is rather in favour of its genuineness, though its recommendation to adhere to their ‘native king’ and be satisfied with the reformation of their own church would be unpalatable to Henderson's party. Later writers represent it as a recantation, and add hearsay accounts of similar expressions on Henderson's part in his last days; they simply amount to laments of the disastrous issue of a policy of interference in English affairs, on which he had entered with hesitation.

[There is no contemporary biography of Henderson; a sketch by Thomas McCrie, D.D., originally published in the Christian Instructor, vol. x., is reprinted in his works, has been edited by T. Thomson, Edinburgh, 1846, and is the foundation of an article in Robert Chambers's Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, 1832. Aiton's Life and Times of Henderson, 1836, is a work of great research into original sources, including materials then unprinted. Stevenson's Hist. of Church of Scotland, 1753–7; Spalding's History (Bannatyne Club), 1840; Rothes' Relation (Bannatyne Club), 1830; Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club), 1841–2; Row's Hist. of the Kirk (Wodrow Soc.), 1842; Wodrow's Correspondence (Wodrow Soc.), 1842–3; Wodrow's Select Biographies (Wodrow Soc.), 1845–6; Heylin's Aerius Redivivus, 1670, p. 477; Burnet's Hist. of his own Time, 1823; Burnet's Memoirs of Dukes of Hamilton, 1677; Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion, 1720; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans (Toulmin), 1822, iii. 216 sq., vol. v. App. 10; Fleming's Fulfilling of the Scripture, 1726, p. 191; Collier's Eccl. Hist. (Barham), 1841, viii. 293 sq.; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, vols. ii. iii.; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ; Acts of the Gen. Assembly of the Ch. of Scotland, 1843; Mitchell and Struthers's Minutes of Westm. Assembly, 1874; Mitchell's Westm. Assembly, 1883; Grant's Story of the Univ. of Edinburgh, 1884, i. 207 sq.; Burgess Ticket, in the Laing Collection, Edinburgh University Library, No. 371. The biographies in Scots Worthies, 1862, pp. 338 sq., and Anderson's Scottish Nation, 1872, ii. 454 sq., add nothing to Aiton. On the question of his deathbed declarations, see also Sanderson's Compleat Hist. of Charles I, 1658; Hollingworth's Defense of Charles I, 1692; Ludlow's Letter to Hollingworth, 1692; and replies by both; Life of John Sage, 1714 (by Bishop Gillan); Logan's Letter to Ruddiman, 1749.]

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