Catalogue description Secretaries of State: State Papers Scotland: Church Books

Search within or browse this series to find specific records of interest.

Date range

Details of SP 56
Reference: SP 56
Title: Secretaries of State: State Papers Scotland: Church Books

Secretary of State's records largely confined to ecclesiastical matters in Scotland, mainly the General Assemblies of the Kirk (its supreme court), and crown presentations to livings and other matters of royal patronage and concern in the Kirk. The series also contains non-ecclesiastical appointments filled by the crown such as university professorships.

The General Assembly material embraces the High Commissioners' correspondence with Secretaries of State, their instructions (as presidents) to the General Assemblies, providing their agenda, formal royal letters to the Assemblies and acknowledgements of their addresses to the King. Documents relating to the agenda of individual Assemblies are also occasionally included. Prior to 1724, there is Assembly material in SP 57, and post 1724 some in SP 54

The presentations involve, for the most part, first, second and third ministers, assistant ministers and chaplains in ordinary.

Date: 1724-1808
Related material:

Some pre-1724 Kirk appointments were transferred in 1950 to General Register House, Edinburgh from SP 57.

A few Kirk appointments from 1707 onwards, remain in SP 57

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 6 volume(s)
Access conditions: Available in digital format
Publication note:

The series is calendared from October 1760 to December 1775 only, in the Calendar of Home Office Papers of the reign of George III, eds J Redington and R A Roberts, 4 vols (London, 1878-1899).

Administrative / biographical background:

By the Act of Union 1707 the crown was under oath to maintain the Kirk. Crown interest in the Kirk was channelled through the Secretaries of State until 1782, thereafter through the Home Secretary.

Since the last decade of the seventeenth century, the General Assembly of the Kirk had been meeting annually. It consisted of commissioners from each presbytery, royal burgh and university, and of kirk elders. It was convened by a High Commissioner, invariably a Scottish nobleman, under royal authority, who acted as president and supplied the instructions which formed an agenda.

The battle over patronage of kirk livings, which was abolished in 1690, but restored after the Union by the Patronage Act of 1712, when religious toleration was also enacted, continued. As over nine-tenths of the benefices were under crown patronage, it was inevitable that the Crown's right of presentation, usually exercised through recommendations from well-born commissioners in Scotland, should sometimes be challenged.

In 1732 the Assembly ruled that if a patron failed to supply a vacant living, the heritors and elders of that kirk were entitled to do so. This, though a modification of the Act of 1712, was among matters that did not meet the wishes of the Seceders of 1733, who were expelled in 1740. They joined the Cameronians, in the south-west, and the Episcopalians, in the north-east, as Protestant dissenters from the Kirk establishment.

There was a gradual waning of religious animosity probably encouraged by judicious patronage, in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Appointments to kirk livings under Crown patronage were made by the Secretary of State's presenting the King with a royal warrant to sign, procuring a letter of presentation to be passed under the privy seal of Scotland.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research