Thursday, January 08, 2009

Countess of the Covenant

Anna, Countess of the Covenant by Mary McGrigor Birlinn Books pbk Price: £9.99

ISBN: 9781841586687

This book is a biography of Lady Anna Mackenzie, daughter of Lord Seaforth, first married to the Earl of Balcarres and later after his death married to Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll.

She lived during the tumultuous times of the Covenanting Revolution and the Restoration. She was not a 'Lady of the Covenant' in the same way as the godly wife of the 8th Earl of Argyll who was among the first Covenanting martyrs after the Restoration (see Donald Beaton's Ladies of the Covenant). While Royalist and not radical Covenanters, neither of her husbands could be termed malignants. They were firm Protestants and Presbyterians, however, and while weaker than the most resolute in defence of the Covenants, from their testimonies they appear to have had a firm hold on saving knowledge. Lord Balcarres was a great favourite of Charles II but does not appear to have been corrupted as a result and expressed a significant degree of assurance on his deathbed. He received one polite letter expressing differing opinions from Samuel Rutherford but was not among his close correspondents.

The 8th Earl of Argyll collided resolutely with James VII & II, while the latter was still Duke of York in relation to the Test Act and after a dramatic escape from execution was finally captured and executed as a martyr for the Protestant faith because he would not bow to the tyrannical abuses of James. His testimony is most moving and perhaps one of the most moving parts of the book.

Lady Anna was a strong figure who suffered many great griefs during the course in which Providence guided her life. As an exile, she became a governess to Prince William of Orange, later William III. She entertained kings and bargained with them. Her piety was much admired by Richard Baxter who dedicated several books to her. She suffered a lot through one of her daughters running away to become a Romanist nun, Richard Baxter sought to help her through this and seek to persuade the girl of her errors.

While not a religious biography intended to bring spiritual benefit - this book is a fascinating window into the personal lives of some of those who lived through the Covenanting times, particularly the firm faith of those not gathered among the Scots Worthies. The book builds upon the victorian biography of Lady Anna and uses research such as personal letters to fill out the picture in a very illuminating way.