The call to sign the National Covenant came in response to King Charles I’s attempts to change the religious practices in Scotland, even seen by many as the 'anglicisation' of Scottish society, particularly by granting the bishops more power. Many Scottish Presbyterian nobles and clerics alike hotly contested this, resulting in the seizure of power and authority from the king by the Covenanters after which a series of wars ensued. Lindsay signed the National Covenant on 22nd July 1638, and convinced most of the parish to sign the controversial document. This minister took an extremely active role in working for the Covenanting authorities: having represented both his parish and Aberdeen city at the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1639, he also became the moderator of the Aberdeen committee, remaining active until 1647. Perhaps more importantly, David Lindsay also served on the committee that advised the General Assembly on theological matters. This was a high position of power indeed, and one that suggests that Lindsay must have been a leading light in the movement.
The Kirk session records reveal that as late as 15th March 1640 one of the Elders of Belhelvie kirk had not subscribed the Covenant and that it was decided that people who did not sign the document would not be allowed to take communion. This was not a period in which to face such public censure and thus the power of the minister and the Kirk proved to be overwhelming. Not only did Scotland defy her king’s authority during the Bishops' Wars of 1639-1640, but these actions also sparked off the Irish and English civil wars, in 1641 and 1642 respectively. When a sister document to the Covenant, called the Solemn League and Covenant, was circulated, Lindsay again supported it. At this time, from 1643 to 1647, the anti-Royalist Scottish and English Parliaments had joined forces and King Charles had lost his grip on his kingdoms. This effectively saw Scotland and England in military and diplomatic confederation for a four-year period. Between 5th and 19th of November 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant was introduced and read to the parishioners in order to prepare them for signing it. The minister showed his congregation the lawfullness and usefulness of the Covenant. In fact, Lindsay read out the assembly acts and the list of deposed bishops at his parish service, in direct opposition to the Marquis of Huntly’s proclamation. The military clashes in Scotland, England and Ireland impacted directly on Belhelvie, a fact made apparent by the parish collection of over £30 for the 'manie pitifullie distrest people that had fled out of Ireland' in June 1643. These would most likely have been Scottish Protestant settlers forced to flee in the face of advancing Irish Confederate troops keen to remove planters from their country.
By September 1644 a counter-movement to the Covenanters had begun in Scotland, consisting mainly of Irishmen and Highlanders under the leadership of James Graham, Marquis of Montrose and Lt. General Alasdair MacDonald, better known to history as Alasdair MacColla. Their soldiers had spectacular success in a series of battles against Covenanting reservists while the main Covenanting army was away fighting in England. Fear of Montrose’s forces often resulted in the closing of the local churches and schools. When they occupied Aberdeen they caused the surrounding area considerable distress. On 9th March 1645, David Lindsay fled the area and could not return for a month. However, Montrose’s dominance did not last and he was defeated by David Leslie's Covenanting army at Philiphaugh. After Lindsay returned to his parish he proceeded to pass on further Acts of the General Assembly, such as that against the observation of Fool’s Day. More seriously, he supported the condemnation of the Engagement of 1647 against England. This had been the attempt by Scots who were dissatisfied with the Solemn League and Covenant to join with the Royalist party in an attempt to regain monarchic control of Scotland. When some parishioners showed themselves willing to participate in support of the second Engagement in 1649 after the execution of Charles I by the English, they were made to change their minds and swear once more to the Covenant. This again highlighted the radical nature of the parish minister. Trouble did not end there however as in 1651 the Kirk session records noted that no sermon could be held in the church due to the presence of the 'English […] with their baggage', an indication that the parish did not escape from the occupation of Scotland by Cromwell's army.
The English occupation of Scotland ended peacefully in 1660 when General Monck led his army home to England as a prelude to the restoration of Charles II as king. By 1662 the Kirk session records reveal that there was apparently general public approval of the return of the king as an anniversary service of thanksgiving 'for the happie arrivall to Brittain anno 1660 of the King' was celebrated. Lindsay, like most of the ardent Covenanters, appears to have reverted to the Royalist fold, presumably in an attempt to avoid punishment for his ardent beliefs. That same year, another service of thanksgiving, in memory of 'the wonderful deliverances of King James [VI & I] of worthy memorie from the gunpowder Plot' was held, confirming Belhelvie parish’s re-adherence to the House of Stuart.
Reverend Lindsay was also active in other areas outwith his radical preaching, serving not only as a rector at King's College, but also as the dean of Divinity during the period of 1643 to 1650. His interest in the college extended to a donation of 40 merks in 1658 for new buildings at King's College. In 1651 he became a burgess of Aberdeen. The four silver Communion cups of Belhelvie church, two inscribed 'FOR YE KIRK OF BELHELVYAnno Domini 1636' and two 'DEDICAT BE M DA LYNDSAY FOR YE USE OF YE LORD'S SUPPER Anno Domini 1637' were all obtained by Lindsay and made by an Alexander Lindsay of Dundee, possibly a relation of the reverend. Reverend Lindsay died in 1667, having served through an exceptional period in Scotland's history.
The end of the Stuarts
The political unrest continued throughout the second half of the seventeenth century with the return of the Stuart monarchy to their British and Irish kingdoms under Charles II in 1660. The royal family began to turn toward the Roman Catholic faith and many Scots began to fear for their own religious freedom. These fears expressed themselves in a number of ways including armed insurrection such as the Pentland Rising in 1666. That year, in Lindsay’s penultimate year of service at Belhelvie, there was a public proclamation read out against 'the Rebells in the west', an ironic condemnation coming from one who had himself been a staunch Covenanter. Shortly thereafter, in 1668 James, brother of Charles II, became a Catholic and two years later the king himself allegedly followed suit. In the meantime the king passed an act which asserted royal supremacy over the Scottish Kirk and ensuring it reverted to Episcopalianism. Such actions led to continued agitation in the west of Scotland and another failed rising in 1679. The Stuarts responded by passing the 1681 Test Act which gave Charles II supreme authority over civil and religious matters in Scotland. The king’s continued harshness toward the Presbyterian Covenanters became known in Scotland’s history as the Killing Times (1684-1687). When James VII (1685-1689) took the crown in 1685 he defeated yet another Protestant rebellion in Scotland led by the Earl of Argyll from his base in the Netherlands. A proclamation encouraging all who were 16 years and older to swear against those who were at war against the king was delivered and the rising was soon quashed. However, in 1688, James's son-in-law, William of Orange, landed in England backed by three Scottish regiments of the Dutch Brigade. With little bloodshed, William and his wife Mary Stuart succeeded to the English throne in the 'glorious revolution'. The next year the Scots voted to accept his succession in Scotland too, but only after he had agreed to the restoration of the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland. In May 1689, the minister, George Innes, held a service of thanksgiving for 'deliverance from Popery' and forbade his congregation from praying for, or even discussing, James VII. Those who remained loyal to James VII rebelled under the leadership of Viscount Dundee, but his death at the battle of Killiecrankie in July 1689 signalled the end of their campaign.
Of course 1689 would not be the last rebellion in Scotland orchestrated in the name of the Stuart kings – 1708, 1715, 1719 and 1745 all witnessed Jacobite risings. Only two of these ever seriously threatened to overthrow the sitting British monarch. In addition, 1707 saw the Treaty of Union between the Scottish and English parliaments finalised, whereby both Scotland and England lost their independence to became one state under the name of Great Britain. The several Jacobite risings that followed saw anti-Unionists join forces with pro-Jacobites in an attempt to restore the old orders of traditional dynasty and separate nations. During the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, a new minister, James Keith, briefly served at Belhelvie kirk, and is noted in some sources as 'intruding' for a year until 1716. The term suggests he was a Jacobite sympathiser installed by James Maule, 4th Earl of Panmure. After the end of the failed uprising, Keith was replaced by Reverend William Dyce who remained in the parish until 1724. Interestingly, a depute episcopal minister called James Keith also 'intruded' at New Machar from 1723-4. This was most probably the same man and indicates that he had not left the area after his brief stint in Belhelvie.
The change of clergymen was only one effect that the rising had on the parish. Panmure had fought at the battle of Sherrifmuir and fled to the continent in 1716 after the collapse of the rising. He refused thereafter to swear an oath to the Hanoverian King George I and so his estates, including Belhelvie, were forfeited and acquired by the York Building's Company. They broke the estate into lots which radically altered the system of landholding in the parish allowing less affluent landowners to buy land once the company began to sell up in the second half of the century.
When Reverend Thomas Ragg took up his position as minister in 1745 he was returning to Belhelvie having already worked there as a former schoolmaster. He had moved from Dyce parish and is noted for undertaking several improvements at Belhelvie kirk. He was apparently fiercely loyal to King George II and during the 1745 Jacobite uprising he urged his congregation to behave likewise. After the defeat of Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Culloden in April 1746, Ragg ensured a fast was held to commemorate the success of the Hanoverian king. The defeated Jacobite army dispersed and its soldiers sought refuge both at home and abroad. Mrs Fordyce of Belhelvie apprehended one suspected rebel in June 1746. John Morton, a Glaswegian, was brought before the governors of Aberdeen to explain himself. He declared that in January that year he had been travelling near Stonehaven when Alexander Garioch of Menzie got hold of him and forced him to enlist in Sir Alexander Bannerman's Company of the Jacobite army. Garioch had imprisoned Morton for two days until he agreed to take up service. He had served with the Company until March when he deserted near Findhorn. He had been living rough until his discovery in June. The Governors decided to keep Morton in prison 'Till liberat by proper Authority', and unfortunately little more is known of him. The old custom of press-ganging innocent locals into military service was obviously still alive and well in the 18th century and became a standard practice of the British military.