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St Bridget's Kirk, Dalgety Bay
St Bridget's Kirk, Dalgety Bay

A Covenanting Minister

Tuesday January 11 2022

A new book sheds light on Andrew Donaldson, minister of Dalgety 1644-1664 and 1690-94/5. By Robin Arnott.

To most people, the name ‘Dalgety’ is associated with the ‘new’ town of Dalgety Bay, construction of which started in the mid-1960s,  It is a dormitory town which, despite its newness, hides a wealth of history.

Nothing now remains of the ‘old’ Dalgety except for the ruins of St Bridget’s Kirk, on the outskirts of the town. A church which has seen Augustinian canons conducting worship and, post-Reformation, Presbyterian and Episcopal ministers vying for supremacy. After 1560, the church was serviced by Readers and Exhorters until sufficient Presbyterian ministers were available. The parish was ill-served by its early ministers and stability only arrived when Andrew Donaldson was admitted as minister in August 1644.

Born in Perthshire he had graduated Master of Arts from St Andrews University (1638) before studying theology. Donaldson was studying during a time of political unrest with King Charles I, and his belief in Divine Rule, trying to exert his authority over Church and Parliament. The people of Scotland had come together as a result of the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 and this saw the birth of the Covenanting party, a political and ecclesiastical movement that changed the country. Andrew Donaldson became one of its strongest advocates.

Until Donaldson’s arrival, Dalgety Parish had been sorely neglected. He not only had to repair the fabric of the building and build a manse but he had to set up a pastoral care system, devise a method of caring for the poor and establish a school and recruit a school-master. Events had a habit of disrupting his plans and the execution of Charles I in January 1649, saw the country enter a new phase under Oliver Cromwell. The unrest it created contributed to one of the darkest moments of parish history when, in April 1649 a short-lived witch-hunting campaign started.

After Cromwell’s death and the accession of Charles II to the throne, Episcopalianism became the order of the day. As a staunch Presbyterian, this ran counter to Donaldson’s beliefs and he fell foul of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, eventually being deposed from his pulpit and manse in 1664. This did not deter him from preaching the Word of God and he continued his Covenanting ministry in the open air and in the homes of his friends and parishioners, such as Sir John Henderson, laird of Fordell. He was soon reported to the Privy Council who ‘put him to the horn’. He was declared a rebel and an outlaw and intercommuned, a harsh punishment where people were forbidden to have any contact with him or provide him with food or shelter.

Donaldson ignored such privations and continued, much as before, until one evening in 1678, while conducting family worship, soldiers entered his home and arrested him. He was taken to Linlithgow Tolbooth where he was imprisoned and held, without charge, for more than a year. Parishioners who had supported him were heavily fined by the Privy Council. Meanwhile, the Covenanters were losing the struggle to be the dominant party and after the heavy defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, Charles II saw fit to introduce a measure of leniency. Donaldson found himself released from prison.

The situation eased further when Charles II died in 1685 and his Roman Catholic  brother, James, ascended the throne as King James VII & II. The English Parliament was not supportive of a Roman Catholic monarchy and persuaded the Protestant Prince William of Orange, who had married James’ daughter, Mary, to assume the throne in 1689. William’s approach was one of moderation and this allowed Presbyterianism to be re-established in Scotland and enabled the return of all deposed ministers.

Andrew Donaldson returned to his pulpit and manse and continued to preach and minister to his congregation until his death in 1694/95. He was a remarkable man, stern and unyielding in the Presbyterian mould, but a man of compassion whose convictions had taken him to the depths; a man whose belief in God transcended the injustices and privations he had suffered; a man of the Covenant who had endured.

Robin Arnott is the author of a recently published book about Dalgety: “A Fife Parish – Dalgety in the 17th Century”; available through all bookshops for £11.99 (RRP) or direct from the author for £10 (plus £2 p&p). Email robin.arnott@nibor.org.uk for details

February's Life and Work is out now.