Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
James Renwick lived from 15 February 1662 to 17 February 1688. He was a church minister best known for becoming the last of the Covenanter martyrs. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
James Renwick was born in Moniaive, 15 miles north west of Dumfries. His father, Andrew (or Alexander) Renwick was a weaver. At the age of 13, James Renwick became a student at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied to become a church minister. These were "the killing times", when Presbyterians could be, and were, often killed for their beliefs, especially if they were identified as "Covenanters", who held to the principles of the 1638 National Covenant.
While in Edinburgh, Renwick became a follower of the teachings of Richard Cameron, the leader of the radical wing of the Presbyterians who resisted the efforts of Charles II to impose Episcopalian rule (rule by bishops) on the Scottish Kirk. Cameron himself had been killed by Government dragoons in 1680, but his brand of what later became known as Reformed Presbyterianism lived on. Renwick subsequently spent time studying in the Netherlands, where he was ordained as a church minister. He returned to Scotland in 1683 and gave his first sermon at Cambusnethan in North Lanarkshire. He spent the next five years travelling around Scotland, preaching the Cameronian message to anyone who would listen.
As early as July 1684, Renwick was being actively sought by the government as part of a wider clampdown, in which many Covenanters were killed. Although the "killing times" subsided after 1685, Renwick remained a wanted man. He was eventually captured in early 1688, betrayed by a supporter during a secret visit to Edinburgh (though at least one later book about Covenanter martyrs mistakenly illustrated him being captured by Government troopers in open countryside). After he had refused to swear an oath to James VII/II, Renwick was executed by hanging in Edinburgh's Grassmarket on 17 February 1688 and his head was subsequently displayed over one of the gates to the city. He was the last of the Covenanter martyrs.