The Cromwellian regime has long endured a one-dimensional reputation for anti-popery. Historians are beginning to challenge this view, pointing to the relative absence of religious persecution during Oliver Cromwell’s tenure as Lord Protector. Cromwell massacred Catholic rebels at Wexford and Drogheda in Ireland, but he did not compel Catholics to attend Protestant churches, and does not seem to have hunted priests as vigorously as his predecessors. This article explores the impact of Cromwellian rule on the Catholic community in Scotland, where the military governor George Monck granted Catholics a significant degree of effective toleration. Monck prohibited the Presbyterian church from subjecting Catholics to ecclesiastical discipline, and actively intervened to protect Catholics if kirk sessions and other church courts summoned them anyway. In return, many Catholics ostentatiously professed their loyalty to the commonwealth. Although Monck did not repeal Scotland’s penal laws, his intervention demonstrates that the commonwealth’s liberty for ‘tender consciences’ trickled down to those formally excluded from it. Cromwellian officials in Scotland would not allow any institution to coerce one’s inward beliefs, even if it meant defending known Catholics from a Protestant kirk.
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