Burgher (Church history)

In the Scottish church of the 18th and 19th centuries, a burgher was a person who upheld the lawfulness of the burgess oath.[1][2]

The burgess oath was the oath which a town burgess was required to swear on taking office.[3]

The burghers' position was in opposition to the seceders and Anti-Burghers.

Background edit

The Rescissory Act 1661 stated that all ministers and preachers in Scotland needed to acquire a patron (usually a local laird who would choose which minister would preach in their area).  A quarter of the clergy refused to hand over this authority to a person outside the church and consequently lost their jobs. They continued to preach independently and illegally, which led to armed rebellion and The Killing Time in the 1680s. Patronage in Scotland was halted in the 1690s.[4]

A new Patronage Act was legislated in 1711. According to Dale Jorgenson, "...The Patronage Act, enacted under the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14), gave lay patrons the right to present ministers to parishes. This act of patronage was an affront to classic Presbyterianism, and resulted in a division between Burghers who accepted the Burghers' Oath and its consequent patronage, and the Anti-Burghers who would not accept the oath."

Church splits edit

The First Secession occurred in 1731 and was triggered by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland giving priority in the appointment of minister to the Patron of the parish. Dissenting attendees to the General Assembly stated that church ministers should be chosen by church elders. This led to the creation of the Associate Synod in 1742, commonly called the "Secession Church".

The "Secession Church" then split in 1747 into the Burghers and the Anti-Burghers over the lawfulness of the forms of the civil oath then current in Scotland. The contentious clause required the burgess / oath giver to profess that the true religion was the one professed within the realm.

The Burghers continued to meet as the Associate Synod, while the Anti-Burghers created the General Associate Synod.

Both groups later had internal splits, with the Burghers splitting in 1798 into the ‘Auld Licht’ Calvinist group, which held to the Solemn League and Covenant, and the ‘New Licht’, which was more liberal and influential. The Auld Lichts created the Original Associate Synod.

Legacy of Burghers edit

In 1820, many of the Burgher and Anti-Burgher congregations united into one denominations. Some churches did not wish to unite and went on to form a separate church denomination.

In 1842, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland wrote to the newly-crowned Queen Victoria, urging the end of patronage. This did not happen and several ministers went on to form the Free Kirk.[5]

Patronage was finally abolished by Parliament in 1874, after 300 years.

Notable Burghers edit

Theological Professors edit

Before the 'Auld Licht'/'New Licht' division (1747-1800) edit

1. James Fisher (1749-1764)

2. John Swanston (1764-1767)

3. John Brown of Haddington (1768-1787)

4. George Lawson (1787-1800).[6]

New Light (1800-1820) edit

1. George Lawson (1787-1800).[6]

2. John Dick (1820)

Old Light (1800-1839) edit

1. William Willis (1800-1803)[7]

2. George Hill (1803-1819)

3. William Taylor (appointed interim Professor, 1818) (1819-1833) (died 1836)

4. Michael Willis (1835-1839)

References edit


  1. ^ Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary. 1913. Archived from the original on 8 September 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2013. A member of that party, among the Scotch seceders, which asserted the lawfulness of the burgess oath (in which burgesses profess the true religion professed within the realm"), the opposite party being called antiburghers.
  2. ^ Jorgenson, Dale A. (1989). Theological and Aesthetic Roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Kirksville, Missouri: The Thomas Jefferson University Press. p. 15. ISBN 0-943549-04-3.
  3. ^ Biblical Cyclopedia website
  4. ^ Scots Archive Search website
  5. ^ Scots Archive Search website
  6. ^ a b c Paton, Henry (1892). "Lawson, George (1749-1820)" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 32. pp. 289–290.
  7. ^ Annals and statistics of the original Secession church: till its disruption and union with the Free church of Scotland in 1852, page 611