The Purpose of ‘Prophet’ Peden’s Mask
Probably the strangest relic of the later covenanting era is the mask of the field preacher Alexander Peden (1626-1686), one the most celebrated figures of that period. Since its discovery in the mid-nineteenth century with Peden’s weapons, its purpose has remained an enigma. However, its possible use is revealed by a tradition handed down through the Laings of Blackgannoch of how the United Societies’ preacher James Renwick escaped from government forces during the Killing Times of 1685. Prior to a Societies’ meeting in the fields, Laing dressed in Renwick’s ‘clerical habiliments’ to distinguish himself, and Renwick in the clothes of a shepherd. When a hostile company of dragoons approached to attack the meeting, Laing then ‘rendered himself as conspicuous as possible’ to lure the dragoons into pursuit. (Simpson, Traditions of the Covenanters, 29-31.)
Peden’s Mask was probably used for a similar function. During the Killing Times, Peden was nearly sixty and his mask was probably designed to disguise a younger and fleeter individual when he was preaching to fool pursuing dragoons at a distance and allow Peden time to escape. As such, the mask may well bear some resemblance to Peden.
The mask is held by the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but has recently been on display at the Baird Institute in Cumnock.
Text © Dr Mark Jardine