The Capture and Trial of James Renwick’s Precentor
In November, 1687, the Restoration regime of King James VII came a step closer to capturing James Renwick with the capture and trial of James Boyle…
‘November 7th, [1687,] James Boyle prisoner, indicted for being at Bothwell, that he disowned the king’s authority, by adding treasonable limitations, asserting that he was not king till he took the covenant, that he conversed with Mr James Renwick, and heard him preach in the fields. The pannel confesseth Bothwell-bridge to have been rebellion, owns the king to be lawful king without taking the covenant; confesseth he heard Mr Renwick, and that it was a transgression. The assize bring him in guilty. The lords sentence him to be executed at the Grass-market, December 7th, and forfeit all his goods to the king. He was not executed for any thing I find.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 412; ‘Process in trial of James Boyle for treason for attending conventicles and associating with Mr James Rainnie, preacher’ NAS, JC39/97.)
In 1690, his name was listed in the Scottish parliament’s ‘Act rescinding the forfeitures and fines since the year 1665’. According to the text of the act, ‘James Boyle, called Mr James Renwick, precentor’ was listed next to ‘Mr James Renwick, a preacher’. However, the text should probably be interpreted as ‘James Boyle, [formerly] called Mr James Renwick[‘s] precentor [before capture in 1687]’. (RPS, 1690/4/80.)
In Presbyterian worship, a precentor was a good singer who led the congregation in singing the Psalms and Bible readings. From Renwick’s field preaching at Greencleugh in July 1686, it is clear that he did use a precentor at his field preachings.
A precentor could be a gateway role to joining the ministry. For example, Alexander Peden was the precentor at Tarbolton before he became a minister.
Who was James Boyle?
His indictment in late 1687 for being at Bothwell may indicate that he was a fugitive. It is possible that he may be the same individual as ‘James Boyle, servant to John Crawford now a chapman in the said parish [of Cumnock?]’ whose name was appended to the list of fugitives in late 1683. That James Boyle is the only individual of that name found in the published Fugitive Roll of 1684.’ (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 205.)
In 1683, ‘James Bool’, or Boyle, was one of the Societies’ students, or ‘expectants’ in training for the ministry, who was taught Latin by Andrew Young, John Binning of Dalvennan and Thomas Linning. (Shields, FCD, 60, 66.)
His preparation for training for the ministry may have shaped him for his later roles in investigating allegations of scandal and precenting for Renwick.
In 1686, ‘James Bool’ was used in a position of trust by the Societies. He was sent with a letter from the thirty-first convention at Glasgow to David Houston, a minister in Ireland, on 23 September, 1686. The same convention also commissioned him to investigate allegations of scandal against Houston. ‘Jame Boole (or Boyle)’ reported back that all the charges were groundless. He returned to Scotland with Houston and James Kinloch, a representative of the fledgling Irish Societies, to the thirty-second convention at the mining village of Wanlockhead on 22 December, 1686. (Shields, FCD, 262, 278; Houston, Letters, 216.)
At some point, almost certainly in 1687, Boyle was captured and brought to Edinburgh. He was not executed at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh on 7 December and probably remained in prison. After the Revolution, a James Boyle was the sergeant of a company in Cameronian Regiment when it was mustered at Douglas on 19 April, 1689.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.