‘What Cared I for a House’: The Radical Mother and Renwick’s Preaching in 1684 #History #Scotland

Probably in early 1684, James Renwick preached at Old Woodhouselee near Auchendinny in Midlothian. There he would meet Helen Alexander (d.1729), a woman who was prepared risk all she owned for the radical life…

Old Pentland

Old Pentland Graveyard © M J Richardson and licensed for reuse.

Alexander, a resident of Old Pentland in Lasswade parish, had already been in trouble for her militant beliefs and sheltering Andrew Gullane, one of the assassins of Archbishop Sharp. In 1683, her despair at the faulting of the free preaching of the Gospel led her to take the extraordinary step of getting the female bairns of Pentland to establish a prayer society and subscribe a “Children’s Covenant”. Her encounter with James Renwick would change that. In her spiritual autobiography, she recorded that:

‘And when I came home [from the trouble over Gullane] my friends were angrie that I harboured any of the persecuted people of the Lord, and said I would bring myself into trouble again. Then I thought, what cared I for a house, and wherefore have I a house if it be not to intertain the people of the Lord; which I allways willingly did.

For Mr. James Renwick came home [from the United Provinces] that same year [i.e., late 1683] an ordained minister. I scrupled to hear him at the first, because they [i.e., opponents within and without the Societies] said he was ordained by those who had the organs [i.e., by Dutch rites], till I was better informed by himself; and the account of his life and death [published in 1688] gives a full account.

And then friends about Pentland and Edinburgh brought him out to Woodhouselee old house, and I went and heard him[, probably in erly 1684]; and after that I intertained him and those who did accompany him, and I thought it my duty upon all hazard. And many a time he came to my house after that. Though the persecution grew very hot [in late 1684 and 1685] after he came home untill he was taken [in 1688], I went in all hazard to the fields and heard him.’ (Passages in the Lives of Helen Alexander and James Currie of Pentland, 10.)

The ruins of Old Woodhouselee Castle lie near Auchendinny in Midlothian.

Map of Old Woodhouselee Castle

Renwick also preached nearby at Wolf Craigs near Cauldstaneslap in the Pentland Hills on 1 June, 1684.

Helen Alexander’s gravestone is probably still in behind the Museum of Edinburgh in the Canongate, Edinburgh. I am sure if you ask, they may be able to help you find it.

Street View of Museum of Edinburgh

Alexander may have known George Brysson, who was also from Lasswade parish. She later met and married a fellow militant, James Currie.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on January 15, 2016.

2 Responses to “‘What Cared I for a House’: The Radical Mother and Renwick’s Preaching in 1684 #History #Scotland”

  1. I was just in the Museum of Edinburgh today and Helen Alexander’s gravestone does not seem to be on display, nor did they have a record of it. I have been directed to contact the curator.

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