James Renwick Collection

Scope and Content

The volume contains various works about or by James Renwick:

  • (f.2) Transcribed letters of James Renwick;
  • (f.132) The Life and Death of... Mr. James Renwick by Rev. Alexander Shields;
  • (f.242) Queries put to Mr. James Muir at his admission to the Kirk Rethan... about the year, 1650;

Two printed pamphlets have also been inserted:

  • (i) Antipas, or the Dying Testimony of Mr. James Renwick, dated 15 February 1688;
  • (ii) An elegy upon the death of... Mr. James Renwick by Alexander Shields, printed 1688, reprinted 1723.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Renwick (1662-1688) was the last of the Scottish Covenanter martyrs. Born in Dumfriesshire, he was educated at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a Master of Arts in 1681. Whilst at Edinburgh he witnessed the execution of Donald Cargill, a radical Covenanter preacher who had repeatedly preached against the restored Stuart monarchy and the imposition of the episcopal system of Church government. The event convinced Renwick to join Cargill's fellow adherents, most notably Richard Cameron, and he was sent to Holland to continue his theological studies. In 1683 he finished his studies and was ordained. He returned to Scotland via Ireland in the same year and began his ministry, organising various secret meetings in fields and empty churches. He gained popularity amongst Covenanters through his skill at preaching but in 1685 he refused to join the insurrection of Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll, and lost many friends and supporters. In 1687 James II granted two indulgences giving Presbyterians full liberty to assemble for their worship in meeting-houses or private residences, on condition of registration and taking an oath of allegiance. All but Renwick and his followers agreed to the stipulations and he and his followers were hunted down by the authorities. Renwick himself was captured on 1 February 1688, whilst visiting Edinburgh. Although he was given plenty of opportunity to recant his opposition to the Stuarts throughout his trial and before his execution, he refused and was duly hanged on 17 February 1688.

During his life Renwick never published any of his writings or sermons but soon after his death they were collected, transcribed and published, with a faithful follower, the Reverend Alexander Sheilds (1660?-1700), composing first a eulogy of his death and later a fuller biography of the man.

Source: D.F. Wright, 'Renwick, James [James Bruce] (1662-1688)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/23382.

Conditions Governing Access

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on James Renwick.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 96).

Custodial History

Former owner: H.J. Howat, 1859.

Geographical Names