Records of Presbytery of Cupar, Secession, Free, United Presbyterian and United Free

Scope and Content

United Secession Church presbytery minutes, 1820-1847; Free Church presbytery minutes, 1843-1900; Free Church presbytery ordinations, 1873-1899; United Presbyterian Church presbytery minutes, 1847-1900; Free Church presbytery, scroll minutes, 1856-1869; United Free Church presbytery minutes, 1900-1929.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Reformed Church in Scotland came into being in 1560 and was established in 1567. The essence of Establishment is a contractual relation with the state, expressed and embodied in a series of statutes. State interference in the life of the church included, in the 17th century, the attempt to introduce bishops which led to the persecution of the 'Covenanters' those who had covenanted to maintain the freedom of the Church. The problems with establishment continued after the revolution settlement of 1690 restored Presbyterianism, however, and in turn led to a breakaway from the Established Church in 1733. This led to the Secession Church, associated with Ebenezer Erskine. Patronage, the right to choose the minister, was largely the issue. Secondary matters split the seceders into 'Auld Lichts', 'New Lichts', 'Burghers' and 'Anti-Burghers'. The issue of patronage again caused problems in 1761 and led to the formation of the Relief Church, associated with Thomas Gillespie.

There was a third breakaway in 1843. This was the Disruption, associated with Thomas Chalmers, and this led to the formation of the Free Church. While the Seceders and Relief came about by the separation of one or two at a time, the Disruption saw over 400 ministers resign from the Church of Scotland.

There followed a series of unions. In 1847 the Secession Church and the Relief Church united to become the United Presbyterian Church. In 1900 the Free Church united with the United Presbyterian Church to become the United Free Church. A minority did not go into that union and continue today as the Free Church of Scotland. In 1929 the United Free Church united with the Established Church (the Church of Scotland). A minority did not go into that union and continue today as the United Free Church. All retain the Presbyterian structure of church government.

Presbyterian government is organised on the basis of courts, mainly along lines set between 1560 and 1690. The Kirk Session oversees the local congregation and its parish. Presbyteries make up the middle "court' of the Church of Scotland. They consist of ministers and elders from churches in a particular region - also referred to as "the presbytery' - and have responsibility for ecclesiastical activity within its "bounds' (boundaries). The presbytery supervises the ministers, kirk sessions and congregations in its area, and elects the local ministers and elders who will attend the annual General Assembly. Most presbyteries meet monthly up to 11 times a year, although the frequency of meetings may depend on the geographical spread of parishes within the bounds. The principle office-bearer is the presbytery moderator - who is selected annually - and the presbytery clerk. Between meetings, presbytery business is carried out by several committees. The presbytery is the court of appeal for all matters which are dealt with by kirk sessions, as well as having the power to review decisions made at congregational meetings. Each congregation is visited once in every five-year period by members of presbytery (who are known as presbyters), when its spiritual well-being and congregational activities are examined.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

Held under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of Records for Scotland.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project, based on description created by Alan Borthwick, Scottish Archive Network project.

Other Finding Aids

Typescript catalogue available in St Andrews University Library Department of Special Collections and in National Archives of Scotland search rooms.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Geographical Names