In my series of posts focusing on the the history of the Covenanters, I am researching and writing about people and locations connected to Upper Nithsdale in Dumfries & Galloway, a place I have lived for just short of two years. This is all fresh and new knowledge to me so I am reaching out to as many people as possible to help me in this journey; people who have lived in the area for a long time, and people who research this period of Scottish history. It is a truly fascinating mission so far.
But the thing that has puzzled me for a while now is why the history of the Covenanters fascinates me so much. I have no Scottish ancestry that I am aware of, and I had no links with Upper Nithsdale before we moved to the area. And, as I have mentioned in this blog, when I initially heard about the history of Covenanters I dismissed it as a ‘boring’ part of history which I intended to ignore. Shocking, I know.
It wasn’t until I spent time alone at some of the locations of Covenanter battles, executions and conventicles when I really began to feel this strange connection to the Covenanters and their cause. The first time I passed through an area which was used as a conventicle, even though I had absolutely no knowledge about the Covenanters at the time, I truly sensed a strange, powerful feeling which I couldn’t explain. But, as I began to learn more, these feelings continued to puzzle me more because, since I am not a Christian, I didn’t really know why I felt like I ‘understood’ what these people went through. These thoughts and feelings felt deeper than just human empathy but it made no sense. Why did I, despite not believing in the whole son-of-God story, still have an understanding and respect for the Covenanater’s Presbyterian cause?
Perhaps the answer lies with my name. My surname, de Ville, is of course French, meaning ‘of town’. As I kid I used to tell people it meant that my French ancestors were noble people, mayors and the like, but I don’t think this is at all true. I think it means that they just didn’t have a trade. I don’t know any thing about my ancestry beyond my great-great Grandad which, geographically only takes us as far as the tropics of Derby so I know nothing about the whole French bit. I do remember growing up with jokes about us being of Huguenot origin – obviously a French-sounding word but of course I had no idea what it meant.
During the same period in history as the Covenanters, over the channel in France the Hugenots (Protestants) endured decades of persecution for non-adherence to the enforced faith of Catholicism. These people faced a violent form of government policy known as ‘dragonnades’ whereby they were forced to either convert to the Catholic faith or flee the country. It is not difficult to see the mirrored stories of the Covenanters and the Hugenots when laid side by side.
So, if I am indeed of Huguenot descent then perhaps this is why I feel a connection to the Covenanter’s cause? If, way back in my bloodline, there were people who were forced to leave their country because of religious persecution, then maybe the emotions of this has been passed down, diluted over the generations, but a feeling still remaining. Is this how these things work?
I’m taking a break from my Covenanters blogs for a while whist I do some more research and complete some other projects and juggle B&B and life stuff around it all!. Yesterday a wonderful Sanquhar gentleman kindly lent me a copy of Rev. Simpsons Traditions of the Covenanters so I’ll focus on that for now and continue my adventures and discoveries around the wonderland of Upper Nithsdale…