The Correspondence of Samuel Rutherford

Primary Contributors:

Alison Searle and Emily Vine

Portrait of Samuel Rutherford, attributed to Robert Walker. Oil on canvas, 52 by 50 cm. (University of St Andrews, donated in 1908; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600–1661)

Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish preacher, pastor, academic, theologian, and letter writer. As a prominent Presbyterian leader and covenanter, Rutherford frequently found himself at odds with both political and ecclesiastical authorities in Scotland and England. Following his probable education at Jedburgh Grammar School, Rutherford attended the University of Edinburgh from 1617–21. He was appointed Regent of Humanity in 1623, but had to resign due to alleged fornication. Sir John Gordon invited him to become minister of Anwoth, Kirkcudbrightshire in 1627; Rutherford entered energetically into his pastoral responsibilities and forged relationships of life-long importance with his parishioners and local patrons. However, Rutherford’s resolute commitment to radical Presbyterianism put him at odds with the state church under Archbishop William Laud and in 1636 he was removed from Anwoth and exiled to Aberdeen for nonconformity. Isolated from his parishioners and friends, and forbidden to preach, Rutherford turned to letter writing, as a way of encouraging, exhorting, and galvanising his correspondents in their pursuit of a covenanted relationship with Jesus, and in support of a covenanted Scottish Kirk that refused to compromise with the episcopal establishment in Britain. The majority of Rutherford’s extant correspondence can be dated to this period of exile. The signing of the national covenant enabled Rutherford’s return to Anwoth in 1638, but the ascent of the covenanting party in Scotland meant that he rapidly assumed a series of more prominent positions including Professor of Divinity at New College, St Andrews (1639), and as Scottish Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London (1643–7). It was during this period that Rutherford wrote his famous political treatise, Lex, rex, or, The Law and the Prince (1644). Rutherford remained influential in Scotland during the 1650s, but divisions within the covenanting cause were both demoralising and painful. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 meant that Rutherford was removed from his position at the university and in the church. However, his death in 1661 prevented him from being tried for treason.


Partners and Additional Contributors

Dr Emily Vine extracted and prepared metadata about the 365 extant letters listed in Bonar’s edition for upload to EMLO as part of the AHRC-funded research project, ‘Pastoral Care, Literary Cure, and Religious Dissent: Zones of Freedom in the British Atlantic c. 1630-1720’ (AH/T003197/1).


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Andrew Bonar, ed., The Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Edinburgh, 1891). [This may be accessed at:]



The catalogue currently contains the 365 letters included in Bonar’s 1891 edition of Rutherford’s letters. The metadata has been extracted and uploaded using the information in this edition, some of which is in need of correction and further updating in the light of more recent scholarship. The letters are in English and date from 1627 to 1661. By integrating this data-set within EMLO, we are seeking to expand the representation of religious and Scottish correspondence within this open-access union catalogue.


Scope of Catalogue

This is a starter catalogue in EMLO, and we invite scholars and students working with Rutherford’s letters to be in touch should they wish to develop the resource further.


Launch Catalogue

Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.