The master of disguise in a leather mask

This mask is a relic of a bygone age, when outlawed convenanter Alexander Peden work a leather masic and wig to preach anonymously in Ayrshire.

In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne after the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Once re-established he betrayed the Covenanters, a Scottish Presbyterian movement his father Charles I had attempted to suppress, which had indirectly resulted in civil war across the three kingdoms. The Covenanters refused the hierarchical structure of the church, and dismissed the king as its spiritual head.

When Charles II was initially restored he succumbed to the Covenanters and signed their pledge, the National Covenant. However in 1662 he declared himself head of the Church of Scotland once again. The period in history that followed is known as ‘the killing times’. Heavy persecution ensued in a bid to restore an episcopal polity to Presbyterian Scotland.

Congregations were forced to take an oath denying the Covenant and Covenanters became outlaws. Any found were executed for treason or shipped to the colonies to work as labourers.

Alexander Peden, known as ‘Prophet Peden’ by his admirers, was a minister from Ayrshire. He illegally preached the Covenant and was declared an outlaw by Charles II. For eleven years Peden travelled from village to village in south west Scotland preaching to his secret worshipers, sleeping in caves and uninhabited dwellings by night to avoid arrest.

However, in 1673 he was captured and sent to Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth. Alongside 60 other men from Bass Rock prison, Peden was sentenced to exile and indefinite labour work on the American plantations.

Remarkably, when being transferred onto an American ship the captain took pity on the prisoners and released them.

Peden fled to Ireland. Once recovered, he returned to Scotland to continue his work preaching the Presbyterian Covenant throughout the killing times. After his imprisonment and eventual escape, Peden adopted extra precautionary measures to ensure he would not be recaptured.

Tormented by paranoia, Peden wore a leather and hessian mask with a false beard and wig made from human hair. Feathers sewn around the eye holes suggest eyelashes and a few protruding false teeth poke out above the beard.

In 1686 Peden spent his last days hiding in a cave on the River Lugar, East Ayrshire, close to where he was born. His body was buried in Auchinleck churchyard, but exhumed six weeks later and taken to the gallows in Cumnock to be hung as a warning to other Covenants.

The Peden obelisk was erected in 1891 on the spot of his burial at the foot of the gallows.

The mask was discovered in a cottage attic in Ayrshire alongside Peden’s sword and can now be viewed in the Kingdom of the Scots permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.