The Court of
High Commission,

original Court of High Commission was created by Elizabeth I in 1559  by
which she gave authority  to a mixed committee of knights, counsellors and
clerics to enforce  `an Act for the uniformity of Common Prayer` and An
Act restoring  to the Crown the ancient jurisdiction` [of the Church ] .It
was specifically enjoined to take action  against

all and singular heretical opinions, seditious books, contempts,
conspiracies, false rumours, tales, seditions, misbehaviours, slanderous
words or shewings, published, invented or set forth or heerafter to be
published invented or set forth by any person or persons against us  or
contrary or against the laws or statutes of this our realm, or against the
quiet governance and rule of our people and subjects in any county, city
or borough 

all embracing nature gave enormous power to a quorum of six people, which
included the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. Ominously
these very posts would later be occupied by William Laud in 1633.

The Court
of High Commission in Scotland originated in 1610 from the exercise of the
Royal Prerogative by James I. There were originally two Courts, one in
each of the archbishoprics of Glasgow and Edinburgh, which were united in
1615. They had no standing in law by way of the parliamentary process and
had the role of exercising disciplinary powers over offences in life and

Under James I the Court of High Commission was
a device for imposing and enforcing episcopacy while the basic structures
of Presbytery remained untouched. It was thus initially an irritation but
one which hardened in its dealings under King Charles I. The validity and
authority of the Court was roundly questioned by David Calderwood when
summoned before it in 1617 and was deprived of his living for non
conformity. David Dickson was a minister who at first did not object to
episcopacy but soon changed his mind. He was summoned before the Court 29
January 1622 and declined its authority. It is indicative of the abuse of
power of the Court that Archbishop Spottiswoode railed against him and
said “ I hanged a Jesuit in Glasgow for a like fault “ .

  The reconstitution of the Court in October
1634 by Charles I was in order to enforce the adoption of `novations` that
were to be made, including the Book of Canons (1636) , and  the Book of
Common Prayer (1637). The changes included affirmation of the royal
authority in ecclesiastical matters and instructions about the manner of
conducting worship. Samuel Rutherford was pursued by the Court in 1630 for
publishing a critical document Exercitationes de Gratia. and again
by the Bishop of Galloway in 1634.In 1638 he was charged with
nonconformity when the Marquis of Argyll intervened on his behalf.In 1637
David Dickson was charged because he had allowed three ministers (Blair,
Cunningham and Livingstone ) who had been deposed from their livings in
Ireland, to participate in the Communion.

 The Court became the mechanism for gross
abuse by Archbishop Sharp and the persecution of the `outed` ministers
following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Sharp obtained permission
to set up the Court following a visit to London in January 1664 with the
purpose of ensuring Acts of Parliament were `put in vigorous and impartial
execution.` and was supposed to last until November that year.  The
constitution of the Court was nine prelates and thirty five laymen, of
whom any five ( with at least one prelate) formed a quorum. It quickly
followed that there was an inevitable preponderance of bishops and
ecclesiastics in the Court who met at short notice in out of the way
locations to conduct their oppressive business. At this time the court was
able to impose any sentence except the death penalty. It became the
vehicle for imposing fines and their collection by the military under Sir
James Turner, the pursuit of conventiclers by Claverhouse, and the
imprisonment, banishment and selling of prisoners into slavery. There was
no appeal against sentence, no one was acquitted by the Court and no one
escaped without a penalty of some kind.

 The Court was described as a Commission for 
executing the laws of the Church and the Commissioners were authorised to
call before them, besides Catholics and “Popish traffickers”

All obstinate contemners of  the
discipline of the Church, or for that cause  suspended , deprived and

All keepers of conventicles

All ministers who, contrary to
the laws and Acts of Parliament or Council, remain or intrude themselves 
in the function of the ministry in their parishes or bounds inhibited  by
these Acts.

All such as preach in private
houses  or elsewhere without licence of the bishop of the diocese.

All such people who keep
meetings at fasts, and the administration of the sacrament of the Lord`s
Supper, which are not approven by authority.

All who speak, preach, write, or
print to the scandal, reproach, or detriment of the estate of government
of the Church or Kingdom now established.

All who contemn, molest or
injure the ministers who are obedient to the laws.

All who do not orderly attend
divine worship, administration of the Word and sacraments performed in
their respective parish church by ministers legally settled for taking
care of these parishes in which these persons are inhabitants.

All who without any lawful
calling. Or as busy-bodies, go about houses and places corrupting and
disaffecting  people from their allegiance, respect and obedience to the

All who express disaffection to
His Majesty`s authority, by contravening Acts of Parliament  or Council in
relation to Church affairs.

When it was found that the application of the
powers were not working  to the prelates satisfaction, the device
introduced was to arrest and imprison  without warrant or reason given, or
charge, simply on the strength of a letter signed by one or more of the
Commission. A large number of the gentry in the West and South of Scotland
were arrested and imprisoned in Edinburgh, Stirling and Dumbarton. Under
Sharpe the Court of High Commission achieved its greatest notoriety where
it became the Archbishop`s tool for venting his great spite upon his
former colleagues.  Typical was Sharpe`s spiteful attempt to slur James
Wood`s name while the latter lay on his deathbed. Sharpe spread slanderous
allegations that Wood had recanted which was denied in a notarised
statement. It is no surprise that the statement was ordered to be burnt by
the Court.

The minutes of the proceedings of the Court of
High Commission have never been found !.