The reign of
James VI from 24 July 1567 to 1603 – a time of discord and
uncertainty for Scotland.

 With Queen Mary
in exile and the Protestant Lords in the ascendancy a
period of Regency existed and the institution of the
Presbyterian Kirk experienced some stability. 
But, there was still much scheming and dissent from
Catholics both abroad and in Scotland with aspirations of
restoring Mary to the throne. Within the Kirk there was
ongoing debate concerning issues of Episcopacy  and
Erastianism , the penury of the ministers, and the
degeneracy of the people at large. 

The relative peace and quiet ended on 23 January
1570, when James Hamilton of Bothwell Haugh murdered the
Regent, the Earl of
wyliemoray.jpg (30446 bytes)
(left). This was a major stumbling block because the
Kirk—in the form of Knox, Pont, and Row—had drawn up a
report on Jurisdiction that they had expected to be
approved by the Regent, who was friend of the Kirk, 
and Parliament. 
This document set out that the Jurisdiction of the
Church covered the ministery, morality, ecclesiastical
disputes, patrimony, marriage, and divorce. Notably
patrimony was included. Had it been enacted a major source
of conflict would have been settled. However, disruption
ensued and patrimony, the exercise of patronage, and the
role of bishops became fermenting issues.

The Earl of Mar convened a
meeting of some sixty-two carefully selected ministers and
commissioners to a Convocation at Leith on 12 January
1572. Many of those attending had leanings toward
episcopacy and favoured a compromise. The consequence of
this irregular Assembly was a committee to consider the
issues, which produced its Concordat on January 16. The
articles suspiciously had the hallmarks of a previously
agreed upon form driven by the holders of  church
lands and accepted by desperate clerics. It opened the
door for a century of debate and aggravation for the Kirk.

The Concordat stated:

That archbishops and bishops
have charge of the former dioceses; be chosen from
qualified preachers; not less than thirty years of age;
and ‘indewed with the qualities specified in the Epistles
of Paule to Timothe and Tytus’; exercise the function of
superintendents in the meantime; be subject to the
Assembly in spiritual matters, and the king in temporal;
be consecrated; be elected and assisted by a chapter of
pastors; and resume their benefices and their seats in

That conventual house be
maintained; their superiors to be examined before
institution by their bishops; their benefices to be first
applied to the local pastors.

That benefices, having cure of
souls attached, be given to preachers, found to be
qualified by bishops or superintendents, after they have
subscribed to the Confession, taken the oath of fidelity
to the crown , and been ordained.

That other benefices be applied
to education.

The heart of the problem lay
in the rules for appointing a bishop, which was upon
nomination by the King, and, worse, the bishop’s oath was
a sell out to Erastianism.

A.B. , now elected Bishop of S. utterlie testifie and
declare in my conscience, that your majestie is the onlie
lawfull and supreme governour of this realm, als weill in
things temporall as in 
the conservatioun  and purgatioun of religioun; ….. And further,
I acknowledge and confesse to have and hald the said
bishoprik and possessiouns of the same, under God, only of
your Majestie and Crown Royale of this your realm;and for
the saids possessiouns I do my homage presentlie to youre

 For the faithful, the
response was another Covenant (the Sixth) at Leith on 2
July 1572

Further tragedies were the death of John Knox on 24
November 1572 and, on the same day, the election of the
Earl of Morton as the Regent; he was no friend to the
Presbyterians. An early action by Morton was the Act of
Uniformity on 26 January 1573 and the implementation of
the “Tulchan Bishops.” 
His policy now became one of seeking to coerce the
Kirk and its ministers, taking to the Crown the benefices
of the churches and challenging the right to hold

Fortunately a successor to
Knox soon appeared in the form

Andrew Melville who returned from abroad in the summer of
1574. Melville had spent ten years in France and latterly
in Geneva studying under Theodore Beza, professor at the
Geneva College set up by John Calvin. It was Beza who
wrote in a letter to the General Assembly of Scotland: 

greatest token of affection the kirk of Geneva could show
Scotland was, that they had suffered themselves to be
spoiled of Mr Andrew Melville.” 

 On his return to
Scotland Melville immediately started into battle with the
scheming Regent, the Earl of Morton.

Principal of the College of Glasgow, Melville revived its
standing as a teaching college and took up the automatic
seat in the Assembly. Soon he was appointed to several
committees to inspect publications, examine bishops,
revise the Book of Discipline, and to negotiate with
Regent Morton. Resistance began with a debate in the
General Assembly of 1575 about bishops not authorised by
the Scriptures. From this developed propositions that were
strongly resisted by Morton, but Providence may have
intervened because, on 12 March 1578, he was replaced as
Regent by the twelve-year-old King James VI who then ruled
with a Council of twelve.

There was however a cloud on the horizon with Rome
increasing its pressure against England, Scotland, and
Holland, countries that were the mainstays of
Protestantism.  Catholic France sent Esme Stuart, Monsieur D’
Aubigny, and a cousin of King James. He was rightly
identified by the  Kirk as a Catholic spy in the pay
of the Guise family. However, he was also a charismatic
thirty-year-old who soon found favour with James VI and
was elevated to Duke of Lennox and also made Lord High
Chamberlain. He was joined by Captain James Stewart, son
of Lord Ochiltree and soon to be the Earl of Arran.
Between them the two false courtiers with strong Catholic
backgrounds, suborned the young king, filling their own
pockets to such an extent that Queen Elizabeth I and the
Prince of Orange wrote to warn James what was going on.
Supported by rumours and whispers from the people James
ordered that the Presbyterian form of worship should be
used in all his homes. He appointed James Craig as his
chaplain, instructing him to prepare a Confession of
Faith. On 28 January 1581 James and the Court signed the
first National Covenant, also known as the King’s

The scheming of Lennox took on another form when James
Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow, died and a replacement had to
be appointed. Lennox made a simoniacal purchase of the See
by proposing Robert Montgomery  then minister at
Stirling, for the post which the King approved in
accordance with the Leith Concordat. The Glasgow
Presbytery refused to accept him. In April 1582 Lennox
interrupted the Presbytery of Glasgow meeting and
imprisoned the Moderator. In response, student riots took
place, a protestation was made to the King, and Montgomery
was excommunicated. The King’s response was typically
autocratic and supremacist ordering Montgomery appointed
as Bishop and declaring the excommunication void. 

The hardening attitude of the
young King, already showing his liking

youngjamesvi.jpg (20756 bytes)

for absolute rule, and the influence of his French
courtiers, continued to rankle both Kirk and the nobles.
Matters came to a head when some eight nobles and forty
landed proprietors and burgesses entered into a Bond to
kidnap the King and set up a new Council. Ruthven, the new
Earl of Gowrie, led the kidnappers. 
The “Ruthven Raid,” as it was called, took place on
22 August 1582. Gowrie was appointed treasurer of the new
Council and for ten months was the virtual ruler of
Scotland. The church saw the kidnapping as a godsend, and
it dealt a deadly blow to the hopes of the Catholic party.
Lennox and Arran both left the scene for their own safety. 
The Kirk made a serious mistake when it entered
into politics (when the General Assembly approved of the
Ruthven Raid), by ordering ministers to explain it
carefully to their congregations. James did not forget or
forgive the Kirk for its action. James, now in his
eighteenth year and soon to achieve his maturity, escaped
from his imprisonment of ten months and went to St.
Andrews Castle on 27 June 1583.

Scotland’s troubles were not over. 
James VI soon banished the Ruthven nobles—including
Angus, Mar, Glamis, Hume, Wedderburn and Cesfurd—while
Gowrie was consigned to the block. The Earl of Arran
returned to Court. 
The plague fell on Edinburgh. It was a gloomy time
that could have been worse if the people had known that
their king had written to the Pope on 19 February 1584
promising to be advised by his cousin Guise and “satisfy
his Holinesss in all other things.” 
Revenge followed on Andrew Melville who was tried
and warded in Blackness Castle. But Melville managed to
escape and joined the Ruthven Raiders in England. 

James VI convened a Parliament
on 19 and 20 May 1584 made up of eight bishops, thirteen
abbots, twenty-five lords and twenty-three representatives
of the burghs which produced forty-nine acts—the Black
Acts. The proceedings of the Parliament, and the
legislation proposed by the Lords of the Articles, was
held in secret and the General Assembly was thus prevented
from learning about the new laws and from making any
representations. The Black Acts were followed by an Act of
Uniformity that reduced the Church to a state of
helplessness with many fleeing to England and Ireland.
Protests were met with imprisonment and resulted in a
gradual compliance by some ministers.

The opportunity finally came
for the Ruthven Raiders to return to Scotland when the
Earl of Arran was imprisoned in July 1584 for involvement
in a murder. With his influence gone, the Lords seized
Stirling Castle on 4 November 1585. Many thought that the
King should join his mother in exile; some even favoured
the block.  In
a regard for the king’s sacred person, he was allowed to
live. Ironically, this allowed the king to continue
attacks on the Church with even greater venom; he was
determined to assert his supreme authority of all matters
temporal and ecclesiastical. Attempts to repeal the Black
Acts were opposed and left on the Statute Book while the
King tried to bring in full episcopacy at the General
Assembly in May 1586. His ruse of holding the meeting at
Holyrood was seen through and defeated, however. 
Parliament, in 1587, ratified the “Liberty of the
Kirk,” swept out patrimony and made bishops the paid
officers of the Crown. More happily, the same Parliament
also passed a Franchise Act that extended representation
in Parliament to small landowners which was a welcome
extension to suffrage.

The execution of
Mary Queen of Scots at
Fotheringay on 8 February 1587 sent a shock through the
Catholic world and caused Pope Sixtus V to encourage
Philip of Spain to raise the Armada. Its defeat in July
1588 was “game set and match” for Protestantism in
Britain. At ground level, however, the thirty years of the
Scottish Kirk had not greatly improved the morals and
behaviour of the masses who weltered in poverty, drink,
and loose morals. Rural areas swarmed with gypsies and
beggars, while many parishes had no minister and some
still had priests. There was a long way for the
Reformation to go, with a dissembling King who was playing
games with the Kirk and suspected of Papist tendencies 

Within Scotland there remained a strong and very active
Catholic party even after the French influence of the Duke
of Lennox and Captain James Stuart, Earl of Arran, had
been expelled. About a third of the nobility retained
their ancient family faith. In the southwest Dumfriesshire
and Wigtownshire—later to be strongholds of the
Covenanters—retained Catholicism through a large number of
families of Irish origin. In the north of Scotland the
Earl of Huntly, a long time Catholic sympathiser, was
leagued with the Earls of Erroll, Montrose, Morton, Angus,
Marr, Bothwell (who was indecisive and vacillated), the
Master of Gray, and the Master of Glamis. What is perhaps
most surprising is that they were open in their
opposition, frequently pushing the King`s tolerance to an
extreme.  Yet James VI at times seemed to be in
league with them. He was remarkably lenient, apparently
not wishing to provoke a rebellion in the north. When
required to take action he usually warded them for a short
time before they reappeared at Court. Matters eventually
came to a head in 1589 when both William of Orange and
Queen Elizabeth I wrote to him, warning of Papist plots. 

Letters seized from a manservant, Pringill or Pringle,
were sent to James by Queen Elizabeth. These included
letters from Morton, Huntly, and Sir Claud Hamilton to the
King of Spain as well as letters from Huntly and Erroll to
the Duke of Parma. 
Queen Elizabeth included
her own letter
  which was explicit in her
amazement that such a situation could exist and, moreover,
that it had not been expeditiously dealt with. In other
words, she was telling James to open his eyes and do
something about it. 

Yet with all this evidence,
Huntly and Hamilton were simply warded. In April 1589
Huntly, Erroll, Crawford, Montrose, and Bothwell gathered
with their forces at Perth, proposing to do  battle
with the king at Bridge of Dee. However, their support
wavered and they yielded to James when he entered Aberdeen
on April 20. 
In May, Huntly, Crawford, and Bothwell were convicted of
treason but, yet again, they were only warded. In
September they were all released from ward ostensibly to
welcome the arrival of James VI and his new Queen (which
would not actually happen until the following May).
Tellingly, Calderwood in his History notes that a
proposal was made by the Synod of the Lothians that the
Earls be called to public repentance before the kirk in

in respect of the lenitie that was used, it was thought
but an ydle thing, and that it would turne but to plaine

 A welcome
interlude to affairs came with the marriage of King James
to the fourteen-year-old Anne, Princess of Denmark, first
by proxy in Oslo, Norway, on 24 November 1589 and then
personally at Kronenberg Castle in January 1590. Queen
Anne, a Lutheran, was enthroned at Holyrood on 17 May 1590
in the presence of members of the Kirk. For a while there
almost existed a state of euphoria, with a foolish trust
in the King during which the Assembly ordered that
ministers subscribe to the Second Book of Discipline.
Concern for civil unrest certainly helped the King to
collaborate with the  Kirk at this time, which in
turn encouraged the stalwart Presbyterians to press their
case for reform.

Seeing the opportunity, the
Assembly of May 1592 sought to repeal the Black Acts, the
restoration of patrimony and privileges to the church, the
removal of titled ecclesiastics from Parliament, to purge
the land of idolatry, and to secure the representation of
ministers. On 5 June 1592 Parliament enacted “Ane Act for
the abolisheing of the Actis contrair to the trew
religion” which soon came to be called the “Great Charter
of Presbytery.” 
This Act was ratified in 1690 and again in
1706-1707, remaining an essential element of the Union
between England and Scotland.

However, intrigue remained in the land with the capture of
a spy and discovery of documents signed by rebels. Known
as the “Spanish Blanks” they revealed a conspiracy for an
invasion of Western Scotland by Spain. The nobles included
Huntly, Angus, Errol, the Master of Gray, and Gordon of
Auchindoune, with many more implicated. 
James VI’s response was to go to Aberdeen and raise
another Covenant in 1593 to which some 162 landholders
subscribed to the promise that they would not ride with or
assist the Earls and Jesuits involved. 

This was again a remarkable
show of tolerance by the King, feeding the suspicion that
he was in league with the conspirators who refused to
disarm.  The
church leaders, led by Andrew Melville, accused the King
of causing the national misery and the Synod of Fife
excommunicated the conspirators. The King then sought to
make the Assembly issue an Act of Oblivion but was
James VI finally came round when the rebels defeated
forces under the Earl of Argyll, who had been leading an
army to dissipate them and destroy their strongholds. But
despite this open rebellion James did not pursue the Earls
personally beyond the equivalent of a wagging finger of
censure—which they blatantly ignored. The obvious
conclusion of the people, and subsequently by history, was
that the King was complicit in the manoeuvring by the
Catholic Earls. The Kirk remained discontented with its
constitutional position and still greatly concerned at the
lack of religion and morals among the people. Punishment
of crimes was lax and laws went un-enforced while parishes
were without ministers. Those that were in a manse had
minuscule stipends and were mainly living on charity.

In August 1595 arose the
celebrated cause of the Rev. David Black who was appointed
to St. Andrews and sought to take possession of the manse
in which was encamped William Balfour of Burley—who
refused to quit. 
Burley reported to the King that Black had
slandered the late Queen Mary, and was cited to appear
before King and Council. Black entered a plea of no
jurisdiction to the civil court when the hearing was
interrupted by Andrew Melville who told the King plainly
that there were “two kings in Scotland, two kingdoms and
two jurisdictions—Christ’s and his.” 
In full flow, Melville also berated Balfour, who
was present, and a discomfited King patched a peace
together. The King would, however, remember Melville’s
intervention and a later occasion at Falkland in September
1596 when Melville famously plucked at his sleeve and
called him “God’s sillie vassal”—meaning God’s weak

Yet again the Rev. Black was
outspoken, this time being warded beyond the Tay. This led
to Walter Balcanqual delivering a critical review of the
Black case in St. Giles Cathedral on 17 Decemberstgilesetch.jpg (99654 bytes)
1596. Subsequently a meeting in the chancel sent a
representative group to intercede with the King who was
nearby at the Law Courts. Led by Robert Bruce the King
erupted in temper demanding explanation why they had met
without his permission. As fuel to the flames Lord Lindsay
remarked “Meet…We dare do more than that, and will not
suffer religion to be overthrown.” 
The King left the room and demanded the doors to
the Courthouse be shut. By his panic he exaggerated the
meeting into an uprising and fled to Linlithgow Palace
where warrants were issued for the Edinburgh
ministers—Balcanqual, Bruce, Balfour, and Watson—who
escaped. The rumour spread that the Border Reivers were
coming at the King’s behest to raid the town and the
magistrates pleaded with James VI for mercy, undertaking
to apprehend and expel any minister at the King’s

Hardly had the King been
soothed when John Welch, a son-in-law of Knox and a
fervent Presbyterian , preached in St. Giles and accused
the king of being possessed by the Devil. There was no
stopping James VI now and he was resolute in stamping out
the freedom of the Church. By an Act at Linlithgow on 21
December 1596 he ordered that ministers must take a test
and subscribe to a Bond acknowledging the King’s
superiority in civil and criminal matters on pain of loss
of stipend. The Privy Council pronounced the petitioners
to be traitors and ordered ministers to acknowledge the
King’s superiority, also ordering the magistrates to
arrest “distasteful” ministers, while forbidding
assemblies in Edinburgh. The homes of the four Edinburgh
ministers were seized, the city was fined 20,000 merks,
and an unpopular Catholic, Alexander Seton, Lord Urqhart,
was appointed Provost.

Believing the time ripe, the King pursued his objectives
by calling a convention at Perth. 
The location was far enough away to deter some
ministers from attending, but it was also nearer the
royalist (and Catholic), sympathisers in the north. The
Assembly met on 29 February 1597 and considered some
fifty-five questions that James VI and his secretary had
drawn up. After rejecting by vote a claim that the
Assembly was not properly convened, events turned to the
King’s advantage and his demands were met. These included
agreement that in General Assembly the King could propose
reform of any matter of external government, civil
legislation could only be changed by constitutional means,
no citizen could be publicly rebuked except of proven
crimes, that no General Assembly could meet without the
King’s approval, and pastors could not be appointed in the
cities without his approval. 
James VI came away satisfied that he now had a
platform on which to build his own system of church
government that would not interfere in civil matters. A
further trump card for the King was the subsequent
endorsement of the Perth agreements by the Dundee General
Assembly on 10 May 1597, which also agreed the King’s
proposal for the appointment of nineteen commissioners to
consult with him on religious matters. The Church saw this
as “the verie needle which drew in the threed of the
bishops.”  How
right they were for the Parliament in December 1597
resolved that any bishop, abbot, or prelate appointed by
the King should have a voice in Parliament.

Next. James VI/I, King of Great
Britain 1603-1625


James vi1567