The events of May – June 1559.

Opinion as to the extent to which John Knox was responsible for the attacks on the religious institutions, monasteries etc varies considerably. Some would have us believe that he was the ring leader at the head of the mob physically participating in the rabbling ; others that he sought to restrain the mobs. What is clearer is that he was not averse to the demonstrations, and the removal of idolatrous images was requisite  according to Scripture; but he wanted to save the buildings for use as churches. This is borne out by his succession of fiery sermons in May and June 1559 that repeated the theme of `cleaning the Temple` – which the people did literally and enthusiastically. 

The arrogance and excesses of the Church of Rome had worked against its standing with the people  and persecution for conscience`s sake was unacceptable. Fresh in their mind was the heartless burning of the aged Walter Mill for alleged heresy just over a year previous and there was already a movement to remove the friars from the kingdom ( the Beggars Warning). There is also some evidence that the mob from Dundee took advantage of the situation to settle jealousies between them and the people of Perth. More so, was the hard fact that the people generally were desperately poor and starving; these were the hard core of the mobs, and unquestionably took the opportunity to `enrich` themselves.

As a cold blooded tactic, the incitement of the people was a vital ingredient to the cause. It was not enough for the relatively few `Lords of the Congregation`  to oppose the Queen Regent in Council  and to make representations to her and Parliament. There had to be a clear and irrefutable statement by the people of their desire for change. Moreover, it was necessary to demonstrate this to the rest of the country to turn it into a united national movement, hence the tactic of repeating the theme in sermons both in the big cities and in the country at Crail and Anstruther. Because of their prominence in the eyes of the common people, the monasteries, friaries, convents, priories and the like were a particular objective for rabbling and closure. As a tactician and the catalyst for change Knox was masterly in the management of affairs  that resulted in the Acts of July abolishing the authority of the Pope and the Mass, ratified on 24 August 1560, and the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland.

What is sometimes overlooked, is the role of Mary of Guise , the Queen Regent, who was the prime author of her own downfall, the downfall of French influence in Scotland, and eventually of the Catholic Church there. She was very much influenced by her family, who were leaders of the French Catholics, and her brother a Cardinal. Backed by French soldiers, her great arrogance, lies, intransigence, malice, spite, spleen and double dealing served to fuel the flames of reform. It was pure malice that drove her to make a revenge attack on St Johstone (Perth), which she vowed:

utterlie to destroy Sanct Johnstoun, man, woman and child, and consume the same by fyre, and thair after to salt it, in signe of a perpetuall desolatioun.!

Moreover, she was clearly warned by a letter of 22 May 1559, that the gathering was not of rebellion but solely about freedom of conscience and choice of religion. She was left in no doubt that attacks on them would result in resistance, and that the matter would be referred to the King of France and their Queen (Mary). The Congregation also warned that they would tell the crowned heads of Europe what was going on. It was a rash and tactical error on the Regent`s part to use French troops against the people when she already had considerable support from the Catholic nobles. Had she been less extreme, it is conceivable that the state of affairs would not have reached the point where the Lords of the Congregation asked for English assistance against the French troops – the true turning point for the Reformation.

Time table of the rabbling.

2 May 1559 Knox arrived at Leith from France.

3 May Knox wrote to Mrs Anne Locke  wherein he says he is uncertain of events but sees  “the battle shall be great” and intends to go to Stirling. Ministers in Edinburgh hear Knox has returned. A panic message was sent to Queen Regent.  Knox was declared an outlaw within days. 

4 May. Knox goes to Dundee and joins the Protestants of Angus and Mearns intending to support the four ministers at their appearance in court – Paul Methven, John Christison, William Harlaw, and John Willock at Stirling.

5-6 May Erskine of Dun sent ahead to Stirling; the throng with Knox stops at Perth. Queen Regent convinced Erskine to write to colleagues indicating her promise to halt the trial. They were lied to, but trusting in her word the throng returns home.

10 May. Date for the 4 ministers to compear at Stirling for trial before the Justiciary Court. Queen Regent has the summons read in their absence;  declares them outlaws ; put to the horn; and prohibits any person  from harbouring or assisting them. The cautioners for the ministers are also fined for the default.

11 May. Knox preached a fiery sermon about `cleansing the Temple` in St Johns Church, Perth. The rabbling of the priests, churches, monasteries etc began following the incident with a boy [young man] who had remonstrated against the idolatrous images and the saying of the Mass which followed immediately after Knox`s oration.

The Dominican Convent, Nunnery and Chapel at Cupar, Fife,  are ransacked.

22 May The Congregation wrote to Mary of Guise  warning that if she attacked St Johnstoun (Perth) they will have to “take [up] the sword of just defense.” Of the same date they wrote also to the Captains of the opposing army and Msr D`Oysell, the  Lieutenant for the French King, seeking his intervention. A third letter was sent to all the nobility of Scotland, including the Catholic supporters of the Regent.

27 May. Lyon Herald sent to Perth  with letters to charge every man, under pain of treason, to avoid the town. A further declaration in Glasgow is cold shouldered; the Protestants in the West gather to join their brethren in Perth.

28 May. Negotiations between the Congregation and the Queen Regent`s representatives – the Earl of Argyll and Lord James, concluded, despite strong suspicions that the Regent had other intentions.

29 May. The Queen Regent and her forces entered Perth. A ten year old child was shot by the French; his death is mocked by the Regent who comments that it was a pity it was`nt the child`s father ( Patrick Murray, a zealous protestant ).

31 May. Band of mutual assistance signed in Perth by the congregations of the West Country, Fife, Perth, Dundee, Angus, Mearns, and Montrose.

1 June: The Earl of Argyll, Lord James, the  Earl of Menteith and Laird of Tullibardin, leave the Queen Regent and join the Congregation.

4 June. The Earl of Argyll , Lord James and their supporters called for the Laird of Dun, the Laird of Pittarrow, the Provost of Dundee and supporters in Angus to join them in St Andrews. The Congregation  concurred and brought with them John Knox.

9 June. Knox and the Congregation go to Crail, Fife. Knox preached his  “anti-idolatrie sermon”. The Collegiate Church was ransacked, altars, images and Holy relics smashed and property demolished.

10 June. Knox preached his sermon again at Anstruther where a fine church was ransacked. The people dealt similarly with the Priory at Pittenweem, a mile away.

11 June. Despite threats on his life, Knox preached  in the Cathedral of St Andrews.

12-14 June Knox preached a succession of inflammatory sermons. St Andrews Cathedral gutted and reduced to a ruin, as were  all churches in the city, and the monasteries of the Black and Grey Friars.

Queen Regent at Falkland orders French troops to march on St Andrews. She further orders fencible men to assemble at Cupar Moor on 20 June.

20 June The Lords of the Congregation with about 3000 supporters assembled at Cupar. A truce is called and French forces are removed.

The Lords hear of the Queen Regents design to fortify Stirling and cut them off from the Lowlands. In a series of forced marches the Lords expelled the garrison at Perth; and Argyll and Lord James seized Stirling. The Queen Regent and her forces retire to Dunbar.

23-25 June. The Congregation opened fire on the French remaining in Scone at about 10 pm Saturday 24 June, Sunday 25 June, Scone relieved but four zealots sought to take action against the Bishop of Moray (Patrick Hepburn) who inter alia had been a principal in the execution of Walter Mill. Knox, Argyll and Lord James managed to restrain the mob from destroying the Palace and Kirk. But the following morning the Abbey was ransacked and razed to the ground by a mob from Dundee and Perth enraged by the stabbing of one of their number by one of the bishop`s sons.

26-28 June. Stirling churches and the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries ransacked, altars and aisles broken up. Cambuskenneth Abbey destroyed. In Edinburgh the mob vented its spleen on the two friaries of the Black and Grey Friars, but not the churches of St Giles, Holyrood Abbey, Trinity College Church, and St Mary Magdalen.

29 June. Knox and the Lords of the Congregation stopped in Linlithgow to purify and cleanse the churches there. Arrived in Edinburgh where the people had already ransacked  the monasteries. The Chapel Royal at Holyrood was ransacked, the altar vessels confiscated, paintings and ornaments destroyed; and the other churches similarly `purified`.

The coining irons (dies and plates) in the Mint were seized to prevent their diversion to the Queen Regent`s further use. There had already been over-production of `Hardheids` – a coin valued at three halfpence (1.1/2 pence), devalued in 1574 to one penny (Scots). Other coins, the plack (2 pence) had been debased, This was to pay the French soldiers, but it was very inflationary and the price of food was escalating rapidly.

Events according to The Scotichronicon.