Presbytery of Paisley and the pursuit of papists.

At the turn
of the sixteenth century the concerns for the `trew
religioun` and the fear of a return to Catholicism or
papacy were very much in the mind of the relatively new
Presbyterian Church. Thus Paisley Presbytery was not alone
in being charged with the responsibility of ensuring
compliance, including attendance at church and the taking
of the Communion, and the rooting out of Papacy and Romish

The matters
that came before the Court were many, including suspicion
of Popery. They included absence from Church and Communion
which was taken as prima facie evidence of Popery; and
`adherence` which was actually about husbands and wives
living apart who were summoned and admonished by the
Presbytery and usually directed to live together. Other
offences included adultery and fornication; banning or
swearing; keeping superstitious holidays (such as Yule);
and keeping or attending dancing greens. The latter were
open spaces where people would gather, often on the
Sabbath afternoon, to join in dancing to the tunes of a
piper.  In pre Reformation days these gatherings were
often in the churchyard itself and old habits died hard
much to the consternation of the Kirk Sessions.

The process
of bringing about compliance was almost as wearing on the
Kirk as it was on the sinner. To begin with the sinner was
summoned by the minister of the parish in which he or she
lived to appear before the Court. If they did not appear
they were summoned from the pulpit of the parish
church on three occasions. If they still declined
attendance they were admonished on three occasions.
If this did not work, they were then prayed for
for the first, second and third time. If this did not work
steps were taken to excommunicate them, to which the
General Assembly might add banishment to the punishment.
Apart from strict impartiality the Court had one other
feature – it never let go until the issue was brought to
resolution. Thus a sinner might leave the district but
should they return, even years later, the charge would be
taken up against them once more.

Countess of Glencairn with the second Marquess of Hamilton
and James, seventh Earl of Glencairn were pursued for
allegedly hearing a private mass. The men it seems duly
submitted to the Presbytery, but the Countess, Margaret,
the second daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Glenurchy,
was of Popish tendencies.  Ministers were despatched
to counsel her and to make her attend the parish church
each Sunday. But she was `found contumax` (stubborn
refusal) and summoned before the Court. When she did not
compear the matter was referred to the Synod who met on 11
April 1603. They sent Mr Patrick Hamilton and George
Maxwell to see the Countess and also the two priests who
had held the mass. Neither party complied with the Synod.
In March 1604 the matter was referred to the Synod
Assembly to proceed with summons. What happened then is
unknown but the Countess of Glencairn died in 1610,
apparently unrelenting in her adherence to her
chosen faith.

Presbytery was no respecter of age either. In the case of
the Dowager Lady Duchal they pursued her for many years
before she finally conformed for one year. She then
reverted to her previous behaviour and did not attend her
parish church upon which the Court resumed its process.
Again there was a break in the pursuit of the old lady and
it seems that about ninety years of age she probably
eluded her spiritual tormentors by dying.

Some of the
Maxwell family were prominent Papists and several members
of the family were pursued. Margaret Cunningham, widow of
George Maxwell of Newark was twice summoned before the
Presbytery for absence from Communion.  David and
John Maxwell, brothers of Sir Patrick Maxwell of Newark
were excommunicated for their Papacy and not relieved of
the sentence for some time. Other prominent persons to
have their names handed in by parish ministers included
Gabriel Cunningham of Carncurran, Robert Algeo ( a burgess
in Paisley) of Greenock; William Wallace Laird of
Johnston; and Margaret Houston, Lady Auchinames.

The matter
of the Countess of Abercorn is well documented. A stubborn
lady no doubt, she would not bend to the Presbytery`s
will. Already under process by the Assembly in Glasgow she
refused to allow a relative, the Principal of the
University of Edinburgh, Robert Boyd of Trochrigg to take
up residence in the manse in Paisley. His temporary home
was subsequently entered in his absence, his books thrown
down and the door locked. Later the baillies were unable
to unlock the door which mechanism had been jammed with
stones. As he was leaving the `women of the town` 
shouted and cajoled him and threw stones and dirt. In the
face of this (organised) opposition Boyd left town and
went to Glasgow. For this the Countess and her son, the
Master of Paisley, were summoned before the Bishop and
reproved but Boyd declined to return to Paisley.

continued, however against the Dowager Duchess for
nonconformity and despite an intervention by the
Archbishop, she was eventually excommunicated  on 20
January 1628. She sought refuge in Edinburgh but was
seized and thrown into the Tolbooth where she lingered in
poor health through the winter of 1628-9. Representations
were made to the King who was reluctant to intervene with
the Church , and, after further containment in the
Cannongate Jail and Dunvartie House, she was allowed 
to return to Paisley in March 1631 to conduct some urgent
business. Released on bail of five thousand merks, she
never returned to Edinburgh but died shortly after
reaching home.

But even
the Dowager`s poor health (and later death) did not halt
the Presbytery from pursuing her son and some of the
families servants. The Earl however, left the country by
April 1628 taking with him Robert Pendreiche and Francis
Leslie who were due to be excommunicated along with a
servant of the Dowager Duchess, Isobel Mowatt.  When
the Earl returned both he and his wife were proceeded
against once more. After much haranguing, giving of
assurances and breaking of promises, the Earl was
excommunicated in 1649 and banished by the General
Assembly. Following this the Earl sold his estates to the
Earl of Angus and went abroad to seek peace and quiet (and
his religious freedom).

The extreme
case was probably that of Margaret Hamilton. Her sister
Bessie was very bold and defied the Presbytery from the
outset and was soon excommunicated. But her sister was of
a gentler kind, and not in good health. Despite many
protests and visits by ministers and Commissioners from
the Presbytery, she long delayed her submission.
Eventually the Presbytery were satisfied with her
compliance but they desired one further thing – her
physical presence and public submission in the Kirk of
Paisley.  Her condition was such that she could not
travel over the bumpy paths that passed for a roadway and
she was literally carried in her bed the four miles to the
Kirk. Here she was exposed to the public gaze and the
formalities concluded. This was done in the cause of
fanaticism surely, and could hardly have been for the
glory of God.

Andro Knox – the Papist catcher