The Perth
Martyrs 1543/4.

By 1544 the
availability of Tynedale`s New Testament  (first
printed in 1525), was becoming quite widespread and the
Governor or Regent, the Earl of Arran, had approved an act
which allowed the people to read the Scriptures in their
mother tongue, but in private. Public reading to an
audience, debate, and public discussion was still not
allowed. Despite the constraints it nevertheless bore
fruit, and more and more of the populace became
knowledgeable about the Word of God. This brought
considerable danger if people met together, even
privately, and religion was a topic of conversation,
because it was so very easy to tar all with the same
brush. This happened with the Perth Martyrs who jointly
were charged with `assemblie and convention` (a prayer
meeting)  in St Anne`s Chapel, in the Spey-yards on
St Andrews Day (30 November).

Cardinal David Beaton  visited Perth (sometimes
called St Johnston) on 25 January 1544 where the friars
presented him with a list of five people accused of
heresy. Ominously, in January 1543/4, prior to their trial
there was a move to depose the Provost of Perth, John
Chartuous, a known Protestant supporter,  who was
replaced by a Papist, Alexander Marbecke. This clearly
aided any actions against heretics as it meant that there
was a sympathetic secular authority – which was needed to
authorise the death penalty.

The victims
and their `errors`:

Lambe a merchant and burgess of the city, who was present
at a sermon by Friar Spence where the theme was 
prayer is necessary to the Saints and without it there was
no hope of salvation for man. Lambe could not allow this
to pass without comment and loudly denounced the doctrine.
A considerable hub bub then took place and Lambe was
threatened by a crowd of women but managed to escaped . He
was subsequently arrested and charged with interrupting
the friar in the pulpit, which he admitted and defended
strenuously. He was also charged , along with William
Anderson (a maltman)  and James Rauelson ( or
Ronaldson, a skinner by trade)  of hanging up an
image of St Francis and nailing some rams horns ( Wylie`s
Scots Worthies says stags horns)  to his head
, and `a cowes rump to his taile`. They were also charged
with having eaten a goose on All Hallow`s Eve. 
Rauleson was also charged that in his house he had set up
on the stairs a carving of the three crowned diadem of St
Peter, This was seen to be mocking the Cardinal`s hat.

Hunter, an uneducated man and a Fletcher (arrow maker) by
trade was charged along with them seemingly because he
usually associated with them. The charge against James
Founleson (or Finlayson) was for association and
discussion of the scriptures prohibited by law.

Stirke (or Stark) was the wife of Jamess Ronaldson
(Raueleson)  Her great sin was to refuse to call upon
the Virgin Mary during the pains of childbirth. Ignoring
the pleas of neighbours she had called upon God and Jesus
Christ to help her and denied the Virgin.

With an
inevitability all its own, the five were found guilty as

…were condemned and judged to death , and that by an
assize , for violatyng ( as was alleged)  the act of
parlament, in reasoning and conferriong on scriptures, for
eatyng flesh  upon dayes forbidden, for interruptyng 
the holy fryer in the pulpit , for dishonouring images,
and blasphemyng of the Virgin Mary.”

by a heavily armed guard, the party roped and tied and
taken to the gallows for execution amid the clamour of the
townspeople for mercy. The Regent, the Earl of Arran, was
seemingly minded to grant mercy but would have had to
overrule the the Cardinal and bishops in attendance as
well as the Provost. Even priests who had been guests in
the prisoners` homes, having wined and dined with them,
refused to seek clemency of the Cardinal, fearing for
their own lives. Robert Lambe exhorted the people to fear
God and prophesied the ruin of the Cardinal to come.
Sympathising among themselves the prisoners assured one
another they would dine together  in the kingdom of
Heaven that night.

Stirke pleaded to die with her husband but she was not
granted her wish. She accompanied the men to the scaffold
and was able to comfort her husband along the way, before
she watched him hang. Her parting words were :

” be
glad, husband; we have lived together many joyful days,
and this day  on which we must die we ought to esteem
the most joyful of all, because now we shall have joy
forever. Therefore I will nopt bid you goodnight, for in a
little while we shall meet in the kingdom of heaven.”

She was then taken away to be executed; she was thrust
into a sack which was tied at the neck and thrown into a
deep pool to drown. She left the child sucking at her
breast to a nurse and her other children to the charity of
neighbours. [ In  the Works of John Knox 
there are references which imply Helen Stirke was the wife
of Robert Lambe, and a footnote that the Records of the
Justice Court
says she was the wife of James
Ronaldson. Suffice it therefore that she was the wife of
one of the men executed !]. The deed was done on St Pauls
Day, 25 January 1543 (4).