The Scottish Reformation
– An Overview.
The tragedy of Flodden Field on September 9
,1513 not only destroyed James IV and his entourage but it had a
disastrous effect on the growing economy. James V came to the throne a
child of two years. The country was exposed to the
selfish and cruel ambitions of the Hamiltons and the Douglasses who
were at the heart of the “Cleanse the Causeway” – bloody street fighting
in Edinburgh in 1520. In this the Hamiltons were beaten and their leader
James Beaton Archbishop of St Andrews, fled to the sanctuary of the Black
Friars. Decadence ran through both morals and religion, which clergy
holding benefices seldom worked among their flock, or preached. Their
absence was soon willingly filled by both the Black and Grey Friars who
were to be seen everywhere, cathedral and church, administering the
services of the church. It was now that the strains of Lutheranism
began to be heard and led to the persecution and martyrdom of Patrick
Hamilton. at the stake in 1527. He was followed by David Straton and
Norman Gourlay in 1534, and five others in 1550.The Scottish `pot was
thus bubbling away with virtual civil war, lack of central
leadership , economic failure, and poor harvests. With religioun
served by the Friars, the scene was set for a groundswell of change.
perhaps offering a hostage to fortune to allege that the man in the street
probably knows little of Presbyterianism or the Scottish Reformation.
Unless a member of the Scottish church or kirk,
might mention John Knox and
John Calvin; perhaps he has heard of
Martin Luther and his Theses. Beyond that I venture that
there is nowadays slight knowledge, and even less understanding, of the turbulent years from ca. 1525 to 1690 in which the
Reformation came to fruition.
The Scottish Reformation
and the eventual ascendancy of Presbyterianism is sometimes
portrayed very simplistically as arising from the teachings of John
Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian residing in Geneva, and
the Scot John Knox (1514-1572) who was adherent of Calvin`s principles.
The emergence of evangelism and a Protestant creed in Scotland was not
an overnight event, however; nor did it originate solely with the
fervour of John Knox fresh from Geneva. It was an evolutionary process
that had begun centuries before, probably with
St Ninian in the fifth century,
St Columba in the sixth century and the Culdees who survived until the
thirteenth century before they were oppressed by Catholic rulers. The
Roman form of Christianity was spread throughout the land by Augustine.
In the fifteenth century small core groups such as the followers of John
Wyckcliffe, the Lollards ,were making contact with one
another, while in Scotland there was cross-border contact with English
Protestants. Into this nascent Protestant church came John Knox who
brought form and direction to the Scots’ evangelism. He was the catalyst
that brought about action to establish a Protestant church in Scotland
and therein Presbytery.
The reformation of religion was spurred on by
the likes of John Craig, the Dominican monk, who found the ways of
Rome unsavoury when he made a journey to Rome and was converted. At much
the same time the Scottish poet, Sir David Lindsay was exercising great
influence with his very popular poetry, including his presentation of
“Pleasant Satire of the Three Estates, in commendation of Virtue
and vituperation of Vice”. Row, in his History of the Kirk of
Scotland, comments on the influence this work had on
the popular mind :
For the more particular means
whereby many in Scotland got some knowledge of God`s truth in the time of
darkness, there were some books set out, such as Sir David Lindsay`s
poesie upon the Four Monarchies, wherein other treatises are
contained , opening up the abuses among the clergy at that time.”
In 1553 the satire was acted out in the
ampitheatre of Perth, before King James V and his court.
“which made the people sensible of
the darkness wherein they lay, of the wickedness of the churchmen , and
did let them see how God`s church should have been otherways guided than
it was; all which did much good for that time.”
having been set, the Reformation of religion in Scotland began with three almost contemporaneous events.
Firstly, it replaced the
Church of Rome (Roman Catholic Church) by Protestantism.
Secondly, the people chose
Presbyterianism as their faith long before it and the official
Church of Scotland was by law established.
Thirdly, the French influence in the affairs of Scotland was broken.
In a very narrow sense the Reformation of religion in Scotland was all
over by the autumn of 1560.
But there were other changes which bore an equally important part in the Reformation. These were the social and economic changes that had gathered pace through the latter part of the sixteenth century (earlier in Europe). The medieval Church was no longer the power behind the economy as its lands and income were escheated to the Crown. The other great force, the nobility, were becoming more servile to the Crown as they found they could no longer subsist on their estates. Across the land as a whole the need for cash – money was becoming a reality. The changing structures of business, organisation and improvements in methods, on the other hand saw the economy expanding, along with peoples expectations, and a new social order had emerged in which the artisans and merchants controlled the Town Councils. Moreover, the people were ready to throw off the shackles of Medieval Scotland and the `Nanny State` that had determined what work should be done, by whom, who could make what and the price it could be sold for, when to go to bed, what to eat and wear. etc. The support of the townspeople was critical to the reform of religion, and decisive to its immediate implementation.
Following the establishment of the Presbyterian faith as
the choice of the people, there was a period, from 1560 to 1596, of
relative tranquillity as the new Kirk bedded itself down and formulated
its administration. Nothing is
simple, however, for the Reformation was complicated by the politics of
the day; particularly the ‘Divine Right’ policies of the Stuart Kings who
wanted their choice of religion
(Episcopacy) and themselves as the Supreme head of the Church. There was stubborn
dissension on grounds of conscience by some of the congregation; which was
followed by the bloody sufferings of the strict Presbyterians known as the
Covenanters. It was a further one hundred and thirty years after the
initial change (1560) before the
established by law.
By the dawn of the seventeenth century there was an enormous rent in the
Christian church that left a sensitive political balance between
Protestant and Catholic states. The Protestant countries were Denmark,
Norway, Sweden, Brandenburg, Prussia, England, Scotland, Ireland (even though the populace was essentially Catholic), and
Holland. The Church of Rome held sway in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the
Spanish possessions in Belgium. Germany was divided both in regions and
their sentiments; Switzerland was mainly Protestant and France, with a
large Protestant population, turned its face to Rome. The three
creeds were essentially that of Rome; Luther and Melanchton with the
Augsburg Confession; and Calvin. The Protestants were also quite well
balanced with Lutheranism in the north – Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the
greater part of the German states; and Calvinistic in Britain, Holland,
Switzerland and France.
The Reformation therefore spans the very busy
and despotic reigns of Mary Queen of Scots; James VI/I who succeeded to the English throne in 1603 and became James I of England. He was the first king of Great Britain although political unity with Scotland did not finally happen until 1707. Thus he and his successors were
rulers of three separate kingdoms
each with their own laws and Parliaments.
successors of James VI were
Charles I, Oliver Cromwell,
Charles II, James VII/II, and ends with the `Glorious Revolution`
and the accession of William and Mary. Add to this pot the rule by
Regents during the minority of the sovereign; the Catholic Counter
Reformation and fear of wars with France, Spain, and Holland; the
Plantation of Ulster and later rebellion in Ireland; the civil wars of the
three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland; Oliver Cromwell’s campaigns in
all three kingdoms; the Restoration and revenge of Charles II; the
Catholic resurgence under James II; and continued persecution of the
Presbyterians and other `dissenters` in Scotland and Ulster, and you have a very complicated
Plantation of Ulster (1610-1630) is an integral part of the story of
Presbyterianism as are also the later migrations of the Ulster Scots to
the Colonies in America.
Oppressed and persecuted Scots migrated to Ulster in their
thousands during and after the Ulster Plantation, and many were killed in
the Rebellion of 1641. The Plantation was prompted by the flight of the
Irish Earls in 1607 which created an opportunity for settlement of a
Protestant community on the escheated lands. Land with affordable rents,
and the bonus of some religious freedom, were very attractive to thousands
of Scots. But by the early 1630s there was a parallel struggle for the
in Ireland and a resurgence of episcopacy. This was made worse
by the hopes and aspirations of the indigenous Catholic population and
resulted in the 1641 Rebellion. One view of that rebellion is that the Irish saw the Scots
gaining some religious freedom through armed resistance (the Bishops Wars of 1639-40) and they, too, sought freedom by force, as well as
wanting the return of
the lands seized in 1607.
Ulster, tens of thousands of Ulster Scots, mainly Presbyterians, migrated
to the American colonies from the late seventeenth and through the
eighteenth century. These migrants featured prominently in the development
of the new lands and the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in the
United States of American. Through their experience they contributed
directly to the Covenant we know as The Declaration of Independence.
President Teddy Roosevelt, was a great-great-great-grandson on his
mother’s side of the Rev. Alexander Stobo, a member of the ill-fated
Darien Scheme This was an attempt at building a colony on the
Isthmus of Panama 1698-1700. The hope was to access trade in the West
Indies and to transport goods from the Pacific overland to the Atlantic
seaboard to European markets. It was a disaster and very nearly bankrupted
Roosevelt wrote in his book Episodes from the Winning of the West,
that the Ulster Scots were
kernel of the distinctively and intensely American stock who were the
pioneers of our people in their march westward. The vanguard of the army
of fighting settlers who with axe and rifle won this way from the
Alleghanies to the Rio Grande and the Pacific.
three hundred years later there is once again a Scottish Parliament with
devolution of many powers to it from Westminster. With this devolution
there is scope for Scottish aspirations and a sense of identity to grow.
It would be appropriate if the strong traditions of a good education once
more included in its syllabus an awareness of the suffering and sacrifices
of the Scottish Reformation and its contribution to democracy. Above all
there is the earnest hope that the political partisans, the ecclesiastical
schemers and the babblers of political correctness will let the Church
alone; and that any attempt to interfere is defended by the people, to
whom their Church belongs.
How familiar are the issues
of the fifteenth and sixteenth century as the modern day State seeks to
micro manage the affairs of the citizen, often through unelected bodies,
determining what ought or ought not be eaten, or seen in advertisements,
and the choice whether a person might smoke (although cynically too glad
of the revenue from tobacco to declare it a prohibited substance). To this
they add the political correctness of a grotesque minority who declare
what nationality we should be (one can not be of English birth in a Census) and what people may think and say in their perception of
society. Deja vu no less – History warns us against the
erosion of freedom, and modern satirist/writers such as George Orwell, warn
of the world of the Big Brother State. The seeds of Revolution are again