Scotland And The Scottish Reformers Under The Regency Of The Queen-dowager

It was in the year 1517, that Luther first stated his objections to the

validity of the indulgences granted so liberally by Pope Leo X. From this

year, those who love to trace causes to their origin, date the epoch of

the Reformation. It was not, however, till a considerably later period,

that the new doctrines took any deep root in Scotland. In 1552, the Duke

of Chatelherault, wearied with the fatigues of Government, and provoked

the opposition he was continually meeting with, resigned the regency in

favour of the Queen-mother. Mary of Guise, by a visit she had shortly

before paid to the French Court, had paved the way for this accession of

power. Her brothers, the Duke of Guise and Cardinal of Lorraine, were far

from being satisfied with the state of parties in Scotland. Chatelherault,

they knew to be of a weak and fluctuating disposition; and it seemed to

them necessary, both for the preservation of the ancient religion, and to

secure the allegiance of the country to their niece, the young Queen, that

a stronger hand, guided by a sounder head, should hold the reigns of the

State. Upon their sister's fidelity they knew they could depend; and it

was principally through the influence of French gold and French intrigue,

that she was placed in the regency.

The inhabitants of Scotland were at this time divided into two great

classes,--those who were still staunch to the Church of Rome, and those

who were determined on effecting a reformation. At the head of the former

was John Hamilton, Archbishop of St Andrews, who, upon the murder of

Cardinal Beaton, had obtained that appointment through the Duke of

Chatelherault, whose natural brother he was. He was greatly the Duke's

superior in courage and sagacity, and was deeply imbued with the

prelatical spirit of ambition then so prevalent. The resignation of the

regency provoked him exceedingly, the more especially as Mary, to

strengthen her own authority, found it necessary at first to treat the

Reformers mildly. He was consoled, however, by the death of Edward VI. in

1553, and the accession of the young King's eldest sister Mary to the

English throne,--as bigoted and determined a Catholic as ever lived.

The man who had placed himself at the head of the Reformers, and who,

although young, had already given Hamilton and his party good cause to

tremble at his increasing authority, was James Stuart, the eldest of

Mary's three illegitimate brothers,--and one who occupies a most important

station in the history of his country. His father made him, when only

seven years old, Prior or Commendator of St Andrews, an office which

entitled him, though a layman, to the full income arising from that rich

benefice. It was soon discovered, however, that he had views far beyond so

comparatively humble a rank. Even when a boy, it was his ambition to

collect around him associates who were devoted to his service and desires.

He went over with Mary to France in 1548, but remained there only a very

short time; and, at the age of twenty-one, he was already looked up to by

the Scottish Reformers as their chief. His knowledge was extensive, and

considerably in advance of the times in which he lived. His personal

bravery was undoubted, and his skill in arms so great, that few of his

military enterprises were unsuccessful. His passions, if they were strong,

seem also to have been deep, and entirely under his own command. Whatever

may be thought of the secret motives which actuated him, he was seldom

betrayed into any symptoms of apparent violence. He thus contrived to hold

a steady course, amidst all the turbulence and convulsions of the age in

which he lived; whilst the external decorum and propriety of his manners,

so different from the ill-concealed dissoluteness of many of his

cotemporaries, endeared him the more to the stern followers of Luther. It

is curious to observe the very opposite views which different historians

have taken of his character, more especially when they come to speak of

him as the Earl of Murray and the Regent of Scotland. It would be improper

and unnecessary to anticipate these discussions at present, since it is

hoped the reader will be able to form his own estimate upon this subject,

from the facts he will find recorded in these Memoirs.

It must be evident, that with two such men, each at the head of his own

party, the country was not likely to continue long in a state of

quietness. The Queen Regent soon found it necessary, at the instigation of

the French Court, to associate herself with the Archbishop of St

Andrews,--in opposition to which coalition, a bond was drawn up in 1557,

by some of the principal Reformers, in which they announced their

resolution to form an independent congregation of their own, and to

separate themselves entirely from the "congregation of Satan, with all the

superstitious abomination and idolatry thereof." Articles, or Heads of a

Reformation, were soon afterwards published, in which it was principally

insisted, that on Sunday and other festival days, the Common-Prayer should

be read openly in the parish churches, along with the lessons of the Old

and New Testaments; and that preaching and interpretation of the

Scriptures in private houses should be allowed.

In the following year, one of the first outrages which the Reformers

committed in Scotland, took place in Edinburgh. On occasion of the annual

procession through the city, in honour of the tutelar Saint--St Giles, the

image of that illustrious personage, which ought to have been carried by

some of the priests, was amissing,--the godly having, beforehand,

according to John Knox, first drowned the idol in the North Loch, and then

burned it. It was therefore necessary to borrow a smaller saint from the

Gray-Friars, in order that this "great solemnity and manifest abomination"

might proceed. Upon the day appointed, priests, friars, canons, and

"rotten Papists," assembled, with tabors, trumpets, banners, and bagpipes.

At this sight, the hearts of the brethren were wondrously inflamed; and

they resolved, that this second dragon should suffer the fate of the

first. They broke in upon the procession; and though the Catholics made

some slight resistance at first, they were soon obliged to surrender the

image into the hands of the Philistines, who, taking it by the heels, and

knocking, or, as the reformed historian says, dadding its head upon the

pavement, soon reduced it to fragments, only regretting, that "the young

St Giles" had not been so difficult to kill as his father. The priests,

alarmed for their personal safety, sought shelter as quickly as possible,

and gave Knox an opportunity of indulging in some of that austere mirth

which is peculiarly remarkable, because so foreign to his general style.

"Then might have been seen," says he, "so sudden a fray as seldom has been

seen among that sort of men within this realm; for down goes the cross,

off go the surplices, round caps, and cornets with the crowns. The

Gray-Friars gaped, the Black-Friars blew, and the priests panted and fled,

and happy was he that first got the house; for such a sudden fray came

never among the generation of Antichrist within this realm before." The

magistrates had some difficulty in prevailing upon the mob to disperse,

after they had kept possession of the streets for several hours; and the

rioters escaped without punishment; for "the brethren assembled themselves

in such sort in companies, singing psalms, and praising God, that the

proudest of the enemies were astounded."

The Commissioners who, about this time, were sent into France, and the

motives of their embassy, will be spoken of afterwards. But the remarkable

circumstance, that four of them died when about to return home,--one at

Paris, and three at Dieppe,--had a considerable influence in exciting the

populace to still greater hatred against the French party,--it being

commonly suspected that they had come by their death unfairly. The

Congregation now rose in their demands; and among other things, insisted

that "the wicked and scandalous lives" of churchmen should be reformed,

according to the rules contained in the New Testament, the writings of the

ancient fathers, and the laws of Justinian the Emperor. For a while, the

Queen Regent temporized; but finding it impossible to preserve the favour

of both parties, she yielded at length to the solicitations of the

Archbishop of St Andrews, and determined to resist the Reformers

vigorously. In 1559, she summoned all the ministers of the Congregation,

to appear before her at Stirling. This citation was complied with, but not

exactly in the manner that the Queen wished; for the ministers came not as

culprits, but as men proud of their principles, and accompanied by a vast

multitude of those who were of the same mode of thinking. The Queen, who

was at Stirling, did not venture to proceed to Perth; and the request she

made, that the numbers there assembled should depart, leaving their

ministers to be examined by the Government, having been refused, she

proceeded to the harsh and decisive measure of declaring them all rebels.

The consternation which this direct announcement of hostilities

occasioned among them, was still at its height, when the great champion of

the Scottish Reformation, John Knox, arrived at Perth. This celebrated

divine had already suffered much for "the good cause;" and though his zeal

and devotion to it were well known, it was not till latterly that he had

entertained much hope of its final triumph in his native country. He had

spent the greater part of his life in imprisonment or exile; he had

undergone many privations, and submitted to many trials. But these were

the daily food of the Reformers; and, whilst they only served to

strengthen them in the obduracy of their belief, they had the additional

effect of infusing a morose acerbity into dispositions not naturally of

the softest kind. Knox had returned only a few days before from Geneva,

where he had been solacing his solitude by writing and publishing that

celebrated work, which he was pleased to entitle, "The first blast of the

trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women." This treatise, directed

principally against Mary of England, not forgetting Mary Queen of Scots

and her mother of Guise, rather overshot its own purpose, by bringing the

Reformer into disrepute with Elizabeth, who came to the crown soon after

its appearance. To pacify that Queen, for it appears even Knox could

temporize occasionally, he gave up his original intention of blowing his

trumpet thrice, and his first blast was his last.

The day after the ministers and their friends, had been declared rebels,

Knox delivered at Perth what Keith terms "that thundering Sermon against

Idolatry." The tumult which ensued at the conclusion of this discourse,

has been attributed by some historians to accident; but Keith's suspicion,

that Knox had a direct intention to excite it, seems well founded, when we

consider the ferment in which the minds of his audience were at the time,

and the peculiar style in which he addressed them. Buchanan is of the same

opinion, though he would naturally have leant to the other conclusion. He

says that Knox, "in that ticklish posture of affairs, made such a pathetic

sermon to the multitude who were gathered together, that he set their

minds, which were already fired, all in a flame." If, in addition to this,

the usual manner of Knox's eloquence be considered, it will hardly be

questioned but that the outrage of that day was of his doing. His

vehemence in the pulpit was at all times tremendous; indeed, in so far as

the effect he produced upon his hearers was concerned, he seems to have

trusted almost as much to the display of his physical as of his mental

energies. Many years after the period now alluded to, when he was in his

old age, and very weak, Melville tells us, that he saw him every Sunday go

slowly and feebly, with fur about his neck, a staff in his hand, and a

servant supporting him, from his own house, to the parish church in St

Andrews. There, after being lifted into the pulpit, his limbs for some

time were so feeble, that they could hardly support him; but ere he had

done with his sermon, he became so active and vigorous, that he was like

"to ding the pulpit in blads, and flie out of it." What he must have

been, therefore, in his best days, may be more easily imagined than


On the present occasion, after Knox had preached, and some of the

congregation had retired, it appears that some "godly men" remained in the

church. A priest had the imprudence to venture in among them, and to

commence saying mass. A young man called out that such idolatry was

intolerable, upon which it is said that the priest struck him. The young

man retorted, by throwing a stone, which injured one of the pictures. The

affair soon became general. The enraged people fell upon the altars and

images, and in a short time nothing was left undemolished but the bare

walls of the church. The Reformers throughout the city, hearing of these

proceedings, speedily collected, and attacking the monasteries of the Gray

and Black Friars, along with the costly edifice of the Carthusian Monks,

left not a vestige of what they considered idolatrous and profane worship

in any of them. The example thus set at Perth was speedily followed almost

everywhere throughout the country.

These outrages greatly incensed the Queen Regent, and were looked upon

with horror by the Catholics in general. To this day, the loss of many a

fine building, through the zeal of the early Reformers, is a common

subject of regret and complaint. It is to be remembered, however, that no

revolution can be effected without paying a price for it. If the

Reformation was a benefit, how could the Catholic superstition be more

successfully attacked, than by knocking down those gorgeous temples, which

were of themselves sufficient to render invincible the pride and

inveterate bigotry of its votaries? The saying of John Knox, though a

homely, was a true one,--"Pull down their nests, and the rooks will fly

away." It is not improbable, as M'Crie conjectures, that had these

buildings been allowed to remain in their former splendour, the Popish

clergy might have long continued to indulge hopes, and to make efforts, to

be restored to them. Victories over an enemy are celebrated with public

rejoicings, notwithstanding the thousands of our fellow-countrymen who may

have fallen in the contest. Why should the far more important victory,

over those who had so long held in thraldom the human mind, be robbed of

its due praise, because some statues were mangled, some pictures torn, and

some venerable towers overthrown?

With as little delay as possible, the Queen Regent appeared with an army

before Perth, and made herself mistress of the town. The Reformers,

however, were not to be intimidated; and their strength having, by this

time, much increased, it was deemed prudent by the Regent not to push

matters to an extremity. Both parties agreed to disband their forces, and

to refer the controversy to the next Parliament. As was to be expected,

this temporary truce was not of long duration. Incessant mutual

recrimination and aggression, soon induced both sides to concentrate

their forces once more. Perth was re-taken by the Reformers, who shortly

afterwards marched into Edinburgh. After remaining there for some time,

they were surprised by a sudden march which the Queen made upon them from

Dunbar, and were compelled to fall back upon Stirling.

A belief was at this time prevalent at the court of France, that the Prior

of St Andrews, who was the principal military leader of the Congregation,

had views of a treasonable nature even upon the crown itself, and that he

hoped the flaw in his legitimacy might be forgotten, in consideration of

his godly exertions in support of the true faith. A new reinforcement of

French soldiers arrived at Leith, which they fortified; and the French

ambassador was commanded to inform the Prior, that the King, his master,

would rather spend the crown of France, than not be revenged of the

seditious persons in Scotland.

The civil war now raged with increased bitterness, and with various

success, but without any decisive advantage on either side for some time.

The Reformers applied for assistance to Queen Elizabeth, who favoured

their cause for various reasons, and would, no doubt, much rather have

seen Murray in possession of the Scottish crown, than her own personal

rival, Mary. The Congregation having found it impossible, by their own

efforts, to drive the French out of Leith, Elizabeth, in the beginning of

the year 1560, fitted out a powerful fleet, which, to the astonishment of

the Queen Regent and her French allies, sailed up the Firth of Forth, and

anchored in the Roads, before even the purpose for which it had come was

known. A treaty was soon afterwards concluded at Berwick between the Lords

of the Congregation and Elizabeth's Commissioner, the Duke of Norfolk, by

which it was agreed, on the part of the former, that no alliance should

ever be entered into by them with France; and on that of the latter, that

an English army should march into Scotland early in spring, for the

purpose of aiding in the expulsion of the French troops.

This army came at the time appointed, and was soon joined by the forces of

the Reformers. The allies marched directly for Leith, which they invested

without loss of time. The siege was conducted with great spirit, but the

town was very resolutely defended by the French. So much determination was

displayed upon both sides, that it is difficult to say how the matter

might have ended, had not the death of the Queen Regent, which took place

at this juncture, changed materially the whole aspect of affairs. She had

been ill for some time, and during her sickness resided in the Castle of

Edinburgh. Perceiving that her end was approaching, she requested an

interview with some of the leaders of the Congregation. The Duke of

Chatelherault, the Prior of St Andrews, or the Lord James, as he was

commonly called, and others, waited upon her in her sick-chamber. She

expressed to them her sincere grief for the troubles which existed in the

country, and advised that both the English and French troops should be

sent home. She entreated that they would reverence and obey their native

and lawful sovereign, her daughter Mary. She told them how deeply attached

she was to Scotland and its interests, although by birth a Frenchwoman;

and at the conclusion, she burst into tears, kissing the nobles one by

one, and asking pardon of all whom she had in any way offended. The day

after this interview, Mary of Guise died. Her many excellent qualities

were long remembered in Scotland; for even those who could not love,

respected her. In private life, if this term can be used with propriety

when speaking of a Queen, she appears to have been most deservedly

esteemed. She set an example to all her maids of honour, of piety,

modesty, and becoming gravity of deportment; she was exceedingly

charitable to the poor; and had she fallen upon better days, her life

would have been a happier one for herself, and her memory more generally

prized by posterity. Her body was carried over to France, and buried in

the Benedictine Monastery at Rheims.

Very soon after the death of the Queen Regent, Commissioners arrived both

from France and England, with full powers to conclude a treaty of peace

between the three countries. By the loss of their sister, the Princes of

Lorraine had been deprived of their chief support in Scotland, and, being

actively engaged in schemes of ambition nearer home, they found it

necessary to conciliate, as they best could, the predominating party

there. The important treaty of Edinburgh, which will be mentioned

frequently hereafter, was concluded on the 14th of June 1560. It was

signed on the part of France by the two plenipotentiaries, Monluc, Bishop

of Valence, and the Sieur Derandon, reckoned two of the best diplomatists

of the day; and, on the part of England, by Wotton, Dean of Canterbury,

and Elizabeth's prime minister, Cecil, one of the ablest men of that or

any age. The interests of the Congregation were intrusted principally to

the Lord James. In consequence of this treaty, the French troops were

immediately withdrawn. The fortifications of Leith and Dunbar were

destroyed, and a Parliament was held, whose acts were to be considered as

valid as if it had been called by the express commands of the Queen. In

that Parliament, the adherents of the Congregation were found greatly to

out-number their adversaries. An act of oblivion and indemnity was passed

for all that had taken place within the two preceding years; and, for the

first time, the Catholics, awed into silence, submitted to every thing

which the Reformers proposed. A new Confession of Faith was sanctioned;

the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts was abolished; and the

exercise of worship, according to the rites of the Romish Church, was

prohibited under severe penalties--a third act of disobedience being

declared capital.

Thus, the Reformation finally triumphed in Scotland. Though as yet only in

its infancy, and still exposed to many perils, it was nevertheless

established on a comparatively firm and constitutional basis. The

Catholics, it is true, aware of the school in which Mary had been

educated, were far from having given up all hope of retrieving their

circumstances; and they waited for her return with the utmost impatience

and anxiety. But they ought to have known, that whatever might have been

Mary's wishes, their reign was over in Scotland. A Sovereign may coerce

the bodies, but he can never possess a despotic sway over the minds of his

subjects. The people had now begun to think for themselves; and a belief

in the mere mummeries of a fantastic system of Christianity, and of the

efficacy of miracles performed by blocks of wood and stone, was never

again to form a portion of their faith. A brief account of one of the

last, and not least ludicrous attempts which the Popish clergy made to

support their sinking cause, will form a not improper conclusion to this


There was a chapel in the neighbourhood of Musselburgh, dedicated to the

Lady of Loretto, which, from the character of superior sanctity it had

acquired, had long been the favourite resort of religious devotees. In

this chapel, a body of the Catholic priests undertook to put their

religion to the test, by performing a miracle. They fixed upon a young

man, who was well known as a common blind beggar, in the streets of

Edinburgh, and engaged to restore to him, in the presence of the assembled

people, the perfect use of his eyesight. A day was named, on which they

calculated they might depend on this wonderful interposition of divine

power in their behalf. From motives of curiosity, a great crowd was

attracted at the appointed time to the chapel. The blind man made his

appearance on a scaffold, erected for the occasion. The priests approached

the altar, and, after praying very devoutly, and performing other

religious ceremonies, he who had previously been stone blind, opened his

eyes, and declared he saw all things plainly. Having humbly and gratefully

thanked his benefactors, the priests, he was permitted to mingle among the

astonished people, and receive their charity.

Unfortunately, however, for the success of this deception, a gentleman

from Fife, of the name of Colville, determined to penetrate, if possible,

a little further into the mystery. He prevailed upon the subject of the

recent experiment to accompany him to his lodgings in Edinburgh. As soon

as they were alone, he locked the chamber-door, and either by bribes or

threats, contrived to win from him the whole secret. It turned out, that

in his boyhood, this tool, in the hands of the designing, had been

employed as a herd by the nuns of the Convent of Sciennes, then in the

neighbourhood of Edinburgh. It was remarked by the sisterhood, that he had

an extraordinary facility in "flyping up the lid of his eyes, and casting

up the white." Some of the neighbouring priests, hearing accidentally of

this talent, imagined that it might be applied to good account. They

accordingly took him from Sciennes to the monastery near Musselburgh,

where they kept him till he had made himself an adept in this mode of

counterfeiting blindness, and till his personal appearance was so much

changed, that the few who had been acquainted with him before, would not

be able to recognise him. They then sent him into Edinburgh to beg

publicly, and make himself familiarly known to the inhabitants, as a

common blind mendicant. So far every thing had gone smoothly, and the

scene at the Chapel of Loretto might have had effect on the minds of the

vulgar, had Colville's activity not discovered the gross imposture.

Colville, who belonged to the Congregation, instantly took the most

effectual means to make known the deceit. He insisted upon the blind man's

appearing with him next day, at the Cross of Edinburgh, where the latter

repeated all he had previously told Colville, and confessed the iniquity

of his own conduct, as well as that of the priests. To shelter him from

their revenge, Colville immediately afterwards carried him off to Fife;

and the story, with all its details, being speedily disseminated, exposed

the Catholic clergy to more contempt than ever.