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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 4. Alexander Alesius, Alexander Seyton, and Henry Forrest 1529—1531


While the poet of the Mount was thus powerfully serving the cause of truth and reform by successive efforts of his satiric genius, other disciples of Hamilton stood forth to carry forward the work in the pulpit and the cloister. Alexander Alane, afterwards called Alesius, was a canon of the Augustinian priory of St. Andrews. Born in Edinburgh in 1500, he was one of the first batch of students who were educated in the new College of St. Leonards, founded in 1512 by Prior John Hepburn. Having taken his degree in 1515, he soon after passed from the college into the adjoining cloister; and when John Major came to St. Andrews in 1523, he applied himself to the study of scholastic theology under that distinguished professor. The young canon was fond of theological disputation, and soon acquired considerable reputation for his dialectic skill. He was perhaps the first Scottish theologian who wrote against Luther ; and his treatise, though borrowed in part, as he acknowledges, from the writings of Bishop Fisher of Rochester, was highly applauded by the doctors of St. Andrews.

When Patrick Hamilton came to that city, early in 1528, Ale-sius did not doubt that he would be able to convince him of his errors, and to bring him back to the true faith of the Church. He was personally acquainted with him, as Hamilton had often been a visitor at the priory, and he repeatedly conversed with him during the month which preceded his martyrdom. But instead of converting the Reformer he was himself converted; and the deep impression which Hamilton made upon him by his arguments, was made deeper still by the affecting spectacle of his, trial and death. Alesius, as before remarked, was a witness of these scenes, and afterwards penned the earliest account of them in one of his works. The applauded antagonist of Luther was now a Lutheran, and without hastily declaring his convictions, nothing could induce him to express approval of the proceedings which had been taken against Hamilton, or to pronounce any unfavourable judgment upon the articles for which he had been condemned.

This silence brought him under suspicion, and gave offence to his superior, Patrick Hepburn, the prior, who had taken an active part in Hamilton's prosecution; and it was probably with the view of entrapping him into some overt declaration of his new opinions, that he was appointed to preach before a provincial synod which met in St. Andrews in 1529. His sermon was in Latin, and was addressed exclusively to the clergy; it touched no points of doctrine or ecclesiastical prerogative : its sole and single aim was to enforce upon the clergy the duty of being faithful pastors, and setting a good example to their flocks; but it gave mortal offence notwithstanding. He had spoken plainly of the vices of the clergy, though he had said nothing of the doctrinal corruptions of the Church, and the prelates were indignant at the bold preacher. Beaton declared that the sermon smelt of Lutheranism, and the prior cried out in a rage that the whole of it was aimed against himself. Hepburn's conscience, in truth, was denied with numerous adulteries, and the conscious sting within made him imagine, that what Alesius had spoken in the general interest of clerical morality was directed as a deliberate result against himself. He vowed to have his revenge upon the heretical canon.

Not long after, it chanced that the canons of the priory were assembled in the chapter-house, to advise upon what steps they should take to obtain redress from certain grievances, which they were all suffering in common at the hand of their oppressive prior. On a sudden, Hepburn, hearing of their meeting and its design, presented himself at the door of the chapter-house with a band of armed attendants; and, casting his eye upon Alesius, went straight up to him and dragged him with violence from his seat. In a paroxysm of rage, he threw him down upon the pavement of the chapter-house, and kicked him upon the breast. It seemed as if he would have slain him upon the spot, if the other canons had not rushed to the rescue, and pulled the prior back by main force from his victim. Alesius's life was saved ; but the wrath of his superior was not appeased till he, and all the canons who had taken part with him, were cast into the prison of the monastery.

What a picture of the condition of monastic life, in the most dignified of all the monasteries of Scotland, in the sixteenth century! And what a scandal to the Church, that a man so dissolute and unprincipled as Patrick Hepburn should a few years after this have been made Bishop of Moray!

The story of Alesius's sufferings and repeated imprisonments, as told by himself, is a long one, and cannot be given in detail here. We can only relate, that when the young king interfered to obtain relief for the imprisoned canons, they were all set at liberty but Alesius; that when a rumour went through St. Andrews that he was dead, and the provost came to the priory to demand in the king's name that his body should be produced either dead or alive, he was taken out of his loathsome dungeon, and after being washed and dressed, was presented to the magistrate; but having disobeyed the prior's orders, in answering the provost's questions too frankly, he was taken back again to his prison, where he remained for many months. At last, the canons, having learned that Hepburn was concerting a design with Beaton to bring him to trial for heresy, advised and assisted him to make his escape, and he saved his life by a nocturnal flight from St. Andrews to Dundee. Next morning he made a narrow escape of being retaken by a band of horsemen whom Hepburn sent in pursuit, and succeeded in getting on board a ship which was setting sail for France. This was in 1530. His persecutions and sufferings had lasted nearly a whole year. He never returned to Scotland; but he never ceased throughout a long life to feel the deepest interest in the reformation of the Scottish Church. When he next comes before us, we shall find him at Wittemberg, an honoured disciple at the feet of Luther and Melancthon, and fighting upon German ground the noble battle of the spiritual emancipation of his native country.

A second disciple of Hamilton among the regular clergy of St. Andrews was Alexander Seyton. He was the son of Sir Alexander Seyton of Touch, and was educated at St. Andrews, where his name appears among the graduates of 1516. Having entered the dominican order, his talents and character raised him to a high place among its members, who at that time included many of the most learned and exemplary of the Scottish clergy; and he was appointed confessor to the young king. He is described as a man of tall stature, of quick genius, and of a bold and manly spirit. The date of his first public appearance as a reformed preacher is not exactly known, but it was probably in 1530 or 1531; when, having been appointed to preach during Lent in one of the churches of St Andrews, "he taught for the space of a whole lentran," says Knox, "the commandments of God only, ever beating into the ears of his auditors that the law of God had of many years not been truly taught, for men's traditions had obscured the purity of it These were his accustomed propositions. First:—Christ Jesus is the end and perfection of the law. Second:—there is no sin where God's law is not violated. Third :—to satisfy for sin lies not in man's power; but the remission thereof comes by unfeigned repentance and by faith, apprehending God the Father, merciful in Christ Jesus his Son. While oftentimes he puts his auditors in mind of these and the like heads, he makes no mention of purgatory, pardons, pilgrimages, prayer to saints, nor such trifles."

Till Lent was over, and Seyton had left' St. Andrews for Dundee, " the dumb doctors" of the University said and did nothing; but as soon as he was gone, they employed a more orthodox predicant to go into the same pulpit, and condemn every word of Seyton's preaching; "which coming to the ears of the said friar Alexander, without delay he returned to St. Andrews, and caused immediately to jow the bell and give signification that he would preach; as that he did indeed. In the which sermon he affirmed, and that more plainly than at any other time, whatsoever in his whole sermons he had taught during the whole Lent-tide preceding: adding that within Scotland there was no true bishop, if bishops were to be known by such notes and virtues as St Paul requires."

The archbishop of course soon heard of this bold speech, and sending immediately for Seyton, "began grievously to complain and sharply to accuse that he had so slanderously spoken of the dignity of the bishops, as to say that it behoved a bishop to be a preacher, or else he was but a dumb dog, and fed not the flock but his own belly. The man, being witty and mindful of that which was his most assured defence, replied : 'My lord, the reporters of such things are manifest liars.' Whereat the bishop rejoiced and said, 'Your answer pleases me well. I never could think of you that ye would be so foolish as to affirm such things. Where are those knaves that have brought me this tale? Who compearing and affirming the same that they did before, Seyton still replied that they were liars. At last, while more witnesses were being called, he turned him to the bishop and said, ' My lord, ye may see and consider what ears these asses have, who cannot discern betwixt Paul, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Malachi, and friar Alexander Seyton. In very deed, my lord, I said what Paul says, "It behoveth a bishop to be a teacher." Isaiah saith that they that feed not the flock are dumb dogs, and Zechariah saith they are idol pastors. I of my own head affirmed nothing, but declared what the Spirit of God had before pronounced, at whom, my lord, if ye be not offended, justly ye cannot be offended at me. And so yet again, my lord, I say that they are manifest liars that reported unto you that / said that ye and others that preach not are no bishops, but belly-gods.' "

This cutting sally of course did not mend the matter. Beaton was highly offended at "the bold liberty of that learned man," and resolved to make him feel the weight of his resentment. The king was young and addicted to criminal pleasure, and it was easy to gain his ear to the disadvantage of so honest and faithful a confessor as Seyton. The primate employed certain grey-friars who had access to the king to accuse his confessor of heresy. James heard the accusation without displeasure. "Yes," said he, "I understand well enough that he smells of the new doctrine, by such things as he has shown to me under confession. I know more of that matter than you do yourselves. I promise you that I will follow the counsel of the bishops in punishing him, and all others of that sect" James had already committed himself to the fatal policy which proved his ruin; that of resting for support and counsel upon his clergy more than upon his temporal lords. His resentment against the Douglases and all their abettors disposed him to be unreasonably jealous of the nobility at large, and to look to the prelates as his safest and most trusty councillors. This blind partiality of the king, so opposite to what Lindsay had often advised, armed the Church with great power against the Reformers during the whole of his reign, and we see some of the earliest effects of it in the sufferings of Alesius and Seyton. The Dominican, on being informed of the king's words, saw that he was a doomed man, and, despairing of obtaining a fair hearing of his cause, fled out of the kingdom. From Berwick he sent a messenger to the king with a letter, in which he explained that such was the sole reason of his flight, and offered to return, if the king would assure him that he should have an opportunity of defending himself from the accusations of his enemies. He waited for some time for a reply, but he waited in vain. His letter had been delivered into James's own hand, and had been read by many at court; but what, as Knox observes, " could admonition avail when the pride and corruption of prelates commanded what they pleased, and the flattery of courtiers fostered the insolent prince in all impiety Seyton repaired to London, where we shall again meet with him, and remained in exile during the rest of his life.

A third of these early confessors contributed by the monasteries of St. Andrews was Henry Forrest. He was a native of Linlithgow, and graduated at St Leonard's College in 1525. He had listened to Hamilton's teaching, and had seen him die, and the sole accusation laid against him, not long after, was that he had been heard to say that "Master Patrick died a martyr, and was no heretic." He was long kept a prisoner in the gloomy sea-tower of the castle of St. Andrews, and was at length cruelly condemned to be burnt as a heretic, "equal in iniquity with Master Patrick." The probable date of his martyrdom was 1532. His pile was kindled on the eminence adjoining the northern stile of the Abbey Church, and that spot was made choice of, in order that the flames might be visible across the mouth of Tay from the shores of Angus. The persecutors disregarded, in the ostentatious publicity of this second auto-da-fe, a warning given them by John Lindsay, "a merry gentleman in the service of archbishop Beaton, that the smoke of Hamilton's pile had infected all upon whom it blew." Lindsay had advised them to burn their next victim in some low vault out of sight, instead of in the open face of day. And he was right. The flame of the martyr's pile, beheld with more admiration than fear, kindles in a thousand souls the holy fire of self-sacrificing zeal. The blazing faggots become the torch of truth to a whole land. "Brother!" cried stout old Latimer at the stake to Ridley, his fellow-martyr, "we light a candle to-day in England which will never again be put out."


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