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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 6. Persecutions and Martyrdoms. 1534—1539


While Lindsay, Seyton, and Alesius were striving to gain over the young King of Scots to the side of religious reform, he was solicited, on the other side, by advocates far more powerful and prevailing, to remain steadfast in his attachment to the Court of Rome. Between 1532 and 1534 two important embassies arrived at the Scottish court—Silvester Darius from the Pope, and Eric Godschalkus from the Emperor Charles V. The Pope, foreseeing trouble from Henry VIII., was anxious to make sure of the fidelity of his Scottish nephew; and his legate had authority to grant to the king's use for three years, " the tenth penny of all the benefices of the realm above the annual value of twenty pounds." The emperor's ambassador was the bearer of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and came with proposals to the Scottish king to join with the emperor and the other Catholic princes of Europe in a league, which had for its object the extinction of heresy, and the assembling of a general council to correct the disorders of the Church. To such powerful suitors it was difficult to say no. The king honourably dismissed God-schalkus with letters to the emperor, in which he assured him of his readiness to unite in the proposed league; and Silvester Darius had the satisfaction of seeing severe measures adopted for the suppression of the Lutherans before he left Scotland on his return to Rome.

In 1532 "there was a great abjuration of the favourers of Martin Luther in the abbey of Holyrood House;" but the particulars of this solemn assize have not been preserved. In May, 1534, the king wrote from Aberdeen to the lords of council in Edinburgh, calling their attention to " divers tractates and books translated out of Latin into the Scottish tongue by favourers of the sect of Luther, which were sent to various parts of the realm; whereupon, the lords passed stringent orders for the destruction of all such books, and for the punishing of all suspected persons." These translated books very probably included copies of the Epistles of Alesius.

In August, 1534, the tribunal of heresy was again constituted in Holyrood with circumstances of peculiar solemnity. The number of the accused and the summoned was very great, and the king himself was present, wearing his scarlet robe as great justiciar of the realm. Of the accused, some took refuge in England before the day of trial, and were condemned, in absence, to banishment, and the forfeiture of all their lands and goods. Among these was Sir James Hamilton, the brother of the martyr. He had applied to the king for protection, but James declined to interfere with the action of the Church, and advised him to save his life by flight. His sister, Catharine Hamilton, appeared before the tribunal and defended herself with spirit and ability. The king was much amused and pleased with her replies to the Church-lawyers, and, taking her aside, was able to persuade her by fair words to promise submission to the Church. But there were other two of the accused who were not so easily persuaded. These were Norman Gourlay, a secular priest, and David Stratoun, a gentleman of the house of Lauriston in the Mearns. Gourlay had studied for some time in Germany, and had returned home professing the dangerous doctrine that the Pope was Antichrist, and had no right to exercise jurisdiction in Scotland. Stratoun had declared that there was no other Purgatory but the Passion of Christ and the tribulations of this world; and had, moreover, given offence to his bishop by the refusal of some part of his tithe. The king entreated them to abjure, but they both stood firm to their testimony. When sentence was pronounced upon Stratoun, he implored the king to remit it by virtue of his royal prerogative; but James turned a deaf ear to his appeal, and acquiesced by his silence in the proud answer of the bishops, "that the king had no grace to give to such as were condemned by their law." On the 27th of August, both Gourlay and Stratoun were led to the stake at the Rood of Greenside; and Edinburgh saw on that day, for the first time, a tragical sight which she was destined to see often repeated, before the sufferings of the nation should work out its final emancipation from Papal bondage.

For a few years after this cruel auto-da-fe^, the fury of persecution somewhat abated. In the Parliament of 1535, indeed, the Act of 1525 against heresy was made greatly more stringent by the addition of the following clause, " That none of the king's lieges have, use, keep, or conceal any book of the said heretics, or containing their doctrine and opinions; but that they deliver the same to their ordinaries within forty days, under the pains aforesaid." But another Act of this Parliament showed that the king was fully sensible of the existence of abuses in the Church ; and, though still resolved to oppose the progress of doctrines deemed heretical by the clergy, had serious intentions of pressing for the reform of some, at least, of the more flagrant ecclesiastical disorders. This Act provided for the assembling of a provincial council in the following year, with or without the consent of the primate—a provision which gave great offence to the prelates. When the council met in March, 1536, the articles put before it by the king were found to affect very seriously the temporalities of the clergy. He demanded that "the corpse-present" and "the upmost cloth" should be disused all over Scotland, and that the amount levied in teind or tithe, should be greatly reduced; and he sent them a threatening message from Crawford-John in Clydesdale, where he was hunting at the time, to tell them " that if they granted not his demands, he would compel them to feu the whole of the Church lands, and to receive for them no more than at the rate of the old rentals." "The Kirkmen of Scotland," wrote the Earl of Angus to his brother, Sir George Douglas, "were never so evil content, and the news is now through all Scotland that the kings will meet;" alluding to the interview between James and his uncle, Henry VIII, which the latter was now pressing for very earnestly, and which the bishops had hitherto been able to prevent. How this dispute was composed is not known. All that is recorded of the action of the council is, "that they adopted certain acts and statutes, made before by a commission of the Pope's honour, with some additions."* It is certain that the ecclesiastical reforms which the king demanded were not carried out, and the only gain which accrued to the cause of truth was, that the persecuted Lutherans enjoyed a short breathing-time while the quarrel lasted.

At the time when this council was sitting in the Black Friars of Edinburgh, Lord William Howard and Bishop Barlow, the ambassadors of Henry VIII., were using every persuasion to induce the Scottish king to consent to a personal interview with their royal master at York. In 1535, Henry had finally broken with Rome, and was now anxious that his nephew should follow his example. It was of the utmost consequence to the safety of England that Scotland should be detached from the alliance of the great Catholic powers of the Continent;—an alliance which, as we have seen, those powers were quite as anxious to maintain and draw as close as possible. The moment was a critical one for the Scottish clergy, and we need not be surprised to learn that they strained every nerve to thwart the designs of the apostate king. Their pulpits rang with denunciations of his impiety; they declaimed against what they called "the heresies of England," even in the presence of the English ambassadors, and Barlow's irritation betrays itself in the bitterness of his letters. "In all points," says he to Cromwell, "they show themselves to be the Pope's pestilent creatures, and very limbs of the devil. Their lying friars cease not in their sermons—we being present—blasphemously to blatter against the verity, with slanderous reproach of us which have justly renounced his wrong usurped papacy. Wherefore, in confutation of their detestable lies, if I may obtain the king's license to preach (otherwise shall I not be suffered), I will not spare for no bodily peril, boldly to publish the truth of God's word among them: whereat though the clergy shall repine, yet many of the lay people will gladly give hearing." The embassy came to nothing. If James had to complain of the stubbornness of his clergy in resisting all concession, on the one hand, he had no wish to be dragged into open war with the Roman see by his too urgent and imperious uncle, on the other. He had recourse to dissimulation—the common weapon of weakness when contending with strength. He made professions of a willingness to meet Henry's wishes which he did not feel, and promises of meeting which he had no intention to keep. The court was weary of the embassy, and the embassy was weary of the court. "It shall be no more displeasant for me to depart," cried the angry Bishop of St. David's, "than it was for Lot to pass out of Sodom."

In the latter half of 1536, and the following year, James was wholly taken up with his marriage to Princess Magdalene of France; and David Beaton, Abbot of Arbroath, the prime instigator of persecution, was too busy in Paris, as the king's ambassador, with the marriage negotiation, to be able to pay much attention to ecclesiastical affairs. But that able and energetic Churchman had no sooner returned to the kingdom in the train of his royal master, than the flames of persecution broke out afresh with redoubled fury. His promotion in the Church became now exceedingly rapid, and he was able to launch against her enemies all her thunders. On the 5th of December, 1538, he was appointed coadjutor to his aged uncle, the Archbishop of St. Andrews. On the 20th of the same month he was promoted to be a cardinal, under the title of St. Stephen in Monte Caelio; and in the autumn of 1539, upon the death of the archbishop, he succeeded him in the primacy. Armed with all the influence and power of these high offices, and resolved to accomplish the complete extirpation of heresy, he made the years 1539 and 1540 the darkest in the persecuting annals of the Papal Church of Scotland.

Despairing of impunity any longer, a great number of the adherents of the new opinions took refuge in England. "Daily," says Norfolk to Cromwell, in March, 1530, "cometh unto me some gentlemen and some clerks, which do flee out of Scotland, as they say, for reading of Scripture in English ; saying, that if they were taken they should be put to execution." Large numbers of the wealthy burgesses of the country were stripped of their lands and possessions, even after they had abjured; among whom the burgesses of Dundee are especially conspicuous. The Rollocks, the Wedderburns, the Annands, and the Lovetts of that ancient burgh suffered severely for their zeal in the cause of Reform; "in their gude fame, heritages, lands, goods, and worldly honours." Nor was the good town of Stirling far behind Dundee in the same race of Christian glory. She had. less wealth to resign to God's cause than the thriving port of Dundee; but she brought to the altar a larger offering of saintly blood. On the 1st of March, 1539, no fewer than four of her citizens were burned at one pile on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh. These were John Keillor and John Beverage, Black Friars; Duncan Simpson, a secular priest; and Robert Forrester, a gentleman of the house of Arngibbon.

On the same day, and at the same stake, perished one of the most sainted and interesting of Scotland's long list of martyrs —Thomas Forret, Dean of the Augustinian Abbey of Inchcomb, and Vicar of Dollar. He was of gentle birth, of the house of Forret in Fife, and was educated in the schools of Cologne. When he entered the Abbey he was a zealous Romanist; but the reading of a volume of Augustine was the means of opening his eyes. "Oh, happy and blessed was that book!" he would often afterwards exclaim. He converted all the younger canons of the monastery, but "the old bottles," he said, "would not receive the new wine." When he was made Vicar of Dollar he became a perfect model of a parish priest. "He taught his flock the ten commandments, and showed them the way of their salvation to be only by the blood of Christ He penned a little catechism, which he caused a poor child to answer him, to allure the hearts of the hearers to embrace the truth, which indeed converted many in the country about. When the pardoners would come to his kirk to offer pardon for money, he would say,' Parishioners, I am bound to speak the truth to you; this is but to deceive you: there is no pardon of our sins that can come to us from Pope or any other, but only by the blood of Jesus Christ' When he visited any sick person in the parish that was poor, he would carry bread and cheese in his gown sleeve to him, and give him silver out of his purse, and feed his soul with the bread of life. He preached every Sunday to his parishioners the Epistle or Gospel, as it fell for the time; which then was a great novelty in Scotland to see any man preach except a Black Friar or a Gray Friar."

If any man's goodness could have made Beaton falter in his persecuting purpose, it would have been the gentle and engaging goodness of Dean Thomas Forret. Again and again this worthy canon and parish priest had been examined by his own bishop, George Crichton of Dunkeld, and by Archbishop James Beaton, and had been as often sent back to his flock with words of kindly warning. They knew and appreciated his works of piety and love, though they blamed what they called his foolish fantasies. But the cardinal was a man of another mould. His fierce eye could see in the good vicar only a dangerous enemy to the Church, and all the more dangerous that he was so good. Sitting upon the judgment-seat at Holyrood, Beaton doomed him to death "without any place of recantation, because he was a heresiarch—a chief heretic and teacher of heresies."

The death of such a man could not be less edifying than his life. Long before the end came, and while he was yet living in the quiet cloister of Inchcomb, when his abbot would have had him "to say as other people say," and to keep his mind to himself, and save himself, he had used the martyr-like words, "I thank your lordship; ye are a friend to my body, but not to my soul. But, before I deny a word which I have spoken, ye shall see this body of mine blow away first with the wind in ashes." At last the day of trial came, which he had long foreseen, and his words were ,not belied by the event. Calmly strong in the strength of God, his heart neither fainted nor failed. At the last moment, Friar Hard-buckel came up to the stake, and tempted him to recant his confession: "Say, I believe in our lady," cried the friar. "I believe," he replied, "as our lady believeth." "Say," rejoined the tempter, "I believe in God and our lady." *Cease," said he, "tempt me not; I know what I should say as well as ye, thanks be to God." He had to endure, what few martyrs have had to suffer, an utter want of sympathy on the part of the spectators of his martyrdom for when one of the executioners drew the New Testament out of his bosom, and held it up to the people, crying, " Heresy, heresy I" the people, as fanatically cruel as their bishops, cried out; "Burn him, burn him!" His last words were, "God be merciful to me a sinner: Lord Jesus receive my spirit Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericord iam tuam." "Thus ended," says Knox, "this faithful servant of God; envied by the clergy for his good life, diligent preaching of the word, and sparing the cow and uppermost cloth."

The thirst of heretical blood is not easily slaked. Even this immolation at Edinburgh, of five victims in one day, was not enough to satisfy the cruel Archbishop of St Andrews. He was impatient of the greater moderation of Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow, and sent three of his myrmidons to the west to urge on his brother prelate to similar deeds of blood. Dunbar was disinclined to measures of extreme severity, but he was inferior to the cardinal in strength of will. He yielded to the pressure which was brought to bear upon him, and ordered the apprehension of Jerome Russel, a Cordelier friar, and a young man named Kennedy of the town of Ayr, "who was of excellent genius in Scottish poesy." When they were brought to the bar of his tribunal, Dunbar's heart relented at the sight of their youth, and he declared to his assessors that he thought it better to spare them than to put them to death. But Lauder, Oliphant, and Maltman were not to be thus defrauded of their prey when it was already in their grasp. "What will ye do, my lord?" they exclaimed, "will ye condemn all that my lord cardinal, and the other bishops, and we have done? If so ye do, ye show yourself enemy to the kirk and us, and so we will report you, be ye assured." "At which words/' adds Knox in his history, with just indignation, "the faithless man effrayed, adjudged the innocents to die, according to the desire of the wicked." Led forth to the stake, "the meek and gentle Jerome Russel comforted the other with many comfortable sentences, oft saying unto him, Brother, fear not; more potent is He that is with us, than is he that is in the world. The pain that we shall suffer is short and shall be light, but our joy and consolation shall never have ending, and therefore let us contend to enter in unto our Master and Saviour by the same strait way that He has trod before us. Death cannot destroy us, for it is destroyed already by Him for whose sake we suffer.' With these and the like comfortable sentences they passed to the place of execution, and constantly triumphed over death and Satan, even in the midst of the flaming fire."


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