The Scottish Reformation
Hamilton Period, a. d. 15151543.
Section 8. Sir David Lindsay, and the Satire of the Three Estates.
When so many men of learning and genius were driven
into exile by the unsparing hand of the resolute cardinal; when even the
celebrated tutor of the king's sons was deprived of his liberty and put
in jeopardy of his life, for the crime of penning a few Latin iambics
against the Franciscans, although he could plead that he had done so at
the king's own command; who could have expected that Sir
David Lindsay, who had offended so much more heinously in the same way,
would be suffered to remain in the unmolested enjoyment of all his
emoluments and honours.
And yet such was the fact Nothing but the king's warm
attachment to him can account for it If he had preserved a judicious
silence while danger was imminent, the wonder would have been less. But
his muse was as fearless as she was fertile. While persecution was
raging all around him, he continued to exhaust upon the corruptions of
the Church all the weapons of his ridicule and satire.
Nor was he content with lashing what was evil in the
Church's teaching and practice. As his own views of divine truth and
apostolic order went on ripening into full conviction, he freely
communicated them in the same pieces in which he attacked the
superstitions, and immoralities, and oppressions of the clergy. He was
not only a satirist, but a preacher. When it was no longer safe for men
to preach the truth in prose, he became an evangelist in rhyme; and when
Beaton had succeeded in ridding himself of almost every Lutheran divine
in the country, either by banishment or the stake, Lindsay still
remained outstanding in the double character of poet and theologian; as
able to instruct the court and the country in Gospel truth, as to amuse
them at the expense of the errors of the Church.
It must have been about this time that Lindsay wrote
the piece called "Kitty's Confession," which is as sound in its theology
as it is severe in its satire, and which was well fitted to be popular
among the common people, and none the less so for an occasional
coarseness in its allusions and language.
"The curate Kitty could confess,
And she told on, baith more and less.
Quoth he, ken ye na heresie?
I wait nocht what that is, quoth she;
Quoth he, heard ye na Inglis books?
Quoth she, my maister on them looks.
Quoth he, the bishop that shall knaw,
For I am sworn that for to shaw.
Quoth he, what said he of the king?
Quoth she, of good he spak na thing.
Quoth he, his grace of that sail wit,
And he sail lose his life for it"
The theological and pastoral shortcomings
of the father-confessor are thus set forth :
"He schew me nocht of Godd-is Word,
Whilk sharper is than any sword,
And deep intill our heart does prent .
Our sin, wherethrough we do repent.
He put me nathing into fear,
Wherethrough I should my sin forbear;
Of Christ-is blood nathing he knew,
Nor of his promises full true,
That savis all that will believe,
That Satan sail us never grieve.
He techit me nocht for till traist
The comfort of the Haly Ghaist
He bad me nocht to Christ be kind,
To keep his law with heart and mind,
And lufe and thank his great mercie,
Fra sin and hell that savit me,
And lufe my neighbour as mysel;
Of this nathing he could me tell,
But gave me penance ilk ane day,
And Ave Marie for to say;
And with ane plack to buy ane mess
Fra drunken Sir John Latinless."
Of Lindsay's rhyming preaching the
following is a fair specimen.
"To the great God
Confess thy sin, and sore repent,
And traist in Christ, as wrytis Paul,
Whilk shed his blood to saif thy saul,
For nane can thee absolve but he,
Nor tak away thy sin from thee.
Gif of gude counsall thou hes nede,
Or hes nocht leirnit weill thy crede,
Or wicket vices reign in thee,
The whilk thou can nocht mortifie,
Or be in desperation,
Then to ane preacher true thou pass,
And shaw thy sin and thy trespass.
Thar neid-is nocht to shaw him all,
Nor tell thy sins baith great and small,
Whilk is impossible to be;
But shaw the vice that troubles thee;
And he sail of thy saul have ruth
And thee instruct into the truth,
And with the word of veritie
Sail comfort and sail counsel thee:
The sacraments shaw thee at lenth,
Thy little faith to stark and strenth;
And how thou suld them rightly use,
And all hypocrisy refuse.
Confession first was ordain't free,
In this sort in the kirk to be.
Swa to confess, as I descryve,
Was in the gude kirk primitive."
But "Kitty's Confession"
and all the rest of Lindsay's satires, were thrown into the shade by a
work upon which he was now engaged, and which was soon to see the light.
This was the morality, or drama, entitled, "Ane Plesant Satyre of the
Three Estates, in Commendation of Vertue and Vituperation of Vice;" or,
as it was sometimes called, "The Parliament of Correction." He has been
for some years employed upon it, and one of his biographers conjectures
that he had exhibited it, in its first form, at Cupar, as early as the
year 1535. But, however this may be, it is certain that Lindsay had the
king's authority and licence to exhibit a performance of it at
Linlithgow during the Feast of Epiphany, at the beginning of the year
1540. It had long been the custom of the Scottish court to amuse itself
with plays and moralities at that festive season, and for several years
Lindsay had been the manager of these courtly diversionsa function for
which he was peculiarly fitted by his tastes as a poet, and as
lion-herald. But on the present occasion, instead of reproducing one of
the old moralities, or imitating the new-fashioned "interludes"
which were so much admired in the courts of England and France, he
produced an original piece, which, improving immensely upon his
predecessors, was the nearest approximation that had yet been made to
the regular drama of later times.
The great hall of the palace of Linlithgow was
probably the theatre made use of on this occasion; and the dramatist had
for his spectators and audience the king and queen, the court and
council, and a select circle of nobles, gentry, and burgesses from the
ancient burgh and all the country round. Several of the bishops
themselves were present, and were obliged in courtesy to the king to
laugh with as good a grace as possible at the poet's humorous exposure
of the corruptions of the ecclesiastical estate.
Fortunately there was present at the performance a
Scottish correspondent of the English border commissioner, Sir William
Eure, who sent him immediately after a written account of the piece.
This curious document is still extant, and runs as follows:
"In the first entres came in Solace (whose part was
but to make merry, sing ballads with his fellows, and drink at the
interludes of the play), who showed first to all the audience the play
to be played, which was a general thing, meaning nothing in special to
displease no man, praying therefore no man to be angry with the same.
Next came in a King, who passed to his throne, having no speech to the
end of the play, and then to ratify and approve, as in plain parliament,
all things done by the rest of the players, which represented the Three
Estates. With him came his courtiers, Placebo, Pikthank, and Flattery,
and such a like guard. Thereafter came a man armed in
harness, with a sword drawn in his hand, a Bishop, a Burgessman, and
Experience clad like a Doctor, who sat them all down on the dais under
the King. After them came in a poor man, who did go up and down the
scaffold making a heavy complaint that he was heryed through the
courtiers taking his fee in one place, and afterwards his tacks in
another place, wherethrough he had scayled his house, his wife and
children begging their bread, and so of many thousands in Scotland,
which would make the King's Grace lose of men, if his Grace stood in
need. Saying there was no remedy to be gotten, for though he would suit
to the King's Grace, he was neither acquainted with Controller nor
Treasurer, and without them might no man get no goodness of the
King.......And then he looked to the King and said he had left one thing
undone, which pertained as well to his charge as the other. And when he
was asked what that was, he made a long narration of the oppression of
the poor by the taking of the corpse-present beasts, and of the herying
of poor men by the Consistory law, and of many other abusions of the
spiritualty and Church, with many long stories and authorities. And then
the Bishop rose and rebuked him, saying, it effeired not to him to speak
such matters, commanding to him silence, or else to suffer death for it
by their law. Thereafter rose the Man of arms, alledging the contrary,
and commanded the poor man to speak, saying their abusion had been
overlong suffered without any law. Then the poor man showed the great
abusion of Bishops, Prelates, Abbotts, reving men's wives and daughters,
and holding them ; and of the maintaining of their children; and of
their overbuying of the eldest sons of lords and barons to their
daughters, wherethrough the nobility of the blood of the realm was
degenerate; and of the great superfluous rents that pertained to the
Church by reason of overmuch temporal lands given to them, which the
King might take both by the canon law and the civil law. And of the
great abominable vices that reign in cloisters, and of the common
bordells that were kept in cloisters of nuns. All this was proved
by Experience, and also was showed the office of a bishop, and was
producit the New Testament with the authorities to that effect And then
rose the Man of arms and the Burgess, and did say, that all that was
produced by the poor man and Experience was reasonable, of verity, and
of great effect; and4 very expedient to be reformed with the consent of
Parliament And the Bishop said he would not consent thereunto ; the Man
of arms and the Burgess said, they were two, and he but one, wherefore
their voice should have most effect Thereafter the King in the play
ratified, approved, and confirmed all that was rehearsed."
Such was the ingenious
and striking way in which Lindsay brought before the king and his court
and council the need of religious reform, and shadowed forth the kind of
reformation which he desired to see accomplished; and we are happily
able to report, upon an authority equally good, the effect which the
piece produced upon the mind of the king. Sir Thomas Bellenden, one of
the king's council, was present at the performance, and informed Sir
William Eure a few weeks afterwards, in a personal interview at
Coldstream, that "after the said interlude was finished, the King of
Scots did call upon the Bishop of Glasgow, being chancellor, and divers
other bishops, exhorting them to reform their fashions and manners of
living ; saying, that unless they so did, he would send ten of the
proudest of them unto .his uncle of England, and as those were ordered,
so he would order all the rest that would not amend And thereunto the
chancellor should answer and say unto the king, that ' one word of his
grace's mouth should suffice them to be at commandment' And the king
hastily and angrily answered that he would gladly bestow any words of
his mouth that could amend them." "I am also advertised by the same Mr.
Bellenden," continued Sir William Eure, "that the King of Scots is fully
minded to expel all spiritual men from having any authority of office
under his grace, either in household or elsewhere within the realm, and
daily studieth and deviseth for that intent"
Seldom has a poet or a
dramatist had greater success than Lindsay commanded on this remarkable
occasion. The king was deeply impressed; the reforming party in his
council had their hands greatly strengthened; and the bishops were fain
to promise to their angry sovereign that they should be at his
commandment. It seemed for a while as if a reformation was now at hand,
and that James would at length be impelled by his sense of kingly duty
to imitate the policy of his uncle, Henry VIII.
Only one thing was wanting to make the triumph of the
Poet-Reformer complete; and that was the presence and humiliation of the
cardinal. But Beaton, ever full of weighty affairs, was absent from the
pastimes of the court on this occasion, and was spared the mortification
of seeing Lindsay's success, and of listening to the rebuke of the king.
At that very time he was in busy corresponrdence with his agents at
Rome, and with the managers of the Vatican, to obtain the enormous
powers of a legate a laterey in addition to all the power he already
possessed as primate, cardinal, and legatus natus; and, strange to say,
the king was supporting him in his negotiation by letters to the Pope in
his behalf. It is very puzzling to find that while James was holding
such language to his bishops at Linlithgow, and was canvassing such
designs as Bellenden speaks of among the laymen of his council, he could
yet have authorized or warranted Beaton to speak of his views and wishes
in such terms as the following. "We assure you," says he to Master
Andrew Oliphant, his agent at Rome, "the king's grace has this matter
right high in head and mind, for the common weal of this realm and
subjects, and thinks, considering the great parts he keeps to the siege
apostolick and obedience thereof, and maintenance of the faith catholick
in this his realm, now in this most perilous time, that his grace should
not be denied of his just and reasonable desires, which tend all utterly
to the auctorization of the holy siege aposjtolick, and obedience of the
Pope's Holiness, as head of the Church Catholick; and hereafter with the
first ships his grace will write of new to the Pope's Holiness hereupon,
that it may be understood perfectly that this legation is desired by his
grace specially, and not principally by us."
What can we conclude from contradictions so puzzling,
but that the king's private conscience and his overt public policy were
at this time on opposite sides of the great question of the age? In his
conscience he could not defend the flagrant corruptions of the Church ;
he felt, and at times he even confessed, that they demanded reform; but
the whole policy of his reign was founded upon the mistaken principle,
that it was necessary for him to make sure of the support of the clergy,
in order to keep in check the ambition of his nobles; and to make sure
of the clergy he was obliged to oppose himself to the demands of the
Reformers. Beaton, with all his cruelty and ambition, was never so
odious to him as the banished Douglases and their abettors; and to
escape the tyranny of a faction who would have domineered over the
crown, he was willing to let his whole kingdom remain under the bondage
of a persecuting church. It is evident that his heart sometimes misgave
him, in pursuing a policy so selfish and so pernicious to his people;
but to the last he could never summon up virtue and resolution enough to
abandon it It is certain that at the commencement of 1540, Beaton had
powerful rivals to counterwork him in the king's cabinet
but it is equally certain that they were never able to supplant him in
the king's confidence. He kept his place and power as prime minister of
state to the last; and it was his fatal influence that brought on those
tragical events which hurried the king's reign to a close too early for
the expectations of the prince himself but not too early for his
oppressed and groaning kingdom.
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