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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter I.—The Hamilton Period, a. d. 1515—1543.
Section 9. Sir John Borthwick and the Scottish Nobility and Gentry. 1540—1541


Soon after the success of the satire of the "Three Estates" at Linlithgow, and as if to turn to political account the good impressions which had been made on the mind of the king, Sir Ralph Sadler arrived at Holyrood on a special mission from Henry VIII. His instructions were to use his utmost efforts to detach the Scottish monarch from the policy of the cardinal, to induce him to imitate the example of ecclesiastical reform which Henry had set in the Church of England, and to obtain from him a definite promise to meet his royal uncle in a personal interview at York. How he carried out these instructions, Sadler fully informs us in his interesting letters to Henry, still extant; and nothing was wanting on the part of so accomplished and experienced a negotiator to insure success. But he failed in every point of his mission, and the cardinal remained absolute master of the field.

"I assure your majesty," writes Sadler, "he excused the cardinal in everything-, and seemed wondrous loath to hear ot any thing that should sound as an untruth in him, but rather gave him great praise." When the ambassador sought to excite James's cupidity by pointing out the advantages which would result to his crown from the suppression of some of the Scottish monasteries, he cut him short with the curt reply, "By my troth, I thank God I have enough to live on, and if we need anything that the clergy have, we may have it at our pleasure." Sadler then began to "reprehend their idle life, their vices, and their abuses," but even on this the most vulnerable point of the king's defences, he was prepared to parry the ambassador's blow. "He interrupted me," says Sadler, and laughed, saying, 'By God,' quoth he, 'they that be naught, ye shall hear that I shall redress them, and make them live like religious men, according to their professions.' 'Sir,' quoth I, 'it will be hard to do.' 'Well,' quoth he, 'you shall hear tell;' and so began he to break off, as though he had no will to talk more thereof."

A remarkable instance of the cardinal's power, and of the boldness with which he used it, occurred during Sadler's sojourn in Edinburgh. It was the season of Lent, and Sadler being "an evil fishman," as he expresses it, used a diet of eggs and whitemeats; "whereupon the bishops and priests raised a bruit, that I and all my folks did eat flesh during Lent, and open proclamation was made, by the commandment of the cardinal, in all the churches within his dioceses, "that whosoever should buy an egg, or eat an egg, within those dioceses, should forfeit no less than his body to the fire, to be burnt as an heretick, and all his goods confiscate to the king."

Still, the foundation of this exorbitant power was anything but secure. The very exorbitancy of it provoked opposition, and this opposition was nowhere more undisguised than in the court itself. The king sent Rothsay Herald to tell Sadler, "that whatsoever publications were made, the king's pleasure was, that he should eat what he would, and that victuals should be appointed to him of what he would eat;" and when Sadler "thanked humbly his Grace," and assured Rothsay that if he thought it was any offence to a* good conscience to eat eggs and whitemeats, he would be as loath to eat them as the holiest of the priests who thus had belied him. "Oh!" exclaimed the king's messenger, scouting the idea of the holiness of the priests; "Oh! know ye not our priests? A mischief on them all. I trust,"quoth he," the world will amend here some day." "And thus," continues Sadler, "I had liberty to eat what I would." But these were trifling, though significant incidents, compared with other facts which the English Envoy observed on this occasion. He reported to a member of the Privy Council in England, that "the king himself was of a right good inclination," and so was a great part of the nobility and commonalty of the realm. Of the noblemen and gentlemen at court, who were "well given to the verity of Christ's word and doctrine, there was a great number." The only, drawback was, that the noblemen so minded were still young, and Sadler saw "none amongst them that had any such agility of wit, gravity, learning, or experience, as to take in hand the direction of things; so that the king was of force driven to use the bishops and the clergy, as his only ministers for the direction of the realm." But this was a drawback which time would mend. The young noblemen who sat at the king's council table, including the Earl of Errol, the Earl of Cassilis, and the Lord Erskine, would not be always young, nor would their high stomach always be content to see the whole power of the court and the state monopolised by the prelates.

Beaton, in truth, was uneasy, in the midst of all his apparent security. He felt the fabric of his dominion tremble to its foundations. These English embassies alarmed him. He dreaded the influence of Henry over his nephew, and he could not but feel what a formidable antagonist he had in the English king. Could he hope to be always able to thwart the wishes of Henry for a personal interview with James'? Especially could he expect to do so, when Henry had an increasing number of men to abet his wishes and aims in James's own court and council No! with all his seemingly immense power, the cardinal felt that he was not yet powerful enough. Hence his anxiety to be armed with the full faculties of a legation a latere, which would virtually make him a pope in the realm. And hence, too, a maxim of persecuting policy which he was now preparing to lay down, for the direction of his future action—that the church must not only strike heavily, but strike high.

It was soon after the departure of Sadler from Holyrood, that Beaton conceived the daring design of singling out for persecution the heretics of the king's own court. It was now plain to him that to burn obscure evangelical friars, and to banish crowds of humble scholars addicted to the new learning, was not enough. To save the church, her lightnings must fall upon the tall pines and the lofty towers. To make sure of the king, he must find means to deprive him of all his reforming courtiers and councillors. As early as May, 1540, his plan of action was matured.

Among the king's favourite attendants, Beaton had for some time regarded with an evil eye the accomplished knight, Sir John Borthwick. A younger son of William, third Lord Borthwick, Sir John had served with distinction in the army of France, where he had risen to be lieutenant of the French king's guard. At the Scottish court he was styled Captain Borthwick, and at the time of Sadler's visit, he was in close attendance upon the person of the king. He was a man of varied accomplishments; a scholar as well as a soldier, a theologian as well as a courtier. He had a library well replenished with the new books of the time, and it was imputed to him as a crime, that among these were the English New Testament and divers treatises of Erasmus, (Ecolampa-dius, and Melancthon. These books " he read and studied, as well openly as privately," and, being zealous for the truth, he was accused, no doubt quite justly, " of presenting and communicating his books to others, and of instructing and teaching many christians in the same, to divert and turn them away" from what seemed to the clergy, "the true christian and catholic faith." Nor was this all Sir John was guilty of a still heavier crime. He laboured hard to make a convert to Lutheranism of the king himself. He not only held and affirmed that the king should appropriate to himself all the possessions, lands, and rents of the church, "but for this end and purpose, he many times wrote unto the king, and with his whole endeavour persuaded him thereto." In a word, Sir John was a holder of what were then called, "the heresies of England," and had persuaded many persons to embrace the same; "willing and desiring, and with his whole heart praying, that the Church of Scotland might be brought to the same spirit and state, and to like ruin, as the Church of England was already come to."

That Beaton should have been anxious to rid himself of such an enemy at court is not surprising. Borthwick was too formidable an ally of Henry to be allowed to remain unchallenged and unmolested in a position jso near the ear of the king. He was formally accused of heresy, and summoned to appear at the primate's tribunal on the 28th of May. Would the king protect his own servant, and one of the chief ornaments Of his court If Borthwick reckoned upon the king's support he was disappointed. It was probably by the monarch's advice that he fled to England, and allowed judgment to pass against him by default The tribunal sat with great pomp and solemnity on the appointed day at St Andrews, and Sir John was not only condemned, and forfeited, and banished from the kingdom, but his effigy was ignominiously burnt at the market crosses of St Andrews and Edinburgh, "in token of malediction and curse, and for a perpetual remembrance of his obstinacy and condemnation." His "articles" were twelve in number, to all of which he afterwards wrote and published answers, distinguished by eminent learning and ability. The piece constitutes indeed, one of the most interesting literary monuments of the early period of the Reformation. Borthwick lived to return to Scotland after the Reformation was accomplished; was rehabilitated in his estates in 1561, and "ended his age with fulness of days about the year 1570, at St Andrews, where, thirty years before, he had been burnt in effigy."

Encouraged by the king's unworthy connivance on this occasion, the cardinal proceeded with all his wonted energy to follow up his advantage. While every Lutheran in the court trembled to see the king's indifference to the fate of his most faithful servants, Beaton was emboldened by it to open up to James the whole extent of his design. Having associated with himself several of the other prelates, they presented to the king a scroll containing the names of more than a hundred of the nobility of the kingdom, and other landed proprietors of inferior rank, who were all suspected or known to be favourers of heresy. It was their desire, they said, that proceedings should be taken against the whole of these men, with a view to the complete extirpation of heresy from the realm; and they represented to the king the immense profits that would accrue to the crown from the forfeiture of so large a proportion of the landholders of the country. But with all his ability and knowledge of princes, Beaton had miscalculated the effect of this atrocious proposal. His anti-Lutheran zeal far outran the king's. James was shocked at the suggestion of such a wholesale scheme of execution and confiscation. His better nature revolted from it with horror, and broke forth in high indignation against his ruthless prelates. " Pack you, get you to your charges, reform your own lives, and be not instruments of discord between my nobility and me, or else, I avow to God, I will reform you, if ever I hear such motion of you again." It was an answer, as Knox remarked, worthy of a prince. The bishops were "dashed and confounded by it, and ceased for a season to tempt him any further to consent to their wicked design."

That such a scroll of noble and wealthy proscripts should have been exhibited to the king, is a fact which throws a flood of light upon the progress which the Reformation had made at this early period among the upper classes of the kingdom; and it is one which ought to be borne in mind when we sit in judgment, as we are often summoned by unfriendly critics to do, upon the sincerity of the attachment of the Scottish nobility to reformation principles. The truth is, that the Scottish Reformation, even when viewed as a strictly religious movement, owed more to the aristocracy of the kingdom than to any other class. It was not a democratic movement in the sense of having originated in the lower ranks of the people, or of having been chiefly sustained by their zeal and endurance. It began with Patrick Hamilton, a nobleman; at the close of the Hamilton period, it numbered its adherents, among the nobility and gentry, by hundreds; and down to the hour of its final triumph, almost all its leaders were men of superior family, as well as of superior culture. - The Scottish Reformation has often been called an ascending movement, and so it was, in the sense that it did not commence with, or receive any aid or direction from the heads of the Church and the State. But it was a descending movement as well, because, beginning in the ranks of the aristocracy it penetrated downwards among the popular masses. In this respect the Reformation of the Scottish Church seemed to obey the law of Feudality, which was then so prominent a characteristic of all Scottish social life. The government of the kingdom was an aristocracy almost as much as it was a monarchy. The episcopacy of the Church being almost exclusively in the hands of the sons of the lesser barons, was only the ecclesiastical branch of the power and prerogative of the nobles. The temporal lords and the spiritual lords reduced to very narrow limits, between them, the power and prerogatives of the crown, and wielded an almost unrestricted dominion over the rights and liberties of the people. Scotland remained in the sixteenth century as feudal, in the spirit of her institutions and life, as she had been in the middle ages. It was perfectly natural then that her aristocracy should have been the prime movers in the great work of her Reformation, as in all her other important national affairs. The upper classes were still the chief seat and organ of the national life and energies. The lower classes were still content to follow in all things, in the wake of their liege lords. How natural then, that when the heart of the nation began to be stirred with a new religious life, it should have been the upper classes who furnished both the foremost champions, and the foremost persecutors of reform—both the Hamiltons and Borthwicks, who suffered death or banishment in its defence, and the Beatons and Dunbars who sought to stifle it in flames and blood!


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