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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter II.—The Wishart Period, a. d. 1543—1554.
Section 2. Apostasy of the Regent, and Commencement of Wishart's Ministry. 1543—1544


When the commissioners returned to Edinburgh, they found the Regent mistrusted, and his court abandoned by the friends of the Gospel and of the English alliance. Kirkaldy, Bellenden, Lindsay, Durham, the court physician, and Borthwick, the king's advocate, had all become sensible of a change in the regent's disposition towards his former advisers, and had been compelled by the insults of the Hamiltons, who crowded his court, to withdraw.

When Arran entered upon his high office, he was a young and untried man, and a few months of power had sufficed to reveal the weakness of his character, and his great deficiency in steadiness and resolution. As yet only a novice in the religion of the Reformers, and occupying a position of great delicacy and danger, where it was easy for abler men than himself to make him believe that his worldly interests were opposed to his religious profession, he soon began to waver in his attachment to the cause of reform. His brother, John Hamilton, abbot of Paisley, who had returned to Scotland from Paris in the month of April, proved his evil genius. A zealous Papist, and a man of talent and address, the abbot was more than a match for the feeble earl, and was soon able to poison his mind against the wise and patriotic men who had hitherto been his accepted councillors. The palace was filled with gentlemen of the name of Hamilton, who were easily brought to assist in carrying on the abbot's crafty designs, and who, on one occasion, made bold to tell the Regent, in the presence of some of the men to whom he had hitherto given his confidence, " that neither he nor his friends would ever be at quietness till a dozen of these knaves who abused his grace were hanged." When such language was heard by Arran without censure, a change in his public policy could not be far distant He was soon induced by the abbot to dismiss his Protestant chaplains; when Rough withdrew to the district of Kyle, and Guilliam to England. This took place in April. Then he allowed the cardinal to regain his liberty, permitting him to be transferred from the fortress of Blackness to his own castle of St. Andrews, where he was really his own master, though kept, for the sake of appearances, under the pretended custody of Lord Seton, who was a zealous Papist; a liberty which Beaton instantly made use of to prepare a threatening demonstration of the nobility and clergy against the English match and alliance. In a word, the Regent had now put himself entirely into the hands of men, who soon after, as Knox says, "led him so far from God, that he falsified his promise to the English king, dipt his hands in the blood of the saints of God, and brought the commonwealth to the point of utter ruin."

It was only by degrees, however, that he advanced to these extremes of perfidy. The embassy sent to Henry had not acted solely in the Regent's name, but as commissioners from the Three Estates, and Arran was too timid and irresolute to take the bold step of repudiating the contract into which they had entered with the English king. He must needs for a time dissemble his altered views, and appear to concur, as even the cardinal and his party pretended for a time to do, in a ratification of the treaty. He summoned a convention of the nobles at Holyrood, and submitted the contract to their judgment and approval On the 25th of August, 1543, both the Match and the Peace were solemnly ratified in the abbey church, "and that nothing should lack that might fortify the matter, was Christ's body broken betwixt the Governor and Maister Sadler, Ambassador, and received of them both, as a sign and token of the unity of their minds, inviolably to keep that contract in all points, as they looked of Christ to be saved, and afterwards to be reputed men worthy of credit before the world." Sadler dined with the Regent after the solemnity was over, and reported to Henry, in a letter written the same day, that Arran, referring to the oath which he had just taken, declared "that if all the rest of the realm should be against it, he alone would shed his blood and spend his life in the observation thereof." "In which case," he added, "if he should be pursued by the cardinal and his accomplices, he must needs make his refuge to his majesty, without whose help and aid he should not be able to withstand their malice; but his trust was, that all should be well." These words betrayed his inward uneasiness, and half revealed to the sagacious ambassador his treacherous design. In fact, the Regent was revolving in his thoughts much more seriously the power of his enemies, and the dangers which were now threatening his own authority, than the obligations of honour and truth which lay upon his conscience, in relation to the English king. He dreaded the -issue, to himself, of an open struggle between the cardinal's party, and the party of the English alliance. He saw many indications of the unpopularity of the policy which had led to the treaty which he had just concluded. The clergy had succeeded but too well in rousing among the people the old feelings of national jealousy and antipathy against their "auld enemies of England;" and the Regent came at last to the conclusion that, in order to save himself, it was indispensable to reconcile himself to the cardinal, and break with the king. To keep his word and suffer for it, was a pitch of honour to which his virtue as a man and a governor proved wholly unequal. Affairs soon came to a crisis. On the 28th of August, Sadler informed his royal master that " the adverse party had already a great advantage over the friends of England: they were already gathered, and were ready to set forward, intending to be at Stirling on an early day." But Arran was still loud in his professions of devotion to Henry. "No prince alive had, nor should have, his heart and service, but your majesty only; alledging plainly, that of force he must adhere to your majesty, for he had lost all other friends in the world besides, and without your majesty's aid and supportance, he was in .great danger of overthrow." Alas, for the faith of princely protestations! In eight days thereafter Sadler wrote again .from Edinburgh, to tell that "the governor was now revolted to the cardinal and his complices. On Monday last, after that Sir John Campbell of Lundy, and the Abbot of Pittenweem had been here with the governor, with letters from the cardinal, the said governor, the same day towards night, departed hence suddenly, alledging that he would go to the Blackness to his wife, who, 3s he said, laboured of child; and yesterday he rode to my lord Livingston's house, which is betwixt Linlithgow and Stirling, where the cardinal and the Earl of Murray met with him, and very friendly embracings were betwixt them, with also a good long communication. And then they departed from thence altogether to Stirling, where they now be."

At Stirling, "the unhappy man," says Knox, "beaten with the temptations brought to bear upon him, rendered himself to the appetites of the wicked; subjected himself to the cardinal and his counsels; received absolution, renounced his profession of Christ's Holy Evangel, and violated his oath for observation of the contract and league with England."

All men stood amazed at the disgraceful deed. The friends of the Reformation were plunged into distress by such a sudden disappointment of their most cherished hopes. The king of England was roused to a transport of resentment, and made a vow of revenge, which he was not slow to fulfil with all the terrors of invasion and war. The suddenness and completeness of the Regent's apostasy took the cardinal himself by surprise; he was for a time even embarrassed by his unexpected success. Calculating upon a much more protracted struggle, he had intrigued with the Earl of Lennox, to bring him over from France as a rival to Arran; holding out to him not only the promise of the regency, but also the 'prospect of a marriage with the dowager queen. But when the earl by-and-bye arrived, and found Arran and Beaton reconciled, and no hope remaining of his being able to realise these splendid objects of ambition, he naturally vented upon the cardinal the bitterness of his chagrin; and his revenge threatened for a time to give serious disturbance to the unholy league which had now been consummated between the governor and the clergy.

It was in the midst of all these vicissitudes of hope and fear for the cause of reform, that George Wishart began his labours as a preacher of the Gospel. "The beginning of his doctrine was in Montrose," the scene of his former labours, and where the remembrance of his early learning and zeal must have predisposed the minds of many to listen to his teaching with favour. The topics of his discourse, as he tells us himself, were chiefly the Ten Commandments of God, the Twelve Articles of the Faith in the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer." Unfortunately, there is not a single trace remaining in the records of the town, by which we might be able to estimate the effects which his ministrations produced. But their fruits were no doubt considerable, for Montrose ever afterwards displayed a steady attachment to the cause of reform. The minds of the population had long been under training to welcome such a ministration as Wishart's. Montrose, as we formerly saw, was one of the earliest towns in Scotland to receive importations of the English Testament. It was one of the first to have teachers able to teach, and scholars willing to learn, the Greek Scriptures. The Erskines of Dun, who took a lead in its municipal affairs, had long been gained to the side of religious truth, and other pious families of good estate in the neighbourhood, such as the Melvilles of Baldowey, the Stratons of Lauriston, and the Wisharts of Pitarrow, all contributed their influence in the same direction. Indeed, so strong had been the demonstrations of Lutheran opinion and feeling as early as 1540, that in that year, the Monastery of Black Friars, near the town, then under the rule of Prior Robert Borthwick, had found it necessary to obtain from James V. a special patent of protection for themselves and all their possessions and goods, movable and immovable—a curious document which is still extant.

From Montrose Wishart passed to Dundee, where his preaching attracted much attention, and called forth "great admiration of all who heard him." He chose for his subject the Epistle to the Romans, which he appears to have expounded consecutively from chapter to chapter—the first example given in Scotland of the expository lecture; a method of pulpit instruction which continues in high favour among her people to the present day. Wishart had seen this method practised in the pulpits of Switzerland, for we know that it was Bullinger's habit, as it had been Zwingle's before him, to lecture in the pulpit as well as in the chair upon whole books of Scripture; and it was very natural that the Scottish Reformer, who sympathised so thoroughly with what the Swiss divines taught, should have been led to imitate them also in the manner in which they taught it.

It was, in all probability, the preaching of Wishart in Dundee, which led to a popular demonstration against the monasteries, which is known to have taken place there in the autumn of 1543. On the 13th of September, Lord Parr, the Warden of the East English Marches, informed the Duke of Suffolk "that the work of Reformation had begun at Dundee, by destroying the houses of the Black and Grey Friars, and that afterwards the Abbey of Lindores had been sacked by a company of good Christians, who turned the monks out of doors." Parr also mentions the singular fact, that the Regent soon afterwards acknowledged, at Stirling, to the cardinal, that this demolition at Dundee had taken place with his consent; "for which he did open penance in the Friar-house at Stirling, and took an oath to defend the monks, heard mass, and received the sacrament, and was therefore absolved by the cardinal and bishops."1

It was probably soon after this outbreak of popular zeal against the corruptions of the church, the first of the kind which occurred in Scotland, that Wishart was charged by the Governor's authority to desist from preaching in Dundee. That he was so prohibited from continuing his ministrations, is a fact which we learn from the first of the Articles afterwards alleged against him; and the most probable date of the prohibition is that which we have assumed. It need scarcely be added that he paid no regard to an abuse of authority which he knew well had been dictated to the feeble Regent by the imperious cardinal. "My lords," said he to Beaton and the other prelates, at his trial, "I have read in the Acts of the Apostles, that it is not lawful, for the threats and menaces of men, to desist from the preaching of the Evangel; therefore, it is written "we shall rather obey God than men.'" It was equally in vain that John Hepburn, Bishop of Brechin, reiterated the command that he should preach no more, and clenched it with the curse and excommunication of the Church, "delivering him over into the hands of the devil," as his accusers afterwards themselves expressed it. "My lords, I have also read in the Prophet Malachi, I shall curse your blessings, and bless your cursings, saith the Lord.'" With such a conviction of his duty to God, and of Divine acceptation and benediction in his work, no wonder that the Reformer exposed himself to the charge of "continuing obstinately to preach in Dundee, notwithstanding." So long as Dundee herself with her Evangelical Constable, Sir John Scrymgeour, and her godly magistrates and burghers, was willing to hear the words of Eternal Life, Wishart was resolved not to desert his post at the bidding either of regent, cardinal, or bishop.


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