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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter II.—The Wishart Period, a. d. 1543—1554.
Section 7. Assassination of Beaton, and siege of the Castle of St Andrews. 1546—1547


In less than three months after the death of Wishart, that cruel tragedy was as cruelly avenged in the death of its chief perpetrator. On the 29th of May, 1546, while the applause of the priests and friars was still ringing in the ears of the cardinal, and saluting him as the saviour of the Church; and while he was proudly congratulating himself on the success of all his measures, and his now complete and unopposed ascendancy both in Church and State, he was suddenly surprised in his own strong castle and palace, and cut off by a fate as tragical and ignominious in all its circumstances, as any that has ever been recorded in the long catalogue of human crimes and calamities.

The details of this assassination are so familiar to all the readers of Scottish history, that it is quite unnecessary here to repeat them ; while to offer any defence, or even any extenuation of so criminal an act, would be itself a crime. In so far as the Reformation was really responsible for the doings ot the conspirators, its honour must be confessed to have contracted a deep stain from their deed of violence and blood. But though the atrocity cannot be defended or even palliated, it admits of being explained. Its chief actors held the principle, that when it had become hopeless to expect deliverance from public oppressors by the arm of public justice, it was lawful for private individuals to remove them as the enemies of mankind. They made a distinction between the removal, by such means, of private and public enemies—a principle ot social morality, which was undoubtedly as vicious in its own nature, as it was dangerous in its consequences; but which carried with it an appearance of wild justice, that recommended it to a fierce and impatient age; and which was not without its use as a terror to evil-doers, in times when law was often too weak to reach the greatest criminals, and when the worst transgressors of law were, often the very men whose duty it was to defend and administer it The truth is, the cardinal had acted upon such a principle himself. There had been times when he despaired of being able to stop the career of George Wishart by the impediments of public law and authority; so powerful was the protection which that reformer had found behind the shields of the protestant nobles and their retainers; and at such times he had not disdained to hire the dagger of the private assassin, or to lay the ambush of armed ruffians. The end, he thought, justified the means. Wishart, in his view, was a public enemy and nuisance, and everything was lawful against such a foe. No marvel then, that his own example should have provoked an act of imitation which was fatal to himself; and that this should have been the way in which the angry justice both of God and man should have at last overtaken him, and exacted from him, in the very zenith of his power, a fresh fulfilment of the ancient and unrepealed doom, " that whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

The benefit which accrued to the Reformation from the removal of so powerful an adversary as the cardinal, was much more than counterbalanced by the long train of evils which resulted from the event. Beaton's successor in the primacy, John Hamilton, though much his inferior in talent and energy, was almost his equal in profligacy of manners, and in persecuting zeal and cruelty, so that little was gained by the change in this respect; while the exasperation of feeling called forth by a deed so daring and criminal, gave rise to proceedings against the conspirators, which being extended indiscriminately to all their abettors, real or supposed, had the effect of retarding the progress of the Reformation for many years; and of weighing it down with a load of opprobrium, from the effects of which it could only slowly recover.

The moment the success of Norman Leslie and the other conspirators became known, and that they meant to keep possession of the stronghold which they had so unexpectedly seized, they were joined in the Castle of St. Andrews by as many as one hundred and forty persons, including many members of the reforming families of Kirkaldy of Grange, Melville of Raith, Leslie of Rothes, and Balfour of Montquhany, and many other gentlemen of the same party in Fife and the neighbouring counties. In the circumstances of suspicion in which the conspiracy had placed many of these men, owing to their close connexion with the conspirators, it was natural enough that they should have taken this step. Behind the strong defences of the castle they hoped to be safe from the new outburst of trouble and persecution, which they knew must soon follow. Stjll the step was a false one, and drew after it great disasters. It identified them in public opinion with the crime which was now to be avenged; they were naturally regarded as the friends and abettors of the conspirators, to whom they thus joined themselves. The Reformation, to which they were all known to be attached, was held responsible for a deed which its disciples flius publicly countenanced ; and they all became involved in the calamities which resulted from the siege, to which the castle was ere long subjected.

As early as the 10th of June, a summons of treason passed under the great seal, citing not only the original conspirators, but many of those who had afterwards entered the castle, to appear before the Parliament in Edinburgh, on the 30th of July. The summons being disregarded, all who were named in it were declared guilty of treason; their lands and goods were forfeited to the crown ; they were solemnly cursed and excommunicated by the church ; and before the end of August, the Regent marched with an army to St. Andrews, and laid siege to the castle.

The siege was long and tedious. "The strength of the place was great, and the art of sieging was then little understood in Scotland. The Regent, for a time, had only two great cannons with him, "Crook-Mow and Deaf-Meg;" but these ill-favoured ordnance could effect nothing against the guns of the new-built block-houses of the castle ; and though the artillery of the besiegers was afterwards much reinforced, it never occurred to their inexperienced gunners to avail themselves either of the college steeple hard by, or the high walls of the abbey church, as posts of vantage for their batteries. The besieged were thus able for several months to maintain an equal conflict with their enemies. Arran being without war-ships, the sea was open to them, and they succeeded in communicating with the English court, which sent them timely supplies of provisions and munition.

The Regent at last despaired of being able to reduce the place, till he could invest it by sea as well as land; and con* cealing his intention of applying for aid to France, he entered in the meantime into " an appointment," the terms of which were much more to the advantage of the besieged than of his own dignity. By these stipulations, the Castle of St. Andrews was still to remain in their hands, on condition that they should hold it for the Regent, and not deliver it to the English; and it was provided that they should not "be called upon to surrender it into his keeping, until he had obtained absolution from Rome for the offence of the conspirators in the slaughter of the cardinal; and had granted them and all their friends and servants full remission of the pains and penalties which they had incurred thereby. The siege was suspended in the end of January, 1547 ; Arran withdrew his soldiers to the south of Forth; and the besieged were at liberty to come out from the castle at their pleasure, and to resume intercourse with their friends in the city and neighbourhood.

This state of things continued till the month of June following, and allowed opportunity for several proceedings of a religious kind to take place at St. Andrews, which were of much interest in themselves, and proved of great importance in their issues to the cause of the Reformation.

At Easter, which fell that year on the 10th of April, the castle gates were opened to receive John Knox. He was accompanied by three young gentlemen, his pupils—Francis and George Douglas of Longniddry, and Alexander Cockburn of Ormiston; and he had repaired to the castle as a place of safety from the persecutions of the new archbishop. On the 19th of March, that prelate had presented to the Regent and his council a supplication in the name of the bishops and other churchmen, "for help and reraeid against the sacra-mentaries, and those infected with the pestilential heresy of Luther;" stating, as the special occasion of this request, "that persons who had formerly been banished for heresy, were now coming openly and without any fear, not only into the remote parts of the realm, but even into the court •and presence of their lordships; and were preaching publicly and instructing others in their damnable heresies." The death of the cardinal would appear to have given new boldness to the friends of truth; and this again to have stirred up the clergy to renewed severities. In such circumstances, it was natural that Knox, who had associated himself so openly with Wishart, should be one of the first to be pursued; and he had for some time been removing from place to place, in order to elude the vigilance of his enemies. But at length, growing weary of such a life, he had resolved to leave the kingdom, and to go on a visit to the universities of Germany, when his friends, the Lairds of Ormiston and Longniddry, earnestly pressed him to betake himself with their sons to St. Andrews; in order that "he might have the benefit of the castle, and their children might continue to have the benefit of his doctrine."

He was now in the prime of manhood—upwards of forty years of age; and his remarkable manner of teaching the principles of religion to his young charge, soon drew upon him the eyes of all the more godly portion of the inhabitants both of the castle and the city. He tells us that, " he began to exercise his pupils after his accustomed manner. Besides their grammar and other human authors, he read unto them a catechism, an account whereof he caused them to give publicly in the parish church of St. Andrews. He read moreover unto them the Evangel of John; and that lecture he read in the chapel within the castle at a certain hour."

There were among his auditors, on these occasions, several men who were able to appreciate perfectly the purity and the power of his teaching. One of these was John "Rough, who had taken refuge in the castle soon after the slaughter of the cardinal, and had all along acted as chaplain to the besieged ; another was Henry Balnaves, an eminent lawyer, and one of the judges of the kingdom, who had early embraced the Reformation, and was one of its most distinguished ornamental and a third was Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, the Lion-king, whose frequent presence in the castle at that time, while quite consistent with the duty of his office—inasmuch as the fortress was then held in the governor's name and behalf, is a remarkable proof of the interest which he continued to take in the cause of the Reformation, even in this the lowest ebb of its fortunes. These men saw at a glance the high powers of the tutor of Longniddry as a religious teacher; and they perceived how much would be gained to the cause of truth by converting the modest tutor into a public preacher of the word. What followed can best be told in the words of Knox himself:—"They of the place, but especially Maister Henry Balnaves, and John Rough, preacher, perceiving the manner of his doctrine, began earnestly to travail with him, that he would take the preaching place upon him; but he utterly refused, alleging 'that he would not run where God had not called him,' meaning that he would do nothing without a lawful vocation. Whereupon, they privily among themselves advising, having with them in counsel Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, they concluded that they would give a charge to the said John, and that publicly, by the mouth of their preacher; and so, upon a certain day, a sermon being had of the election of ministers, what power the congregation (how small that ever it was, passing the number of two or three) had above any man, in whom they supposed and espied the gifts of God to be, and how dangerous it was to refuse and not to hear the voice of such as desire to be instructed ; these and other heads (we say) declared, John Rough, preacher, directed his words to John Knox, saying, ' Brother, ye shall not be offended, albeit I speak unto you that which I have in charge, even from all those that are here present, which is this, in the name of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ, and in the name of these that presently call you by my mouth, I charge you that ye refuse not this holy vocation, but as you tender the glory of God, the increase of Christ's Kingdom, the edification of your brethren, and the comfort of me, whom you understand well enough to be oppressed by the multitude of labours, that ye take upon you the public office and charge of preaching, even as ye look to avoid God's heavy displeasure, and desire that he shall multiply his graces with you.' And in the end, he said to those that were present, 'Was not this your charge to me and do ye not approve this vocation?' they answered, 'It was, and we approve it;' whereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day till the day that he was compelled to present himself to the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart, for'no man saw any sign of mirth of him, neither yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, many days together."

The intrepid boldness with which Knox soon after began to exercise his ministry formed a singular contrast to the unaffected modesty and reluctance with which he had consented to undertake it His first public sermon was in a high degree characteristic, both of his principles and his temper as a Reformer. It struck the key-note in truth of his whole subsequent preaching, and however much he may have afterwards learned in point of theological erudition from his intercourse with the English and Continental Reformers, it is plain that all the main principles of his teaching were already fixed, and that in point of clearness of perception, strength of conviction, and unsparing vigour of application of the truth both for instruction and reproof, he was already all that his later ministrations evinced him to be.

His first sermon arose out of a controversy which he had begun to wage with Dean John Annan, of St. Andrews. He had already "beaten the Dean," as he tells us, "from all his defences, and compelled him to fly to his last refuge, that is, the authority of the Church." "This authority," exclaimed Annan one day from the pulpit of the parish church, "damns all Lutherans and heretics, and therefore I need no farther disputation." But Knox, who was in the audience, replied aloud,

"Before we hold ourselves, or you can prove us sufficiently convicted of heresy by the authority of the Church, we must define the Church by the right notes given to us in God's Scripture of the true Church; for as for your Roman Kirk, as it is now corrupted, and the authority thereof, wherein stands the hope of your victory, I no more doubt that it is the synagogue of Satan, and the Head thereof, called the Pope, to be that Man of Sin of whom the apostle speaks, than I doubt that Jesu? Christ suffered by the procurement of the visible Kirk of Jerusalem. Yea, I offer, myself by word or write to prove the Roman Church to be, this day, further degenerate from the purity which was in the days of the apostles, than was the Church of the Jews from the ordinance given by Moses, when they consented to the innocent death of Jesus Christ." The people hearing the offer, cried out with one consent, "We cannot all read your writings, but we may all hear your preaching, therefore we require you, in the name of God, that ye will let us hear the probation of that which ye have affirmed; for if it be true we have been miserably deceived." And so the next Sunday was appointed to express his mind in the public preaching place.

We cannot find space for even an outline of this remarkable sermon. We can only tell that the drift of it was to prove that the Papacy is the great Antichrist, being contrary to Christ both in life, doctrine, laws, and subjects; that the intrepid preacher alleged in proof of his theme, manifold arguments from Scripture, from the Fathers, and from history; and that he wound up with the challenge, that, "if any here (and there were present, the university, John Major, the sub-prior, and many canons, with some friars of both the orders) will say that I have alleged Scripture, doctor, or history, otherwise than it is written, let them come unto me with sufficient witness, and by conference I shall let them see not only the original, where my testimonies are written, but I shall prove that the writers meant as I have spoken."

Of this his first sermon, he tells us, "there were divers bruits. Some said, "Others sned {i.e. lopped) the branches of the papistry, but he strikes at the root to destroy the whole." Others said, " Maister George Wishart spake never so plainly, and yet he was burnt; even so will he be in the end." Others said, "The tyranny of the cardinal made not his cause the better, neither yet the suffering of God's servant made his cause the worse; and therefore we would counsel you to provide better defences than fire and sword, for it may be that else ye will be disappointed; men now have other eyes than they had then." These remarks passing from mouth to mouth indicated that a great step in advance had now been taken by the Scottish Reformation. In the person and ministry of Knox it had entered upon a new stage. Hamilton, Wishart, and others had condemned particular doctrines and rites of the Church of Rome, but now a great preacher stood forth to deny the authority of the Church of Rome itself. If that authority should fall, all the Church's powers and prerogatives, doctrines and institutes, must fall with it in one mighty overthrow. If the Church of the Popes was Antichrist, how could it be any true part of the body of Christ and how could it have any claim whatever to the submission, or even to the deference, of the Christian world?

No wonder the archbishop-elect was astonished and scandalized to hear that such teaching was permitted and listened to in the parish church of his metropolitical city; and that he wrote instantly to John Wynram the sub-prior, who was acting as Vicar-General of the province, "that he marvelled that he should suffer such heretical and schismatical doctrine to be taught, and not to oppose himself to the same." Wynram was obliged to do something to save appearances; but the course he took was highly characteristic He summoned Knox and Rough to appear before a convention of theologians, in St. Leonard's college, to answer to certain articles gathered out of their sermons; but he soon put them at their ease, by telling them, in effect, that he had invited them to a conference, without meaning to put them upon their trial.

"The strangeness of these articles," said he, after the list had been read over, "has moved us to call for you, to hear your own answers." "For my part," replied Knox, "I praise my God that I see so honourable and apparently so modest and quiet an auditure. But because it is long since I have heard that you are one who is not ignorant of the truth, I must crave of you, in the name of God, yea, and I appeal your conscience before that supreme Judge, that if ye think any article there expressed contrarious unto the truth of God, ye would oppose yourself plainly to it and suffer not the people to be therewith deceived. But and if in your conscience ye know the doctrine to be true, then will I crave your patronage thereto ; that by your authority the people may be moved the rather to believe the truth, whereof many doubt, by reason of our youth." To which the sub-prior answered, "I came not here as a judge, but only familiarly to talk; and therefore I will neither allow nor condemn ; but if ye list, I will reason :" And then followed a friendly disputation between him and Knox, upon the question moved by the sub-prior, Why may not the kirk, for good causes, devise ceremonies to decore the Sacraments and other parts of God's service 1

The argument was a short one; for Wynram was only half in earnest, and was more disposed, to jest than to reason. "Forgive me/' said he to Knox, who had used the liberty of saying that he would they should not jest in so grave a matter; "forgive me; and now, father," turning to Gray-friar Arbuckle, who stood by eager to enter the lists,"follow the argument. Ye have heard what I have said, and what is answered to me again;" and then ensued a somewhat lengthened encounter between the Reformer and the too confident friar. Arbuckle began boldly thus: "I shall prove plainly that ceremonies are ordained by God; I will even prove these that ye damn to be ordained of God." "The proof hereof," said the Reformer quietly, "I would gladly hear." The friar's proof, of course, was quite beside the mark, ludicrously so indeed; and only gave advantage against himself to his powerful antagonist.

Arbuckle then left the high ground of divine appointment which he had first taken up, and began to allege "that we ought not to be so straitly bound to the word," as Knox contended. But, "while he wandered about in the mist, he fell into a foul mire, for he affirmed, *That the apostles had not received the Holy Ghost, when they did write their epistles; but afterwards they received Him, and then they did ordain the ceremonies.'" "Few would have thought," says Knox, " that so learned a man would have given so foolish an answer; and yet it is even as true as that he bare a gray cowl." The sub-prior was as much scandalized at the Father's blunder, as Knox. "Father," cried he, "What say ye? God forbid that ye affirm that; for then, fareweel the ground of our faith." "The friar, astonied, made the best shift that he could to correct his fall, but it would not be. John Knox brought him oft again to the ground of the argument, but he would never answer directly, but ever fled to the authority of the kirk. Whereto the said John answered oftener than once," That the spouse of Christ had neither power nor authority against the word of God." Then said the friar, " ye will leave us no kirk."

The Inquisition demanded by the primate, ended, by Wyn-ram's astute management, in smoke instead of fire; and the Heformers were both left at liberty to reiterate their articles in the pulpit as oft as they pleased. The only limitation put upon them was, that they were kept out of the pulpit of the parish church on Sundays by the appointment of others to preach, whose sermons were "penned to offend no man;" but they might preach on other days—a liberty which Knox turned to the utmost account; and not without fruit, for "God," he records, "so assisted his weak soldier, and so blessed his labours, that not only all those of the castle, but also a great number of the town, openly professed the truth by participation in the Lord's Table," which was then, for the first time in Scotland, administered in its primitive purity and simplicity.

These interesting proceedings took place in the months of May and June; and if the Reformer had been allowed to go on he would no doubt have reaped still greater successes as the first-fruits of his ministry; but his labours were suddenly interrupted by the renewal of the siege. "On the fourth day of June appeared in the sight of the castle of St Andrews, twenty-one French galleys, with a force of an army the like whereof was never seen in that frith before." The next day the French commander summoned the castle to surrender, but its defenders refused, on the plea that Frenchmen had no authority in Scottish waters. The Regent, on hearing fcf the arrival of the Frenchmen whom he had so treacherously brought to his aid, hurried from the western borders to St. Andrews, to co-operate with the besiegers. The trenches were opened on the 24th of July. The steeple of St. Salvator's College, and the towers and walls of the Abbey were converted into batteries by the French gunners, who smiled at the simplicity of the garrison in having allowed these commanding eminences to fall into their hands. So long as the attack was made only from the sea the defence was hopefully maintained ; but the besieged were soon brought to terms when the gunners were able to open upon them their land batteries. In a few hours, as Knox had warned his friends when they bragged of the force 'and thickness of their walls, the defences crumbled like egg-shells before that formidable foreign artillery; and William Kirkaldy went forth with a flag of truce to capitulate with the French commander. The conditions obtained were, that the lives of all within the castle should be spared; that they should be safely transported to France; and "in case they could not be content to remain in service and freedom there upon such conditions as should be offered them by the French king, they should be safely conveyed, at his charge, to any other country, except Scotland, which they would require." Prisoned and bound in the French galleys, they were all doomed to go forth into perpetual exile; many of them with the sentence of forfeiture and outlawry upon their heads; excommunicated by the church, and deprived of all their lands and goods by the state.

In a few days thereafter, the last galley had disappeared below the horizon, that bore away to France the mixed company of good and bad men who had been so long associated together within the walls of the castle of St. Andrews. It was one of the worst results of the conspiracy against Beaton, that it ended in driving into protracted exile men like Henry Balnaves, and John Rough, and John Knox; and in leaving the kingdom for years destitute of teachers to carry on the work which had been so prosperously begun. So different, so opposite, are the results of doing God's work in God's own appointed way, and of doing it in a way of man's own impatient and rash invention ! By faithful labour and patient martyr-like endurance, the Reformation prospered and triumphed in the hands of Hamilton and Wishart and other worthies; but in the hands of the Kirkaldies, and the Leslies, and the Melvilles, the cause had been covered with a cloud of public opprobrium; and but for the providential appearance of Knox at that critical moment, would have been brought into danger of a hopeless overthrow. Indeed, as Knox himself, its new champion, was involved along with the rest in the final disaster, it was natural that the churchmen should have triumphed, as he tells us they did, in the complete ruin of the Lutherans and Sacramentaries. "In Scotland that summer, was nothing but mirth, for all went with the priests even at their own pleasure. The joy of the papists both of Scotland and France was in full perfection, and this was their song of triumph :—

'Priests content ye now, priests content ye now,
For Normand and his company have filled the galleys fou'.

And so judged the ungodly that after that in Scotland should Christ Jesus never have triumphed."


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