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The Scottish Reformation
Chapter III.—The Knox Period, a. d. 1555—1560.
Section 4. Popular Tumults. The Reformation in Arms. 1559


It was now time for the crafty Queen-Regent to throw off the mask which she had so long worn with such perfect address. She had made good her own objects. She no longer stood in need of protestant votes, and having succeeded in reducing the kingdom to a virtual dependency of the French monarchy, she felt strong enough to carry out without any longer delay the designs of the French court against the Reforming party. The resolute purpose of the Guises was to annihilate the Reformation both in France and Scotland

In a few months after the Parliament of October, 1558, she began to "disclose the latent venom of her double heart" Early in the spring of 1559, news was brought her that the town of Perth had embraced the Reformed worship, and had welcomed the ministrations of the preachers, John Christison and William Harlaw. Her real feelings in regard to the progress of Reform only needed such an occasion to reveal themselves. She was highly incensed by the tidings, and sent her commands to Lord Ruthven, provost of the town, instantly to suppress the new worship; and when Ruthven was so free as to reply, "That he could make the bodies of his citizens to come to her Grace, and to prostrate themselves before her, till she were fully satiated with their blood, but to cause them to do against their consciences, he could not promise," she sent him, in great anger, a second message, "That he was too malapert to give her such answer, and that both he and they should repent it." She sent instructions to James Halyburton, provost of Dundee, to apprehend Paul Methven; which Halyburton evaded by causing secret intimation to be given to the preacher to avoid the town for a time. When the season of Easter approached she sent "such men as she thought most able to persuade" to Dundee, Montrose, Perth, and other towns which had embraced the Gospel, to endeavour to induce them to return to the observation of Mass during that high festival of the Church; but all their persuasions were without effect. Meanwhile, the bishops, assembled in provincial synod in Edinburgh, were at her ear to turn all these irritating disappointments to account, and to inflame her resentment to the highest pitch. They had struck upon a new thought. They might have the satisfaction of seeing persecution renewed without bearing the public odium of being themselves. the persecutors. Let the assumption of the function of preaching without ecclesiastical authority be called rebellion, as an invasion of the constituted order of the Church, as authorized by the State; and let the Regent take the initiative against the offenders, by summoning them as rebels as well as heretics.

It was a happy idea, and the Regent was too much under the influence of hatred and resentment not to see that by adopting such counsel she made herself the tool of the bishops, and would at once launch her own personal credit and authority upon a struggle of which she could not foresee the end. The goadings of mistaken zeal, seconded by the urgency of her interested advisers, and by the known desires of the French Court, overcame her prudence, and committed her to a conflict with more than one half of her nobility and people, which was fatal to the peace and prosperity of the rest of her regency, and brought her life to a premature and unhappy end.

Soon after Easter she summoned all the preachers, viz. John Willock, Paul Methven, William Harlaw, and John Christison, to appear before her at Stirling on a charge of rebellion, on the 10th day of May. It was in vain that the protestant nobles interposed, and sought all means to appease her resentment, and protect the preachers. She was inflexible in her resolution ; the die was cast; and the last decisive struggle of this long Reformation warfare was now to begin.

Just at this critical moment arrived again from Geneva, the very leader whom the Congregation needed—John Knox. On the 2d of May, 1559, he appeared in Edinburgh; and as soon as he understood the position of affairs, he resolved to make common cause with his menaced brethren. It had already been determined "that the gentlemen of every country should accompany their preachers to Stirling, to give confession of their faith along with them, and assist them in their defence." This was exactly the course which Knox himself would have advised, and he immediately left Edinburgh for Dundee, to join the gentlemen of Angus and Mearns. It may easily be imagined with what joy they welcomed him to their ranks, and with what an accession of confidence they set off, with such a hero of the faith among them, to Perth, on their way to Stirling.

The hand of Divine Providence indeed was most conspicuous in bringing Knox to the assistance of his brethren at such a juncture. No one was so able as he to give courage, and inspiration, and direction, at such a time. It was his spirit, in fact, infused in absence by means of fervent epistles and appeals, into the protestant nobles, which had brought forward the cause of Reform into its present position. The noble words of their Petition and Protestation in the previous year were simply the echoes of his manly voice. Never had leader more thoroughly poured his own soul into the souls of his followers; and now that the followers were to gather and gird themselves in earnest for the strife, most fitting and most providential it was that the leader should appear again personally in the field, to marshal their ranks, and fight at their head the good fight of faith and duty. As soon as they arrived at Perth he began to preach, or rather, as he expresses it himself, to exhort, for all his words at this time were spurs and goads to rouse men to action and stoutness of courage in the cause of truth and liberty.

Though unarmed and men of peace, the numerous party who had now assembled at Perth were sensible of the alarm and suspicion which the Regent would naturally conceive on hearing of their approach. They therefore adopted the precaution of sending on to Stirling, John Erskine of Dun, "a zealous, prudent, and godly man," to declare to her that the cause of their convocation was only to give confession with their preachers, and to assist them in their just defence. Still she could not help feeling that such a proceeding amounted to a demonstration of physical force as well as of religious conviction—which, in truth, it was, and was partly meant to be; and for a time she seemed to feel the point of the warning, and to waver in her resolve. When she understood "the fervency of the people, she began to craft" with Erskine, begging him " to stay the multitude and also the preachers, and promising that she would take some better order;" and so much in earnest did she seem, that Erskine conceived sanguine hopes of a change of purpose, and wrote to his friends at Perth to dissuade them from coming forward; a course which, though disapproved at first by some, who predicted that she would prove false, was at length concurred in unanimously by all.

Here, then, was a brief pause in the action, during which the Queen-Regent and her counsellors had one more opp6rtu-nity of avoiding the collision which was now imminent. But again she gave ear to evil advisers instead of taking counsel with her own prudence. She violated her promise to Erskine; took a base advantage of the non-appearance of the preachers at Stirling on the day appointed; and in spite of every solicitation that could be made by Erskine and the Master of Maxwell to the contrary, gave commandment to put them all to the horn as rebels; "inhibiting all men, under the like pains of rebellion, to assist, comfort, receive, or maintain them in any sort"—a most unprincely act, and a heinous injustice which could only have been perpetrated by a ruler who held the principle which she had not long before avowed to the Earl of Glencairn, when he reminded her of her manifold promises to protect the Protestant preachers, that "it became not subjects to burden their princes with promises further than it pleaseth them to keep the same." So grossly immoral were her maxims of government, and that, too, in dealing with subjects who had become fervent disciples of the high and holy morality of the word of God. Who can be surprised at the ferment of indignation which followed such an act of unblushing oppression? or who can greatly blame men for rebelling against an act which wickedly entrapped them into the position of rebels?

What consequences instantly resulted from this treacherous proceeding of the Queen-Regent, must be told in Knox's own words, for no narrative could equal his own in historic value and in graphic effect.

"The Laird of Dun coming to St. Johnstoun, expounded the case even as it was, and did conceal nothing of the Queen's craft and falsehood. Which understood, the multitude was so inflamed that neither could the exhortation of the preacher nor the commandment of the magistrate stay them from destroying of the places of idolatry. The manner whereof was this : The preachers before had declared how odious was idolatry in God's presence, what commandment He had given for the destruction of the monuments thereof, what idolatry and what abomination was in the mass. It chanced the next day, which was the eleventh of May, that after the sermon, which was vehement against idolatry, a priest in contempt would go to the mass, and to declare his malapert presumption, he would open up a glorious tabernacle which stood upon the high altar. There stood beside certain godly men, and among others a young boy, who cried with a loud voice, 'This is intolerable, that when God by his word hath plainly damned idolatry, we shall stand and see it used in despite.' The priest hereat offended, gave the child a great blow, who in anger took up a stone and casting at the priest did hit the tabernacle and brake down an image; and immediately the whole multitude that were about cast stones, and put hands to the said tabernacle and to all other monuments of idolatry, which they despatched before the tenth man in the town were advertised (for the most part were gone to dinner); which noised abroad, the whole multitude convened—not of the gentlemen, neither of them that were earnest professors, but of the rascal multitude, who finding nothing to do in that church, did run without deliberation to the Gray and Black Friars, and notwithstanding that they had within them very strong guards kept for their defence, yet were their gates incontinent burst up. The first invasion was upon the idolatry, and thereafter the common people began to seek some spoil; but the preachers before had so threatened all men that for covetousness' sake none should put their hand to such a Reformation, that no honest man {i.e. no man of respectability) was enriched thereby the value of a groat. Their conscience so moved them, that they suffered these hypocrites to take away what they could of that which was in their places. So were men's consciences before beaten with the word, that they had no respect to their own particular profit, but only to abolish idolatry, and the places and monuments thereof; in which they were so busy and so laborious, that within two days these three great places, to wit, the Gray and Black thieves and Charterhouse monks (a building of a wondrous cost and greatness) were so destroyed that the walls only did remain of all these great edifications."

If the treacherous tyranny of princes is grievous to subjects, the tumults of subjects, and their uncontrollable violence, are no less grievous to princes, and prove too easily the occasion for new tyrannies. When this outbreak at Perth was reported to the Queen, she was so enraged that she vowed "utterly to destroy the town, roan, woman, and child, and to consume the same by fire, and thereafter to salt it, in sign of a perpetual desolation." She instantly sent for the great nobles of the kingdom, and induced a majority of them to consent to assist her in pursuing the men assembled at Perth as rebels. She summoned to her aid several bands of French soldiers, who were quartered at different points, and arranged her military plans with Mons. D'Osell, the French king's lieutenant. Not only the Duke of Chatelherault, but even ths young Earl of Argyle, and Lord James Stewart, were induced for a time to take part in her measures, under the impression that a rebellion was intended; while the bishops and abbots, more zealous against the destroyers of the monasteries as heretics than as rebels, "ceased not to cast faggots on the fire; continually crying out, Forward upon these heretics, and we shall rid the realm of them once for all, and for ever."

The cry to arms on one side inevitably led to the cry to arms on the other. A war of religion began; and it was indeed deplorable to see the Reformation compelled to lay aside the sword of the Spirit, and to take up the carnal weapons of the world. But the blame was with the Regent, not with the Reformers. It was false to allege that the Reformers intended rebellion. The breaking down of images and the levelling of churches was not a rebellion, but a tumult. On the part of the Reformers, the civil war which was now to follow was one of pure defence against tyranny and oppression; and they felt and maintained with abundant reason that such a war of defence was just. "As heretofore, they observed in a letter of remonstrance addressed to her Grace from Perth, on the 22d of May, "with jeopard of our lives, and yet with, willing hearts, we have served the authority of Scotland and your Grace, now Regent in this realm, in service to our bodies dangerous and painful; so now with most dolorous minds we are constrained by unjust tyranny purposed against us, to declare unto your Grace, That except this cruelty be stayed by your wisdom, we will be compelled to take the sweard in just defence against all that shall pursue us for the matter of religion, for conscience' sake, which ought not, nor may not, be subject to mortal creatures, farther than by God's word man be able to prove that he hath power to command us. We signify, moreover, unto your Grace, that if by rigour we be compelled to seek the extreme defence, we will not only notify our innocency and petitions to the King of France, to our mistress and her husband, but also to the princes and counsel of every Christian realm, declaring unto them that this cruel, unjust, and most tyrannical murder intended against towns and multitudes was and is the only cause of our revolt from our accustomed obedience—which, in God's presence, we faithfully promise to our sovereign mistress, to her husband, and unto your Grace Regent, provided that our consciences may live in that peace and liberty which Christ Jesus hath purchased to us by his blood."

A noble manifesto ! the language of men become conscious of the greatness of their manhood; of freemen, who have learned that liberty of conscience is the most sacred and precious of all liberties; of Christians who have become really awake to the value and authority of the truth of God.

To say a word at this time of day in vindication of the principles of this manifesto, would be an absurd anachronism; for what great nation of Europe has not since then passed through revolutions produced by the explosive action of the same principles % and what literature of civilized men does not contain equivalents for the grand words which then flowed from the pen of the Scottish Reformers. While a nation is a child, it speaks like a child, because it understands like a child; but when it becomes a man, it understands like a man, and speaks like a man, and puts away theories of slavish obedience and submission to the tyranny of priests and princes as childish things.

The story of the two months' struggle which followed the resolution of the Regent to pursue the Reformers with the sword, though full of incident and vicissitude, must be rapidly told. Happily the actual collisions which took place between the contending parties were few, and very little blood was shed on either side. The brief campaign, if such it can be called, was more fruitful in "appointments," or treaties, than in battles. At Perth, the Regent's forces found themselves outnumbered by the Reformers ; for the latter, had been strengthened by an accession of 2,500 men from Ayrshire, who had hurried over mountain and moor to the aid of their brethren, under the gallant conduct of the Earl of Glencairn; so that she was obliged to accept an u appointment," dated the 28th of May, by which she engaged to leave the citizens unmolested in the exercise of their religion, while the Reformers on their side engaged to break up from Perth, and return to their several countries. This appointment she violated in many points; but her faithlessness cost her dear, for it caused the secession from her ranks of Lord James Stewart and the Earl of Argyle, who from that moment became the chief strength of the opposite party, both in counsel and in the field. At Cupar Moor, where she made a second demonstration of force, in order to put a stop to a work of reformation which was going on at St Andrews, she found herself again in the same situation, and was under the humbling necessity of agreeing to an "assurance," dated the 13th of June, by which she bound herself to abstain for eight days from "invading, troubling, or inquieting" the Protestant Lords; and under which, the only advantage she gained was the ignominious one of being allowed to withdraw her troops unattacked to the south side of the Firth.

Contrary to the "appointment of Perth, she had left a garrison of soldiers in that town* by whom its evangelical citizens were miserably oppressed, and the Lords convened under its walls for its relief on the 24th of June. But the siege was very short After a single volley from Lord Ruthven, who besieged the west quarter, and another from the men of Dundee, who beleaguered the east, the captains of the garrison sued for terms, and they were allowed to depart the town at noon the next day, with ensigns displayed, "without further molestation." At Stirling, where the Regent intended to dispute the passage of the Forth, the Earl of Argyle and Lord James anticipated her French bands, and without once crossing swords with them, got secure possession. At Linlithgow, the reformers found that the Frenchmen had continued their retreat to Edinburgh; and at Edinburgh, where they arrived on the 29th of June, they found the cannon of the castle peaceable, and the city evacuated by the Regent, who had withdrawn to Dunbar. Their advance had been a continued series of victories without blood, and the Regent's retreat a train of discomfitures with hardly a show of fight

At Edinburgh, however, by and by, the tide of success began to turn. The Regent's French troops, though too few to cope with the reformers when in full force, were regular soldiers in constant pay. The forces of the Lords of the Congregation, being levied and provisioned only for a few weeks, could not be long kept together; and as soon as they found that there was to be no fighting about Edinburgh, they began to disperse and melt away. The Regent was well aware of this peculiarity of a Scottish feudal army; and she managed to prolong the negotiations which went on between her and the Protestant lords, till it had fully developed itself. If she was inferior to them in arms, she was as much their superior in finesse. "To no point proposed by them would she answer directly, but in all things was so general and ambiguous," that at last her craft became manifest to all. But they were too late in discovering it While they were reasoning and protocoling to no purpose with her commissioners at Preston, their "compan " at Edinburgh was already "skailled;" and when the Regent, cleverly seizing her opportunity, marched suddenly upon them from Dunbar, they found themselves outnumbered and outgeneraled in their turn. They were compelled to accept an "appointment" which in such circumstances could only be of the nature of an unsatisfactory compromise. It secured to their party much less than they could have wished, and it guaranteed even that little only for a time. The appointment was dated the 24th of July, 1559, and was to hold only till the Parliament met on the 10th of January, 1560.

The Lords, with the slender remains of their followers, immediately withdrew to Stirling, where, after renewing their band for "maintenance of religion and for mutual defence" on the 1st of August, and arranging to hold a convention in Stirling on the 10th of September, for consultation and further action, they separated to their different dwellings and domains.

But the brief campaign which we have thus hurriedly sketched had the curious peculiarity of being as much a campaign of attack upon Romish superstition, as a campaign of defence against civil and ecclesiastical oppression. Where-ever the Reformers marched, they carried a sword in one hand and a crow-bar in the other. Unlike the Jews under Nehemiah, their mission was not to fight and to build up, but to fight and to pull down. Wherever they appeared, the churches were thoroughly purged of images and mass-altars, and the monasteries were levelled with the ground in a tempest of indignation and disgust The work of demolition and purgation which was begun in a frenzy of popular rage at Perth, was continued in a more deliberate manner in St Andrews, Cupar, and other places in Fife, and at Scone, Cambuskenneth, Linlithgow, and Edinburgh. The parish churches were spared after being roughly purged; but the monastic buildings, including many beautiful churches, were demolished with an unsparing hand. In Stirling and Edinburgh the monasteries were attacked and sacked by the multitude before the Lords arrived; and at Scone, the demolition was carried through by the townsmen of Dundee and Perth, in spite of the most earnest exertions of the noblemen and of Knox himself to save the palace and church, which were of national and historic interest These facts reveal the strength and violence of the public hatred of the religious orders. It was a long accumulation of popular feeling which exploded that summer against the Scottish monks. The indolence, the greed, the impurities, and the hypocrisies of ages were avenged and expiated in a single day. And are such storms of national indignation to be lamented for the havoc that they work upon buildings and monuments of art % No! Like storms in the air, they clear the moral and social atmosphere of nations; they dissipate the accumulated poison of bad principles, bad examples, and bad institutions ; they explode at small cost the choke-damp of popular discontent, which would otherwise find a vent for itself with much more fatal effects; and though they leave many ruins upon the ground, to mark the way they took in their irresistible progress, they make room, by these very demolitions, for edifices and institutions of a more useful and beneficial kind. It would be childish to lament and condemn the law of storms in nature because of the wreck and ruin with which they cover the land and the ocean. And what less than childish is it to be lamenting for ever the fall of monastic refectories, and dormitories, and churches, as mere buildings, and to be for ever condemning the Reformation as the cause of all that ruin; when in virtue of the explosion, a nation was delivered for ever from the corrupt and corrupting institution of monkery, and saw the primitive order both of nature and Christianity reasserted and restored % We confess no little admiration for fine buildings, but we have more for good morals. We love " the Gothic " much, but we love pure Christianity more; and no doubt it is a happy state of things when we can have our love for both gratified at the same time and by the same institutions. But when architectural losses are all we have to pay for moral and religious reformations, we think the bargain a very good one, and worthy to be congratulated and gratefully remembered by all the wise and good.

The Reformation in St. Andrews and Edinburgh had some points of peculiar interest in relation to John Knox, which must not be omitted. In the former city it was Lord James Stewart the Commendator of the Priory, who took the direction of the work; and Knox was invited by him to preach on Sunday, the 10th of June, in the pulpit of the Cathedral. But as soon as the Archbishop heard of this intention, he hastened into the city from Falkland with a hundred spears, and on Saturday night sent a message to the Prior to say, "that in case John Knox presented himself to the preaching-place in his town and principal Church, he should gar him be saluted with a dozen of culverines, whereof the most part should light upon his nose." Lord James and Argyle were alarmed, and did their utmost to dissuade Knox from preaching. But the reformer stood firm—he spoke like a hero. "As for the fear of danger that shall come to me, let no man be solist, for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek. I desire the hand nor weapon of no man to defend me; only do I crave audience." "At these words the lords were fully content that he should occupy the place, which he did upon Sunday, and did entreat of the ejection of the buyers and sellers furth of the Temple of Jerusalem; and so applied the corruption that was there to the corruption that is in the Papistrie, and Christ's part to the duty of those to whom God gave the power and zeal thereto, that as weill the magistrates, as the commonalty for the most part within the town did agree to remove all monuments of idolatry, which also they did with expedition."

In Edinburgh, after steps had been taken for the suppression of all superstitious monuments within the city, and in all the places adjacent, the magistrates and many of the leading citizens met in the Tolbooth on the 7 th of July, and elected Knox to be their minister ; and he immediately entered upon the discharge of his duties as first reformed pastor of the capital of the kingdom. For the first time his intrepid voice was heard ringing through the vaults of the great church of St. Giles, where for thirteen years afterwards, with occasional interruptions, it continued not only to be heard, but to be obeyed. For it was the voice, not only of a true man, but of a true minister of God—a man and a minister who was "the apostle of the Scots," in the judgment of foreigners; and who, in the estimation of his own countrymen, was almost a prophet— a "preacher of righteousness in the spirit and power of Elias." But it was not till the civil war was over that Knox could exercise his ministry statedly in the capital He was too important a personage, and too obnoxious to the Queen-Regent and the Bishops, to be left exposed to the dangers of a residence in Edinburgh, in the absence of the Protestant Lords. John Willock took his place for a time, while Knox went on a preaching expedition through the south and west of the kingdom. From St. Andrews, which continued to be his headquarters till the ensuing spring, he wrote to one of his correspondents on the 2d of September, in the following glowing terms, respecting the progress of the proper work of the Reformation throughout the realm :—

"I have been in continual travel since the day of appointment, and, notwithstanding the fevers have vexed me the space of a month, yet have I travelled through the most part of this realm, where, all praise be to his blessed Majesty, men of all sorts and conditions embrace the truth. Enemies we have many, by reason of the Frenchmen who are lately arrived, of whom our parties hope golden hills, and such support as we are not able to resist We do nothing but go about Jericho, blowing with trumpets as God giveth strength, hoping victory by his favour alone. Christ Jesus is preached even in Edinburgh, and his blessed sacraments rightly ministered in all congregations where the ministry is established; and they be these, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Dundee, St Johnstoun, Brechin, Montrose, Stirling, and Ayr. And now Christ Jesus is begun to be preached upon the south borders, in Jedburgh and Kelso, so that the trumpet soundeth over all, blessed be our God."


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