The first example of
martyrdom for religious opinions, recorded in the history of Scotland,
was, as is well known. the death of the unfortunate John Resby, an English
priest, of the school of the celebrated English Reformer, Wickliff. Great
as were the merits of Knox, it may be doubted if he possessed the courage
of this early Reformer, who, at a time when Catholicism reigned supreme in
the Church, and shewed its power in the palace and the house of
Parliament. stood up for the sake of truth in a crowd of enemies,
unqualified by even a mixture of open friends; and, latterly, resigned his
life in the midst of a burning pile in the city of Perth, in the year
Though the enmity of the
dominant Church, and especially of its great defender, Laurence of
Lindores, prevented any open acceptance or approbation of the tenets of
Resby, his excellent sermons—the truth they contained, and the novelty of
such a thing as an attack upon usages which had obtained authority for so
long a period— drew around the enthusiastic preacher a great concourse of
people. His forty heretical conclusions had a secret charm in them, which
recommended them to the hearts of all lovers of truth; but no one durst
venture to say he approve of them for Albany, the governor, had already
shewn himself a persecutor of the Lollards and heretics; and his fierce
character was a guarantee for all manner of cruel visitations upon the
heads of the victims of his displeasure. But the courageous Resby,
despised both him and his persecutions, and continued the dissemination of
his brochures and his public orations in the face of the threatened stake
and its encircling flames.
In various parts of
Scotland the preacher held forth; in Perth, Dundee, and many of the
southern towns. His progress was narrowly watched by Laurence of Lindores;
and a keen eye kept on his secret favourers. On one occasion he preached
in the town of Dumfries; and there were some circumstances attending his
holding forth in that town, which are, in themselves, extremely curious,
and deserve the attention of the public, as much for their singularity as
the effects that flowed from them.
The character of the Duke
of Rothsay, the nephew of the Regent, has been drawn by pens which no
other goose-quill will ever rival. His beauty, his high honour, his
gallantry, chivalry, and light-hearted, perhaps mad-cap frolics, have
endeared him to those who could not well defend his more unrestrained
out-breakings of youthful intemperance and dissipation. He worshipped,
with equal veneration, Momus and Minerva. Philosophy and fun were equally
his delight; and the affairs of state, and the light gambols of
libertinism were equally congenial to his pleasure and powers. His early
friend, Sir John de Ramorgny, afterwards his enemy and destroyer,
flattered his excesses, and joined his revels. They went through Scotland
in disguise—personated their friends and their enemies, and drew out of
the pleasure and pain of the humble inhabitants of Scotland food for their
amusement. These two gay friends happened to be in Dumfries at the time
that Resby was to hold forth to the benighted inhabitants of that ancient
town. Such an opportunity for amusement could not be allowed to pass; and
Rothsay’s wits were employed to devise a scheme for annoying the preacher
and tormenting his hearers.
"What thinkest thou,
Ramorgny," said Rothsay, "of playing a trick on the old Wickliffite, Resby?
The curmudgeon is not liked by my uncle, and that should be a reason
against my abusing him; but my spirits are flat, and call for a stimulant,
and who can so well cure my depression as the inspired curmudgeon who is
to hold forth tomorrow in the old church of Dumfries. I have for this hour
past been planning a project, and when thou hast heard it, I think it will
be admitted that the ideas have obeyed the magic wand of my bright fancy."
"It would not be, Rothsay,"
replied Ramorgny, "if the invention of a scheme of frolic did not keep
pace with the eternal flow of those gay dancing spirits of thine, which
make even sober reason to join the gallopade of their merriment. What hast
"Hast thou ever heard the
women sitting at the doors of our Scottish huts, singing their song on the
churchman Lindores, or, as they caIl him, Lindares?"
"No," said Ramorgny; "but
thou, who dost so much associate with the dancing girls and minstrels, in
the gratification of thy reckless spirit, canst perhaps sing it."
"Oh, yes, I can," cried the
prince, laughing; "but there is only one verse of it which has any
connection with our subject—
‘A black cat sits on Melrose aisle,
And cries—"Doon wi’ Lindares!"
But a white dove sits upon its tail,
And whistles for him prayers.’"
"And what is the moral of
that?" inquired Ramorgny; "I see no connection between a ridiculous song
and the old preacher, Resby."
"I cry thee mercy," said
Rothsay; "thy wits are too heavy for the flight of my fancy. I
propose to get a representative of old Mahoun, or the Devil, to sit on the
top of Resby’s pulpit, and grin or purr at the audience, while we enjoy
the effects produced by the apparition."
"I am still at fault," said
"What thinkest thou,"
said the prince, "would be the effect of a large black cat sitting on
the top of the pulpit, while Resby is preaching? The people will take him
for the arch-enemy superintending and inspiring the Reformer; a tumult
will be the consequence; Resby will be seized, and in all likelihood
plunged (we will save him from being drowned) in the river; while we will
enjoy the scene unknown."
"Thy scheme is excellent,"
said Ramorgny; "but it is incomplete. Why not have the white dove in the
song, besides, as the representative of a purer spirit, to produce an
opposition on the part of Resby’s friends to the disciples of puss."
"Better still," cried
Rothsay, clapping his hands with joy; "the scheme is complete. You must
procure the performers."
"I will," said Ramorgny;
and they went to prepare for their recreation.
Next day, Resby held forth
to his congregation. It has come down to these times, that the figure and
manner of this extraordinary man were excellently calculated to accomplish
the object of his ambition. He is represented as being of great height,
extremely spare, and with a clear eye, which seemed to burn continually
with the enthusiasm of one destined by Providence to produce a change in
the frame of society. He was, in fact, a perfect example of those spirits
which are produced at great distances of time, no doubt to execute
purposes which, without the aid of such instruments, would not be
fulfilled. To look upon him produced a kind of awe which could only be
accounted for by the presence of the dominant power which held its
influence over him, and gave him a sense of importance, an elevation of
character, and a majesty of expression, which are not to be found in men
adapted and bound to the common every-day duties and feelings of ordinary
Such was the effect
produced by Resby in the congregation, that the two firebrand spirits who
had determined to torment him, could not avoid participating in some
degree in the enthusiasm with which he seemed to inspire all present.
Ramorgny, in particular, almost resigned his intention; and, as he made
all the efforts in his power to keep quiet the animal he had secreted in a
bag, he could not help contrasting the solemnity of the scene around him
with the ludicrous operation in which he was engaged. The prince, more
volatile, saw only, in the gravity of the faces of the people, a better
guarantee for the sport which he anticipated, and which, in a great
measure, would consist in the mixture of fear, doubt, awe, and enthusiasm,
which would seize the countenances which now only permitted the expression
of one feeling to occupy them.
The discourse which the
preacher that day thought suited to the people of Dumfries, comprehended
two or three of the forty heresies which Laurence of Lindores afterwards
charged against him. He denied the authority of the Pope, as the successor
of St Peter, calling him by that name which, afterwards, when the
Reformation had advanced, became so favourite an epithet in the mouths of
the Reformers—viz., Antichrist. The use of such a phrase in those early
times, was boldness itself, and some murmurs were heard in the church, as
the word resounded through the place of assembly. He discanted largely on
the inutility of penances and auricular confession, and asserted that a
holy life was absolutely necessary in any one who dared to call himself
the vicar of his great Master.
These topics were then of
paramount importance, and not having previously been called in question,
the eloquence of Resby, fired with his natural enthusiasm, and exerted on
subjects so interesting, chained every attention--except, perhaps, those
of Rothsay, and his friend, and their prisoners--and inflamed every
imagination. As he proceeded, he got more enthusiastic, thundering with
his clenched hand upon the pulpit, turning up his eyes to the roof of the
chapel, and then darting them on the terrified and awe-stricken hearers.
A spell was upon the
congregation. The preacher’s triumph was complete; for that which he had
laboured for he had accomplished—the chaining of the attention of his
hearers. He had reached the climax of his enthusiasm, and the people had
attained to the full height of their sympathy, in the feelings he so
eloquently expressed. The time was come for Ramorgny to act. Having, when
he entered, slipped near the pulpit, his situation was well suited to the
accomplishment of his object. He opened his bag, and let out his black
prisoner, who, terrified at the number of people, scrambled up the pulpit,
and sat on the top of it with its face to the audience—an apt
representative of the arch-fiend The people were electrified. A scream
issued from the females, and groans from the men resounded through the
church. Resby, who did not see his black companion, conceived the tumult
to be the result of his eloquence. He increased his energies--lifted
higher his voice, and enhanced the wildness of his gestures. At this
moment Rothsay let off his dove, which, with a beautiful wheel, flew round
the church and lighted on a part of the gallery opposite to the preacher
and the demure grimalkin.
This additional token was
viewed with superstitious awe. Resby himself was deceived. He looked at
the bird, and pointing his finger, cried out—"Behold a voucher for the
truth of my mission." His friends were filled with enthusiasm—-"A spirit!"
"A spirit!" resounded from various quarters; while the enemies of the
preacher, with fingers pointed to the black messenger, cried
out—"Beelzebub! Beelzebub!" The cries continued, becoming louder and
louder. The people divided—one joining the standard of puss, and the other
that of the dove. A scene of confusion commenced, such as was never
witnessed in a religious congregation before or since. The timid
endeavoured to get out, which produced a crush with all its appalling
effects. The preacher held up his hands, vociferated, pointed to the dove;
the people continued to press forward and to scream, while the two
opposing parties dealt blows around them, and a scene of wild uproar
commenced which threatened the loss of many lives. The dove, in the
meantime, escaped by the window, and puss secreted herself among the
seats, Rothsay and Ramorgny, having placed themselves near the entrance,
were among the first to get out. They stood at the door, witnessing the
deplorable effects of their frolic. As the people came out, many of them
fell down in a faint. Several were crushed almost to death, and some
received injuries from which they never recovered.
Rothsay, who did not want
feeling, was annoyed by the result of his project. The consequences went
farther than he anticipated or wished. Alas! he did not yet see the end of
them, and was doomed never to see them; for he fell a victim to the
perfidy of his companion, before Resby, whom this very circumstance made
more obnoxious to the Regent, was committed to the flames.
The secret of Rothsay’s
hand in this project was well kept; and, as neither the cat nor the dove
were seen again, a universal belief prevailed, in these superstitious
times, that they were really messengers of good and evil. The story
spread, and carried with it Resby’s name. The public were divided into two
parts—one espousing the part of the dove, the other that of the cat. Resby
was either a saint or a fiend—there was no medium; and, as his success or
failure had apparently interested the powers above and below, the
inhabitants of the middle world could not be blamed for viewing him in
either of these lights. This simple incident may even be traced in its
effects to the times of the Reformation. The spirit then raised increased
in power, till filling the soul of the immortal Knox, it became
irresistible and finally achieved a victory which has produced more good
than any triumph of reason that ever was signalized.
The name of Black and White
Reformers, derived from the incident now detailed, prevailed in Scotland
long after Resby’s death, and even with the circumstances which gave rise
to it, was no longer remembered. Both parties were called Reformers,
because their disputes tended to the advancement of the Reformation.