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Significant Scots
John Willock


WILLOCK, JOHN, one of the earliest Scottish reformers, is supposed to have been a native of Ayrshire, and to have been educated at the university of Glasgow. He entered one of the monastic orders (that of the Franciscans, according to Spotswood, and of the Dominicans, according to Lesley) in the town of Ayr, and remained in it probably for several years; but the history of this period of his life is almost entirely unknown. Previously to 1541, he had become a convert to the protestant faith, and retired from his native country into England. There, however, he did not receive the protection which he seems to have expected; for, during the persecution for the Six Articles, he was thrown into the Fleet prison. After his liberation, he became one of the chaplains to the duke of Suffolk, the father of the lady Jane Grey; and during the reign of king Edward, appears to have lived in tranquillity. But the hopes of the protestants were soon blasted by the early death of that monarch; and Willock, with many others, was obliged once more to flee, on the accession of Mary to the throne. The town of Embden, in Friesland, was selected as the place of his retirement. Here he was enabled to turn his knowledge to account in the practice of medicine, which brought him into contact with persons of distinction, and, among others, with Anne, duchess of Friesland. The acquaintance, which was thus formed, was strengthened by subsequent intercourse, and Willock was sent by the duchess on several missions into Scotland. His visits to his native country, where he preached, whether in health or sickness, to all that came to his house, must have had a powerful effect in hastening the establishment of the Reformation. He seems to have ultimately determined upon residing in Scotland; and, with this view, returned in 1558, or early in 1559. The town of Ayr, in which he had formerly lived in monastic seclusion, was now destined to be the place of his public ministrations; and he mentions St John’s church as the place where he taught his doctrine "oppinlye befoir the pepil." Nor did he decline controversy with the popish ecclesiastics: for, in 1559, he became the opponent of Quentin Kennedy, the well known abbot of Crosraguel; [See an account of their controversy, so far as it proceeded, in Keith’s History, Appendix, 193-9.] and at a later period he had public disputes with Black, a Dominican friar, and with Robert Maxwell, a schoolmaster in Glasgow; but of neither of these has any account, so far as we are aware, been preserved. Early in 1559, Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews, had summoned Willock, and some of the other protestant preachers, to appear before him; but their trial was prorogued by the queen regent’s orders, and they were summoned to appear before the Justiciary court at Stirling. In the mean time, the gentlemen of the counties of Angus and Mearns, where the protestant doctrines prevailed, assembled with their followers, with the avowed intention of accompanying the ministers to Stirling. The queen regent became alarmed, and promised to Erskine of Dun, "to take some better order." Upon the faith of this promise, they retired, and the ministers did not, of course, consider themselves as still bound to appear. But when the day of trial came, the regent ordered the summons to be called, the ministers outlawed, and their cautioners amerciated.

It is fortunate when such instances of duplicity meet with "the skaith and the scorn" which they deserve. This was certainly the case in the present instance. While the breach of faith alienated the affections of some of her best supporters, it had not even the temporary effect of retarding the progress of the new doctrines. In the following July, Willock preached in St Giles’s, Edinburgh, to large audiences; and in harvest, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was publicly administered. The regent requested that mass might still be said, the church leaving it to the option of the people to attend the popish or the protestant service; but Willock and his party were sufficiently powerful to resist the proposal, and she had the mortification of seeing her wishes frustrated by the very men whom she had proclaimed rebels not two months before. She was to receive a yet more decided blow from them. In October, the nobility, barons, and burgesses, assembled at Edinburgh, to discuss the question, whether a regent who had contemptuously refused the advice of her born councillors,—who had infringed the laws, both of the realm and of common good faith,—and who had carried on a civil war in the kingdom,—should be suffered any longer to rule tyrannically over them. After a statement of their opinions by Willock and Knox, she was solemnly deposed, and a council, assisted by four ministers, of whom Willock was one, was appointed to carry on the government, till the first meeting of a parliament.

The arrangements which followed the establishment of the Reformation, and the appointment of superintendents over provinces, have been noticed in several of the lives in this work. In September, 1561, Willock was ordained superintendent of the west, at Glasgow, in presence of some of the most powerful of the nobility. [Although the form of admission did not take place till that date, there is evidence that Willock was settled in the west, and had an allowance from the revenues of the archbishopric of Glasgow, as early as October, 1560, before the meeting of the first General Assembly. In the following January, his wife, who appears to have resided in England during the struggles which preceded the Reformation, joined him. (Wodrow’s Biographical Collections, printed by the Maitland Club, i. 450.)] From this period ceases everything in his history, that may be supposed to interest a general reader. He was now occupied, apparently, in the routine of his duties, and in the business of the General Assembly, of which he was several times (in 1563, 1565, and 1568) chosen moderator. In or before 1567, he seems to have gone to England; and the General Assembly, in testimony of their esteem, and of the value of his services, ordered John Knox to request him to return. This he did in a most affectionate letter, and it had its effect. Willock did return, and was appointed moderator of the next Assembly. For reasons which it is now in vain to conjecture, he is supposed to have returned to England, almost immediately afterwards. With this period closes every authentic trace of this excellent man, of whose history throughout, we unfortunately only know enough to excite, but not to gratify, our interest. A charge, apparently of a very absurd nature, has been brought against him by Mr George Chalmers. In a MS. in the State Paper office, that author discovered, that in April, 1590, "twa men, the ane namyt Johnne Gibsonne, Scottishman, preacher, and Johne Willokes, were convicted by a jury of robbery;" and he immediately concluded that this could be no one else, but "the reforming co-adjutor of Knox:" a conclusion which could not fail to gratify his prejudices. Without troubling the reader with any lengthened defence of the supposition that there may have been more than one John Willock in broad England, we shall merely state, that as our Willock was a preacher in 1540, if not earlier, he must now have been at an age when robbers (when the gallows spares them) generally think of retiring from their profession.

Respecting the works of John Willock, we have not been able to learn anything. Dempster, in his account of him,— one of the most bitter articles in his "Historia Ecclesiastica,"--ascribes to him, "Impia Quaedam;" which, however, he had not seen when he pronounced this opinion of them. [Abridged from Wodrow’s Biographical Collection, i., 99-116, 448-453.]


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