Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Scottish Reformation
Chapter III.—The Knox Period, a. d. 1555—1560.
Section 6. The Parliament of 1560

The nation was now delivered from the incubus of the French arms; and by a higher award than that of war, it was also delivered at the same instant from the incubus of French councils. When the negotiations for peace were on the point of commencing, the supreme hand of Divine Providence interposed and removed the Queen-Regent by death. She expired in the castle of Edinburgh on the 10th of June 1560, after expressing her regret to several of the Protestant lords "that she had acted so foolishly as to compel them to seek the support of others than their own sovereign, and her sore repentance that ever matters had come to that extremity." Her decease was a death-blow to the influence of France in Scottish affairs; and the government of the kingdom under the absent sovereign passed into the hands of the men who, with the help of England, had just worked out the emancipation of the nation from a foreign yoke.

By one of the articles of the treaty of peace, it had been provided that Parliament should be convened on the first day of August; and as the treaty had settled nothing on the question of religion, but had left that whole matter to be determined by the voice of the Three Estates, all men looked forward to the coming convention as one of the most important that had ever been held since Scotland was a nation. It was felt by all that the moment of decision had at length arrived; the nation was free to utter all that was in its heart; and it would now give effect to its convictions and wishes by acts of legislation, which would determine the religious institutions of the kingdom for ages to come. To have a seat and a vote in such an assembly was a privilege to be envied; and no fewer than one hundred and five of the lesser barons, who had long neglected to attend the meetings of parliament as a burden and expense, prepared to assert their ancient privilege of sitting and voting in the great council of the nation.

We are fortunately able to narrate the proceedings of this memorable assembly in the very terms in which they were originally chronicled by an intelligent spectator for the eye of Sir William Cecil. The Secretary had an agent resident in Edinburgh at the time—Thomas Randolph ; and the letters are still extant in which Randolph recorded the scenes and transactions of the Parliament as they passed before him. We have also at our command several letters to the same statesman from the pen of William Maitland, of Lethington, who was chosen Speaker of the Parliament, or Harangue-maker, as that high functionary was then called in Scotland1 The Lords began to assemble in Edinburgh on the ist of August, but not in sufficient numbers to commence business. The formal opening was therefore delayed till the eighth of the month, and u hitherto," says Randolph, writing a few days before that date, "as many as have been present of the Lords have convened and devised of certain heads then to be proposed, as who shall be sent into France, who into England, &c. The barons, who in times past have been of the Parliament, had yesterday a convention among themselves in the church, in very honest and quiet s&rt They thought it good to require to be restored unto their ancient liberty to have voice in Parliament They presented that day a bill unto the Lords to that effect It was answered unto gently, and taken in good part It was reserved unto the lords of the articles, when chosen, to resolve thereupon."

The solemn opening of Parliament on the 8th is thus graphically described by Randolph in a letter written on the following day:—" The Lords at ten of the clock assembled themselves at the palace, where the Duke lyeth. From thence they departed towards the Tolbooth, as they were in dignity (/. e. in the order of their rank). Each one being set in his seat, the crown, the mace, and the sword were laid in the Queen's seat. Silence being commanded, the Laird of Lethington began his oration. He excused his insufficiency to occupy that place. He made a brief discourse of things past, and unto what necessity men were forced for the defence of their country; what remedy and support it pleased God to

send them in the time of their necessity, and how much they were bound heartily to acknowledge it and to requite it He took away the persuasion that was in many men's heads that lay back, who misdeemed other things to be intended than was attempted. He advised all classes to lay all particulars apart, and to bend themselves wholly to the true service of God and their country. He willed them to remember what state it had been in of long time for lack of good government and execution of justice. In the end he exhorted them to mutual amity and heartlie friendship, and to live with one another as members all of one body. He used the example of the fable where the mouth denied to receive sustenance to nourish the rest of the body so long that the whole perished. He prayed God long to maintain this amity and peace with all princes, and especially betwixt the realms of England and Scotland, in the love and fear of God. And so ended—"

The Clerk of the Register immediately stood up, and asked them to which matter they would proceed. It was thought good that the articles of the peace should be confirmed with the common consent, for that it was thought necessary to send them away with speed into France, and to receive the ratification of them as soon as might be. The articles being read were immediately agreed unto; a day was appointed to have certain of the nobles subscribe unto them, and to put their seals; immediately to be sent away by a herald who shall also bring the ratification of them again with him. The barons of whom I have above written, required an answer to their request. Somewhat was said unto the contrary. The barons alleged for them custom and authority. It was in the end resolved that there should six of them be chosen to join with the lords of the articles, and if that they, after good advisement, should find it right and necessary for the commonwealth, it should be ratified at this Parliament for a perpetual law.

"The lords proceeded immediately hereupon to the choosing of the lords of the articles. The order is that the lords spiritual choose the temporal, and the temporal the spiritual; the burgesses their own. This being done, the lords departed and accompanied the Duke, all as far as the Bow, which is the gate going out of the High-street, and many down unto the palace—the town all in armour, the trumpets sounding, and all other kinds of music, such as they have. Thus much I report unto your honour of that which I did both hear and see. Other solemnities have not been used, saving in times long past the lords have had Parliament robes, which are now with them wholly out of use. The lords of the articles sit from henceforth in Holyrood House, except at such times as upon any matter of importance the whole lords assemble themselves again as they did this day in the Parliament House."

The choice of the lords of the articles was a p6int of vital importance, as to them was entrusted the initiation and first drafting of all important measures; and the choice which was now made gave great satisfaction to all the friends of the Reformation. "It were too long," writes Randolph on the 10th, "to trouble your honour to rehearse particularly the nature, disposition, and chiefly the affections that are judged to reign in each of these men that are at this time chosen lords of the articles. May it suffice your honour for this time to know, that by the common opinion of men there was not a more substantial or more sufficient number of all sorts of men chosen in Scotland many years, nor in whom men had greater hope of good to ensue. It is no small pleasure to many here that the two old bishops are none of them." The prelates referred to were the Archbishop of St. Andrews and the Bishop of Dunkeld. In fact, almost the whole of the bishops and abbots made choice of, had recently declared themselves on the side of Reform. The whole number of the lords of the articles was 36, including 10 lords spiritual, 10 nobles or great barons, 6 lesser barons, and 10 provosts of the chief towns of the kingdom.

Meanwhile Knox was "instant in season" in the pulpit of St. Giles. Choosing as his subject of daily exposition the Book of the Prophet Haggai; "his doctrine was proper for the time, in application whereof he was so special and so vehement that some, having greater respect to the world than to God's glory, feeling themselves pricked, said in mockage,' We must now forget ourselves, and bear the barrow to build the houses of God.' But albeit some mocked, yet others were godly moved, who did assemble themselves together to consult what things were to be proposed to that present Parliament" The result of these consultations was a supplication " to the nobility and estates of Parliament from the barons, gentlemen, burgesses, and others professing the Lord Jesus Christ within the realm," which was ready to be presented to the lords of the articles as soon as they convened.

This supplication earnestly "craved, in the bowels of Jesus Christ," three principal things: 1. That such doctrine and idolatry, as by God's word are condemned, may be abolished by act of this present Parliament, and punishment appointed for the transgressors, 2. That the pure administration of the sacraments and discipline of the Church of Christ should be restored; and 3. That the usurped authority and jurisdiction of the Pope within the realm should be abolished. Having been " read in audience of the whole assembly, divers men were of divers judgments, for as some there were that uprightly favoured the cause of God, so were there many that for worldly respects abhorred a perfect Reformation. And yet were the barons and ministers called, and commandment given to them to draw in plain and several heads the sum of that doctrine which they would maintain, and would desire that present Parliament to establish as wholesome, true, and only necessary to be believed, and to be received within that realm."

Within four days thereafter, Knox and the other Protestant ministers assembled in Edinburgh had drawn up the First Confession of the Reformed Church of Scotland. "Before it was published," writes Randolph,"or many words spoken of it, it was presented unto certain of the Lords to see their judgment It was committed unto the Laird of Lethington, and the Subprior (John Wynram), to be examined. Though they could not reprove the doctrines, yet did they mitigate the austerity of many words and sentences, which sounded to proceed rather of some evil-conceived opinion than of any sound judgment. The authors of the work had also put in this treatise a title or chapter of the obedience or disobedience that subjects owe unto their magistrates, that contained little less matter in few words than hath been otherwise written more at large. The surveyors of the work thought it to be an unfit matter to be entreated at this time, and so gave their advice to leave it out" The Confession, thus retrenched to some extent both in matter and form, was unanimously accepted by the lords of the articles. Writing to Cecil on the 15th, Maitland announced to him that " already there is past the confession of our faith, by ane unanimous consent of the haill lords of articles, to be sent to the King and Queen. The whole estate of the clergy is on our side, a few excepted of them that be present, as the Archbishop of St Andrews, and the Bishops of Dumblane and Dunkeld. The religion is like enough to find many favourers of the whole of all estates. As yet, praised be God, there is no appearance of any division, but all like enough to continue in a good amity. We thought good before all things to pass the confession."

During the short interval that elapsed before the Confession was submitted to the whole Parliament, much influence was used and pains taken to gain over the Archbishop and the two bishops, of which Randolph supplies us with the following curious account On the 16th he tells Cecil that—

"The Bishop of St Andrews, upon motion that was made to him, was contented to talk with the Sub-prior, the Rector, and two others. They have had much communication without hope. He is stout and bold enough. He rideth and goeth at large. He came to the Duke to supper, invited and conveyed by Mr. Gavin Hamilton, of Kilwinning. He was as homely as welcome. The Duke after supper talked long with him; he was better willing to hear him than to believe anything he spake. They concluded in these words, that for his conscience he was determined, in that mind that he was of at that present to end his life. For his body, goods, and living, he was content to yield all into his hands. What besides matters of conscience he would command him, he was always ready to obey. So that the Duke thinketh to bring him to subscribe the contract (i>. the English Treaty). The Bishop of Dunkell remaineth as obstinate as ignorant. Being moved to hear Mr. Knox, he gave answer that he would never hear an old condemned heretic Mr. Knox hath been with him for it since that time. So have also divers others that have preached. Sermons are daily, and great audience. Though divers of the nobles present are not resolved in religion, yet do they repair daily to the preachings, which giveth a good hope to many that God will turn their hearts. The Bishop of Dumblane is also now come; it is not to reason upon religion, but to do, as I hear, whatsomever the Earl of Argyle will command him. Mr. Knox and Mr. Willock were yesterday before the lords of the articles with the bishops. St Andrews desired to have a copy of the confession of their faith. It was not denied him to have it shortly, though it be doubted that it be to send it into France before the lords do send, more than that he hath any mind to examine the verity or reform his conscience, be it never so reasonable."

On the 17th day of August, the Confession was read in audience of the whole Parliament, and by the estates thereof ratified and approved, "as wholesome and sound doctrine grounded upon the infallible word of God." On the 18th Maitland communicated the important news to Cecil in the following terms :—

"The confession of our faith was passed by common consent, where unto no man gainsayed, all being present. It is true that the Archbishop of St Andrews, the Bishops of Dunkeld and Dumblane, and two of the temporal lords, did excuse themselves if they were not ready to speak their judgment, for that they were not sufficiently advised with the book. Thus far they did liberally profess, that they would agree to all things which might stand with God's word, and consent to abolish all abuses crept in in the Church not agreeable with the Scriptures, and asked longer time to deliberate on the book propounded, whereby they did in a manner confirm our doctrine, whereas they, having liberty to speak what pleased them, durst not impugn it, and uttered their own ignorance to their confusion. It was no small wonder to see what victory the truth did obtain by so uniform consent We are not like to have many enemies at home."

Randolph's account of the transaction is much more minute and is deeply interesting. He writes like a chronicler, while Maitland writes like a statesman. In a letter dated the 19th of August, he says:—

"As touchyng such things as are concluded here in Parliament, and fully resolved upon hitherto, I never heard matters of so great importance neither sooner despatched nor with better will agreed unto. The matters concluded and past by common consent on Saturday in such solemn sort as the first day that they assembled, are these :—First, That the Barons, according to an old Act of Parliament, made in James the First's times, the year of God 1427, shall have free voice in Parliament This act passed without any contradiction, as well of the bishops papists as all other present. The next was the ratyfication of the confession of their faith; in the which the Bishop of St Andrews, in many words, said this in effect: that it was a matter that he had not been accustomed with ; he had had no sufficient time to examine it or to confer with his friends ; howbeit, as he would not utterly condemn it, so was he loth to give his consent thereunto. To that effect also spake the Bishops of Dunkell and Dumblane. Of the temporal lords, the Earl of Cassilis and the Earl of Caithness said nay. The rest of the lords, with common consent, and as glad a will as ever I heard men speak, allowed the same. Divers, with protestation of their conscience and faith, desyred rather presently to end their lives, than ever to think contrary unto that that they allowed then. Many also offered to shed their blude in defense of the same. The old Lord of Lindsay, as grave and goodly a man as ever I saw, said, 'I have lived many years; I am the eldest in this company, of my sort; now that it hath pleased God to let me see this day, when so many nobles and others have allowed so worthy a work, I will say with Simeon, Nunc dimittis.' The old Lord of Lundie confessed how long he had lived in blindness, repented his former life, and embraced the same as his true belief. My Lord James, after some other purpose, said that he must the sooner believe it to be true, for that some others in the company did not allow the same. 'Ye know that God's trothe would never be without his adversaries.' The Lord Marschall said, that though he was otherwise assured it was true, yet might he be the bolder to pronounce it, for that he saw there present the pillars of the Pope's church, and not one of them that would speak against it Many others to like effect, as the Lord of Erskine, Lord of Newbottle, the Sub-prior of St Andrews, concluding, all in one, that that was the faith wherein they ought to live and die."

Never was confession of faith accepted by a parliament or political assembly with so much unanimity or so much emotion. In truth, the estates of the kingdom, in this solemn act, merged their civil and political, in their religious and ecclesiastical character. It was more like the act of a national synod than a parliament. The Confession ran in the name of the Estates, and was conceived much more in the spirit and tone of a solemn testimony put forth to the world by a nation of earnest Christians—a testimony which they were ready to seal with their blood—than in the cold, scientific manner of a theological document Its language is earnest and glowing. It is the warm utterance of a people's heart. "The Estates of Scotland, with the inhabitants of the samyn, professing Christ Jesus, his Holy Evangell," address themselves in it, "to their natural countrymen, and to all other realms and nations professing the same Lord Jesus with them ;n and it is in such words as the following that they begin what reads rather like a declaration of the martyrs than a compend of divinity. " Long have we thirsted, dear brethren, to have notified unto the world the sum of that doctrine which we profess, and for the which we have sustained infamy and danger..... For God we take to record in our consciences that from our hearts we abhor all sorts of heresy, and all teachers of erroneous doctrine, and that with all humility we embrace the purity of Christ's Evangel, which is the only food of our souls, and therefore so precious to us, that we are determined to suffer the extremity of worldly danger, rather than that we will suffer ourselves to be defrauded of the same. For hereof we are most certainly persuaded, that whoever denies Christ Jesus, or is ashamed of him in presence of men, shall be denied before the Father, and before his holy angels. And, therefore, by the assistance of the mighty spirit of the same our Lord Jesus, we firmly purpose to abide to the end, in the confession of this our faith."

Before another week was over, the lords of the articles had agreed to introduce to Parliament other three Acts of great importance, which formed the natural sequel to the national adoption of a Protestant confession. These were an "Act against the Mass," an "Act for abolishing the Jurisdiction of the Pope," and an "Act, repealing all the penal statutes against heresy, under which the nation had so long suffered." All these acts were passed with unanimity by the Estates, on the 24th of August, of which meeting we have the following account by Randolph.

Aug. 27. The Lords of the Parliament assembled in the Tolbooth in like sort as the first of their meeting confirmed there, by common consent, divers Acts agreed upon by the Lords of the Articles, whereof the first was the confirmation of the treaty at Berwick, which by the Lord of Liddington was notably commended unto the lords, with ample declaration of the necessity of the time, the occasion thereof, and the good will and favour of the Queen's Majesty, to their relief in time of their extreme necessity and almost utter ruin of the whole country. It passed with the common consent of all men; divers also so much commended the same, that they said that they would be content to seal it with their blood. Some exhorted all men constantly to remain in that opinion, and never to swerve from the same. Others praised the first motioners, and prayed for the life and welfare of her Majesty, that was the performer. This ended, the lord James protested in his own name and other of the contractors, that they might have an instrument that their Act was allowed to be good, lawful, and not prejudicial unto the crown of Scotland, and confirmed by common consent of Parliament They have deposed the pope, and abrogated his authority without contradiction. Many penal statutes against heretics are taken away. The mass is utterly abolished, and pains appointed both to the sayers and hearers. The first, confiscation of their goods, the next, banishment, third, loss of their lives. The three bishops, St. Andrews, Dumblane, and Dunkell, being called to pursue their bill of complaint of the misusing ot them, and contempt of their authority, given to the lords of the Articles, compeared not, whereupon a decree was made for the stay of their livings. The Parliament is prorogued."

On the same day, the 27th, Maitland wrote to Cecil briefly, thus:—"Although our Parliament is not ended, it is for the present, upon good respects, dissolved, and many of our principal matters passed with a greater and more uniform agreement of the most part than was looked for. There is, in a manner, no controversy on religion, and much less anent maintenance of amity with England, which all most earnestly wish may endure for ever, and that the means of continuance may be embraced. The treaty of Berwick is by Act of Parliament confirmed, which I doubt not shall highly irritate the French."

Thus ended this memorable meeting of the Parliament of Scotland—the greatest in its acts, and the most weighty in its consequences, that ever assembled in the whole course of Scottish History. It marked the close of the mediaeval history of the kingdom, and commenced, with a series of great transactions, the nation's modern life and development It was the era both of a grand catastrophe, and of a grand new creation. Old things passed away, and all things became new. A nation was born in a day to newness of life."

In one respect alone did the ideas of that great social revolution and renovation fall behind the ideas of our own age. The Parliament of 1560 enacted penal laws against the Romish worship, in the room of those which had previously been enacted against the worship of the Protestants. They imitated the intolerant legislation under which they had themselves so long groaned. They denied to others that " freedom and liberty of conscience" which they had at length wrought out for themselves. It was undoubtedly an inconsistency on the score of principle; but practically considered, it was a necessity of the times. To us it appears a plain contradiction to the fundamental Protestant principle of the duty and right of private judgment in matters of religion; but to the Protestants of the sixteenth century, such legislation seemed indispensable as a policy of self-defence. The Papists, though beaten on many fields, were not yet conquered; they had still immense powers in Europe; and they burned with impatience to revenge their defeats, and to recover the ground which they had lost. The war of churches continued, and a time of war suggests different maxims of policy and government, from a time of peace. At such a time men are less apt to consider how much they can give to an enemy, than how much they can take away. We are prone to plume ourselves upon our more enlightened principles of religious legislation, as though we had attained to them purely by a superior degree of philosophic discernment and political wisdom. But the altered conditions of the world and of the Nations of the churches to each other have doubtless had much to do in evolving these principles and elevating them to social power. After all, if the Protestants of the nineteenth century are more tolerant than those of the sixteenth, this is very much owing to the difference of the times in other respects. The decline of ecclesiastical power in the affairs of the world has delivered all Churches from the fear of persecution at the hands of one another; and when intolerant laws are no longer of any use for purposes either of offence or defence, there is no great mental superiority evinced in allowing them to be expunged as a dead letter from the statute books of nations.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus