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The Scottish Nation

FORRET, THOMAS, one of the early martyrs for the reformed doctrines in Scotland, was vicar of Dollar, and belonged to the house of Forret of Forret in Fife. The name in our histories is commonly but erroneously assumed to have been Forrest. The estate of Forret is in the parish of Logie in the north of Fife, and belonged to a family of the same name since the reign of William the Lion till the seventeenth century, when it came into the possession of Sir David Balfour, (fourth son of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmylne,) who, on being appointed a lord of session in 1674, took the judicial title of Lord Forret. The estate now belongs to a family of the name of Mackenzie. In 1466 John Forret of Forret was one of the assize for clearing the marches of the abbot of Dunfermline, and in the General Assembly which met at Edinburgh on 6th March 1573, the bishop of St. Andrews was complained upon for permitting one Sir John Forret, a popish priest, to administer the sacrament of baptism at Swinton in the Merse. The father of the subject of this notice had been master stabler to James the Fourth. After acquiring the rudiments of grammar in his native country, he was sent to the Continent by the kindness of a rich lady, and completed his education at Cologne. One his return to Scotland he was admitted a canon regular in the monastery of St. Colm’s Inch. A dispute having arisen between the abbot and the canons, respecting the allowance due to them, the latter got the book of foundation to examine into their rights. The abbot, with the view of obtaining possession of this book, gave them in exchange for it a volume of the works of Augustine, which happened to be in the monastery. This volume passing into the hands of Forret, was the fortunate means of enlightening his mind. “Oh! Happy and blessed was that book to me,” did he often say afterwards, “by which I came to the knowledge of the truth.” He now applied himself to the reading of the Scriptures, and succeeded in converting a number of the young canons. “But the old bottles,” he used to say, meaning the older members of the order, “would not receive the new wine.” The abbot frequently advised him to keep his mind to himself, otherwise he would incur punishment. “I thank you, my lord,” was his reply, “you are a friend to my body, but not to my soul.”

      Forret was subsequently admitted to the vicarage of Dollar, in the shire of Clackmannan, in which situation his diligence in instructing his parishioners, and his benevolence in freeing them from oppressive exactions, rendered him extremely obnoxious to the clergy. When the agents of the pope came into his bounds, to sell indulgences, he thus addressed his people: “Parishioners, I am bound to speak the truth to you; this is but to deceive you. There is no pardon for our sins that can come to us either from the pope of any other, but only by the blood of Christ.” It was Forret’s custom to rise at six o’clock in the morning, and study till noon. He daily committed three chapters of the Bible to memory, and repeated them to his servant at night. He also composed a short catechism, probably intended for the use of his own people. These facts were communicated by his servant, Andrew Kirkie, in a letter to Mr. John Davidson, minister of Prestonpans, and inserted by him in his Account of the Scottish Martyrs, from which, as the book itself is now lost, they have been transmitted to us in Calderwood’s History.

      Having attracted the notice and hostility of his clerical superiors, he was successively summoned before the bishops of Dunkeld and St. Andrews. The former of these, George Crichton, a brother of Crichton of Naunchton, was, according to Keith, “a man nobly disposed, very hospitable, and a magnificent housekeeper, but in matters of religion not much skilled.” To him Forret was accused as “an heretic, and one that showed the mysteries of the Scriptures to the vulgar people in their own language, so as to make the clergy destatable in their sight.” On being called before him, the bishop, addressing him in a tone of kindness, said – “My dear Dean Thomas, I am informed that you preach the epistle or gospel every Sunday, and that you take not the cow, nor the uppermost cloth from your parishioners, which is very prejudicial to the churchmen; and, therefore, I would you took your cow, and your uppermost cloth, as other churchmen do, or else it is too much to preach every Sunday; for, in so doing, you may make the people think that we should preach likewise. But it is enough for you, when you find any good epistle, or any good gospel, that setteth forth the liberty of the holy church, to preach that, and let the rest be.” To this Forret replied, “Truly, my lord, I have read the New Testament and the Old, and all the epistles and gospels, and among them all I could never find an evil epistle, or an evil gospel; but if your lordship will show me the good epistle, and the good gospel, and the evil epistle, and the evil gospel, then I shall preach the good, and omit the evil.” The bishop answered, “I thank God that I never knew what the Old and New Testament was; therefore, Dean Thomas, I will know nothing but my portuise and pontifical. Go your way, and let be all these fantasies, for if you persevere in these erroneous opinions, you will repent when you may not amend it.” Forret said, “I trust my cause is just in the presence of God, and therefore I heed not much what may follow thereupon;” after which he returned to his parish. We need not be surprised at Bishop Crichton’s ignorance of the Bible, nor at his open avowal of it, when it is remembered that the Romish clergy in Scotland of that period firmly believed that the Greek language was an invention of the Reformers, for the purpose of upholding their heresies, and perplexing the orthodox!

      Forret was soon after summoned to appear before Archbishop James Bethune and a convocation of bishops held at Edinburgh, and, after a short examination, was sentenced to be burnt as a heretic. Four other persons, named Keilor, Beveredge, Simson, and Forrester, the first two friars, the third a secular priest, and the fourth a gentleman of respectability, were condemned to suffer along with him. The whole five were accordingly consumed in one fire on the Castlehill at Edinburgh, February 28, 1538.

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