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The Scottish Nation

WILLOCK, JOHN, one of the first and most active of the Scottish Reformers, and principal coadjutor of Knox, was a native of Ayrshire, and is supposed to have been educated at the university of Glasgow. According to Bishop Lesly, he was originally a Dominican friar in the town of Ayr, but Spottiswood says he belonged to the Franciscan order. He had become a convert to the Reformed doctrines before 1541, and, having thrown off the monastic habit, he retired into England; but, during the persecution for the Six Articles, the same year he was for some time confined in the prison of the Fleet. During the reign of Edward VI. he preached the gospel freely, and was appointed one of the chaplains of the duke of Suffolk, father of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey. On the accession of Queen Mary in 1553, Willock, with many other Protestants, took refuge on the continent, and, proceeding to the city of Embden, in East Friesland, he entered upon the practice of medicine, which he had previously studied, for a subsistence.

His talents, medical skill, and integrity, introduced him to the notice of Anne, duchess of Friesland, who then governed the country, and who was induced, in the summer of 1555, to send him to Scotland on a mission to congratulate the queen regent on her accession to the regency, and to make some arrangements respecting the trade between the two countries. “The public character,” says M’Crie, in his Life of Knox, “with which he was invested, gave him an opportunity of cultivating acquaintance with the leading Protestants, and, while he resided in Edinburgh, they met with him in private, and listened to his religious exhortations.” So high did he stand in the estimation of Knox, that, in his History, the latter never mentions him without expressions of affection and esteem. In the end of the year he returned to Embden, but in the summer of 1558 he received a new commission from the duchess, and again came to Scotland, where his presence was much required by the Protestant party. Soon after his arrival he was seized with a severe illness, but this did not prevent him from preaching, from his bed, the Reformed doctrines, to great numbers of the nobility, gentry, and others who came to hear him.

After his recovery, wishing to remain in Scotland, he resigned his commission from the duchess, and resolved to devote himself entirely to the advancement of the Protestant cause in his native country. With Mr. William Harlowe, he began to preach openly in Edinburgh and Leith, while Mr. Paul Methven, Mr. John Douglas, Erskine of Dun, and others, proclaimed the doctrines of the Reformation in various parts of Scotland. Till the arrival of Knox from Geneva in May 1559, the great burden of affairs lay chiefly on the shoulders of Willock, who, having retired to the town of Ayr, preached regularly in St. John’s church of that town, being protected by the earl of Glencairn and a numerous band of the nobility and gentry of Ayrshire. While occupied in this duty, he had a long controversial correspondence with Quentin Kennedy, the famous abbot of Crossraguel. He also seems to have had a controversy with Black, a Dominican friar, and Robert Maxwell, a schoolmaster in Glasgow.

With the view of intimidating the Protestant party, the queen regent summoned their preachers, mentioning particularly Knox, Willock, Douglas, and Methven, to appear before her and her council at Stirling, May 10, 1559, to answer for their reputed heresy and schismatical conduct. Finding, however, that, previous to the day appointed, the Reformers had assembled in vast numbers at Perth, she persuaded Erskine of Dun to prevail on his brethren to disperse, promising that their preachers should be unmolested, and all their grievances redressed. On this assurance, the greater part of the Protestants returned to their homes. But when the day of trial came, the summons was called by orders of the queen, and the preachers outlawed for not answering the citation. The perfidy of the regent on this occasion led to the destruction of the monasteries, first at Perth, and then in various other towns in the kingdom, to the interdiction of the popish worship in Scotland, and finally to the overthrow of her own authority.

In the end of June the lords of the congregation arrived in the capital, with Knox and Willock in their company. The former was straightway elected minister of Edinburgh, and Protestant ministers preached freely in all the churches. In virtue of a truce agreed to between the queen regent, then with her party at Dunbar, and the Protestant lords, dated July 24, the latter with their adherents left Edinburgh, taking Knox with them. Willock, who was less obnoxious to the Papist, was appointed to officiate in his stead, and preached regularly in St. Giles’. In this difficult situation he displayed a firmness and prudence which eminently qualified him for the high office to which he had been called in the absence of Knox. The regent made several pressing attempts to have the Roman Catholic service re-established in the church of St. Giles, but Mr. Willock and the citizens declared that they could not relinquish the right which was secured to them by the late treaty, nor allow idolatry to be again set up in the High Church of the city. Although the French mercenaries in the service of the regent paraded the city in an insolent and supercilious manner, and often disturbed, by their loud talking and noise, the Protestant worship, Willock maintained his place, and in the month of August administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, after the reformed manner, for the first time in Edinburgh, in St. Giles’ church.

The queen regent having broken the treaty, and retired to Leith, which she fortified and defended with French troops, a convention of the nobility, barons, and burgesses, was held at Edinburgh, October 21, to deliberate as to her deposition from the government, to which the two principal ministers, Willock and Knox, were called for their opinion and advice. By this assembly, she was suspended from her authority as regent of the kingdom until a meeting of the free parliament, and a council was elected for the management of public affairs during the interval. When treating of religious matters, four of the ministers, namely, Knox, Willock, Christopher Goodman, and Alexander Gordon, bishop of Galloway, who had embraced the Reformation, were appointed to assist in the deliberations of the council. During the last illness of the queen regent, who died in Edinburgh castle, June 10, 1560, she was attended by Mr. Willock, at her own request.

After the establishment of the Reformed religion, the committee of parliament, in July 1560, nominated Mr. Willock superintendent of Glasgow and of the western provinces. Having been absent in England, he was not ordained till September 14, 1561. At the meeting of the General Assembly at Perth, June 25, 1563, he was chosen moderator, and during the proceedings before the court, he was desired to withdraw, when “it was complained that he did not his endeavour for the extirpation of popery.” Being told, on his return to the meeting, of what he had been accused, “he desired to be disburthened of the great charge laid upon him, which he had undertaken only for a time.” In June 1565 he was again chosen moderator. Shortly after he returned in to England, where he continued about three years. His wife, being an Englishwoman, is supposed to be the reason why he went so often to that country. In December 1567 the Assembly addressed an affectionate and energetic letter to him, soliciting his return, in consequence of which he came again into Scotland before the beginning of July 1568, at which time the Assembly met, and again made choice of him as their moderator. After this date no further mention is made of Mr. Willock in any of the histories of the period. He is supposed to have returned into England, and to have died there.

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