All through their contest with the Regent, the Protestant leaders took up the position that they were acting in strict accordance with the law of the land.
Continuing Scotland’s Presbyterian Reformation,
our selection from John Knox: A Biography by P. Hume Brown published in 1895. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Scotland’s Presbyterian Reformation.
Time: 1559 to 1572
It was now seen that the Regent was no longer in the mood for temporizing; and the Congregation dispatched two of their number, the Earl of Glencairn and Sir Hew Campbell, sheriff of Ayr, to deprecate her wrath. Their reception must have taught them that times were now changed since the days when the Regent deemed it necessary to conciliate their party. “In despite of you and your ministers both,” she told the two deputies, “they shall be banished out of Scotland, albeit they preached as truly as ever did St. Paul.” When they reminded her of her previous promises, she replied in words that were never forgotten, and which her grandson, James VI, recalled and laid to heart in his own dealings with his subjects. “It became not subjects,” she said, “to burden their princes further than it pleaseth them to keep the same.” For a time, however, she consented to stay further action against the preachers. But, if she were to carry out the task she had undertaken, she must sooner or later make trial of her strength against what had now become actual rebellion. In Perth, Dundee, and Montrose the Protestant preachers, with the approval and countenance of the constituted authorities, openly proceeded with their work of spreading their new opinions. At length the Regent took the step which was to be the beginning of the end of the Catholic Church in Scotland. She summoned the preachers to appear before her at Stirling on May 10th. [1559 – jl], and on this occasion it was recognized by both parties that the moment for decisive action had come. To be ready for all contingencies, a numerous body of Protestant gentlemen from Angus and the Mearns, all, it is specially noted, “without armor,” took up their quarters at Perth, where they were immediately joined by another contingent from Dundee. With this last body came John Knox, who on May 20th. had finally returned to his native country.
All through their contest with the Regent, the Protestant leaders took up the position that they were acting in strict accordance with the law of the land. With the formidable following now at their back, they might have marched on Stirling and gained a temporary advantage by their show of strength. What they actually did was to send Erskine of Dun to the Regent to lay their demands once more before her. As she was not yet in a position to enforce her will, she again agreed to postpone action against the preachers. It was the misfortune of her position from the beginning of the struggle that Mary of Lorraine was driven to subterfuges which made impossible any permanent understanding with her discontented subjects; and it was of evil omen for the success of her policy that she now allowed herself to commit a serious breach of faith. In the teeth of her promise to Erskine, she proclaimed the preachers as outlaws when they failed to appear at Stirling on the day appointed for their trial. The news of the Regent’s breach of faith was the immediate occasion of the first stroke in the Scottish Reformation. The day after the outlawry John Knox preached a sermon in the parish church of Perth, his theme being the idolatries of Rome, and the duty of Christian men to put an end to them. At the close of the sermon, when the majority of the audience had left the church, a priest proceeded to celebrate mass. A forward boy made a protesting remark; the priest struck him; the boy retaliated by throwing a stone which broke an image, and immediately the church was in an uproar. In a few moments not “a monument of idolatry” was left in the building. The news of these doings spread through the town, and the “rascal multitude” took up the work. There had been old quarrels between the town and the religious orders; and so early as 1543 a violent assault had been made on the Blackfriars’ monastery. But on the present occasion the work done was at once more extensive and more thorough. The main onslaught was directed toward the monasteries of the Dominicans and the Franciscans and the Charterhouse Abbey; and within two days, says Knox, “the walls only did remain of these great edifications.”
There was now no alternative but the sword, and both parties at once took action accordingly. In support of the French troops which were at her disposal, the Regent ordered levies from Clydesdale, Stirlingshire, and the Lothians to meet her at Stirling on May 24th. On their part the insurgents strengthened the defenses of Perth — according to Buchanan, the only walled town in Scotland–and addressed themselves to their brethren in Ayrshire for instant succor. As they were now engaged in what might be construed as rebellion, they took steps to justify themselves in the eyes of the world. In three manifestoes, probably the work of Knox, they addressed respectively the Regent, D’Oysel, the French ambassador, and the whole Scottish nobility. In view of the past history of Scotland the insurgents could present a case which possessed sufficient plausibility. It had been the exception for the reign of a Scottish king to pass without some more or less serious revolt on the ground of his alleged misgovernment. Even during the reign with which we are dealing, there had been a fair precedent for the late proceedings of the Congregation. At the outset of the reign, the Earl of Arran was giving away the country to England and to heresy; Beaton and the French party had taken up arms against him, and undone all his actions to which they objected. But as Mary of Lorraine was now governing the country, the danger of a French conquest was much more serious than had been the danger of conquest by England. On the ground that the state was in peril, therefore, there was ample justification for the action of the Protestant leaders. With regard to religion, the good of the commonwealth might easily be urged as a plea for the most drastic dealing with the national Church. By the admission of its own officials the Church had become a scandal, alike from the character of the clergy and its general neglect of its duties as a spiritual body. For at least a century the scandal had been growing; and good citizens had been forced to the conclusion that their accredited spiritual guides were either unable or unwilling to set their house in order.