Even before her return Mary had clearly indicated the policy she intended to follow.
Today’s installment concludes 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 on this memorable document that the estates were now to sit in judgment. In the case of the Confession of Faith they had been practically unanimous; but that had been a mere statement of abstract doctrines which involved no question of worldly interests, and might be subscribed with a light heart and with any degree of spiritual conviction. With the Book of Discipline it was very different. The fundamental question that had to be answered in that book was the question of the “sustentation” of the new Church. The answer given was the most natural in the world: the reformed Church had an indisputable right to the entire inheritance of the Church it had displaced. There were, however, two formidable difficulties in the way of this claim. Without manifest injustice the ancient clergy could not be deprived wholesale of their means of subsistence. The second difficulty was also formidable. Of late years a considerable amount of Church property had passed into the hands of the nobles, barons, and gentry. Would these persons now be willing to lay their possessions at the feet of the ministers from whom they professed to have received the true Gospel? The proceedings of the convention left no doubt as to the answer. As in the preceding August, the assembly was a crowded one, but on this occasion there was no such unanimous action.
“Some approved it,” says Knox, “and willed the same have been set forth by law. Others, perceiving their carnal liberty and worldly commodity somewhat to be impaired thereby, grudged, insomuch that the name of Book of Discipline became odious unto them. Everything that repugned to their corrupt affections was termed in their mocking ‘devout imaginations.'”
After long and heated debates, no definite conclusion was reached. A large number of the nobles and barons, however, signed the Book as being “good and conformable to God’s Word in all points”; but they signed it with a qualification that did them credit. The old clergy should be allowed to retain their livings on condition of their maintaining Protestant ministers in their respective districts. The denunciations of Knox have given an evil name to this convention of the estates, yet the act of spoliation to which he would have had them put their hands would have done little credit to a religion whose special claim was to have reproduced the purity and simplicity of the primitive gospel.
While the supporters of the Reformation were thus divided among themselves, the prospect of the Queen’s approaching return was further confounding their counsels. That she must be their open or their secret foe, they could have no manner of doubt. Her character and opinions had been formed under the immediate supervision of her uncle, the Cardinal of Lorraine; and to the French Protestants the Cardinal was already known as “le tigre de France.” As a Catholic and as a Queen, her natural desire must be to undo the work of the late revolution, which she could only regard as the work of rebels and heretics. “Whenever she comes,” wrote Randolph, the English resident, “I believe there will be a mad world.” Mary might prove to be as able as her mother, and she would possess many advantages over Mary of Lorraine in any contest with her subjects. She was the legitimate sovereign of the country; and, now that the immediate danger from France was removed by the death of her husband, there was no reason why the national party, as distinguished alike from Catholic and Protestant, should not return to its natural allegiance. Moreover, though, with the help of England, Protestantism had triumphed in the late trial of strength, the great majority in the country — nobles, barons, and commons — were still on the side of the old religion.
Even before her return Mary had clearly indicated the policy she intended to follow. In February she had sent deputies to the estates to urge the renewal of the ancient league with France — a step which, at their meeting in May, the estates decisively refused to take, as being the virtual abandonment of their cause. In view of her imminent return, Mary’s supporters began to bestir themselves in a fashion that boded ill for the future peace of the country. At Stirling the bishops met in council to consider their best policy; and we have it from one of their own number that they were acting in concert with the earls Huntly, Athol, Crawford, Marischal, Sutherland, Caithness, and Bothwell. As the result of their counsels, a proposal was sent to Mary which she had the prudence to reject in her own interest as well as in the interest of her kingdom. The proposal was that she should land at some point on the northern coast where the earls would be ready to support her with twenty thousand men. As a safer course for the immediate future, Mary chose the advice proffered to her by the party for the present in the ascendant. Through the lord James Stewart as their deputy, the Protestant leaders urged upon her the necessity of leaving religion as she would find it, and of adopting as her advisers the persons now at the head of affairs. When at length, on August 19, 1561, Mary landed at Leith, it appeared that at least for the time she was content to take things as she found them. That she would accept them as definitive, no one, and least of all John Knox, could so far delude himself as to believe.
This ends our series of passages on Scotland’s Presbyterian Reformation by P. Hume Brown from his book John Knox: A Biography published in 1895. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.