Transcript for HoS 44

Last time, the good burgers of Perth had been persuaded that nothing good could come from standing against the Regent, persuaded among others by the protestant Lord James Stewart. They opened the gates, and let the Regent and her soldiers in.

At which point, uncharacteristically, the Regent overplayed her hand. Her troops marched arrogantly and aggressively into the town and a protestant laird’s son was killed in the general bullying. She removed the protestant provost from office, to make a firm example of rebellion, and stationed four companies of French troops in the town. She also ostentatiously restored the Mass. The result was resentment, the resurfacing of fears over French ascendancy – and the defection of James Stewart to join the Lords of the Congregation, which would turn out to be a grievous loss. With his political skills and connections, he quickly became one of the Congregationists’ leading lights. By July 1559, the congregation had purged a series of towns across Scotland. Their approach was to arrive in town in force to help local protestants cleanse the churches, as they would say, and persuading, or intimidating the burgh council to institute Reformed worship; it’s worth noting that while intimidation is hardly fun, there is little personal violence that went on. In some towns the approach met with success, especially in Fife, and the Congregationalists entered Edinburgh as well. Meanwhile, in response, the catholic church showed very little leadership, focusing on burying church possessions rather than fighting the changes; nor did the laity turn out in any force to defend their form of worship.

So if you were cheering for the protestant side, this all sounds good doesn’t it? But by October 1559, the rebellion had stalled. The congregationalists could not sustain the progress; the reformation was not yet a mass popular movement and relatively few burghs outside the core area of their support were prepared to follow the lead of places like Dundee and Fife. Furthermore this was not a purely Scottish affair – to defend the potential for a Franco-British Empire, the French were prepared to increase their stake, sending Guise more regular troops.

The international situation meanwhile had been transformed. Henry II of France agreed peace with the Hapsburgs in 1559 after decades of fighting; but then was killed by accident at a joust. Francis therefore became king at the tender age of 16, and Mary QoS queen of France as well as Scotland. The game so far had been for the joint crowns of France and Scotland; now a greater game was in town. Mary Tudor had died in 1558, and protestant Elizabeth come to the throne. Given the Catholic world view of Elizabeth as illegitimate, much of Europe saw Mary as the heir not just to Scotland, but to England and Wales too. When they got hitched Mary and Francis had provocatively displayed arms that quartered the English royal arms with the French. Now a Franco British empire could be a real prospect.

There is no doubt that the English leadership were deeply worried by developments; they were aware that there had even been talk of a French Hapsburg Catholic alliance against England. William Cecil, Elizabeth’s secretary was a determined even messianic fighter for the protestant form of worship, with a vision of a Protestant British Isles, just like his former boss Somerset. However Cecil had learned from the Rough Wooing that the success of protestantism in Scotland could only come in partnership with the Scots, not with an attempt at their subjection. Scotland must be ruled by the Scots. Now Cecil was by no means a harbinger of a European union; his vision was driven by his obsession with creating a Protestant English state, and with the threats England faced from protestant foes. He very clearly identified Mary as the greatest threat to England’s security, imagining her as leading a Catholic plot; and right from the beginning he saw the best solution as her deposition, and for Scotland to be ruled by the Protestant lords. This was a vision way too radical for his mistress, Elizabeth for whom the divine appointment of monarchs was paramount. Cecil appeared to be suggesting some sort of monarchical republic. None the less, Cecil’s opposition to Mary would be relentless.

James Stewart was in contact William Cecil, worried byt eh stalling of the rebellion and reformation. ‘We are sorry to be judged cold slow and negligent in our proceedings’ he wrote, acknowledging that the Lords of the Congregation lacked the legitimacy of Mary of Guise, ‘you know sir the difficulty of persuading the multitude to revolt against established authority’. It was a weakness which Mary of Guise cleverly exploited, crises ‘meantt not religion but a plane rebellion’ she was reported as saying, in line with the policy of dealing with crisis as one of law and order, not religion.

Stewart and the congregation began to amend their message, to change tack. Rather than focussing on a religious confrontation, Protestantiusm vs Catholicism, they began to emphasise resistance to French hegemony – the lords of the congregation tried with some success to therefore recruit across the confessional divide. They would come to recruit crucial figures like the Early of Huntly, temporarily as it happens, and the Catholic Burgh of Aberdeen, the clansmen of MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the MacLean of Duart also being persuaded to join by the Earl of Argyll. Even more critically, the Duke of Chatellerault was induced to the Congregation side by his protestant son James Hamilton; as a previous regent as Earl of Arran, Chatellerault added much needed legitimacy. So despite accusations levelled at the head of James Stewart’s head that he aimed for the monarchy, he instead promoted Arran and the Congregation declared Mary’s regency dissolved in favour of a Council lead by Chatellerault. Mary of Guise pointed out that this was simple rebellion, though the fact remained that the monarch was in France and the accusation of rebellion against a regent didn’t have the same force. But Mary fiercely squashed the Congregationalists move and regained control of Edinburgh.

In France, the appearance of religious violence meant that Francis, Mary and the Guise family had too many problems of their own to offer a lot of practical support, but managed to arrange French re-inforcements. With congregationalists therefore apparently on the edge of extinction is these reinforcements ever arrived, Cecil managed to persuade Elizabeth to answer the Congregrationalists pleas for military support. An English fleet appeared off Fife in January 1560, which helped keep French re-inforcements away, and by February 1560 Chatellerault had signed the Treaty of Berwick with England. The Treaty committed the English to military support for the Congregation, and also tried to sooth fears of any potential Scottish support for a Franco British Empire, though accepting Mary’s claim to the Scottish throne.

By now, Mary of Guise was badly ill. The French army held Leith, and the Anglo Scottish army failed to take it, but even that failure could not hide the fact that with English military intervention and a lack of French re-inforcements, the balance had decisively shifted to the congregationalists. And meanwhile Mary of Guise by spring 1560 was clearly dying. A stream of Scottish lords from both sides came to see her in Edinburgh to make their personal peace with her, a sign of the respect in which she was held. On 11 June 1560 she died, with Lord James Stewart and Archibald Campbell, earl of Argyll, by her side. She had relentlessly and with skill pursued reconciliation and accommodation in what she considered Scotland’s best interest, while pursuing also her daughter’s rights as part of the pursuit of a Franco-British realm. In the end she failed to achieve long lasting French hegemony, but her daughter’s rights as QoS remained intact. In July, Scottish, French and English negotiators agreed the terms of the Treaty of Edinburgh, by which the land and Naval forces of both France and England withdrew from Scotland, and the English royal arms were to be removed from the arms of Mary QoS and Francis.

The treaty of Edinburgh in July 1560 effectively marked the defeat of the Franco-British strategy. It also demonstrated just how paranoid England really was about the French claims, and announced that England had banished a policy of permanent occupation or military presence in Scotland. The reformation was now a purely Scottish affair. The treaty had not even been discussed with Scotland’s monarch, but was subject to her ratification – whether or not it would receive such ratification was entirely moot.

In this process James Stewart was a constant leader and advocate, and with the absence of Mary of Guise, within a month the Congregation had assumed government of the country, and called a parliament – which has become known as the Reformation parliament, a disarmingly accurate name. Though a word of warning in that; just as elsewhere, the arrival of a Reformed faith and even church was not a simple matter of turning a switch. Just as in England, where Henry VIII’s reforms were simply the start of a process of a long reformation carrying on well into Elizabeth’s reign, so in Scotland, the parliament of 1560 was the start of a process. Most Scots were probably still inclined to the Catholic form of worship, and it would take time to clarify and embed new forms, and indeed a new church.



One of the notable features of the Reformation parliament was the amount of gatecrashing that went on, of comparable level to putting your party on social media. The Scottish parliament was a single chamber affair, and based on the 3 Estates – the nobility as represented by the Magnates, the Church and the Burghs. In 1560, the Lairds, the lesser nobility decoded that someone must have just forgotten to send them their invitation – and turned up in force, over 100 of them. This was important; despite the effective protestant communication Network and the rise of the congregation, for much of its life the reformation had been a local phenomenon, in the Lairds’ privy Kirks and dependant for success on local circumstances – so the support of the Lairds in parliament was critical.

In the 1540s the Scottish Reformation had been a largely Lutheran affair; the 1560 parliament was to show how extensively the ideas of Jean Calvin had taken over, helped by the leadership of John Knox and the period of exile of religious leaders in Geneva and elsewhere in Europe, and the ideas they brought back. The achievements of the parliament were considerable, if not the last word; in one event, it turned the official religion of Scotland from Catholicism to Protestantism.

The parliamentary Acts abolished the Pope’s jurisdiction, and forbade the celebration of the Mass. The Protestant form of worship was now the only legitimate form. The number of sacraments was reduced to 2, in the spirit of the primacy of scriptural authority. A ringing Protestant Confession of Faith was adopted, which was notable for its clarity and positivity; and it would therefore help the conversion of the Scottish people over the next few decades by providing a new and compelling answer as to what the church was about, independent of the physical stuff about schools and hospitals and so on – a statement of how the faith provided spiritual succor.

However in other ways, the attempt to establish the new church were balked. The First Book of Discipline was supposed to provide the blueprint for reform of the new Kirk and its governance, but there was too much disagreement, so a specific convention was arranged in January 1561. This was much less well attended. Many of the proposed changes were rejected, and critically the convention accepted articles only individually not the whole document; still the First Book established the basic vision of a new godly, educated society based on a parish reformation, which relied on a partnership between ministers and Godly magistrates, lay leaders. This vision would prove to be very different from the church-state partnership of the pre reformation church. But rather startlingly, the estate of the pre-reformation church was not abolished, and were allowed to carry on. Over time as the Reformed Church grew in strength, those institutions began to lose their relevance; little communities of monks, for example, carried on in the growing realisation that their relevance was gone, and agonising fade away. The holders of benefices were not turned out until 1573. Importantly only a third of the pre-reformation church’s revenue was allocated to the new national kirk, and that was shared. Given that the parish was the key building block of the new church, and that the poverty of the parish priest one of its major complaints and target for improvement, this was something of a blow. It had John Knox spitting feathers as only John Knox could spit feathers – in the great categorisation of mankind there is a box labelled feather spitters that holds the soul only of our John Knox.

Two parts freely given to the devil, and the third must be divided twixt God and the devil

He thundered. In addition, many church lands were gone for ever into control of the laity, never to return.

What we are going to do now, listeners-all, is carry on about the religious changes until the later 16th century, and come back in a future episode to focus on the life of Mary QoS. I hope that is acceptable in thy sight. But there’s the odd lay and political thing you need to know, and one of those appears here; in December 1560 Francis the young king of France and Marys’ husband died. Mary would arrive back in Scotland in mid 1561, with a policy very similar to her mother’s early 1550s policy – personally she was a convinced and devout Catholic, but she remained largely politique about religion, and largely accepted the protestant changes and leadership; it’s only later as she prepared to die that she re-invented herself as dying for the Catholic church. Anyway, the point for here is that we will have a monarch for much of the 1560’s who was Catholic, but who allowed reform to continue. Alles Clar? Gut.

The aim of the Reformed kirk was to base itself around the parish, rather than the ecclesiastical structure of the previous church. The parish kirk would provide all provision rather than the array of institutions in the Catholic churches, monasteries and chantries for example.  In this it was mirroring the situation its leaders had seen in city states such as Geneva; in a large rural country like Scotland, this would place a lot of pressure on burghs to act as local and regional centres to disseminate information – when many of those burghs remained to be convinced about the new form of worship anyway. One of the benefits though was that there was no need for a national rebuilding programme – the existing kirks were taken over, whitewashed, screens rudely removed and altars ripped out to provide space for the pulpit, and, over time, fixed seating and pews. However, the approach relied heavily on well-educated ministers – a continual problem for the pre-reformation church as well. The reformed kirk was however more determined in the pursuit of its aim; the pre-reformation church had slowly recognised the evils of the system that took revenue from the hands of priests into lay hands and commendators, and had set a target of £16 for a parish priest’s annual stipend. From the start the reformed kirk was determined to meet stipends of £40, and therefore recruit a stronger ministry.

One of the consequences of the reformed kirk was to increase and emphasise the power of local elites, particularly through the implementation of religious disciple through the kirk session, populated as they were by the local elite.

The maintenance of kirk disciple was at the heart of the reformed kirk’s aims. Education was part of that vision with Knox’s call for a national education scheme of parish schools and school masters, grammar schools and links to the existing universities. In the short term, the establishment of a school in every parish was held back by lack of money, but the idea would survive and thrive in the longer term.

The kirk session was the immediate way of enforcing behaviour according to the teaching of the new kirk. It drew on the existing tradition of burgh and barony courts, and its impact was to emphasise local, moral self-regulation, as part the ideal of a civil and civic religion. The system achieved wide acceptance by most within the locality without which it could not have been successful; most people were prepared to act as penitents, or as witnesses to the behaviour of their neighbours. Over time, the kirk sessions delivered a high degree of conformity and uniformity within the church, and were one of the main ways the kirk turned Scotland into a deeply protestant kingdom. The strength of local organisation was also part of a very different relationship between church and state

The Scottish Reformed Kirk had been established with a partnership between Ministers and lay magistrates, as an essential part of the effective operation of the kirk; but it was not established top down, and this contributed to a mistrust of the monarchy within the church hierarchy that would bear fruit under James VI. Furthermore the reformed kirk was dead set against the mixing up of ecclesiastical and secular occupations which was such a feature of the pre-reformation church; there were to be bishops appointed by the state, no conveyor belt designed to deliver talented and trained administrators for the business of state government rather than the good of the church and peoples’ souls. The second Book of Discipline in 1578 would even make the point that the kirk drew its authority from God, not the king.

None the less the kirk has a national structure, which took a while to emerge. The country was supposed to be divided into 10 regions each with its superintendent – the structure did work in some areas. In the 1570s the kirk tried to tap into the existing church structure to fill some vacant positions – the so called ‘tulchan’ bishops, who ran existing sees with powers similar to superintendents. The word tulchan refers to a calfskin stuffed with straw – given to a cow to encourage the poor thing to keep producing milk. The point is that it wasn’t as it seemed; because the tulchan bishops got dragged into the existing patronage network ending with the see’s revenue finding its way into the trousers of the magnates. They were not popular; but meanwhile where they existed the Superintendants that did exist tended to make a reasonable fist of things. This middle layer of management of the church would become a major battlefield between Monarch and Kirk, the latter trying to insist on their independence from the state. But a crucial point of difference between kirk and monarch was established in the 1580s when in the light of the experience of the tulchan bishops, the kirk declared bishops unscriptural.

At the top of the kirk sat an occasional organisation, that of the General Assembly of the church. When one was called people came for a week or two, and their expenses were usually paid for locally. Since it was an occasional meeting, the administrative and material costs of the old church were largely sidestepped.

How successful then was progress? It varied of course and took time. Scotland had 1080 parishes; by 1560 240 of them had a minister; by the end of the 1560s the parishes were served by around 850 clergy, and only by 1574 were almost all filled. The presence of a minister was however not enough to ensure the progress of Protestantism; there were many other factors such as the involvement of lay lords and magnates, and the burghs. So the north east was pretty well staffed by minsters, but remained a strong hold of Catholicism for 3 generations after 1560. Catholic survival was also helped by the strength of kinship, which prevented much physical persecution, and Catholic worship, rather like the original protestant privy kirks survived in lordly households and were usually implicitly left alone.

In the highlands, the parishes were often enormous, and this held progress back and few of the ministers sent there could speak Gaelic. It took until the 17th century for kirk sessions to be established in many highland parishes, again holding back the spread of reformed religion. Incidentally, the Reformed Kirk explicitly rejected the use of Latin, but the production of material was a struggle. A book of Common order was produced by 1567 in Gaelic, the first book to be printed in Gaelic, but it was several centuries before a bible in Gaelic appeared. The Genevan bible in English was officially adopted but it took until 1578 for a book of Common Order to be produced in Scots, and the English version was still often used. It had a profound impact on the development of the Scots language which was therefore never fully established as the language of print.

Despite these problems, over time a national protestant identity covered most Scots, and was embraced by them. Although Scottish Protestantism was never as virulently anti-catholic as elsewhere, helped by kinship networks, events such the St Bartholomews Massacre in France in 1572 did mean that part of the protestant identity became being not Catholic. In 1581, a specifically anti-catholic confession was added to the texts of the reformed kirk, for example. For most parts of Scotland, particularly lowland Scotland, the kirk’s claim to be the national church of Scotland melded with national pride and identity. The success of the kirk sessions in establishing conformity and uniformity in much of the country led the 1572 General Assembly to declare the kirk to be one of the ‘best reformed kirks’ in Europe’; the reformation, over time, successfully established Scotland as a firmly Protestant country.

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