Now then, in the last few episodes we have danced gaily through the meadow of James V’s reign, frolicked carelessly in the pastures of the early years of the Mary’s minority and the regency as bossed by James Hamilton, the Earl of Arran. A new element is beginning to poke it’s head into the policy thoughts of Scottish governors and Nobles. There’s the traditional one – maintaining the French alliance to retain their independence from England; but now there’s the growth of support for religious reformist sympathies which rather resets the pieces on the board. The next 10 years will weave into them a strand of the Battle for Britain, where Scotland will effectively be presented with a choice – to be part of a Franco Scottish state, or ally with England.
Despite protestant sympathies, by 1548 Arran, Mary of Guise the mother of Mary the little queen, and the royal Council had firmly rejected England’s rough wooings to have Edward VI and Mary betrothed and living in the English court. They’d neatly cut the legs off English strategy by sending little Mary to the French court and agreeing to the future marriage with the French heir to the throne, Francis. England was effectively then defeated by France in Scotland. Henry II invested vast sums into Scotland; in 1549 this amounted to £1m Scots on the French army of 6,000 on Scottish soil. Thereafter, France continued to invest, with 400 men in 5 garrisons and a stream of pensions paid to Scottish nobles and churchmen to keep them sweet and supporting France.
As we said last time, Henry II was not messing around here, this was not a bit of fun; he saw the potential for a Greater France that incorporated Scotland, and he was playing hard for it, to forever neutralise the threat from England. The rewards for the Scots of the French alliance were great – but the price looked to be pretty beefy as well. There was also the more distant prospect of a French Empire that incorporated England and Wales. Mary QoS was descended from Henry VII via Margaret Tudor, and therefore had a claim to the English throne – as far as the Catholic world was concerned, Edward VI was a bastard, so Mary had a claim; and these claims were trumpeted as early as the victory celebrations in 1550. But the claims to England are a little muted this early – given that Mary Tudor stood between Edward and Mary Stewart. But watch this space.
Those celebrations in France were attended by number of Scottish nobles, in what one Scottish historian described as a brain washing expedition. Well, Henry II of France was much cleverer than the English in woo’ing Scottish notables and sweetening the pill of French influence with pensions.
The Regency meanwhile continued under the control of Arran, and Henry II generously rewarded him, including making him Duke of Chatelerault. But’s Arran’s leadership was problematic; in common with previous regents, he was not the king, and therefore lacked some authority, but also failed to resists the temptation to be partial – rewarding his own supporters rather than being even handed. As far as Henry was concerned, he had another candidate for regent in mind – Mary Stewart’s mother Mary of Guise. Guise of course could be relied on to have French interests at heart, but she also had the integrity to hold Scotland’s interests at heart, and the political talents to make the regency work. She’d already demonstrated that she was cut from a very different cloth to that of Margaret Tudor. She’d led the council of 16 established to advise Arran, she’d shown her herself something of a war leader, coordinating French and Scottish military efforts, and even making a rousing speech outside the fortress of Inchkeith. Mary’s instincts were for consultation and conciliation, in the best traditions of Scottish feud resolution. By April 1554, Arran, by a combination of bribery and persuasion, agreed to stand aside and let Guise became regent.
There were evident differences between the approach of Guise and Arran. Her consultation with the powerful Guise family back home was as evident as her adept and even-handed involvement of the Scottish court. The Guise family were staunch Catholics, and were to be the leaders in France of the Catholic faction in France as France spiralled into their religious wars in the 1560s. Despite this, her attitude towards religion was marked by toleration – the last heresy trial had taken place in 1550, and the next one would not take place until 1558. Furthermore, Guise was able to present herself much more as the royal deputy of the absent minor and monarch, Mary; she did not stand at the head of a kindred like the Douglasses or Hamiltons; she arrogated to herself the sort of decisions and responsibilities of a monarch, rather than a mere noble – an example was her interventions in Justice, immediately heading out on a justice ayre in the Borders.
So there’s a honeymoon period, and even after the troubles that follow after her death it is clear that both friend and foe held her in great respect. But there were also problems. Guise had a French oriented view of the way that the world should be governed – the laissez faire favoured in Scotland was alien to her. She was impatient of what she saw as lax administration of justice in the localities, and undue influence of lordship in protecting individuals from the operation of the law. Not only, therefore, did she get out and deliver justice as though she was the monarch, she tried to legislate; so in her 1555 parliament, she introduced laws against bonding, to undermine the protection lords could give individuals; and tough new penalties against perjury.
This lead her into trouble since it suggested a centralising tendency and the restriction of local lordship. Guise quickly identified that many influential magnates were obstructing her. The Gordon Earl of Huntly was one prime example, using his position at Lieutenant of the North to justify the execution of two clan chiefs in furthering his bid to dominate Moray. In 1553 the Countess of Huntly also executed the Captain of Clan Chattan with the same objective in mind. In 1554, despite having been an early supporter of Guise, Huntly fell from the Regent’s grace. He was imprisoned in Edinburgh, his ambitions in Moray were comprehensively dashed when his lands in Moray were granted away, the Earl of Sutherland was given his government offices in the Orkney Islands, and the Great seal was removed from him and given to the French Vice Chancellor, du Rubay.
In a letter to her brother the Duke of Lorraine she complained of the Scottish lords that
My determination to see justice take a straightforward course and they find me a little severe, they will not endure it, and say that these are the laws of the French, and that their old laws are good
The Regent’s centalising instinct extended to taxation. To be fair she faced a problem; James iv and V had of course milked the church, but the church’s ability to pay was now much reduced, since many of their lands had been feued away into lay hands. The Regent she saw the need to provide proper fortifications and a standing French army, which was expensive; the parliament voted a subsidy in 1555, but blocked further taxation in 1556 and blocked innovations in the way tax was assessed which would have led to increases. As evidence of the strength of feeling, 300 lairds turned up to the parliament, where normally very few did so.
Du Rubay’s elevation as holder of the great seal illustrates another issue; the appearance of Frenchmen into positions of power, the most powerful of whom Henry Cleutin, or D’oisel as he was also called, who was described as the most powerful man in Scotland.
Now, let me not give the wrong impression, for I have blathered on at some length about the problems. Mary of Guise was a successful administrator, and well liked. But these problems raised worries in the minds of the Scottish nobility – about their local authority and power, about the extent of taxation which they’d seen increase enormously in France; and about their sovereignty. Behind hands in corners in court the example of Brittany was quoted – a once independent province whose Ducal family had married into the French royal family and ended up being annexed into France, losing its independence.
As though we were in a Blue Peter episode let us set aside the Regency and its progress for a few minutes, and move on to a topic I prepared earlier – the Reformation. Last time we spoke of the 1540s; the time of heresy persecutions by David Beaton, the rebellion at St Andrews which seemed to offer an opening for reformist religionists. But, there was a general crashing and burning; St andrews Castle was taken, and firebrandy John Knox, who had made the walls shake with his first foray into preaching, was hauled off to the French Galleys. Meanwhile the rough wooing did very little to endear Protestantism to the Scots, a new religion at the point of a foreign sword. Protestantism went underground for a while, tainted by an association of being unpatriotic. And anyway, Knox was busy rowing.
The Roman Catholic church meanwhile was not deaf to the need for internal reform; there were voices urging change; and meanwhile, the Council of Trent was now beavering away, producing decrees. Although there were no Scots present, ABSA Hamilton tried to provide the leadership for reform based around some of those decrees. In addition, the burning of heretics was kept to a minimum; Adam Wallace was tried and executed in 1552, as AB James Beaton took possession of the diocese of Glasgow; and then there would be the disastrous misstep of Walter Myln in 1558. But there was little opportunity for an equivalent to the Book of Martyrs.
Scotland’s reforming Catholics focused on two main targets in a series of Provincial councils in 1549, 1552, 1556 and 1559. These targets were lax clerical morality and lay and clerical ignorance. The Councils, taken at face value, did a lot of good work to tighten clerical discipline and lay down decrees to force leaders of the church to provide better examples to their flock. In 1552 a catechism in the vernacular, referred to as Hamilton’s catechism, was produced, one of the most significant achievements of reform, while monasteries in the 1550s were experiencing a mild revival in numbers joining. The lack of debate about theological matters rather than on administration led to an optimism that maybe the gap between reformist and catholic could be resolved, and that therefore reform could maybe deliver a restored, and catholic Church.
It is not therefore, that the Catholic church in Scotland was unaware of problems, and did not make efforts to reform before a storm broke on their heads. But the church faced many problems. The church and state partnership was designed to deliver talented administrators to the state, which it did; but it was not designed to prioritise the training to inspiring theologians and locally based reforming Bishops; so there was a lack of real drive and focus on implementing the work of the Councils, and a general lack of leadership. Rather than the secular clergy, much of the greatest challenge to the reformers came from the friars, with their existing focus on preaching – and as a result, the protestants would target them when the time came. The focus of the Councils ignored one of the greatest problems it faced – the quality and economic strength of the Parish church and priest. By the 1550s, 85% of parishs had some of their revenue taken into either lay hands or the ecclesiastical structure, unavailable for spending locally or paying priests. Although a minimum stipend of £16 was now recommended, even this was inadequate, and many parishes were impoverished. The Protestants would set themselves a target minimum stipend of £40 for comparison.
The super summary, then, because we like super summaries, was that there was an impressive attempt at Catholic reform; but it failed for lack of leadership, its lack of focus as an organisation designed to support the state, and the economic pressures created by that relationship. What then of the cause of evangelicals, after the false dawn of the 1540s?
Many reformist leaders fled Scotland as the environment turned against them; while protestant Edward VI ruled England, it was pretty easy to nip across the border. John Knox, once released from his rowing duties, took up a job in the English church, where he didn’t hesitate to throw his weight around. But in 1554 that all changed. Catholic Mary Tudor came to the English throne amidst a blizzard of persecution; and while Mary of Guise in Scotland was much more conciliatory towards Protestantism, her policy and that of Henry II and the Guise family as a whole was still pro catholic. reformism was therefore swimming against the tide of the international situation. Just like in England therefore, many Scottish protestants fled to the continent, to places like Geneva. The impact was that religious leaders learnt from the teachings of Jean Calvin, and in Geneva witnessed for themselves the disciplines exercised on the laity by the consistories. But it also brought Scottish and English reformers together and created a sense of a British reformation – the potential to work together for a protestant British Isles.
With the religious leaders to an extent absent, leadership of the evangelicals fell into lay hands, lay lords such as the earl of Argyll and the Cameron earl of Glencairn, who could protect evangelicals preachers. Rather than choosing confrontation in the early 1550s, protestant conventicles gathered under the protection of local lairds to worship privately, in what were known as Privy kirks. Iconoclastic attacks on the material structure of the church or violent confrontations were rare. Some Preachers toured these privy kirks, including John Knox when he returned briefly to Scotland in 1555. Knox exhorted protestants to avoid Nicodemism, that is continuing to attend mass while holding protestant opinions – but he received half hearted support for this – many were not convinced it was necessary, or feared conviction for heresy. Besides, with the Regent’s conciliatory approach, many still hoped for reform within the church. By and large the protestant movement was an intensely local and regional affair, flowering where it was watered by lordly protection; it had little feeling of a national movement. But through the 1550’s with the touring of preachers and contact between lairds, this began to change to a degree, and attendance at Privy kirks and protestant worship became increasingly open. Still, the enemy was perceived to be the Catholic hierarchy rather than the Regent’s government.
When Knox returned to Geneva in 1556, there was little sign of violent confrontation. However, there was change, a subtle hardening of attitudes, both religious and political. An example was the appeal by AB Hamilton to his protestant kinsman the earl of Argyll. Kinship was a moderating force in the reformation – appeals to kinship often overrode religious differences, preventing formal accusations or prosecutions. So, Hamilton wrote to Argyll, his brother in law, begging him to be quieter and more circumspect in his support of reformists; but this time he received a comprehensive refusal. Argyll was no longer interested in private deals and arrangements – he wanted public recognition.
By way of demonstrating that he too, AB Hamilton was serious and as a warning, in 1558 he prosecuted an Octogenarian Cleric from Fife for heresy. It was a public relations disaster. Walter Mylne went willingly to the execution, happy to be able to publicly bear witness; the locals were horrified and refused to participate, many of the clerics involved in the trial would desert the church the following year.
As divisions over religion hardened, political differences also began to solidify and a noble faction began to emerge in opposition to the Regent. Some of this came from worries about Mary of Guise’s centralising instinct, the depth of her personal intervention in justice. Partly, concern grew over the costs of French influence in the union of the crowns. In 1557, war resumed in the Valois Hapsburg conflict; and Mary Tudor was prevailed on, rather disastrously, to declare war on France. Henry II felt this would be a good time to cash in some chips – both Henry and the Regent figured the Scots had profited mightily from French money and soldiers to give them free protection from the English, and it was perfectly reasonable now to ask them to carry war to the English in return.
Duly in 1557 Guise called the Scots to war and they gathered in the Borders under command of the French general Henri d’oisel. But in October, with bad weather and news of English preparations, Scottish commanders decided instead to go home leaving a furious Regent weeping in rage and frustration.
Part of the issue though was that Scots inclined to support the Franco Scottish kingdom pointed out that despite the fact that the French had such a powerful part in governing Scotland, Mary was still not married to the French Dauphin. Mary of Guise went to work on Henry II and a date for the wedding was set for April 1558. However, the growing prospect of the reality of such a union, and its probable support for Catholicism, gave impetus in December 1557 to the creation of the Lords of the Congregation. This group signed a document called the ‘First Band’ and swore to make Scotland Protestant, led by the Earls of Argyll and Glencairn. Groups were forming, lines hardening.
Now quite dramatically, 3 days before the wedding, Henry II sat down with the woman he’d treated like his own daughter, Mary QoS, now 16. Mary was in love with France and the French court, and appreciated the care that Henry had showed her. Henry suggested that Mary could help him with some future planning, just in case something went wrong. Just tell me how I can help, Dad, said Mary. As a result she signed three sneaky documents. They basically said that if Mary croaked before she before she and the Dauphin Francis had children, all Mary’s rights to the kingdom of Scotland would revert of Henry II. It’s a remarkable concession for Mary to make; but look Henry had been a father to her, and she was young. But it rather underlined that while in previous French marriages Scotland could feel rightly that they were a partner, the relationship had now changed, and little Scottish independence remained. Henry II was back in the cashing in business, chips in hand. The Scots had first hand experience from the 1540s in what the French military machine looked like operating in their country; and it had been a price worth paying to get rid of the English. But Scotland was in no danger any more so now, together with French government to boot, in was an unattractive proposition. But on the other hand there was no other proposition in town, not even an English one. What to do?
As France moved towards the Franco-Scottish crown, Henry II became much harder on both French Huguenots and Scottish protestants, and the Regent Mary of Guise’s scope for religious toleration reduced still further – certainly no longer prepared to be seen to make public concessions. Without her support, the concept of reconciliation and toleration was dead in the water. She treated a petition from protestant lords to protect preachers, with contempt, the last chance for reconciliation at the Provincial council was highjacked by the Catholic side, who presented a petition including condemnation of attacks on church sacraments and ornaments. When the Protestants demanded that religion be treated as a matter of conscience rather than suggesting reforms the chasm between the two sides was there for all to see, unavoidable, unleapable. At Easter 1559 the Regent issued a proclamation that the ceremonies should be conducted in the traditional catholic manner, but all over the country ceremonies took place, with congregations ostentatiously celebrating according to their preference – Catholic or Protestant. Declarations of religious allegiance, effectively.
So, Scotland had become a tinderbox, with the highly combustible material of concern over French control and religious affiliation. What it lacked was a spark, a trigger.
On May 11th 1559, at St John’s church in Perth a preacher stood in the pulpit, using the text of Christ cleansing the temple. This was John Knox, recently returned from the continent. The protestant congregation took him at his word, and started, in their view, the process of cleansing, tearing down the church’s ornaments, attacking the Burgh’s Friaries and Carthusian monastery.
Now, the Reformation tended to come together more strongly in urban centres especially on the continent. Scotland was relatively lightly urbanised by comparison with said continent. But, if you took Knox aside and quizzed him over a mineral water and a slice of lemon about how the burghs of Scotland stacked up religiously he’d have presented a story of a string of burghs heavily populated by Protestants. But he’d have been glossing it. There were a couple of burghs like Ayr in the South West and Dundee on the Tay where indeed local reformations had been achieved, driven by the town council. But most were like Perth – divided into factions. And in Perth’s case those factions had gathered behind one of two candidates for the Provost – Protestant Ruthven, and Catholic Lord Grey.
Now Mary of Guise had a brain the size of large orbital satellite, and given that further religious concessions were off the beer stained table of state, she had a straight-forward approach to the alarms and excursions thrown up – whether political or religious; she would treat them simply as political, rebellion against order, and avoid getting embroiled in religious debate.
So hearing of the alarms and excursions in Perth she gathered a squadron of French soldiers and legged it up to Perth to start handing out some exemplary justice. However, when she got there, she found that Lord Glencairn had marched with 2,500 Protestant all the way from Ayr to stand by the Perth Prots. So, the Regent had to start by negotiating.
Which seems like a good time to introduce her chief negotiator to you, Lord James Stewart, because he will be a big part of Mary QoS’s story to boot. He appeared in the last Mary QoS film, with a haircut that looked to be controlled by a Thierry Henri style hairband. Which was odd, but hey. Lord James Stewart in reality was born around 1531, an illegitimate child of James V – that not being a particularly exclusive club given there were seven of them. He was the son of Margaret Erskine, whose previous marriage James V tired hard to have annulled so he could marry her. But James Stewart had blue blood in his veins is the point, even if from the wrong side of the bed, and significantly is therefore Mary QoS’s half-brother. James was an acquisitive soul; in 1550 he agreed to a betrothal which brought him extensive lands in Buchan – in the end the marriage didn’t happen but he kept the lands anyway. So his head was turned by the glory of the French court on the brain washing expedition in 1550, and also of course by the lucrative French pension. He was therefore Mary of Guise’s man, just point me in any direction you like ma’am. Though curiously he was also paid by the English court on 4 occasions. He was also a protestant – further proof that as yet support for Protestantism did not yet mean being anti the idea of a Franco Scottish state.
However, being at the heart of Regent’s government worried Lord James Stewart. The power and authority of French officers in the government and increasing inflexibility towards religion both tweaked the funny bone of self-preservation and ambition. So, back to Perth. The arrival of Glencairn and his 2,5000 gave Mary pause for thought. Now French standing troops were superior to anything the Scots, or indeed English, had to offer. But Guise was a firm believer that jaw jaw was better than war war and nobody likes a blood bath do they? So she sent a delegation of her finest into Perth, and James Stewart among others persuaded Perth to open their gates.
We will hear what happened when the good burgers of Perth opened their gates next time. Let Perth be known as the blue touch paper.