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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 5 — Knox's final return to Scotland

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The Priests Renew the Persecution — The Queen Regent openly Sides with them — Demands of the Protestant Lords — Rejected — Preaching Forbidden — The Preachers Summoned before the Queen — A Great Juncture — Arrival of John Knox — Consternation of the Hierarchy — The Reformer of Scotland — Knox Outlawed — Resolves to Appear with the Preachers before the Queen — The Queen's Perfidy — Knox's Sermon at Perth — Destruction of the Gray Friars' and Black Friars' Monasteries, etc. — The Queen Regent Marches against Perth — Commencement of the Civil War

It was now thirty years since the stake of Patrick Hamilton had lighted Scotland into the path of Reformation. The progress of the country had been slow, but now the goal was being neared, and events were thickening. The two great parties into which Scotland was divided stood frowning at each other: the crime of burning Mill on the one side, and "the oath to the Majesty of Heaven" on the other, rendered conciliation hopeless, and nothing remained but to bring the controversy between the two to a final issue.

The stake of Mill was meant to be the first of a series of martyrdoms by which the Reformers were to be exterminated. Many causes contributed to the adoption of a bolder policy on the part of the hierarchy. They could not hide from themselves that the Reformation was advancing with rapid strides. The people were deserting the mass; little companies of Protestants were forming in all the leading towns, the Scriptures were being interpreted, and the Lord's Supper dispensed according to the primitive order; many of the nobles were sheltering Protestant preachers in their castles. It was clear that Scotland was going the same road as Wittemberg and Geneva had gone; and it was equally clear that the champions of the Papacy must strike at once and with decision, or surrender the battle.

But what specially emboldened the hierarchy at this hour was the fact that the queen regent had openly come over to their side. A daughter of the House of Lorraine, she had always been with them at heart, but her ambition being to secure the crown-matrimonial of Scotland for her son-in-law, Francis II, she had poised herself, with almost the skill of a Catherine de Medici, between the bishops and the lords of the Congregation. She needed the support of both to carry her political objects. In October, 1558, the Parliament met; and the queen regent, with the assistance of the Protestants, obtained from "the Estates" all that she wished. It being no longer necessary to wear the mask, the queen now openly sided with her natural party, the men of the sword and the stake. Hence the courage which emboldened the priests to re-kindle the fires of persecution; and hence, too, the rigor that now animated the Reformers. Disenchanted from a spell that had kept them dubiously poised between the mass and the Gospel, they now saw where they stood, and, shutting their ears to Mary's soft words, they resolved to follow the policy alike demanded by their duty and their safety.

They assembled at Edinburgh, and agreed upon certain demands, which they were to present by commissioners to the convention of the nobility and the council of the clergy. The reforms asked for were three that it should be lawful to preach and to dispense the Sacraments in the vulgar tongue; that bishops should be admitted into their sees only with the consent of the barons of the diocese, and priests with the consent of the parishioners; and that immoral and incapable persons should be removed from the pastoral office. These demands were rejected, the council having just concluded a secret treaty with the queen for the forcible suppression of the Reformation. [1] No sooner had the Protestant nobles left Edinburgh than the regent issued a proclamation prohibiting all persons from preaching or dispensing the Sacraments without authority from the bishops.

The Reformed preachers disobeyed the proclamation. The queen, on learning this, summoned them to appear before her at Stirling, on the 10th of May, and answer to a charge of heresy and rebellion. There were only four preachers in Scotland, namely, Paul Methven, John Christison, William Harlow, and John Willock. The Earl of Glencairn and Sir Hugh Campbell, Sheriff of Ayr, waited on the queen to remonstrate against this arbitrary proceeding. She haughtily replied that "in spite of them all their preachers should be banished from Scotland." "What then," they asked, "became of her oft-repeated promises to protect their preachers?" Mary, not in the least disconcerted, replied that "it became not subjects to burden their princes with promises further than they pleased to keep them." "If so," replied Glencairn, "we on our side are free of our allegiance." The queen's tone now fell, and she promised to think seriously over the further prosecution of the affair. At that moment, news arrived that France and Spain had concluded a peace, and formed a league for the suppression of the Reformation by force of arms. Scotland would not be overlooked in the orthodox crusade, and the regent already saw in the contemplated measures the occupation of that country by French soldiers. She issued peremptory orders for putting the four Protestant ministers upon their trial. It was a strange and startling juncture. The blindness of the hierarchy in rejecting the very moderate reform which the Protestants asked, the obstinacy of the queen in putting the preachers upon their trial, and the league of the foreign potentates, which threatened to make Scotland a mere dependency of France, all met at this moment, and constituted a crisis of a trimly momentous character, but which above most things helped on that very consummation towards which Scotland had been struggling for upwards of thirty years.

There wanted yet one thing to complete this strange conjuncture of events. That one thing was added, and the combination, so formidable

and menacing till that moment, was changed into one of good promise and happy augury to Protestantism. While the queen and the bishops were concerting their measures in Edinburgh, and a few days were to see the four preachers consigned to the same fate which had overtaken Mill; while the Kings of Spain and France were combining their armies, and meditating a great blow on the Continent, a certain ship had left the harbor of Dieppe, and was voyaging northward with a fair wind, bound for the Scottish shore, and on board that ship there was a Scotsman, in himself a greater power than an army of 10,000 men. This ship carried John Knox, who, without human pre-arrangement, was arriving in the very midst of his country's crisis.

Knox landed at Leith on the 2nd of May, 1559. The provincial council was still sitting in the Monastery of the Gray Friars when, on the morning of the 3rd of May, a messenger entering in haste announced that John Knox had arrived from France, and had slept last night in Edinburgh. The news fell like a thunder-bolt upon the members of council. They sat for some time speechless, looking into one another's faces, and at last they broke up in confusion. Before Knox had uttered a single word, or even shown himself in public, his very name had scattered them. A messenger immediately set off with the unwelcome news to the queen, who was at that time in Glasgow; and in a few days a royal proclamation declared Knox a rebel and an outlaw. [2] I the proclamation accomplished nothing else, it made the fact of the Reformer's presence known to all Scotland. The nation had now found what it needed, a man able to lead it in the great war on which it was entering. His devotion and zeal, now fully matured in the school of suffering; his sincerity and uprightness; his magnanimity and courage; his skill in theological debate, and his political insight, in which he excelled all living Scotsmen; the confidence and hope with which he was able to inspire his fellow-countrymen; and the terror in which the hierarchy stood of his very name, all marked him out as the chosen instrument for his country's deliverance. He knew well how critical the hour was, and how arduous his task would be. Religion and liberty were within his country's grasp, and still it might miss them. The chances of failure and of success seemed evenly poised; half the nobles were on the side of Rome; all the Highlands, we may say, were Popish; there were the indifference, the gross ignorance, the old murky superstition of the rural parts; these were the forces bearing down the scale, and making the balance incline to defeat. On the other side, a full half of the barons were on the side of the Reformation; but it was only a few of them who could be thoroughly depended upon; the rest were lukewarm or wavering, and not without an eye to the spoils that would be gathered from the upbreak of a hierarchy owning half the wealth of the kingdom. The most disinterested, and also the most steadfast, supporters of the Reformation lay among the merchants and traders of the great towns the men who loved the Gospel for its own sake, and who would stand by it at all hazards. So evenly poised was the balance; a little thing might make it incline to the one side or to the other; and what tremendous issues hung upon the turning of it!

Not an hour did Knox lose in beginning his work. The four preachers, as we have already said, had been summoned to answer before the queen at Stirling. "The hierarchy," said the lords of the Congregation, "hope to draw our pastors into their net, and sacrifice them as they did Walter Mill. We will go with them, and defend them." "And I too," said Knox, not daunted by the outlawry which had been passed upon him, "shall accompany my brethren, and take part in what may await them before the queen." But when the queen learned that Knox was on his way to present himself before her, she deserted the Diet against the preachers, and forbade them to appear; but with the characteristic perfidy of a Guise, when the day fixed in the citation came, she ordered the summons to be called, and the preachers to be outlawed for not appearing. [3]

Then the news reached Perth that the men who had been forbidden to appear before the queen, were outlawed for not appearing, indignation was added to the surprise of the nobles and the townspeople. It chanced that on the same day Knox preached against the mass and image-worship. The sermon was ended, and the congregation had very quietly dispersed, when a priest, "to show his malapert presumption," says Knox, "would open ane glorious tabernacle that stood upon the high altar," and began to say mass. A boy standing near called out, "Idolatry! " The priest repaid him with a blow: the youth retaliated by throwing a stone, which, missing the priest, hit one of the images on the altar, and shivered it in pieces. It was the sacking of Antwerp Cathedral over again, but on a smaller scale. The loiterers in the church caught the excitement; they fell upon the images, and the crash of one stone idol after another reechoed through the edifice; the crucifixes, altars, and church ornaments shared the same fate. The noise brought a stream of idlers from the street into the building, eager to take part in the demolition. Mortified at finding the work finished before their arrival, they bent their steps to the monasteries. [4] The tempest took the direction of the Gray Friars on the south of the town, another rolled away towards the Black Friars in the opposite quarter, and soon both monasteries were in ruins, their inmates being

allowed to depart with as much of their treasure as they were able to carry. Not yet had the storm expended itself; it burst next over the abbey of the Charter House. This was a sumptuous edifice, with pleasant gardens shaded by trees. But neither its splendor, nor the fact that it had been founded by the first James, could procure its exemption from the fury of the iconoclasts. It perished utterly. This tempest burst out at the dinner hour, when the lords, the burghers, and the Reformers were in their houses, and only idlers were abroad. Knox and the magistrates, as soon as they were informed of what was going on, hastened to the scene of destruction, but their utmost efforts could not stop it. They could only stand and look on while stone cloister, painted oriel, wooden saint, and fruit-tree, now clothed in the rich blossoms of early summer, fell beneath the sturdy blows of the "rascal multitude." The monasteries contained stores of all good things, which were divided amongst the poor; "no honest man,' says Knox, "was enriched thereby the value of a groat." [5]

It is to be remarked that in Perth, as in the other towns of Scotland, it was upon the monasteries that the iconoclastic vengeance fell; the cathedrals and churches were spared. The monasteries were in particularly evil repute among the population as nests of idleness, gluttony, and sin. Dark tales of foul and criminal deeds transacted within their walls were continually in circulation, and the hoarded resentment of long years now burst out, and swept them away. The spark that kindled the conflagration was not Knox's sermon, for few if any of those rioters had heard it: Knox's hearers were in their own houses when the affair began. The more immediate provocative was the wanton perfidy of the queen, which more disgraced her than this violence did the mob; and the remoter cause was the rejection of that moderate measure of Reformation which the lords of the Congregation had asked for, protesting at the same time that they would not be responsible for the irregularities and violences that might follow the rejection of their suit.

Knox deplored the occurrence. Not that he mourned over idol slam, and nest of lazy monk and moping nun rooted out, but he foresaw that the violence of the mob would be made the crime of the Reformers. And so it happened; it gave the queen the very pretext she had waited for. The citizens of Perth, with the lords of the Congregation at their head, had, in her eye, risen in rebellion against her government. Collecting an army from the neighboring counties, she set out to chastise the rebels, and lay waste the city of Perth with fire and sword.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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