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Martyrs of Perth

John Resby, an English priest, introduced the religious teaching of Wycliff (“Morning Star of the Reformation”) to Scotland in general and to Perth and Perthshire in particular. A historian remarks: Perth and the country thereabouts were more affected by heresy than any other part of the nation. In 1407 Resby was summoned to appear before a Council of the Clergy in Perth. He was accused of 40 heresies, chief of which were his denial of
the authority of the Pope and his assertion that images should not be kept in church and worshipped, that in Communion Services, the bread and wine were not actually changed into the body and blood of Christ.
Though Resby defended himself skilfully his efforts were in vain, for the Council that examined him had only one aim, to accomplish his destruction. He was declared guilty and handed over to the civil authorities to be executed by burning. The unfortunate preacher was quickly tied to a post and given to the flames. Burned with him were various books and pamphlets that he had written and distributed. So died Scotland’s first martyr.
In the first half of the 18th century the chief opponent of the Reformation movement in Scotland was the cruel and ambitious Cardinal Beaton.

Along with the weak Regent Arran, in 1542 he began a progress through Stirling, Perth and Dundee for the purpose of holding courts of justice “to try all heretics who might be brought to the bar.” Proceedings were opened at Stirling, but, we are told, no case of
importance was put before them. On January 25, 1543, they proceeded to Perth where a supporter of the Cardinal tells us: “There was work of the right sort awaiting them”—five men and a woman (later referred to as the “Christers”) were placed before the Council,
accused by a certain Friar Spence.

Robert Lamb, a Perth merchant, admitted having, on All Hallows Day, November 1, in St. John’s Kirk, interrupted a sermon on salvation by the intervention of the saints, with the result that a great tumult had arisen. Helen Stark, wife of Robert Lamb, was charged with failing to
pray to the Virgin while on childbed. James Ronald, William Anderson and James Finlayson were accused of mocking an image of St. Francis by affixing to it a ram’s
horns, a cow’s tail, and putting a rope round its neck.
James Hunter, a flesher, was charged with supplying the horns and the tail. They were all accused of a further offence, that of eating a goose on All Hallows E’en!
James Ronald, William Anderson and James Hunter were further said to have been present in St. Ann’s Chapel on November 30, when Robert Lamb “disputed upon the Holy Scripture” (St. Ann’s Chapel stood on the east side of St. Ann’s Lane, to the south of St. John’s Kirk). All the accused were found guilty and condemned to death, the
men by hanging and the woman by drowning. They were lodged for the night in the Spey Tower, which guarded
the South Port and was almost opposite the Greyfriars monastery. The good citizens of Perth were shocked by the severity of the sentences and clamoured for their annulment. The weak Regent Arran assured them that no harm would befall the “Christers,” and the crowd, satisfied, dispersed quietly. Cardinal Beaton, however, countermanded the Regent’s orders: and next day
from a top window of the Spey Tower he glutted his eyes on the dreadful spectacle. The men died bravely, as did also Helen Stark. She had begged to be allowed to die with her husband, but even this small, pitiful request was denied her and she was drowned in a pool of water by
the River Tay. Over 100 years later, when Charles II was restored to his throne, a Government movement was begun to stamp out Presbyterianism in Scotland and restore Episcopacy. Cromwell had allowed a certain amount of freedom of worship, but Archbishop Sharp
persecuted the Presbyterians with much cruelty.
In 1662 nearly 400 Presbyterian ministers were expelled from their pulpits; their congregations for the most part went with them, and began worshipping in the open air, posting sentries to keep watch for the King’s soldiers.

They were called Covenanters. Archbishop Sharp was murdered and the Covenanters were treated more harshly than ever. Isobel Alison, a young woman of Perth, was arrested and brought before the Privy Council in Edinburgh. Historians appear to know very little about her, who her family was and her occupation. She was asked whether she “owned the King’s authority”; and
whether the killing of Archbishop Sharp was murder.
Isobel, we are told, behaved with great courage. She admitted that she had heard the Covenanting leader, Mr. Cargill, preach. This was apparently the only evidence that could be produced against her. The luckless girl was found guilty and brought to the gallows, along with another young girl of 20 years on January 26, 1685. After reading the 14th chapter of Mark, she desired time to pray but the major would not let her, and led her to the ladder. She died courageously. Her name appears with others on a stained glass window, recently removed from the Middle Church and placed in St. Matthew’s Church. The inscription on it is as follows:
“I charge you teach nothing to Christ’s people except His only truth,” Lamb. “I will pray to God only in the name of Christ,” Stark.

Helen Stark 1543.
The Christers 1543.
John Knox 1559.

“I lay down my life for owning Christ a King in his own house,”

Isobel Alison 1681.
William Wilson 1733.
William Thomson 1843.

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