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Mary of Guise

John Knox

Mary Queen Of Scots


Scottish Reformation

In August 1560 the Scottish Parliament passed a series of measures that ended all links with Rome, proscribed the celebration of the mass and authorised a Protestant confession of faith. The antecedents of these momentous changes, passed by what is significantly usually described as the 'Reformation Parliament', had been in existence for some years beforehand and, in the case of the deterioration of the Church, for a lengthy period.

The Church in Scotland, like its continental counterparts, had been going into a slow decline long before the sixteenth century and inevitably was suffering from the various shortcomings that were common elsewhere. Thus the grinding poverty and ignorance of the majority of the priesthood stood in stark contrast with the affluent worldliness of most of the bishops and monastic heads. The main cause of this impoverishment was an iniquitous procedure whereby the revenues of the individual parishes were absorbed by cathedrals, monasteries, collegiate churches and universities leaving only a meagre pittance for the hapless vicar. This appropriation of benefices had been inaugurated in the twelfth century and bad reached its zenith by the sixteenth when an estimated 85 per cent of parishes were affected by it. There had been attempts to curb such developments; an act of Parliament of 1471, for instance, prohibited future appropriations except in the case of collegiate churches.

Unfortunately, this body was the main offender in later years. Accordingly, by the sixteenth century a career in the priesthood had become an unattractive proposition generally by-passed by those with any ability and usually the resort of someone who had failed to get on elsewhere. Not surprisingly, there were numerous reports and allegations that the lower clergy were ill-educated, avaricious and immoral. Impoverishment at parish level also meant that many church buildings and furnishings were, dilapidated or neglected.

What of the bishops or conditions within the various regular institutions? Certainly there are some signs among the former of familiar abuses such as pluralism, non-residence, nepotism, simony and immorality and the behaviour of prelates like David Beaton (c. 1494-1546), of St Andrews, or Patrick Hepburn Moray, did little to enhance the reputation of the pre-Reformation clergy. Yet it would be unwise to attach too much significance to their peccadilloes. The Scottish hierarchy was no worse than elsewhere and had in its midst some comparatively enlightened figures. One such was Robert Reid (d. 1558), Bishop of Orkney and Commendator of Kinloss, who at his death left the funds that ultimately provided the endowment for the University of Edinburgh. Another such was John Hamilton (1512-7 1), Beaton's successor at St Andrews, who did his utmost in the decade before 1560 to eliminate some of the worst defects among the clergy.

As for the heads of monasteries and their inmates, there is little evidence to suggest that there was widespread corruption and sinful behaviour within the monastic system or, for that matter, the friaries. Where criticism was certainly justified was in the case of the nunneries, which were universally condemned for their illiteracy and scandalous conduct.

The main stricture that can be made against the bishops and the monastic heads is the worldliness and the inertia that pervaded everywhere. Again, this is hardly surprising when the policy towards the Church adopted by the Crown since the late fifteenth century is taken into Account Both James IV (1473- 1513) and James V (1512-42) had made generous use of the arrangement negotiated with the papacy by James 111 (1452-88) allowing the Scottish monarchy to make major appointments in the Church. Consequently, various royal kinsmen were promoted in this way and James V, following in the footsteps of his father, who had introduced his illegitimate son into the see of St Andrews, filled several abbeys and priories with his natural offspring. By the 1530s James V was extending this policy to include many of the nobility, notably the Hamiltons. Moreover, even if a magnate was unable to gain complete control over a monastery through a commendatorship there were often excellent opportunities for profiting by means of becoming a lay bailie responsible for ecclesiastical property, not to mention the practice of reserving to certain noble families a part of the revenues of a bishopric on the appointment of a new incumbent.

The growing number of noblemen who began to obtain feu charters of church land as the clergy tried to satisfy the financial demands of James V only serves to underline the extent to which the bishoprics and monasteries were becoming secularised. Thus, on the eve of the Reformation, most monasteries were controlled by lay commendators, a situation highly unlikely to promote reform or produce dynamic leadership.

Another significant factor in producing the Reformation was the growth of Protestant opinions within the country, especially from around the mid- 1 1540s. Before that date the impact of Lutheranism was negligible and the execution of Patrick Hamilton (1504.28) for heresy was followed by only a dozen such sentences during the remainder of James Vs reign. For much of the 1540s there are instances of sporadic heretical activities in places like Dundee, Perth and their hinterland. The culmination of these was the murder at St Andrews in May 1546, at least partly in revenge for the execution of the Protestant George Wishart (c. 15 13-6) earlier in the year, of David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews. But even the accession of Edward VI (1537-53) followed by the introduction of the Protestant faith into England had little effect on Scotland despite the English strategy of infiltrating translations of the Bible during both the Rough Wooing and thereafter. In fact, Protestantism, outwith certain radical enclaves in Angus, Ayrshire, Fife and the Lothians remained a predominantly underground affair still lacking the catalyst that could make it become a serious threat to the established Church. Where it existed in the 1550s, as the visitations of John Knox (c. 1512-72) in these years confirm, it was no longer Lutheran but Calvinist doctrines that it was supporting.

The first real indication of serious opposition to the administration of Mary of Guise (1515-60) and her admittedly equivocal support of the Church came in December 1557 when the signing by Argyll (c.1538-73), Lorne (1545-84), Glencaim (d.1574), Morton (c.1516-81) and Erskine of Dun (c.1509-91) of an agreement known as the 'First Band' wherein the signatories pledged themselves to work for the establishment of a reformed Church. Yet it was not until May 1559 with the return of Knox from France and the attack on the friaries that same month that the Reformation can actually be considered to have got properly under way. By this stage it was apparent that other motives were increasingly playing a significant role, especially political considerations.

Mary of Guise, once she had taken over from Chatelherault (15 16-75) in 1554 pursued an astute but incontrovertibly Francophile policy, which had resulted in several Scottish members of the government being replaced by various Frenchmen. Additionally there was the presence of a French military force and the burden of the taxation controversially imposed for its upkeep. For some magnates the marriage of the Regent's daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, (1542-87) to the Dauphin in 1558 only confirmed their growing fears that Scotland was becoming a French satellite. But the Regent handled the marriage issue competently by ensuring that three of the eight commissioners who went to France on this business, Cassillis (1517-58) Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray (1531-70) and Erskine of Dun, were sympathisers of the reform movement.

In fact, as long as the fanatically Catholic Mary Tudor (1516-58) remained alive Mary of Guise did little to hinder Protestantism. Thus, in order to embarrass her neighbour and give moral support to France, at war with England and Spain, she did not discourage continental exiles such as Knox and John Willock (d. 1585), formerly a Dominican friar at Ayr, from returning. It was only with the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth (1533-1603) and the peace settlement of Cateau-Cambresis in March 1559, ending the Habsburg-Valois conflict, that the Regent seriously altered her policy towards the reformers. Hence the summons to Knox and his fellow preachers to appear before her on 10 May 1559 and their subsequent outlawing for failing to do so. These events effectively marked the beginning of the religious civil war that was to last until July 1560.

During this period while some noblemen such as Argyll and Glencairn were influenced in supporting the rebellion by their religious feelings, with others, like Huntly (c. 1530-62) or Chatetherault, political considerations predominated. The latter, for instance, diplomatically delayed in joining the rebels until September 1559 by which date his eldest son, the Earl of Arran (1537-1609) had escaped from detention in France. Meanwhile, another prominent figure, the Earl of Morton, spent these months switching from one side to the other. Unquestionably what caused most of the nobility to support Knox and the others was the conviction that it was in their best interests to do so. Not, it should be stressed, with financial objectives uppermost in their thoughts they had already extensively pillaged the wealth of the Church but bemuse they realised success would mean the end of the French hegemony in Scotland. This outcome would restore them to their former ascendancy in the government and also strengthen ties with England, an impossible undertaking as long as Mary of Guise was at the helm.

The lairds, while some of them like Maitland of Lethington (c. 1525-73) welcomed improved Anglo-Scottish relations, were as a class more motivated by social aspirations. Consequently their attendance in large numbers at the Reformation Parliament signified a desire to have a greater voice in national affairs and to play a substantial role in the establishment of the reformed Kirk. The burgesses to some extent shared this outlook, although some of them were doubtless aware of the commercial advantages of stronger ties with England.

Only those furthest down the social ladder had strong economic motives for becoming involved in the Reformation struggle. For this group the financial exactions and devices of the Church had become increasingly intolerable. This, of course, was partly a result of James Vs taxation of the clergy, ostensibly for the creation of his new College of Justice, which led to the Church adopting unpopular and harmful to the case with those affected by rent increases imposed by the new feuars, and particularly so by those unfortunate enough to be evicted as part of this process.

At the same time there was always in Scottish society in the sixteenth century a large section of the population in desperate economic circumstances. This body in company with the numerous vagabonds and beggars who roamed the countryside gladly participated in a movement that they conceived as an attack on the wealthiest institution in the kingdom. The various outbreaks of mob violence against churches and friaries that characterised the start of the Reformation bear witness to their involvement. If the origins of the Reformation consist of an amalgam of religious, political and socio- economic factors, it was English intervention that ensured victory for the Protestant cause. Despite initial success against the Regent's forces, the Lords of the Congregation, as they were called after the 'First Band' of 1557, soon lost their momentum. Before long they were desperately seeking English assistance only to find that Elizabeth, with her own domestic position insecure, was very wary about intervening on behalf of rebels in Scotland. The radical religious opinions of Knox and his outspoken views about female rulers were additional justification for a cautious stance. It was fears of continued French influence in Scotland in conjunction with their support of the claim of Mary, Queen of Scots to the English throne which finally persuaded Elizabeth to take action openly across the Border. The Treaty of Berwick, February 1560, was the turning point in the religious conflict that ended with the Treaty of Edinburgh, July 1560. Significantly, the only reference to religion came in the 'concessions' attached to the main body of the political settlement where it was agreed that the Scottish estates should be summoned to discuss ecclesiastical matters and other issues.

The subsequent Reformation Parliament completely neglected some of the major proposals outlined by the reformers in their Book of Discipline. Thus, questions such as the endowment and organisation of the Reformed Kirk remained unresolved and were to bedevil relations between the post-Reformation Church and the State for many years thereafter.

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