'If you think properly of the Gospel, please dont
imagine that its cause can be advanced without tumult,
offence and sedition... The word of God is a sword,
its war, ruin, offence, perdition and poison.
If I am immoderate, at least I am simple and open
Martin Luther on Protestantism (1520)
16th century was the age of the European Reformation:
a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics
which divided Western Europe for over 150 years, and
continues to do so until this day in certain areas.
Henry VIII converted to Protestantism, taking most of
the English nation with him, James V, in need of money
to support his royal court's extravagant lifestyle,
flirted with Protestant ideas in order to scare the Pope
in granting him tax concessions. However, in 1542 James
V died; his only heir was the infant Mary, Queen of Scots.
Scotland was plunged into a crisis, the like of which
it had not seen since the death of Alexander III and the
Wars of Independence.
It started with a protest in 1517, when Martin Luther,
a German Augustinian monk, nailed his 95 Theses to
a church door in Wittenberg. What started as the spiritual
doubts of one monk, spiralled into a religious movement
known as Protestantism - named after Luthers
What was Protestantism?
Luther, a gifted Renaissance scholar, returned to
the primacy of the scriptures: to the actual text
of the Bible, and then rejected all the Church's practices
that were not written therein. He interpreted the
Bible as the literal word of God. Specifically, Luther
rejected the authority of the Pope, an action that
usually led to a charge of heresy and being burnt
at the stake. However, he was given time to reconsider
his heretical views, which Luther did, before deciding
that he had to stay faithful to his conscience. Fortunately
for Luther, various German princes ensured his survival
and funded the propagation of his theories through
the printing press. Soon Lutheran texts were spread
across Europe, fanning the flames of religious conflict
and inciting rebellion throughout Christendom.
Religion was important to Scots in the 16th century.
Socially, the Church was crucial to everyday life.
It was responsible for education, health, welfare
and discipline. It was also very important on an individual
level. The Church was the vehicle for expressing inner
spirituality and changes to its forms of worship could
endanger your chances of salvation. In other words,
your future in either Heaven or Hell was at stake.
The Reformation split the Church into Catholic and
Protestant factions, creating two roads to salvation
- both of which claimed to be true. So it was very
important to people that the Scottish state chose
to travel down the right road. When Lutheran books
in Latin started to appear in Scotland, the radical
message which they carried quickly made a strong impression
on many Scots, and, although King James V tried to
ban their distribution, print always had the knack
of avoiding the censor when necessary.
In the early 16th century, Scotland was a piously
Catholic nation. Devotion flourished, and an increasingly
educated populace sought more personal forms of spiritual
experience. Rome and its doctrines, it seemed, were
not always up-to-date with the needs of a nation heading
at high speed for the modern world. Reform was in
the air, but only a tiny minority at this stage favoured
Protestantism and a complete break with Rome.
The Rough Wooing
Both France and England pursued the opportunity to commandeer
the Scottish throne by marrying the young queen. England
was Protestant, France was Catholic. In their bitter power
struggle over Scotland the issue of Scotlands faith
became not merely a question of religious denomination
but one of international power politics.
The Rough Wooing, as it came to be called,
saw England attempt to force Mary's hand through repeated
invasions and the defeat of the Scots Army at the Battle
of Pinkie. In return, the French supplied the Scots with
troops and the firepower to resist Henry's advances. Both
sides spent a fortune on this rough wooing of the Scots.
It is thought that Henry VIII spent the fortune he had
gained from the dissolution of Englands monasteries
on the campaigns, all to no avail. In the end the French
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