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19 September 2014
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The Reformation (II)

Were Scottish Protestants Persecuted?St Andrew's Castle
In comparison to other countries, there was very little persecution of Protestants in Scotland. Cardinal Beaton instigated an inquisition-style regime against Protestant ‘heresy’ at St Andrews- the centre of the Scottish Church. In 1528, Patrick Hamilton became Scotland's first Protestant martyr, but few followed him to the stake. Many Protestant intellectuals just fled abroad, never to return.

One exception in 1546 is George Wishart, a popular preacher, who, on his return to Scotland, was captured and executed on the command of Cardinal Beaton. His death sparked a rather confused rebellion by some local, Protestant Lairds. They assassinated Cardinal Beaton and seized St Andrews Castle, hoping that English intervention would save them from any retribution. For a year they held the castle until a French force arrived and took the castle. Among the prisoners sent into slavery in the French King’s galleys was one John Knox.

John Knox
Before his capture, Knox had been trained as a Catholic priest and had worked as a tutor in East Lothian. He spent 19 months at the oars of a French galley, even finding time to edit a Protestant Confession of Faith before he was released. Knox then began his life as an exile: first as a minister in England, and then, after England reverted to a Catholic monarchy, he moved on to Frankfurt and Calvin's Geneva in order to preach to exiled English congregations. For most of the 1550s Knox stayed in exile, however, what made John Knox unusual was that he returned home once the Reformation crisis broke in 1559.

James V & Mary of Guise

The Triumph of Mary of Guise
In 1558 Mary of Guise, the widow of James V of Scotland, achieved an unparalleled diplomatic triumph for the Stewart dynasty when her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, married Francois, heir to the French crown.

Henry VIII’s policy of the Rough Wooing had backfired. Mary was sent to safety in France and the Scots were driven into the arms of their auld allies, the French. Also, a badly kept secret clause in the marriage contract effectively gave France control of Scotland. The Scots were faced with a difficult dilemma. If they accepted the conditions of Mary’s marriage, they lost their independence to France. If they didn’t, it meant embracing their most bitter enemy, England. For Protestants, already regarded as a fifth column by Mary of Guise, the marriage brought the fear of a French-led inquisition to root out ‘heretics’.

1558 was the very nadir of despair for Protestant fortunes. Mary of Guise was in tight control and Mary Tudor had returned England to Catholicism. Scottish Protestantism seemed defeated. Knox, fulminating in exile, denounced the iniquity of the female influence, issuing his infamous tract: ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’: aimed directly at Mary Tudor and Mary of Guise.

The Scottish Reformation 1559-1560.
Within a year, events changed everything. The accession of the Protestant Elizabeth I to the throne of England gave the reformers renewed confidence. Only about 10% of the population, mostly lairds and townsfolk, were Protestant, but their numbers included some very important nobles: the Duke of Châtelherault (head of the Hamiltons), and the Earls of Argyll, Glencairn and Morton, to name a few. Known collectively as the ‘Lords of the Congregation’, they were led by James Stewart, the illegitimate half brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Lords were the real power behind Protestantism and in May 1559 they unleashed it that power.

Knox was roused from exile and returned to Scotland, preaching a sermon against idolatry in Perth which unleashed a seething Protestant mob. Iconoclasm (the destruction of religious images) swept the nation. In St Andrews the army of the Lords of the Congregation stripped the altars, smashed the icons, destroyed the relics and whitewashed the walls of its churches over night. People would no longer be distracted from God's glory by the glitter and rich hangings of the Catholic Church. For the men who 'cleansed the altars’ this was direct action against the iconography of Catholicism. Its abbeys and great cathedrals, irrelevant to the new godly society they envisioned, were left to decay. A great deal of Scotland’s Renaissance artistic legacy was lost forever.

The message, however, didn't inspire widespread support across Scotland. Mary of Guise successfully portrayed the group as rebels. The Lords of Congregation answered with the printing press, justifying their rebellion as an attempt to free Scotland from French domination rather than a religious revolution. Luck didn’t

Mary Queen of Scots & John Knox desert them either. Their greatest foe, Mary of Guise, died in June 1560 and the English sent support to counter her French troops. By 1560 the majority of the nobility supported the rebellion; a provisional government was established, the Scottish Parliament renounced the Pope’s authority, and the mass was declared illegal. Scotland had officially become a Protestant country.

In 1561 the unexpected return of Mary, Queen of Scots re-ignited the whole issue. It seemed that power wouldn't change hands so easily and that Scotland would have to sail the troubled waters of the Reformation for a while yet.


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