Were Scottish Protestants Persecuted?
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 Kings galleys was
one 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.
Triumph of Mary of Guise
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 Popes authority,
and the mass was declared illegal. Scotland had officially
become a Protestant country.
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 VIIIs 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 Marys marriage, they lost
their independence to France. If they didnt,
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 Scotlands 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 didnt
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
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