The struggle for control of the Kirk

Although James VI was baptised in the Catholic Church, he was brought up as a Protestant. He believed that, as King, he was head of the Church - just as Henry VIII held power over the Church of England. Until 1883, James’ personal influence over the Church was limited as much of the decision-making was left to his regents.

Second Book of Discipline

The Second Book of Discipline of 1578 established how the Church was to be organised. It was written by a committee of over thirty members, led by the Moderator of the General Assembly, Andrew Melville. Neither James nor his regent Morton were involved in these discussions.

It set out the agenda of the Protestant church in Scotland. The book was influenced highly by the teachings of Andrew Melville. As leader of the extremist Presbyterian faction, Melville wanted a theocracy - a Church where there was no hierarchy, governed by presbyteries - groups of elders in different regions.

The Second Book of Discipline was unanimously approved by the Assembly in April 1578. It established:

  • the Kirk, not the King, would rule the Church.
  • decisions at parish level would be made through the Kirk Session - made up of elders and deacons
  • Kirk Sessions would set standards of behaviour, impose fines for wrong-doing, and stress the need for attendance at daily and Sunday services.
  • regular meetings of ministers of different parishes would discuss matters of faith and religious teaching

These meetings developed in presbyteries. They took responsibility for appointing ministers, imposing discipline and organising attendance at the General Assembly. By 1581, the Kirk had plans for 13 presbyteries.

The Second Book of Discipline increased the Church's influence and authority over members of the congregation. It appeared at this point that the Church could become independent of the King and influence of nobles.