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A history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) online

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54 Privy Council Register, v. 357 ; Act. Pari. Scot., iv. 107.

55 Privy Council Register, v. 360, 361, and note I.




The preachers never recovered their supremacy in James's lifetime,
but they never were thoroughly subdued. There survived a remnant,
holding tenaciously to the old, impossible, theocratic ideals ; and in
a later generation they too had their hour of triumph. To us who
see the past in a perspective unattainable in the sixteenth century,
it is plain enough that two ideas were destined to prevail — toleration
in religion, and democracy in politics. But under James the demo-
cratic idea, and the idea of toleration, occupied opposite camps.
The preachers, and their representatives in the universities, at least
in St Andrews, taught the Radical opinions of George Buchanan.
They also upheld (except when an opposite theory suited their
purposes) that the ministers should be chosen by their flocks, — a
process which, following their line of argument, put the supreme
power of the State into the hands of inspired persons elected by the
votes of popular constituencies. A theocratic democracy was thus
arranged for, but we should greatly misjudge the Brethren if we
thought that they were mere believers in majorities. As against the
greater number of votes, the votes of "the best" ought to prevail,
and "the best" were the minority who would go all lengths with
the preachers. This rather confused theologico-political theory and
practice obtained its opportunity from the absence of a really repre-
sentative and constitutional Parliament in Scotland. In place of
such a body, the Kirk had her kirk-sessions, presbyteries, synods,
and General Assemblies. Their power was enormous, and touched
on military affairs as well as on politics and jurisdiction. But the
power reposed on the belief in " prophets," and in direct inspiration.


Moreover, as must always have been suspected, and as will soon be
seen, the ruling assemblies of the Kirk had not represented the full
array of presbyteries and Presbyterians. Power had lain in the
hands chiefly of the preachers of Edinburgh and the Lothians,
of Fife and Ayrshire, always the centres of the Covenanting forces
in later days. In these regions the preachers were the most learned,
the most resolute, and the most pugnacious. They, and their lay
associates, lairds and burgesses, had throughout been the power
behind and above the throne, the ijnperium in imperio. But these
regions probably had not a majority of the ministers, though, living
near the capital, they could soon be on the spot when politics called
for their presence. The ministers of remoter parishes, men much
less zealous, were neither so rich nor, in the conditions of travelling,
was it nearly so easy for them to concentrate south of Forth. Such
was the theocratic democracy : it did not rest on a mere majority of
the votes of members of the Kirk.

The doctrine most vigorously held by this theocratic and, in its
way, democratic party, was the doctrine of religious intolerance.
The leaders, being inspired interpreters of the Word, gave out that,
according to the Word, idolaters must be extirpated. The theory,
of course, was not peculiar to the Kirk : the old Church, when in
power, had lit her fires and issued her censures. But a secular
Government could not easily acquiesce in the idea of extirpation.
Priests or preachers might have their way now and again, but the
Crown was never whole-hearted in persecution, nor were the nobles.
On this point the inspired certainties of the Brethren always en-
countered the opposition of the State : had James been a whole-
hearted bloody persecutor, he might have had comparatively little
trouble with the Kirk. They chiefly quarrelled over his policy
towards the Catholic earls and Catholic States, over his failure to
exterminate Jesuits and other emissaries of Rome.

Thus the two tendencies which had the future on their side —
toleration (of a kind) and democracy (of a sort) — were at open war,
entailing the war of Kirk and King. The conflict was inevitable.
Perhaps human wisdom could not have found a compromise, a
modus vivendi, between the inspired prophets on one hand and the
existence of a free secular State on the other. The country had to
be governed either by the Crown or by the pulpit. No modern
observer can applaud the method by which James, for his day,
gradually secured the supremacy of the Crown. His opponents


VI CT^ CAUSAt.. 427

were morally much superior to himself and to many of his lay
cidvisers. But their unhappy belief in their own inspiration made
them irreconcilable. James was obliged to gain his end (and
freedom from clerical dictation is a respectable end) by employing
the low means of working on popular representatives by what, in the
style of democracy, is termed "lobbying," "wire-pulling," and so
forth. To "lobby" and "wire-pull" among prophets, such was his
policy. It could not but follow that the least scrupulous of the
prophets were the most easily to be secured by such methods.
The others, the precise, the men of the old rock, held aloof from
the preachers whom James selected, and branded them as apostates.
The day of the Remnant came at last, and they triumphed over
Spottiswoode as they had triumphed over Adamson. But these
things " lay on the knees of the gods."

James himself, when the preachers became but weak allies of
discontented nobles, was able to put forth his cherished theory
of royal absolutism, which was encouraged by the higher clergy
of England and the despotic tradition of the Tudors. Thus all
the elements necessary for the explosion of the Covenant and the
Great Rebellion were being accumulated. Forces were gathering
which, in the long shock and collision of a century, destroyed each
other, leaving the State open to the advance of democracy, no longer
theocratic, and of toleration. It is hard for us to see how, in the
conditions of Scotland after the Reformation, these things could
have been ordered otherwise. The pretensions of preachers and
kmgs were alike intolerable and intolerant : they were compelled
to clash, to break each other and be broken. Modern sympathies
are apt to be with the force which on each occasion has the worse
in the encounter. No sooner are the prophets down than their
sufferings and their courage appeal to us ; no sooner has the Kirk
recovered her tyranny than the cause of human freedom claims our
regard. Not easily to-day can the observer of the past be either
Cavalier or Covenanter, Kirk's man or king's man. Either cause is
victa causa : both ideals perished in the century of strife : it is but a
sentiment that makes a few cherish the White Rose or the Blue

As far as internal politics were concerned, the year 1597 was
passed by James, first in securing a hold over the Brethren, next in
reconciling the Catholic earls with the Kirk. His method as regards
the former object was first to terrify by threats, — all Edinburgh was


to be put to the horn, her ministers were to be treated as rebels, —
and then to allow the town to return into his favour, and to relax his
measures against the town preachers. He next summoned a con-
vention of the Kirk and the Estates to meet at Perth on the last day
of February. The northern ministers found Perth far more accessible
than Edinburgh ; indeed, in fairness to them, Perth was the most
suitable, as the most central, place of meeting. James next circu-
lated a paper of fifty-five questions, to which the assembled divines
were to reply. The queries bore on Church government, and the
Synod of Fife raised a legal objection. No presbytery had the right
to send commissioners to discuss the conclusions already sanctioned
by a General Assembly, any more than a burgh could legally call in
controversy an Act of Parliament. James's practical reply was to
induce the Brethren at Perth to recognise themselves as an authentic
General Assembly, a thing not accepted by the more precise. The
Fife synod insisted that Church government can only be regulated
by the Word, and that only the pastors and doctors of the Kirk can
show what God's will, in the Word, really is. Now they had
established that point already, once for all. Their motto was,
" Nolumus leges Ecclesiae Scoticanae mutari " ; but, like all other
laws, those of the Kirk proved to be mutable.^ The questions
are said to have been drawn up by Lindsay the Octavian. To give
them at full length is not possible. To the first, "May not the
matters of the external government of the Kirk be discussed without
injury to faith and religion?" the Fife synod said "No." As to
whether the king alone, or the Kirk alone, or both, have power
to modify the external government of the Church, the synod declared
that the pastors and doctors were the ordinary, and prophets the
extraordinary, authorities, whose decisions kings must ratify and
sanction. This naturally raises the question, How are we to know
a prophet when we see one ? The only answer is, that God endows
a prophet with extraordinary gifts, which are not specified. The
gift of preaching is obviously one, and probably the faculty of pre-
monition (in a layman "second-sight," and punishable as witch-
craft) is another "extraordinary gift" and note of a genuine
prophet. Wishart, Knox, Peden, and a number of others had
this note of the prophet.

"The principles then laid down" by the Fife synod "were
incompatible with the existence of civil government," says Mr
Tytler. The right of public denunciation of individuals from the


pulpit was also claimed. The king had no right to annul an unjust
sentence of excommunication. An interesting question was, " Is
not the consent of the majority of the flock, and also of the patron,
necessary in the election of a pastor?" The election, we learn
from the reply, should be made by pastors and doctors, and the
congregation and patron " should give their consent and protection."
The selected candidate, if unpopular, was apt to need all the
protection he could get.^

The commissioners from the presbyteries met at Perth, and James
Melville gives a lively account of what he witnessed there. The
ministers of the North were gathered in unwonted numbers, "and
every one greater courtiers than another." Flocks of preachers
were passing in and out of the king's palace, " finding fault with
the ministers of the South, and the Popery of Edinburgh." James
Melville had a friend, a fellow-soldier of the Kirk, who was his bed-
fellow. The king " captured " this evangelist, detained him from
Melville's couch, and converted him in the midnight hours,
which were probably not uncheered with the wines of Southern
France. Next day Melville's bedfellow opposed him in the dis-
cussions of the meeting, and he quietly withdrew himself from
the town. His noisy brother, Andrew, was detained at St Andrews
by a rectorial election. The end of all was, after some demur, that
the Assembly voted itself a genuine Assembly, and that the king
carried his points. He might, it was agreed, propose modifications
in Church government ; no unusual conventions were to be called
without his permission ; the Acts of Parliament or of Privy Council
were not to be preached about ; no ministers in the great towns
were to be appointed without the consent of the king and the flock ;
and nobody, as a rule, was to be personally attacked from the
pulpit.2 The Cathohc earls were to discuss with chosen ministers
and be converted, or leave the country.

While the process of conversion was going on, Barclay of Lady-
land (who, with Balcarres, had been intriguing in Spain and Italy)
tried to seize Ailsa Craig, off Ballantrae in Ayrshire, and use it
as a place of arms for Spain, Being discovered by Mr Andrew
Knox, and in danger of capture, he drowned himself. Bowes had
for months given warnings of "plottings with Spain,"* Ladyland
had returned thence in February. By July 4 he had lost his life,
and Huntly and Errol, reconciled to the Kirk, had been absolved
from excommunication.^ The Kirk had done her best to make the


conversion genuine. Preachers had been appointed as members of
the households of the proselytes, " to read and interpret Scripture
ordinarily at their tables,'' and to catechise their families. Mr Hill
Burton regarded these intrusions as a severe process of torture, and
"permanent tormentors were to be put en a permanent establish-
ment at the expense of their victmis." We know how Father
Gordon, Huntly's uncle, regarded the matter. He landed in the
North while the process of conversion was going forward, and
found Huntly a sore altered man. The Catholics everywhere
were flocking into the Kirk. Huntly could not arrest (as was
his legal duty) his uncle and old friend, who was put under the
boycott of excommunication. A thousand pieces of gold were
offered for his head ; but Huntly obtained a remission, promising
to send Gordon out of the country. He left Aberdeen, after
holding a friendly discussion with the local ministers. In 1599
he returned, and had some interesting adventures. On the whole,
the submission of Huntly and Errol did much to break down the
Catholicism of the north-east of Scotland.*^

The Old Kirk of Aberdeen on June 26 was the scene of the
reconciliation. The decisions of Perth had been ratified by a
General Assembly at Dundee in May, after an uproarious scene
between the king and Andrew Melville. They shouted at each
other, "they heckled on till all the house and close both heard,
mickle of a large hour." The king was the first to recover his
temper." Fourteen king's commissioners, a kind of clerical Lords
of the Articles, were selected ; they removed Black and another
preacher from St Andrews, and Andrew Melville, deprived of the
rectorship, was made Dean of the Faculty of Theology.^ The new-
board of commissioners, " both in General Assemblies and without,
rule all," says Melville. But the Edinburgh preachers were re-
stored to their flocks, "with a new imposition of hands," in
the case of the preacher Robert Bruce, a ceremony not favoured
by the earliest Reformers. An earthquake in the North was
reckoned a judgment on the king, a new Uzziah ; but it never
came near him, nor was he smitten with leprosy, like his Jewish
prototype. Later (February 25, 1598), an eclipse of the sun
caused the deaths of four notable lights of the Kirk of Scotland, —
at least James Melville mentions these as "notable effects of this
eclipse." Melville knew the cause of eclipses as well as we do;
about the effects he was much more fully informed.^ Yet there


was difference of opinion. Among the extinguished lights was
Thomas Buchanan. Now he was killed, as Calderwood has told
us, by being dragged along the road, after a fall from his horse,
for which the eclipse was not responsible. It is interesting to note
that the old and very natural superstitious beliefs (natural while the
real causes of the phenomenon were unknown) survived among men
of learning, perfectly acquainted with the science of the subject.

The politics of 1597, ecclesiastical matters apart, were relatively
tranquil. The Octavians resigned their thankless office, and the
royal finances presently fell into the usual chaos (January 11,
1597)-^'' Border affairs were unquiet: Elizabeth kept demanding
the surrender of Cessford and Buccleuch, and for a brief while
(October 1597-February 1598) Buccleuch did "render himself"
across the Marches.^^ Sir William Bowes succeeded the veteran
Bowes as English Ambassador, old Bowes dying in November,
after a career of mischievous treacheries against the Court to which
he was accredited. In July James had the pleasure of burning a
number of witches at St Andrews.^^ One St Andrews witch, of a
rather earlier date {pb. 1588), seems to have been merely a dealer
in folk-medicine. She doctored Archbishop Adamson with " ewe-
milk and claret wine," though a satirist, Sempill, describes her as
" Ane carling of the Quene of Phareis," a comrade of " the faery
queen, Proserpina." The witches burned in July 1597 were from
Pittenweem. The preachers had sense enough to deprecate the
carrying of a witch about the country to detect other witches by
bodily marks to her known. This method later led to horrible
cruelties, and the witch - finder was herself convicted of fraud.
James was acting precisely in the fashion of T'chaka and other
Zulu kings. Later, in England, Bishop Jewel fell in with James's
notions about witchcraft. Bancroft, on the other hand, he who
dealt so hardly with Scottish Presbyterian eloquence, treated witches
and witch-finders with equal disdain, " such as could start a devil
in a lane as soon as a hare in Waltham forest." The witnesses
were "giddy, idle, lunatick, illuminate, holy spectators of both
sexes, and specially a sisternity of nimps, mops, and idle holy
women, that did grace the devil with their idle holy presence."
Thus were bishops divided, the most anti-Puritan being the most
averse to witch-hunting.

A historian of the Kirk, Principal Lee, has made the odd sug-
gestion that James's zeal against witches, like his love of Episcopacy,


" was assumed for the purpose of ingratiating himself with the Eng-
lish nation, where a passion for the wonderful has always been much
stronger than in this northern climate," where second-sight is still
common, and fairies .are hoih seen and heard unto this day. The
truth i.i. tht.. Jamer would have ingratiated himself with Elizabeth on
many an occasion by being a devout Presbyterian. In lingland he
would, possibly enough, have ingratiated himself best by at least
favouring the Puritans. He wanted bishops merely to keep the
preachers in their place, and witchcraft appealed to his acute and
inquiring but ill-balanced mind. Even John Wesley held that dis-
l;elicf in witches was the thin end of the wedge of infidelity. What
went under the name of witchcraft was a web of fraud, folk-medicine,
fairy tale, hysteria, and hypnotic suggestion, including physical and
psychological phenomena still unclassified. The Bible undeniably
regarded some of these phenomena as the result of "possession " by
intelligent discarnate entities. To disbelieve the Bible was flat
atheism, so James and the preachers agreed in holding. In France
in 1 8 50- 1 854 some men of science, and several ecclesiastics, fell
back on James's theory when confronted with talking- tables and

On the other hand were laughing and humane sceptics, like
Reginald Scot. James took the line which the religion of the
age and his constitutional bias made him select, the line of Richard
Baxter, Glanvil, and Cotton Mather. His performances, so far, were
such as the Kirk recommended. If, like Saul, he resisted the
pi()l)hcts, like Saul he persecuted witches. A hideous example
of the manners of the age has been published by Mr Hay Fleming.
In 1598 the laird of Lathocker, near St Andrews, was in trouble
about a murder. At the same date, or shortly afterwards, the min-
ister of Crail, by order of the presbytery, captured a woman suspected
of witchcraft, "whom the laird of Lathocker took from him, and
carried her to his place of Lathocker, and there tortured her, whereby
she is now impotent, and may not labour for her living as she was
wont."^* In this folly of witch -burning, neither the Church of
Rome, the Church of England, nor the Church of Scotland can throw
the first stone at sister sinners. In Scotland, however, witch per-
.secution became infinitely more frequent and stringent after the
Reformation, as part of inquisitorial discipline in general. Just
after James's witch-burnings at St Andrews in July 1597, the Privy
Council discharged the commissions of justiciary against witches,


"understanding by the complaints of divers his Hiphness's lieges
that great danger may ensue to honest and famous" (reputable)
" persons " under the powers of tliese fX)mmissioners.^'' Spottis-
woodc explains tins diseliarge by the case of Margaret Atkin, who,
under torture, confessed to witchcrafl, and put herself forward as a
" smeller out of witches," in the Zulu phrase. She knew them by a
mark in the eye ; but wlien women whom she had detected were
brought before her in disguise, so that she failed to recognise them,
she acquitted them. Especially at (llasgow innocent women were
put to death "through the credulity of the minister, Mr John ( !ow-
per." Brought back to Fife, Margaret Atkin confessed that her
previous confession, and her detections, were all etpially false, and
slu; was executed. But this did not put a stoj) to the witrlvtri.-ils
and witch-burnings, an epidemic more permanent than lliai wiii( li
devastated Salem in America a century later.'"

In November and December James himself visited tlie liorders
and hanged a number of reivers.^^ In December a Parliament
met, during a feud between Hamilton and Lennox, to whom the
Clastle of Dumbarton, the old strengtii of his House, previously in
lianiillon's liands, now intrusted. James delivered an or.ilion
about his mother's wrongs and his own. It needed sf)ine lack of
shame to grumble that the slayer of the mother did not pay the
pension of the son. A grant of 200,000 marks was voted by
the Estates.'"

The great affair was the covert nMntrodurtion of iCpiscopnry.
The king's commissioners of tlie (leneral Assembly, fourlecii in
number, petitioned thai ministers migiit vote in I'ariiament. ( "nii-
sequenlly holders of prelatic titles (preachers so promoted by the
king) were permitted to sit anrl vote with liie Instates.'" A Ge-neral
Assenil)ly was proclaimed for March 159S. James reconciled lum-
self with the lulinburgli preachers, who in future were to have each
his separate flock, which did not suit their collective [)olicy. In
the same way they had already been turned out of their "close,"
where they used to live conveniently ass(;mbled. James exi)lained
that he did not mean to introduce "jjapistical or Anglican bishop-
ing," but merely to admit the best ministers, chosen by the (leneral
Assembly, to represent the Kirk in the national council. Andrew
Melville had not been allowed to take part in the Assembly, and the
northern preachers outvoted the Brethren of Eife and the Lotliians
only by a majority of ten.'^" Thus were the " horns of the mitre,"

vr)L. II. 2 E


allowed to peep forth; thus, as the godly said, was the Trojan
horse of Episcopacy brought within the walls of our Zion.

The new ecclesiastical members of Parliament were to be fifty-
one in number, partly chosen by the king, partly by the General
Assembly. Later (March 1600) the king was to choose each bishop
out of a list of six, selected by the Kirk. Each was to attend to
his own " flock " ; they were to exercise no ecclesiastical discipline,
and were to be amenable to the jurisdiction of presbyteries and
General AssembUes. To avoid prejudice, they were only styled
"commissioners." Meanwhile, in 1598, at Dundee, the godly had
one safe victim, the witch. It was reported that civil magistrates
discharged persons convicted of witchcraft. "Therefore the
Assembly ordains that, in all time coming, the presbytery proceed
in all severity with their censures " (excommunication ?) " against
such magistrates as shall set at liberty any person or persons con-
victed of witchcraft hereafter." The common-sense and humanity
of the laity was not to override the cruel fanaticism of the preachers.
They objected, indeed, to setting a witch to catch a witch, because
that was using Satan against himself, a disreputable king's evidence
enough. They also tried to check commercial intercourse with
Spain, an idolatrous country.^^ But, too clearly, the great days of
the Kirk were over for a while.

James had complained grievously of Elizabeth in the Parliament
of December 1597. The relations between the two Crowns con-
tinued to be uneasy. They were complicated by the vexed affairs
of the Western Isles and Highlands. For long Elizabeth had been
trying to engage the brave and accomplished Maclean of Duart,
the hero of Glenrinnes fight, to aid her against her Irish rebel,
Tyrone. But Elizabeth would promise and not pay. Maclean
muttered that he would take his men where they would be wel-
comed, probably by the Irish and their Spanish allies. All the
Macdonald and Macleod country was embroiled in the private wars

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 45 of 60)