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preachers, but prayerful men were apt to be directly inspired by
God, as some of the slayers of Archbishop Sharp were, according
to their own account. There is no way of dealing with men like
Bruce and all who held his views. He might have said frankly, "I
cannot subscribe, as a man of veracity, a statement in which I do
not believe." But he was ready to sign. In the pulpit it was
otherwise, there he was " a reed " breathed through by Omnipotence.
He did sign his resolution, not as convinced, but as following the
law, " till God gave him further light." In July Andrew Melville
was "gated" for a short time within his own college.

The new year, 1602, opened prosperously, with a victory of
Elizabeth's forces, in Ireland, over Tyrone, " forced to retire to the
•woods, and play Robin Hood there," wrote Nicholson. Ker of
Cessford was raised to the peerage as Roxburghe, and strict
-measures were taken in his border region against Grahams,
Armstrongs, and other moss-troopers. The Master of Gray was
received into favour, probably because, as a kinsman of the
Ruthvens, he had mollified the queen's anger about their fall, and
reconciled her to Sir Thomas Erskine, Sir George Hume, and other
courtiers. James pacified the ancient feuds of Moray, Huntly, and
Argyll.^ He communicated to Elizabeth certain overtures from
France, and removed her suspicions (July). "She thinks that
King James will have none of any league if she be not one in it." ^'^

The General Assembly met at Holyrood, in November — though
it had been, in the last meeting, appointed for July, at St Andrews.
The king's preacher, Patrick Galloway (he who induced Henderson
to confess about his doings in Gowrie House), was appointed
Moderator. James IMelville gave in a protest against the post-


ponement of the Assembly and the meeting in Holyrood Palace.
Whatsoever should be done contrary to the constitutions of the
Kirk would be null, he said, and of no effect. The preachers who
had visited the converted earls, found that only Errol was at all
satisfactory. Huntly could not go to his parish kirk, the parishioners
were such mean men ! This denoted a lack of enthusiasm. Angus
could not be got at, but was reported to entertain professed enemies
to religion. The faithful of Fife complained that the land had been
"defiled" by the saying of mass for the French ambassador. The
General Assemblies, too, it was urged, were now unconstitutionally
kept. They were told that the law of 1592, as to keeping of
Assemblies, had been duly observed ; so we understand the reply.
The bishops were not objected to, at least under that name, but
the " caveats " had not, it was complained, been inspected or
discussed. " Let the ' caveats ' be looked to," was the answer.
The endless affair of Mr Robert Bruce came up. On June 25 of
this year (1602), at Perth, he had signed a statement of his belief
in James's innocence and the guilt of the Ruthvens, and offered to
divert " as far as lies in me, the people from their lewd opinion and
uncharitable constructions. . . ." This was Bruce's plain duty,
for the resolute scepticism of so notable a man of God naturally
confirmed the people in their certainly "lewd opinion" that the
king was a deliberate murderer, liar, and robber. The Assembly
was asked, — If Mr Bruce thinks the king innocent, and is ready, as
he avers, to do his best to persuade the people to that belief, ought
he not to express it from the pulpit ? The Assembly, " after voting,
thought this not only reasonable, but also concluded that the said
Mr Robert ought to do the same."

Mr Robert now — and this is very curious — retired, of all places,
to Restalrig. This ought to answer such cavillers as John Carey,
who, in 1598, spoke of the pious Logan of Restalrig as "a principal
man of the Papist faction," merely because Logan had harboured
George Ker, the bearer of the Spanish blanks, when on a secret
mission. ^^ Mr Bruce was apparently a friend of Logan (under
grave but then unawakened suspicion as to the plot), to whose house
of Restalrig (unless we are to suppose that " Restalrig toun " is
meant) he betook himself on occasions demanding meditation and
prayer. His difficulty now was, that he would not preach in favour
of James's innocence (though he said that he believed in it) "by
injunctions." So the endless war of words and of distinctions as


to injunctions went on ceaselessly. We cannot pry into the intricate
delicacies of a good man's conscience. Mr Bruce thought that
James yielded to passion when he bade Ramsay to strike Ruthven.
The next Assembly was fixed for July, in Aberdeen, 1604.

On January 5, 1603, Elizabeth wrote her last letter to James,
ending "Your loving and friendly Sister." In March her health
absolutely broke down. The horrors of her latest days are no part
of our subject. She died at Richmond in the earliest morning of
Thursday, April i, and by Saturday night Robert Carey rode into
the gates of Holyrood with the news. On the fourth day thereafter
came the tidings that James had been proclaimed in London.

James left Edinburgh on April 5, and, after a festal progress,
with stops at the houses of the nobles, entered London on May 6.
After hundreds of years of war the two portions of the island were
united under one king. It is natural to pause for a moment, and
reflect on the nature and fortunes of the man whom events had
made the link between the ancient enemies. James is a personage
so grotesque, in many of his habits so repulsive ; so treacherous, so
wedded to ideas of absolute royal power — based on a reading of
Scripture as fallacious as that of his great adversaries, the preachers
— that we are apt to overlook his qualities. Qualities he must have
possessed. He had a strong sense of the ludicrous. Thrown as a
yearling child into the perfidy and anarchy of Scotland, his person
a mere symbol of authority, like the great seal, at which any
adventurer might clutch ; imperilled by the plots of any party that
was backed by the wealth and the intrigues of England ; James
had, in some way, survived every peril, and had floated over all the
billows and cross-tides into the haven of the English monarchy.
He had not tact ; he had often endangered his claims by rudely and
inopportunely pressing them. He had seldom application ; most
of his time was given to sport and to study. Of economy he was
ignorant and careless. Yet the man who, while he rode so much,
could read so much, who while apparently always in the saddle,
had learning so considerable, must have possessed a certain rapidity
of genius. As he said of himself, he had a turn of speed.
Though devoted to favourites he could recognise loyalty, as in Mar,
whom he trusted, he said, " like a brother," and he could defend
Mar resolutely and successfully against the intrigues of the queen,
which were peculiarly active at the very hour of the departure for
England. While nothing is more odious in James than his accept-


ance of money from the hands or the slayer of his mother, yet,
undoubtedly, a war of revenge would have been ruinous to Scotland,
pernicious to England, and an endless cause of disunion.

A more sympathetic prince would have taken up arms ; wisdom
dictated peace. James, fond of favourites as he was, continued to re-
pose on the sagacity of Cecil, despite his countless personal reasons for
hating that statesman. Though of a petulant temper he was capable
of self-restraint. He had contrived to dominate the two strongest
opposing currents, the lawlessness of the nobles and the pretensions
of the preachers. When he left Scotland there was no noble who
dared to play the part of a Murray, a I^Iorton, or of either Bothwell.
He had reconciled the greater feuds, as of Argyll .and Huntly ; the
smaller feuds and private wars died out slowly under the influence
of contact with England. It cannot have been mere luck that
brought James home after the perils of nearly forty years. His
chief danger had ever been the Tudor policy of maintaining
divisions and anarchy in Scotland, with the inevitable result of
encouraging the tendency to turn to the Catholic powers of the Con-
tinent. From these perils the country henceforth was free. James's
dim trafifickings with Spain and the Pope had always been reluctant ;
they were forced on him by Elizabeth. Often warned that a few
thousand pounds would make Scotland friendly and pacific, Elizabeth
had preferred the dangers and ultimate expenses of hostile intrigue.
This policy was ended. The Borders, that focus of war, ceased
technically to be the Borders.

On the question of religion James was fated to sow the wind.
His own private opinion is given in one of his secret letters to
Cecil, containing "the inward temper of his mind," as Sir Robert
said. James had complained of the increased confidence of the
English Catholics, who boasted, " that none shall enter to be king
there but by their permission." Cecil replied that, as to the Catholic
priests, " I shrink to see them die by dozens, when, at the last gasp,
they come so near loyalty." He had only voted for the penal laws
because he regarded the priests as "persuaders to rebellion." But
he had no mercy for Jesuits. James had wished to see the latest
edict against Catholic priests put in force : the king explains, '' I
will never allow in my conscience that the blood of any man shall
be shed for diversity of opinions in religion," but the temporal
results, in rebellion, " the arch-priest with his twelve apostles, keeping
their terms in London, and judging all questions as well civil as


spiritual amongst all Catholics," these things he could not endure.
" I am so far from any intention of persecution, as I protest to God
I reverence their Church as our mother Church, although clogged
with many infirmities and corruptions, besides that I did ever hold
persecution as one of the infallible notes of a false church." He
wished, not the deaths of priests, but their expulsion. ^^ In England, as
in Scotland, James had to bear ecclesiastical meddling with temporal
affairs. His own personal attitude towards belief was modern ; but
he had to do with another condition of affairs, in which all political
questions were made religious questions. When he became king of
England, persecution of Catholics, for secular reasons, was to cause
the Gunpowder Plot. In Scotland, practically in the interests of
the freedom of the secular State, James was to intrigue and break
the law to keep down the preachers ; and the pursuance of this
policy, trenching on convictions narrow but sincere, was to be one
of the causes of the great Civil War. That war we may deem
inevitable : irreconcilable forces, impossible claims by either party,
caused the strife. The real history of Scotland henceforth is more
than ever ecclesiastical.

When he crossed the border James left behind him a number of
the Privy Council to rule Scotland. They were the working
administration directed by his majesty's letters. He governed
Scotland, he said, by the pen. There was this disadvantage that,
remote from the scene, he did not know, and was not often told,
the temper of the country. When at home every day occurrences,
usually uncomfortable, kept him informed. Safe, at a distance, out
of hearing, he ventured on measures which, had he lived among his
subjects, he would not have dared to attempt. One useful reform
he made (August 11) — he established a small force of mounted
constabulary. A body of forty horse was raised to deal with
disorder, to hunt down "homers," that is, proclaimed outlaws.^^
Scotland had hitherto been practically destitute of police. In the
matter of deadly feuds it had been usual for the parties engaged
merely to put forward " cautioners," — guarantors that they would keep
the peace, which they were already required by law to do. Persons
engaged in feuds were henceforth to be imprisoned and heavily
fined. There were also proclamations against needy Scots who
flecked into England without license, and made their country to
stink in the nostrils of the Southrons. James took measures, too,
for settling a scheme of the complete union of " Great Britain," as


he called it, but the time was not ripe, and the negotiations dragged
on for years to no purpose.

The chiefs of the Scottish Government were, first, that notable
octavian of 1596, Alexander Seton, the President of the Court of
Session, created Lord Fyvie, and, later, Lord Dunfermline. Sir
George Hume was presently created Earl of Dunbar, and was an
active and unscrupulous minister. The Secretary was Elphinstone,
now Balmerino, who soon fell under the consequences of the
feeble and obscure trafifickings with Rome, while still James
was king of Scotland only. Sir Thomas Hamilton (later Earl of
Haddington), known as Tarn of the Cowgate, remained King's
Advocate. He was accomplished and learned, a notable antiquary,
and collector of the manuscript materials of history. He, too (as
we see in the account of the trials of Sprot and Logan), ^'^ was not the
most immaculate of legal officials. Straiton of Lauriston became
undesirably notable for his dealings, as Royal Commissioner, with
the Kirk and the General Assembly. Gledstanes, Archbishop of
St Andrews, and Spottiswoode, the historian, who had succeeded
Mary's old ambassador in France, the aged Beaton, as Archbishop
of Glasgow, with other bishops, were also of the Privy Council.^^
There were many other members, especially among the nobles, in-
cluding Mar, but the most active and prominent have been named.
They took their orders from James, and executed them to the best
of their power.

The affairs of the Kirk continued to be of most importance. In
England James had to take up the tangled ecclesiastical problems
bequeathed by Elizabeth. While the instincts of England remained
attached to such relics of vestments, order, and ritual as the
Reformation had spared, — the cap, the surplice, kneeling at the
Holy Communion, the use of the cross in baptism, of the ring in
marriage, — the preciser sort regarded all these things as rags and
remnants of Rome. Men have fought and will brawl about such
trifles as these, and the temper of Christianity has been and will be
wasted over matters hardly apt to breed a quarrel in a nursery.
" Greatly to find quarrel in a straw " of this kind, however, was, on
both sides, a matter of conscience and a point of honour. " They
fight for great causes, but on small occasions," says Aristotle, and
the Hampton Court Conference of January 1604 showed what part
James was to take in the struggle. In every corporate body there
must be some rulers. Perhaps human wisdom might have


reconciled Puritans to the surplice and the ring, or induced Anglicans
to tolerate the absence on occasion of these objects. To the
Puritans preaching was the one thing supremely needful, and being,
as a rule, the more intelligent of the clergy, they were apt to have
the larger congregations. James had no objection to good preaching
which did not interfere with secular affairs. But he fired up at
some reference to "the bishop and his presbyters," and broke into
language highly unworthy of his blood and of the occasion. The
Nonconformists should conform, he said, otherwise he " would harry
them out of the land, or else do worse." He was said to have
" spoken by inspiration of the Spirit." Sir John Harington, who
was present, said " the Spirit was rather foul-mouthed." James
bade the Puritan divines " away with their snivelling." " He
wished that those who would take away the surplice might want
linen for their own breech." ^^ No question, however essentially
trivial, which involved the consciences of men could be handled in
this temper. Large numbers of Nonconformist divines were ejected
from their livings. The House of Commons was justly offended.
James was sowing the wind with both hands, and his measures
against the Catholic priests brought on the Gunpowder Plot.

The Synod of Fife had been active, as usual, in Scotland, and
sent representatives to Aberdeen, for a meeting of the General
Assembly (July 1604), though James had prorogued that Assembly,
as it clashed with a meeting of the Commissioners to consider the
Union of the two countries. The parliament of July listened to a
letter from the king about the Union, and restored some forfeited
Bothwellites, Douglas of Spot and Thomas Cranstoun.^'^ On
September 27, James issued an order forbidding the preachers to
gather conventions without the Royal assent. ^^ In July 1605 James
again put off the Assembly. Having heard that the ministers meant
to meet, he forbade this action (June 20, 1605). The royal
commissioner, Straiton of Lauriston, went to the northern town and
attempted to dissuade the gathered preachers, nineteen in all, from
disobeying the king. However, they were resolute, though the
Moderator of the last Assembly was not present to hand on the
golden chain of continuity. They had elected a moderator and a
clerk, when Straiton, the royal commissioner, interrupted their pro-
ceedings. They asserted themselves to be a lawful Assembly, which
Straiton denied. He bade them quit the Assembly, under pain of
horning, and they obeyed, adjourning to a day not appointed by

VOL. 11. 2 H


James. Straiten asserted, the friends of the preachers deny, that he
had forbidden the Assembly, by proclamation at the Cross, before it
was constituted. ^Much legal argument turned on the truth or false-
ness of this averment. About ten more ministers came on July 5,
and threw their lot in with the other nineteen brethren. Among
these was ]\Ir Welsh, in early youth a Border thief, next a highly
unpopular minister at Selkirk. Ayr was now his charge, and he had
married a daughter of John Knox. He was an uncommonly resolute
man, and a descendant of his was a famous Covenanting minister.
Few persons did more, in the pulpit, in prison, or in exile, than Mr
Welsh to hand on the old Presbyterian claims and principles.

What James ought to have done in this pass is not very clear.
The Assembly at Aberdeen had been held, so to speak, in order to
keep the right of way open. The Kirk, by the law of 1592, had
a distinct right to a yearly General Assembly, but the conditions of
royal acquiescence and appointment of day and place might be
diversely interpreted by lawyers, nor dare we venture on so thorny
a subject. The preachers had good reason to fear that James was
about to withdraw the right of meeting. They represent themselves
as meeting legally, dispersing obediently, and treat Straiton's asser-
tion that he had proclaimed the Assembly unlawful, before it was
constituted, as " a false and deadly lie." ^^ Very probably the king's
best plan would have been to let the thing pass and avoid making
martyrs. However, on July 19, 1605, he wrote to the Council,
denouncing the preachers as seditious, and avowing his intention to
oppose the beginnings of treason. The ministers had spoken of
obeying "as far as might stand with the Word of God and the
testimony of their conscience," that is, just as far as they pleased.
Their prorogation till September was without the king's assent re-
quested or granted ; on this point James asked for legal opinion, as he
meant to use the rigour of the law.^*^ This was James's blunder : the
Privy Council, left to themselves, would not have prosecuted in a
cause so doubtful and perilous. James believed, probably correctly,
that the stauncher preachers had passed the year in forming a strong
party and securing votes. He found that the northern Presbyterians
were no longer to be trusted to " go solid " for him. Among the
nineteen preachers who met, and the ten who adhered to them, were
representatives from Nig, near Tain ; from Hawick, on the Border ;
from Fife, and from Ayr in the south-west Lowlands. The length
andbreadthof Presbyterian Scotland were engaged, "from north and


south, and east and west, they summoned their array," though the
numbers actually present at Aberdeen were small. Their motive,
as we said, was to keep the right of way open ; for this purpose,
before dispersing, they fixed a date for an Assembly in late

It is dangerous to deal with the law of the case, but, probably,
James might have out-manoeuvred the godly. " That golden Act,"
as Calderwood styles it, the fifth Act of the twelfth Parliament of
James VI. (June 5, 1592), regulated thus the meetings of the
General Assembly : " And thus ratifies and approves the General
Assemblies appointed by the said Kirk, and declares, that it shall
be lawful to the Kirk and ministers, every year at the least, and
oftener, pro re nata (as occasion and necessity shall require), to hold
and keep General Assemblies, providing that the King's Majesty
and his Commissioners with them, to be appointed by his Highness,
be present at the General Assemby before the dissolving thereof ;
nominate and appoint time and place when and where the next
General Assemby of the Kirk shall be kept and holden." ^^ Now
the king and his commissioners were not present at Aberdeen.
Straiton, the commissioner, was in the town, and wandered feebly
in and out of the little gathering. But neither he nor James
appointed time and place for the next Assembly. The preachers
themselves did so, and thereby broke, we think, the golden Act.
James need have taken no official notice of them. He might have
appointed a date for an Assembly, not the preachers' date. It is
almost certain that the majority of the representatives would have
attended the King's Assembly, not the apparently illegal Assembly
convoked for September by the nineteen. These zealous men would
have been obliged either to hold their own September Assembly in
opposition to the king's, or, by coming to his Assembly, to confess,
practically, the illegaUty of their own. Possibly two Assemblies
would have met and mutually excommunicated each other. The
Kirk would have been broken up into two factions, as it was, much
later, by the Protesters and Remonstrants, and by the Indulged and
the refusers of the Indulgence. But this easy stratagem, so congenial
both to James and to the lawyer minds of the Kirk, did not occur
to the angry monarch. He entered on a system of prosecution
which irritated men's tempers, made martyrs, and could not be
carried through save by bullying and cajoling and disreputable
influences. James had no great cause for anxiety. He was sate in

484 " NO BISHOPS ! "

England. It is improbable that the great nobles would have
backed the Kirk : the king they could not seize on the old plan
of the old French ballade : il n'y a rien tel que (Tenlever. How-
ever, James insisted on prosecutions, and the Council reluctantly

They called before them Forbes, the Moderator at Aberdeen, and
Welsh of Ayr. These men they warded in Blackness, and summoned
the others for August i. The four commissioners of the Synod of
Fife were ordered to join Forbes and Welsh, wherefore God sent a
plague, and the Chancellor's son died. Sir George Hume, of the house
of Manderstoun, now Earl of Dunbar, was none the less made Great
Commissioner, " to govern all Scotland, Kirk, and commonweal."
Certain ministers wrote to him, warning him against the " new and
young bishops." They themselves " will give place to no bishops " ;
"in this opinion we will die; and so, we are assured, will the best,
yea, even the greatest part of the ministry of the Kirk of Scotland."
They will stand for a bishopless Kirk as the poorest subject would
"for a cot and a kailyard." This was the real ground of quarrel,
for this the Assembly of Aberdeen had been held. The Kirk fought
against the insidious introduction of bishops having authority ; men
" created," as one of them said, by the king, and, being his creatures,
whom he made and could unmake, certain to obey him in every-
thing. The two irreconcilable and intolerable forces, the absolutisms
of preachers and of prince, are henceforth at war. In the end the
king lost his unendurable prerogative ; the Kirk kept out bishops,
but had to abandon its insufferable pretensions. As for the letter
of the law, it went where it must go in revolutions — each faction
accusing the other of its infringement.

On July 25 the Assembly for September was proclaimed illegal,
as it apparently was. The offenders of Aberdeen were summoned
before the Council for October. The Synod of Fife voted for post-

Online LibraryAndrew LangA history of Scotland from the Roman occupation (Volume 2) → online text (page 50 of 60)