William Chambers.

The Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral online

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light in our own day, was for the same offences subjected

Pre-Refonnation Scotland. 107

to many cruelties, and at last forced to flee from his native
land, and plead with it by his writings.

The original name of this confessor was Alexander Alane ;
but he afterwards obtained from Melanchthon the name of
Alesius or the Wanderer, and by that he has been commonly
known ever since. Born in Edinburgh on the 23d April 1500,
of honest parents, he received the first rudiments of education in
his native city. He was sent early to the university, and entered
St Leonard's College when opened in 15 12. In due course
he took his degree, and probably after acting for a few years as
one of the regents of the college, he was drafted into the Priory
as one of its canons. When Major came to St Andrews, he
studied theology under him, and made great progress in acquaint-
ance with the schoolmen and fathers of the Christian Churcli.
He was, like most of the young scholastics of the time, fond of
disputation, and probably imbibed from his able teacher that
combative attitude towards the new opinions which at this
period of his life he shewed. He thought it would be an easy
task to convince Patrick Hamilton of his errors, and had various
discussions with him. ' Hamilton, who had before him nothing
but the Gospels, replied to all the reasonings of his opponent
with the clear, living, far-reaching words of Scripture. Alesius
was embarrassed, and at length silenced; not only was his under-
standing convinced, but his conscience was won, and the breath
of a new life penetrated his soul,' He continued to visit the
Reformer while he lived, and to cherish his memory when cut
off. When his opinions and martyrdom were the subject of
conversation among the canons, several of the younger of
whom loved to speak of him, Alesius refused to condemn him.

His silence or reserve in regard to the martyr brought him
under the suspicion of his more bigoted associates, and gave
special offence to his superior, Prior Patrick Hepburn, a violent,
coarse, immoral young noble, emulous of the debaucheries
and vices as well as of the hauteur and polish of the young
French ecclesiastics among whom his youth had been passed,

io8 Sf Giles' Lectures.

and, like them and young Beaton, a cruel persecutor of the
Reformers. Knox has drawn a graphic if severe account of the
revelries of this young Prior and his gay associates, more in
keeping with what we should have expected from the sons of
Tarquin in heathen Rome, than from the elite of the young
ecclesiastics in a Christian primatial city, and under the eye of
an aged Archbishop. The representation of Alesius on the
same subject is only the more credible because the more
restrained, and combines with the other in shewing to what a
low ebb morality had sunk among the aristocratic ecclesiastics
of the old Church ere it was swept away.

The more Christian lives of the younger canons could not
but be felt to be a standing rebuke by their superior, and doubt-
less were one main cause why he bore them such a deep grudge,
and gave way to such fierce outbursts of passion in his inter-
course with them. He denounced them, and especially Alesius,
to the Archbishop ; and soon after got him appointed to
preach the sermon at the opening of a Synod of bishops and
priests which was held in St Andrews, probably in the spring of
the year 1529. Alesius says he inveighed earnestly against
immoral priests; but he adds that, as he said nothing in a
disloyal spirit, and attacked no one by name, the sermon gave
no offence to good men. But his irate superior imagined that
the sermon was specially intended to hold him up to ridicule
before the assembled prelates and clergy ; and having already
defied the Archbishop, he was not likely patiently to brook such
conduct on the part of one of his subordinates. An oppor-
tunity soon occurred to him of repaying with interest the insult
which he imagined had been done to him. The canons had
determined to lodge with the king a complaint of the cruelty of
their Prior. When this came to Hepburn's ears, he rushed
with a band of armed attendants into the place where they
were met, ordered Alesius to be seized, and himself drew his
sword, and would have run it through him had not two of the
canons dragged him back and pushed aside his sword.

Pre-Reformation Scotland. 109

The affrighted canon was hurried off to prison, whither his
companions speedily followed ; but on a remonstrance by certain
noble friends, the king gave orders that they should be released.
These orders were soon carried out with respect to all save
Alesius, So far from being set free, he was thrust into a more
filthy dungeon, called in one of his little treatises tderrimo spccu
siibtus ten-am inter bufones et serpentes, and in another a lairbia
or sink, to which nothing corresponding has yet been found in
St Andrews, save the lately discovered roughly hewn cavern
stretching to the northwards of Castle Street, going down by its
southern entrance into the solid rock by thirty somewhat
irregular steps, and terminating in a small chamber of rounded
or oval form. This chamber had in its roof a circular opening
eight or ten inches in diameter, which has now been enlarged,
and to which a low rock-hewn passage from the castle leads
down. No cry from that chamber deep in the rock could reach
the upper air, and he might well abandon hope who entered
it. In this or some similar place yet undiscovered, the poor
canon was confined for eighteen or twenty days; and when
released was enjoined to tell nothing about the treatment to
which he had been subjected. Alesius, however, would not
conceal the truth, and for that he was again seized and kept in
confinement for nearly a year. This, probably, was within
the priory itself, and when the Prior was absent, the canons
occasionally had the prisoner brought out, and even allowed
him to take a leading part in their service at the altar. On
one occasion, the Prior came back when he was not expected,
and seeing what went on in his absence, ordered his victim
into ward again, threatening on the morrow to have him off to
the place where his life had been so nearly sacrificed before.

The canons, now satisfied that horrible torments and certain
death awaited him if he did not at once escape, gathered
around him as soon as their superior had left for the night,
and urged him to seek safety in flight. With reluctance he
yielded to their wishes. Then followed a parting scene only

no Sf Giles' Lectures.

less affecting than that of St Paul from the disciples on the
sea-shore of Phenicia, and shewing that even then goodness and
charity were still strong in the hearts of not a few left under
the rule of Hepburn. Only, the Apostle, though in a heathen
land, could in open day kneel down on the sea-shore and
commend his friends in prayer to God, and they could openly
take leave of him at his ship ; while these, though living in a
Christian land, had secretly to bring out their friend under
cover of the night, and with a few words of comfort, send him
forth alone. ' Secretly,' he says, ' they bring me forth and
supply me with provisions for the journey. So when with
tears we had bidden each other farewell, and they had some-
what alleviated my sorrow by sweet mention of the illustrious
and holy men who, giving place to tyranny, had abandoned
their native country, I set out on my way.'

In solitude and sadness he plodded on his way, under cover
of thick darkness, to that broad Firth which on this same Sunday
last year was the scene of such sad disaster to trustful travellers,
if haply he might find on its shore some tiny boat, or on its
bosom some friendly craft, to convey him without loss of time
beyond the reach of his implacable persecutor. In both respects
he was successful, and with earliest morn got safe on ship-board.
Qiiidam homo germa)ius, which some translate ' a certain man,
a German,' others render 'a certain man, a kinsman,' kindly
received him and affectionately nursed him in his sickness
during the tedious and stormy voyage, on which he started
before the horsemen sent to recapture him arrived.

Thus Alane left his native land and the friends to whom he was
so deeply attached. * Could any one have whispered in the ear
of the disconsolate fugitive that he was on the road to far more
extensive usefulness' and happiness than had yet been his lot;
that under his new name and in his new home he would gain
many true friends, and be honoured to do much good work for
Christ ; that he would not only be the first by his writings to
plead for the free circulation of the vernacular Scriptures in

Pre-Reformation Scotland.

Scotland, and one of the first to aid Cranmer in England in
asserting the authority of the word of God, and Hermann von
Wied in his noble effort to introduce the Reformation at
Cologne ; but that he would be also privileged to be the special
friend of Luther and Melanchthon, to command at the same
time the respect of Calvin and Beza, to attend many of the
great conferences of the leaders of the Reformation on the
continent; to labour as a professor of theology, first in the
university of Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and then in that of Leipsic;
to write commentaries on the Psalms, the Gospel of St John,
the Epistle to the Romans, and the Pastoral Epistles, and live
and die honoured and beloved in the land of his exile — ' how
incredible would it all have seemed to him.' Yet it was thus
God meant it, and thus he brought it to pass. And if there
was one among the Scottish confessors of that age who was
less embittered than another towards his persecutors in the old
Church, more willing to yield to them in things of minor import-
ance, if only he could hope to secure their favourable regard for
truths of highest moment and immediate concern to the welfare
of his native land, it was this cruelly harassed fugitive. He
was unquestionably the most learned, as well as the most con-
ciliatory of the Scottish reformed theologians of the sixteenth
century. It was to his persistent advocacy, perhaps, more than
to any other human instrumentality, that his countrymen owe
the concession of the precious privilege of reading the Scrip-
tures in their mother-tongue. Had he done nothing more than
successfully pleaded for that concession, he would have given
them abundant reason to remember him still. But in addition,
he pled with them, before the author of the Complay?it of
Scotlmid did so, to lay aside their animosities, to have more
confidence in each other, and less dependence either on
England or France, if they would secure a happy issue from
their troubles, civil or ecclesiastical. No monument has yet
been reared to his memory, even in this city of statues — the
city of his birth, which he has described so well — but I hope

112 Sf Giles' Lectures.

the day may yet come when Anderson's suggestion may be
acted on, and a statue of the exile erected, bearing on its
pedestal that scene from The Cottar's Saturday Night, still so
dear to the hearts of his countrymen.

From the time that Alesius fled, down to the death of
James V., there was almost continuous inquisition for those who
were suspected of having heretical books, including the New
Testament in the vernacular, or who otherwise shewed a leaning
towards the new opinions. In 1532, as is generally supposed,
Henry Forrest, who like Hamilton was a native of the county of
Linlithgow, and had associated with the martyr in St Andrews,
was the first to share his fiery baptism. He was burned at
the North Kirk Stile there, that the heretics of Angus might see
the fire and take warning from it. In the same year, 'there
was a great abjuration of the favourers of Martin Luther in the
Abbey of Holyrood.' In 1534 a second great assize against
heretics was held in the same place. The king, as the great
Justiciar, was present in his scarlet robe, and took part in the
proceedings. About sixteen are said to have been convicted,
and had their goods forfeited. James Hamilton, the brother of
the martyr, had been ordered by the king to flee, as he could
not otherwise be saved. His sister was persuaded to submit
to the Church. Norman Gourlay, a priest who had been abroad
and had imbibed the new opinions, and David Stratoun, the
brother of the laird of Laureston, were burned at the Rood
of Greenside. In the same year, Willock, M'Alpin, and
M'Dowall had to escape into England. In 1536, when the king
and the Cardinal were abroad, there was comparative peace.
In 1537 several were convicted in Ayr and had their goods
forfeited, among whom was Walter Steward, son of Lord
Ochiltree. In 1538-9 many were accused and convicted in
various burghs, and many sought safety in flight. Among these
last were Gavin Logie, who in St Leonard's College had done
good to many under him ; John Fife, who became Professor of
Divinity in the university of Frankfort-on-the-Oder ; George

Pre-Reformation Scotland. \\%

Buchanan, who at the king's command had written the
Franciscanus ; also George Wishart, who had taught the
Greek New Testament ; John and James Wedderburn of
Dundee; and Thomas Cocklaw, John and Robert Richardson,
and Robert Logie, canons of the Augustinian Abbey of
Cambuskenneth. Cocklaw, Knox tells us, for marrying a wife,
had been shut up within stone walls, but his brother came
with crowbars and released him. ' Large numbers of the wealthy
burgesses were stripped of their possessions, even after they
had abjured, among whom the burgesses of Dundee were
conspicuous. Nor was the good town of Stirling far behind
Dundee in the race of Christian glory. She had less wealth to
resign, but she brought to the altar a larger offering of saintly
blood. On the ist of March 1539, no fewer than four of her
citizens were burned at one pile on the Castle-hill of Edinburgh.
At the same stake with them perished one of the most sainted
and interesting of Scotland's martyrs — Thomas Forret, Dean
of the Augustinian Abbey of Inchcolm, and Vicar of Dollar.'
He taught his parishioners the Ten Commandments, penned a
little catechism for their instmction, preached every Sunday,
and shewed them that pardon of sin could only be obtained
through the blood of Christ. When he pulled from his sleeve
his New Testament, his accuser exclaimed : ' This is the book
that makes all the din and pley in our Kirk.' The same year
two were condemned and burned at Glasgow.^

During all these anxious years, the measures against the
Reformers had been really directed by the man who comes
more into public view towards their close. This was David
Beaton, the nephew of the Primate, and by this time Abbot
of Arbroath and Bishop of Mirepoix in France, coadjutor to his
uncle, and Cardinal of St Stephen on the Ccelian Mount. I
can but abridge here what I have elsewhere said of him.

^ Then also Mr John Brown, patron of the Chaplainry of St Francis'
Altar, within the College Kirk of St Giles, was convicted of heresy, and his
goods and patronage assigned to Mr James Foulis, of Colinton.


114 Sf dies' Lectures.

He was a man not only of large intelligence, consummate
ability, unbounded ambition, and indomitable energy ; but also
of polished manners and considerable scholarly attainments.
He did not, it is true, belong to the school of Pole and Con-
tarini, who would have made concessions to the Reformers in
respect of doctrine ; nor to that of the disciples of D'Ailly and
Gerson, who were pressing for a reformation in respect of
morals. His associations and sympathies were rather with the
Italian or French Humanist school, both in its virtues and
vices. He was versed in the study of canon and civil law, as
well as of the classics. He was a great stickler for the liberties
of Holy Church, and for years refused to pay the tax imposed
on him for the support of the College of Justice. It was no
doubt by his advice that heretical processes from the first were
carried on under the canon law, rather than under the acts of the
Scotch Parliament. His time, from 15 14 to 1524, was passed
abroad — the later years in the diplomatic service of his country;
and he had no sooner returned home than the same measures
of restraint began to be adopted here, which had already been
put in practice in France. Even some of the hardest sayings
of the king were but the echo of those of the king of France.
Like many of the high dignitaries of the Scottish Church of
that time, he was of incontinent habits, but he was never, so far
as I know, guilty of such shameless excesses as were the boast
of his comrade Hepburn ; nor did he ever allow himself to sink
into the same indolent and unredeemed self-indulgence. He
was above all a ' hierarchical fanatic,' devoted to the cause of
absolutism, who would shrink from no measures, however cruel,
to preserve intact the privileges of his order, and to stamp out
more earnest and generous thought, whether having in view the
reformation of the old Church, or the building up of another
and better on her ruins. If we may not say that he had sold
himself to France, which had pensioned him with a rich
bishopric, and helped him to his honours, we must say he had
lived so long in it, and had got so enamoured of it, that he was

Pre-Reformation Scotland. 115

three parts French and ' all Popish.' He had mingled not only
with its scholars, but with its nobles ; and he loved their society
— loved and resolved to imitate their ways, even down to their
way of treating heretics. He made no earnest effort to reform
the old Church ; and it was not till towards the close of his life
that he began to apply for the building of St Mary's College,
the money which his uncle had set apart for it.

For the suppression of evangelical Christianity, the Cardinal
needed the support of his sovereign, and he spared no efforts to
gain him over to his side, and to detach him from his nobility
and his uncle. There was much in the king's character to
encourage such efforts. With good natural abilities, and a
frank and amiable disposition, he had been encouraged by his
guardians in sensual pleasures, and never to the last freed him-
self from his evil habits. * Dissolute as a man, prodigal as a
king, and superstitious as a Catholic, he could not but easily
fall under the sway of superior minds, who promised to free him
from the worries of business, to regard his failings with indul-
gence, and to provide him with money.' These things Beaton
and his party endeavoured to do; and lest he should be tempted
to follow the example of his uncle, and appropriate the pro-
perty of the monasteries and other religious institutions, or set
the Church lands to feu, as he once threatened, they repeatedly
presented to him lists of those who were suspected of
heresy, urging that they should be prosecuted without delay,
and their goods, on conviction, be escheated to the crown.
They made large contributions from their own revenues to aid
him in the wars with England, which obedience to their counsels
had brought on him. They procured dispensations from the
papal court to enable his sons, though illegitimate and infants,
to hold any benefices inferior to bishoprics, and on reaching
a certain age, to hold even the highest offices in the Church.

But though James shewed little indulgence to the Reformers,
and little favour for their doctrine, he seems to the last to have
had no great liking for the priests of the old faith. No bribery,

ii6 St Giles' Lectures.

no flattery, no solicitations, could reconcile him permanently to
those who for their selfish ends dragged him into courses
from which his own better impulses at times made him revolt.
* He incited Buchanan to lash the mendicant friars in the
vigorous verse of the Franciscanus. He encouraged by his
presence the public performance of a play which, by its ex-
posure of the vices of the clergy, contributed ' greatly to weaken
their influence. ' He enforced the object of that remarkable
drama by exhorting the bishops to amend their lives under a
threat that, if they neglected his warning, he would deal with
them after the fashion of his uncle in England. He repeated
the exhortation in his last Parliament, declaring that the negli-
gence, the ignorance, the scandalous and disorderly lives of the
clergy, were the cause why the Church and Churchmen were
scorned and despised.'

So, notwithstanding all measures of repression, the desire for
reformation grew and spread throughout the nation, especially
among the smaller landed proprietors in Angus and Mearns, in
Perth and Fife, in Kyle and Cunningham, as also among the
more intelligent burgesses in the cities and burghs, and above
all, among the elite of the younger inmates of the monasteries
and of the alumni of the universities. When the poor monarch,
almost as much sinned against as sinning, at last died of a
broken heart, and the Earl of Arran looked about for trusty
supporters to defend his claims to the regency, he deemed it
politic to shew not a little countenance to the friends of the
Reformation and of the English alliance. We should hardly
be warranted to assert that even then he meant to rank himself
among Protestants. But he chose as his chaplains preachers who
inclined to their opinions, he encouraged their chief men to
frequent his court, and he ventured to lay hands on the haughty
and unscrupulous Cardinal. He consented to pass through
Parliament an act expressly permitting the people to have and
to read the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments in the
vulgar tongue, and despatched messengers to all the chief

Pre-Reformation Scotland. 117

towns to make public proclamation of the act. The little
treatises of Alesius had done their work, and he himself thought
of returning and completing what he had so well begun. The
friends of the Reformation imagined that the hour of their
triumph was at hand. They did not know on what a treacherous
prop they were leaning,'nor that the Regent, within six weeks
after the last of the messengers was despatched with the above-
named proclamation, secretly sent off others to inform the
Holy Father of his accession to the regency, to put himself and
the kingdom under his protection, and to ask permission to
have under his control the income of the benefices of the
king's sons till they should come of age. The love of money
was with him the root of this evil, as the fear of man was of
others ; and so he went from bad to worse, till in the dim light
of the Franciscan chapel at Stirling, ' that weak man, to whom
people had been looking for the triumph of the Reformation
in Scotland, fondly fancying that he was performing a secret
action, knelt down before the altar, humbly confessed his errors,
trampled under foot the oaths which he had taken to his own
country and to England, renounced the evangelical confession
of Jesus Christ, submitted to the Pope, and received absolution
from the Cardinal.'

Even in June he had entered in the books of the Privy
Council an ordinance against Sacramentaries holding opinions
of the effect and essence thereof tending to the enervation of
the faith catholic, in which they were threatened with loss of
life, lands, and goods. He had not dared to proclaim this
openly, though perhaps his friend Henry VIH. would not have
blamed him greatly for doing so. But no sooner was he under
the power of the Cardinal, than he shewed in open Parliament
* how there is great murmur that heretics more and more rise
and spread within this realm, sowing damnable opinions con-
trary to the faith and laws of Holy Kirk, and to the acts and
constitutions of the realm ; ' and exhorted ' all prelates and
ordinaries ... to make inquisition after all such manner of

1 1 8 iSi" Giles^ Lectures.

persons, and proceed against them according to the laws of
Holy Kirk ; ' promising to be ready himself at all times to do
what belonged to his office. This promise he was soon called to
fulfil. On the 20th January 1544, he set out in company of the
Cardinal, the Lord Justice and his deputy, with a band of armed
men and artillery, to Perth, where a great assize was held.
Several were convicted of heresy, and their goods forfeited.
Several were condemned to die. The governor was inclined
to spare their lives, but the Cardinal and the nobles threatened
to leave him if he did this. So, on 25th January 1544, Robert
Lamb, James Hunter, William Anderson, and James Ronaldson
were hanged. The wife of the last-named was refused the
consolation of being suspended from the same beam with her
husband, and put to death by drowning, after she had consigned

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersThe Scottish church from the earliest times to 1881 to which is prefixed an historical sketch of St. Giles' Cathedral → online text (page 14 of 37)