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Timeline of Scottish History

A timeline of events in Scottish History!. Scroll through a growing chronology of events and click on them for more details and links

The Childhood of Mary Stuart

After the death of James V, Scotland is ruled by regents in the stead of the baby Mary Stuart who veer between different religious states and must constantly guard against the continued ambitions of Henry VII. who strives to suborn various Scottish nobles.

When James died, Henry VIII. seemed to hold in his hand all the winning cards in the game of which Scotland was the stake.  He held Angus and his brother George Douglas; when he slipped them they would again wield the whole force of their House in the interests of England and of Henry’s religion.  Moreover, he held many noble prisoners taken at Solway—Glencairn, Maxwell, Cassilis, Fleming, Grey, and others,—and all of these, save Sir George Douglas, “have not sticked,” says Henry himself, “to take upon them to set the crown of Scotland on our head.”  Henry’s object was to get “the child, the person of the Cardinal, and of such as be chief hindrances to our purpose, and also the chief holds and fortresses into our hands.”  By sheer brigandage the Reformer king hoped to succeed where the Edwards had failed.  He took the oaths of his prisoners, making them swear to secure for him the child, Beaton, and the castles, and later released them to do his bidding.

Henry’s failure was due to the genius and resolution of Cardinal Beaton, heading the Catholic party.

What occurred in Scotland on James’s death is obscure.  Later, Beaton was said to have made the dying king’s hand subscribe a blank paper filled up by appointment of Beaton himself as one of a Regency Council of four or five.  There is no evidence for the tale.  What actually occurred was the proclamation of the Earls of Arran, Argyll, Huntly, Moray, and of Beaton as Regents (December 19, 1542).  Arran, the chief of the Hamiltons, was, we know, unless ousted by Henry VIII., the next heir to the throne after the new-born Mary.  He was a good-hearted man, but the weakest of mortals, and his constant veerings from the Catholic and national to the English and reforming side were probably caused by his knowledge of his very doubtful legitimacy.  Either party could bring up the doubt; Beaton, having the ear of the Pope, could be specially dangerous, but so could the opposite party if once firmly seated in office.  Arran, in any case, presently ousted the Archbishop of Glasgow from the Chancellorship and gave the seals to Beaton—the man whom he presently accused of a shameless forgery of James’s will.

The Regency soon came into Arran’s own hands: the Solway Moss prisoners, learning this as they journeyed north, began to repent of their oaths of treachery, especially as their oaths were known or suspected in Scotland.  George Douglas prevailed on Arran to seize and imprison Beaton till he answered certain charges; but no charges were ever made public, none were produced.  The clergy refused to christen or bury during his captivity.  Parliament met (March 12, 1543), and still there was silence as to the nature of the accusations against Beaton; and by March 22 George Douglas himself released the Cardinal (of course for a consideration) and carried him to his own strong castle of St Andrews.

Parliament permitted the reading but forbade the discussion of the Bible in English.  Arran was posing as a kind of Protestant.  Ambassadors were sent to Henry to negotiate a marriage between his son Edward and the baby Queen; but Scotland would not give up a fortress, would never resign her independence, would not place Mary in Henry’s hands, would never submit to any but a native ruler.

The airy castle of Henry’s hopes fell into dust, built as it was on the oaths of traitors.  Love of such a religion as Henry professed, retaining the Mass and making free use of the stake and the gibbet, was not, even to Protestants, so attractive as to make them run the English course and submit to the English Lord Paramount.  Some time was needed to make Scots, whatever their religious opinions, lick the English rod.  But the scale was soon to turn; for every reforming sermon was apt to produce the harrying of religious houses, and every punishment of the robbers was persecution intolerable against which men sought English protection.

Henry VIII. now turned to Arran for support.  To Arran he offered the hand of his daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, who should later marry the heir of the Hamiltons.  But by mid-April Arran was under the influence of his bastard brother, the Abbot of Paisley (later Archbishop Hamilton).  The Earl of Lennox, a Stuart, and Keeper of Dumbarton Castle, arrived from France.  He was hostile to Arran; for, if Arran were illegitimate, Lennox was next heir to the crown after Mary: he was thus, for the moment, the ally of Beaton against Arran.  George Douglas visited Henry, and returned with his terms—Mary to be handed over to England at the age of ten, and to marry Prince Edward at twelve; Arran (by a prior arrangement) was to receive Scotland north of Forth, an auxiliary English army, and the hand of Elizabeth for his son.  To the English contingent Arran preferred £5000 in ready money—that was his price.

Sadleyr, Henry’s envoy, saw Mary of Guise, and saw her little daughter unclothed; he admired the child, but could not disentangle the cross-webs of intrigue.  The national party—the Catholic party—was strongest, because least disunited.  When the Scottish ambassadors who went to Henry in spring returned (July 21), the national party seized Mary and carried her to Stirling, where they offered Arran a meeting, and (he said) the child queen’s hand for his son.  But Arran’s own partisans, Glencairn and Cassilis, told Sadleyr that he fabled freely.  Representatives of both parties accepted Henry’s terms, but delayed the ratification.  Henry insisted that it should be ratified by August 24, but on August 16 he seized six Scottish merchant ships.  Though the Treaty was ratified on August 25, Arran was compelled to insist on compensation for the ships, but on August 28 he proclaimed Beaton a traitor.  In the beginning of September Arran favoured the wrecking of the Franciscan monastery in Edinburgh; and at Dundee the mob, moved by sermons from the celebrated martyr George Wishart, did sack the houses of the Franciscans and the Dominicans; Beaton’s Abbey of Arbroath and the Abbey of Lindores were also plundered.  Clearly it was believed that Beaton was down, and that church-pillage was authorised by Arran.  Yet on September 3 Arran joined hands with Beaton!  The Cardinal, by threatening to disprove Arran’s legitimacy and ruin his hopes of the crown, or in some other way, had dominated the waverer, while Henry (August 29) was mobilising an army of 20,000 men for the invasion of Scotland.  On September 9 Mary was crowned at Stirling.  But Beaton could not hold both Arran and his rival Lennox, who committed an act of disgraceful treachery.  With Glencairn he seized large supplies of money and stores sent by France to Dumbarton Castle.  In 1544 he fled to England and to the protection of Henry, and married Margaret, daughter of Angus and Margaret Tudor, widow of James IV.  He became the father of Darnley, Mary’s husband in later years, and the fortunes of Scotland were fatally involved in the feud between the Lennox Stewarts and the House of Hamilton.

Meanwhile (November 1543) Arran and Beaton together broke and persecuted the abbey robbers of Perthshire and Angus, making “martyrs” and incurring, on Beaton’s part, fatal feuds with Leslies, Greys, Learmonths, and Kirkcaldys.  Parliament (December 11) declared the treaty with England void; the party of the Douglases, equally suspected by Henry and by Beaton, was crushed, and George Douglas was held a hostage, still betraying his country in letters to England.  Martyrs were burned in Perth and Dundee, which merely infuriated the populace.  In April 1544, while Henry was giving the most cruel orders to his army of invasion, one Wishart visited him with offers, which were accepted, for the murder of the Cardinal.   Early in May the English army under Hertford took Leith, “raised a jolly fire,” says Hertford, in Edinburgh; he burned the towns on his line of march, and retired.

On May 17 Lennox and Glencairn sold themselves to Henry; for ample rewards they were to secure the teaching of God’s word “as the mere and only foundation whence proceeds all truth and honour”!  Arran defeated Glencairn when he attempted his godly task, and Lennox was driven back into England.

Ancrum Moor

In June Mary of Guise fell into the hands of nobles led by Angus, while the Fife, Perthshire, and Angus lairds, lately Beaton’s deadly foes, came into the Cardinal’s party.  With him and Arran, in November, were banded the Protestants who were to be his murderers, while the Douglases, in December, were cleared by Parliament of all their offences, and Henry offered 3000 crowns for their “trapping.”  Angus, in February 1545, protested that he loved Henry “best of all men,” and would make Lennox Governor of Scotland, while Wharton, for Henry, was trying to kidnap Angus.  Enraged by the English desecration of his ancestors’ graves at Melrose Abbey, Angus united with Arran, Norman Leslie, and Buccleuch to annihilate an English force at Ancrum Moor, where Henry’s men lost 800 slain and 2000 prisoners.  The loyalty of Angus to his country was now, by innocents like Arran, thought assured.  The plot for Beaton’s murder was in 1545 negotiated between Henry and Cassilis, backed by George Douglas; and Crichton of Brunston, as before, was engaged, a godly laird in Lothian.  In August the Douglases boast that, as Henry’s friends, they have frustrated an invasion of England with a large French contingent, which they pretended to lead, while they secured its failure.  Meanwhile, after forty years, Donald Dubh, and all the great western chiefs, none of whom could write, renewed the alliance of 1463 with England, calling themselves “auld enemies of Scotland.”  Their religious predilections, however, were not Protestant.  They promised to destroy or reduce half of Scotland, and hailed Lennox as Governor, as in Angus’s offer to Henry in spring 1545.  Lennox did make an attempt against Dumbarton in November with Donald Dubh.  They failed, and Donald died, without legitimate issue, at Drogheda.  The Macleans, Macleods, and Macneils then came into the national party.

The Death of Beaton

In September 1545 Hertford, with an English force, destroyed the religious houses at Melrose, Kelso, Dryburgh, and Jedburgh. {96}  Meanwhile the two Douglases skulked with the murderous traitor Cassilis in Ayrshire, and Henry tried to induce French deserters from the Scottish flag to murder Beaton and Arran.

Beaton could scarcely escape for ever from so many plots.  His capture, in January 1546, of George Wishart, an eminently learned and virtuous Protestant preacher, and an intimate associate of the murderous, double-dyed traitor Brunston and of other Lothian pietists of the English party; and his burning of Wishart at St Andrews, on March 1, 1546, sealed the Cardinal’s doom.  On May 29th he was surprised in his castle of St Andrews and slain by his former ally, Norman Leslie, Master of Rothes, with Kirkcaldy of Grange, and James Melville who seems to have dealt the final stab after preaching at his powerless victim.  They insulted the corpse, and held St Andrews Castle against all comers.

How gallant a fight Beaton had waged against adversaries how many and multifarious, how murderous, self-seeking, treacherous, and hypocritical, we have seen.  He maintained the independence of Scotland against the most recklessly unscrupulous of assailants, though probably he was rather bent on defending the lost cause of a Church entirely and intolerably corrupt.

The two causes were at the moment inseparable, and, whatever we may think of the Church of Rome, it was not more bloodily inclined than the Church of which Henry was Pope, while it was less illogical, not being the creature of a secular tyrant.  If Henry and his party had won their game, the Church of Scotland would have been Henry’s Church—would have been Anglican.  Thus it was Beaton who, by defeating Henry, made Presbyterian Calvinism possible in Scotland.

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