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Regency of Mary Guise & Emergence of Knox

The regency of the Queen's mother is a period of religious tumult fomented by John Knox that sets Scotland on its new religious course.

In England, on the death of Edward VI., Catholicism rejoiced in the accession of Mary Tudor, which, by driving Scottish Protestant refugees back into their own country, strengthened there the party of revolt against the Church, while the queen-mother’s preference of French over Scottish advisers, and her small force of trained French soldiers in garrisons, caused even the Scottish Catholics to hold France in fear and suspicion.  The French counsellors (1556) urged increased taxation for purposes of national defence against England; but the nobles would rather be invaded every year than tolerate a standing army in place of their old irregular feudal levies.  Their own independence of the Crown was dearer to the nobles and gentry than safety from their old enemy.  They might have reflected that a standing army of Scots, officered by themselves, would be a check on the French soldiers in garrison.

Perplexed and opposed by the great clan of Hamilton, whose chief, Arran, was nearest heir to the crown, Mary of Guise was now anxious to conciliate the Protestants, and there was a “blink,” as the Covenanters later said,—a lull in persecution.

After Knox’s release from the French galleys in 1549, he had played, as we saw, a considerable part in the affairs of the English Church, and in the making of the second Prayer-Book of Edward VI., but had fled abroad on the accession of Mary Tudor.  From Dieppe he had sent a tract to England, praying God to stir up some Phineas or Jehu to shed the blood of “abominable idolaters,”—obviously of Mary of England and Philip of Spain.  On earlier occasions he had followed Calvin in deprecating such sanguinary measures.  The Scot, after a stormy period of quarrels with Anglican refugees in Frankfort, moved to Geneva, where the city was under a despotism of preachers and of Calvin.  Here Knox found the model of Church government which, in a form if possible more extreme, he later planted in Scotland.

There, in 1549-52, the Church, under Archbishop Hamilton, Beaton’s successor, had been confessing her iniquities in Provincial Councils, and attempting to purify herself on the lines of the tolerant and charitable Catechism issued by the Archbishop in 1552.  Apparently a modus vivendi was being sought, and Protestants were inclined to think that they might be “occasional conformists” and attend Mass without being false to their convictions.  But in this brief lull Knox came over to Scotland at the end of harvest, in 1555.  On this point of occasional conformity he was fixed.  The Mass was idolatry, and idolatry, by the law of God, was a capital offence.  Idolaters must be converted or exterminated; they were no better than Amalekites.

This was the central rock of Knox’s position: tolerance was impossible.  He remained in Scotland, preaching and administering the Sacrament in the Genevan way, till June 1556.  He associated with the future leaders of the religious revolution: Erskine of Dun, Lord Lorne (in 1558, fifth Earl of Argyll), James Stewart, bastard of James V., and lay Prior of St Andrews, and of Macon in France; and the Earl of Glencairn.  William Maitland of Lethington, “the flower of the wits of Scotland,” was to Knox a less congenial acquaintance.  Not till May 1556 was Knox summoned to trial in Edinburgh, but he had a strong backing of the laity, as was the custom in Scotland, where justice was overawed by armed gatherings, and no trial was held.  By July 1556 he was in France, on his way to Geneva.

The fruits of Knox’s labours followed him, in March 1557, in the shape of a letter, signed by Glencairn, Lorne, Lord Erskine, and James Stewart, Mary’s bastard brother.  They prayed Knox to return.  They were ready “to jeopardy lives and goods in the forward setting of the glory of God.”  This has all the air of risking civil war.  Knox was not eager.  It was October before he reached Dieppe on his homeward way.  Meanwhile there had been hostilities between England and Scotland (as ally of France, then at odds with Philip of Spain, consort King of England), and there were Protestant tumults in Edinburgh.  Knox had scruples as to raising civil war by preaching at home.  The Scottish nobles had no zeal for the English war; but Knox, who received at Dieppe discouraging letters from unknown correspondents, did not cross the sea.  He remained at Dieppe, preaching, till the spring of 1558.

In Knox’s absence even James Stewart and Erskine of Dun agreed to hurry on the marriage between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Francis, Dauphin of France, a feeble boy, younger than herself.  Their faces are pitiably young as represented in their coronation medal.

While negotiations for the marriage were begun in October, on December 3, 1557, a godly “band” or covenant for mutual aid was signed by Argyll (then near his death, in 1558); his son, Lorne; the Earl of Morton (son of the traitor, Sir George Douglas); Glencairn; and Erskine of Dun, one of the commissioners who were to visit France for the Royal marriage.  They vow to risk their lives against “the Congregation of Satan” (the Church), and in defence of faithful Protestant preachers.  They will establish “the blessed Word of God and His Congregation,” and henceforth the Protestant party was commonly styled “The Congregation.”

Parliament (November 29, 1557) had accepted the French marriage, all the ancient liberties of Scotland being secured, and the right to the throne, if Mary died without issue, being confirmed to the House of Hamilton, not to the Dauphin.  The marriage-contract (April 19, 1558) did ratify these just demands; but, on April 4, Mary had been induced to sign them all away to France, leaving Scotland and her own claims to the English crown to the French king.

The marriage was celebrated on April 24, 1558.  In that week the last Protestant martyr, Walter Milne, an aged priest and a married man, was burned for heresy at St Andrews.  This only increased the zeal of the Congregation.

Among the Protestant preachers then in Scotland, of whom Willock, an Englishman, seems to have been the most reasonable, a certain Paul Methuen, a baker, was prominent.  He had been summoned (July 28) to stand his trial for heresy, but his backing of friends was considerable, and they came before Mary of Guise in armour and with a bullying demeanour.  She tried to temporise, and on September 3 a great riot broke out in Edinburgh, the image of St Giles was broken, and the mob violently assaulted a procession of priests.  The country was seething with discontent, and the death of Mary Tudor (November 17, 1558), with the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth, encouraged the Congregation.  Mary of Guise made large concessions: only she desired that there should be no public meetings in the capital.  On January 1, 1559, church doors were placarded with “The Beggars’ Warning.”  The Beggars (really the Brethren in their name) claimed the wealth of the religious orders.  Threats were pronounced, revolution was menaced at a given date, Whitsunday, and the threats were fulfilled.

All this was the result of a plan, not of accident.  Mary of Guise was intending to visit France, not longing to burn heretics.  But she fell into the worst of health, and her recovery was doubted, in April 1559.  Willock and Methuen had been summoned to trial (February 2, 1559), for their preachings were always apt to lead to violence on the part of their hearers.  The summons was again postponed in deference to renewed menaces: a Convention had met at Edinburgh to seek for some remedy, and the last Provincial Council of the Scottish Church (March 1559) had considered vainly some proposals by moderate Catholics for internal reform.

Again the preachers were summoned to Stirling for May 10, but just a week earlier Knox arrived in Scotland.  The leader of the French Protestant preachers, Morel, expressed to Calvin his fear that Knox “may fill Scotland with his madness.”  Now was his opportunity: the Regent was weak and ill; the Congregation was in great force; England was at least not unfavourable to its cause.  From Dundee Knox marched with many gentlemen—unarmed, he says—accompanying the preachers to Perth: Erskine of Dun went as an envoy to the Regent at Stirling; she is accused by Knox of treacherous dealing (other contemporary Protestant evidence says nothing of treachery); at all events, on May 10 the preachers were outlawed for non-appearance to stand their trial.  The Brethren, “the whole multitude with their preachers,” says Knox, who were in Perth were infuriated, and, after a sermon from the Reformer, wrecked the church, sacked the monasteries, and, says Knox, denounced death against any priest who celebrated Mass (a circumstance usually ignored by our historians), at the same time protesting, “We require nothing but liberty of conscience”!

On May 31 a composition was made between the Regent and the insurgents, whom Argyll and James Stewart promised to join if the Regent broke the conditions.  Henceforth the pretext that she had broken faith was made whenever it seemed convenient, while the Congregation permitted itself a godly liberty in construing the terms of treaties.  A “band” was signed for “the destruction of idolatry” by Argyll, James Stewart, Glencairn, and others; and the Brethren scattered from Perth, breaking down altars and “idols” on their way home.  Mary of Guise had promised not to leave a French garrison in Perth.  She did leave some Scots in French pay, and on this slim pretext of her treachery, Argyll and James Stewart proclaimed the Regent perfidious, deserted her cause, and joined the crusade against “idolatry.”

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