Although Westphalia calmed the waters on the Continent and Queen Elizabeth I set her realm in the direction of the Reformation, two broad groups of Protestants in Britain remained unhappy: one in Scotland, the other in England itself.
In Scotland, the Reformation came with humanist ideas that included criticism of the Catholic Church and, in the 1520s by Patrick Hamilton, an abbot executed in 1528 on charges of heresy for espousing the views of Luther while at the University of St. Andrews, in the locality of the same name. His only known writing, based upon Melanchton’s Loci Communes, a summary of Lutheran theology, was given the name of Patrick’s Places by an editor; it echoed the doctrine of justification by faith and the contrast between the gospel and the law.
Hamilton was caught in the early stages of Scottish Reform. James V avoided the changes to the church that occurred with Henry VIII in England. However, thanks to the rebellion to his south he negotiated new terms that, in exchange for loyalty to Rome, he was allowed to tax the institution and appoint his many illegitimate children and favorites to office, particularly David Beaton, who became Archbishop of Saint Andrews and a cardinal. Beaton headed the church tribunal that ordered the execution of Hamilton.
The actual reformation did not come until a series of political changes took place. The story is not, strictly speaking, about the Christian faith, but it sheds light on secular impulses behind the Scottish Reformation.
The death of James in 1542 left the crown legally in the hands of six-day-old Mary, Queen of Scots, his heir, child of the king and his French second wife, Marie de Guise. This left Scotland’s body politic divided between a pro-French faction uninterested in Church reform, led by Beaton and the queen’s mother, and a pro-English faction that leaned somewhat toward Protestantism, headed by Mary’s prospective heir, James Hamilton, Earl of Arran.
Arran was initially regent, backed by an “evangelical” party of Protestant nobles at the court. Under him, the Scottish Parliament removed the prohibition against reading the Bible in the vernacular. A marriage was arranged between Mary and Edward, the son of Henry VIII of England, who reputedly bribed Arran, and agreed under the 1543 Treaty of Greenwich. A backlash in Scotland spawned a coup led by Cardinal Beaton, who opposed reform and any possibility of an English marriage for the queen.
The English were now angry and launched a series of invasions of southeast Scotland later known as the “rough wooing” (presumably by the English child Edward of his Scots infant cousin Mary). The English also sought to change hearts in a different way, bringing Protestant books and Bibles to the Lowlands when they invaded in 1547. These sowed a seed seen after the execution of the Zwingli-influenced George Wishart in 1546, burned at the stake on the orders of Beaton.
The execution prompted a number of nobles to rebel, assassinate Beaton and soon after seize St. Andrews Castle, which they held for a year until they were defeated with the help of French forces. Protestant survivors of the siege included chaplain John Knox, who was among those condemned to serve as galley slaves. In 1549, the defeat of the English with French support led to a regency over Scotland by the queen’s mother. De Guise arranged the marriage of Mary, then about seven, to three-year-old Dauphin Francis, son of Henry II of France. In 1548, the Scottish Parliament agreed to a French marriage treaty and Mary was sent to France to spend the next 13 years at the French court.
The reform proper did not begin until about a decade later and was inspired in part by Knox (1513-1572), a Scottish minister and theologian, considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church. As we have seen, Knox was a slave on a French galley. He escaped to England, then fled from Mary Tudor after she restored Catholicism in England, then went to Geneva, where he met John Calvin, then went to Frankfurt to head an English refugee church there.
From Calvin, he learned of Reformed theology and the presbyterian polity, a form of church governance so named for its ruling presbyters or elders (from the Greek presbyteros, originally meaning old man, a term used in the apostolic era for a priest).
Under this polity, local churches are governed by a body of elected elders known as a session, consistory or church board. Groups of churches report to a higher assembly known as the presbytery, above which are synods. The system represents a rejection of the episcopal hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons, which has New Testament roots; unlike its offshoot, the congregationalist polity, local churched are not independent.
Knox was initially in accord with the development of the Church of England under Cranmer, but later broke with it over his development of a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the reformed church in Scotland.
Back in Scotland in 1559, Knox had set himself against the regent.
De Guise, who was more interested in gaining Scottish support for her pro-French policies and against England than in religion, had developed a policy of limited tolerance of Protestants, and a measure of peace was maintained, particularly after 1553, when Catholic Mary Tudor ruled England. In 1558, two things happened: the arranged marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the dauphin raised fears that Scotland might become a French province, and the accession in England, of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, established a confessional frontier in Great Britain but gave Reformers hope for change.
Knox had been abroad, but everyone knew he detested Marie de Guise long before he stepped off the boat. His passion went beyond mere hatred for a French woman accidentally regent of his country. His 1558 pamphlet The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regimen of Women is a broadside against the female sovereigns of his day, specifically de Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent, and her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Mary I of England. He argued that “God, by the order of his creation, has [deprived] woman of authority and dominion” and put men in that place.
“For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.”
An unintended target, Queen Elizabeth I, took offense and denied him safe passage through England.
Two days after Knox arrived in Edinburgh, he went to Dundee, where a large number of Protestant sympathizers had gathered. Declared an outlaw, he preached a fiery sermon at the church of St John the Baptist that stirred a riot that gutted the church. The mob then attacked two friaries in the town, looting their gold and silver and smashing images. In response De Guise gathered nobles loyal to her and a small French army, with a call for troops from France. A series of military clashes followed that evolved into a civil war of sorts, with French troops coming to aid the regent and English troops to aid the rebel Protestants, some say with the Elizabethan goal of annexing Scotland. The sudden death of Marie de Guise in Edinburgh Castle on June 19, 1560, brought about an end to hostilities and with the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh both French and English troops withdrew from Scotland. On 19 July, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St Giles in Edinburgh.
Under orders of the Scottish Parliament, Knox helped write the new confession of faith, the Scots Confession, a document with Lutheran influences and bows to Calvinism, yet which asserts a very un-Protestant list of specific moral imperatives, including actions that “displease and offend his godly Majesty.” He also set up an ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church, called the Kirk, the Book of Discipline.
Reputedly, Knox’s ideas influenced the development of another document after his day, the 1643 Westminster Confession of Faith, holding a Calvinist theological position that Presbyterians came to accept as foundational. The Presbyterian Protestants developed into their own, originally Scottish, but now worldwide denomination.