Rev. Andro Knox, the Papist catcher.

It is very easy to be swept along by the story of the Reformation, by the hardships suffered and  the persecution of the Covenanters in later years. We should, however, stop occasionally and observe the other side of the coin where the zealous Presbyterians themselves indulged in a form of persecution, particularly  in rooting out residual Catholic practices. We should also remember that in the `outing` of ministers in 1662 roughly one third of the total ministers in Scotland  left their manses but two thirds overcame any scruples they might have had and remained under an Episcopal system. The `faithful remnant` were therefore always a `faithful minority` by their own choice. This in no way detracts from admiration of their devotion, strength of mind and will. So far as the Catholic Church is concerned there were still some 12-14,000 members of the faith in the Highlands and Islands, with indulgences issued to the powerful lords, and  a nucleus of missionary priests and monks tending the flock. Overall it reinforces the view that the coercion of the Presbyterian Godly practiced by Charles I, Charles II and James II was completely unnecessary.

The ratification of the Confession of Faith and adoption of a Protestant religion ( Presbyterianism)  was formally established in Scotland on 17 August 1560. From this point the French military in Scotland were expelled and the first General Assembly met on  20 December 1560. At the Assembly  the First Book of Discipline including the Confession of Faith, was produced by John Knox and others (the six Johns) and the scene was set for for a Protestant Scotland to move forward.  There was, however, a strong nucleus of adherents to the Catholic Church  among the nobility, especially in the Highlands and in the southwest of Scotland amongst families of Irish origin. The Highland nobility was a tough nut to crack and eventually required armed intervention, but in the south west the Catholic families were a minority who could be pressured either to comply or to leave the country. This some in fact did.

A zealous pursuer of Papacy was Andro Knox, minister in Paisley from about 1585. His pursuit of the `ungodly` of all and any rank  was extreme, if not fanatical, and his reputation had even reached the Privy Council and the King.  In February 1588 a complaint or `greeve` was made about the Abbott of Paisley and a Burgess called Algeo  alleging that they had entertained Jesuits -  this was almost certainly instigated by Knox. However, this complaint seemed to fizzle out probably due to the influence of Lord Claude Hamilton recently returned to his family seat after exile and appointed Member of Parliament for Paisley. Lord Claude had  known Spanish sympathies and had been expelled from the Abbacy of Paisley in 1579. Meanwhile, goaded on by fierce persecution, a Catholic intrigue with Philip II of Spain to overthrow the government was bubbling away beneath the surface.

With suspicion everywhere Knox obtained a warrant from the King in 1592 that empowered him, certain nobles , and others of his choosing to seek and apprehend 

 all excommunicate papists, Jesuits, seminarie priestis and suspect trafficquaris with the King of Spayne and utheris foreynnaris to the subversion of Goddis trew religion .

Knox heard  from the English secret service that one George Ker, a doctor of Law, brother of the Abbott of Newbattle and an excommunicated person for Popery, was in the district. Knox tracked him down to Glasgow and to a vessel in the Clyde which was boarded  off the Isles of Cumbrae where Ker was apprehended. Hidden in the sleeves of a sailor were highly incriminating documents that showed the clear link of several nobles to a conspiracy. The papers included some sheets bearing only the signatures of the Scottish lords involved - the `Spanish Blanks` as they became known.  This success added greatly to Knox`s reputation and he became feared throughout Renfrewshire and the west of Scotland. The letters are reproduced in Calderwoods History of the Kirk of Scotland (vol 5) and confirm (even by modern evidence rules of `beyond reasonable doubt`) that their was conspiracy and treason afoot. Why on earth the King merely `warded` Huntley - a clear traitor under his own signature, is beyond reason.

In his role as the parish minister Knox sought to take action against the influential Maxwell family and accused John Maxwell of Stanely of not taking Communion. This seemed to be a response to an earlier and successful action that Maxwell had taken against Knox for trespass. Maxwell was summoned to appear before the Presbytery of Paisley on 30 September 1602 but did not appear until October 14 when he declared his penitence. The penalty imposed required future compliance of both himself and his family, and he was ordered to appear in the Kirk of Paisley the following Sabbath. A caution was made and a penalty of five hundred merks set for non compliance.

Knox was, however, to get his come uppance. In September 1602 a Gavin Stewart was accused of seeking the aid of witchcraft and alleged that he was seen prostrating himself before a Martha Pinkerton. On investigation by the Presbytery the matter was resolved and Knox instructed to cease from further admonitions against him. In October 1604 Stewart had apparently used threatening language against Knox who then summoned him before the magistrates and the Provost,  the Earl of Abercorn. Stewart was bound over to keep the peace and not to molest Knox under penalty of one hundred pounds (Scots). In the court it seems, Stewart made a remark in Knox`s hearing that so outraged him that he struck Stewart on the head with a large metal key and drew blood.

The result of this assault was that the magistrates asked the Presbytery to deal with the matter. Knox was suspended and further exacerbated the matter when he failed to appear before the Presbytery but sent in a petition, having meanwhile conducted baptisms while suspended. Knox was then declared suspended from the pulpit of the Abbey Church which made him realise he was in serious trouble. He sought to apologise to the Town Council who refused to hear him in the absence of the Earl of Abercorn. Later that same day at a joint meeting of the Session, Presbytery and the Town Council it was decided that Know may be reinstated to his office in eight days time - the 19 November. The conditions prescribed in the Presbytery record of 16 November 1604 are given in Metcalfe`s History of Renfrew  :

 the said Mr Andro sall sit in the maist patent place of the Kirk of paisley upon Sounday nixtocumn befoir noone .... and ther, aefter that  Mr John Hay, appoyntit be the Brethren to supplie the place that day, hes delaitit the fault and offence of the said Mr Andro to the people, the said Mr Andro  in all humilitie sall confes his offence to God, his brethrein and the partie offendit, and sall sit doun apoun his knees and ask God  mercie for the same.

Knox was clearly chastened by this experience and despite efforts to remain in Paisley, and a promotion to the post of  Bishop of the Isles, he finally resigned and was replaced by  Mr Patrick Hamilton in November 1607. Knox  continued as a bishop, however, and exercised great civil authority in his see for which had special authority from the king to deal with many local matters. Knox was later transported to the See of Raphoe in Ireland where he was a friend to Presbyterian ministers migrating to join the Scottish settlers. He died in Ireland in 1622.

With or without the likes of Andro Knox, the Presbytery of Paisley were fully occupied with its duties which they conducted with great impartiality. High and low born were treated alike and pursued in some cases for years for any failure to comply with the `trew religion`.

                       Presbytery of Paisley.

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