Articles of Perth, 25 August 1618

The declaration and subsequent ratification by Parliament of the Five Articles of Perth was a watershed in the relationships between the Crown and the Presbyterians. This imposition was the first to directly affect the public, some of  whom resented interference with their style of worship. The Articles did not, however, impact the Sabbath and the common people were still able to continue with their routine worship.  The changes were most noticeable when the Communion was celebrated (mostly annually); and over time in the ways the minister delivered prayer, psalm, Scripture and sermon. Dissent within a parish and congregation largely depended on the view of the minister and the extent to which he agreed with the changes.

Until the General Assembly in Aberdeen of 1616 King James had been focussing on the structure of the Church as he wanted it. At the Aberdeen Assembly a new Confession of Faith was produced, a catechism for schools, and a new Liturgy with a form of public service to replace that of John Knox. Significantly, however, James proposed five new canons of the church. Surprisingly the bishops themselves recognised the likely impact of summarily imposing the new Canons and for once, James listened to them.

His high handed visit to Edinburgh in May 1617, accompanied by the use of the Anglican rites in the chapel at Holyrood Palace raised the publics` temperature and James bridled at their resentment. He harangued his bishops and demanded they provide reasons against his Five Articles and his claimed prerogative to legislate for the Church. As a result it was agreed to call a General Assembly to which many promised obedience. A consequence was a carefully selected Assembly which met and approved the articles at Perth on 25 August 1618.

The articles were:

1. The Communion must be received in a kneeling posture. (This was most obnoxious to the Presbyterians).

2. Private Communion was permitted in cases of sickness.

3. Private Baptism was permitted when necessary.

4. Children should be catechised and blessed by Bishops ( Confirmation ).

5. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost were declared as Holy days not only of the Catholic Church but also the whole Kirk.

The representation at the Perth General Assembly on 25 August 1618 was packed with government supporters The prelates were in control with Archbishop Spottiswoode acting as Moderator claiming that right in the absence of an election, because Perth was in his diocese. Spottiswoode also told the gathering that the vote would be recorded and those voting against would be notified to the King. Spottiswoode had been told by the King in a letter of 6 December 1617 that he should get on with the changes. This had been followed up by a letter to the Privy Council to withhold stipends from rebellious ministers. But the vote of 86 to 45 carried them through. This disgraceful bullying did not stop 45 ministers from voting against.

The Articles were confirmed by the Edinburgh Parliament on 4 August 1621 (called Black Saturday as it was both by deed and fact a dark stormy day). Following ratification the king wrote to the prelates in a letter of 12 August telling them that

The sword is now putt into your hands; goe on therefore to use it; and let it roust noe longer till ye have perfited the service trusted to you, or otherwise we must use it both against you and them . If anie or all of you be faint- hearted we are able enough (thanks to God) to put others in your places who both can and will make things possible which ye think so difficult.

The same letter harangued Papistrie and urged the prelates to root out all Papists, priests and traitorous Jesuits, adding

But as Papistrie is ane disease in the minds, so is Puritaisme in the braine. So the onlie remedie and antidote against it will be a grave, settled, uniforme, and well ordered church, obedient to God and their King,

Ominously responsibility for enforcing the law was handed to the Court of High Commission.

Patrick Simpson, minister at Cramond then at Stirling, was an ardent opponent of prelacy, having been the nominal Moderator at the Aberdeen Assembly in 1605 (which met without the Kings authority) . It was Simpson who delivered the Protestation to the Earl of Dunbar after the Assembly. His objections to the Articles were great but he died before they were implemented blessing the Lord that he had not been perverted by the sinful courses of these times .

John Scrimgeour, minister at Kinghorn in Fife,went as chaplain with King James VI to Denmark in 1590 when James brought back Anne of Denmark as his Queen. With others he was summoned before the Court of High Commission for not preaching on holidays and not administering the Communion according to the Articles. After much debate and wrangling he was banished to Bowhill in the parish of Auchterderran.

John Carmichael, minister of Kilconquhar in 1603 was a particularly stout opponent of the proposed innovations and persisted thoughout his life in dissenting from them He was almost routinely pursued and was `warded` in the custody of the Archbishop of York for a year in 1606-7.for his dissent , then confined to his parish until 1614.

Robert Blair was 23 before he took his trials for the ministry in 1616 having previously been a regent (teacher) at the College of Glasgow. He was subjected to criticism by the Principal of the College, Dr John Cameron for his objections to prelacy. Cameron also urged Blair to accept the Articles of Perth which he stoutly refused. A trumped up charge was then made to Archbishop Spottiswoode which Blair refuted publicly to great effect. He then accepted an invitation to go to Bangor in Ulster where he remained until again pursued by the Bishops in Ireland.

The Hamilton family of Preston (Prestonpans) featured large in the Reformation and Covenanter history. Robert Hamilton, later Sir Robert, was descended from Sir John Hamilton a Commissioner for East Lothian who had openly voted against the Articles of Perth in the Edinburgh Parliament of 1621. He bravely refused to leave the meeting when asked to do so and said that he would stay in order to bear witness to the truth.

Black Saturday 4 August 1621

King James convened a Parliament in Edinburgh on 25 July 1621 with the specific purpose of ratifying the Perth Articles. It was on a particularly clouded and overcast day, Saturday 4 August, that the Acts were actually voted upon and approved by seventy seven votes to fifty. Eleven bishops attended to swell the royalist supporters. Hewison`s The Covenanters, tells that when the Commissioner, the Marquis of Hamilton touched the documents with the royal sceptre there were three successive flashes of lightning each followed by a loud clap of thunder; this was followed by severe hail and rain storms that confined the gathering in the the premises for nearly two hours. Some were quick to compare it with the fire storm when the Ten Commandments were handed down. The general opinion seemed to be that ` God appeared angrie at the concluding of the Articles`. Credulity was given to the belief when floods swept away the bridge in Perth

Calderwood`s History details the efforts made to ensure approval was given. This included sending spies to meetings to deliberately oppose the proposal in order to identify who was for and who was against. Notably Sir John Hamilton of Preston, who had opposed the Articles in session as a Lord of the Articles, maintained his opposition in open parliament despite being asked to absent himself and threatened with retribution. On the day of the vote extraordinary steps were taken to prevent people from attending and a close watch was kept by one Andrew Hay a servant of the Bishop of St Andrews, to ensure no unauthorised ministers were admitted.

The Rev David Barclay of St Andrews was appointed by the ministers to make a representation and actually gained access. But he was kept waiting and eventually cast out without being heard whereupon he posted copies of the protest on the Parliament House door and at the Mercat Cross. The voting itself was instructed to be by using the words `Agree` or `Disagree` . The cynics reasoned that the pronunciation, if spoken in a low voice, was easily misheard; coincidentally the clerk recording the votes was instructed that those who did not speak up were to be taken as consenters. The voting was thus rigged.

David Dickson had only recently entered into the ministry at Irvine at the time of the Perth Assembly and was not much concerned about Episcopacy. However, when the rules were forced upon him he took an interest becoming in time an implacable opponent to the Articles. He was banished to Turriff for a while for his obstinacy but the intervention of influential friends enable him to return to Irvine.

The congregation of the Rev William M`Annand in Ayr took simple and direct action against ceremony and in particular kneeling at the Communion. Sir Edward Brereton in his Travels (1634-5) reported that:

upon Easter day last, so soon as he went to the communion table, the people all left the church and departed, and not one of them stayed, only the pastor alone. The minister was left, kneeling and alone.

When King James I died in 1625 the policy of coercion in Scotland continued under King Charles I. He continued the enforcement of the laws for non compliance with the Articles, also trying to introduce other changes in the church.

Standing back a pace, it should be recognised that the Articles of Perth, and particularly the kneeling at Communion, affected the whole church in a direct and visible way. Opposition was not total, but it was strong enough to give rise to a permanent nonconformist group within the church. It also gave rise to the holding of  conventicles in Edinburgh and other places in opposition to the new rites that signalled defiance of the King; retribution followed.

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