The reign of James VI from 24 July 1567 to 1603 - a time of discord and uncertainty for Scotland.

 With Queen Mary in exile and the Protestant Lords in the ascendancy a period of Regency existed and the institution of the Presbyterian Kirk experienced some stability.  But, there was still much scheming and dissent from Catholics both abroad and in Scotland with aspirations of restoring Mary to the throne. Within the Kirk there was ongoing debate concerning issues of Episcopacy  and Erastianism , the penury of the ministers, and the degeneracy of the people at large. 

  The relative peace and quiet ended on 23 January 1570, when James Hamilton of Bothwell Haugh murdered the Regent, the Earl of wyliemoray.jpg (30446 bytes)Moray (left). This was a major stumbling block because the Kirk—in the form of Knox, Pont, and Row—had drawn up a report on Jurisdiction that they had expected to be approved by the Regent, who was friend of the Kirk,  and Parliament.  This document set out that the Jurisdiction of the Church covered the ministery, morality, ecclesiastical disputes, patrimony, marriage, and divorce. Notably patrimony was included. Had it been enacted a major source of conflict would have been settled. However, disruption ensued and patrimony, the exercise of patronage, and the role of bishops became fermenting issues.

The Earl of Mar convened a meeting of some sixty-two carefully selected ministers and commissioners to a Convocation at Leith on 12 January 1572. Many of those attending had leanings toward episcopacy and favoured a compromise. The consequence of this irregular Assembly was a committee to consider the issues, which produced its Concordat on January 16. The articles suspiciously had the hallmarks of a previously agreed upon form driven by the holders of  church lands and accepted by desperate clerics. It opened the door for a century of debate and aggravation for the Kirk.

            The Concordat stated:

 ·         That archbishops and bishops have charge of the former dioceses; be chosen from qualified preachers; not less than thirty years of age; and ‘indewed with the qualities specified in the Epistles of Paule to Timothe and Tytus’; exercise the function of superintendents in the meantime; be subject to the Assembly in spiritual matters, and the king in temporal; be consecrated; be elected and assisted by a chapter of pastors; and resume their benefices and their seats in Parliament.

     ·         That conventual house be maintained; their superiors to be examined before institution by their bishops; their benefices to be first applied to the local pastors.

        ·         That benefices, having cure of souls attached, be given to preachers, found to be qualified by bishops or superintendents, after they have subscribed to the Confession, taken the oath of fidelity to the crown , and been ordained.

        ·         That other benefices be applied to education.

The heart of the problem lay in the rules for appointing a bishop, which was upon nomination by the King, and, worse, the bishop’s oath was a sell out to Erastianism.

  I A.B. , now elected Bishop of S. utterlie testifie and declare in my conscience, that your majestie is the onlie lawfull and supreme governour of this realm, als weill in things temporall as in  the conservatioun  and purgatioun of religioun; ….. And further, I acknowledge and confesse to have and hald the said bishoprik and possessiouns of the same, under God, only of your Majestie and Crown Royale of this your realm;and for the saids possessiouns I do my homage presentlie to youre Majestie….

 For the faithful, the response was another Covenant (the Sixth) at Leith on 2 July 1572

Further tragedies were the death of John Knox on 24 November 1572 and, on the same day, the election of the Earl of Morton as the Regent; he was no friend to the Presbyterians. An early action by Morton was the Act of Uniformity on 26 January 1573 and the implementation of the “Tulchan Bishops.”  His policy now became one of seeking to coerce the Kirk and its ministers, taking to the Crown the benefices of the churches and challenging the right to hold Assemblies. 

Fortunately a successor to Knox soon appeared in the form of Andrew Melville who returned from abroad in the summer of 1574. Melville had spent ten years in France and latterly in Geneva studying under Theodore Beza, professor at the Geneva College set up by John Calvin. It was Beza who wrote in a letter to the General Assembly of Scotland: 

"The greatest token of affection the kirk of Geneva could show Scotland was, that they had suffered themselves to be spoiled of Mr Andrew Melville.” 

 On his return to Scotland Melville immediately started into battle with the scheming Regent, the Earl of Morton.

 Appointed Principal of the College of Glasgow, Melville revived its standing as a teaching college and took up the automatic seat in the Assembly. Soon he was appointed to several committees to inspect publications, examine bishops, revise the Book of Discipline, and to negotiate with Regent Morton. Resistance began with a debate in the General Assembly of 1575 about bishops not authorised by the Scriptures. From this developed propositions that were strongly resisted by Morton, but Providence may have intervened because, on 12 March 1578, he was replaced as Regent by the twelve-year-old King James VI who then ruled with a Council of twelve.

There was however a cloud on the horizon with Rome increasing its pressure against England, Scotland, and Holland, countries that were the mainstays of Protestantism.  Catholic France sent Esme Stuart, Monsieur D’ Aubigny, and a cousin of King James. He was rightly identified by the  Kirk as a Catholic spy in the pay of the Guise family. However, he was also a charismatic thirty-year-old who soon found favour with James VI and was elevated to Duke of Lennox and also made Lord High Chamberlain. He was joined by Captain James Stewart, son of Lord Ochiltree and soon to be the Earl of Arran. Between them the two false courtiers with strong Catholic backgrounds, suborned the young king, filling their own pockets to such an extent that Queen Elizabeth I and the Prince of Orange wrote to warn James what was going on. Supported by rumours and whispers from the people James ordered that the Presbyterian form of worship should be used in all his homes. He appointed James Craig as his chaplain, instructing him to prepare a Confession of Faith. On 28 January 1581 James and the Court signed the first National Covenant, also known as the King’s Confession  

The scheming of Lennox took on another form when James Boyd, Archbishop of Glasgow, died and a replacement had to be appointed. Lennox made a simoniacal purchase of the See by proposing Robert Montgomery  then minister at Stirling, for the post which the King approved in accordance with the Leith Concordat. The Glasgow Presbytery refused to accept him. In April 1582 Lennox interrupted the Presbytery of Glasgow meeting and imprisoned the Moderator. In response, student riots took place, a protestation was made to the King, and Montgomery was excommunicated. The King’s response was typically autocratic and supremacist ordering Montgomery appointed as Bishop and declaring the excommunication void. 

The hardening attitude of the young King, already showing his liking youngjamesvi.jpg (20756 bytes) for absolute rule, and the influence of his French courtiers, continued to rankle both Kirk and the nobles. Matters came to a head when some eight nobles and forty landed proprietors and burgesses entered into a Bond to kidnap the King and set up a new Council. Ruthven, the new Earl of Gowrie, led the kidnappers.  The “Ruthven Raid,” as it was called, took place on 22 August 1582. Gowrie was appointed treasurer of the new Council and for ten months was the virtual ruler of Scotland. The church saw the kidnapping as a godsend, and it dealt a deadly blow to the hopes of the Catholic party. Lennox and Arran both left the scene for their own safety.  The Kirk made a serious mistake when it entered into politics (when the General Assembly approved of the Ruthven Raid), by ordering ministers to explain it carefully to their congregations. James did not forget or forgive the Kirk for its action. James, now in his eighteenth year and soon to achieve his maturity, escaped from his imprisonment of ten months and went to St. Andrews Castle on 27 June 1583.

Scotland’s troubles were not over.  James VI soon banished the Ruthven nobles—including Angus, Mar, Glamis, Hume, Wedderburn and Cesfurd—while Gowrie was consigned to the block. The Earl of Arran returned to Court.  The plague fell on Edinburgh. It was a gloomy time that could have been worse if the people had known that their king had written to the Pope on 19 February 1584 promising to be advised by his cousin Guise and “satisfy his Holinesss in all other things.”  Revenge followed on Andrew Melville who was tried and warded in Blackness Castle. But Melville managed to escape and joined the Ruthven Raiders in England. 

James VI convened a Parliament on 19 and 20 May 1584 made up of eight bishops, thirteen abbots, twenty-five lords and twenty-three representatives of the burghs which produced forty-nine acts—the Black Acts. The proceedings of the Parliament, and the legislation proposed by the Lords of the Articles, was held in secret and the General Assembly was thus prevented from learning about the new laws and from making any representations. The Black Acts were followed by an Act of Uniformity that reduced the Church to a state of helplessness with many fleeing to England and Ireland. Protests were met with imprisonment and resulted in a gradual compliance by some ministers.

The opportunity finally came for the Ruthven Raiders to return to Scotland when the Earl of Arran was imprisoned in July 1584 for involvement in a murder. With his influence gone, the Lords seized Stirling Castle on 4 November 1585. Many thought that the King should join his mother in exile; some even favoured the block.  In a regard for the king’s sacred person, he was allowed to live. Ironically, this allowed the king to continue attacks on the Church with even greater venom; he was determined to assert his supreme authority of all matters temporal and ecclesiastical. Attempts to repeal the Black Acts were opposed and left on the Statute Book while the King tried to bring in full episcopacy at the General Assembly in May 1586. His ruse of holding the meeting at Holyrood was seen through and defeated, however.  Parliament, in 1587, ratified the “Liberty of the Kirk,” swept out patrimony and made bishops the paid officers of the Crown. More happily, the same Parliament also passed a Franchise Act that extended representation in Parliament to small landowners which was a welcome extension to suffrage.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay on 8 February 1587 sent a shock through the Catholic world and caused Pope Sixtus V to encourage Philip of Spain to raise the Armada. Its defeat in July 1588 was “game set and match” for Protestantism in Britain. At ground level, however, the thirty years of the Scottish Kirk had not greatly improved the morals and behaviour of the masses who weltered in poverty, drink, and loose morals. Rural areas swarmed with gypsies and beggars, while many parishes had no minister and some still had priests. There was a long way for the Reformation to go, with a dissembling King who was playing games with the Kirk and suspected of Papist tendencies 

Within Scotland there remained a strong and very active Catholic party even after the French influence of the Duke of Lennox and Captain James Stuart, Earl of Arran, had been expelled. About a third of the nobility retained their ancient family faith. In the southwest Dumfriesshire and Wigtownshire—later to be strongholds of the Covenanters—retained Catholicism through a large number of families of Irish origin. In the north of Scotland the Earl of Huntly, a long time Catholic sympathiser, was leagued with the Earls of Erroll, Montrose, Morton, Angus, Marr, Bothwell (who was indecisive and vacillated), the Master of Gray, and the Master of Glamis. What is perhaps most surprising is that they were open in their opposition, frequently pushing the King`s tolerance to an extreme.  Yet James VI at times seemed to be in league with them. He was remarkably lenient, apparently not wishing to provoke a rebellion in the north. When required to take action he usually warded them for a short time before they reappeared at Court. Matters eventually came to a head in 1589 when both William of Orange and Queen Elizabeth I wrote to him, warning of Papist plots. 

Letters seized from a manservant, Pringill or Pringle, were sent to James by Queen Elizabeth. These included letters from Morton, Huntly, and Sir Claud Hamilton to the King of Spain as well as letters from Huntly and Erroll to the Duke of Parma.  Queen Elizabeth included her own letter  which was explicit in her amazement that such a situation could exist and, moreover, that it had not been expeditiously dealt with. In other words, she was telling James to open his eyes and do something about it. 

Yet with all this evidence, Huntly and Hamilton were simply warded. In April 1589 Huntly, Erroll, Crawford, Montrose, and Bothwell gathered with their forces at Perth, proposing to do  battle with the king at Bridge of Dee. However, their support wavered and they yielded to James when he entered Aberdeen on April 20.  In May, Huntly, Crawford, and Bothwell were convicted of treason but, yet again, they were only warded. In September they were all released from ward ostensibly to welcome the arrival of James VI and his new Queen (which would not actually happen until the following May). Tellingly, Calderwood in his History notes that a proposal was made by the Synod of the Lothians that the Earls be called to public repentance before the kirk in Edinburgh.

 But in respect of the lenitie that was used, it was thought but an ydle thing, and that it would turne but to plaine mockerie.

 A welcome interlude to affairs came with the marriage of King James to the fourteen-year-old Anne, Princess of Denmark, first by proxy in Oslo, Norway, on 24 November 1589 and then personally at Kronenberg Castle in January 1590. Queen Anne, a Lutheran, was enthroned at Holyrood on 17 May 1590 in the presence of members of the Kirk. For a while there almost existed a state of euphoria, with a foolish trust in the King during which the Assembly ordered that ministers subscribe to the Second Book of Discipline. Concern for civil unrest certainly helped the King to collaborate with the  Kirk at this time, which in turn encouraged the stalwart Presbyterians to press their case for reform.

Seeing the opportunity, the Assembly of May 1592 sought to repeal the Black Acts, the restoration of patrimony and privileges to the church, the removal of titled ecclesiastics from Parliament, to purge the land of idolatry, and to secure the representation of ministers. On 5 June 1592 Parliament enacted “Ane Act for the abolisheing of the Actis contrair to the trew religion” which soon came to be called the “Great Charter of Presbytery.”  This Act was ratified in 1690 and again in 1706-1707, remaining an essential element of the Union between England and Scotland.

However, intrigue remained in the land with the capture of a spy and discovery of documents signed by rebels. Known as the “Spanish Blanks” they revealed a conspiracy for an invasion of Western Scotland by Spain. The nobles included Huntly, Angus, Errol, the Master of Gray, and Gordon of Auchindoune, with many more implicated.  James VI’s response was to go to Aberdeen and raise another Covenant in 1593 to which some 162 landholders subscribed to the promise that they would not ride with or assist the Earls and Jesuits involved. 

This was again a remarkable show of tolerance by the King, feeding the suspicion that he was in league with the conspirators who refused to disarm.  The church leaders, led by Andrew Melville, accused the King of causing the national misery and the Synod of Fife excommunicated the conspirators. The King then sought to make the Assembly issue an Act of Oblivion but was rejected.  James VI finally came round when the rebels defeated forces under the Earl of Argyll, who had been leading an army to dissipate them and destroy their strongholds. But despite this open rebellion James did not pursue the Earls personally beyond the equivalent of a wagging finger of censure—which they blatantly ignored. The obvious conclusion of the people, and subsequently by history, was that the King was complicit in the manoeuvring by the Catholic Earls. The Kirk remained discontented with its constitutional position and still greatly concerned at the lack of religion and morals among the people. Punishment of crimes was lax and laws went un-enforced while parishes were without ministers. Those that were in a manse had minuscule stipends and were mainly living on charity.

In August 1595 arose the celebrated cause of the Rev. David Black who was appointed to St. Andrews and sought to take possession of the manse in which was encamped William Balfour of Burley—who refused to quit.  Burley reported to the King that Black had slandered the late Queen Mary, and was cited to appear before King and Council. Black entered a plea of no jurisdiction to the civil court when the hearing was interrupted by Andrew Melville who told the King plainly that there were “two kings in Scotland, two kingdoms and two jurisdictions—Christ’s and his.”  In full flow, Melville also berated Balfour, who was present, and a discomfited King patched a peace together. The King would, however, remember Melville’s intervention and a later occasion at Falkland in September 1596 when Melville famously plucked at his sleeve and called him “God’s sillie vassal”—meaning God’s weak servant.

Yet again the Rev. Black was outspoken, this time being warded beyond the Tay. This led to Walter Balcanqual delivering a critical review of the Black case in St. Giles Cathedral on 17 Decemberstgilesetch.jpg (99654 bytes) 1596. Subsequently a meeting in the chancel sent a representative group to intercede with the King who was nearby at the Law Courts. Led by Robert Bruce the King erupted in temper demanding explanation why they had met without his permission. As fuel to the flames Lord Lindsay remarked “Meet...We dare do more than that, and will not suffer religion to be overthrown.”  The King left the room and demanded the doors to the Courthouse be shut. By his panic he exaggerated the meeting into an uprising and fled to Linlithgow Palace where warrants were issued for the Edinburgh ministers—Balcanqual, Bruce, Balfour, and Watson—who escaped. The rumour spread that the Border Reivers were coming at the King’s behest to raid the town and the magistrates pleaded with James VI for mercy, undertaking to apprehend and expel any minister at the King’s pleasure.

Hardly had the King been soothed when John Welch, a son-in-law of Knox and a fervent Presbyterian , preached in St. Giles and accused the king of being possessed by the Devil. There was no stopping James VI now and he was resolute in stamping out the freedom of the Church. By an Act at Linlithgow on 21 December 1596 he ordered that ministers must take a test and subscribe to a Bond acknowledging the King’s superiority in civil and criminal matters on pain of loss of stipend. The Privy Council pronounced the petitioners to be traitors and ordered ministers to acknowledge the King’s superiority, also ordering the magistrates to arrest “distasteful” ministers, while forbidding assemblies in Edinburgh. The homes of the four Edinburgh ministers were seized, the city was fined 20,000 merks, and an unpopular Catholic, Alexander Seton, Lord Urqhart, was appointed Provost.

Believing the time ripe, the King pursued his objectives by calling a convention at Perth.  The location was far enough away to deter some ministers from attending, but it was also nearer the royalist (and Catholic), sympathisers in the north. The Assembly met on 29 February 1597 and considered some fifty-five questions that James VI and his secretary had drawn up. After rejecting by vote a claim that the Assembly was not properly convened, events turned to the King’s advantage and his demands were met. These included agreement that in General Assembly the King could propose reform of any matter of external government, civil legislation could only be changed by constitutional means, no citizen could be publicly rebuked except of proven crimes, that no General Assembly could meet without the King’s approval, and pastors could not be appointed in the cities without his approval.  James VI came away satisfied that he now had a platform on which to build his own system of church government that would not interfere in civil matters. A further trump card for the King was the subsequent endorsement of the Perth agreements by the Dundee General Assembly on 10 May 1597, which also agreed the King’s proposal for the appointment of nineteen commissioners to consult with him on religious matters. The Church saw this as “the verie needle which drew in the threed of the bishops.”  How right they were for the Parliament in December 1597 resolved that any bishop, abbot, or prelate appointed by the King should have a voice in Parliament.

Next. James VI/I, King of Great Britain 1603-1625


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