Laud`s Liturgy - the Book of Common Prayer (1637)

The Liturgy or “ The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other parts of Divine Service for the use of the Church of Scotland “ was published at Edinburgh in 1637. This was the sister package which, with the Canons published in 1636, aimed at introducing the high church – the semi Catholic episcopacy so favoured by Archbishop Laud. It was drafted by Maxwell, Bishop of Ross, and Wedderburn, Bishop of Dunblane, before submission to Archbishop Laud whose popish embellishments caused the furore that followed its implementation.

The Canons had decreed that opposition to the Liturgy, because it was contrary to the Scriptures, would be grounds for excommunication; and failure to use the Liturgy would be punished by deponement. There had been strong criticism of the Canons but the issues came to head with the Liturgy which was widely declared to be ` popish`. Amongst other things the procedures offended the people by calling the table the “altar“ and the minister standing with his back to the congregation when consecrating the communion elements. The calendar of events included commemorative dates of mediaeval saints which had long been cast out by the Presbyterians. Coming on top of the Articles of Perth in 1618, and the Canons in 1636 the resentment of the ministers and people to the Liturgy reached boiling point.

On 13 June 1637 the Privy Council ordered ministers to obtain two copies of the Liturgy within fifteen days on pain of rebellion, but in their haste to make the order the Council omitted to say that the Liturgy must be used. Thus the scene was set for the historic event in St Giles Cathedral on 23 July 1637, when a Scotswoman, Jenny Geddes, a is said to have thrown her small stool at Dean Hannay with the words “ Villain, dost thou say mass at my lug.“

Alexander Henderson, who had succeeded to Melville`s mantle, carefully digested the new Liturgy and mad a clear statement to the Privy Council explaining that the Book of Common Prayer had not been authorised by the General Assembly and Parliament; that the church was inherently free; that the ceremonies were divisive and Romish; and the people were unwilling to accept it. The Privy Council, possibly in an act of self preservation then decided, 25 August 1637, that it was not compulsory to the use the Liturgy. But the King, on 10 September, no doubt influenced by Archbishop Laud, angrily directed the Liturgy`s use and reprimanded the Privy Council for having suspended it. There then followed a petition to the Privy Council on 20 September who responded on 17 October 1637 with three proclamations ordering strangers from the city; the Council and Court to remove from Edinburgh; and a condemnation of a publication by George Gillespie called “Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies.”

The next day protestations against the Service Book were made to the Lord Chancellor by the `men, women, children and servants of Edinburgh. and also by `the Noblemen, gentrie, ministers, burgesses and commons` . Thirty eight noblemen and hundreds of ministers and gentlemen from all over Scotland (except Aberdeen) subscribed to the petition. At one stage the ladies of Edinburgh seized Sydserf, Bishop of Galloway, as he was making his way to the Law Courts and proceeded to disrobe him to see if he was carrying a Romish cross; he was saved the ultimate ignominy of nakedness by arrival of some colleagues who were able to intervene. The protest by the people cleverly used the law whereby their accusation against the prelates was a formal Protest that required a hearing by the courts. They did however, compromise and agree to withdraw from the city leaving behind a committee or commissioners to look after their interests. Next came the setting up of the representative `Tables`  and the co-ordinated action by the people.

The scene was now set for a head on clash with the Privy Council and the King who declared on 19 February 1638 at Stirling, that the Canons and Liturgy were by his Order. He also declared that protests and meetings against them were rebellion and that petitioners were banned from any place where the Privy Council was in session, on penalty of treason. The immediate response was the reading of a formal Protestation at the same Cross of Stirling, probably by Archibald Johnstone, and in the presence of Lords Lindsay and Home who had ridden hard from Edinburgh to be there in time. The Kings Proclamation was in effect his acceptance of the allegations of misgovernment and a declaration of war. A similar Protestation was read in Edinburgh on 22 February when the Heralds were forced to remain at the Cross and listen; that day Alexander Henderson and Archibald Johnston were enjoined to draw up a Covenant.

The National Covenant was declared, read and subscribed on 28 February 1638 at Greyfriars Kirk. The document was part drafted by Alexander Henderson who had been previously put to the horn by the Archbishop of St Andrews for refusing to buy and use the Liturgy.

Laudian Policies.

Named after Archbishop William Laud, they reflect his Arminian views and ambitions for the Church of England, which were subjoined by the pursuit of uniformity in the whole of Britain. Laud referred to the “Beauty of Holiness” but the changes were seen both in England as early as 1628, and later in Scotland, as an attempt to reverse the Reformation and to threaten social and political power of the nobility and the gentry.  Broadly his policies were:

Preference for the doctrine of free will, ie that God`s salvation was open to all and could be won by good works on earth. This was in direct contrast to Calvinism and its belief in predestination.

The emphasis of church services should be towards the sacraments and ceremony, and away from preaching and sermons. It favoured the wearing of elaborate vestments, the use of images and the restoration of stained glass windows in churches.

Altars should be re-sited in a central place in churches at the east end, not in the nave. This meant some re arrangement of family pews which caused great offence.

The clergy to play a greater role in lay affairs and the power for church courts to intervene (interfere) in secular affairs.

Although accused of being a papist, Laud came to prominence with the support of the influential Buckingham family and was a prominent opponent of the increasing catholic presence at the Court. His opponents especially resented his drive to secure the benefices of the church (much of which were impropriated by the nobility) for the clergy and insistence that ministers be properly funded; this included proper stipends for appointments made under patronage. Other issues such as improving the quality and status of the clergy, ministers and bishops, were resented by the nobility and genteel landowners who regarded the prelates as upstarts.

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