The Perth Martyrs 1543/4.

By 1544 the availability of Tynedale`s New Testament  (first printed in 1525), was becoming quite widespread and the Governor or Regent, the Earl of Arran, had approved an act which allowed the people to read the Scriptures in their mother tongue, but in private. Public reading to an audience, debate, and public discussion was still not allowed. Despite the constraints it nevertheless bore fruit, and more and more of the populace became knowledgeable about the Word of God. This brought considerable danger if people met together, even privately, and religion was a topic of conversation, because it was so very easy to tar all with the same brush. This happened with the Perth Martyrs who jointly were charged with `assemblie and convention` (a prayer meeting)  in St Anne`s Chapel, in the Spey-yards on St Andrews Day (30 November).

Archbishop, Cardinal David Beaton  visited Perth (sometimes called St Johnston) on 25 January 1544 where the friars presented him with a list of five people accused of heresy. Ominously, in January 1543/4, prior to their trial there was a move to depose the Provost of Perth, John Chartuous, a known Protestant supporter,  who was replaced by a Papist, Alexander Marbecke. This clearly aided any actions against heretics as it meant that there was a sympathetic secular authority - which was needed to authorise the death penalty.

The victims and their `errors`:

Robert Lambe a merchant and burgess of the city, who was present at a sermon by Friar Spence where the theme was  prayer is necessary to the Saints and without it there was no hope of salvation for man. Lambe could not allow this to pass without comment and loudly denounced the doctrine. A considerable hub bub then took place and Lambe was threatened by a crowd of women but managed to escaped . He was subsequently arrested and charged with interrupting the friar in the pulpit, which he admitted and defended strenuously. He was also charged , along with William Anderson (a maltman)  and James Rauelson ( or Ronaldson, a skinner by trade)  of hanging up an image of St Francis and nailing some rams horns ( Wylie`s Scots Worthies says stags horns)  to his head , and `a cowes rump to his taile`. They were also charged with having eaten a goose on All Hallow`s Eve.  Rauleson was also charged that in his house he had set up on the stairs a carving of the three crowned diadem of St Peter, This was seen to be mocking the Cardinal`s hat.

 James Hunter, an uneducated man and a Fletcher (arrow maker) by trade was charged along with them seemingly because he usually associated with them. The charge against James Founleson (or Finlayson) was for association and discussion of the scriptures prohibited by law.

Helen Stirke (or Stark) was the wife of Jamess Ronaldson (Raueleson)  Her great sin was to refuse to call upon the Virgin Mary during the pains of childbirth. Ignoring the pleas of neighbours she had called upon God and Jesus Christ to help her and denied the Virgin.

With an inevitability all its own, the five were found guilty as charged

" ...were condemned and judged to death , and that by an assize , for violatyng ( as was alleged)  the act of parlament, in reasoning and conferriong on scriptures, for eatyng flesh  upon dayes forbidden, for interruptyng  the holy fryer in the pulpit , for dishonouring images, and blasphemyng of the Virgin Mary."

Surrounded by a heavily armed guard, the party roped and tied and taken to the gallows for execution amid the clamour of the townspeople for mercy. The Regent, the Earl of Arran, was seemingly minded to grant mercy but would have had to overrule the the Cardinal and bishops in attendance as well as the Provost. Even priests who had been guests in the prisoners` homes, having wined and dined with them, refused to seek clemency of the Cardinal, fearing for their own lives. Robert Lambe exhorted the people to fear God and prophesied the ruin of the Cardinal to come. Sympathising among themselves the prisoners assured one another they would dine together  in the kingdom of Heaven that night.

Helen Stirke pleaded to die with her husband but she was not granted her wish. She accompanied the men to the scaffold and was able to comfort her husband along the way, before she watched him hang. Her parting words were :

" be glad, husband; we have lived together many joyful days, and this day  on which we must die we ought to esteem the most joyful of all, because now we shall have joy forever. Therefore I will nopt bid you goodnight, for in a little while we shall meet in the kingdom of heaven."

She was then taken away to be executed; she was thrust into a sack which was tied at the neck and thrown into a deep pool to drown. She left the child sucking at her breast to a nurse and her other children to the charity of neighbours. [ In  the Works of John Knox  there are references which imply Helen Stirke was the wife of Robert Lambe, and a footnote that the Records of the Justice Court says she was the wife of James Ronaldson. Suffice it therefore that she was the wife of one of the men executed !]. The deed was done on St Pauls Day, 25 January 1543 (4).

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