Thomas Forrest - the Vicar of Dollar and the Stirling Martyrs, 1538. 

The burnings of Straiton and Gourlay in 1534 had the desired effect of striking terror in the populace but succeeded only in driving the new Evangel underground, with greater caution exercised among its adherents. It also served to heighten the concern, even fear, among the priests who had no weapon save the fire, with which to combat the the new beliefs. In this they were unfortunately aided by having the King in thrall, afraid to halt the persecutions. Among the common man there may well have been many executions for heresy but these were not recorded; usually only those with some assets or land were entered in the records. However, among the alleged heretics at this time were several priests, including the Thomas Forrest, or Forret, the Vicar of Dollar.

Thomas Forrest  came from a district just north of Cupar in Fife. His father had been Master of the Stables to King James IV and was able to send Thomas to grammar school before going on to study in Cologne. When he returned to Scotland he was admitted as a cannon regular to the Augustinian monastery of St Colme Inch, in the Firth of Forth. Here he became embroiled in an arguement between the cannons and the Abbott whether or not they were receiving all they were due under their foundation charter.  Discovering that the cannons had the charter and were seeking out the truth, the Abbott took it from them and gave them an old Augustine manuscript. This did not contain the information they wanted but Forrest took the document to his cell to read. In the event it was truly a God send, as it led him to read the New Testament and a convert was born again. With a renewed faith and flush with the excitement of his discovery Forrest  began to influence his young colleagues, while the older men stopped their ears. Forrest reputedly said  "The old bottles would not receive the new wine ".  The Abbott soon heard of the goings on and counselled Forrest to keep his opinions to himself, but when he did not do so, he arranged for Forrest to be promoted to the post of Vicar of Dollar. This was  a rural parish about eighteen miles away at the foot of the Ochiltree Hills.

Forrest was a rare priest in his day and preached in his parish every Sabbath. He also taught his parishioners the Ten Commandments  and composed a short catechism for the children to learn. In his sermons he taught  that salvation  came only through the the blood of Jesus Christ. His renegade streak was displayed to the Church when he opposed clergy who came to sell Indulgences in his parish, when he told the people that all was deceit "There is no pardon for our sins that can come to us  either from the Pope or any other, .." In his personal conduct he continued to read and learn the New Testament and reputedly committed three chapters of the Bible to memory each day. At evening he would pass the Bible to his servant, Andrew Kirk, who followed him round while he recited what he had learned that day. He rose at six in the morning and studied to noon. In the afternoon he visited his flock and studied again in the evening. He was known to carry bread and cheese in the sleeves of his gown that he gave to the poor and needy, also to give money when he had it. He also declined to take the mandatory dues from families whom he visited at the time of a death - the so called uppermost cloth  and the corpse present of a cow.

It was inevitable, however, that there arose both jealousy and fear among other priests who saw in his conduct the danger that they would be ensnared. It highlighted  their idleness and his temperance shamed their sometimes riotous assembly, while his charity  made thir extortions in the name of faith to be odious. Thus complaints were made to the Bishop of Dunkeld who summoned Forrest to him. At their meeting the Bishop sought to curb Forrest`s enthusiasm and not to put his colleagues and the Church in a bad light. Forrest offered only to preach the good gospels and epistles that he found in the New and Old Testament if the Bishop could tell him which were evil and thus to be omitted. Confounded by this challenge the Bishop rejected the arguement and said he would know nothing but his Breviary and Book of Ceremonies. Forrest was allowed to return to his flock but went with a warning in his ears " to let alone all these fancies, for if he persevered in these opinions he would repent it when he could not amend it."

It was not long, however, before he was summoned before the Archbishop of St Andrews, the newly appointed Cardinal David Beaton, nephew of Alexander Beaton, and an altogether more cruel and bigoted individual. Here he was faced by John Lauder as his accuser. There were many vehement accusations levelled which Forrest mildly, even meekly, replied to. Chief among the accusations was that he taught his flock in English since they did not understand Latin, and that the Apostle Paul saith

 " that he had rather speak five words to the understanding  and edification of the people than ten thousand in a strange tongue which they understood not."

At this Lauder demanded where it said this, to which Forrest said `In my book here in my sleeve.` Lauder then took hold his sleeve and took out a copy of the New Testament which he triumphantly flourished calling it the book of heresy. It was enough to condemn Forrest  to be burned at the stake in 1538.

Four others were condemned at the same time . John Keilor was a Black Friar who had some poetic talent. His great sin was to compose  a tragedy of Christ in which the hypocrisy of the Popish priests was portrayed  under that of the Pharisees and high priests. This was enacted in Stirling on the Good Friday with the King and Court present. The priests were greatly upset at its cutting sarcasm and led to his indictment for heresy.

John Beveridge was another Black Friar, Sir Duncan Simpson was a secular priest from Stirling; and Robert Forester a gentleman of Stirling. Little is known of these men save that they all favoured the evangelical doctrine and some were also alleged, along with Thomas Forrest, to have attended the marriage of the vicar of Tullibodie, near Alloa. There, it was alleged, they ate meat during Lent and transgressed the commandments of the Church. Desperate as ever to convict, the Court quickly sentenced them to be burnt together on Castle Hill, Edinburgh.

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