Walter Mill or Mylne, 1558

Walter Mill was born about 1476 and brought up under the cloak of Romanism to become a priest at Lunan in Angus. He was accused by the Archbishop of St Andrews in 1538 of failing to administer the Mass. He avoided punishment  by fleeing to Germany where he married and also became aware of the emerging Protestant movement. Returning to Scotland about 1556 he preached discretely for a couple of years before he was found at Dysart, Fife, by two priests - Sir  George Strauquhen and Sir  Hugh Turrey (or Terry), and imprisoned in the castle at St Andrews. Here priests spent much effort on trying to get him to recant , in the course of which they offered him a comfortable position in the abbey of Dunfermline. Mill was constant and faithful and rejected all the sweet words and inducements.

On 20th April 1558 he was brought to the metropolitan church where he was placed in the pulpit before the assembled throng of bishops and their minions. At the time of his trial he was so old, feeble and lame, that it was feared he would not be heard. However, Mill surprised them all by speaking in ringing tones and demonstrating a quick  and lively mind.

Beginning his defence on his knees in  prayer, Mill was berated by a priest  Sir Andrew Oliphant, for taking too long and demanded he rise and answer the charges. Oliphant`s words were

 " Sir Walter Mill ,arise, and answere to the articles, for you hold my lords heere over long "

which drew from Mill the retort that :

" I ought to obey God rather than man. I serve a mightier Lord than your lord is; and whereas ye call me now Sir Walter, call me now Walter: I have been  too long one of the Pope`s Knights"

Oliphant, as the official accuser, ran through the charges against Mill, including  that he rejected the seven sacraments of the (Catholic) Church, that he was married; he had called  the mass idolatry;  the usual debate on transubstantiation; that he denied the role of bishops; and preached against pilgrimages. It is possible to sense the sarcasm in Mill`s reply to the charge " You preach privately in houses and sometimes in the field? ", to which Mill replied " Yea, and on the sea also; when sailing in a ship."

Walter Mill was another martyr who was subject of illegal action by the priests. Having been condemned the authority to execute was sought from the Provost Patrick Learmonth - who refused to provide it and promptly left town. Mill`s execution was also delayed for one day as it was much opposed by the populace of St Andrews who refused to supply ropes and combustible materials for the fire. The prelates would not, however, be denied their spectacle and a servant of the Archbishop, a man called Alexander Somerville,  acted the part of the temporal judge. The  ropes of the Archbishop`s pavilion were used to bind Mill to the stake.

Mill was taken by Somerville and an armed guard to the appointed place of execution  where he was greeted with cries to recant. These people he regarded as hypocrites and told them so. Oliphant then urged him to go to the stake but Mill turned upon him saying

"No, I will not go, except thou put me up with thy hand, for by the law of God I am forbidden to put hands to myself; but if thouwill put to thy hand, and take part of my death, thou shall see me go up gladly"

Oliphant led Mill up to the stake and in a final spiteful act refused him permission to speak, saying that he had said enough already and that "the bishops were exceedingly displeased with him for what he had said."

But some boys intervened and demanded that Mill speak, which he did standing among the coals of his pyre:

Dear friends, the cause why I suffer this day is not for any crime laid to my charge, though I acknowledge myself a miserable sinner before God; but only for the defence of the truth of Jesus Christ set forth in the Old and New Testaments. I praise God that he hath called me, among the rest of his servants, to seal his truth with my life; as I have received it of him; so I willingly offer it up for his glory; therefore as ye would escape eternal death, be no longer seduced by the lies of bishops, abbots, friars, monks and the rest of that sect of anti-christ, but depend only upon Jesus Christ and his mercy, that so ye may be delivered from condemnation."

The fortitude and  constancy of Mill had a deep and moving effect on the crowd, with many admiring his strength and spirit, and other decrying the cruel punishment on an eighty two year old man. After the deed was done the people heaped stones on the place of execution as a memorial to the bravery of the martyr. But in a further spiteful act the memorial stones were later removed by the clergy during the night, and reused elsewhere in the building of a house.

It has been long held that the martyrdom of Mill was the turning point in the Reformation and brought down Popery in Scotland.

 

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