Scottish Reformation

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Statue of John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation

The Scottish Reformation was Scotland's formal break with the Papacy in 1560, and the events surrounding this. It was part of the wider European Protestant Reformation, and in Scotland's case, it culminated ecclesiastically in the re-establishment of the church along Reformed lines and politically in the triumph of English influence over the Kingdom of France.

The Reformation Parliament of 1560, which repudiated the pope's authority, forbade the celebration of the Mass, and approved a Confession of Faith (the Scots Confession), was made possible by a revolution against French hegemony. Prior to that, Scotland was under the regime of the regent Mary of Guise, who had governed in the name of her absent daughter Mary, Queen of Scots (then also Queen (consort) of France).

The Scottish Reformation decisively shaped the Church of Scotland[1] and, through it, all other Presbyterian churches worldwide.

Pre-Reformation Scotland[edit]

The pre-Reformation Church[edit]

Scotland was decisively Christianised from the sixth century by Irish-Scots missionaries and to a lesser extent those from Rome and England.[2] The church in Scotland attained clear independence from Scotland after the Papal Bull of Celestine III (Cum universi, 1192) by which all Scottish bishoprics except Galloway became formally independent of York and Canterbury and the whole Ecclesia Scoticana, with individual Scottish bishoprics (except Whithorn/Galloway), became the "special daughter of the see of Rome".[3] It was run by special councils made up of all the Scottish bishops, with the bishop of St Andrews emerging as the most important figure.[3] The administration of parishes was often given over to local monastic institutions in a process known as appropriation. By the time of the Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century 80 per cent of Scottish parishes were appropriated.[4] In 1472 St Andrews became the first archbishopric in the Scottish church, to be followed by Glasgow in 1492.[3] The collapse of papal authority in the Papal Schism (1378-1418) allowed the Scottish Crown to gain effective control of major ecclesiastical appointments within the kingdom. This de facto authority over appointments was formally recognised by the Papacy in 1487. This led to the placement of clients and relatives of the king in key positions, including James IV's (r. 1488–1513) illegitimate son Alexander, who was nominated as Archbishop of St. Andrews at the age of 11, intensifying royal influence and also opening the Church to accusations of venality and nepotism.[5] Relationships between the Scottish Crown and the Papacy were generally good, with James IV receiving tokens of papal favour.[3]

Traditional Protestant historiography tended to stress the corruption and unpopularity of the late Medieval Scottish church, but more recent research has indicated the ways in which it met the spiritual needs of different social groups.[5][6] Historians have discerned a decline of monastic life in this period, with many religious houses keeping smaller numbers of monks, and those remaining often abandoning communal living for a more individual and secular lifestyle. The rate of new monastic endowments from the nobility also declined in the fifteenth century.[5][7] In contrast, the burghs saw the flourishing of mendicant orders of friars in the later fifteenth century, who, unlike the older monastic orders, placed an emphasis on preaching and ministering to the population. The order of Observant Friars were organised as a Scottish province from 1467 and the older Franciscans and the Dominicans were recognised as separate provinces in the 1480s.[5]

In most Scottish burghs, in contrast to English towns where churches and parishes tended to proliferate, there was usually only one parish church,[3] but as the doctrine of Purgatory gained importance in the period, the number of chapelries, priests and masses for the dead within them, designed to speed the passage of souls to Heaven, grew rapidly.[8] The number of altars dedicated to saints, who could intercede in this process, also grew dramatically, with St. Mary's in Dundee having perhaps 48 and St Giles' in Edinburgh over 50.[3] The number of saints celebrated in Scotland also proliferated, with about 90 being added to the missal used in St Nicholas church in Aberdeen.[9] New cults of devotion connected with Jesus and the Virgin Mary began to reach Scotland in the fifteenth century, including the Five Wounds, the Holy Blood and the Holy Name of Jesus. There were also new religious feasts, including celebrations of the Presentation, the Visitation and Mary of the Snows.[3][9]

In the early fourteenth century the Papacy managed to minimise the problem of clerical pluralism, by which clerics held two or more livings, which elsewhere resulted in parish churches being without priests, or serviced by poorly trained and paid vicars and clerks. However, the number of poor clerical livings and a general shortage of clergy in Scotland, particularly after the Black Death, meant that in the fifteenth century the problem intensified.[10] As a result, parish clergy were largely drawn from the lower and less educated ranks of the profession, leading to frequent complaints about their standards of education or ability. Although there is little clear evidence that standards were declining, this would be one of the major grievances of the Reformation.[5] Heresy, in the form of Lollardry, began to reach Scotland from England and Bohemia in the early fifteenth century. Lollards were followers of John Wycliffe (c. 1330-84) and later Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415), who called for reform of the Church and rejected its doctrine on the Eucharist. Despite evidence of a number of burnings of heretics and limited popular support for its anti-sacramental elements, it probably remained a small movement.[11] There were also further attempts to differentiate Scottish liturgical practice from that in England, with a printing press established under royal patent in 1507 in order to replace the English Sarum Use for services.[3]

Pressure to reform[edit]

The Martyrs' Monument at Saint Andrews commemorates Protestants executed before the Reformation, including Hamilton and Wishart.

From the fifteenth century, Renaissance humanism encouraged critical theological reflection and calls for ecclesiastical renewal in Scotland. As early as 1495 some Scots were in contact with the leading figure in the northern humanist movement, the Netherlands-born Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536). They were also in contact with the French humanist and scholar Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (c. 1455 – 1536), who like Erasmus argued strongly for reform of the Catholic Church by the elimination of corruption and abuses.[12] Scottish scholars often studied on the Continent and at English universities,[13] and continentally trained humanist scholars were attracted to the new Scottish universities founded at St Andrews, the Glasgow and Aberdeen.[14] These international contacts helped integrate Scotland into a wider European scholarly world and were one of the most important ways in which the new ideas of humanism were brought into Scottish intellectual life.[14] By 1497 the humanist and historian Hector Boece, born in Dundee and who had studied at Paris, returned to become the first principal at the new university of Aberdeen.[13] The continued movement to other universities produced a school of Scottish nominalists at Paris in the early sixteenth century, the most important of whom was John Mair, generally described as a scholastic, but whose Latin History of Greater Britain (1521) was sympathetic to the humanist social agenda. In 1518 he returned to become Principal of the University of Glasgow.[15] Another major figure was Archibald Whitelaw, who taught at St. Andrews and Cologne, becoming a tutor to the young James III and royal secretary from 1462–93. Robert Reid, Abbot of Kinloss and later Bishop of Orkney, was responsible in the 1520s and 1530s for bringing the Italian humanist Giovanni Ferrario to teach at Kinloss Abbey, where he established an impressive library and wrote works of Scottish history and biography.[16] James McGoldrick suggests that there was a circle of "Erasmian-type scholar-reformers" at the royal court in the first decade of the sixteenth century.[13]

From the 1520s the ideas of Martin Luther began to have an impact in Scotland, with Lutheran literature circulating in the east-coast burghs. This led in 1525 to an Act of parliament that banned their importation.[17] In 1527, the English ambassador at Antwerp noted that Scottish merchants were taking William Tyndale's New Testament into Edinburgh and St. Andrews.[18] In 1528 the nobleman Patrick Hamilton, who had been influenced by Lutheran theology while at the universities of Wittenberg and Marburg, became the first Protestant martyr in Scotland when he was burned at the stake for heresy outside St Salvator's College at Saint Andrews.[19] Hamilton's execution only increased interest in the new ideas. The Archbishop of St Andrews was warned against any further such public executions as "the reek [smoke] of Maister Patrik Hammyltoun has infected as many as it blew upon".[20]

After entering his personal reign in 1528, James V avoided pursuing the major structural and theological changes to the church undertaken by his contemporary Henry VIII in England. In exchange for his loyalty to Rome, he was able to utilise the Church as a source of offices for his many illegitimate children and his favourites, particularly David Beaton, who became Archbishop of Saint Andrews and a Cardinal. James increased crown revenues by heavily taxing the church, taking £72,000 in four years. The results undermined both the status and finances of the Church.[21] The Church was was also divided by jurisdictional disputes between Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow and James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews. As a result, in 1536 the first provincial church council called since 1470 failed to achieve major reforms or a united front against heresy.[22] After the execution of Hammilton prosecutions and a small number of executions followed in the 1530s and 1540s, but there was no systematic persecution, with the king uninterested in wide-scale blood letting. As a result there were increasing numbers of lairds and nobles in favour of reform, particularly in Angus, the Mearns, Fife and within St. Andrews University.[23]

In 1541 Parliament passed further legislation protecting the honour of the Mass, prayer to the Virgin Mary, images of the saints, and the authority of the pope.[24] Private meetings of 'heretics where there errors are spread' were prohibited, informers rewarded, and Protestant sympathisers barred from royal office. All this was testimony to the growing attraction of Protestant ideas. The cause of reform also enjoyed influential support. At this time, the clergy produced a list for the king of over a hundred landowners disaffected to the church.

In 1546, George Wishart, a preacher who came under the influence of Zwingli as arrested and burnt at the stake in St. Andrews on the orders of Cardinal Beaton. Wishart's supporters, who included a number of Fife lairds, assassinated Beaton soon after and seized St. Andrews Castle, which they held for a year while under siege, before they were defeated with the help of French forces. The survivors, including chaplain John Knox were condemned to be galley slaves, helping to create resentment of the French and martyrs for the Protestant cause.[25]

Political background (1528–59)[edit]

Main article: Mary, Queen of Scots
Cardinal Beaton, defender of the old faith, and leader of the pro-French faction.

At the beginning of the infant Mary's reign in 1542, the Scottish political nation was divided between a pro-French faction, led by Cardinal Beaton and by the Queen's mother, Mary of Guise; and a pro-English faction, headed by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran.[26] Initially Arran became Regent and were backed by the small "evangelical party" at court, who favoured religious reform. The major result was a Parliamentary Act of 1543 that made legal the reading of the Bible in the vernacular.[27] A planned marriage between the Mary and Edward, the son of Henry VIII of England, that had been agreed under the Treaty of Greenwich (1543), led to a backlash in Scotland and a coup by led by Beaton. Beaton repudiated the reforming policies, and all consideration of an English marriage for the Queen, angering the English,[28] There was the first of a series of English invasions to enforce the match, later known as the "rough wooing", which devastated south-east Scotland.[28]

In 1547 the English under Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset renewed their invasion and defeated the Scots at Pinkie, occupied south-east Scotland with forts at Lauder, Haddington and an outpost at Dundee. This occupation (1547–49) encouraged the reforming cause; the English supplied books and distributed Bibles and Protestant literature in the Lowlands.[29] Several earls pledged themselves 'to cause the word of God to be taught and preached'.[30] To counter the English, the Scots secured French help, the price of which was the betrothal of the infant Queen to the French dauphin, the future Francis II; she departed to France in 1548. At this point, "the policy of Henry VIII had failed completely".[31] French ascendancy was made absolute over the next decade. Arran, in 1554, was given the title Duke du Châtellerault and removed from the regency in favour of Mary of Guise (the Queen Mother). During her regency (1554–59), Frenchmen were put in charge of the treasury, the Great Seal, and the French ambassador sometimes attended the Privy Council.

Reforming Councils[edit]

The Church responded to some of the criticism being made against it. John Hamilton, Archbishop of St Andrews, instigated a series of provincial councils (in 1549, 1552, probably in 1556, and in 1559), modelled on the contemporaneous Council of Trent.[32] These blamed the advance of the Protestant heresies on "the corruption of morals and the profane lewdness of life in churchmen of all ranks, together with crass ignorance of literature and of the liberal arts". In 1548, attempts were made to eliminate concubinage, clerical pluralism, clerical trading, and non-residence, and to prohibit unqualified persons from holding church offices. Further, the clergy were enjoined to scriptural reflection and bishops and parsons instructed to preach at least four times a year. Monks were to be sent to university, and theologians appointed for each monastery, college and cathedral. However, in 1552, it was acknowledged that little had been accomplished. Attendance at Mass was still sparse and "the inferior clergy of this realm and the prelates have not, for the most part, attained such proficiency in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures as to be able by their own efforts rightly to instruct the people in the Catholic faith and other things necessary to salvation or to convert the erring".[33] However; the internal reform seemed too little, too late.

Lords of the Congregation[edit]

Arms of Mary of Guise in the Magdalen Chapel, Edinburgh

At first Mary of Guise cultivated the now-growing number of Protestant preachers. She needed to win support for her pro-French policies, and they could expect no alternative support from England, which had recently come under the rule of the Catholic Mary Tudor. However, the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the dauphin in 1558 heightened fears that Scotland would become a French province.

By 1557, a group of Scottish lords (known as 'the Lords of the Congregation') drew up a covenant to 'maintain, set forth, and establish the most blessed Word of God and his Congregation.' This was followed by outbreaks of iconoclasm in 1558–9. At the same time, plans were being drawn up for a Reformed programme of parish worship and preaching, as local communities sought out Protestant ministers. In 1558, the Regent summoned the Protestant preachers to answer for their teaching, but backed down when lairds from the west country threatened to revolt.

Reformation crisis (1559–60)[edit]

The accession, in England, of the Protestant Queen Elizabeth in 1558 gave fresh hope to the reformers. January 1559 saw the publication of the anonymous Beggars' Summons, which threatened friars with eviction on the grounds that their property belonged to the genuine poor. This was calculated to appeal to the passions of the populace of towns who appeared to have particular complaints against friars.[34] Fearing disorder, the Regent summoned the reformed preachers to appear before her at Stirling on 10 May: insurrection followed. The men of Angus assembled in Dundee to accompany the preachers to Stirling; on 4 May they were joined by Knox recently arrived from France. Here, stirred by Knox's sermons in Perth and Dundee, the mob sacked religious houses (including the tomb of James I) at Perth. In response, the Regent marched on Perth, but was forced to withdraw and negotiate when another reformed contingent arrived from the west.[35]

Among the Regent's ambassadors were the Earl of Argyll and Lord James Stewart, both professed Protestants. When the Regent stationed French mercenaries in Perth, both abandoned her and joined the Lords of the Congregation at St Andrews, where they were joined by John Knox. A French advance was halted at Cupar Muir in June.[36] Even Edinburgh soon fell to them in July, as Mary retreated to Dunbar.[37] A truce was made at Leith Links on 24 July 1559, and the Congregation agreed by the Articles of Leith to vacate Holyroodhouse and hand over the coining irons seized from the mint.[38] On 26 July the Lords left Edinburgh for Linlithgow and Stirling.[39] In September, Chatelherault, with the safe return of his son, the Earl of Arran, accepted the leadership of the Lords of the Congregation and established a provisional government. However, Mary of Guise was reinforced by professional French troops, and in November drove the rebels back to Stirling.[40] Fighting continued in Fife. All seemed lost for the Protestant side until an English fleet arrived in the Firth of Forth in January 1560, causing the French to retreat to Leith.

The 'blast' rendered Knox unacceptable to Elizabeth, although it had been aimed at her predecessor Mary

Negotiations then began (from which Knox was excluded, his earlier tract The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women rendering him unacceptable to Elizabeth I). The resulting Treaty of Berwick (February) was an agreement between Chatelherault and the English to act jointly to expel the French. However, in June 1560 Mary of Guise died, allowing the Treaty of Edinburgh, a negotiated settlement between France and England, which secured the withdrawal of both French and English troops from Scotland. Although the French commissioners were unwilling to treat with the insurgent Lords of the Congregation, they offered the Scots certain concessions from King Francis and Queen Mary, including the right to summon a parliament according to use and custom. The effect of the treaty was to leave power in the hands of the Protestants.

Reformation Parliament[edit]

The Scottish Parliament met in Edinburgh on 10 July 1560. Fourteen earls, six bishops, nineteen lords, twenty one abbots, twenty-two burgh commissioners, and over a hundred lairds claimed right to sit. Parliament then set up a 'committee of the articles' which, after three weeks, recommended a condemnation of transubstantiation, justification by works, indulgences, purgatory, and papal authority. Furthermore it recommended restoring the perceived discipline of the early Church and redistributing the wealth of the Church to the ministry, schools and the poor. On 17 August, Parliament approved a Reformed Confession of Faith (the Scots Confession), and on 24 August it passed three Acts that abolished the old faith in Scotland. Under these, all previous acts not in conformity with the Reformed Confession were annulled; the sacraments were reduced to two (Baptism and Communion) to be performed by reformed preachers alone; the celebration of the Mass was made punishable by a series of penalties (ultimately death) and Papal jurisdiction in Scotland was repudiated.

However, aside from approving the Confession, parliament showed little interest in plans for the reformation of the church. Significantly, although the traditional functions of the Catholic clergy had been terminated, the clerical estate remained legally intact and, more importantly, in possession of the revenues of the pre-Reformation Church. What shape the new church was to take was left open, and indeed was not finally settled until 1689.[41] Moreover, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the Queen declined to endorse even the acts that Parliament had passed, which were not officially ratified until the first parliament of James VI in 1567. Nevertheless, from this point on, Scotland was, in effect, a Protestant state.

Post-Reformation church[edit]

Confession of faith[edit]

Main article: Scots Confession
Religious iconography had a greater chance of survival in the Reformation if it belonged to a private residence, like this mid-16th century oak panel carving from a house in Dundee. It shows some of what was lost in the iconoclasm.

Unlike the earlier reformers, who were Lutheran, Knox and most of those surrounding him were firm in their practice of Calvinism. (Knox had travelled to Calvin's Geneva during his exile from Scotland, and described it as "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the Apostles."[42]) The Scots Confession reflects that Calvinist influence, although without the systematic and scholastic nature of the more strident Westminster Confession that would replace it in 1644. The Scots Confession expounds the themes of the Catholic creeds, but also includes a rejection of any meritorious virtue: all good works are brought forth by the spirit. It also rejects all religious works that have no Scriptural warrant, including the rites of the Roman church. As for the church, it derived its authority from the word of God and was to be defined by "true preaching of the word of God ... secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus ... last, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered".[43]


Parliamentary hostility meant there was no question of any Act of Uniformity as in England. Thus, the shape the Church initially took was dependent on local Protestant patrons. However, even before 1560, reformed congregations had already been organising themselves under the influence of Knox. In a 'Letter of Wholesome Councell' dated 1556, Knox described in detail what should be done at weekly worship. Protestant preachers fleeing Marian persecutions in England brought with them Edward VI's second Book of Common Prayer (of 1552), which was commended by the Lords of the Congregation. Knox too initially supported it (indeed reportedly, he had influenced aspects of it). However, before leaving Geneva, and with the encouragement of Calvin, he had written his own 'Book of Common Order' and it was this that was printed and approved by the General Assembly of 1562. Enlarged, it was reprinted with the Confession and the Psalms in metre in 1564, and it remained the standard until replaced with the Westminster Directory in 1643.[44]

Church Polity[edit]

How the Church was ideally to be organised was spelled out in the First Book of Discipline (1560), a document which set about organising both the Church and national life in accordance with the Reformed understanding of Scripture. It envisaged the establishment of reformed ministers throughout Scotland, a national system of education and poor-relief. Ministers were to be examined for their suitability and then elected by the local congregation.[45] In the interim, whilst candidates were scarce, 'readers' were to be appointed. Also, there were to be 'superintendents', better paid than ministers, with regional responsibilities corresponding to the old dioceses. (It has often been suggested from this that Knox favoured episcopacy – however, it is to be remembered that Apostolic succession was explicitly denied.[46]) Education was to be established at primary, secondary and university levels; it was to be examined and inspected.

The lofty aims often went unrealised, or at least only very slowly.[47] An Act of 1562 denied the new Church much of the wealth of the old, with the church receiving a sixth of the income that it had received pre-Reformation with most of the balance going to the nobility.[48] As late as 1567, there were only 257 ministers and 600 readers for 1,067 churches.[49] The marks of what is now recognisable as Presbyterianism also started to emerge: Kirk Sessions existed from 1560, moderators emerged in 1563, but the presbytery not until 1580. By the 1590s Scotland was organized into about fifty presbyteries with about twenty ministers in each. Above them stood a dozen or so synods and at the apex the general assembly.[50] The seeds were planted for the modern shape of the Church of Scotland.



Rare example of stained glass that survived the Reformation, in the Magdalen Chapel, Edinburgh

Scotland's ecclesiastical art paid a heavy toll as a result of Reformation iconoclasm, with the almost total loss of medieval stained glass, religious sculpture and paintings.[51] The only significant surviving pre-Reformation stained glass in Scotland is a window of four roundels in the St. Magdalen Chapel of Cowgate, Edinburgh, completed in 1544.[52] Wood carving can be seen at King's College, Aberdeen and Dunblane Cathedral.[53] In the West Highlands, where there had been a hereditary caste of monumental sculptors, the uncertainty and loss of patronage caused by the rejection of monuments in the Reformation meant that they moved into another branches of the Gaelic learned orders or took up other occupations. The lack of transfer of carving skills is noticeable in the decline in quality when gravestones were next commissioned from the start of the seventeenth century.[54] According to N. Prior, the nature of the Scottish Reformation may have had wider effects, limiting the creation of a culture of public display and meaning that art was channelled into more austere forms of expression with an emphasis on private and domestic restraint.[55]


Burntisland Parish Kirk, its original wooden steeple now replaced by one of stone

From about 1560, the Reformation revolutionised church architecture in Scotland. Calvinists rejected ornamentation in places of worship, seeing no need for elaborate buildings divided up for the purpose of ritual. This resulted in the widespread destruction of Medieval church furnishings, ornaments and decoration.[56] New churches were built and existent churches adapted for reformed services, particularly by placing the pulpit centrally in the church, as preaching was at the centre of worship. Many of the earliest buildings were simple gabled rectangles, a style that continued into the seventeenth century, as at Dunnottar Castle in the 1580s, Greenock (1591) and Durness (1619).[57] These churches often have windows on the south wall (and none on the north), which became a characteristic of Reformation kirks. There were continuities with pre-Reformation materials, with some churches using rubble for walls, as at Kemback in Fife (1582). Others employed dressed stone and a few added wooden steeples, as at Burntisland (1592).[58] The church of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, built between 1602 and 1620, used a rectangular layout with a largely Gothic form, but that at Dirleton (1612), had a more sophisticated classical style.[57] A variation of the rectangular church developed in post-Reformation Scotland, and often used when adapting existing churches, was the "T"-shaped plan, which allowed the maximum number of parishioners to be near the pulpit. Examples can be seen at Kemback and Prestonpans after 1595. This plan continued to be used into the seventeenth century as at Weem (1600), Anstruther Easter, Fife (1634–44) and New Cumnock, Ayreshire (1657). In the seventeenth century a Greek cross plan was used for churches such as Cawdor (1619) and Fenwick (1643). In most of these cases one arm of the cross would have been closed off as a laird's aisle, meaning that they were in effect "T"-plan churches.[57]


A reprint of the 1600 cover of The Gude and Godlie Ballatis

The Reformation had a severe impact on church music. The song schools of the abbeys, cathedrals and collegiate churches were closed down, choirs disbanded, music books and manuscripts destroyed and organs removed from churches.[51] The Lutheranism that influenced the early Scottish Reformation attempted to accommodate Catholic musical traditions into worship, drawing on Latin hymns and vernacular songs. The most important product of this tradition in Scotland was The Gude and Godlie Ballatis (1567), which were spiritual satires on popular ballads composed by the brothers James, John and Robert Wedderburn. Never adopted by the kirk, they nevertheless remained popular and were reprinted from the 1540s to the 1620s.[59]

Later the Calvinism that came to dominate the Scottish Reformation was much more hostile to Catholic musical tradition and popular music, placing an emphasis on what was biblical, which meant the Psalms. The Scottish Psalter of 1564 was commissioned by the Assembly of the Church. It drew on the work of French musician Clément Marot, Calvin's contributions to the Strasbourg Psalter of 1529 and English writers, particularly the 1561 edition of the Psalter produced by William Whittingham for the English congregation in Geneva. The intention was to produce individual tunes for each psalm, but of 150 psalms, 105 had proper tunes and in the seventeenth century, common tunes, which could be used for psalms with the same metre, became more frequent. Because whole congregations would now all sing these psalms, unlike the trained choirs who had sung the many parts of polyphonic hymns,[59] there was a need for simplicity and most church compositions were confined to homophonic settings.[60]

During his personal reign James VI attempted to revive the song schools, with an act of parliament passed in 1579, demanding that councils of the largest burghs set up "ane sang scuill with ane maister sufficient and able for insturctioun of the yowth in the said science of musik". Five new schools were opened within four years of the act coming into force, and by 1633 there were at least twenty-five. Most of those without song schools made provision within their grammar schools.[61] Polyphony was incorporated into editions of the Psalter from 1625, but usually with the congregation singing the melody and trained singers the contra-tenor, treble and bass parts.[59] However, the triumph of the Presbyterians in the National Covenant of 1638 led to an end of polyphony, and a new psalter in common metre, without tunes, was published in 1650.[62] In 1666 The Twelve Tunes for the Church of Scotland, composed in Four Parts (which actually contained 14 tunes), designed for use with the 1650 Psalter, was first published in Aberdeen. It would go through five editions by 1720. By the late seventeenth century these two works had become the basic corpus of the psalmody sung in the kirk.[63]

Popular religion[edit]

The North Berwick Witches meet the Devil in the local kirkyard, from a contemporary pamphlet, Newes From Scotland

Scottish Protestantism was focused on the Bible, which was seen as infallible and the major source of moral authority. Many Bibles were large, illustrated and highly valuable objects. In the early part of the century the Genevan translation was commonly used.[64] In 1611 the Kirk adopted the Authorised King James Version and the first Scots version was printed in Scotland in 1633, but the Geneva Bible continued to be employed into the seventeenth century.[65] Bibles often became the subject of superstitions, being used in divination.[66] Kirk discipline was fundamental to Reformed Protestantism and it probably reached a high-water mark in the seventeenth century. Kirk sessions were able to apply religious sanctions, such as excommunication and denial of baptism, to enforce godly behaviour and obedience. In more difficult cases of immoral behaviour they could work with the local magistrate, in a system modelled on that employed in Geneva.[67] Public occasions were treated with mistrust and from the later seventeenth century there were efforts by kirk sessions to stamp out activities such as well-dressing, bonfires, guising, penny weddings and dancing.[68]

In the late Middle Ages there were a handful of prosecutions for harm done through witchcraft, but the passing of the Witchcraft Act 1563 made witchcraft, or consulting with witches, capital crimes.[69] The first major series of trials under the new act were the North Berwick witch trials, beginning in 1589, in which James VI played a major part as "victim" and investigator.[70] He became interested in witchcraft and published a defence of witch-hunting in the Daemonologie in 1597, but he appears to have become increasingly sceptical and eventually took steps to limit prosecutions. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands, were tried for witchcraft in this period; a much higher rate than for neighbouring England. There were major series of trials in 1590–91, 1597, 1628–31, 1649-50 and 1661–62. Seventy-five per cent of the accused were women and modern estimates indicate that over 1,500 persons were executed.[71]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Article 1, of the Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland 1921 states 'The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation'.
  2. ^ R. A. Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity (University of California Press, 1999), ISBN 0520218590, pp. 231-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h P. J. Bawcutt & J. H. Williams, A Companion to Medieval Scottish Poetry (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2006), ISBN 1843840960, pp. 26-9.
  4. ^ A. Macquarrie, Medieval Scotland: Kinship and Nation (Thrupp: Sutton, 2004), ISBN 0-7509-2977-4, pp. 109-117.
  5. ^ a b c d e J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0748602763, pp. 76-87.
  6. ^ D. M. Palliser, The Cambridge Urban History of Britain: 600-1540 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 0521444616, pp. 349-50.
  7. ^ Andrew D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, p. 246.
  8. ^ Andrew D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, p. 254.
  9. ^ a b C. Peters, Women in Early Modern Britain, 1450-1640 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), ISBN 033363358X, p. 147.
  10. ^ Andrew D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, pp. 244-5.
  11. ^ Andrew D. M. Barrell, Medieval Scotland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), ISBN 052158602X, p. 257.
  12. ^ James Edward McGoldrick, Luther's Scottish Connection (Associated University Presse, 1989), ISBN 0838633579, p. 28.
  13. ^ a b c B. Webster, Medieval Scotland: the Making of an Identity (New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1997), ISBN 0-333-56761-7, pp. 124–5.
  14. ^ a b J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0-7486-0276-3, pp. 68–72.
  15. ^ R. Mason, "Renaissance and Reformation: the sixteenth century", in J. Wormald, Scotland: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), ISBN 0-19-162243-5, p. 100.
  16. ^ A. Thomas, "The Renaissance", in T. M. Devine and J. Wormald, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), ISBN 0-19-162433-0, pp. 196–7.
  17. ^ J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0748602763, p. 91.
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  19. ^ J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, pp. 164-6.
  20. ^ Mackie, J. D., History of Scotland, Penguin, 1964, p. 151.
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  22. ^ J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, p. 129.
  23. ^ J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, pp. 144-5.
  24. ^ Alec Ryrie, The Origins of the Scottish Reformation (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), ISBN 0719071054, p. 42.
  25. ^ M. F. Graham, "Scotland", in A. Pettegree, The Reformation World (London: Routledge, 2000), ISBN 0-415-16357-9, p. 414.
  26. ^ J. Wormald, Court, Kirk, and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991), ISBN 0-7486-0276-3, p. 100.
  27. ^ J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, p. 159.
  28. ^ a b A. Grant and K. J. Stringer, Uniting the Kingdom?: the Making of British History (Psychology Press, 1995), ISBN 3-03910-948-0, pp. 115–6.
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  30. ^ James Kirk, Patterns of reform: continuity and change in the Reformation kirk (T. & T. Clark, 1989), p. 11.
  31. ^ J. D. Mackie, A History of Scotland (Penguin 1964), p. 144.
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  35. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), 212–3, 215, James Croft to English council, 19 & 22 May & 5 June 1559.
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  41. ^ Burleigh, J. H. S., A Church History of Scotland, p. 153.
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  43. ^ Scots Confession chapter 18.
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  45. ^ First Book of Discipline chapt. 4.
  46. ^ First Book of Discipline chapt. 5.
  47. ^ Knox claimed that the book was commissioned by Parliament itself, but that they declined to enact it. Knox, K. History of the Reformation (ed. W.C Dickinson 1949), i, 343.
  48. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Established Church of Scotland". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
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References and further reading[edit]

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) online; short scholarly biographies of all the major people
  • Brown, K. M. "In Search of the Godly Magistrate in Reformation Scotland," Journal of Ecclesiastical History (1989) 40#1, pp. 553–81.
  • Burleigh, J. H. D A Church History of Scotland Hope Trust, Edinburgh, 1988.
  • Cross, F.L. and Livingstone, E.A. (eds), "Scotland" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, pp. 1471–73. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997. ISBN 0-19-211655-X.
  • Kellar, Clare. Scotland, England & the Reformation: 1534–61 (2003), 257pp
  • Kirk, J., Patterns of Reform T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1989 ISBN 0-567-09505-3.
  • Kirk, J.,Reformation, Scottish in Cameron, Nigel M. de S. et al., Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, pp. 693–98. T & T Clark, Edinburgh 1993. ISBN 0-567-09650-5.
  • Kyle, Richard G. "The Christian Commonwealth: John Knox's Vision for Scotland." Journal of religious history (1991) 16#3 pp 247–259.
  • Lamont, Stewart. The Swordbearer: John Knox and the European Reformation Hodder and Stoughton, London 1991
  • Lynch, Michael. "Reformation" in The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, pp. 500–4. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-211696-7.
  • MacDonald, Ian R. The Jacobean Kirk, 1567–1625: Sovereignty, Liturgy and Polity (Aldershot, 1998),
  • Mackie, J. D. A History of Scotland, Penguin, London 1964.
  • McGovern, Mary (ed), Chambers Biographical Dictionary Seventh Edition. Chambers, Edinburgh, 2002. ISBN 0-550-10051-2.
  • Mullan, David G. Scottish Puritanism, 1590–1638 (Oxford, 2000)
  • Park, Jae-Eun, "John Knox's Doctrine of Predestination and Its Practical Application for His Ecclesiology", Puritan Reformed Journal, 5, 2 (2013): 65-90 .
  • Todd, Margo. The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Wormald, Jenny. Court, Kirk and Community: Scotland, 1470–1625 (London, 1981)

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]