Guide to Scotland
   Gateway to the British Isles since 1996
A Brief History of Scotland

Presented by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D.

Chapter 4: Turmoil After The Bruce

It is not too much of a surprise to find that the Reformation took hold of Scotland so readily while it failed to influence Ireland. The Scottish Lowlands was fertile ground for the spread of Protestantism. It was here where most of the wealth and power of Scotland was concentrated, where commerce thrived and where English influence was most felt.

Much has been written about the corruption of the Scottish Church, the wealth amassed by a few leading Bishops and the ignorance of most of the clergy. Suffice to say, that when the newly translated Scriptures were appearing in England, they were eagerly welcomed over the northern border. English influence and settlement had been so pervasive in the Lowlands that, unlike the situation in Wales, an English language Bible had an immediate impact in Scotland, fostering a spontaneous movement of popular dissent that can be called revolutionary.

As in many parts of Europe, the established Church answered the spread of new ideas by executing those who brought them. Patrick Hamilton thus became an early Scottish martyr when he was slowly roasted to death on the orders of the Bishop of St. Andrews in 1528. The fires that burned under Hamilton, however, spread throughout much of the country. It was up to Cardinal Bishop David Beaton, who had ordered them, to try to extinguish them. This proved to be a futile attempt in the face of a whirlwind: Father John Knox had arrived on the scene.

The young priest Knox came to Scotland in 1544 with Protestant leader George Wishart, who had sought refuge on the continent to escape the eager clutches of Bishop Beaton. In addition to his Bible, Knox managed to carry a huge, two-handed sword. He came to conquer with the Word, however, not the sword. His zeal in winning converts gave rise to a period known as The Rough Wooing. Henry VIII (still "the defender of the faith" despite the many reforms being carried out by his lieutenant Thomas Cromwell) had offered a large reward for the murder of Cardinal Beaton. On a charge of participation in Henry's plot, and for collaboration with the English, he had Wishart burned at the stake in 1546. Two months later came revenge; the last words spoken by the Cardinal were "Fie, Fie, All is gone" as he was stabbed to death and his body thrown from a window of his castle at St. Andrews by a group of Protestant leaders.

For his part in the assassination, the young John Knox, who was captured with other conspirators with the aid of a French fleet ordered by Marie de Guise, was sentenced to slave in the ships' galleys, no doubt to await further dispensation. He was released two years later with enthusiasm undimmed. In 1548, the Auld Alliance was immeasurably strengthened when little Mary, Queen of Scots ended her period of moving from place to place for safety by going to France as future bride of the Dauphin. "France and Scotland," stated the French King, (reportedly leaping 'for blitheness') are now one country."

Marie de Guise was determined to stamp out Protestantism in Scotland. She failed, for though an invading English army arrived too late to rescue the Protestant garrison holed up at St. Andrews, it crushed the Royal Scottish army at Pinkie, near Edinburgh. Further hostilities, however, were ended in 1549 by the Treaty of Boulogne between England and France that also effected the withdrawal of English troops from Scotland.

Henry VIII of England died in 1547. His son Edward VI was destined to die early. Strange as it seems in retrospect, it seemed as if the Protestant movement in Scotland would not succeed, especially since the Council of Trent had begun the Church's long-awaited, sorely needed and far-reaching reforms. More important than that, however, was the assumption of the Regency in Scotland by no other than Marie de Guise and the inauguration of a reform-minded Bishop to succeed the murdered Beaton.

Yet, in Scotland, as in many countries in Northern Europe, efforts to turn back the clock and restore the old religion were all too late. Single-minded, hard-nosed individuals, determined to end the corruption of the Church, had been inspired by the Word and John Knox was, perhaps, the most inspired of all. The Treaty of Boulogne gave him the opportunity to continue his Holy work in Scotland. Thousands flocked to his call and eagerly accepted his teachings.

It was thus to an austere, Protestant Scotland where, apart from a few exceptions, (even Christmas and Easter were no longer celebrated as being popish observances) that Catholic Mary returned as Queen in August 1561. Now widowed at age 18, she was no longer Queen of France, but thoroughly French in outlook and education. Her sprightly, impulsive (and apparently highly-sexed) nature quickly put her at odds with the austere, Puritan divines who wished to keep a tight hold on the hearts and minds of the newly-converted Scottish people.

In 1565, Mary's complete lack of foresight caused her to marry her younger cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, who had practically nothing to commend him either as husband or king. Protestants were furious. When Darnley, immature and seemingly completely lacking in wisdom and intelligence, stabbed to death Mary's Italian secretary Riccio in a fit of teenage jealousy, the fires were lit for a never-ending saga of intrigue and misfortune. In 1567, Darnley's body was found in the wreckage of his house at Kirk o Field that had been destroyed in a mysterious explosion. He had been strangled to death.

Heavily implicated in the murder was a "bold, reckless Protestant of considerable charm" James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell, Lord High Admiral of Scotland. Mary then made her second grievous error: she married Bothwell. Now it was Mary's Catholic subjects turn to be furious. The young Queen, upon whom so many hopes had depended, had managed to alienate everybody.

A Protestant army was raised to force Mary to abdicate. And at age 24, after being led in humiliation through the streets of Edinburgh, Mary Queen of Scots gave up her throne in favor of her baby son, who was immediately crowned as James VI. Bothwell's life was saved only by his escape to Norway. The Earl of Moray, James Stewart, Mary's half-brother now became Regent.

Mary, who had been held prisoner by the Scottish lords, made her escape from Lochleven Castle, but the small army she managed to raise was defeated by Moray. She then made another grievous error. She fled to England seeking refuge with the proud and easily jealous Queen Elizabeth and was promptly imprisoned. Mary should have gone to France, for her own claim to the English throne made her a potentially deadly rival to Elizabeth I.

A succession of Regents was now in charge of Scotland while James VI grew and learned his statecraft. A rebellion led by Mary's supporters, the "Queen's Lords" seized strategic Edinburgh Castle in the heart of the Scottish capital; the first two Regents were murdered and one died in office. The Castle held out bravely until recaptured by Morton, the Regent and sworn enemy of the Queen before he, too, was overthrown and executed on the fourteen year-old charge of having murdered Lord Darnley.

The turmoil continued. Morton's removal was the work of a cousin of James, Esme Stewart, now appointed by the minor King as Duke of Lennox and High Chamberlain of Scotland. Despite the overwhelming success of the Protestant Reformation, Lennox was stubbornly and foolishly determined to make a Catholic of the young king and to head a Catholic rising in Britain with the help of France and Spain. His grandiose dreams were thwarted by a group of Scottish nobles who kidnapped James in the Raid of Ruthven, forcing Lennox to flee to France.

The instability in Scotland continued. James escaped from Ruthven and had himself proclaimed King at Edinburgh. At first, he was completely unable to control the warring factions of Protestants and Catholics or to keep a tight reign on his nobles. What ultimately saved his reign, however, was a strong character that had, with so painful a result, eluded Mary, Queen of Scots, his unfortunate mother. The young James had received a sound education in England. With this shrewdness and skill he began to mature as a monarch of Scotland and to assert his right as "Universal King." It seemed that better days were ahead for the Northern Kingdom of the British Isles. However, religious differences had only just begun to interfere in Scottish affairs.

Chapter 5: The Two Crowns