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The Age of the Reformation, 1542–1603

Student Notes


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© Learning and Teaching Scotland 2009
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Issue 1: The Reformation of 1560
Issue 2: The reign of Mary, 1561–1567
Issue 3: James VI and the relationship between monarch and kirk
Issue 4: The impact of the Reformation on Scotland, to 1603
The Reformation in Europe
Until about 1500, Christians in Western Europe all belonged to one church, which was led by the Pope. Over the years, the church had become very wealthy, which made it a target for some people who were more interested in the church’s money than in religion. Complaints about the corruption of the church led to protests (by Protestants) across Europe and an attempt to reform it.
Protestants and the Reformation
In 1517, a German priest called Martin Luther protested about some of the practices of the Church that he wanted reformed. The supporters of his protest became known as ‘Protestants’ and the religious movement they started became known as the ‘Reformation’. The religious argument spread from Germany and across much of Europe, as people from every class became interested in it. Some of these people were genuinely interested in religion. Others saw it as a way of getting their hands on the wealth of the Church.
The Catholic Church tried to reform itself and made some reforms, but at the same time Protestants were condemned to death and executed in many countries where Catholics felt threatened by the spread of what they considered to be dangerous, heretical ideas. Protestant ideas continued to spread across Europe and they reached Scotland, where they were popular with those critics of the Catholic Church who did not believe that the Church in Scotland could reform itself.
As a result of the Reformation, Christians in Europe were either Catholics or Protestants. Some countries remained Catholic and others became Protestant. Different forms of Protestantism developed in various countries. There was no central authority that tried to control the spread and development of Protestant ideas throughout Europe, unlike the Papacy based in Rome, which was supposed to control the Catholic Church. Most Catholic countries were in the south, and Protestant countries tended to be in the north. Scotland, in the north, was one of the last countries in Europe to ‘reform’ its Church and become a Protestant country.
The Church in Scotland
The Catholic Church aimed to help the sick and the poor, to educate people and to encourage them to live good lives, so they would achieve salvation and go to Heaven when they died. Over the years, people had given land and money to the Church to obtain indulgences that would offset sins committed on earth and enable the deceased to go to Heaven. The Church had become very wealthy. In addition to rents from its land, the Church collected a special tax. As a result of this, the Church in Scotland was far wealthier than the king. During the reign of James V, the Church had an income of approximately £300,000 a year, while the king had less than £20,000 to pay for governing the country.
Scottish monarchs looked for ways of getting money out of the Church, as did other Scots.
They did this by:
Promoting the Royal Family

Monarchs gave jobs to relatives and other nobles who wanted the income but not the religious duties. These duties were often neglected or some clergy were paid small salaries to do the work.


Some clergy were given several jobs. These ‘pluralists’ collected several salaries but could not do all of the work properly. Again, some clergymen were paid a small salary to do some of the work, while other duties were neglected or even ignored.

Taxing the Church

The Church in Scotland had to pay taxes to the king, as monarchs were keen to extract money from the wealthiest institution in Scotland. To raise the money, the Church rented out its land to local nobles. Ironically, these nobles were often descendants of the people who had originally given the land to the Church.


As a result of these developments, the Church began to face serious problems. Senior positions in the church, which commanded huge incomes, were being taken by nobles whose main interest was not religion. Some ambitious clergymen were reluctant to become parish priests because the work was so poorly paid. The quality of parish

priests therefore declined. Some were accused of not knowing enough to take the religious services. While some parish priests worked hard for the people in their parish, others earned a bad reputation for their attitude to their congregation. Increasingly Scots began to criticise the Church in Scotland because of the behaviour of some of the clergy.

Issue 1: The Reformation of 1560
The nature of the Church in Scotland; attempts at reform; the growth of Protestantism; relationships with France and England; religious conflict; Lords of the Congregation; Treaty of Edinburgh, 1560.

The Reformation in Scotland
The earliest information about Luther’s protest reached east of Scotland trading towns like Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Leith and Edinburgh in the 1520s. His ideas began to attract some support and small groups of reform-minded people began to emerge.
Patrick Hamilton, a relation of the powerful noble Hamilton family, was one of the first people to be punished for preaching Protestantism. The Church accused him of being a ‘heretic’ and he was burned at the stake at St Andrews.
The Church, however, was not vigorous in hunting out Protestants. Only a few people were punished for heresy. Indeed, some clergymen sympathised with Luther’s ideas and encouraged their discussion. England’s conversion to Protestantism in 1534 encouraged the Protestants in Scotland. English translations of the Bible and English Prayer Books were smuggled north and, at times of danger, Scottish Protestants fled to England for safety.
France remained loyal to the Pope. Consequently, the two powerful countries that had affected Scotland for centuries became divided in their religious opinions. This created problems for the Scots. Protestants began to look to England, the ‘Auld Enemy’, for support; Catholics, many of whom did not like France, supported that country because it followed the old religion.
In 1541 James V passed an Act of Parliament for reforming the Church in Scotland. It clearly showed that the church had serious problems, and it instructed the bishops to do something about it. However, the policies of the Scottish kings had done much to cause the problems.
Scotland, England and France
The Auld Alliance
In 1295, Scotland made an alliance with France against England that became known as the ‘Auld Alliance’.
The Treaty of Perpetual Peace
In 1502, King James IV of Scots married the English princess, Margaret Tudor, to bring a ‘perpetual peace’ between the two kingdoms. However, when France and England went to war in 1513, King James IV invaded England to support the Auld Alliance. He was killed at the Battle of Flodden.
Against the Auld Alliance
After Flodden, many Scots turned against the Auld Alliance. They thought that the French used it only when England attacked France and not when England attacked Scotland. Some Scots felt that England would be a better friend. The two countries could trade more easily and avoid the wars that brought ruin to both sides of the border. These two reasons explain why many Scots nobles were reluctant to support James V’s invasion of England in 1542. The Scottish army was defeated at Solway Moss just before King James’s death.
Religion and Politics
After 1534, the relationship between religion and politics became more important. When England converted to Protestantism, this encouraged the growth of Protestant beliefs in Scotland. France, as a Catholic country, helped the Catholic Church to hold back the growth of Protestantism in Scotland.
The Minority of Mary
James V died in 1542, only a week after his daughter, Mary, was born in Linlithgow Palace. There was an immediate problem about who was to run the country for the baby queen. Her mother, Mary of Guise, was not considered suitable for two reasons: she was female and she was French. In fact, Mary of Guise was a member of one of the most powerful families in France at that time.
Mary became queen only six days after her birth. Rival groups of Scottish nobles wanted to run the country. The Kings of England and France supported the different factions in the hope of increasing their influence over Scotland.

Henry VIII of England thought that he had won when he persuaded the Scots to let Mary marry his son. The French encouraged the Scots to think carefully about this marriage treaty. Soon afterwards, the Scots cancelled the wedding. The English then tried to force a marriage by attacking Scotland. After several years of English attacks, the Scots had to call for French help. They also had to agree to Mary marrying the French king’s son, the Dauphin of France.

The Rough Wooing
‘Wooing’ is an old-fashioned word that means much the same as ‘courting’ (courting could lead to marriage). Henry VIII tried to force the Scots into to agreeing to Queen Mary marrying Prince Edward. The Scots called this the ‘Rough Wooing’.
At first Henry VIII encouraged a revolt to replace the Queen’s Regent with someone who would support the English marriage. Henry reached an agreement with the Earl of Angus and some other Scottish nobles in which they agreed that they would encourage Protestantism, put Mary into his hands and make Henry the Protector of Scotland. Henry bribed other Scots noblemen by offering them £200 to £300. This revolt, however, was a failure, and the pro-French faction, led by Cardinal Beaton, had beaten off this attempt by the pro-English faction to seize control.
Henry then invaded Scotland and ordered his army to do as much damage as possible. In 1544, the Earl of Hertford spent two days burning Edinburgh. The English army returned later in the year to attack the Border Abbeys. During the English Reformation, Henry VIII had abolished monasteries and abbeys in England, so his troops did not think twice about burning Scottish ones.
Mary of Guise used French money to offer bigger bribes than Henry VIII – as much as £1000. She ‘persuaded’ the Earl of Angus to change sides and lead the Scottish army. The Scots defeated the English at Ancrum Moor in 1545. Despite that defeat, Henry VIII did not give up. His army returned in the autumn of 1545 to burn the freshly harvested crops in Scotland.
Henry VIII blamed Cardinal Beaton for the failure of his plans. The English king was behind several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate the Cardinal. Beaton was unpopular with some Scots because his government had failed to protect them from Hertford’s invasions. He was particularly unpopular with the Scottish Protestants because he held several church jobs and was paid for each of them. He used this money to provide for his family although, as a priest, he should not have had children and he was persecuting Protestants – he had recently executed the popular preacher, George Wishart.

In May 1545, some Scottish Protestants broke into St Andrews Castle and murdered Cardinal Beaton. They claimed that they were taking revenge for the death of Wishart. They hung the Cardinal’s body out of the window where he had watched Wishart burn a few months earlier. They then pickled the corpse in salt and kept it in the castle’s Bottle Dungeon

The Siege of St Andrews, May 1545–July 1547
Beaton’s murderers remained in St Andrews Castle because it was the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Although the government sent soldiers to besiege the castle, Beaton’s murderers were able to move about the town of St Andrews for several months after the assassination. It was during that time that the Protestant preacher, John Knox, joined them. The Protestants expected help from England but none came. Instead, French soldiers arrived to carry out the siege and on 31 July 1547 the Protestants inside the castle surrendered.
The Battle of Pinkie, 1547
Henry VIII died in January 1547. His young son became King Edward VI of England and Hertford governed the country for him with the new title of ‘Protector Somerset’ (in the same way that a regent was required for the young Queen of Scots). Somerset decided to continue Henry VIII’s policy of pressing the marriage between Mary and Edward by invading Scotland again. In September 1547 he defeated a large Scottish army at the Battle of Pinkie and killed or captured many important Scottish nobles. A large number of Catholic clergymen had joined the Scottish army and were killed during the battle.
At the end of his campaign, instead of withdrawing from Scotland, Somerset put more pressure on the Scots by leaving some English soldiers in Scotland. These English garrisons were dotted along the border and up the East Coast to Broughty Castle near Dundee. Their main base was at Haddington, from where they could easily threaten Edinburgh. These English garrisons encouraged Protestantism by distributing English translations of the Bible and other Protestant books to the local people. For this reason, many Protestants in Scotland overcame their dislike of the English invaders and were quite prepared to tolerate them.
The French Marriage
The Treaty of Haddington, 1548
During the winter of 1547–8, the Scots loyal to Queen Mary decided that they needed French help to drive out the English. It suited France to keep Scotland as an ally against the English, so they were willing to send help, but only on French terms.
The King of France wanted Mary to marry his eldest son and heir, Francis, the Dauphin of France, who at that time was only four years of age. His plan was to unite the crowns of Scotland and France and, in time, Scotland would become a part of France.
The Earl of Arran was the leader of the powerful Hamilton family. He was Mary’s nearest legitimate relative, If the young queen died, he would become King of Scots. In January 1548 the Earl of Arran agreed to persuade the Scottish Parliament to agree to a French marriage for their queen, send Mary to France, allow the French to take over key strongholds in Scotland and accept a French Duchy for himself – he became the Duke of Châtelherault.
In June 1548, about 6000 French soldiers and mercenaries landed at Leith and laid siege to the English garrison at Haddington. During this siege, on 7 July, the Scots and French signed the Treaty of Haddington and agreed to the marriage of Mary and the Dauphin. The French fleet, which had brought the soldiers, then sailed to Dumbarton to take Queen Mary and her four young attendants, Mary Seton, Mary Beaton, Mary Livingstone and Mary Fleming – ‘the Four Marys’ – to France.
The queen sailed from Dumbarton on 7 August and sailed round the Orkney Islands to arrive at Roscoff in France on 13 August 1548. In this way, King Henry II of France managed to achieve everything that Henry VIII had wanted for England.
The French in Scotland
By accepting French help during the ‘Rough Wooing’, the Scots discovered that this caused as many problems as it solved.
Most Scots did not like too much French influence over Scotland: the French were speaking on behalf of Scotland to foreign governments, eg with England; French soldiers were in the key strongholds of Scotland; these French soldiers caused trouble when their pay from France was late; Mary of Guise was ruling Scotland as regent instead of a Scot, Governor Arran; Mary

of Guise was using French officials and the Scottish nobles wanted these jobs.

Mary of Guise’s plans for a new tax
Mary of Guise proposed a new tax. There was a huge outcry, especially from the nobles. The Regent was never able to introduce the new tax. This showed that her authority could be questioned.
Mary of Guise’s religious policy
During the ‘Rough Wooing’, the English encouraged Protestantism by distributing English Bibles and books critical of the Catholic Church. The Church was finding it difficult to deal with such critics. Cardinal Beaton’s murder had removed a very astute man from its leadership. Many Catholic clergy had been killed at the Battle of Pinkie. Many monasteries had been destroyed by the English soldiers.
The new Archbishop of St Andrews, Arran’s half-brother John, did try to make some reforms, but these were not enough to satisfy the Protestant critics and too much for many Catholics.
Lords of the Congregation’
In 1557, some Protestant Lords had started to organise themselves to promote the Protestant religion in Scotland. They hoped for English support after Elizabeth became queen in 1558. More Scottish lords then joined the ‘Lords of the Congregation’.
Beggars’ Summons’
During the winter of 1558–59 anonymous notices were nailed to the doors of many friaries in Scotland. These ‘Beggars’ Summons’ demanded that the friars leave their friaries by next Whitsunday (12 May 1559) claiming that the friars were rich and ungodly and that the needs of the poor were greater.
Mary of Guise, on the advice of the French and the Pope, began to prosecute the reformers. The reformers began to seek secret help from England. In the spring of 1559, the towns of Dundee and Perth announced that they were Protestant towns. Mary of Guise summoned the Protestant preachers to meet her in Stirling on 10 May.
The people of both towns and the landowners in the surrounding countryside began to gather weapons to defy the Regent.
John Knox landed at Leith on 2 May and he made his way to Perth, where he preached at St John’s Church on 11 May. His sermon was followed by a riot. Many religious houses in and around Perth were attacked and their religious statues, shrines and other decorations were smashed. The riots continued the following day, which, according to the ‘Beggars’ Summons’, was ‘Flitting Friday’.
The French arrive
Mary of Guise summoned French soldiers to help her, but their arrival persuaded many Scots to support the Lords of the Congregation instead. More French soldiers were sent to Scotland and these soldiers brought their families. Rumours spread in Scotland that the French intended to drive out the native Scots and settle there themselves. Consequently, more Scots supported the rebels.
The English arrive
The Lords of the Congregation were not strong enough to drive out the French, so they asked Elizabeth for help. She sent £3000 but made it clear she did not approve of subjects rebelling against their rulers.
The Lords of the Congregation soon needed more active help from England because the French were winning. In January 1560, an English fleet saved them from defeat by the French. In March 1560, English soldiers arrived to attack the French base at Leith.

Solving the Crisis
International Discussions
While English and French forces faced each other in Scotland, English and French representatives met to discuss the situation. Mary of Guise claimed that the Lords of the Congregation were revolting against authority to take the throne away from her daughter and give it to somebody else. She knew that Elizabeth of England would not support subjects rebelling against their ruler. She refused to discuss anything until the Lords of the Congregation agreed to obey her.
The Lords of the Congregation claimed that they were rebelling to protect their ‘ancient rights and liberties’ and to protect the Protestant religion but

they were willing to accept the authority of their ruler. The Lords of the Congregation, however, were not willing to stop their rebellion.

International discussions failed until Mary of Guise died on 11 June 1560.
Treaty of Edinburgh, July 1560
The affairs of Scotland were settled in a treaty between England and France: both countries would withdraw their troops; Mary, Queen of Scots, would end her claim to the English throne; the Scots would be left to settle their own affairs; Scotland would be run by seven or eight people chosen by Queen Mary, and five or six chosen by Parliament; the Scots Parliament would be called to settle matters in Scotland.
The Reformation Parliament, August 1560
This Parliament was very different to the usual Scottish Parliaments. Few clergy attended it, but many ‘bonnet lairds’ (small landowners) turned up to support the Reformation.
This Parliament ended the religious arguments in Scotland by accepting the Reformation; ending the Pope’s authority over Scotland; forbidding the Mass in Scotland.
Parliament did not discuss the organisation of the Protestant Church nor what would happen to the property of the Catholic Church.
The Protestant church quite often referred to itself as ‘the Kirk’. This is a useful way of telling the difference between the two organisations.
First Book of Discipline
The Kirk had its own ideas about how it should be organised. Knox and some other ministers laid out their ideas in the First Book of Discipline. Ten superintendents would organise the church in their areas. They would not have any special religious powers so they were different from bishops.
The Kirk would be based on ‘congregations’ (the people who attended each parish church). Congregations would choose their own minister. Congregations would choose some respectable and devout men to be ‘elders’ to help the minister.
All the property of the church (except monasteries) would be transferred to the Kirk. The Kirk would use this money to pay ministers, provide education, and help the poor. The Kirk would take over the universities. The ‘Council of

the Church’ (General Assembly) would make laws for the Kirk. People who had a post in the Catholic Church would be allowed to retain it, and most of any income, for life.

Parliament rejected the First Book of Discipline, mainly because the nobles wanted to keep the Catholic Church’s property. There were many other problems: who would choose the Superintendents – government, nobles or ministers of the Kirk? Would nobles allow congregations to elect ministers? Would the reformed Kirk be able to take over all the property of the old church? Would the Kirk have enough money to do everything it wanted? What would happen if the General Assembly made laws which the ruler did not like?
These issues would cause problems in Scotland and its Kirk for hundreds of years.
Mary in France
During her childhood in France, Mary was brought up as a French princess and groomed to become their next queen. She was already Queen of Scots, but the governing of Scotland was left to her mother, Mary of Guise.
The Royal Marriage, 1558
The marriage of Mary and the Dauphin took place in Nôtre Dame Cathedral in Paris on 24 April 1558. Mary was 16 and Francis was 14.
Before the marriage took place, a marriage treaty had been drawn up between Scotland and France: France and Scotland were to be united; Scots and French were to have dual nationality; Scotland would keep its separate laws, liberties and privileges; if Mary died without children, the throne of Scotland was to go to her closest blood relative.
This meant that Scotland would become an independent country again. The Scots were determined that Scotland would not become just another part of France.
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