[Narratives from Criminal Trials Contents]
FOR reasons which it is unnecessary to examine on this occasion, the establishment of the Reformation in Scotland was an extremely rapid operation. On the morning of the 23rd of August, 1560, the Romish hierarchy was nominally in full existence; ere eve, it had become penal to perform its rites. In a convention, or parliament assembled without royal authority, the act, establishing the reformed polity, was passed as a trophy of victory over the beaten cause of the Catholics, and their head, the Queen-mother, Mary of Guise. It was provided by that act, “That no manner of person or persons say mass, nor yet hear mass, nor be present thereat, under pain of confiscation of all their goods, move able and immoveable, and punishing of their bodies at the discretion of the magistrate within whose jurisdiction such persons happen to be apprehended, for the first fault; banishment furth of the realm for the second fault; and justifying to the death for the third fault.” The adhesion of the clergy was rapidly transferred to the new order; and a scholar of local celebrity, Ninean Winzet, who stuck to the old faith, and held a stout controversy with Knox, said he marvelled within himself how Christian men, who had been for so many years teaching and preaching what they professed to hold as the truth, “in one month’s space, or thereby, should be changed so proudly in so many high matters;” and informs us that “at Pasche, and certain Sundays after, they teached with great appearing zeal, and ministered the sacraments unto us in the Catholic manner; and by Whit-Sunday they change their standard to our plain contrare.”1
It has been frequently remarked, that the early acts of the Scottish parliament were seldom enforced in all their severity. They are not to be confounded with the English statutes, which the common-law judges were held bound to put in force, without question, as a subordinate officer obeys the orders of his military commander. These Scottish acts were passed in a much less solemn and formal manner, and are often to be held rather as a cry of triumph by a victorious party, than a law which is to be enforced. Thus, the statute-book, with its punishment of death for repeated celebration of the mass, exhibits an intolerance which the criminal records do not second, save in one remarkable instance.
The earliest trial for an offence against the Reformation, appears to be that of Master William Balfour, indweller in Leith, indicted on the 24th of December, 1561, for rioting to restore the Popish religion. In this, and other trials which follow it, the difficulty of making poor Queen Mary prosecute her subjects for following her own religion, was ingeniously obviated. It was set forth, as her majesty’s pleasure, that nothing should be done to disturb the religion which was found publicly and universally established on her arrival in her kingdom. One of the charges against Balfour was for making “a wadset with the Laird of Waters” that the Reformed religion would be utterly abolished in two years. A wadset is an old form of mortgage on land, and it appears, in this case, to have been the instrument of a sort of bet. There was a more serious charge, that “he, accompanied by certain wicked persons, sowers of discord, and raisers of tumult, on set purpose came to the parish kirk of Edinburgh, called St. Giles’s kirk, where John Carnys was examining the common people of the burgh before the last communion ministrate therein, according to the order taken and appointed by the minister, elders, and deacons of the said kirk. And the said John being demanding of a poor woman “if she had any hope of salvation by her own good works,” the said Master William, in despiteful manner and with thrawen countenance – having nothing to do at that time in the said kirk but to trouble the said examination – said to the said John these words: “Thou demands of that woman the thing whilk thou, nor non of thy opinion, allows nor keeps;” and after gentle admonition made to him by the said John, he said to him also these words: “Thou art ane very knave, and thy doctrine is very false, as all your doctrine and teaching is;” and therewith laid his hand upon his weapon, provoking battle, doing therethrough that was in him to have raised tumult among the inhabitants of this burgh.”2 The punishment awarded against this zealous and too keen disputant is not mentioned.
On the 19th of May, 1563, a large number of persons were brought to trial for a violent attempt to restorc Popery in Ayrshire and the adjacent western counties. It was said that they came to certain parish churches to aid the celebration of the abolished superstition, to the number of two hundred persons, with jacks, spears, guns, and other weapons. The punishment was not so flagrantly severe as that usually inflicted by a victorious belligerent party. It was levelled only against the leaders, and consisted in imprisonment during pleasure.
Along with the rioters, some ecclesiastics, with the Archbishop of St. Andrew’s at their head, were tried. They “came to will,” as it is termed, confessed to acts which made them amenable to the law, and negotiated a sort of compromise, finding security to enter themselves in ward. This was something like the French practice of banishing to an estate, province, or particular dwelling-place. On the whole, whatever the letter of the law might say, the treatment of the beaten by the victorious party was characterised by good-nature. It must be remembered, however, that the queen of the realm, so far as she was permitted, adopted the rites of the worship which had so suddenly become criminal, and that the preponderance of Protestantism was more apparent than real. The lords of the congregation – especially those who had possessed themselves of great landed estates from the temporalities of the Church – were ill at ease, and ever under an apprehension that the balance might turn against them.
Though the punishments were lenient, however, this trial is remarkable, from its showing how quickly the Roman Catholic priesthood were driven to and adopted the humblest spots for the celebration of their worship, when they could no longer command the cathedral or the abbey church. The party, with the archbishop at their head, were charged with having performed clerical functions in Paisley, where the remains of the magnificent and highly-decorated abbey church attest the former splendour of the haughty Clunecensian monks. There they “openly, publicly, and plainly, took auricular confession of the said persons, in the said kirk-toun, kirk-yard, chambers, barns, middens, and killogies [kilns] thereof; and therethrow making alteration and innovation in the state of religion, whilk our sovereign lady found publicly standing, and professed at her majesty’s arrival within this realm foresaid, ministering and abusing irreverently and indecently the sacraments of holy kirk, namely the sacraments of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus, otherwise and after another order nor the public and general order of this realm.”3
The archbishop engaged in this affair was John Hamilton, a natural son of the Earl of Arran, whose history cuts no mean figure in the politics of that wild age. The Protestant party owed him little gratitude, for he had been instrumental in the death of the protomartyr, Robert Mill, and was said to have provided the rope with which he was bound to the stake – a contribution which no more fitting hand would make. His biographers mention his imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle for his offence against the Reformation statutes, and his release at the earnest intercession of Queen Mary. His memory was afterwards suspiciously connected with the great tragedy which darkens the history of his unhappy sovereign. He was specially invested with the consistorial authority, over marriages and other kindred matters, which had been removed from the clergy; and it has been shown by historical critics that this was done to enable him to dissolve the marriage of the notorious Bothwell, in order that Queen Mary might be allied to her husband’s murderer. In the course of the conflicts which followed, the archbishop was caught at the capture of Dumbarton Castle. Several accusations were brought against him, and among them was a connivance at the murder of Darnley. How far it was true that his severance of Bothwell’s marriage tie was the completion of a transaction begun in the death of his rival, the world had no opportunity of ascertaining. It was found unnecessary to go into the charges, or take the trouble of proving his guilt; for there stood against him an attainder by parliament, which, passed in a moment of party triumph and hot excitement, condemned him to death, after the manner of parliament, without evidence. On this authority he was hanged, amidst the exultation and ribaldry of those who hated him, his party, and his religion.4 The punishment inflicted on Hamilton for the exercise of his religious rites, was, as we have seen, a slight one. But, in estimating the usage which the followers of the old faith received at the hands of their Protestant opponents, we are warned by such events as this execution not to forget that there were so many other means of striking the supporters of Catholicism and the queen, that it was unnecessary to enter on tedious inquiries about religion, faith, and rituals.
It scarcely comes within the scope of this account, which refers to criminal proceedings for the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion, to enter on the conflicts with the Catholic lords in the reign of King James; but though the discussion has much more of a political than a religious character, the tenor of the proceedings against the Roman Catholics will be better understood by a personal reference to them. While the denunciatory statute, and several others following it from time to time, were in force, and the legislature acknowledged none but Protestants in the land, many of the great territorial lords, who were nearly absolute on their own estates, retained their adherence to the ancient worship, and encouraged and protected their followers who kept in the same faith. The Earl of Huntly, who exercised an authority almost regal over territories, highland and lowland, in the north, was at the head of the body who were called the Catholic Lords.
At the juncture of the Spanish armada, the knowledge that there existed such a formidable body, and certain occasional glimpses obtained into mysterious correspondence and combinations with which they were associated, were very alarming to England and to the Scottish Protestants. But, in that moment of intense anxiety and excitement, the most formidable consideration of all was, that the king might be inclined to their side, and that of the cruel Spaniards. The balance turned in favour of Elizabeth, England, and Protestantism; but it is impossible to read the annals, and especially the letters and state papers of the period, without noticing how sensibly it wavered. It is at such a juncture, when all kinds of horrors were within the expectation of the Protestants, that one can most readily excuse any outbreak of bigoted ferocity against the abettors of the cruel King of Spain; but, in reality, it was a time when the Catholics were treated with comparative leniency – for they had become powerful, having in a great measure gathered up their strength after the prostration accompanying the Reformation victory of 1560. In the end, however, it was necessary for the king to take a side. He marched northwards, and overthrew the Catholic lords in battle. There was an outcry among the more violent Presbyterians to put the idolaters to death; but, though few political executions of that day would have been better justified, a more lenient course was pursued. The Presbyterian clergy charged the king with a countenancing of Popery, and they were not far wrong; for we now know that he was determined, if possible, not to break entirely with the Roman Catholic party, and lose their aid, should it be necessary, in lifting him on the throne of England.
In the year 1592, some secret information led to a search after a person named Ker, who was supposed to be attempting to leave Scotland by the west coast, with important documents in his possession. The minister of Paisley, accompanied by an armed force, was so successful as to apprehend him in one of the Cumbray Isles, in the Frith of Clyde. A set of mysterious slips of paper were found in his possession, which are known in history by the name of “The Spanish Blanks.” They were technically described as “aught blanks in paper: twa thereof subscribed by the said Earl of Angus allenarly; other twa by the said Earl of Huntly allenarly; and other two by the said three Earls and Laird of Auchindoun – all sent to Spain. Whilks blanks has no designation on the back, nor declaration of the causes for which they were sent – but blank and white paper, on both the sides except the said subscriptions.” The following is a specimen of these brief mysterious documents:
“De vostre Majestie tres humble
et tres obesant serviteur
Guillame comple de Anguss.”
Some of the astute statesmen of the day tested the paper with chemical preparations, under the supposition that they would divulge some inscription penned with sympathetic ink – but without success. Ker was put to the torture, and from his confession, and some more explicit documents which were intercepted, a conclusion was adopted that the blanks were to be filled up with offers of aid and allegiance to the King of Spain, should he land with a force in Scotland. Among the more distinct letters which were disclosed, some contained overtures to the King of Spain and the Prince of Parma. Neither the originals nor authenticated copies of these documents are known to be extant, and they are to be seen only through the questionable medium of a translation published in Scotland at the time.5 Among these, a long confidential communication to the Duke of Parma, by an agent bearing the high historic name of Robert Bruce, was calculated to raise much alarm and indignation. The writer says, with a sort of sordid earnestness: “As for me, albeit I speak not willingly to the disadvantage of any whatsomever – chiefly of them whom I have recommended, as I did the said Thomas Tyrie to the said Don Bernardino – yet I will prefer the love of the truth to men, and would not, in concealing thereof, bring prejudice to the public weal, nor the fidelity that one oweth to others, – and especially to that we owe all to the King of Spain and your highness, to whom I am presently servant particularly addicted, by the obligation of five hundred crowns of fee, and forty for monthly entertainment, whilk it has pleased your highness to give me; by reason whereof I am the more bound to give your honour most humble thanks, and to endeavour myself to deserve, by most humble and faithful services, as well the said entertainment as the recompense it has pleased your highness to promise me of your grace and favour.”
He gave – or rather, it should be said, he was represented as giving – the following somewhat alarming, and, to the other side, aggravating account of the policy of his order:
“It is no small marvel, considering the means the heretics has to harm us, and their worldly wit so far passing ours, and their evil-will and intention against us, that we subsist. Truly, we cannot but attribute the effect thereof to God, who then, when the certain news of the returning of the army of Spain, by the back of Ireland, were dispersed through this country, and the heretics of the faction of England triumphant, and the constancy in the outward profession of the Earl of Huntly and others was brangled, caused the Earl of Angus to die, who was chief of the English faction; and the self-same time suscitate some dissension among the heretics, by reason of some offices that some pretended to usurp above others at court; and, by the instant prayers and holy persuasions of two fathers – Jesuits – converted to our holy faith two heretic earls, of the first of authority and power among them; the one whereof is called the Earl of Errol, constable of Scotland, converted by Father Edmond Hay; the other, called the Earl of Crauford, converted by the said father, William Crichton. They are both able and wise young lords, and most desirous to advance the Catholic faith and your enterprises in this isle, whilk they are deliberate to testify to his majesty Catholic and your highness by their own letters – whilk, by the grace of God, I shall send by the first commodity. In the mean time they have required me to make you offer of their most humble and most affectionate service, promising to follow whatsomever the said Jesuits and I shall think good to be done for the conservation of the Catholics, and to dispose and facilitate the execution of your enterprises here, whilk they may do more easily nor they that are known to be Catholics – whose actions are ever suspicious to the heretics for their religion, whereof these two earls have not yet made outward profession; but in that, as in the rest, they submit themselves to our will, and to that we find most expedient. The said fathers of that company makes great fruit in Scotland; and so soon as ane lord or other person of importance is converted by them, they dispose and incline in the very mean time their affection to the service of the King of Spain and your highness, as a thing inseparably conjoined with the advancement of the true religion in this country.”
The punishments which followed the exposure of the Spanish blanks were not deemed sufficient by the Presbyterian clergy, then triumphant and strong. They demanded of the king that Popery should be exterminated; and as he did not comply with their desire, they preached and prayed against him very vehemently; among other things, beseeching that “by some sanctified plagues he might be turned again to God.” The modern Solomon had, indeed, at that time plagues enough. That turbulent and riotous nobleman, Bothwell, sometimes taking part with the Presbyterians, and sometimes with the Catholics, would startle the poor king of a night by battering with a huge hammer at the palace-door, or would be found with his sword drawn actually behind the hangings in the royal bedroom. The Presbyterians were abusing and threatening the monarch on the one side; the Roman Catholics, on the other, were in arms, and laying plots with foreign powers. Frightened by the vehemence of the Edinburgh preachers, and mistaking, in his terror, the character of some little acts of turbulence which had no actual reference to himself, he fled out of the city, and spoke of creating a capital elsewhere. Nor would he return, till the fear of losing the ever-desired privilege of being the home of the court, made the substantial citizens of Edinburgh implore him to relent, after having in some degree mollified the fierceness of the divines who had driven him forth. A curious and mysterious little historical episode, intimately connected with the conduct and the trials of the Catholics, now occurred. James, in returning to his capital, somewhat humbled the Presbyterians, and created a reaction against the act for establishing the Presbyterian polity, which he and his courtiers had, a year or two before, not in very good faith, sanctioned. In fact, he was taking gradual steps for the restoration of Episcopacy, and the Presbyterians knew it. The Earls of Huntly, Angus, and Errol, who had been so deep in the Popish conspiracies, had not been pardoned, though they were unpunished. They desired a reconciliation with the king – that is, they desired to be relieved from apprehension; and with an air of surpassing candour, they proffered their willingness to be converted to the Protestant faith, by any Presbyterian divine who should be successful in establishing the truth of his own faith and the falsity of theirs. Of the theological arguments by which they were vanquished no account seems to be preserved; but there is extant a short and impatient letter by James, telling them that they must turn Protestants, and turn at once. “I must love,” he says, “myself and my own estate better than all the world. And think not that I will suffer any professing a contrary religion to dwell in this land.”6
At last the Popish lords announced that they were converted, and a great ceremony inaugurated their solemn renunciation of idolatry and adoption of the tenets of the Reformation, in the old church of St. Nicholas, in Aberdeen. The ceremony was seen by a Mr. P. Mollison, who writes a slightly sarcastic account of it to his “loving gossip,” Mr. R. Paip. He describes the earls all “set in the marriage-desk before the pulpit,” and a vast throng of persons present, while they listen to a long sermon. “The sermon being concluded, the earls rises forth of their desk, comes in before the pulpit, makes an open confession of their defection and apostacy, affirms the religion presently confessed to be the only true religion, renounces all Papacy, &c., &c., and, of new, swears never to decline again, but to defend the same to their life’s end.” The day of the ceremony was one of fasting and humiliation; the day following, when they were new men, was ushered in by more pleasurable auspices.
“The Cross of this burgh was solemnly hanging with tapestries; ane little house beside the same, covered suchlike with tapestry, whereon the musicians were placed – fourscore of the young men of the town in their best habiliments, with their hackbuts; the magistrates and council by themselves; six persons, maskers; a table covered, at the Cross, whereon were surfitfits, comfits, and other confections, with a great number of glasses; wine in great abundance; the earls’ pacification and peace by sound of trumpet, and by Gilbert Guthrie, Marchmont-herald, proclaimed. The two earls sat at the Cross in chairs, with his majesty’s commissioner and the ministry. The wand of peace delivered to them by Patrick Murray; he receives them in his majesty’s name. Next, the ministry embraces them; and next, the provost, bailies, and magistrates. Hackbuts’ sounds, that day nor dur (?) could not be heard; wine drunken in abundance; glasses broken; surfitfits casten abroad on the causeway – gather whoso pleases.”7
There is something in the character of the whole transaction which stamps it as a solemn mockery. It may easily be seen, from the tone of the Presbyterian writers of that period, that they were not satisfied with the sincerity of the homage paid to their system; and, not without considerable reason, they set down the conversion of the Popish lords as a step in the scheme, afterwards accomplished, of restoring Episcopacy. James did not care to drive the Catholics to desperation, for even yet he knew not but he might throw himself, some day, into their hands. On the other hand, when the Presbyterians demanded some sacrifice, he would have very readily, but for this reason, have handed over the Catholics to their uncovenanted mercies. Hence the strange tortuosity of his councils at this time.
He was not a man of any very positive clerical belief himself. He might have belonged to any one of the three Churches that suited him best. There were two classes, however, whom he cordially hated – the ultra-Presbyterians, who used to abuse him in their sermons, and get the better of him in dispute, and the Jesuits, and other high Catholics, who maintained the authority of the Pope over temporal monarchs.8 He could not endure these horrible doctrines of spiritual supremacy, whether in Papist or Puritan. Against the former he could protect himself, for the law was against them; yet while he would fain have had it also against the latter, for the reason already alluded to, it was not his policy to drive even the Catholics to extremities, and render them desperate.
Indeed, his Presbyterian clerical tormentors made allusions to secret negotiations and encouragements offered to foreign Papal courts, which occasionally made the king wince. They had good ground, as we can now see, for their suspicions, and he for his alarm. There is no doubt that he had secret negotiators dispersed throughout the Catholic courts, to sound their inclinations towards his claims, if they were not authorised to make stipulations for securing their concurrence with his accession to the throne of England. The Cardinal D’Osat, in a letter to M. Villeroy, alludes to a Scottish agent at Rome – an allusion which Winwood, in his Memorials, notices in connexion with the intrigues in Spain of a Scottish Jesuit named Ogelvie – the same, it is said, who afterwards suffered death for his opinions. Ogelvie, whose offers probably went far beyond his commission, if he had any specific commission at all, proposed in the monarch’s name, “in the first place to reconcile himself and his kingdom to the See Apostolic, and to give his holiness satisfaction in these particulars, and to concur in the extirpation of all heresies in the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland.” But a priest named Cecil, who was in the confidence of the English Catholics, appears to have convinced the court of the insincerity of Ogelvie’s proffers.
Some original papers in the Advocates’ Library introduce us to the more serious operations of the Semple family three years afterwards, in the year 1599. The Lord Semple had lived so long abroad, that he seems in a great measure to have forgotten his own language, and says, in a letter to the king, that his cousin the colonel is surprised that in so “vechti” a matter as “zour magesti’s titill to ye crune of Inoland,” his majesty “nader gef” him “comissiun nor varrand in na sort;” and he continues to say, “aluayis he has gotin satisfaxsiun to zour magesti, and yat sua sekretlie as na man hir knauis of it, safen ane of ye cunsall quha is his grit frind.” He urges the king to send him a more specific commission, as the English Catholics are counteracting his efforts, and concludes by saying, “I am assurit gef zour magesti fallu out yis mater, zour magesti vill get asistense of ye King of Spane, beth of muni and armis.”
In the same collection of papers, there is an undated commission, with corresponding instructions to Semple, signed by the king, and a congratulatory letter to Philip III. on his accession. These documents relate to trade reciprocities and general amity; but there is a little important clause in the commission, empowering Semple to treat of cætera prout ei a nobis in mandatis credita sunt. These vague and unsatisfactory papers, however, neither satisfied the ambassador nor the grave Spaniards. Semple writes back, that he was received with great distinction, on account of the commission; but that all his honours dropped away when the commission was translated and its vagueness understood.9 It is from the choice of his instruments that the subtle designs of James can be best understood. Colonel Semple was the negotiator sent by the Duke of Parma to Scotland, to procure support for the invasion of the Armada, and he transacted the foreign department of the conspiracy of the Spanish blanks.10
These exposures lead to the suspicion that an act of severity by James, towards a statesman who had compromised him with the Catholic party, was also an act of gross treachery. In the celebrated dispute with Belarmine, the accomplished disputant referred to the spirit of mildness and conciliation with which his kingly opponent had treated the court of Rome when he desired a favour – namely, that of a cardinal’s cap for one of his subjects. James denied the imputation; but the document was extant, and it bore date at the time when it was known that he felt most nervous about his succession to the English throne, and was, under the influence of his fears, least scrupulous in his proffers to the Catholics.
James maintained that the signature had been procured from him surreptitiously; and Hamilton Lord Balmerinoch, the secretary of state, was tried on a charge of treason for having obtained and sent it. In his indictment, he is said to have laid his plan: “First, that it should be shifted in among divers other letters to be signed; secondly, that the same, with the rest, should be presented to his majesty at some time of his going out hastily to the hunting, so as being on the sudden surprised, he should have no leisure to observe and peruse the letters; and thirdly, that such words of title and style as are usually given to the Pope, should be forborne to be set down in it, lest perhaps his majesty’s eye lighting upon any of them while he were signing, he might thereby take occasion to observe that letter, and so discover your fraud.”11 The case was made a great deal too strong; for it was laid down that Balmerinoch had repeatedly pressed on the king the granting of this letter, and had as often been defeated by his majesty’s impregnable virtue. This was not a likely introduction to such a sleight-of-hand fraud, since it was calculated to put the king on his guard. Balmerinoch, however, confessed the full charge. His admission is maintained to have been bought by a promise of his life and estates. The former he retained, but with the sword hanging over his head; the latter were forfeited, and the wily old statesman retired a beggar to the dreary mountains, to wail about the folly of those who put their trust in princes. He left a confidential document, asserting that the king knew perfectly well what he was signing, although it was understood between them that his royal attention was not to be especially fixed on it; and it seems very probable that this is the truth.
Once firmly seated on the throne of England, James felt himself more free to strike the propagators of the offensive doctrines against kingly power; and the gunpowder-plot at once brought his previously lukewarm enmity to a crisis, and strengthened his arm. From time to time we find the statutory punishment of death denounced, and some secondary punishment executed, both against the priests who administered the mass and the persons who were present at the administration. Thus, in 1607, William Macmurdoch is put on trial for saying mass in the Marquis of Huntly’s castle of Strathbogie, in the Lady Sutherland’s mansion of Dunrobin, and in various other abodes of great territorial families. The king writes on this occasion a letter to the judges, intimating that “no doubt he will be found culpable on his own confession,” as if the matter had been pre-arranged; and desiring that his sentence should be “appointing him to be tane to the market-cross of Edinburgh, being clad in his mass clothes, in the same form that he was taken; and after he has been presented to the view of the whole people, he then be stripped of all his mass clothes, and the same, with all his other Popish baggage that was apprehended with him, to be presently passed into the fire then ready, for the purpose to be consumed and burnt to ashes; and therewith that he be adjudged to be banished forth of all our dominions during his natural life, under the pain of death in case of his return back to any part of the same.”12
It is not until the year 1615 that we find a victim actually put to death for his Popish opinions; and it is said, not without some grounds of truth, that whatever sacrifices of life there may have been among the political partisans of Catholicism, this is the only instance in which Protestantism in Scotland has drawn blood for mere belief. On the 28th of February, 1615, John Ogelvie was tried at Glasgow for “treason, declining the king’s authority, alleging the supremacy of the Pope, hearing and saying mass,” &c. The proceedings against this poor man were borrowed from the formulary of the Inquisition. He was not put on trial for any act which he had committed, but, being a person whose opinions were suspected, every effort was made to commit him to the assertion of punishable opinions, or else to the abjuration of his faith. In the preliminary inquiry he exhibited “nothing but a pertinacious refusal to answer in points most reasonable;” whence it was resolved to try the efficacy of torture. “And here it being remembered, that in the trial of some criminal persons it was found that nothing helped more to find out the truth of the faults wherewith they were charged than the withholding of their natural rest, it was advised that he should be kept without sleep for some nights, which was accordingly done; and during which time it was perceived that he remitted much of his former obstinacy.”
If what his assailants desired was an open defiance, and a cool expression of contumelious scorn for their opinions, they must have been satisfied by his conduct at his trial. Being asked what he said to the charge against him as treason, he answered, “I deny any point laid against me to be treason; for if it were treason, it would be treason in all places, and in all kingdoms; but that is known not to be so. As for your acts of parliament, they are made by a number of partial men, the best of the land not agreeing with them, and of matters not subject to their forum or judicatory, for which I will not give a rotten fig.”
On the king’s prerogative he said, “I know no other authority he hath but that which he received from his predecessors, who acknowledged the Pope of Rome his jurisdiction. If the king will be to me as his predecessors were to mine, I will obey and acknowledge him for my king; but if he do otherwise, and play the runagate from God, as he and you all do – I will not acknowledge him more than this old hat.”
This was distinct enough, nor did the perverse priest moderate the boldness of his tongue when further pressed; in fact, he had made up his mind to martyrdom, and was resolved, in parting with his life, to sell it as dearly as possible, in the enunciation of bold and offensive doctrines. He could even take an arrow from the ultra-Presbyterian quiver, and when required to be still more explicit on the royal prerogative, said, “For the declining of the king’s authority, I will do it still in matters of religion, for with such matters he hath nothing to do; – neither have I done anything but that which the ministers did at Dundee; they would not acknowledge his majesty’s authority in spiritual matters, more than I. And the best ministers of the land are still of that mind – and if they are wise, will continue so.” When driven to the extreme question, whether the Pope could depose the king; and whether, if he were deposed, it would be lawful to put him to death? he said that these points had not been fixed as articles of faith by any council, but whatever articles of faith might be declared by council, on these points, he would lay down his life for them; and he went on to maintain, “That if the king offended against the Catholic Church, the Pope might punish him as well as a shepherd, or the poorest fellow in the country, – that in abrogating the Pope’s authority, the estates of parliament had gone beyond their limits, – and that the king in usurping the Pope’s right, had lost his own.”
He was no less incorrigible in vindicating his acts as a missionary, than in asserting his opinions. When questioned on this matter, he answered: “I came by commandment, and if I were even now furth of the kingdom, I should return; neither do I repent anything, but that I have not been so busy as I should in what ye call perverting. I hope to come to Glasgow again, and do more good in it. If all the hairs in mine head were priests, they should all come into the kingdom.”
“The further he proceeded in speaking,” says the account of the trial, “his speeches still grew to be more intolerable;” so the discussion was concluded, and the real business carried through. Ogelvie was convicted, and condemned to be hanged and quartered. After some words of courtesy to his judges, he cried, “God have mercy on me! if there be here any hidden Catholics let them pray for me – but the prairs of heretics I will not have.” His execution appears to have taken place within a few hours after his trial; and much indignation was expressed against the scandalous conduct of a man named Abercrombie, shrewdly suspected to be also a Popish priest, who offered him some words of consolation and encouragement on the scaffold.13 Several persons were convicted of having visited Ogelvie, or of having afforded him nutriment and protection. They were all condemned to be hanged, but their punishment was commuted to perpetual banishment.
This act of severity was not so fortunate as to secure that favour from the Presbyterians which the king seems to have expected for it. It was not done by themselves, but by that Episcopal hierarchy which James had raised up, and which they disliked little less cordially than Popery itself; and it was done as if vauntingly to show that Episcopacy could deal with Popery as boldly and effectively as Presbyterianism – that the bishops could hang a Papist as heartily as the presbytery. It met with more carps and sneers than cordial applause from the Presbyterian historians; and Calderwood bluntly says: “Some interpreted this execution to have proceeded, rather of a care to bless the king’s government than of any sincere hatred of the Popish religion. Some deemed that it was done to be a terror to the sincerer sort of the ministry, not to decline the king’s authority in any cause whatsoever. He was the first priest, or Jesuit, that was executed since the bastard Bishop of St. Andrew’s was hanged.”
Among the priests themselves, such an event, if it frightened some, would arouse new heroic energies in others. The profession was elevated by the dignity of danger and martyrdom. The trafficking priest, the Jesuit missionary, no longer humbly skulking from the village stocks, or the Tolbooth, looked death in the face, and felt his mission ennobled by the desperate alternatives which the powers of evil prompted wicked men to take for his extirpation. The cause became higher and holier in his eyes. Its influence was reflected on the votaries of the condemned faith, who clung the closer round those who braved these dangers for their eternal welfare, and offered a submissive reverence to the candidates for the crown of martyrdom, which a Church trusting to less lofty aspirations could not have elicited. There are grounds for believing that, for many years after the Ogelvie tragedy, a considerable number of friars and priests lurked through Scotland, gliding hither and wither as their services were needed, and trusting their safety to the untiring zeal, the discretion, and the impregnable secrecy of a devoted flock. Generally, they were men of high courage and self-devotion, for no others could undertake a function of which all the temporal inducements lay in the danger. They were scholars; men of the world, who could go through its business, and even participate in its pleasures, without betraying the priest even to vigilant and suspicious eyes; and, finally, they were trained to arms, and could defend themselves in case of need.
One of these protean priests, named Gilbert Blackhal, left behind him a detailed account of his services and adventures. It may or may not be perfectly accurate – one is apt to suspect the clerk militant of slightly overcolouring some of his warlike achievements: but it tells truth, at all events, as a memoir characteristic of the times, and it serves this purpose all the better that it was not prepared for publication, but designed as a narrative of facts, to bring them home to the knowledge of certain persons interested in them. Father Blackhal’s object was to make known the full extent of his services to “three noble ladies” connected with the family of Errol.14 The father was a mortified and disappointed man, who had to reiterate his faithful services to haughty and ungrateful females.
Many of Blackhal’s adventures relate to his wild journeys over mountain regions to visit his far-scattered flock. Separating them from each other were “the Cuishney hills, as wild a part as is in all Scotland, which I have crossed many times at midnight all alone, when I could not see whether I was in the way or out of it, but trusted my horse, who never failed or fainted in the way.” Once, in one of the great speats or floods caused by the melting of the snow in spring, he was swept, while endeavouring to cross a flooded brook, into the river Ilay. After despairing of his life, a fortunate effort of his horse brought both to the shore; but a priest at that time had peculiar impedimenta, which rendered such adventures more disagreeable than they were to other people. “When we were both at land,” he says, “I did perceive my saddle, with a great valise tied to it, going down towards the river. I did go in again, and draw it to the land. Then I see my hat and a little valise of red Spanish leather, wherein was my mass vestments, swimming down the river. I returned in once again to the head and brought them out, thinking with myself that the people and ministers would persuade themselves, finding these vestments, that some priest had been drowned in that river, and rejoice thereat.”
After this lucky escape, he says: “In the midst of lent I did go to Aboyne, and when my lady did see me she did make the sign of the cross upon herself, thinking me a spirit – we call it in Scotland a wraith. For she was persuaded that I was drowned, and was very content that the news of my death was false. She made me stay there until Easter, where I made exhortations every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, upon the passion of our Saviour, which did please her and her domestics, especially her master-cook, Alexander Lamb, who thereafter abjured his heresy before me, and died two years thereafter a devout Catholic.” It is possible that the father benefited much in temporal matters by bringing this lamb into the fold, for he speaks with all admiration and gratitude of the lordly way in which he was fed, above the feeding of the priests in the houses of greater and richer ladies, such as the Marchioness of Huntly and the Lady Moray. “She had a more noble and generous heart than any of them, and keeped a good house; and gave power to her priest to send his man to the kitchen and choose upon the spit what piece or pieces he should think would please his master best; and that piece or pieces were sent to his chamber to him when they were roasted – oftentimes before my lady did dine or sup, which priests could not do in the houses of these other ladies, nor in any other house in all Scotland – nor England neither, I believe; for in great houses, if the priests eat in their private chambers, they must stay till the lady send them from the table upon trenchers such pieces as she pleaseth.”
This Lady Aboyne – one of three whom the father served with so much zeal – was the widow of that young Lord Aboyne who was slain in the Frendraught tragedy.15 Her dowry house was close on the borders of the Highlands, and if it might afford thus a place of refuge, which gave a member of the hunted classes – such as Blackhal was – a ready means of retreat, it was extremely open to the depredation of the mountaineers. The great Catholic families had still a wide influence in that district – an influence not entirely broken before Cromwell’s government. In his journeys in the southern counties it was certain destruction to the priest to be recognised by any portion of the miscellaneous people. His predecessor sought the same obscurity and seclusion at Aboyne, but he, by his own account, adopted boldly a new policy – thus:
“Thenceforth I did go publicly to the table, and walked abroad publicly, and the people were no more curious to see the priest, as they were when he keeped himself closed up in his chamber, which I could not endure. For one of the people did tell another which was the priest’s chamber, and if he opened but his window they did run to get a sight of him, as of a monstrous thing. They did so to me at the beginning, but I did very soon remede their curiosity, showing myself to them more than they desired; for there was no man in the parish better known than I, nor better loved by the best sort, notwithstanding the opposition of our religion – except one gentlewoman, called Janet Forbes, wife to George Dorwart, who said to my own man that she hoped to wash her hand in my heart’s blood.”
The high influence which the priest exercised over the lonely widow and her establishment, show how futile were all fulminations and penalties to destroy this willing obedience – how much they often served to strengthen the homage of a proud humility. Blackhal says that the lady described him as holding three functions – he was her priest and confessor; her chamberlain; and the captain of her castle. And he details services which show that he well deserved all the three. The father, beginning with the statement that he is not “a man of intrigue, who loves to meddle in any one’s affairs, especially unrequired,” narrates the summary manner in which he superseded the constituted authorities of the household. The butler he found “spent what he pleased in the pantry, which was open to all that would keep him company till midnight.” “It was right under my chamber,” he says, “I did hear them both day and night there.”
The way in which this worthy balanced his accounts was the simplest possible. “He never can nor did make other compt but simply – all is spended;” and his example was followed by all others who made disbursements for the widowed Lady of Aboyne, until Father Blackhal took the whole into his own management. “The only remede is, said I, to send them all away and make a new household, as they do in France with incorrigible servants.” The priest must have felt his position strong indeed within his own circle, whatever might be his perils from without, when he could thus exercise the high hand, and accomplish what many an undoubted lord of a household tries in vain.
The father’s services as captain of the castle were no less comprehensive and effective. “When I did enter in her service,” he says, “there were only two pistolets in all the house, and they belonged to Alexander Davidson – a man who keeped ever a pair of pistolets, but never in all his life did fire one; so that they served to him only for parade, as he avouched to me.” Under the energetic measures of the warlike priest, this innocent brace of pistols was superseded by “eight double muskets, with ball and powder and match conform, and as many light guns with snap works; with a long fowling gun and a very wide carbine, capable of nine or ten pistol-balls at a charge, which I used to hang at my shoulder when I rode through the country. So we had eighteen pieces of firework, forby four pistolets that I had, and two that Alexander Davidson had – in all, four-and-twenty – and an hundred pounds of powder.”
It appears that there was speedy occasion for all these warlike preparations. The disputes of the Covenant took the restraints of the law off the Highland freebooters, who plundered Cavalier and Covenanter with perfect theological impartiality. They came down in force more than once on the house of the Lady Aboyne, though her connexion with the head of one of their great clans ought, by rievers’ law, to have kept her exempt from their assaults. It would make too tedious a narrative to tell how they were outgeneralled by the fighting priest; how he marshalled his small garrison, so as, in outward appearance, to double its size; and how, not contented with defeating an attempt to take his little fortalice by assault, he fell by surprise upon the enemy’s camp, taking every one of them prisoners, though they were four times as numerous as the garrison.
On his proper function of priest the father is, of course, less communicative. The lady made pilgrimages “to our Lady of Grace in Murrayland. It had been of old a very devout place, and many pilgrimages had been made to it from all parts of the north of Scotland; but then there was nothing standing of it but some broken walls which the minister made throw down within the chapel to hinder the people to pray there; a great devotion to their holy covenant, rebellious both to God and their king. She used to make the pilgrimage every year so long as she had health to do it, a matter of thirty miles from her own house, whereof she made two of them a-foot and barefooted next to the chapel.”
As he is rendering to the daughter an account of his unrequited services to the house of Aboyne, he thinks fit thus to remind her of her mother’s last moments, and of his own sufferings and services thereanent: “I am persuaded you have not forgotten, madam (for you wanted not two months of thirteen years when she died), how careful I was both of her body and soul in her sickness; how I watched at her bedside until two hours after midnight, and when she sleeped I retired to my chamber, where I weeped longer time than I sleeped; and how soon I awaked returned again to comfort her, although mine own heart was very comfortless – yea, more than I did show, fearing to discomfort her. She confessed and received the blessed sacrament every week in her sickness, preparing herself for her happy end; and at the end of every confession, before she would rise from her weak knees, she said, her hands joined, ‘Now, father, I recommend to you my fatherless child going now to be motherless. I pray you continue to her the charity you have practised upon me since ever I was so happy as to have you with me. I know that she will be put to heretics to pervert her; and therefore do not abandon her among their hands, but visit her, and comfort her, and keep her in the Catholic religion, and save her soul for God’s sake if you can.’ ”
Along with the history of his power and influence within the circle of his followers, Blackhal affords many stirring incidents of peril and escape in other parts of the country. His account of “What did befall me at the Muir of Rhynie, going to visit Mademoiselle Gordon,” would make excellent raw material for a scene in an historical novel. His extreme bravery saved the father’s life on this, as on many other occasions. Arriving at a lonely hostelry at night, he found it filled with a body of Covenanters, or rather of supporters of the Covenant party, drinking and eating Findon haddocks – a dish which still retains a portion of its local renown. This was awkward company for a priest in those days of contest and suspicion, when every individual traveller scrutinised every other to find out whether he was a friend or an enemy. He was at once received by a pertinacious captain, who put to him the blunt question, “Who are you, sir?” which “did heat his blood.”
“And as I thought he spoke disdainfully to me, I answered in that same tone, saying ‘That is a question indeed, sir, to have been asked at my footman, if you had seen him coming in to you.’ He said it was a civil demand, and I said it might pass for such to a valet, but not to a gentleman. He said it was civil, and I said it was not.” The priest and his companion found refuge in another apartment, but the pertinacious captain followed them. “I made him welcome, and praid him to drink with us, which he would not do, but said, ‘I pray you, sir, tell me what you are?’ And I answered him, saying, ‘Sir, if you would have had but a little patience until I had been set down among you, and my heart warmed with a cup as yours hath been, and then asked me through kindness who I was, I would at the very first word have I told you; but you did begin in a disdainful way to question me, as if I had been some country fellow; and that manner of proceeding did at the very first heat my blood, and obliged me to refuse to satisfy your demand.’ ”
From some of the inexplicable social revolutions which arise in the relative position of men who are imbibing potent liquors, the captain and the priest came to be very friendly, and to exchange compliments and courtesies. The captain praised his new companion’s courage and magnanimity in standing to his resolution, though he was but one to twenty. But he still stuck to his point, and as before he had peremptorily and fiercely, now soothingly and politely he desired to know who and what his new friend was. Blackhal evaded this with an ingenuity worthy of the famed casuistic capacities of the great society to which he belonged. He explained that, having once refused to give an explanation on account of the manner of asking, if he now satisfied their curiosity his compliance might be attributed to fear. He prayed of the captain not to press upon his honour by urging such a request; when they next met he would be as explicit as they could desire.
As the night wore on and the liquor flowed, the friendship of the captain for his new acquaintance grew ever warmer. “And,” says the father, “when I did go to my horse, the captain and the minister and all the soldiers embraced me, and the captain must needs help me to tie my valise unto my saddle, and hold my stirrup; but I would not suffer him to do the last, although I could not get him hindered from the first, and I had much ado to hinder him from the last.” His reflection on his escape is: “My resolution was, all the time that I was in Scotland, to defend myself as long as I could stand, and in mine own defence die rather by the hands of gentlemen than of the hangman – but my day was not yet come to die at that occasion.”
He run scarcely less risk one day approaching Stirling, when it was in the hands of the Covenanters. It was Sunday – the churches were about to disperse, and he found that the road by which he was to pass the Forth led straight into the town. To return might have been more dangerous than to advance, as implying fear and tempting pursuit; but his usual ingenuity and good-fortune did not desert him. Meeting two fair ladies, he told a tale how urgent and pressing matters called him on a journey, which would be utterly defeated by the delay that would be caused if he had to produce his credentials in the town, and stand an examination. “They were two very handsome gentlewomen, and very civil.” Taking compassion on the perplexed traveller, they opened a gate outside the town wall, and conducted him through a “lodging,” which “pertained surely to some person of quality, for it was very fair, a great court builded on three quarters, and a baluster of iron on the side towards the garden, which had a fair and large parterre.” Thus he reached the bridge without passing through the town, and cantering up the hill, says, “I thanked God with all my heart and soul, who had so mercifully provided to deliver me out of the danger that threatened me.” But his most formidable risk was incurred in obeying the injunctions of his departed patroness, and conveying her daughter secretly abroad, to remove her from the influence of heresy. This act, in itself, was a capital crime; and lurking, as he had to do, for some time in Aberdeen, then in possession of the Covenanters, bargaining with skippers, and interrupted by winds and tides, his escape can only be accounted for by a secret antipathy to the Covenant – if there were no direct sympathy with himself, in persons by whom his real character and objects must have been at least suspected.
The other and brilliant side of this picture of priestly life is the influence and respect which the Scottish ecclesiastic commanded in foreign courts. If we may draw a general inference from his narrative, which, whether specifically true or not, must have been life-like – the refugee nobility of Scotland appear to have had scarcely any influence in the Catholic courts, save through their spiritual guides. The rough habits and scanty education of the Scottish gentry exiled by the Reformation, – defects which the new generation at home were fast remedying, – seem to have made them mere clowns at court, whose position, like that of an American or New Zealand chief in our own day, required to be attested by some civilised authority. The priests, on the other hand, were learned and accomplished, and systematically trained in diplomatic etiquette. Blackhal obtained easy access to the persons of princes, and placed his Scottish wards in their hands. One was received as a protegée of the Infanta of Spain, the arch-duchess, daughter of Philip II., and became one of her legatees. By personal application to Anne of Austria, he obtained for the daughter of the Lady Aboyne the promise of a canonry, should she herself accept of it; which was not quite clear, as, when she was to be sent to a monastery, to acquire the French language and the preparatory discipline, she answered, bluntly, “That she would be content to go to a monastery for some time, but that she would not be a religieuse.” One of the father’s chief and most amusing perplexities, indeed, was in the conduct of his protegées after he had accomplished all for them. The patrician damsels, barbarous and uneducated, yet haughty withal, could not understand the greatness of the people they were among, or brook the patient ceremony of the courtiers, and the strict adjustment of etiquettes and ranks. “I have seen,” says the distressed confessor, “my Lady of Brienne sit in her own carosse without her gate upon the street, fretting a whole quarter of an hour waiting for Mademoiselle de Gordon, sending and sending over and over again for her to go to the mass; and – which did highly displease me – when she was at the carosse, step in it, not opening her mouth to make any excuse for making the lady stay for her, no more than if she had been mistress of the carosse, and the lady but only her servant.” And he makes a reflection thus: “Whether that proceeded from pride, thinking that and much more due unto her, or from inadvertence, not reflecting upon their civilities, which is called a kind of brutality, I know not – God knoweth.”
In a sketch of the criminal proceedings against the Popish priests, it appeared to the author not inappropriate to take advantage of the insight thus curiously afforded by Father Blackhal, into the actual life and habits of the persons against whom the penal statutes and the proceedings of the courts were mainly levelled. It is only when such a narrative is privately penned by a garrulous person, unconscious of possible publicity, and thinking only of the individual people he is addressing, that we have much chance of seeing the curtain withdrawn from a system necessarily worked with so much caution, and ever courting secrecy. There are other contemporary accounts of the proceedings of the Scottish priests in the seventeenth century, but, addressed in public self-glory to the Catholic Church abroad, they are not to be believed, and are full of palpable extravagancies and falsities. The adventures of George Leslie of Monymusk, a Capuchin friar called Father Archangel, have appeared in various forms. A simple Memoir by Rinuccini, Archbishop of Fermo, went through several editions. It was dramatised at Rome, and the inhabitants of the remote village of Monymusk are called up as Lurcanio, a Calvinist clergyman, Forcina his servant, and Theophilus, an old Aberdeenshire cottager, while Beelzibub is represented in the form of Calvin. One of Archangel’s feats is the conversion of 4000 citizens of Monymusk to the true faith at one sitting.
Lord Hailes, whose works convey an impression of saturnine gravity scarcely expressive of his character, appears to have been fascinated by the extravagancies of the Scottish Capuchin, and a string of extracts from the adventurous narratives have their innate extravagance rather exaggerated than modified by the systematic manner in which the sententious annalist strung them together.16
If we were to enumerate the minor proceedings against the Roman Catholics in Scotland in the seventeenth century, they would be chiefly culled from the records of the church courts. It is of course natural to find that, when general assemblies began to be held, they issued many enactments against Popery. The church courts enforced them by censures mounting through various grades up to excommunication, which, before the year 1690, involved civil penalties and disabilities. Of the nature of such proceedings in the ecclesiastical courts, some notice has been taken in the account of the burning of Frendraught.17
In the great conflict of the civil wars, the Roman Catholics are almost lost to sight, the two main parties, Episcopal and Presbyterian, filling the historical canvas. During the Protectorate, persecution of every kind was restrained. In the reign of Charles II. it took, as we shall find, a decidedly different direction; and in that of his brother, the prospects of Catholicism were becoming so triumphant, that certain supple politicians prematurely adopted it, and were mobbed and maltreated in the streets of Edinburgh.
Of a string of acts against “the growth of Popery,” the ruling statute for many years was that passed in 1701, by King William’s parliament. To counteract the malice and subtlety whereby “the Jesuits, and seminary and mass priests, and trafficking Papists” disguised themselves, a formula or test was enacted, which might be put to any one who was “held and repute” within the category; and if he refused “to purge himself,” as the statute says, by taking the test, he was liable to the penalties of the act. These were banishment for life, followed by the infliction of death if the banished person returned. The same punishment was applicable to any one discovered “in any meeting where there is either altar, mass-book, or vestments, or Popish images, or other Popish trinkets or instruments of superstition.” There are lengthy provisions for preventing, as in England or Ireland, Papists from acquiring or succeeding to landed property; the acceptance or refusal of the formula or test being the criterion of Popery.
The persecution under this act was scarcely hot enough to be interesting. For some time the Established Church, in its pursuit of Episcopacy, seems to have almost overlooked Popery, which existed mainly in a few great houses, where its observances were conducted with extreme caution. In the year 1722, a party of soldiers entered the house of the Dowager-Duchess of Gordon, and there seized a priest, who, according to the charge against him, was preparing to celebrate mass, and who would not take the formula. He was liberated on bail, and, forfeiting his recognisances, was outlawed.18
The chief strongholds of the old religion, and the most dangerous, from the seldom-failing presence of Jacobitism as its concomitant, were north of the Grampians. At Aberdeen, a priest named Grant was subjected to banishment under the penal act in 1750, and another, named Gordon, was similarly punished in the year 1751.19 The latest case of punishment under the act is supposed to have occurred in 1759, when Neil McFie was banished by the circuit court of Inverness, for being “held and repute a Popish priest.”20 Later instances might be adduced of punishment for exercising the Roman Catholic religion in England.
In 1778, when the measure for mitigating the English penal laws was brought on, a series of riots occurred in Scotland, which, though they were deemed formidable in themselves, were yet but the faint foreshadowings of the hurricane which swept London. There was no ostensible Catholic place of worship in the country; but a house in one of the wynds of Edinburgh, where the offensive rites were said to be performed in an upper chamber, was destroyed, along with the private dwellings of some men either suspected of popery or convicted of toleration. The house of Robertson the historian only escaped by being well protected; the magistrates of Edinburgh, who otherwise culpably neglected their duty, thought it would be too preposterous a scandal to let the head of the Presbyterian establishment be sacrificed in a No-Popery outbreak.
At the same time, a resolute and systematic opposition to any relaxation of the penal laws was carried on throughout the country; almost every two or three men who could put themselves into a corporate shape, uniting as petitioners against the measure. In 1780 was published an octavo volume, called “Scotland’s Opposition to the Popish Bill.” It is more fully described as “a collection of all the declarations and resolutions published by the different counties, cities, towns, parishes, incorporations, and societies throughout Scotland, against a proposed repeal of the statutes enacted, and for ever ratified, by the Revolution and union parliament, for preventing the growth of Popery.” People who are frightened by slight and occasional relapses of polemical wrath, as if bigotry were something previously unknown in human nature, and each manifestation of it an alarming malady of the present age, – will see in such a tidemark how far we have made steady progress towards toleration. The fits of zeal come at intervals like waves, but each falls short of that which preceded it.
“Scotland’s Opposition” contains many hundreds of flaming protests, addresses, and petitions. The smallest and most obscure sects are not the least vehement, and the members of the “Berean chapel, Carrubbers-close,” expres themselves as “filled with just indignation and horror at the alarming growth and encouragement, especially in these lands of late, given to the most accursed, bloody, blasphemous, devilish religion of the Pope and the Pretender – a religion consisting of a conspiracy of lies and fables against the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and of deadly intent and malignity against all his sincere worshippers in every corner of the earth.”21
Yet the judicatories of the Establishment gave, in some instances, no faint echo to such blasts of the trumpet. Take, for instance, the protest of the kirk session of Auchtermuchty, which, being concise and symmetrical in its structure, may be taken as a type of the others:
Auchtermuchty, Jan. 19, 1779.
“The kirk session of this parish, having convened, and the meeting being constitute by prayer, took into consideration a report that the penal laws now subsisting against Popery were soon to be abrogated; and being aware of the insidious nature of that religion, its secular magnificence and pomp, its earthly original and rise, its unsupportable pride and insatiable avarice, its notorious encroachments on the civil power, its carnal, and often hellish policy, and its detestable bloodthirstiness and cruelty, – after considering these characters of the Papal empire, and being justly alarmed lest the young and unthinking in Scotland should be seduced by the indefatigable zeal of sly jesuitical priests and missionaries, determined vigorously to oppose such an illegal, ill-timed scheme by every constitutional measure in their power.”22
A large number of these documents, not less fierce, but more verbose and less consistent than this specimen, commence the denunciations with a declaration that the subscribers “abhor all persecution for conscience’ sake.” A remarkable feature in the whole collection is the uniform excellence of the composition, and the accurate use of technical phraseology. Thus the “friendly society of journeymen weavers in Potterrow,” the “society of cobblers in Edinburgh,” the “ploughmen in Musselburgh and Fisherrow,” and “the freemen discharged soldiers of Glasgow,” handle all the polemical and constitutional weapons of rhetoric as learnedly and boldly as the provincial synod’s “town councils” and county gentlemen. Those who are acquainted with the tactics of national polemical demonstrations, will know the reason of this uniform adaptation to a leading tone.
This might be called the expiring outbreak of anything justly to be called national fanaticism – whatever may have followed it, comes under the milder category of zeal. The penal laws lasted two years longer in Scotland than in England, but in 1793 an act of toleration was passed, appointing an oath of adherence to be taken by Roman Catholics, and a system for registering those who came under the act. The subsequent extension of freedom by the Catholic Emancipation Act is a matter of contemporary history, on which it is needless to enter – the scope of these pages is exhausted at the point where the profession of Catholicism ceases to be a statutory crime.
1 Winzet’s Buik of Fourscoire, Questionis, touching Doctrine, Ordour, and Maneris. It is not easy to modernize Winzet’s quaint old vernacular, as may be inferred from the following passage, in which he charges Knox with modern affectations and innovations in style. “Gif ze throw curiositie of novationis, hes forzet our auld plane Scottis, quhilk zour mother lerit zou, in tymes cuming I sall wryte to you my mynd in latin, for I am nocht acquyntit with zour southeroun.” Knox’s own style is certainly more readable; and thus it would seem that, like Luther, he was entitled to the merit of having reformed the language as well as the faith of his country.
Winzet himself was a sufferer from the Reformation, but not in a sufficiently conspicuous or tragic manner to demand special notice. He was deprived by the Reformers of his office of Master of the Grammar School of Linlithgow, or, as he expresses it, “I, for denying only to subscriue yair phantasie and factioun of faith, wes expellit and schott out of yat my Kyndly town, and fra my tender frendis yair.” He prepared for publication a tract, called “The last blast of the trompet of Godis worde aganis the usurpit auctoritie of Johne Knox,” which of course would not be allowed publicity in a country where Knox was supreme. While it was at press, the copies were seized, and the printer was fined and imprisoned. Five leaves of the book, still extant in the library of the University of Edinburgh, are a valuable relic. There is a learned Memoir of Winzet in Irving’s Lives of Scottish Writers, i., 98.
2 Pitcairn, i., 417.
3 Pitcairn, i., 427.
4 He is said to have been hanged, not on the gibbet, but on a tree, whereon one of his scholarly enemies wrote:
“Vire diu, felix arbor, semperque vireto
Frondibus, ut nobis talia poma feras.”
5 Reprinted. – Pitcairn, i., 317.
6 Inserted in Tytler’s Hist., ix., 232.
7 Analeta Scotica, p. 301.
8 Of the former he said, giving advice to his son in the Basilikon Doron, “I protest before the great God (and, since I am here upon my testament, it is no place for me to lie in), that ye shall never find with any Highland or Border thieves greater ingratitude, or more lies and vile perjuries, than with these fanatic spirits; and suffer not the principals of them to brook your land, if ye like to keep at rest, except ye would keep them for trying of your patience, as Socrates did an evil wife.” In his first speech to the English parliament he said of the Catholics, “I must directly say and affirm that, as long as they maintain one spiritual point of their doctrine, and another of their practice, they are no way sufferable to remain in the kingdom. The point of doctrine is that arrogant and ambitious supremacy of their head, the Pope, whereby he not only claims to be spiritual head of all Christians, but also to have an imperial civil power over all kings and emperors, dethroning and discrowning princes with his foot as pleaseth him, and dispensing and disposing of all kingdoms and empires at his appetite. The other point which they observe in continual practice is the assassinations and murders of kings; thinking it no sin, but rather a matter of salvation to do all actions of rebellion and hostility against their natural sovereign lord, if he be once cursed, his subjects discharged of their fidelity, and his kingdom given over a prey by that three-crowned monarch, or rather monster, their head.” – Kennet, ii., 671. It will be observed, that when he made these truculent remarks, he was safe on the English throne.
9 The Balfour MSS. – Advocates’ Library.
10 Perhaps this is the same nobilis Scotus cognomento Simplius, who, according to Strada (Dec. ii., Lib. v.), betrayed Liere to the Duke of Parma in 1582.
11 Pitcairn, ii., 570.
12 Pitcairn, ii., 531.
13 True Relation of the Proceedings against John Ogelive, &c. Pitcairn, iii., pp. 335,369.
14 A Brieffe Narration of the services to three noble ladyes, by Gilbert Blakhal, Priest of the Scots Mission in France, in the Low Countries, and in Scotland, 1631-1649. This is one of the valuable series of historical documents printed for the Spalding Club, which have been frequently cited in these pages. It has been learnedly and accurately edited for the use of the members, by the secretary, Mr. Stuart. The MS. was furnished by the Roman Catholic bishop, Kyle. It is believed that many interesting and valuable documents, illustrative of Scottish history, are in the hands of Roman Catholic ecclesiastics; and it were to be desired that the tone in which they and their Church are historically spoken of, were in such good taste as to induce them to offer a freer use of their stores.
15 See vol. i., p. 213.
16 They are to be found in the Appendix to the last edition of the Annals of Scotland.
17 See vol. i., p. 228.
18 Arnott’s Criminal Trials, p. 378.
19 Black Calendar of Aberdeen, p.26.
20 Ib., p. 27.
21 Scotland’s Opposition, p. 122.
22 Scotland’s Opposition, p. 82.