Essentials of Church History - Lesson 6

Reformation in Great Britain

The political events in the 16th century had a great impact on the Reformation movement in England and Scotland.

Gordon Isaac
Essentials of Church History
Lesson 6
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Reformation in Great Britain

I. Reformation in England

A. King Henry VIII

B. King Edward VI

C. Mary Tudor ("bloody Mary")

D. Queen Elizabeth

II. Reformation in Scotland

A. John Knox

B. Mary Stuart's political ambitions

  • Specific political and cultural events combined to form a setting when Jesus lived, which can be described as the "fullness of time." In the founding and development of the early church, Pentecost, the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and the persecution of Christians were significant.

  • Because of Palestine's central location in the Middle East, it was important to other countries militarily and economically. The apostles and other Christians were able to travel to spread the gospel throughout the world. Constantine's conversion and his support of Christianity had a greatly affected its growth and development. The ecumenical councils met to discuss and articulate a biblical view of God, as well as Christ's divine and human natures.

  • Individuals like Augustine helped shape the theology of the church. Charlemagne and Gregory the Great expanded the political influence of the church. The monastic movement, rise of Islam and the Crusades were significant during this period of time.

  • The influence of Catholicism expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries because of the exploration sponsored by Spain and Portugal. A central figure in the Reformation was Martin Luther. His theological ideas initiated and shaped the Reformation movement and are still influential today.

  • Zwingli and Calvin were influential leaders in the Protestant Reformation movement. The Anabaptists and Mennonites are movements that still have an influence on theology in the church today.

  • The political events in the 16th century had a great impact on the Reformation movement in England and Scotland.

  • The Catholic heritage of France made it difficult for Protestant groups to thrive. The Catholic reformation spawned the beginning of several movements that still exist today. The Council of Trent clearly delineated major differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. We still struggle with some of the same political and social implications of our beliefs with which the reformers wrestled.

  • A prevailing attitude during this time was that religious tolerance was a better policy than emphasizing doctrinal disagreements that led to wars. Why be concerned about details of doctrine that produced nothing but quarrels and prejudice when natural reason, something all people have in common, can answer the fundamental questions regarding God and human nature? Political and religious leaders in England and Europe contributed to the debate between Reformed theology and Rationalism. Subjects addressed are the Thirty Years War, Puritan revolution in England, Reformed Orthodoxy, Westminster Confession, Deism, Rationalist option in the wake of the confessionalization of Europe, George Fox and the Spiritualist option, Pietism with Zinzendorf, the Moravians, John Wesley and the Methodists.

  • Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were well-known preachers in the Great Awakening in the American colonies in the early 18th century. Camp meetings were common in meetings during the 2nd Great Awakening. Preachers like Dwight Moody began a movement which resulted in urban revival. Mormonism and Jehovah witnesses were two religions that were founded. The fundamentalist vs. modernist controversy, as well as the geographic expansion of missions, still affect the world today.

  • Wesley's preaching and the holiness movement were major influences in beginning the modern Pentecostal movement. Charles Fox Parham was instrumental in the formation of the Pentecostal movement, sometimes referred to as the "first wave." The second and third waves of the Pentecostal movement, as well as the ecumenical movement, have had a significant impact on individuals and churches across the world during the twentieth century.

The people, events, and movements that shaped church history from the life of Jesus to the twentieth century. The class looks at the early church, Constantine, the church in the Middle Ages, the Reformation in Europe and Great Britain, and Protestantism in France. It then moves into more recent centuries and deals with the issues of doubt and dogma, and finally the Great Awakening with Edwards, Whitefield, and eventually Wesley. 



I. Reformation in England

We turn our attention now to the reformation in Great Britain. Early in the 17th century Great Britain was divided between the House of Tudor in England and the Stewart Kingdom of Scotland. These two houses were related by blood and eventually the two kingdoms would be united. But during the 16th century the relationship was one of enmity and open warfare and therefore the reformation followed a different course in each of them.

A. King Henry VIII

For this reason, what we’ll need to do is talk about the Reformation in England and then later on we’ll turn to the Reformation in Scotland. And of course, one of the larger than life figures that play a particularly central role is the person of Henry XIII. Henry XIII was a man who was of rather athletic build. He was handsome in his youth, and he was an individual who had great ambition. As it turns out, his father Henry the XII had been able to consolidate power in England and had in mind that his son, Henry’s older brother, would succeed him. And that is what took place but Henry’s older brother died rather quickly. When the 16th century opened, Scotland was an ally of France and England of Spain and the hostility between the two kingdoms on the continent was reflected in the hostility between the two British Kingdoms. In order to strengthen his ties with Spain, Henry XII of England arranged for the marriage of his son and heir, Arthur, to Catherine of Aragon, one of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The wedding took place amid great celebrations when the bride was 15 yrs. old and it should have sealed the friendship between England and Spain. But Arthur died four months later and Spain then proposed a union between the young widow, and her deceased husband’s younger brother Henry who was now heir to the English throne.

The King of England, eager to retain both the friendship of Spain and the widow’s dowry, agreed to the marriage. Since canon law prohibited a man’s marriage with his brother’s widow, the English representatives in Rome obtained a papal dispensation, and as soon as young Henry was old enough he married Catherine.

It was not a happy marriage in spite of the papal dispensation, there was some doubt as to whether the Pope had the power to grant a dispensation from the principle that a man should not marry his brother’s widow. This in turn meant that the legality of the marriage itself was also in doubt. The failure of Henry and Catherine to produce a male heir, their only surviving child was Princess Mary Tudor, could be interpreted as a sign of divine wrath. The nation had recently suffered the bloodletting of a war of succession and therefore it seemed imperative that the King have a male heir. But after several years of marriage it was clear that such an heir would not come from Henry’s union to Catherine, so several solutions were proposed. Henry himself suggested that his bastard son whom he had made Duke of Richmond, be declared legitimate and made his heir. But such an arrangement would require Papal action. And the Pope refused to take a step that would alienate Spain. The Cardinal who was in charge of these negotiations, suggested that Harry arrange the marriage of Mary with his bastard son. But the King felt that Mary married to her own half-brother would only compound the original error of marrying him to his brother’s widow. His own solution was to request that Rome annul his own union with Catherine thus leaving him free to marry another Queen who could give him the needed heir.

It appears that at the time of the first petition of annulment, Henry was not yet enamored of Ann Boleyn and that therefore he was initially moved by reasons of state rather than of the heart. But such annulments were not uncommon, the Pope would grant them for various reasons and in this particular case the argument was that in spite of the Papal dispensation the marriage between Henry and his brother’s widow was not licit and that therefore it had never been a true marriage. But other factors completely unrelated to canon law were much weightier. The main consideration was that Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, who at that time had the Pope practically under his thumb and who had received a plea from his aunt to save her from dishonor. The Pope, Clement VII, could not invalidate Henry’s marriage to Catherine without alienating Charles V. He therefore prolonged the matter as long as possible and his representatives even suggested that Henry instead of repudiating his first wife secretly take a second one. But this was no solution, the King needed a publically acknowledged heir. Thomas Cranmer, the king’s main advisor in religious matters suggested that the main Catholic Universities be consulted. The most prestigious of these, Paris, Orleans, Tours, Oxford, Cambridge and even those in Italy declared that Henry’s marriage with Catherine was not valid.

From that point on Henry VIII followed a policy that would eventually lead to a break with Rome. The ancient laws forbidding appeals to Rome were reenacted, thus putting the clergy more directly under the king’s authority. He also toyed with the idea of retaining funds that normally went to Rome. By threatening to do so he forced the Pope to name Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. His conflicts with the papacy did not mean however that he felt the least sympathy for Protestantism. In fact, a few years earlier he had published a treatise against Luther that had been acclaimed by Pope Leo X who conferred on him the title Defender of the Faith. As Henry saw matters, what was needed was not a Reformation like the one taking place on the continent but rather a restoration of the rights of the Crown against undue Papal intervention.

The final break took place in 1534 when parliament following the dictates of the King enacted a series of laws forbidding the payment of money and other such contributions to Rome, ruling that Henry’s marriage to Catherine was not a true marriage and that therefore Mary was not the legitimate heir to the throne and finally making the King the supreme head of the Church of England. In order to enforce this last decision, parliament also declared that any who was to say that the King was a schismatic or a heretic were guilty of treason. So then the most notable feature opposing these laws was Sir Thomas Moore who had been chancellor of the kingdom and a personal friend of Henry VIII. He refused to swear loyalty to the King as head of the Church and for that reason was imprisoned.

There, he was visited by one of his daughters for whom he had secured an excellent humanistic education. She tried to convince him to recant and accept the Kings authority over the church and to that end she listed the names of many respectable and admired people who had done so. It is said that Thomas Moore’s answer was “I never intend to pin my conscience to another man’s back.”

At his trial the ex-chancellor defended his position saying that he had never denied that the King was the head of the church, but had only refused to affirm it and that one cannot be condemned for not having said something. But after he had been condemned to death he openly declared that in order to clear his conscience he wished it to be clear that he did not believe that a laymen such as the King could be the head of the church nor that any human being had the authority to change the laws of the church. Five days later he was executed in the Tower of London after declaring that he “died the Kings good servant but God’s first.”

In 1935 four hundred years after his death, Thomas Moore’s name was added to the official list of Saints for the Roman Catholic Church. What had taken place until then was little more than a schism with no attempt at reformation and with no more doctrinal content than was necessary to justify the schism itself. But there were many in England who felt the need for a more thorough reformation and who saw the events of their time as an opportunity to achieve it. Typical of this attitude was Thomas Cranmer who supported the Kings policies in the hopes they would lead to further and deeper changes. Henry VIII was essentially conservative on religious matters. He seems to be a firm believer in most of the traditional teachings of the church; although there is no doubt that his main motivation was political. Therefore during his reign the laws having to do with religious matters wavered according to changing political considerations.

As soon as he was made head of the church Henry declared his marriage with Catherine void and regularized the secret marriage with Ann Boleyn that had already taken place. Ann gave him no male heir but only a daughter Elizabeth and eventually Ann was accused of adultery and condemned to death. The King then married Jane Seymour from whom he finally had a male heir. After Jane’s death Henry tried to utilize his fourth marriage as a way of establishing an alliance with German Lutherans for he felt threatened by both Charles V and Francis I of France. For that reason he married Ann of Cleves, a sister-in-law of the leading protestant Prince, John Frederick of Saxony. But when it became apparent that the Lutheran’s insisted on their doctrinal positions, even though Henry was opposed to them, and that Charles V of Francis I could not agree on a common policy against England, Henry divorced his fourth wife and ordered that the man who arranged it be beheaded. The new Queen, Catherine Howard supported the conservative position and therefore the King’s fifth marriage opened a period of difficulties for the advocates of reformation. Henry reached an agreement with Charles V for a joint invasion of France. Since he no longer had to fear the Emperor, who had become his ally, he broke all negotiations with German Lutheran leaders.

In England he took steps to make the church conform as much as possible to Roman Catholicism, except in matter of obedience to the Pope. He also refused to restore monasteries which he had suppressed and confiscated under pretense of reformation and whose properties he had no intention of returning. But Catherine Howard fell in disgrace and was beheaded and Charles V for his own reasons broke off his alliance with England. The next and last wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, was a supporter of reformation and the position of those who opposed it was precarious when the king died early in 1547. So as you can tell from this great list, Henry VIII was quite a character and very ambitious when it came to finding England’s position within the European constellation of powers. And so Henry VIII, who had six wives, is one who’s remembered because of his outrageous ability to take on wives and find ways of getting rid of them.  

B. King Edward VI

After Henry died he was succeeded by his only male heir Edward. Edward a sickly young man, who lived only six years, was guided in his Kingship through regency by the Duke of Somerset. There was a period of great advance for the cause of reformers, the Duke of Somerset was very much in favor of reformation principles and wanted to see religion conformed to the rule of Scripture. The cup in communion was restored to the laity. Members of the clergy were allowed to marry and images were withdrawn from the churches. But the most important religious achievement of Somerset’s Regency was the publication of The Book of Common Prayer, whose main author was Cranmer and which was for the first time gave the English people a liturgy in their own language. After Summerset’s Regency the post fell to the Duke of North Umberland, a man of lesser principles then his predecessor but who for reason of expediency continued the policies of reformation. During his regency a revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer was published and the Zwingli tendency of this new edition was apparent when one compares the words of the minister is to say an offering in the bread to the communicants. In the earlier version the words were “The body of Our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee preserves thy body and soul unto everlasting life”, in the new edition they were “Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving”. While the first edition could be understood either in a Catholic or a Lutheran sense the 2nd clearly drew it’s inspiration from Zwingli and those who held similar positions.

This difference between the two books was an indication of the direction in which things were moving in England. The leaders of the reformist party who were increasingly inclined toward reformed theology had reasons to hope that their cause would win without great opposition. But, when Edward VI died the crown went to his half-sister Mary the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

C. Mary Tudor (“bloody Mary”)

Mary had always been a Catholic. For in her experience the movement of reformation had begun with her own dishonor in her youth when she had been declared an illegitimate child. Furthermore, if Henry had been correct in proclaiming himself head of the church and his marriage to Catherine null and void Mary was a bastard and her right to succession was in doubt. Therefore, for reasons both of conviction and of political necessity Mary was committed to the goal of restoring Roman Catholicism in England. In this task she had the powerful support of her cousin Charles V and also of a number of conservative bishops who had been disposed during the two previous reigns. But she knew that she must move with caution and therefore during the first months of her reign she took the time to consolidate her position within England while she strengthened her ties with the Catholic House of Hapsburg by marrying her cousin Phillip of Spain, later Phillip II. But once she felt secure upon the throne Mary began a series of increasingly repressive actions against Protestants. Late in 1554, England officially returned to obedience to the Pope. Most of what had been done during the reigns of Henry and Edward were now undone. The feast days of the Saints were restored, married clergy were ordered to set their wives aside. Finally open persecution of Protestant leaders became the policy of the Kingdom. Almost three hundred of them were burned, while countless others were imprisoned or went into exile. For these reasons the Queen was given the name by which she is known to this day, Bloody Mary.

The most illustrious among the martyrs during Mary’s reign was Thomas Cranmer. Since he was Archbishop of Canterbury his case was sent to Rome where he was condemned as a heretic and burned in effigy. But the Queen’s goal was to force the figurehead of the reformist party to recant, thus achieving a moral victory over the Protestants. To that end, he was forced to watch from his prison the death of two of his main supporters and close associates in the work of reformation, Bishops Latimer and Ridley. Eventually Cranmer did sign a recantation. To this day historians debate whether he did this out of fear of the pyre or rather because he had always declared that he would obey his sovereigns. Most probably he himself did not know what his motives were. The fact is that he did recant in writing and that in spite of this; he was condemned to death as an example to would be followers. Arrangements were made for a public recantation before his death.

The archbishop was taken to the Church of St. Mary, where a wooden platform had been set up and after the sermon was given he was offered the opportunity to recant. He began by speaking of his sins and his weakness and all expected him to conclude by declaring that he had sinned in leaving the Church of Rome. But he surprised his tormentors by withdrawing his words of recantation and this is what he said, “They were written contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart and written for fear of death to save my life if it might be and for as much as I have written of many things contrary to what I believe in my heart my hand shall first be punished for if I may come to the fire it shall first be burned as for the Pope I refuse him for Christ’s enemy and antichrist with all his false doctrine.” That last act of valor of the elderly man, who did in fact hold his hand in the fire until it was charred, made his early wavering be forgotten and Protestants considered Cranmer the great hero of their cause. Heartened by his example many insisted on spreading Protestant teachings and it became increasingly clear that Mary would have to take even harsher measures if Protestantism was to be eradicated.

What took place during Bloody Mary’s reign was important for Protestantism within England later on. For it created those heroes of the faith like Thomas Cranmer but also, many who saw the handwriting on the wall left England and went to Geneva and there as refugees they learned of the reformed faith in Calvin’s Geneva. In that time they had increased in their knowledge of the reformed faith and then after Bloody Mary was set down they returned to England and they became the forefront of what was to become to Puritan Movement. Mary died late in 1558 and was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth the daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn.

D. Queen Elizabeth

Elizabeth was not a protestant extremist and she had lived under very difficult times and had seen the coming and going of several governments, so she knew if she was to retain power she would have to very cagey, very cagey indeed. So her idea was a church whose practices were uniform, thus uniting the kingdom in common worship but in which there would also be great latitude for varying opinions. Within that church there would be no place for either Roman Catholicism or extreme Protestantism. But any moderate form of Protestantism would be acceptable as long as it participated in the common worship of the Church of England. Elizabeth’s religious policy found expression and support in a new edition of The Book of Common Prayer as an indication of her policy of theological inclusivism;  the new book combined the two different formulas that the earlier versions ordered ministers to use in the distribution of the bread. The new text now read as follows, ‘The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for the persevere thy soul and body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for thee and feed on Him in thy heart by faith in thanksgiving.’ Naturally the purpose of this double formula was to accommodate the divergent opinions of those who believe that communion was simply an act of remembrance and those who insisted that in it one really partook of the grace of God in Christ.

The 39 articles were promulgated in 1562 in order to serve as doctrinal foundation for the Church of England. Although in them several Catholic doctrines and practices are explicitly rejected and there was no attempt to choose between the various protestant views. On the contrary the articles sought to achieve a media in which all but Roman Catholics and the most doctrinaire Protestants could participate. Ever since that time this has been one of the main characteristics of the Anglican Communion, that is the Church of England and those that derive from it, mostly in former British Colonies.

Elizabeth had a long reign and during her time she effectively governed that island kingdom. Elizabeth had an uncanny ability to pit one group over against the other, to do those things which would keep England together as a nation. She managed to keep the country out of wars and thus it was a time of great growth, economically speaking. There was great prosperity for the coffers weren’t being drained by some foreign war. She was able to consolidate power not only in the church but also in her own hands and she managed to avoid several assassination attempts on her life. She became a beloved ruler and had a long and prosperous reign. So Elizabeth was very important, but notice the character of the Reformation in England, and this is one of the things that historians have discussed over and over again, was it a reformation of theological conviction or was it primarily that of political contrivance or convenience? That of course can be discussed over and back again but certainly one would have to say that there was a very different political reality within England and it did constrain the theological convictions. The reformation in England was also made more complicated by virtue of the fact that it was in some ways a second generation reformation, because many of these Marian exiles that came back had a particular brand of Protestantism which was all the more far removed from Roman Catholicism and actually, in some ways, was a reaction to Roman Catholicism. All of this created a very interesting story about the Reformation in Great Britain, from Henry VIII to Edward VI to Mary Tudor to Elizabeth.

II. Reformation in Scotland

And now we turn our attention to the Reformation in Scotland. The kingdom of Scotland to the north of England had traditionally followed the policy of seeking the support of France against the English who frequently invaded its territories. But in the 16th century the country was divided between those who supported that traditional policy and those who held that circumstances had changed and that it was in the nation’s best interest to establish closer ties with England. The advocates of the new policy gained a major victory in 1502 when James IV of Scotland married Margaret Tudor,  a daughter of Henry VII of England. Therefore when Henry VII became King of England there was hope that the two kingdoms could finally live in peace with each another. James the V, the son of James IV and Margaret Tudor was there for Henry’s nephew, the latter sought even closer ties by offering James the hand of his daughter Mary. But Scotland had decided to return to its traditional alliance with France and to that end James married the French Mary of Guise, from that point on the two British kingdoms followed opposite courses, particularly in that which referred to the reformation of the church and relations with the papacy.

Protestantism had been making its way into Scotland from a much earlier date. The doctrines of the Lollards and the Hussites had found followers in the country and had been impossible to uproot. Now Protestantism found a fertile field among those who held to such doctrines. Many Scots who had studied in Germany returned to their homeland taking with them the ideas and the writings of Luther and other reformers. The Scottish Parliament issued laws against those writings and against those who sought to spread protestant teachings. The year 1528 saw the first martyrdom of one of those itinerant preachers and after that time increasing numbers were executed, but it was all in vain. In spite of persecution the new doctrines continued gaining adherents. The spread of Protestantism was particularly noticeable among the nobility who resented the growing power of the crown and the loss of many of their ancient privileges and among university students who constantly read and circulated the smuggled books of protestant authors. When James V died in 1542 the heir to the throne was his infant daughter Mary Stewart, and this led to a power struggle. Henry VIII sought to marry the infant Queen to his son and heir Edward, a plan supported by the protestant Scottish nobles who were also in favor of England and closer ties with Scotland. The Catholics wished to see Mary sent to France for her education and married to a French prince. In this they succeeded, thus foiling Henry’s plan.

On their part a group of Protestant conspirators took the castle in St. Andrew and killed the archbishop. The government torn by inner conflict could do little. An army was sent to capture and punish the rebels, but after a short siege the troops withdraw and Protestants throughout the kingdom began considering St. Andrews the bastion of their faith.

A. John Knox

It was then that John Knox entered the scene. Little is known of the early years of this fiery reformer. He had studied theology and he was ordained a priest before 1540. He had actually became captured and spent eighteen months as a galley slave. But when released he went back to his homeland of Scotland and there he was inextricably involved in the events that were shaking the nation. Against his own will he was made preacher of the Protestant community and from that time he was the main spokesman for the cause of reformation cause in Scotland. The Protestants in St. Andrews were able to hold out because both England and France were going thru difficult times and could not intervene in Scottish affairs. But as soon as France found herself free to send reinforcements to Scotland, the government sent a strong army against the castle and the Protestants had to surrender. Although this was against the terms of surrender, Knox and several others were condemned to the galleys where the future reformer spent nineteen months of cruel labor. He was finally released thanks to the intervention of England where Edward VI now ruled and Knox became a pastor.

B. Mary Stuart’s Political Ambitions

Meanwhile important events were taking place in Scotland. Young Mary Stewart had been sent to France where she enjoyed the protection of her relatives of the House of Guise. Her mother herself of that family remained in Scotland as regent. In April 1558 Mary married the heir to the French throne who slightly more than a year later was crowned as Francis II. Thus, Mary, sixteen years old was both queen consort of France and Titular Queen of Scotland. But such titles and honors were not all, for she also claimed to be the legitimate Queen of England. Mary Tudor had died in 1558 and had been succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth. But if Elizabeth was illegitimate as Catholic’s claimed, the throne belonged to Mary Stewart, great granddaughter of Henry VII; therefore upon Mary Tudor’s death Mary Stewart took the title of Queen of England which made her the avowed enemy of her cousin Elizabeth. In Scotland the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise ruled as regent and her pro-catholic policies forced Protestant leaders to unite and late in 1557 they made a solemn covenant since they promised to serve the very blessed Word of God and its congregation they were known as Lords of the Congregation.

They were aware that their cause was similar to that of English Protestants and established ties with them. The regent ordered increased persecution against the heretics but they persisted in their position and in 1558 organized themselves into a church. Shortly before that they had written to Switzerland asking Knox to return to Scotland.

In his exile, Knox had written a virulent attack against the women who had then reigned in Europe. It was entitled, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, and it was published at a bad time, for it had scarcely circulated in England when Mary Tudor died and was succeeded by Elizabeth. Although the book was written against her now dead half-sister, Elizabeth resented much of what was said in it for its arguments based on anti-feminine prejudice could just as well be applied to her. So this hindered the neutral alliance that should have developed between Elizabeth and John Knox whose repeated retractions did not suffice to appease the English Queen.

Events were not working in favor of the Scottish Protestants. The Regent requested troops from France in order to crush the Lords of the Congregation. The latter did achieve some victories over the invaders but their army lacking in material resources could not stay in the field for long. They sent repeated appeals to England arguing that if the Catholics were able to crush the Protestant rebellion in Scotland the kingdom would thus be in the hands of the Catholic faction and closely tied to France, Elizabeth’s crown would be in danger.

Knox would return shortly before these events, sustain the Protestants with his sermons and the force of his conviction. Finally, early in 1560 Elizabeth decided to send troops to Scotland, the English army joined the Scottish Protestants and a long war seemed inevitable. But then the regent died and the French decided that it was time to sue for peace. As a result, both the French and the English withdrew their troops. As soon as the immediate danger was over disputes began between Knox and the Lords who until then had supported the cause of reformation. Although other reasons were adduced, at the bottom the conflict was economic. The Lords sought possession of the riches of the church, while Knox and his supporters wished to employ those resources for establishing a system of universal education to lighten the load of the poor and for the support of the church. In the midst of such struggles, the nobles decided to invite Mary Stewart to return to Scotland and claim the throne she had inherited from her father. Mary had hoped to remain in France as Queen of that country but the death of her husband had deprived her of that honor and therefore she agreed to the Scottish request. She arrived in Scotland in 1561 and although she was never popular at first she was content to follow the advice of her bastard half-brother James Stewart Earl of Moray a Protestant leader who kept her from immediately alienating the other Protestant lords. 

Knox himself seems to have been convinced that a clash with the Queen was inevitable and on this she probably agreed with him. From the time of her arrival Mary insisted on having Mass celebrated in her private chapel and the fiery reformer began preaching against the idolatry of the new Jezebel.

The two had a number of increasingly tempestuous interviews. But the Lords, content with the existing situation did not follow the preacher in his extremism. The growing tension with the Queen and with some of the Protestant lords did not prevent Knox and his followers from organizing the Reform Church of Scotland whose polity was similar to later Presbyterianism. In each church, elders were elected as well as a minister, although the latter could not be installed before being examined by the other ministers. The pillars of the new church were The Book of Discipline, The Book of Common Order and The Scots Confession.

In the end, Mary Stewart was the cause of her own downfall. She had always dreamed of sitting on the throne of England and in pursuit of that dream she lost first her own throne and then her life. In order to strengthen her claim on the English throne she married her cousin Henry Stewart Lord Darnley who also had a distant claim to it. Moray objected to this marriage and to Mary’s agreement with Spain to uproot Protestantism in her country and when his objections went unheeded he rebelled. Mary then called on Lord Bothwell, an able military leader who defeated Moray and forced him to seek refuge in London. Encouraged by this victory Mary declared that she would soon sit on the throne in London. Having lost Moray’s counsel Mary’s policy became increasingly unwise.

She decided that she had made a mistake in marrying Darnley and let her feelings be known to Bothwell and others. Shortly thereafter Darnley was murdered and the main suspect was Bothwell. He was legally exonerated in a trial in which no witnesses for the prosecution were allowed. But this did little to allay suspicion particularly since Mary married Bothwell a few months later.

The Scottish lords hated Bothwell and they soon rebelled. When the Queen sought to quench the rebellion she discovered that her troops were not willing to support her cause and she found herself in the hands of the lords. These then convinced her that they had proof of her participation in Darnley’s death and gave her the choice between abdicating or being tried for murder. She abdicated in favor of her one year old son James VI, whom she had had from Darnley and Moray returned from England a regent of Scotland. Mary managed to escape and raise an army in support of her cause, but she was defeated by Moray’s troops and her only recourse was to flee to England and to seek refuge under her hated cousin Elizabeth. Romantic imagination has woven many a tale around Mary’s captivity and death, making her a martyr in the hands of a cruel and ambitious cousin. The truth is that Elizabeth received her with greater courtesy than was to be expected from someone who for so long had been declaring her illegitimate and trying to take possession of her crown. Although she was a prisoner in the sense that she was not allowed to leave the castle of her residence, there were strict orders that she should be treated as a Queen and she was allowed to choose her own body of thirty servants. But she was the hub of many a conspiracy, most of which included the death of Queen Elizabeth who was the main obstacle in her path to the English throne and to the restoration of Catholicism in England.

Another common element of most of these conspiracies was the invasion of England by Spanish troops in support of Mary’s cause. And of course behind this quite often were the machinations of the Jesuits. When the third such conspiracy was discovered with clear proof that Mary was the instigator of the plot or at least a willing participant; she was tried and condemned to death. When she was finally taken before the executioner she faced death with royal dignity. In Scotland, Mary’s exile did not put an end to the disputes between the various parties. Knox supported the regency of Moray, but there was still significant opposition when the reformer suffered an attack of paralysis and had to withdraw from active life. When he heard of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants in France he made a last effort to return to the pulpit where he told his fellow Scots that they must continue their struggle lest they suffer a similar fate. He died a few days later after this last sermon. By then it was becoming apparent that Scotland had been won for the reformed tradition.

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