Scottish Episcopal Church History

16th Century

16th Century

The one in which two Scottish kings die young and a Queen is executed. A Cardinal is murdered and the Reformation begins

A Moment in the Century : Flodden

The Battle of Flodden on September 9th 1513 is often seen as a simple defeat of the Scottish army by an English one.

This is, of course, exactly what happened - but the implications of the battle go much deeper. In the late 15th century the economics and politics of the western edge of Europe were dominated equally by France, England and Scotland. They were powerful and strong nations and had a pattern of shifting alliances.

The defeat at Flodden removed both James IV, an educated and cultured Renaissance king, of Scots, respected throughout Europe, and also the powerful military forces he had so carefully developed. It ended Scotland's role as a major nation in mediaeval Europe and, ever since, Scotland has struggled to avoid being dominated by England.

The beginning of the United Kingdom has its roots in the marriage of James IV to Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England. Their great-grandson, the Scottish king, James VI, succeeded to the throne of England in 1603 and ruled the two kingdoms in a personal union, keeping them as separate countries. It was not until 1707 that the Union of the Parliaments was agreed, amid considerable difficulty and controversy in Scotland.

But in 1513 Scotland, England and France were all strong nations. The French king asked for Scotland’s help in the Europe wide War of the Holy League, in which England and France were on opposite sides. It was a difficult moment for James. He was married to Margaret, sister of Henry VIII of England, and had obligations to Henry under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace which he had signed before his marriage, while - on the other hand - Scotland had a longer-standing alliance with France. He decided to try and distract Henry from his invasion of France by marching just a little way across the Border.

Having, as honour demanded, given Henry notice of his intentions, James asked his men to assemble at Edinburgh or, if more convenient, at Ellem Kirk in Berwickshire, bringing with them supplies for forty days. Around 30,000 answered the call - it was the largest army Scotland had ever gathered. A deeply pious man, James rode north to Ross-shire to pray at the Shrine of Saint Duthac at Tain before joining his army.

In Edinburgh James’s men came to the Burghmuir - an area which now has the Meadows at one end and West Morningside and Mayfield at the other boundary. In the 16th century this was a place very different from the genteel ambience of today – it was the haunt of vagrants and the city’s quarantine area in time of plague. There was rough grassland, with outcrops of ancient forest, and James used it as a place to fly his hawks. In 1507 he had built the Chapel of Saint Roque on the Muir and this chapel was the focal point for the muster which began on August 13th 1513.

The king’s heaviest guns left Edinburgh Castle on August 17th, each pulled by a team of thirty-two oxen, although the biggest gun of all, Mons Meg, was deemed too heavy to move. The lighter guns followed two days later with the main body of the army. The route was through Dalkeith and across the countryside to the Lammermuir Hills. At Ellem Kirk the king met those who had journeyed from Aberdeenshire, Angus, Fife and East Lothian. The whole army crossed the River Tweed near Coldstream on August 22nd and the invasion of a small corner of England began - as did the rain that was to play a crucial role in the days ahead.

The king's guns pounded Norham Castle for six days until its Constable surrendered on August 29th. The army then advanced a little further into England, capturing the castles at Wark and Etal. Ford Castle was also surrendered by its castellan, Lady Elizabeth Heron. James remained at Ford until September 5th. Legend – but not actual history – claims that the king lingered at Ford because he was enthralled by the beautiful Lady Elizabeth.

A sensible course might now have been for the army to return to Scotland. James had achieved his strategic objective of a diversion, although such a withdrawal might have encouraged an incursion into Scotland by the force which the Lord Lieutenant of the Northern Marches, the seventy year old Earl of Surrey, had assembled. James decided to fight and, as was the custom, Heralds from both sides arranged the place of battle and the date by which it would be fought - noon on September 9th. The rain which had been falling since the Scots crossed into England was making conditions difficult for both armies, but James prepared a magnificent defensive position on Flodden Hill. He set great store by his guns and time and care was taken to ensure that they were properly dug in to fire accurately at the approach which Lord Surrey would take.

However, the English did not oblige. Lord Surrey saw that Flodden Hill, with its guns, was practically impregnable and sent his Herald to the Scots to request that they come down from the hill and fight on Milfield Plain. The Herald's message was ignored and so Lord Surrey - no doubt deeming himself to be freed from any obligation of honour - undertook a gruelling two day march in appalling weather, bypassing Flodden and coming on the Scots from the north at Branxton.

Two theories exist as to what happened next. In the first James's army was on the high ground of Branxton Hill in the process of returning to Scotland, having waited at Flodden until the expiry of the deadline for battle. The second theory says that, learning of Lord Surrey's move, James hurriedly brought his guns and army the mile from Flodden to Branxton Hill, and with the English army between him and Scotland, although the ford for which the vanguard was heading was further up the Tweed river. There was no time to prepare proper gun positions and when fighting began, around 4-0pm, the recoil of king's guns was not contained by the hurriedly constructed gun positions. The guns were ineffective and the battle - for, under either theory, a battle it now had to be - would be decided by close combat and, indeed, the rain.

For whatever reason James was on the Hill, in hindsight, he should have waited on the high ground and allowed the English to attack up the steep slope of Branxton Hill. But the English gunners, with much lighter field guns, were not having the difficulties which the Scots gunners experienced and were finding their targets. And so James began an advance down the hill. His army was larger than the English one and equipped with a new weapon, eighteen foot long pikes, which were much longer than the English billhooks. It was crucial for the battle plan that the divisions of pikemen held together. This had worked well on the left flank where the Earls of Home and Huntly’s men had firm ground and the English, commanded by Edmund Howard, Lord Surrey’s son, were routed. Lord Home, Lord Huntly and their men then took no further part in the battle (and the first theory says that as they were, in fact, the vanguard of an army on the move they followed their original orders to secure the river crossing into Scotland for the main part of the army).

If King James had indeed thought that the hour for battle had passed, and was returning to Scotland, it would also explain why there was inadequate reconnaissance of the ground conditions below Branxton, an oversight which had fatal consequences. The division led by three Earls - Erroll, Crawford and Montrose - encountered great difficulties as they left the high ground and advanced down the hill towards the main body of the English army. A stream, invisible from the top of Branxton Hill, was swollen by the rain and the area around it had become a sea of liquid mud. The long pikes were unmanageable as their bearers sank up to their knees in mud, while the shorter English billhooks and arrows from the bowmen proved more effective in such circumstances. A similar fate befell the king’s own division, which he led in person from the front rank, believing that honour demanded it.

When James saw that defeat was inevitable he made a personal charge at the Earl of Surrey himself. No one doubted his bravery as he was cut down within a few yards of the Earl. Seeing the king die many in his army made their escape by other roads to Scotland. Others, though, fought loyally on. The killing continued until around 7-0pm when darkness began to fall. In total 10,000 Scots died, a third of the army, and among them were two bishops, two abbots, twelve earls and thirteen lords. The English dead were around 1500. It was the last mediaeval battle to be fought in England. Muskets and pistols would soon replace the pikes, billhooks, spears and arrows used on Branxton Hill.

The next day King James’s body was identified and brought to the chancel of Branxton Church, wrapped in what remained of the Royal Standard. It was embalmed at Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Earl of Surrey escorted the body to London, but it is uncertain what happened to it there. It may have been buried in an unmarked grave at Saint Michael’s, Cornhill (a church destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Christopher Wren) or it may be that the embalmed body was taken to Sheen Priory, close to Henry VIII’s palace at Richmond, to await Henry’s return from France, and from there disappeared into the mists of unknown history. The king's sword, dagger and also a turquoise ring, sent to him by the Queen of France to encourage the foray into England, are now in the keeping of the College of Arms in London.

But, whatever happened to the body, Scotland’s Renaissance king was dead, aged forty. He had reigned since he was fifteen. A pious man, frequently on pilgrimage, who built many churches and who could speak a variety of languages – Lowland Scots, Gaelic, English, French, Italian, German, Flemish, Danish and Latin. A king who was often depressed and who gambled heavily but who also encouraged arts and science. A king fascinated by warfare, not only acquiring a formidable array of artillery for Scotland’s army but also strengthening the navy, including building the Michael, the biggest warship anywhere of its day. A king who fathered eleven children – six with Queen Margaret, of whom only the future James V survived infancy, and five by four other women. The oldest of these children, Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St Andrews, died with his father at Flodden.

James was succeeded by his son, who was eighteen months old. He was crowned as James V at Stirling on September 21st, twelve days after the battle. He lived a difficult and eventful life. Like his father he clashed with Henry VIII and was defeated by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss on November 24th 1542. He returned north to Linlithgow and Falkland Palaces and died, aged thirty, three weeks later, on December 14th 1542. His death came six days after his daughter Mary was born - Mary, Queen of Scots, mother to James VI who also became King James I of England and Ireland and thereby established a personal union of the kingdoms.

Flodden Battlefield - King James's army was on Braxton Hill, in the background of the picture. The English were on the hill where the Memorial Cross now stands. In between is a deep valley, and its steam proved an unexpected obstacle for the Scots army.

Saint Paul's Church, Branxton, in Northumberland. The Church received the body of King James on the day after the battle

The Chronological Story of the 16th Century

1513 Scotland’s Renaissance King, James IV, dies in the Battle of Flodden and with him many of the leaders of Church and State.

1517 Martin Luther publishes Ninety-Five Theses, a significant moment in the long process known as the Reformation.

1521 The Pope designates King Henry VIII of England as Defender of the Faith – a title retained by British monarchs to this day.

1525 The Scottish Parliament forbids the circulation of books by Martin Luther which question the Pope’s authority.

1528 Patrick Hamilton, formerly Precentor of the Cathedral at St Andrew’s, becomes the first martyr of the Reformation – being burned at the stake in St Andrews on the orders of Archbishop James Beaton – for supporting Martin Luther’s teaching.

1537 King James V marries Madeleine of Valois, daughter of the French king, Francis I, but she dies seven months later.

1538 King James V marries the twenty-three year old Mary of Guise, widow of Louis d’Orleans, Duc de Longueville. (Henry VIII of England sought to marry her immediately after Louis’s death in 1537).

1542 King James V dies and is succeeded by his six day old daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. The Earl of Arran, next in line to the throne after the infant Queen, is appointed Governor of the Kingdom and a marriage treaty is arranged with Henry VIII under which Mary should eventually marry Henry’s son, Edward. Cardinal David Beaton begins reform of the Church through provincial councils, introduces a catechism in Scots and encourages preaching which engages with the people.

1544 George Wishart, a graduate of King’s College, Aberdeen, and a former schoolmaster at Montrose, becomes an itinerant preacher, travelling through Scotland preaching the Reformation.

1546 George Wishart is arrested and burnt to death outside St Andrews Castle as Cardinal Beaton watches from a window. Two months later the Castle is seized by Reformers and the Cardinal murdered. The castle is re-taken by French troops and John Knox, who had joined its defenders, is captured and sent as a prisoner to France. On his release he goes to England, becomes a priest in the Church of England and a Chaplain to King Edward VI. He is offered, but declines, the Bishopric of Rochester.

1546 Mary of Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, resists English pressure for a future marriage of her daughter to Edward, son of Henry VIII.

1547 King Henry VIII of England dies and is succeeded by Edward VI, Henry’s son by Jane Seymour, his third wife. As the new king is just ten years old his uncle, the Duke of Somerset, is designated Lord Protector.

1548 Five year old Mary, Queen of Scots, travels to France where she is brought up with the French royal children, with the intention that she ultimately marries the Dauphin Francis, heir to the French throne.

1549 The first English Book of Common Prayer is published, with Thomas Cranmer as its principal author.

1552 The second English Book of Common Prayer is published.

1553 Edward VI of England dies, aged sixteen. An attempt to make Lady Jane Grey the Queen fails and Mary, the Roman Catholic daughter of Henry Vlll and Katherine of Aragon, becomes Queen. John Knox leaves England for Geneva and then Frankfurt. Roman Catholicism is restored in England and in 1556 three Anglican bishops - Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London; and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester - are burnt as heretics.

1554 The Queen Dowager, Mary of Guise, becomes Regent of Scotland.

1558 Queen Mary of England and Ireland dies and is succeeded by her Anglican half-sister, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. The Church of England is re-establshed as independent of the Church of Rome with Elizabeth as its Supreme Governor. Mary, Queen of Scots, lays claim to the English throne as great-granddaughter of Henry VII of England.

1558 Sixteen year old Mary, Queen of Scots, and Francis, heir to the French throne, marry. Francis is just over a year younger than Mary. A secret treaty is signed which will make Scotland part of France should she die without an heir.

1559 Francis becomes King Francis II of France and Mary the Queen Consort of France as well as Queen of Scots.

1559 The third English Book of Common prayer is published.

1559 The Regent, Mary of Guise, treats Reformers with severity and John Knox, imbued with Calvinist theology, returns to Scotland at the request of some of the Protestant nobles. The Regent requests help from France and the Protestants receive aid from England. On the approach of an English army Mary of Guise takes refuge in Edinburgh Castle, becomes ill and dies in the castle, aged forty-five. A month later the Treaty of Edinburgh is agreed and French troops leave Scotland.

1560 The Scottish Parliament removes the Pope’s authority in Scotland, forbids the Mass and restricts the administration of Sacraments to those admitted as preachers. The legality of the Acts is uncertain as the young Queen Mary constantly declines to ratify them. The General Assembly of the Church comes into being, with both Ministers and Lay Commissioners as members. “Superintendents” replace bishops. The Roman wing of the Church is never again the “Established” Church of Scotland and for almost three hundred years the word “Bishop” almost always refers to those in what becomes the Episcopal Church. It is not until 1848 that bishops are once more resident in Roman Catholic Dioceses in Scotland.

The pre-Reformation Episcopalian bishops make no made no attempt to continue the Apostolic Succession of Bishops and several, including the Bishops of Caithness, Orkney and Galloway, join the Reformers and continue to have authority in their former dioceses. Of the two archbishops the Archbishop of Glasgow is the Ambassador to France in 1560 and remains there until his death forty-three years later. The Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton, brother of the Earl of Arran, the former Regent, went through difficult days. He is imprisoned in 1563 and after his release is an active supporter of Mary. He baptises her infant son, James, and pronounces her divorce from the Earl of Bothwell. He is present at the Battle of Langside, which ends Mary's hopes of regaining the Crown. of Scotland. A kinsman murders the Regent, the Earl of Moray, in 1570 and the Archbishop is executed at Stirling the following year.

On Apostolic Succession it may be noted that Patrick Forbes, Bishop of Aberdeen from 1618 to 1635, thought of this as having three forms - either an unbroken succession of Presbyters (which he regarded as the basic form); or an unbroken succession of Bishops; or the unbroken succession of Saints, those individuals who, in every generation, handed on the precious truth of God (whatever the institutional Church might be doing).

1560 King Francis II of France, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, dies aged sixteen.

1561 Mary returns to Scotland nine months after her husband’s death. She is eighteen.

1562 Sir William Maitland travels to England to seek a better relationship between the kingdoms and to assert Mary’s right of succession to Queen Elizabeth.

1563 Elizabeth suggests a marriage between Mary and the Earl of Leicester.

1565 Mary marries Henry Stewart, Earl of Darnley. Both are Roman Catholics and the Queen resolves to attempt the restoration of the Roman Catholic Church, although her husband advises against it.

1566 James, the future King James VI and I, is born in Edinburgh Castle.

1567 The Earl of Darnley is murdered and Mary marries the Earl of Bothwell in a Protestant ceremony. Later she surrenders to the nobles and consents to the abolition of cathedral services throughout Scotland. While imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle she nominates her half-brother, the Earl of Moray, as Regent for her infant son and then abdicates. She never sees her child again. The thirteen month old James becomes James VI of Scotland, crowned at Stirling by Adam Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney, who had joined the Reformers in1560.

1568 Mary escapes from Loch Leven Caste and within a few days gathers an army of 6000. Her abdication and consent to the coronation of her son are declared to have been obtained under threat of death and thus invalid. A document demanding her restitution is signed by nine bishops, twelve abbots, eight earls, eighteen lords and almost a hundred barons. Mary watches the defeat of her army, commanded by the Earl of Argyll, at the Battle of Langside. She travels to Dundrennan Abbey, sixty miles away in Galloway, and from there crosses the Solway Firth to England where she is held prisoner for nineteen years.

1571 The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are agreed by the English Parliament

1572 The Episcopate, abolished in 1560, is restored at the Convention of Leith. John Knox supports the move, although bishops are now appointed, rather than consecrated, and are subject to the General Assembly.

1584 The sixteen year old James VI makes an attempt at reconciliation with his grandmother’s family in France and with the Pope.

1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, is beheaded at Fotheringay Castle in Lincolnshire, after nineteen years of imprisonment in England. Queen Elizabeth maintains that she had not intended an execution.

1589 James VI marries the fifteen year old Anne of Denmark, daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark and Norway.

1592 Presbyterianism is established as the Church of Scotland although the titular, appointed, bishops continue to sit in parliament. New “bishops”, known as “Commissioners” are appointed to vacant bishoprics as King James VI realises that Presbyterianism is likely to challenge the throne itself - Andrew Melville, a leading reformer, has said that there are two kingdoms in Scotland and one is the Kirk. In this kingdom James cannot be a King, or Head, but only a member.

Another Moment in the Century : Castle of Martyrdom and Murder

St Andrews’ Castle was the home of the Bishops, and then the Archbishops, of St Andrews and was the scene of much violence during the Reformation. The first castle was probably built around 1200 but the present ruins show much subsequent development.

George Wishart, a Reformation martyr, is accused of heresy, and burned alive in the street outside the castle gate in March 1546. Two months later, in reprisal, Protestant nobles and their retinue seize the castle and murder Cardinal David Beaton, Archbishop of St Andrews. His body is hung from a window, possibly the one from which he watched George Wishart die.

The ruins of the Castle of St Andrews

The Reformers withstand a year long seige of the Castle by the forces of the Regent, the Earl of Arran, but eventually the Castle is captured by French troops, assisted by a French fleet off-shore. John Knox, ordained a priest eleven years earlier, joined the Reformers in the Castle in May 1547, shortly before its fall, and, as a result, spends two years as a French prisoner, one of the oars-men in a French warship.

St Andrews had gradually gained a dominant place in the life of the Church. The importance of the old Celtic centre on Iona had been eroded when Viking raids in 849 forced the removal of Saint Columba's remains to a safer resting place. St Andrews has the advantage of possessing relics of Andrew the Apostle, which became a useful tool in fending off the claims of English archbishops to jurisdiction over the Scottish Church.

In 1144 religious life in St Andrews was enhanced with the establishment of a community of Augustinian Canons. It meant that the existing clergy, the Culdees, were displaced, eventually finding a home in the most easterly of the churches of the town - Saint Mary-on-the-Rock - on a promontory overlooking the harbour. Only the foundations and first few courses of its walls still stand.

The Augustinians base themselves in Saint Rule's Church, which dates from about 1130. It is extended in 1144 to accommodate the Canons. Today all that remains of Saint Rule's is a small part of the Chancel and the 100 foot tower. It is possible to climb the steps inside it and from the top there are views over all of St Andrews. By 1160 it beomes clear that even the enlarged Saint Rule's is too small and the building of the largest cathedral in Scotland begins. The work takes nearly 150 years to complete and the Cathedral is consecrated on July 5th 1318 in the presence of King Robert the Bruce.

Down the centuries the Cathedral has been battered by storms and gales but it was the wind of change of the Reformation which did the real damage. On June 11th 1559 John Knox, back once more in St Andrews, preached a sermon which so aroused people that they went to the Cathedral and destroyed all that the Reformers described as "Popery". The Canons may, or may not, have had time to hide the relics of Andrew the Apostle. The relics disappeared that day and have not been seen since. A plaque in the Cathedral ruins today marks the place where the Shine of Andrew once stood. The Church of Saint Mary-on-the-Rock was also destroyed, probably in the first wave of attacks on June 11th. The Cathedral and its monastery ceased to function on June 14th and within a week all the Augustinian Canons had left the town.

Today all that remains of the great Cathedral are fragments - a large part of the Precinct wall is still in place as are parts of the west gable, facing the old town's two main streets, part of a wall of the nave and the east gable.

Photo: The west doorway of St Andrews Cathedral, with the east gable in the distance