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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter XII. The Lords of the Congregation


From the dawn of the Reformation in Scotland, the quiet and peaceful demeanour of the Protestants has been remarked by many writers as astonishing, when suffering for so many years under the most cruel excesses of ecclesiastical tyranny. With the exception of slaying Cardinal Beatoun—an act of vengeance as much as of religious impulse—since the death of James V. they had not transgressed those bounds of duty which the laws of the land prescribed; but matters were rapidly coming to a crisis. Numbers gave courage: they petitioned parliament to afford them some legal protection in the exercise of their religious duties; but the Regent Mary, dreading the introduction of so delicate a subject to be debated by those martial barons, whose inherent love of turbulence ever served to keep their armour from rusting, prevailed upon the leading Reformers to desist for the present, giving them new and solemn promises of protection.

Soon after, they preferred the same humble supplication to the clergy of the Romish church; but those proud prelates rejected their request with undisguised contempt.

On the death of Mary of England, the French king persuaded his young daughter-in-law, the queen of the Scots and dauphiness, with her husband, to assume the arms and title of sovereigns of England, in consequence of Elizabeth’s doubted legitimacy, and with the design of establishing the church of Rome on a more permanent foundation in that country; while, at the same time, the princes of Lorraine resolved on a rigid persecution and utter subjugation of the Protestants in Scotland; and thus those coercive measures were set on foot, which the people repelled at the point of the sword, by which ultimately the French faction was destroyed in that kingdom for ever, and the stupendous hierarchy of the Roman church was levelled to the dust.

The queen-regent avowed her determination of extirpating the growing spirit, of heresy by the sword and -stake, and, regardless of her former promises, summoned the Protestant preachers to a court of justice held at Stirling. They attended accordingly; but Mary, dreading the vast concourse that accompanied them, promised to stay the trial, if they would return peaceably to their homes. Pleased with the pacific proposal, the great and excited multitudes dispersed and retired to their several districts and habitations: but, lo! notwithstanding her solemn pledges, this artful French princess, on the 10th May—the appointed day—proceeded with the trials of the summoned preachers, who, on non-appearance, were at once pronounced outlaws. Exasperated by such a signal breach of honour, the Protestants, stimulated by the coarse but fluent oratory of the bold and furious Knox, resolved at once to act on the defensive.

On his return from exile at Geneva, the latter, delighted with the menacing posture of affairs, hastened to Perth, where, on the 11th May 1559, he delivered from the pulpit a vehement and burning discourse. Fluent at all times, his stern enthusiasm lent new vigour to his denunciations against "the hellish priests, belly-gods, and shavelings,” as he usually termed the friars. The populace, already excited by fanaticism, were soon roused to the utmost pitch of religious frenzy that even his own furious zeal could have desired. Intolerant as those he railed against, infuriated by the political perfidy of the regent, and bold in his own ideas of conscious rectitude, his animated harangue had soon the most lamentable effects, and led to that storm of destructive violence, which inscribes an indelible stain on our Scottish Reformers,—a stain which seems to grow darker as civilisation increases and the waves of time roll on.

The tall rood-spires, each for ages the revered landmark of its district,—those sacred fanes, whose very shadows were thought to hallow the graves they fell on, the sonorous bells, the sounding organ, the sculptured statues, the priceless manuscripts and elaborate missals of their repositories—all suddenly became objects fraught with sin and idolatry. The rich abbeys, to whose secluded inmates we owe our literature, our civilisation, our religion, and our laws; the magnificent churches and beautiful oratories, hallowed by association, the lapse of long successive ages, and invaluable from their merit as Works of art; the gorgeous shrines before which these devastating Reformers had knelt in childhood, and their sires had bowed in age; the altars where so many generations of men had received the most solemn Christian sacraments— in short, all that for eight hundred years had been consecrated to God and to his service ; the tombs of the royal, the great, the good, and the brave, were violated, and the ashes of kings, of saints, and soldiers, were scattered to the four winds of heaven: even the humble graves of the nameless or less-known dead were violated, and all things, sacred and religious, were overwhelmed in one universal chaos of pillage and destruction.

McCrie’s apology for these outrages, which men of every creed condemn, is amusing as it is unsound,—that, by reducing the ecclesiastical buildings to ruin, they were well calculated, in that state, to inspire the liveliest sentiments for the sublime and beautiful. If such the effect of them in their ruin and desolation, what sentiments must they have inspired in the noon of their glory and splendour

Filled with rage at the effects of Knox’s oratory, the queen-regent, at the head of seven thousand men, attempted to seize the leaders of this new and formidable revolt. After another treaty, fresh breaches of faith on her part brought 'into tlie field the regularly organised army of the Gongregation, which, at the point of the sword, demanded the redress of religious grievances, and the expulsion of those French troops which were maintained about the court.

Artfully avoiding compliance with these requests, Mary of Guise obtained a cessation of arms for eight days, and promised to send ambassadors or envoys to St  Andrews, to adjust the quarrel. Again she failed in the fulfilment of her pledge; and the Congregation, inflamed anew with rage, seized upon the capital, together with Perth and Stirling, every where on the route madly sacking the abbeys and demolishing the churches.

The contemplation of these outrages yet excites indignation in every liberal mind: by them the march of civilisation was stopped, nobles degenerated into regicides and assassins, and the country was thrown hack into a state of anarchy, ignorance, and barbarism, almost worthy of the darkest ages of Scandinavia  and it is worthy of remark, that, for each martyr burned before the Reformation, the Presbyterian creed sacrificed its thousands after it, on the ridiculous charge of sorcery. The moral and political horizon, which had brightened under the rule of the five gallant Jameses, grew fearfully dark for a time, and architecture, navigation, printing, and painting, &c., which had all flourished under their fostering care, became lost, neglected, or forgotten.

It was some time previous to their bold advance upon Edinburgh that Sir William Kirkaldy left his residence at Halyards, and joined the bands of the Congregation, which were encamped upon Cuparmuir in Fife, about eighteen miles distant from his barony of Auchtertool. From his great experience in warlike matters, the influence of his name, his resolution, and worth, his accession was of the utmost importance to the Congregation ; his determination being as much to free Scotland from the thraldom of the French faction as to overturn the church of Rome. From passages in the letter quoted in a preceding chapter, so early as the year 1557, while serving under the Constable Montmorencie, he had expressed himself with the utmost indignation against the French influence in the Scottish affairs, and offered his services to free the land from their yoke, and promote that amity with the sister kingdom which it was so much the interest of the French court to prevent.

Lord Rothes brought a "goodlie companie” of a thousand spears from Fife to the camp of the Congregation.2 He was sheriff of the county, and it is probable that Kirkaldy and his vassals marched under his standard. Lord Ruthven came in to them from Perth, with a squadron of horse; while Restalrig and Ormiston brought many of the bold lances of Lothian. From Mearns, Angus, and Stratheam, troops of horse and bands of foot flockec to the standard of the Reformers, whose little army, seven thousand strong, took up a position on the heathy muir of Cupar, from the slopes of which their artillery could act with advantage on the plain around them.

Marching her Scottish troops and French auxiliaries through Fifeshire, Mary of Guise took up a position over against the Congregation on Tarvet hill, and both armies prepared for an engagement. James duke of Chatel-herault led her Scots, General d’Oisel the French. On the other side, beneath the orders of the Earl of Argyle, were Sir William Kirkaldy, Sir James Learmonth of Lairsie, the Lord James prior of St Andrews, James Haliburton, sheriff of Dundee, Patrick lord Ruthven, provost of Perth, and other brave leaders, who, like their resolute and well-appointed vassals, were inflamed by religious zeal and animosity against the faction of Mary, whose troops were at that time far less numerous.

When the well-armed hands of the fair regent, in all that glittering panoply of which the French troops were then so vain, marched into position on the grassy hill of Tarvet, it was the dawn of a summer morning—hut a dark and hazy one. The surrounding country was involved in gloom and obscurity, and they neither knew the exact number nor position of the enemy. About noon, the thick banks of mist which rolled around the hills were drawn up into mid-air like a curtain, and they beheld opposite them, to the north, the whole array of the Congregation drawn up in order of battle on the muir of Cupar, horse and foot, with their tall Scottish lances glancing in the light of the meridian sun, their baggage, culverins of brass, and powder carts. Between them lay the mossy marsh of Fernie, and the snaky windings of the Eden, then a deep and impassable river, crossed by ferry-boats, but now shrunk to little more than a runlet wandering through a fertile plain. Those ferries were commanded and swept by the royal cannon, while five hundred horsemen or prickers were thrown forward as skirmishers, to repress any front movement of the foe.

Far down the winding valley to the right, on the bank of the stream, lay Cupar, with its beautiful spire, and the ancient castle of the Thanes of Fife rising on a round and grassy eminence; to the left, extended the amphitheatre of hills, which overlook Arngask and Forgandenny.

As the mid-day sun of June shone on the tall spears and glittering armour of the Congregation, the steadiness and resolution of their aspect, together with the superiority of their force, prevented the wavering Duke of Chatelherault, and the gay chevaliers of d’Oisel, from evincing any disposition to engage; and Mary, doubtful of her Scottish troops, whom she knew to he hut coldly disposed towards those of France, attempted a temporary accommodation—but her herald was dismissed unheard.

Alarmed by the number of the foe, and the boldness of their demeanour, she was obliged to accede to their demand, which was, that the troops of General d’Oisel should retire beyond the river Forth—and they immediately commenced a retreat, by which an almost inevitable battle was prevented. After much diplomacy and manoeuvring, a truce was concluded for six months.

It was signed on the spot on the 13th June, by Chatelherault and Monsieur d’Oisel, on the part of the queen; and the Earl of Argyle, with the chiefs of the Protestant faction, on the part of the Congregation.

The place of meeting was the Howlet-hill, the highest part of the range called Garleybank, that overlooks Cupar muir.

Immediately after the treaty, the Reformers abandoned Edinburgh, receiving the renewed promises of the regent, that the free exercise of their religion would he allowed them ; hut, aware of the insincerity of a queen who had openly said that “no faith should he kept with heretics,” Kirkaldy had an interview with John Knox at St Andrews, concerning the prospects of the Reformation.

"If the English would forsee their own commoditie,” said the Reformer vehemently,—“ yea, if they would consider the danger in which they stand, they would not suffer us to perish in the struggle; for France hath decreed no less the subjugation of England than of Scotland!”

He then urged Kirkaldy to seek aid from the south ; upon which he wrote to Sir Henry Piercy. His letter, which is now preserved in the State-paper Office, shows the exact demands of the Reformers, and distinctly states the objects they proposed to accomplish, by having recourse to arms. It was written the day after the army of the Congregation entered Edinburgh, and is as follows: —

“1st July 1559.

“I received your letter this last of June, perceiving thereby the doubt and suspicion you stand in for the coming forward of the Congregation, whom, I assure you, you need not have in suspicion; for they mean nothing but reformation of religion, which shortly, throughout the realm, they will bring to pass, for the queen and Monsieur d’Oisel, with all the Frenchmen, are for refuge retired to Dunbar.

“The aforesaid Congregation came this last of June, by three of the clock, to Edinburgh, where they will take order for the maintenance of the true religion, and resisting of the King of France, if he sends any force against them..... .

"The manner of their proceeding in reformation is this : they pull down all manner of friaries and some abbies which receive not willingly the Reformation. As to parish churches, they cleanse them of images and all other monuments of idolatry, and command that no masses be said in them : in place thereof the book set furth by godly King Edward is read in the same churches. They have never as yet meddled with a pennyworth of that which pertains to the church; but presently they will order throughout all the parts where they dwell, that all the fruits of the abbies and other churches shall be kept and bestowed upon the faithful ministers, imtil such time as further order be taken.

"Some suppose the queen, seeing no other remedy, will follow their desires, which is a general reformation throughout the whole realm, conform to the pure word of God, and the Frenchmen to be sent away. If her grace will do so, they will obey her, and annex the whole revenues: if her grace will not be content with this, they are determined to hear of no agreement.”

This letter is of some importance: it explained the real intention of the Reformers, and acquainted England that they had no hostile feeling towards that country. Soon afterwards, Kirkaldy rode from Edinburgh to Norham, where he had a secret interview with Sir Henry Piercy. The meeting took place with the concurrence of Cecil. Kirkaldy more fully and amply explained the intentions of the armed Congregation, and returned to its Lords with the grateful tidings “that England was disposed to favour their views, and to enter into a league with them for the attainment of their designs.” But England was always disposed to encourage any quarrel that would involve Scotland in bloodshed and misery.

The tidings of which Kirkaldy was bearer were received with joy; and in another letter, dated 17th July 1559, addressed to the English secretary, he declares emphatically, with something of Knox’s fervour and force of expression, "that all Europe shall know that a league, in the name of God, hath another foundation and assurance than factions made by man for worldly commoditie.”


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