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Elizabeth page 4

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This deed produced its natural fruits. The Lords of the Congregation remonstrated with the queen-regent boldly, and roused the indignation of the country against the clergy. Emissaries were dispatched in all directions to stir up the people against such cruelty, and Mary of Guise was compelled to protest, to a deputation headed by Sir James Sandilands, that such measures were contrary to her wishes, and that the Protestants should have her protection. In the Parliament of December, 1558, the Lords of the Congregation demanded that all proceedings on account of heresy should be suspended till the present differences of opinion in the Church should be settled by a general council, and that no churchman should judge those accused of heresy, but lay judges only. At this crisis Elizabeth of England ascended the throne. The power of the Papists was there for a moment paralysed; but in France, Mary's daughter was now married, and her husband, the dauphin, was proclaimed king-consort of Scotland by consent of Parliament. Mary of Guise's objects were accomplished, and she at once threw off the disguise of assumed moderation towards the Reformers. She at once joined the policy of her brothers, the Duke of Guise and the cardinal, whose object was to combine France and the Papists of France, England, and Scotland, for the dethronement of Elizabeth, and the establishment of the Queen of Scots in her place. The first step was evidently to put down the Reformation in Scotland, and to secure the French dominance in that country, by which they imagined that, in combination with the disaffected Roman Catholics of England, they would easily depose Elizabeth.

A firm stand against the demands of the Reformers indicated this change in the policy of the queen-regent. In a convention of the clergy held in Edinburgh, in March, 1559, the Lords of the Congregation demanded that the bishops should be elected by the gentlemen of the diocese, and the clergy by people of each parish. This was peremptorily refused, and it was decreed that the practice of using English prayers should cease, no language should be permitted in public worship but Latin, and this was followed by a proclamation of the queen-regent, ordering all people to conform strictly to the established religion, to attend mass daily; and, in an interview with the leaders of the Protestants, she showed them the commands which she had received on these heads from France, and summoned the chief ministers of the reformed body to appear before a Parliament to be held at Stirling to answer for their conduct in introducing heretical practices and doctrines.

The astonished Lords of the Congregation protested against so arbitrary and alarming a determination of government, and reminded the queen-regent of her solemn and repeated promises of toleration and protection. "Promises," replied the regent, to their still greater amazement, "ought not to be urged upon princes, unless they can conveniently fulfil them." This flagrant avowal of the basest Jesuitical doctrine so startled the lords, that they replied, on the spot: "Madam, if you are resolved to keep no faith with your subjects, we will renounce our allegiance; and it will be for your grace to consider the calamities which such a state of things must entail upon the country."

For a moment this remonstrance appeared to influence the infatuated woman, but soon hearing that the town of Perth had embraced the Protestant faith, she was so exasperated that she commanded Lord Ruthven, the provost, to suppress the heresy. "Madam," replied that nobleman, "I can cut down the people till you are satiated with their blood; but over their consciences I have no power." Blind to the folly of her course, she reprimanded Ruthven for what she termed his malapert speech, and issued orders for Perth, Dundee, Montrose, and other places which had renounced Romanism to return to the ancient faith, duly to attend mass, and again summoned the reformed preachers to appear at Stirling to answer for their delinquencies.

At this moment, as by the direct ordering of Providence, Knox arrived. He found the position of Protestantism very different from that in which he left it. Then, the Reformers were zealous, but their numbers few; now, they were numerous and powerful, though menaced. Willock, Douglas, and other ministers had, during his absence, been labouring at the peril of their lives; but now, not only were they protected by the nobles, by the indignant spirit of the people at large, but by England under her new Protestant queen. It was determined by the Lords of the Congregation to attend their ministers to Stirling in such numbers as to overawe the Government, and Knox volunteered to take his part with the other preachers. The nobles and the people mustered at Perth, and Erskine of Dun was sent on to request an interview with the queen-regent. Mary of Guise, aware of the formidable assembly of the Protestants, on this occasion exercised that duplicity for which she became famous. On Erskine assuring her that the people asked for nothing more than to worship God according to their consciences in peace, she declared that that was only reasonable, and if the leaders would request their followers to disperse, the summonses to the ministers should be discharged, and toleration fully conceded. But no sooner had the people returned home from Perth on the faith of this promise, than, acting on her maxim that promises were only to be regarded by princes as long as they were convenient, she continued the summonses, denounced all who did not appear as rebels, and made it high treason for any one to harbour them. Erskine of Dun, burning with indignation at this gross perfidy, hastened to Perth, where, on the announcement of this news, Knox ascended the pulpit, and preached a fiery sermon against the idolatry of the mass, and enumerated the stern commands of Scripture for the destruction of all the monuments of that crime. Scarcely had the people retired from the church, when a priest, as in defiance, unveiled a rich shrine which stood above one of the altars, and, displaying the images of the Virgin and the saints, prepared to celebrate mass. An enthusiastic young man called to those standing around him to prevent such a perpetration of the idolatry just denounced in so terrible a manner; the priest struck him, in resentment at the interruption, and the young man retaliated by flinging a stone, and dashing to pieces one of the images. This was the signal for a general onslaught on the altar. Images, candles, and ornaments were torn down in an instant and destroyed; and the noise recalling those without, there was a general rush into the church, and crosses, shrines, confessionals, paintings, and painted windows were rent and battered into a thousand fragments, and stamped under foot. From the cathedral the excited multitude rushed away to the religious houses of the Grey and Black Friars, and thence to the Chapter House, or Carthusian monastery. In a very short time there was not a church or chapel in Perth that was not stripped and desolated; the rioters, Knox says, leaving the spoil to the poor, who showed no reluctance to help themselves. The fury thus aroused against the Popish idolatry, as it was called, soon spread from town to town, and the first to imitate Perth was Cupar in Fife.

The queen-regent, at the news of this destruction, became furious. She vowed she would raze the town of Perth to the ground, and sow it with salt as a sign of eternal desolation. She summoned to her aid Arran, now Duke of Chatelherault, the Earl of Atholl, and D'Oyselles, the French commander, and being joined by two of the Lords of the Congregation, Argyll and the Lord James, who were averse to the outrages committed, on the 18th of May she marched towards Perth. The congregation hastened to address letters both to the queen-regent and the two Lords of the Congregation, who, to their great indignation, had joined her. They told Mary of Guise that hitherto they had served her willingly; but, if she persisted in her persecutions, they should abandon her and defend themselves. They would obey the queen and her husband if permitted to worship in their own way, otherwise they would be subject to no mortal man. To the two Lords of the Congregation they wrote first in mild expostulation, but they soon advanced their tone to threats of excommunication, and the doom of traitors, if they did not come from amongst the persecutors. They addressed another letter "To the generation of Anti-Christ, the pestilent prelates and their shavelings in Scotland;" and they warned them that, if they did not desist from their persecutions, they would exterminate them, as the Israelites did the wicked Canaanites.

Matters were proceeding to extremity when Glencairn arrived in the Protestant camp with 2,500 men; this made the queen-regent pause, and an agreement was effected by means of Argyll and the Lord James, by which toleration was again granted, and the queen-regent engaged that no Frenchman should approach within three miles of Perth, a condition which she characteristically evaded by garrisoning it with Scotch troops in French pay. Knox and Willock had an interview with Argyll and the Lord James, and sharply upbraided them with appearing in arms against their brethren, to which these nobles replied that they had done it only as a means of arbitrating for peace; but the Congregation took means to bind them in future by framing a new covenant, to which every member swore obedience, engaging to defend the Congregation or any of its members when menaced by the enemies of their religion.

They were soon called upon to prove their sincerity. The queen-regent - totally regardless of the treaty just entered into - the very same day that the Lords of the Congregation quitted Perth, entered it with Chatelherault, D'Oyselles, and a body of French soldiers. She deprived the chief magistrates of their authority because they favoured the Reformation; made Charteris of Kin-fauns, a man of infamous character, provost, and left a garrison of troops in French pay to support him.

The Lords of the Congregation assembled at St. Andrews, and with them Knox having come, as he said, to the conclusion that to be rid of the rooks it was necessary to pull clown their nests. At Grail, a small seaport in Fife, he had avowedly urged on the multitude to this work, and they had done it effectually, in the destruction of the altars and images in the church. The same scene was repeated at Anstruther, another seaport not far distant; and now he prepared to attack the great centre of Papal power and worship in St. Andrews.

The archbishop, hearing of the menaced attack, entered the town on the Saturday evening, at the head of a hundred spears, and sent to inform Knox that the moment he showed himself in the pulpit he would be saluted with a dozen culverins. Great alarm was occasioned in the congregation by this, but Knox treated the threat with contempt, appeared in the pulpit, and took for his text the account of Christ whipping the money-changers out of the temple. He declared that it was the intention of the queen-regent, who kept no oath or treaty, to bring in French troops and curb both their religion and their liberties, and to such a degree of fury did he work them, that the whole congregation rushed forth, with their magistrates at their head, and levelled with the ground the proud edifices of the Dominican and Franciscan friars.

The archbishop fled to the queen, who was lying at Falkland, and she immediately ordered her army to march upon St. Andrews and annihilate the iconoclasts. But on reaching Cupar Moor she found the camp of the Congregation defended at all points, and filled with a host of enthusiastic Covenanters, with skilful commanders at their head. Knox said people seemed to have been rained from the skies. Mary of Guise again betook herself to negotiation, and a truce of eight days was granted on the assurance that a number of noblemen should be appointed to meet the leaders of the Congregation, and settle all points of difference. But it was soon perceived that the queen-regent was only endeavouring to gain time for the muster of more troops; and no commissioners arriving, but, on the contrary, the inhabitants of Perth complaining loudly of the cruelties and oppressions of Charteris, it was determined to send a force to their relief. Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, an officer of great ability and experience, joined them at this juncture. Such numbers flocked to the rescue of Perth, that it was surrendered at the first assault. In the immediate vicinity stood the episcopal palace and abbey of Scone, in which, from time immemorial, the kings of Scotland had been crowned; but, spite of the popular veneration for this place, they entertained a deep hatred of the bishop, who had been the chief instigator of the burning of Walter Miln. The people rushed away to execute vengeance upon him, and Knox and the Congregation hurried after them to prevent them. They succeeded in checking any further outrage than the destruction of the altar and images, and Argyll and the Lord James contrived to draw them away to fresh quarry. It was reported that the queen-regent was on the march to occupy Stirling and the fords of the Forth, so as to cut off all communication betwixt the northern and southern Covenanters. A great crowd followed Argyll and Murray to forestall her, but by this means they left Scone exposed. People from Perth began the next day to gather about the abbey, some in hope of plunder, others of vengeance, and the bishop, alarmed, barred his gates, armed his servants, and stood on the defensive. A man approaching the "gernel," or granary, was thrust through with a rapier, and the cry was that it had been done by the prelate's son. The news fled to Perth; the excited populace poured forth vowing vengeance, and presently, spite of the vehement dissuasions of Knox and his associates, the palace and abbey were in flames. " Now," exclaimed an old woman, who had been watching the efforts of the leaders to prevent the conflagration, "I see that God's judgments are just, and none can save where he will punish, Since ever I can remember aught, this place hath been nothing else than a den of profligates, where those filthy beasts, the friars, have acted in darkness every sort of sin, and specially that most wicked man the bishop. If all knew what I know, they would see matter for gratitude, but none for offence."

Argyll and the Lord James had succeeded in checking the march of the queen-regent; and on their advance to Linlithgow, she and the French forces evacuated Edinburgh, falling back to Dunbar; whilst the covenanting army, entering Linlithgow, pulled down the altars and images, destroyed the relics, and then advanced on Edinburgh, which they entered in triumph on the 29th of June, 1559.

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