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James VI and the Revival of Episcopacy in Scotland: 1596–1600

  • Maurice Lee (a1)


King James VI and I had a taste for aphorisms, a circumstance which has occasionally misled the historians of his reign. James's deeply held and lifelong attachment to the doctrine of the divine right of kings is well known and unquestionable; so when, at the Hampton Court Conference, he said, “No bishop, no king”, it has perhaps been too readily assumed that his devotion to episcopacy as a system of church government was as unswerving and permanent as his belief in divine right. The king's admiration for the Church of England and its prelates, his threat at Hampton Court to harry the Puritans out of the land, his savage attack in Basilikon Doron on those “fiery spirited men in the ministry” who “fed themselves with the hope to become Tribuni plebis” but who were really “very pests in Church and Commonweal… breathing nothing but sedition and calumnies”—all this is so familiar as scarcely to require repeating. It is also well known that when he began to govern for himself in Scotland in the 1580s the position of the Scottish bishops was feeble. It continued to worsen for about a decade, as the king and his advisers found it desirable for political reasons to make concessions to the dominant presbyterian wing of the kirk, until the presbyterian historian David Calderwood could write of the year 1596, “The Kirk of Scotland was now come to her perfection.” Then, beginning in 1596, the tide began to run in the opposite direction.



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1. McIlwain, C. H., ed., The Political Works of James I (Cambridge, 1918), pp. 2324.

2. Calderwood, David, The History of the Kirk of Scotland, ed. Thomson, T. and Laing, D. (Edinburgh, 18421849), 5:387.

3. Donaldson, G., Scotland, James V to James VII (Edinburgh, 1965), p. 198.Willson, D. H., King James VI and I (London, 1956), p. 125. For Calderwood see, for example his History, 5:587. For Spottiswoode see his History of the Church of Scotland, ed. M. Russell and M. Napier (Edinburgh, 1851), 2:340342.

4. John, Row, The History of the Kirk of Scotland, ed. Laing, D. (Edinburgh, 1842), p. 165.

5. Mcllwain, p. 23.

6. Calderwood, 5: 408–411.

7. For Maitland see Lee, M. Jr, John Maitland of Thirlestane (Princeton, 1959).

8. Pitcairn, R., ed., The Autobiography and Diary of Mr. James Melvill (Edinburgh, 1842), p. 330.

9. See, for example, November 16, 1595, Aston, Roger to Bowes, Robert, Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots (hereafter CSPS), ed. Giuseppi, M. S., 12 (Edinburgh, 1952): 6061.

10. Pitcairn, pp. 368–369.

11. See Calderwood, 5:439–441.

12. Ibid., pp. 443–448.

13. Black's declinature, dated November 18, 1596 is in Calderwood, 5:457–459. For the crisis of 1584 see Lee, pp. 54–59.

14. Calderwood, 5:456–468, 501–502; Masson, D. ed., Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (hereafter RPCS), 5 (Edinburgh, 1882): 332333.

15. RPCS 5:343–344; Calderwood, 5:482.

16. RPCS 5:444–449.

17. Calderwood, 5:515; Paton, H., ed., Report on the Manuscripts of the Earl of Mar and Kellie (London, 1904), p. 46.

18. The fullest account of the events of the last part of 1596 is in Calderwood, 5:443–535. The riot is, of course, mentioned in all contemporary accounts. It seems likely that the December troubles were exacerbated by a group of courtiers who had no love for the Octavians and wished to pull them down.

19. Ibid., p. 433. The text of the Constant Platt is on pp. 421–433.

20. On this point see Foster, W. R., “A Constant Platt Achieved: Provision for the Ministry, 1600–38,” in Shaw, D., ed., Reformation and Revolution (Edinburgh, 1967), pp.124140.

21. Calderwood, 5:606.

22. March 9, 1597, Bowes to Burghley, CSPS, 12:482–485. Andrew Melville was not there, owing to the simultaneous election of the rector of the University of St. Andrews; his supporters held that the king's timing was deliberate, to insure Melville's absence. Calderwood, 5:606–607.

23. Calderwood, 5: 608.

24. Pitcairn, pp. 403–404.

25. Ibid., pp. 542–543.

26. See, for instance, the instructions for the presbytery of Aberdeen, dated January 15, 1597, in Cameron, A. I., ed., The Warrender Papers (Edinburgh, 1932), 2:302307.

27. Calderwood, 5:577, 584.

28. The fullest account of this Assembly is in Calderwood, 5:606–622, from which the quotations are taken.

29. March 9, 1957. Bowes to Burghley, CSPS, 12:482–485.

30. Pitcairn, pp. 414–416.

31. Calderwood, 5:646.

32. Scot, William, An Apologetical Narration of the State and Government of the Kirk of Scotland since the Reformation, ed. Laing, D. (Edinburgh, 1846), pp. 9495. Scot was minister of Kennoway in Fife in 1597.

33. Calderwood, 5:644.

34. Spottiswoode, 3:62–66; Pitcairn, pp. 417–419.

35. Calderwood, 5:411. The abbots and priors referred to were lay commendators, like the lawyer Edward Bruce, “abbot” of Kinloss.

36. Ibid., pp. 430–431.

37. Pitcairn, p. 530.

38. December 16, December 23, 1597, George Nicolson to Robert Cecil, CSPS, 13:132–134,142–143.

39. We do not know the membership of the committee of the articles for this Parliament. The lists we do have, for other parliaments of this period, indicate that privy councillors dominated the committee; there is no reason to believe that this Parliament was different. The committee was all-powerful in that it alone proposed legislation to the full parliament.

40. Calderwood, 5:668.

41. The text of the act is given in Calderwood, 5:669–670. See also December 17, 1597, John, Macartney to Cecil, , CSPS, 13:134137.

42. James Melville went so far as to express the opinion that parliament intended to sabotage the plan to revive clerical representation by tying it to prelacy, on the ground that no honest minister would accept the title of bishop. See Pitcairn, p. 530.

43. December 23, 1597, Nicolson, to Cecil, , CSPS, 13:139142. The meeting was moved from Stirling in May to Dundee in March. See Spottiswoode, 3:68–69. The letter of summons is in Calderwood, 5:671–673.

44. Calderwood, 5:680–681.

45. See the commission in Calderwood, 5:691–693.

46. Ibid., p. 694.

47. Ibid., p. 695. Calderwood alleges that some of the affirmative votes were cast by “laics wanting commission.”

48. The fullest account of this Assembly is in Calderwood, 5:682–702. Scot, , Apologetical Narration, p. 106, claims that the synods were all scheduled for the same day to make it impossible to concert opposition to the king's plans.

49. CSPS, 13:174.

50. July 25, 1598, Nicolson to Cecil, Ibid., pp. 241–243.

51. Pitcairn, pp. 441–442.

52. The fullest account is in Spottiswoode, 3:73–75.

53. The restoration was accomplished at a Convention of Estates on June 29, 1598, RPCS, 5:464.

54. July 25, 1598, Nicolson to Cecil, CSPS, 13:241–243.

55. August 2, 1598, Nicolson to Cecil, Ibid., pp. 249–251.

56. Mcllwain, p. 24. Willson, p. 126, puts the writing of Basilikon Doron in the summer or autumn of 1598, as does James, Craigie, ed., The Basilicon Doron of King James VI (Edinburgh, 1950), 2:4. See also CSPS, 13:347.

57. Calderwood, 5:726; Pitcairn, pp. 444–446; May 12, 1599, Bowes, to Cecil, , CSPS, 13: 466467.

58. RPCS, 5:28–29. The quoted comment, by the English agent Nicolson, was made in May, when it was expected that the preliminary meeting would be held in July and the Assembly in September, CSPS, 13:464–465.

59. Calderwood, 5:746–761; Pitcairn, 447–462.

60. March 9, 1600, Nicolson, to Cecil, , Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of the Marquess of Salisbury, 10 (London, 1904): 5962. Jame's government was imitating England in other respects as well; see the orders of the privy council regarding poor relief, April 1, 1600, RPCS, 6:98–99.

61. Calderwood, 6:1–26, has a full account of this Assembly.

62. CSPS, 13:629–630.

63. Calderwood, 6:20; Spottiswoode, 3:82.

64. Nov. 15, 1600, Nicolson to Cecil, CSPS, 13:733–734.

65. Aug. 21, 1600, Nieolson to Cecil, Ibid., 13:690–691.

66. Calderwood, 6:95–96.

67. October 19, November 12, 1600, Nicolson to Cecil, CSPS, 13:713–715, 729–731.

68. See Calderwood, 6:173–176 for the complaints of the synod of Fife, and the Assembly responses, at the Assembly of November, 1602.


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