The Scots Worthies (eBook)

by John Howie

in ePub, .mobi & .pdf formats

The Scots Worthies: Containing a Brief Historical Account of the Most Eminent Noblemen, Gentlemen, Ministers, and Others, Who Testified or Suffered for the Cause of Reformation in Scotland From the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century to the Year 1688

CHRISTIANITY seems to have made its appearance in Scotland at a very early period: according to some writers, it was propagated in this kingdom by the apostles themselves. It is said by some, that Simon Zelotes, by others, that Paul preached the gospel in this part of the world; but as this opinion is not supported on proper authority, it merits only the regard due to conjecture, not the attention which an undoubted narrative demands. Another, and more probable account is, that during the persecution raised by Domitian, (the twelfth and last Cæsar, about A.D. 96,) some of the disciples of the apostle John fled into our island, and there taught the religion of Jesus. 

It does not appear that Christianity made any very rapid progress for a considerable time. The first account of the success of the gospel that can be depended on, is, that about A.D. 203, king Donald I., with his queen and several courtiers, were baptized, and continued for a time to promote the interests of Christianity, in opposition to pagan idolatry. But the invasion of the emperor Severus disturbed this king's measures; so that for the space of more than seventy years after, religion declined and the idolatry of the Druids prevailed. They were an order of heathen priests, who performed their rites in groves of oak trees; a species of idolatry of great antiquity, being of the same kind to which the Jews so often revolted. These Druids likewise possessed a considerable share of civil power, which made it a difficult task to establish a religion so opposite to, and subversive of, their own: but the difficulties which Christianity has in every age and country had to encounter, have served its interest, and illustrated the power and grace of its divine Author. About the year 277, they were expelled by king Cratilinth, who took special care to obliterate every memorial of them; and from this period we may date the true era of Christianity in Scotland, because, from this time forward, until the persecution under the emperor Diocletian, in the beginning of the fourth century, there was a gradual increase of the true knowledge of God and religion. That persecution became so hot in the southern parts of Britain, as to drive many, both preachers and professors, into Scotland, where they were kindly received, and had the Isle of Man, then in possession of the Scots, given them for their residence, and a sufficient maintenance assigned them. King Cratilinth built a church for them, which was called the church of our SAVIOUR, in the Greek σωτηρ, and is now, by corruption, SODOR, in Icolmkill, one of the western isles. These men were not employed, like the Druidical priests in whose place they had come, in settling the worldly affairs of men, but gave themselves wholly to divine services, instructing the ignorant, comforting the weak, administering the sacraments, and training up disciples to the same services. 

Whether these refugees were the ancient Culdees, or a different set of men, it is neither easy nor material to determine. Some profess to trace Culdeeism to the primitive ages of Christianity, while others ascribe its institutions to Columba about the middle of the sixth century. The Culdees (from cultores Dei, worshippers of God) flourished at this time: they were called μοναχοι, or monks, from the secluded religious lives which they led; and the cells into which they had retired, were, after their deaths, mostly converted into churches, which to this day retain their names, as Cell, or Kell, or church of Marnock; Kil-Patrick, Kil-Malcom, &c. Opposed to papal supremacy in unyielding resistance, they differed from the votaries of the Romish church, not only in their rigid adherence to the infallible standard of the word of God, but also differed from them in their habits as a body of Christian teachers: far from cloistering themselves in some retreat, wherein they could look forth with cold unconcern upon the doings of their fellowmen,—bearing not the trials and vicissitudes of life, or sharing its joys; confining that love which they owed to the human family within the limited circle of a monastic fraternity, or seeking the aggrandizement of the order to which they belonged, the Culdees, like Paul, laboured for their subsistence among their fellow-men; they performed all the duties of useful members of society, while they taught and preached the truths of the gospel. 

Their manner of operation was to choose superintendents from among themselves, whose office obliged them to travel the country, in order to see that every one discharged his duty properly: but these men were utter strangers to the lordly power of the modern prelate, having no proper diocese, and only a temporary superintendency, with which they were invested by their brethren, and to whom they were accountable. It was an institution, in the spirit of it the same with the private censures of ministers among Presbyterians. 

During the reigns of Cratilinth and Fincormac, his successor, the Culdees were in a flourishing state: but after the death of the latter, both the church and state of Scotland went into disorder. Maximus, the Roman præfect, stirred up the Picts to aid him against the Scots, who were totally defeated; their king, Ewing, with most part of the nobility being slain. This bloody battle was fought about the year 380, at the water of Doon, in Carrick. This overthrow was immediately succeeded by an edict commanding all the Scots, without exception, to depart the kingdom against a certain day, under pain of death. This drove them entirely into Ireland, and the western isles of Denmark and Norway, except a few ecclesiastics who wandered about from place to place. 

After an exile of forty-four, or, according to Buchanan, twenty-seven years, which the Scots endured, the Picts became sensible of their error in assisting the Romans against them, and accordingly strengthened the hands of the few who remained, and invited the fugitives back into their own land. These were joined by some foreigners, and returned, with Fergus II., then in Denmark, at their head. Their enterprise was the more successful, that at this time many of the Roman forces were called home. Their king was crowned with the usual rights in his own country, and the news of his success drew great numbers to him; insomuch that he recovered all the country out of which the Scots had been expelled. Most of the foreign forces returned home, except the Irish, who received the country of Galloway for their reward. This successful undertaking happened about the year 404, or, as others will have it, 420. 

The Culdees were now called from their lurking places, restored to their livings, and had their churches repaired. At this time they possessed the people's esteem to a higher degree than ever: but this tranquillity was again interrupted by a more formidable enemy than before. The Pelagian heresy had now gained considerable ground in Britain: it is so called from Pelagius, a monk at Rome. Its chief articles are, 1. That original sin is not inherent. 2. That faith is a thing natural. 3. That good works done by our own strength, of our own free-will, are agreeable to the law of God, and worthy of heaven. Whether all or only part of these errors then infected the Scottish church, is uncertain; but Celestine, then bishop of Rome, embraced this opportunity to send Palladius among them, who, joining with the orthodox of south Britain, restored peace to that part of the church, by suppressing the heresy. Eugenius the Second, being desirous that this church should likewise be purged of the impure leaven, invited Palladius hither, who, obtaining liberty from Celestine, and being enjoined to introduce the hierarchy as opportunity should offer, came into Scotland, and succeeded so effectually in his commission, as both to confute Pelagianism and new model the government of the church. 

The church of Scotland as yet knew no officers vested with preeminence above their brethren, nor had anything to do with the Roman Pontiff, until the year 450. Bede says, that "Palladius was sent unto the Scots who believed in Christ, as their first bishop,"* Boetius likewise says, "that Palladius was the first of all who did bear holy magistracy among the Scots, being made bishop by the great pope. Fordun, in his Chronicle, tells us that, "before the coming of Palladius, the Scots had for teachers of the faith, and ministers of the sacraments, presbyters only, or monks, following the customs of the primitive church."† Tradition affirms that the shire of Kincardine was the scene of his residence and labours; the place where his ashes are said to repose being still marked by the ruins of a chapel bearing his name. 

But while we may consider him as having opened that intercourse which gradually obtained more and more between Scotland and Rome, yet we are not to date from his time the era of diocesan bishops; for there were no such office-bearers in the church of Scotland, until the reign of Malcolm II., in the eleventh century. During the first 1000 years after Christ, there were no divided dioceses, nor superiorities over others, but they governed in the church in common with presbyters; so that they were no more than nominal bishops, possessing little or nothing of that lordly dignity, which they now, and for a long time past, have enjoyed. Spottiswood (History, p. 29,) himself testifies, that the Scottish bishops, before the eleventh century, exercised their functions indifferently in every place to which they came. Palladius may be said to have rather laid the foundation of the after degeneracy of the church of Scotland, than to have built that superstructure of corruption and idolatry which afterwards prevailed; because she continued for near two hundred years in a state comparatively pure and unspotted, when we cast our eyes on the following periods of her history. 

Columba, too, a native of Ireland, and descended from royal blood, flourished about the middle of the sixth century. His education was intrusted to Irish ecclesiastics; but on account of some civil dissensions he left his native country, and travelled both in Europe and Asia, which might tend to give him that intrepedity which he afterwards so nobly displayed in propagating the gospel. While Ireland had been early blessed with Christianity, Scotland was wrapped up in the darkness of ignorance and superstition; hence it was that Columba, after his return to his native land, set out on that missionary tour which entitled him to be called the Apostle of the Highlands. In the year 563, he sailed in a small wicker boat with twelve associates, and landed on Hi, or Iona, now called Icolmkill, or Columkill, for Columba himself. Here he established his missionary college, which gave birth to those of Dunkeld, Abernethy, St. Andrew's, Abercorn, Govan on the Clyde, and many other religious establishments. Hence this remote and rugged isle may be viewed as the upper room in Jerusalem, a well-spring whence flowed a flood of gospel light throughout our land. It is affirmed that Columba was not only instrumental in propagating the gospel in Britain and Ireland, but also on the continent of Europe, particularly France and Italy. 

About the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh century, a number of pious and wise men flourished in the country, among whom was Kentigern, commonly called St. Mungo. Some of these men were employed by Oswald, a Northumbrian king, to instruct his people; they are represented by Bede, as eminent for their love to God, and knowledge of the holy scriptures. The light of the gospel by their means, broke into other parts of the Saxon dominions, which long maintained an opposition to the growing usurpation of the church of Rome, which, after the middle of this century, was strenuously supported by Austin's disciples. Besides these men, the church of Scotland at this time sent many other worthy and successful missionaries into foreign parts, particularly France and Germany. 

Thus was Scotland early privileged, and thus were her privileges improved; but soon "the gold became dim, and the most fine gold was changed." 

Popery came now by degrees to show her horrid head; the assiduity of Austin and his disciples in England was attended with melancholy consequences to Scotland: by fomenting divisions, corrupting her princes with Romish principles, and inattention to the lives of her clergy, the papal power soon came to be universally acknowledged. In the seventh century a hot contest arose between Austin and his disciples on the one part, and the Scots and the northern Saxons on the other, about the time of keeping Easter, the threefold immersion in baptism, shaving of priests, &c.; which the latter would not receive, nor submit to the authority that imposed them. Each party refused ministerial communion with the other party, until an arbitral decision was given by Osway, king of the Northumbrians, at Whitby in Yorkshire, in favour of the Romanists, when the opinions of the Scots were exploded, and the modish fooleries of papal hierarchy established. This decision, however, was far from putting an end to the confusion which this dissension had occasioned; the Romanists urged their rites with rigour, the others rather chose to yield their places than conform. Their discouragements daily increased, as the clerical power was augmented. In the year 886, they obtained the act exempting them from taxes, and all civil prosecutions before temporal judges, and ordaining that all matters concerning them should be tried by their bishops, who were at this time vested with those powers, which are now in the hands of commissioners, respecting matrimonial causes, testaments, &c. They were likewise by the same statute empowered to make canons, try heretics, &c.; and all future kings were ordained to take an oath at their coronation, for maintaining these privileges to the church. The Convention of Estates which passed this act was held at Forfar, in the reign of that too indulgent prince, Gregory. 

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Malcolm III., Alexander, David, &c., successively supported this dignity, by erecting particular bishoprics, abbeys, and monasteries. The same superstitious zeal seized the nobility of both sexes, some giving a third, others more, and others their whole estates for the support of pontifical pride, and spiritual tyranny; which soon became insupportable, and opened the eyes of the nation, so that they discovered their mistake in raising clerical authority to such a height. Accordingly, we find the nobles complaining of it to Alexander III., who reigned after the middle of the thirteenth century; but he was so far from being able to afford them redress, that when they were excommunicated by the church on account of this complaint, to prevent greater evils, he was obliged to cause the nobility to satisfy both the avarice and arrogance of the clergy, who had now resolved upon retiring to Rome, with a view to raise as great commotions in Scotland, as Thomas-á-Becket had lately made in England. 

The pope's power was now generally acknowledged over Christendom, particularly in our nation, for which, in return, the church of Scotland was declared free from all foreign spiritual jurisdiction, that of the "apostolic see only excepted." This bull was occasioned by an attempt of one Roger, bishop of York, in the year 1159, to raise himself to the dignity of metropolitan of Scotland, and who found means to become legate of this kingdom, but lost that office upon the remonstrance of the clergy. This remonstrance procured the above bull in their favour, with many other favours of a like nature at this time conferred upon them, by all of which they were exempted from any other jurisdictions than that of Rome; so that we find pope Boniface VIII., commanding Edward of England to cease hostilities against the Scots, alleging that "the sovereignty of Scotland belonged to the church;" a claim which seems to have been founded in the papal appointment for the unction of the Scots kings, which was first used on king Edgar, A.D. 1098, and at that time regarded by the people as a new mark of royalty; but which, as the appointment of the pope, was really the mark of the beast. 

There were now in Scotland all the orders of monks and friars, Templars, or red monks, Trinity monks of Aberdeen, Cistertian monks, Carmelite, Black, and Grey friars, Carthusians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jacobines, Benedictines, &c.; which show to what a height antichrist had raised his head in our land, and how readily all his oppressive measures were complied with by all ranks. 

But the reader must not think, that during the period we have now reviewed, there were none to oppose this torrent of superstition and idolatry; for from the first appearance of the Roman antichrist in this kingdom, God wanted not witnesses for the truth, who boldly stood forth in defence of the blessed and pure gospel of Christ. Mention is first made of Clements and Samson, two famous Culdees, who in the seventh century supported the authority of Christ as the only king and head of his church, against the usurped power of Rome, and who rejected the superstitious rites of antichrist as contrary to the simplicity of gospel institutions. The succeeding age was no less remarkable for learned and pious men, to whom Scotland gave birth, and whose praise was in the churches abroad; particularly Joannes Scotus, who wrote a book upon the eucharist, condemned by Leo IX., in the year 1030, long after his death. In the ninth century, a convention of estates was held at Scoon for the reformation of the clergy, their lives and conversations at that time being a reproach to common decency and good manners, not to say piety and religion. The remedies provided at this convention discover the nature of the disease. It was ordained, that churchmen should reside upon their charges, that they should not intermeddle with secular affairs, but instruct the people, and be good examples in their conduct; that they should not keep hawks, hounds, or horses, for their pleasure, and that they should carry no weapons, nor be pleaders in civil causes. And if they failed in the observance of these injunctions, they were to be fined for the first, and deposed for the second transgression. These laws were made under king Constantine II.; but his successor, Gregory, rendered them abortive by his indulgence. The age following was not remarkable for witnesses to the truth; but historians are agreed that there were still some of the Culdees, who lived and ministered apart from the Romanists, and taught the people that Christ was the only propitiation for sin, and that his blood only could wash them from the guilt of it, in opposition to the indulgence and pardons of the pope. Mr. A. Shields, in his "Hind let Loose," says, that the Culdees transmitted their testimony to the Lollards;* and pope John XXII., in his bull for anointing king Robert Bruce, complains that there were many heretics in Scotland; so that we may safely affirm, there never was any very great period of time without witnesses for the truth, and against the gross corruptions of the church of Rome. Some of our kings themselves opposed the pope's supremacy, and prohibited his legates from entering their dominions: the most remarkable instance of this kind is that of Robert Bruce. After his having defeated the English at Bannockburn, they became suppliants to the pope for his mediation; who accordingly sent a legate into Scotland, proposing a cessation of arms till the pope should hear and decide the quarrel betwixt the crowns, and be informed of the right which Edward had to the crown of Scotland. To this king Robert replied, "that the pope could not be ignorant of that business, since it had been often explained to his predecessors, in the hearing of many cardinals then alive, who could tell him, if they pleased, what insolent answers pope Boniface received from the English, while they were desired to desist from oppressing the Scots, And now," said he, "when it hath pleased God to give us the better by some victories, by which we have not only recovered our own, but can make them live as good neighbours, they have recourse to such treaties, seeking to gain time in order to fall upon us again with greater force: but in this his holiness must excuse me, for I will not be so unwise as to let the advantage I have slip out of my hand." The legate regarding this answer as contemptuous, interdicted the kingdom, and departed; but king Robert paying little regard to such proceeding, followed hard after the legate, and entering England, wasted all the adjacent counties with fire and sword. 

In the beginning of the fifteenth century, the reformation from popery began to dawn in Scotland; at this time there was pope against pope, nay, sometimes three of them at once, all excommunicating one another; which schism lasted for about thirty years, and, by an over-ruling providence, contributed much to the downfall of antichrist, and to the revival of real religion and learning in Scotland, and many parts in Europe; for many embracing the opportunity now afforded to them, began to speak openly against the heresy, tyranny, and immorality of the clergy. Among those who preached publicly against these evils, were John Huss and Jerome or Prague in Bohemia, John Wickliffe in England, and John Resby, an Englishman and scholar of Wickliffe's in Scotland, who came hither about the year 1407, and was called in question for some doctrines which he taught against the pope's supremacy; he was condemned to the fire, which he endured with great constancy. About ten years after, one Paul Craw, a Bohemian, and follower of Huss, was accused of heresy before such as were then called doctors of theology. The articles of charge were, that he followed Huss and Wickliffe in the opinion of the sacrament of the supper, denying that the substance of bread and wine were changed by virtue of any words, and that auricular confession to priests, or praying to departed saints, were proper. He was committed to the secular judge, condemned to the flames at St. Andrews, where he suffered, being gagged when led to the stake, that he might not have the opportunity of making his confession. Both the above-mentioned martyrs suffered under Henry Wardlaw, bishop of St. Andrew's, who founded that university, 1412; which might have done him honour, had he not imbrued his hands in innocent blood. 

These returnings of the gospel light were not confined to St. Andrew's: Kyle, Carrick, Cunningham, and other places in the west of Scotland, were also favoured about the same time; for we find that Robert Blackatter, the first archbishop of Glasgow, anno 1494, caused summon before king James IV., and his council at Glasgow, George Campbell of Cessnock, Adam Reid of Barskimming, John Campbell of Newmills, Andrew Shaw of Polkemmet, lady Pokellie, and lady Stair. These were opprobriously called the Lollards of Kyle, from Lollard, an eminent preacher among the Waldenses, for maintaining that images ought not to be worshipped; that the relics of saints should not be adored, and other obnoxious tenets; but they answered their accusers with such constancy and boldness, that it was judged most prudent to dismiss them with an admonition, to content themselves with the faith of the church, and to beware of new doctrines. 

Thus have we brought down this summary of church affairs in Scotland to the time of Patrick Hamilton, whose life stands first in this collection; which contains a somewhat minute history of the church in our land, during the period to which it refers.


Table of Contents

Life of John Howie


Patrick Hamilton

George Wishart

Adam Wallace

Walter Mill

James Stuart, Earl of Moray

John Knox

George Buchanan

John Erskine of Dun

Robert Rollock

John Craig

David Black

John Davidson

Andrew Melville

William Row

Patrick Simpson

Andrew Duncan

John Scrimgeour

John Welch

Robert Boyd

Robert Bruce

Josias Welch

John Gordon, Viscount Kenmure

Robert Cunningham

James Mitchell

Alexander Henderson

George Gillespie

John M'Clelland

David Calderwood

Hugh Binning

Andrew Gray

James Durham

Samuel Rutherford

Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyle

James Guthrie

William Govan

John Campbell, Earl of Loudon

Robert Baillie

David Dickson

Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston

James Wood

William Guthrie

Robert Blair

Hugh M'Kail

John Nevay

John Livingstone

John Semple

James Mitchell

Colonel James Wallace

John Welwood

William Gordon of Earlstoun

John King and John Kid

John Brown

Henry Hall of Haugh-head

Richard Cameron

David Hackston of Rathillet

Robert Ker of Kersland

Donald Cargill

Walter Smith

Robert Garnock

Robert MacWard

Captain John Paton

Robert Baillie of Jerviswood

John Brown of Priesthill

John Nisbet of Hardhill

Alexander Peden

John Blackadder

James Renwick

Account of the Rising which ended in the defeat at Pentland. Anno 1666

Account of the Rising which originated the Battle of Drumclog, and ended in defeat at Bothwell Bridge. Anno 1679

Account of the Skirmish at Airsmoss, 1680

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links